Day 45: May 6, 2007
Pflugerville, Texas to New Braunfels, Texas
Distance 71 miles in 5h 22m
Total Distance: 1,721 miles
Today's weather forecast is the same as it's been for the past week and will be for the next five days: more scattered thunderstorms. I'm starting to think that Texas is not the sun worshipers paradise I thought it was. So...after several hours of indecisiveness, I decided it was high time to get back on the bike, start getting wet, and just get this lousy Texas weather over with. I started pedaling south from Pflugerville into downtown Austin. My goal for the day was New Braunfels, a town where Wendy had friends who offered me a room for the night.
On the way into Austin, I was met by my friend Fernando Labastida and his wife Yami. They were returning from San Antonio, where their son Alejandro's soccer game had finished with a score of 0-0. While dining on pineapple empanadas at McDonald's - another item for my "Only in Texas " list - I tried to discuss ways of making soccer more appealing to the average American: "A game where the score is 122 to 117, that's an exciting game; 49 to 42, that's also exciting. But I'm sorry, 0 to 0 is not the definition of excitement." They seemed unconvinced. "Okay, how about this, just think how much more exciting soccer would be if they used two balls instead of just one. That way there would always be something exciting going on, instead of just a bunch of guys running around in circles, kicking each other in the shins."
Fernando and I decided to continue the soccer debate at a later time. We said our goodbyes, vowed that we wouldn't let another 30 years pass before seeing each other again, and I got back on the bike. Soon I was in downtown Austin. I went through the center of the city via Congress Avenue and biked right around the State Capitol - probably the only time on this trip I get to do something like that.
Though it was Sunday and the traffic was light, the stoplights in Austin really slowed me down. I finally got past the city, and cycled along some scenic farm roads. The weather looked threatening throughout most of the ride, and I also suspected I would run out of daylight (again) before reaching my destination. One of these days I will finally learn my lesson and get on the road before noon.
By the time I reached the town of San Marcos, about 20 miles north of New Braunfels, the light was getting dim. There was a light drizzle to cool me off, but the humidity was so bad (about 85%) that it fogged up my helmet mirror. I called Craig, my host in New Braunfels, apologized for being late, and said I would try to reach his home as quickly as I could. For the final hour of the trip, I used the I-35 service road, and this turned out to be a great decision. Wide shoulders, decent lighting, and hardly any traffic for a Sunday evening. I also passed a homeless cyclist, and was able to assist him by filling up his nearly-flat tires.
Both my safety lights were working fine - somebody please remind me to buy some more AAA batteries in the weeks ahead - and I was really starting to enjoy the service road. I reached New Braunfels a little after 9pm without any problems. Craig welcomed me to his charming, recently restored home and we went out for a late dinner and some pie.
Somehow I managed to turn another 50-mile trip into a 70-miler. But thanks to the I-35 service road - a road which will always occupy a special place in my cycling heart - I was able to safely reach New Braunfels even in darkness.
Before I went to bed, I pulled out my maps and did some quick calculations. More than 1300 miles to go until I reach San Diego. Here's the crazy part: I won't reach El Paso, the last stop in Texas, for at least another 600 miles!
Day 46: May 7, 2007
New Braunfels, Texas to San Antonio, Texas
Distance 23.5 miles in 1h 57m
Total Distance: 1,744 miles
New Braunfels was settled in 1845 by several hundred German settlers looking for some good Tex-Mex. They left a big imprint on the town and the area around it. Craig, my host in New Braunfels, said his town had evolved into a uniquely Texan, half-German, half-Mexican kind of place. I pedaled around the old part of town and wished I had a little more time to explore the area, and of course visit one of the German restaurants. Since I spent more than three years living in Germany, I always enjoy a chance to practice my German, preferably with actual German food in my mouth. I just find that it improves my pronunciation for some reason.
I knew I had a short ride ahead of me, so I took the time to stop at a bike store called The Bike Platz. The owners, Sue and Janelle, really went out of their way to help me. Sue checked my air pressure and found out that I had lost about 25% of the air in my tires. Probably explains why my bike felt slow and sluggish in the preceding days. And all along I thought I was just getting fatter! She also checked my chain and derailleur components for wear and tear, and got her hands covered with grease and dirt while performing basic maintenance that I should have been doing all along. Thank you Sue and Janelle and all the best with the bike shop!
It was an easy ride out of New Braunfels along some back roads Sue had recommended for me. I cycled over an impressive pedestrian bridge, stretching at least 600 feet over the Guadalupe River. This bridge, built in 1887, is unique for its style of construction. Unfortunately, since I didn't pay much attention in my engineering classes, I can't tell you any more than this. Guess you'll just have to take my word for it.
The ride to San Antonio was thankfully short. However, the poison ivy I picked up while hiking up Enchanted Rock had gotten progressively worse in the past few days, and by the middle of today I was spending more time scratching than cycling.
Salvation came in the form of a phone call from Raquel, a cousin of my father. I recently found out that I have several cousins living in San Antonio, and they offered me a place to stay during my visit. Raquel insisted on picking me up a few miles from her home, and since I was in poison ivy hell, I didn't argue. We drove to her sister Olga's house, where I met Olga and her husband Wally. I have never met any of these relatives before. So in addition to enjoying the cycling and seeing new parts of the USA, I am also getting the chance to connect with family members I would not have met otherwise.
I have reached San Antonio and am thrilled to make it this far. Looking at my map, I am noticing that there isn't much between here and El Paso!
The next stage of cycling will probably be the most challenging of the whole trip.
Days 47-50: May 8-11, 2007
Time with family and friends in San Antonio, Texas,
and visits to the Brooke Army Medical Center and the Center For the Intrepid
With my new San Antonio cousins, I was able to spend some pleasant days in San Antonio, and even get to do some of the touristy things like a stroll along River Walk and a visit to the Alamo.
Cousin Raquel generously lent me her car for a few days so I could explore the city. One of the first things I did was to take a ride over to the VA Hospital to see if I could get anything for my poison ivy. It was preventing me from sleeping, so now it was getting personal. Two thumbs-up for the VA Hospital in San Antonio !! Efficient, courteous, professional, and no hassles whatsoever. I told them I was suffering from poison ivy, and they quickly got me registered into their system. With only a short wait, I was able to see a doctor, who prescribed some strong medication for me. One of the best VA hospitals I have ever visited. Keep up the great work!
Also spoke to the Marine detachment at the brand-new Center for the Intrepid, right next to Brooke Army Medical Center. It was a wonderful experience to talk to these young men who are recovering from their war juries. Several of them lost limbs or sustained other horrific injuries during their service. They stay quite active with athletic events and take their therapy programs seriously. I wish that every American could hear their stories and witness their perseverance. I sure hope I can join them for some of their rides in the future.
Dana Munari, a West Point classmate, has been working at Brooke for several years. As a junior officer, he was once a tanker like me. He got of the service for a while, and decided to return to active-duty, this time in the medical field. He took me through the ward where patients with severe burns are treated. There is no better facility anywhere for this type of treatment. The things I saw during my brief visit were disturbing, but it was comforting to know that America's severely injured sons and daughters are getting the best level of care available in the world. It was quite moving to see the medical professionals quietly and diligently do a job I know I never could do. I know they would probably say they were only doing their jobs, but watching them do what they do best made me proud just to be in their presence.
Dana trains nurses who are saving lives throughout the world. We had breakfast together in the hospital cafeteria, and it was quite a educational experience to hear him talk about Army medicine and his career as a nurse practitioner. Many people go to bed at night wondering if they are making a difference. Dana doesn't have that problem. I'm proud to call him my friend.
In New Braunfels ist das Leben Schoen. Translation: Life is great in New Braunfels! One of the coolest half-German, half-Mexican cities you will find in Texas.
Built in 1887, the Faust Street Bridge stretches more than 600 feet over the Guadalupe River in New Braunfels, a city settled by German immigrants in 1845.
Riverwalk - San Antonio, TX
San Antonio river boats.
Bridge and amphitheater on the San Antonio River Walk.
The Alamo - San Antonio, Texas
Misión de la Espada in San Antonio. There is a bike trail which includes stops at these old Spanish misions and other historic sites of San Antonio.
The Center for the Intrepid in San Antonio. Built in 2007, it provides rehabilitative services to severely injured military personnel. It was built entirely with private donations.
The Center for the Intrepid as seen from Brooke Army Medical Center. Brooke is the premier facility for burn victims in the US military.
Major Dana Munari is a Nurse Practicioner and Trainer at Brooke. He trains nurses how to save lives in combat zones. Dana is also a West Point classmate and has always been a fantastic athlete and cyclist.