Leaving San Antonio
I got up early to head out of San Antonio. As I was pedaling on the loop road around San Antonio, a car pulled up next to me, keeping my speed. The girl in the passenger seat said, “Where are you going?” Then she kept asking questions. She and her boyfriend said I was inspiring. They were pumped for me. I told them that this was a first for me, having a car keep my pace to have a conversation while I cycled.
A few serious road cyclists passed me, easily. It seemed to be a popular route. Shitty though. Frontage road to an interstate.
I got stopped at a train crossing. It took about 30-40 minutes. Luckily, a cyclist was stopped there with me, so we talked. He asked about my trip, and said, “Damn, I wish I had done something like that when I was younger. I can’t do that now.” He was talking about his job and responsibilities to his wife and kids. It’s a good reminder of why I’m doing this at all.
I turned onto the I-10 frontage road on the way to El Paso about 500 miles away. I needed a ride. No way was I going to bike through the desert, and I was trying to get out towards Ryan quickly. He was in Colorado.
I made it to a gas station with a McDonalds. Everyone I asked was local, or on their way to San Antonio. This wasn’t a good spot.
Hitch to Kerrville
I rode over to the neighboring Valero gas station and pulled up to a Suburban. A young guy and his girlfriend were filling up. I asked them if they were going to El Paso. They weren’t but the guy offered to give me a ride to Kerrville, about 20 miles away. It was hard to know what to do. I could get stranded out in Kerrville if there’s nothing around, and where I am now, I could still go back to San Antonio and have a place to stay if I couldn’t find a ride to El Paso. But I felt I couldn’t give up an offer for a ride, so I took it.
I knew they were young, but I had know idea Peter was just out of high school, and Alex was going to be going into her senior year. Teenagers. They were really cool though and interested in my trip. I warned them about the quarter-life crisis. “Just look out and be ready for it when you turn 25.” I told them about the path I was on through school and into college, and then spit out to the working world, and then things weren’t so clear. The work path was way more boring, and I didn’t want to get stuck.
Asking for a Ride at a Gas Station
They dropped me at a pretty active gas station, but it was on the wrong side of the road, the road that would be going East to San Antonio. I was greeted by a motorcycle guy who was with his group. He asked me about my trip. “How far do you usually go each day?” “About 60 miles.” “Oh really? Is that all? I thought you could get further.” Dude, maybe you should try it. Riding up hills involves a lot more than just a turn of your wrist.
Once again, my target was guys in trucks. When I saw one pull up, I would act casually over by my bike outside the store, giving him a few minutes to get out and start the pump. Then, when I was sure he wasn’t still trying to get the pump to accept his debit card, I’d walk over confidently and ask, “Excuse me. Do you happen to be going West towards El Paso?” In asking it, I’d be as harmless as possible, not pushy. Just a nice guy. I would usually get friendly responses, but most were heading East.
I got one guy who was traveling alone with an empty truck to admit that he was going to El Paso. Then I asked, “Would you be able to give me a ride? I’m a cyclist from Atlanta, and I’m just trying to avoid riding through the desert.” He looked a little shocked, then hung his head, and begged me forgiveness. “Sorry, I can’t. I’m sorry. Sorry, sorry. I wish I could. I’m sorry.” He was really sorry. I guess he was really worried what might happen. He probably thought he’d end up dead.
A truck pulled in towing a loaded trailer. The bed of the truck was carrying a four-wheeler, and the trailer was carrying all sorts of gear. I gave it a shot. I figured there’d be room somewhere for my bike. I asked nicely and confidently. The guy was going to El Paso!! But, “I don’t like ridin’ with people.” Old gruff guy with a straight, heartless answer. It was probably better he didn’t give me a ride.
One guy I had asked, who was going East, hung around my hang out area by the store for a while. He was a friendly smart ass. All he offered was “Get pedalin’ man. You got a damn bike.”
Two Latino women saw me waiting out there for a while. I wasn’t going to ask them because they were women — I didn’t want to spook them — and they were in a car. But one of them was curious and sympathetic. I told her I was trying to get to El Paso. “Ooooh, we just came from there. Oh, I’m sorry. I wish we could help.” She asked if I needed anything from the store, like a drink. She really wanted to help me. I could tell from her face. Full of concern. It was a nice interaction.
Then I saw my ticket out of there. A truck with an empty bed came in pulling a trailer. Four young guys stepped out. I’m pretty sure they were a metal band on tour. This was hopeful. I figured I could bro around with them and get a ride. Plus, typically, these scary-looking metal, or punk, guys are really nice, gentle people. I asked the driver as he walked towards the store. He said they were going to El Paso. Then I asked for a ride. “No dude. Not enough space.” Dammit. I guess with four guys in the truck, it might be a tight squeeze.
But then I noticed that there was a girl who was with them, traveling alone in her empty Ford Focus. Throw my bike in the empty bed of the truck, and I’ll ride with the groupie girl and keep her company. Missed opportunity. Perfect situation. But I made the mistake.
I shouldn’t have let one person make the decision. I should have found the opportunity to ask the whole group, since I’m sure one of them would have had compassion and guilted the less compassionate ones into giving me a ride. Plus, the group might see it as more of an adventure. The one guy probably didn’t want the burden of making the decision to take in a stranger and have it go wrong. Lesson learned.
Get Pedalin’ Man!
After an hour and a half of waiting at the gas station, the “Get pedalin’ man!” comment got to me. Someone told me there was a rest area in 10 miles. I figured that could be a better place to ask for a ride. I got on my bike and rode on the I-10 shoulder.
Really hot. Nothing around.
I was a long way from the nearest big town, and about 8 days riding from El Paso. Fuck this.
I approached a “picnic area.” This was the rest area I heard about, but one important thing was missing: facilities. No facilities, no people. Why would they stop? And I was running out of water. Busted idea.
There was a small truck parked outside one of the picnic areas. The hood was open, overheated engine. There was a stack of about 10 mattresses strapped down in the back of the truck. The Mexican couple who owned the truck were taking a break at the table. I asked them if they had any water. The guy pointed to the roof of his truck, case of water bottles, and told me to help myself. I took one. Then later, after I retreated, and looked down on my luck, he urged me to take more. I took one more. Gracias!
I had found a piece of board on the side of the road. Desperate situation, desperate measures. Just desperate. I needed to find a ride, but I also needed to help myself get to the next town. So I made a “I Need A Ride” sign using my electrical tape (which I found on the side of the road back in Louisiana), and strapped it underneath the cargo net on my rear rack.
I was speaking to the Mexican couple when an older white lady pulled up in her Suburban. She was traveling alone and stopping to give her dog a walk. I told the couple that I would ask her for a ride, but I that I have a strong feeling she’d be spooked. They said I should give it a shot.
As I approached her, she turned away from me. Then within speaking distance, I started saying, “Excuse me … excuse me.” She didn’t turn around. Then, louder, “Ma’am?” Finally she turned, and I rattled off my story. “… I was just wondering if you could give me a ri..” “No.” Blunt. Bam. Spooked. “Okay, thank you.” I turned around and retreated. I freaked her out.
A few semi-trucks pulled in. I asked the drivers. They all said, “Man, I wish I could, but this is a company truck, and it would be a liability issue.”
I rode off. I was hoping my “I Need A Ride” sign would work. No one stopped or honked or anything. I figured it was probably too small. I was racing the sun, trying to get to Segovia with enough time to eat and then head out to find a camping site on the side of the road. It was 6:30 pm, and I still had 10 miles to go.
The Sign Worked
Then I saw two guys pulled over at the off ramp, waving me over. Shit, my sign worked! I had given up hope since I’d been riding with it for about two and a half hours. They said they could take me to El Paso, no problem. As we were loading the bike in the back, Rod asked, “You don’t have any guns or knives on you, right?”
Rod and Nate are brothers. They were driving back to Phoenix from a week-long vacation in Clearwater, FL. My hometown. Apparently, Rod saw my sign, and thought, “I would want someone to give me a ride if I was biking out here.” He asked Nate, and Nate said, “I don’t want some freak to be sitting behind me.” I guess he thought I might strangle him or something.
We were all put at ease pretty quickly as a lot of information was exchanged. I got to hear their story, and they heard mine. They were all about talking “dude,” and “bro,” and stuff being “tight.” I got a good sense that they were really decent guys. I mean, they took a chance and stopped for me.
I told them about CouchSurfing and they both dug it big time. They liked the idea of knowing a local in the area where you’re traveling, free accommodation, and building karma. They both got amped up on the “pay it forward” idea.
We stopped in Vanhorn, TX for the night. They got a motel room, and said I could stay. I told them I didn’t mind sleeping on the floor, so I ducked down in the truck as they went to check-in. Freebie.
We went to eat at Wendy’s. I bought them dinner off the value menu. A value gesture for their incredible generosity.
My luck had changed. It went from running out of water and looking for a good spot on the side of I-10 to being on a road trip with friends and sleeping in a motel room. I slept in the space between their beds. It was great.
Flow like Water to Phoenix
The next morning we headed out early. They were both saying how they were going to be sad to see me go. I wasn’t looking forward to it either. They would drop me off in Las Cruces, NM, where I could then find a ride up to Albuquerque. I would have a pretty good chance of finding a ride because Albuquerque is the next big town North on I-25.
Rod went a few miles off their track up I-25 to find a good gas station to drop me off. They wanted to solicit potential rides for me. They figured that if they vouched for me to some stranger, I would have a better chance.
We didn’t find much, but we saw a Sam’s Club so we stopped to eat. $2 pizza and drink combo. I treated them again. Another value gesture.
As we were leaving, I said “Damn, I wish I needed to get to Phoenix.” They agreed. Plus they had been saying that if I ever came through Phoenix, I should call them up and I’d have a place to stay. I started thinking. Maybe it would be a pretty cool jumping off point. I could ride through the Four Corners. Go to Grand Canyon. The main thing was that I didn’t really feel like trying to hitch a ride. I was with two cool guys. I wanted to flow like water.
So as we made it back to the truck where we would be parting ways, I asked if I could join them all the way to Phoenix. They were happy about it. Rod said I could stay with him no problem. Last minute change of plans. I was pumped about it.