Cycling Across America — Part 68

Texas: Lubbock to Brownfield

Excerpts from the journal of my 1996 cycle across the US. Read the entire story from the beginning starting with the introduction in Boston.
(This section is from both the audio tape and handwritten parts)

<<Music: CMT>>
“Sunday evening. Deanna Carter and ‘Strawberry Wine’.

First day after leaving Lubbock. What a day! Arguably the hardest of the entire trip.

Brownfield was my ultimate destination for the day. I’d had a good look at Lubbock the last few days, so even though it was directly on the way to Brownfield I decided to cycle the wrong way so I could bypass town to the east and south.

I was liking the town names in West Texas. Very no nonsense stuff like Plainview and Brownfield, and now I was about to go through Ropesville and Meadow, with Shallow Water and Levelland to the north, New Home a few miles to the east, and Sundown — naturally — to the west.

After getting me up at half-seven Lukas dropped me back at that Texaco garage on the Idalou Highway. I flew three and a half miles northeast, the opposite direction to Brownfield. It meant I was with the wind until my turn where I then went due south for 12 miles.

There’s a small canyon where there’s a Buffalo Springs Lake. Small but you drop into it suddenly. It’s nice. A lot of trees around the small lake. In climbing up out of it I was about four miles from the town of Posey, where one of those big diagonal highways comes out of Lubbock, when a muscle in my left leg went. Upper thigh.

It was agony. And I couldn’t bend my leg.

Reckoned my leg might just need rest but over the previous few days of television I had been bombarded with pharmaceutical ads, and I recalled seeing one ad with two smiling women taking something for pains they got while cycling. So now I wanted to try out that Tylenol. But I wasn’t stopping where I was because I was just out amongst cotton and grass.

So to get the few miles on I took my left leg out of the toe-clip and just dangled it down straight but had to keep it away from the pedal, and I just pedalled with the right leg — which is hard to do. You just keep it in the clip and push it forward all the way down and then pull it up the rest of the way around. Like a one-legged frog on a bicycle. Meanwhile the free toe-clip on the left hand side keeps swinging around and banging off the ground.

When I got to the highway I’d to go a mile and a half up it to the town of Posey. It was 20 buildings, none of them a shop or a gas station. So I came all the way back past where I’d reached the highway and limped into a gas station. Had a couple of burritos — bean and beef. And a barbecue sandwich which was good. Texas Barbecue. And drink, which I wasn’t interested in. I waited a long time for the pain to go as well as taking my Tylenol.

After a 45-minute break I was still limping. I was chatting with some man as I limped around the car park. Then I just got on the bike and I went. It was sore but it got better and I could pedal, gradually. I kept on pedaling and it went.

Anyway the wind was a far bigger issue eventually and I forgot about the pain.

Rather than go back again to Posey to get on my road, I cut through some unpaved dirt road. There was a lot of dust today. I was covered in sand when I got in here. When you looked to the south you couldn’t see clearly for all the dust that was travelling over the cotton. Almost clouds of sand. In the wind.

The wind at first today was about 12 mph and then it was 25 mph, straight into my face. Up to 30 mph. It drove me mad. I ended up just roaring at the wind a few times but that didn’t work. It kept on blasting back at me. It would gust and then sometimes for sustained periods of a few miles, it would have me down to six and a half mph — which meant I wouldn’t be in tonight until nine or ten o’clock.

Other times it wasn’t so bad and I could go at 8 mph. But it’s bad when you think 8 mph isn’t so bad. It would gust and keep you down at 5 mph sometimes, and even had me down at 4 at one point.

So there was dust all over the place. I had to put my glasses on because my face was covered in it. It was in my eyes, and it was quite sore. Hitting my legs. You’d just see patches of it travelling across the cotton. That in itself would make an awful lot of noise. You would think nothing could move the cotton because it’s all tightly packed together but that wind was pretty strong and it was blowing it around ferociously.

It was always noisy so this was not one those days where I could just stop the bike, get off it, and turn my head so the wind seemed to just disappear. The wind never disappeared. It was noisy. Blowing around my head. Blowing anything it could find on the ground. Dried up bushes, three foot in diameter, almost circular, they’d go rolling past you like in the movies. A very definite windy day.

On the road from Posey I was heading due west on another farm road. It actually had a shoulder. Texas is very good for that. Ordinarily I didn’t really need it but it was great in the wind.

On that road I saw a sign for a cowboy store in Muleshoe, which was 80 miles away. It named the store, it said Muleshoe, and it said ‘10,000 Cowboy Boots, 12,000 Cowboy Belts’.

Signs do that here. You better be careful not to get excited when you see a sign for a motel, if you’re looking for one. Even if you’re entering into a town and you see a sign there’s a very good chance that sign is telling you about a motel 88 or 95 miles away. You gotta read the whole sign.

Speaking of signs. Near the town of Ropesville — my destination for the second food stop, you can’t really call it dinner — somewhere around there on some grain storage bins, narrow bins, it was the Anderson Grain Product. So they have a logo with AGP with a capital ‘A’, and a ‘G’ on one leg of the ‘A’, and a ‘P’ on the other. It looked like it’d be more at home on the side of an American football helmet rather than up there on a bin. It struck me as out of place.

I passed signs for Historical Markers but never actually saw the Historical Markers themselves. They’d point across the road and there was nothing there. They’d point, well you weren’t sure where they were pointing but I never found them.

Between Meadow and Brownfield was an Historical Marker I did see. For Nolan’s Expedition. In 1877, if I remember rightly. Some troops, 60 US troops, ‘Negro troops’ of the US Cavalry and 22 Buffalo hunters set out to try and find, and put a stop to, Chief Old Blackhorse’s Comanche raids. Brownfield is pretty much where they were heading however they ran out of water and after so many days they became thirst-crazed, and they then drank horse blood and urine. They then split up and the Buffalo hunters found water of their own accord, and the soldiers found an old supply camp and, well not quite everybody lived happily ever after as four soldiers didn’t make it but everybody else did and this is seen as a great feat. This was led by one Nicholas Nolan. Given that it’s 1877 I was kinda wondering if he’s Irish. That’s pretty much all I know about that.

Cotton today. Cotton all the way. A couple of places they’d taken it in. I’d read recently that the first frost is due any day now. In fact the forecast for tomorrow is 30 F here. That would make tomorrow first freeze. Depending on when you planted the cotton, that’s perfect. You actually want the freeze to help finish it off but if you planted it a bit earlier or later it’s very bad for the cotton. 99% of the cotton I saw was not taken in, it’s just grown and it’s fluffy. Just like the clouds above today.

There was one very dark cloud and it actually rained on me. A nought % chance of rain today but I got cold hard rain hitting me — only for about ten minutes. It didn’t stay long enough to wet the ground really but it hit and it hurt. It’s part of that front that’s dropping snow up in Utah at the moment. And it caused a lot of thunderstorms in Oklahoma when it passed through so it might’ve hit Lubbock and Amarillo and I’m not sure how we missed out on it but I was lucky.

Anyway, cotton. The fields where they have taken it in they — it’s still there waiting to be moved. They hard-pack it into a great big oblong enormous brick. It looks like an articulated lorry and then I saw it being transported much later on where they slot it in to a lorry where the back is exposed. I’ve seen a few of their packers around, where they put all the cotton inside them and it squeezes it and forms it into a great big brick. Whether they add anything to it or not, I don’t know, to bond it.

It was hard to enjoy today. Today was just so, so sore. My leg was very sore. My backside was good — for a while — I didn’t feel the usual discomfort. Though as I spent almost 8 hours of the day in the saddle, at the end of the day was getting uncomfortable and I was starting to cut and what have you, underneath. Though I have re-stocked with some Vaseline and some new anti-septic liquid — I’m not sure what that’s going to be like but I’ll try that tonight.

In Ropesville I ate on the Main Street in a shop which had a single table. I ate some Spanish bread, made in Lubbock which is a hard malt bread, flat pieces with some salami I bought. It’s a tiny street of buildings which mostly aren’t used. Very definitely Western. They might have wooden posts to lean on and covers out to arcade them.

There was a small hut coming out of Ropesville. It was isolated. I don’t know what it was used for, but it looked like a bus shelter in Britain. The side facing me had the ‘stars and stripes’ painted on it and there were dark clouds in the background and there was actually grass — even though most of the day was cotton, there was grass here for a bit. It was quite dramatic. The hut was somewhat dilapidated and fallen apart and the whole side of it had the ‘Stars and Stripes’ painted on it. It was the photograph for the cover of the book, if you like. However to take it, because I’m coming out of a town there was no central median. I would have to stand in the middle of the road, and I couldn’t get to it.

I did take a photograph of a load of little metal emus at an emu ranch I passed earlier on. That’s the first emu ranch I’ve seen for quite a while. I haven’t seen llamas now for ages, now that I think of it.

Emu ranch

The last 5 miles today I had a bad stitch or stomach cramp. Even though the sun was falling I still had to stop. The safest place was some gravel on the central median. It was still sore as I reached the motel.

As I came into town here in Brownfield just at dusk time I could see rain back to the northwest moving across.

It’s 11.30 at night. I’m in a Budget Hotel. Brownfield is only about 40 miles from the centre of Lubbock, but I started off on the far side of it and then went away from Lubbock to try and find small roads around it — which made it a bigger distance.

So 65 miles cycled today. A short distance compared to some. Wind. Big, big wind. All day. Southwest. Where I was headed.

It’s still quite sore now if I bend my leg. A lot.

Watching Farm-Aid last night — the concert, a presenter said there was a choice. Did you want families or factories to run America’s farms? If it was families then you were encouraged to donate through a variety of options. Tonight on the box I saw part of a film featuring the selling off of a family farm’s equipment following foreclosure. It’s a subject that recurs often.

The large blisters are back. Underneath. One inch long, half an inch wide and high. They’re tender.

There seems to be a lot of pain on a daily basis now. My nose is quite sore. Badly burnt, it’s covered in scabs having lost a lot of skin. That said it’s nothing compared to the amount of skin that’s come off my testicles in the last 10 days or so. And I don’t stick my nose on a hard saddle and then grind it with my legs for 8 hours a day.

Looking at the forecast for tomorrow all the storms are due to pass just north of here. That said I can hear thunder now. The winds tomorrow are meant to be from the north. As I’m going west and a little bit south that shouldn’t be a problem at all. Storms would be though. The rain’s coming down outside now.

All the restaurants were closed so I resorted to McDonald’s. Tried out one of their new Deluxe sandwiches and concluded they’re expensive and I reckon bad value for money. The Latino who served me told me he liked my bracelet. I told him of the Cherokee Nation gift shop in Oklahoma.

Today was so hard, so horrible, so frustrating, that I found myself thinking of stopping. Not considering it at all but thoughts of finishing kept entering my head. When the muscle went and I couldn’t even walk I was thinking that’s it. And people would understand. I was injured. I couldn’t go on. It wasn’t like I gave up.

Other times I looked at the lovely 6-inch fluffy grass by the roadside and thought of getting hit again. That would finish the trip too. And I could just be in that appealing grass knowing I wouldn’t have to cycle anymore. But do I have to anyway? I kept remembering someone saying I’m supposed to have fun. It is fun, it’s just so bloody hard.

Omaha keeps creeping into my head. I presume because like a few places I left it too early. My hosts were such good company, and there was a good feel to the place. I’ve read of Bodmer a few times since then and I’m glad they introduced me to him.

The oddest bit of television I saw yesterday was watching Bertie Ahern, Mary Harney, Dick Spring and John Bruton all make statements on Northern Ireland in a Dail session shown by C-SPAN2. So now I’m in touch again and it was all so similar and so depressing. Doubtful I’ll be going home to good news then.

Postcards and a letter for friends at home all need stamps. As does the card for the hospital in Virginia Beach.”

Read the next segment: Part 69