Friday, 13 September 2013


Since jacking in my Royal Mail job in 2009 I've taken to cycling in an effort to avoid turning into a massive sedentary blob sat all day at the computer, scoffing mini-pizzas and burping out incomprehensible stories that no-one will ever read. In Texas, despite all the wide open spaces, this is not so easily done as it was in Coventry. Whilst the roads are wider, and drivers seem generally a little better behaved, their vehicles are often of absurd dimensions in compensation for something or other at which one can only guess. If you run a lawn care business or you work on a ranch and are occasionally required to go after a buffalo that's made its bid for freedom, I can see how you would have use for an enormous truck. If you're just some guy who works in the city and likes barbecue, then the only justification I can see for why you might need one of those General Motors leviathans would be as compensation for a deficit in some other, more trousery department. Whatever the reason, it means that cycling on Texas highways is not so relaxing a pastime as it could be.

The other factor is the sun, because Texas is somewhat more equatorial than the land of my birth. Cycling in England became problematic during those winters when I would throw open the front door to be confronted with a sheer wall of ice, sometimes containing deep frozen cavemen like in a Charles Addams cartoon; plus the four grudging hours of mid-grey daylight during December tended to swivel one's thoughts in the direction of either hibernation or ending it all there and then rather than getting in a few miles on the old penny farthing. Winter in Texas is distinguished as the three days when you turn off the air conditioning and wear a jumper, the unfortunate pay off being that summer is hot; as in really hot. Summer in Texas is not about popping into Currys to buy a fan, or mopping your brow and taking consolation from the knowledge that at least your tomatoes will do well; summer in Texas means staying inside during the day so as to avoid radiation sickness, water catching fire as soon as it comes out of the tap, and rivers of sweat still sluicing down your face at two in the morning. It is fucking hot, which is why we have all those snakes and lizards and cacti. Some days, opening the front door at ten in the morning can be like walking into a pizza oven. I've spent time baking in Mexico City, at one stage even having my entire face peel off more or less as a single sheet in unintentional homage to Xipe Totec, the Corn God who manifests in a mask of human skin; but Mexico City is up in the clouds where the air is noticeably sparse, so the heat is more manageable. The kindest thing one can say of San Antonio in terms of its summertime climate - which in case I didn't quite make it clear may be likened to that of the sunny side of the planet Mercury - is that at least it's not Houston.

Houston gets really hot

To return to the main point, the one thing stood between myself and my ultimate fate as a burger-chugging human sofa cosy grunting my way through all five-hundred plus adventurtastic episodes of Stargate SG1 is probably my bike, which I purchased at Walmart, and which I try to ride every day.

Happily, it seems that San Antonio had anticipated my arrival by  opening up the Tobin Trail, a surfaced greenway following creek, shaded woodland and flood plain by which I can avoid both highways and at least some of the sun. It's an urban work in progress which, once complete will form a continuous loop around the city limits; and so long as I can get going early enough to avoid the heat - which really becomes unbearable around eleven - I'm all set. Weekends excepted, I ride just over thirteen miles a day, always the same thirteen miles - from Eisenhauer Road to the top of the hill just past Wetmore then back again. It's a little repetitive, and will continue to be so at least until the city connects my regular stretch to the southern part of the trail beyond Binz-Engleman. The country lanes around Coventry were perhaps superior in terms of choice, but even with the same daily route, it's difficult to get bored in a land which dishes up something new and unexpected to an almost daily schedule. Herons, eagles, turtles, snakes, vultures, deer, lizards, and an entirely unfamiliar pantheon of colourful songbirds have yet to lose their appeal despite having become familiar, even commonplace.

I've learned that certain turtles, when picked up from the track so as to prevent their getting run over, will empty their bladders as a defence mechanism - and you'd be surprised how much liquid those things contain. I've also learned, thankfully not from experience, that alligator turtles will bite off your fingers given the chance and so are best left to their own devices. The biggest alligator turtle I've encountered was roughly the size of a respectable bull terrier, and I wasn't in any great hurry to airlift him to safety, particularly as I'm fairly sure I actually heard him telling me to piss off. Coral snakes on the other hand are smaller and prettier, with their red and yellow bands, and even knowing that their bite can kill, it's hard to think ill of something with such a cute widdle face and such a retiring disposition; in respect of which, I have come to truly appreciate the homily of terrifying creatures being more scared of you than you are of them. This was impressed upon me once as I skidded around both a corner and the interior surface of my pants coming face to face with a steep grassy bank of twenty or thirty black vultures, a hillside of Uncle Fester size carnivores all considering me with beady black eyes. I just had time to form the understanding that I was about to die when they apparently concluded as one that I was the scariest thing they had ever seen and swept up into the sky. Meeting them up close, and seeing those confused little faces on their disproportionately tiny heads, the experience taught me that even the traditionally unlovable vulture is not lacking a charm of its own.

It isn't even just the spectacular wildlife - there are the plants, also the entire ecosystem of dry limestone riverbeds which vanish beneath eight or nine feet of water after a good afternoon's rainfall, draining over the next few days to leave mud flats popping with millions of tiny frogs.

Since jacking in my Royal Mail job in 2009 and taking up cycling, I've kept track of the full tally of the distance I've travelled. I've just recently gone over 9,000 miles, more than half of those here in the US, back and forth between Rittiman and Wetmore, day after day, month after month.

Texas is hot and often weird, but it's never dull.

'You heard me,' said the turtle. 'Piss off.'

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