Day 83 (2016-11-17): ~45 miles from Las Cruces, NM to downtown El Paso, TX. Decent country roads until the hellish riding that is El Paso.
I woke up and, not sure if the milk I bought yesterday for John for “cereal” was also for my use, ate a banana and some yogurt to start the morning. I left as quickly as I could, not wanting to spend any longer than necessary in this awkward setup. I weave my way out of Las Cruces fairly easily and head south towards on El Paso on NM-28. It’s a quite country road lined with pecan trees and small towns. In San Miguel, I spot a small sign for Mexican food two blocks off the main street. My stomach demands I stop for something real, and I turn onto the side street to see exactly two blocks before town ends.
I roll up to Estelita’s Tamales and speak with a gentleman walking his dog, who happens to be one of the owners. After chatting briefly gets three tamales. We sit at a small table and I devour second breakfast. We talk about traveling and he tells me of his experience growing up in Guatamala, emigrating to Miami, and eventually moving to Chicago where he spent the early years of his adult life. Here in New Mexico Victor and his wife opened the tamale kitchen with plans to get online soon and start selling tamales to a wider audience. I take a quick tour of the kitchen and small hall used for birthdays and other festivities. Victor is a pleasant guy and encourages me to keep in touch or visit if I am in town again. I highly recommend anyone traveling through stop, eats some tamales, and chat with Victor. He will make you feel at home!
After San Miguel than road continued to be pretty calm and low traffic, with only the intermittent headwinds bringing me down. It was dusty as hell though! Coming into El Paso I ride an old river trail tat begins as a smooth trail and eventually turns into dirt-filled, overgrown path that is easy enough to ride but shows how little use it gets. After leaving the trail, things go to shit.
El Paso is a city of big roads, big trucks, big everything. I skirt along the side of a 6 lane road with a tiny bike lane for a while, but eventually am dumped off onto an 8 lane throughway with heavy traffic for 1:30 on a Thursday afternoon. There is no shoulder, no bike lane, and no reasonable alternative routes – every road is either a huge arterial or dead-ends in suburban cul-de-sac developments. Against my will I struggle on the sidewalk where I fight a lack of curb cuts, quite a few major bumps, and a some seriously tight turns. I HATE riding on the sidewalk but at some point even I put aside my strong belief in my right to the road for the sake of safety.
Eventually, I find a solution: mental change. Like most things in life, looking at the situation differently and changing my mindset helps significantly. Okay, I am not touring on the sidewalk to keep myself alive. I am urban mountain biking! I cruise down the sidewalk, using my body to absorb the bumps and imagine the sweet air I would get on some of these lifted sections, were I on a real mountain bike. I lean left, hitting a sharp left turn and squeezing my front brakes just enough to let my momentum shift my weight forward and lift my bags over the pannier-height curb. I look for clearance and dart onto the road, flying downhill and pedaling hard to keep my momentum as a wave of impatient drivers closes from the rear. I slip back onto the curb with a jolt, gaining a tiny bit of airtime on my bloated rig. The only things holding me back from all-out warfare on the streets of El Paso are my skinny ass tires and my weight. Despite all my dreaming of a bikepacking setup I have never once wanted a lighter, more agile bike than right now.
Eventually I arrive in downtown and approach the Gardener Hotel and Hostel. When I inquire about the hostel the lobby attendant simply says “$32.95.” Not a hello, not a word about the place, just the price. Direct. He doesn’t mention a communal space and only shows me the kitchen because it is in the basement, next to a sketchy hallway where he lets me put my bike. He leads me upstairs to a hotel room, only called a hostel because it has two bunk beds and shares a tiny bathroom with another “hostel” room. This is not a damn hostel. Nice try. Also, it’s deserted. I tear off my dirty, sweaty clothes and pass out on the bed, exhausted from urban mountain biking.
After I wake up and shake off the sleep I shower and head to The Tap for a plate of beans, rice, a chicken taco, a chili rellano, and salad with chips and hot salsa. I go through several Pacificos as I put my thoughts to paper about Trump and the election – the ones you read as a circular ramble last week. Eventually I wander, walking the deserted streets of downtown El Paso and winding up in a Democratic Socialists of America meeting at a The Local Pizza Joint. Ironic.
Back in the room I am surprised to find another person inside, noting that when I open the door he is busy re-buttoning his pants. Matt is a weird dude and, I foolishly agree to accompany him on a walk to get dinner. He acts like he is King of Mexico because he has been there for the last 5 months, and generally does not impress me with his attitude. After wandering aimlessly for 45 minutes I announce my intention to return to the hostel, and he argues it is not safe. He tells me about reading that crooks more often target people who walk alone (no shit) and I tell him I refuse to be his babysitter. Put off, but visibly concerned, I drop him off at KFC and return to the hostel. What a weird day…