The thought of riding to El Paso was both the most daunting and the most anticipated of any of my trips so far. I love the mountains and the west and I’d never been to El Paso. But I knew it would take two days to get there and two days back, in the heat of late August and early September. 1500 miles for 18 courthouses.
On August 30, I took off for the day’s final destination of Fort Stockton (Pecos County). But the first stop was Menard (Menard County), one that I had missed when I went to San Angelo earlier in the summer, followed by Ozona (Crockett County).
On August 31, I turned north, deeper into the heart of the Permian Basin, before heading west. I visited Monahans (Ward County), Kermit (Winkler County), Mentone (Loving County), Pecos (Reeves County), Van Horn (Culberson County), Sierra Blanca (Hudspeth County), and finally made it to El Paso (El Paso County).
The least populous county in Texas is Loving County, with a population of about 134. I’d be willing to bet that the truckers on the roads in this county outnumber the residents. Lots of them appear to be hauling sand and brine for fracking operations around the Permian Basin. Drilling sites with big flares like the one above are a common sight. There’s so much gas being produced that sometimes burning it is cheaper than putting it in the pipeline.
In Pecos, I got lunch at this Tamale place. It was a market/deli style shop, with a counter to order and pick up, with no apparent seating area. As I chatted with the young man at the register about my ride, I asked him if there were any tables anywhere to sit. He said no, but then offered to let me eat my lunch back at a desk in his office. I thought that was very nice of him and thanked him, but told him I’d just find a shade tree somewhere nearby. He directed me to a nearby park. Wonderful tamales!
The next morning, September 1, it was back in the saddle, eastbound by a different route. I would visit Marfa (Presidio County), Fort Davis (Jeff Davis County), Alpine (Brewster County), and Sanderson (Terrell County). Brewster is the largest county by area in the state. It is larger than Connecticut, larger than Puerto Rico.
Getting the shot in Marfa was tricky. This Sunday there was a street festival. There were roadblocks and a concert stage that prevented getting right in front of the courthouse–one of the most beautiful in Texas. I rode around for a bit and decided to go around one of the road blocks. I squeezed into the only space that was available with a somewhat unobstructed view (note the orange cone). Then I got a bite to eat at Hombre’s and headed north.
On September 2, I left before sunrise because I couldn’t sleep any more, or at least didn’t want to in the uncomfortable motel bed in Sanderson. I chatted with a park ranger at the gas station, who warned me of deer. I didn’t encounter any deer on the road, but dozens of jackrabbits nearly lost their lives, dodging back and forth on the road ahead of me.
I rarely listen to music on my rides. It’s uncomfortable and a hassle, so most of the time the only sound I hear is the engine turning the tires on the road, and the wind. Or the sound of my own voice singing a song over and over. Or the quiet voice in my head. I’ll pass the miles lost in my memories, planning for the future, or trying to solve a problem. Often times, the problem I’m trying to solve is political. The times in which we find ourselves. How we got here. Where we’re going. The solitude of the road can sometimes make that conversation in my head a grim one. It won’t get better before it gets worse. A Tom Petty lyric will come to mind: “The good old days may not return. The rocks might melt and the sea may burn.”
Not all the hours are spent in thought. At my best, I shut down the voice in my head and observe what is presented to me. The sun in front of me a little to the left, warming my body and burning my face. The air heating up by the hour. The smell of sage, juniper, or the sudden jolt of a rotting deer carcass. A roadrunner, a herd of goats, mountains approaching on the horizon, and the ever advancing asphalt.
Then I am settled by a palpable sense of gratitude, and the thought appears: your life is happening now. It is not past. It is not to come. It is unfolding moment by moment. That moment is all you have and all that matters.
“I started out for God knows where. I guess I’ll know when I get there.”