Cycling Across America — Part 60

Texas Panhandle: Ochiltree and Hansford Counties

Excerpts from the journal of my 1996 cycle across the US. Read the entire story from the beginning starting with the introduction in Boston.

-Where are you from?
-Ireland.
-How far away is that?
-About 7,000 miles the way I came.
-Wow! Did ya hear that? This guy travelled seven hundred miles on his bicycle.

Despite the inclusion of an ocean, and the downgrading of 3,600 miles to 700, I didn’t feel like giving a geography lesson. Wondering just what these people did at school, I nevertheless accepted the admiration granted by the staff of McDonald’s on Main Street, Perryton, Texas.

As I was nearing finishing my fries two different tables of peoples approached me to ask where I was from and where I was going etc. One woman told me all about her and her husband’s visit to Dublin, their stay in the Shelbourne, the Ardagh Chalice, and she showed me the Claddagh ring she was wearing. They had had the most wonderful time there and it seems I, through my Irishness, was in some way responsible.

The day had started with another tired morning in a motel as I woke after nine. Not planning too long a day though I was thinking I should be ok — depending on the wind.

‘Local temperature 55, south wind 15–25 and gusty, decreasing late’. How late?

I was looking at two options for leaving town. Due south to Pampa, across 64 miles of absolutely nothing, with not anything in between, nothing whatsoever. Or I could go more southwesterly, except for the last few miles where I turn and that’s at Borger and it goes through a couple of towns. I was leaning that way but also thinking I might well need some training for cycling through 64 miles of nothing.

The Weather Channel was telling me some places are getting record cold and some places are getting record heat. I’m in the hot section.

And then ‘winds turning around to south and southwest’ as the presenter ran his hand right up through where I’m going. That would be a problem. That wind from the Texas Panhandle right up to the Great Lakes. The first time I’ve seen wind on the Weather Channel. They put in this blue band. It’s usually green I’m scared of. Great.

Finally decided on Borger for my destination. On the maps it looked about the same size as Perryton. How many miles was I looking at? 26 and 9 is 35, and 15 is 50, and 6 is 56, and 11 is 67. The last 11 on a big highway, so hoping that’s usable. Hmm. It mean I could have a nice day tomorrow if it works. Go have a look at Lake Meredith and just a short trip into Amarillo. And if it’s not a nice day just go into Amarillo and have a look from there. Spearman for lunch today so, 26 miles away. And then about 40 miles to the end. Hmm.

In the McDonalds a truck driver showed me a route to Borger that had a good shoulder all the way. It was the route I had chosen to follow. His mother then wished me luck and said good-bye in a way that started a laying of hands ceremony on me. I was very definitely touched — and my chips were now cold.

Rather than go back across the tracks to the turn off I guessed at a cut through route to join up with Highway 15. At a school I checked with a chap picking up litter. I was a couple of hundred yards away — I’d saved a mile. Like all other Latinos I’ve so far met, he was overtly encouraging from only minimal contact with me.

The next couple of hours I was doing sums. What time could I arrive in Borger at? Best case 8pm with 1 hour cycling in darkness, worst case 11pm. Simply ridiculous. Stennit was 11 miles nearer but would there be any lodging there? And anyway that could still mean cycling tin the dark.

It’s the wind. 15 to 25mph from the south. As I progressed the road turned more and more directly into the wind and I slowed right down.

There was a railroad track with no train. I haven’t seen one for days — maybe since Nebraska. The land was perfectly flat. I could see as far as my eyes would allow. The fields were varied. Milo, corn taken in, winter wheat, grass, and none of it protected you from that wind. I kept telling myself to be grateful — it could be raining or worse. Instead it was 80 degrees Fahrenheit with no clouds.

There was a busyness about the Panhandle despite the lack of population. The fields were being worked, ammonia was being towed, grain bins were making noise, large trucks were turning off the highway into farmland. Most vehicles waved to me, and in an enthusiastic manner. At different points on the horizon there was smoke rising.

I could always see the next one from the current village/town. They were usually in off the edge of the road by about 30 feet and whenever I passed one the winds were going the complete opposite direction having bounced off them. Very strange.

No historical markers today or towns that housed famous people. Unlike yesterday. In the Oklahoma panhandle in Texas County, it proclaimed it as the Saddle Bronco Champion of the World with Robert and Billy Eltbauer having won the title between them for the years 1990, ’91 and ‘92.

Cycling into Perryton there had been a small sign with somebody’s name on it and it proclaims Perryton as the home of the 1974 Rookie of the Year in the American League — baseball. Like yesterday I passed a plaque explaining the origin of the county I’m in — Hansford County. Again it’s named after another pioneering man who became very involved in the constitutional status of Texas.

I was pleased to see the grain storage elevators again. The one in Perryton was right at the end of Main Street — just across the tracks. The next one was at Farnsworth, about 12 miles away, and the next one at Waca — a further 5 down the road, before the one at Spearman.

It was time to take the hit and call it quits. If there was lodging available at Spearman around the 30 mile mark, I would finish there and think of a new plan for tomorrow.

Had I been up and out at a reasonable hour, Stennit a further 30 miles again, probably would’ve been possible. It’s hard to say, and it’s not much fun fighting into a gusty wind of around 20mph.

Population of 3,100 here in Spearman, so I knew there’d be a motel. Another give-away sign was one of those large water towers like shiny white burgers from space parked on their four legs.

The main street was a delight of western buildings including one with a historical marker built in 1920 or so. It was covered in sheet metal made to look like bricks and its side was recently renovated to look like the original painted advert (for coffee and tea).

Spearman, Texas. 1996

On my way to the motel (I’d asked in town) I spotted a Caboose. It was from the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe railroad. Also outside this station masters house museum was an Indian carved from a dead elm tree by a chain saw artist. The museum is hoping to get somebody to turn the other tree outside into a cowboy. I was the first visitor in two weeks. It never gets busy. The only people from out of town are usually brought there by townspeople they’re visiting.

I spent an hour or two looking at old photographs of the town and its people, old newspaper cuttings, flags that’ve flown over Texas, military paraphernalia dug up by a local enthusiast, an Indian hearth discovered when they were building a lake, a lot of quilts, including friendship quilts, kitchen implements, bedrooms, maps paintings, and a lot of very assorted stuff related to the station master and related to anything that was the best part of a hundred years old.

There was examples of old floor designs they used to do on the wood. Next door was the one-roomed school (holds 7 students) which was moved from the Paulo Druro Creek/Lake area a few miles north. I asked if anyone in the town might have gone to the school — since it was only built in 1936 and I was told a couple of names who did. The teacher was still alive and now in Amarillo. Also a wagon barn with a wagon and Zulu Lodge — a rather dubious copy of the first residence in the panhandle built by two English brothers from Hull.

It’s 3 in the morning so I’m in trouble with lack of sleep again. It’s just so hard to sleep with all these mosquito bites. Spoke to friends on the phone and that lifted the spirit somewhat dulled by big winds and a very sore bum.

Winds forecast again tomorrow so that means Lubbock is now Tuesday. And high 80s, degrees Fahrenheit, will keep my bum sore.”

Read the next segment: Part 61