February 8, 2017
This is day two of the bicycle portion of the trip. I’m in Raymondville, Texas, a pretty thoroughly agricultural place. The controversy over the border and the winter home of northern snowbirds notwithstanding, the Rio Grande Valley is mainly about agriculture. Important crops include cotton, citrus fruit (lemons and the famous Texas ruby red grapefruit) and vegetables such as very early season broccoli and melons. There are quite a few roadside fruit and vegetable stands. At one the owner said she closes down from late June to early September when it’s just too hot for much to grow.
If I had to compare it to anywhere else I’ve been, it would be south Florida around Lake Okeechobee. It’s not quite tropical; I haven’t seen bananas and mangoes. Palm trees aren’t native to the area, but a lot of them have been planted and they grow to as tall as 35 feet. Occasionally I see prickly pear cactus. Much of the vegetation, such as grasses, is year-round green, but the deciduous trees I know from northern climates are about half leafed-out. A number of flowers (I believe I saw oleander) are in bloom. That would be springtime by my definition. People here have a slightly different perspective (more about that at a later time).
The land is almost tabletop flat. My fancy new bicycle computer/GPS measures the total change in elevation over the course of a ride; today it was only 30 feet, probably the least change I’ve experienced since I was in the Netherlands more than 30 years ago. And the wind blows rather fiercely, fortunately for me from the south. I’m not sure I’d survive a headwind like that.
Moreover, it’s hot, even by South Texas standards. Today’s high is right around 90 degrees; the last time I rode in that kind of weather was probably last July. Even my normal sunscreen is only partially effective; there’s some redness on my upper thighs, but not quite to the point of a burn.
The bike and trailer combination handles well. It’s just that I’m terribly slow, a combination of not being in shape (no riding in Ontario since late November) and the weight of the baggage I’m carrying, about 70 lbs. this trip. As a result, I’m averaging about 10 mph actual riding speed, with the overall average reduced by the times I stop. It’s good that I’m planning for short days most of the time.
Tomorrow I’ll be up early, for what may be the longest day of this tip—58 miles. That’s not terribly long, but it’s in truly deserted country. There’s almost nothing out there in terms of towns or services. I’ll have a good breakfast and load up with water and snacks. The first refreshment is a Pepsi machine in the tiny town of Sarita with about 100 people (the county seat of Kenedy County no less), almost 50 miles into the trip. We checked it out when we drove down here on US-77 in the other direction. At least the forecast high is expected to be 83 degrees and the winds will be out of the south again.
I’m hoping I’m not too wiped out by the end of the day. Thank goodness I have about 10 hours to complete it.
Just before I left Brownsville yesterday, I went up in a small plane for an hour to get the geographic lay of the land. The pilot was a nice young (early 20s) guy named Ray:
It was hazy, but here is the mouth of the Rio Grande as it flows into the Gulf of Mexico:
And here’s a typical scene from the road in the Rio Grande Valley: