Austin to Laredo, the Final Frontier. (25th March to 1st April)

Long overdue update...Enjoy!

Austin was hard to leave. Having reached the end of my tether in NY after a 4 year stint, Austin was a breath of fresh air. It was nice waking up to the distant chirps of birds over the jackhammers and blaring sirens of 2nd Avenue. It was more than that though. A motorcycle-friendly city of cool, artsy, tattooed blow-ins(Nobody actually seemed to be from Austin). Coupled with great weather and a unique nightlife, I could finally understand what all the fuss was about this city.

It was great to finally rendezvous with Pat after his 10 day silent Vipassana meditation course(don’t ask) and catch up over Austin’s many Tex-Mex joints. Our stopover in Austin gave us time to pick up any remaining bits and pieces for the trip. I picked up an inexpensive solar charger and some new riding glasses/goggles which would proof to be very useful. I got some much needed downtime and we took in everything Austin had to offer. Big shout out to my cousin Lily for putting us up and letting us use her place to get sorted.

 Pat, Lily and myself just before we hit the road.

Pat, Lily and myself just before we hit the road.

The plan was to ride to Medina, Texas where the famous Three Sisters route picked up. For many, this loop of ~100 miles is a motorcycle mecca, the top rated riding route in the US. The ride showcased what appeared to be the best scenery Texas had to offer. We cruised on perfect roads through massive ranches, rolling countryside hills and over trickling streams. At one point, we passed two stags, fighting/playing antler-locked at the roadside. We turned around to do a double take but they scurried off into the bush before we could get a closer look. It was an absolute pleasure to ride and we savored every minute of it.

 Three Sisters route which we started from Medina, TX, then going south from Barksdale to Uvalde.

Three Sisters route which we started from Medina, TX, then going south from Barksdale to Uvalde.

Anticipating rain, we pulled in to what looked like a campsite/lodge to throw on our waterproofs. We noticed a crowd of cyclists just settling in for the night. Soon enough, we got talking to the organiser who explained they were cycling their way to Miami having left from San Diego over a couple of months! As the organizer, he rode the distance every year with a new group! No mean feat by any stretch and I had instant respect for the guy. It was great to meet other travellers in the midst of their journey. With a glance of the weather app on his phone, he assured us rain was not imminent and once again we were on our way.

Uvalde, Texas was to be the end of the line that day. It was memorable but for the wrong reasons. The motel we stayed in was by far the worst I’d ever experienced in the two weeks of motelling through the states. Bed bugs were a plenty and Pat found a massive dead cockroach the next morning. Cheers Americans Best Value Inn! They even tried to blame it on us after we complained claiming we probably brought them in with us with our gear, the cheek of it! The one good thing that came out of it was we finally got around checking our blood types with the blood type test kits we’d picked up on Amazon in Austin. While it may seem a bit drastic, we decided to err on the side of caution and find out out blood types with the hopes it would never be needed. From talking to family and friends, I found it funny that nobody really knew their blood type(me included). I guess it’s not really required and bares no thought until perhaps you’re hospitalized. It was was sort of liberating finding out something new about myself(B-negative :)).

Our last US stretch would lead us to Laredo, but not before a jaunt through Texan oil country albeit less than pleasant. Rainy weather, more head winds and lots of truck traffic had us covered in a layer of muck. On the plus side, we sufficiently dirtied up the bikes and gear, something we were eager to do to ward off any potential bike thieves South of the border. Our measure for this was that our license plates were no longer legible which would mask our US origin, that is, until when we have to take off our helmets to reveal our big(in my case small) gringo heads.

As we stopped for lunch at some roadside spot, we got chatting to a border security officer who wished us luck gave us some advice for crossing the border. There was also a particularly useless trucker who gave us the usual ‘Why are you going to Mexico...death by cartel etc’ malarchy. Nothing we hadn’t heard before. At this point in time I feel obliged to acknowledge that yes, we are well aware of the dangers in undertaking such a trip but it does get annoying hearing the same shite daily. Are we exposing ourselves to risk going into Mexico? Yes. Is it a possibility that we could stumble upon cartel carry-on and become another statistic? Sure, why not. Is it worthy of us denying Mexico our tourist dinero and experiencing the country’s amazing people, culture and beauty? Absolutely not. While the dangers are real and should not be taken lightly, I believe most people really do not know the situation, or the details and are merely parroting what they read/see in much of the overly-zealous US media from the safety of their ivory towers. As with pretty much anything, basic planning and a bit of cop-on go a long way.

Laredo, Texas may as well have been Mexico. It was the quintessial Mexico I had in mind: Spanish signage, congested roads and heavy heat. We were even forced to use our awful Spanish in restaurants. Odd considering we hadn’t yet crossed the border. I guess it should come as no surprise that the closer to a border one goes, the more it resembles the adjoining country. Camp Casa Blancas would be our accomodation of choice, after all, we wanted to try out our new Hennessy Hammocks we’d picked up in Austin. They were basically hammock beds with a build-in fly net and an attachable rain canopy.

 Our campsite for the night in Casa Blancas, Laredo TX. Not ideal but did the job, sort of.

Our campsite for the night in Casa Blancas, Laredo TX. Not ideal but did the job, sort of.

We set up shop and wandered down to the lake for a swim. We threw a ball around until some kids hijacked our ball and went on to teach us some Spanish swear words. Useful no doubt.

As we saddled up to head back to our campsite, Pat’s bike wouldn’t start. We deduced he’d left the key in and the lights on which drained the battery over the 45 minutes we were swimming. I gave him a push start with the bike in 2nd gear as he held in the clutch. When I got him to a decent speed, he dropped the clutch which kicked the engine off and boom...we'd just had our first push start. Amazed at how quick we'd figured out the issue and how easy we got the bike going we couldn't help but feel we got off easy. ‘What other inevitable bike problems lay ahead for us?’ I couldn’t help think.

Whether it was the new hammocks or the feral dogs running around us in the early hours of the morning, a restless night it was. Bleary-eyed and underslept, the excitement and trepidation of our imminent departure into lands unknown was upon us nonetheless. We got on the road and hit a gas station for what would be our last fill up on US soil. Next stop...Mexico.