Observations Specific to Texas:
1. There is only one rule to being a Texan: be obnoxiously obsessed with Texas.
2. There is only one rule to decorating in Texas: make it scream Texas.
3. In applying this Texas decorating rule, the following probably-not-so-hypothetical dialogue likely happened 60 times in the past 60 seconds in Texas: “Oh, I like the Texas Lone Star on that napkin holder, but what if we inserted the Texas Lone Star inside of a Texas state cutout. More Texas!” Why is this dialogue “probably-not-so-hypothetical?” Because all of the restaurants at which I ate had obnoxiously Texas napkin holders. Seriously, Texas décor is inescapable.
4. Why did I take two bullet points to discuss Texas decorating? Because it’s a close cousin to something even more obnoxiously Texas: Texas ranch gateways. You should see these ornate art pieces. And when I say “art pieces,” what I really mean is the aftermath of a competition between ranchers as to who can out-Texas the other. Eventually, after seeing all these ranch gateways, I played a game where I judged them on a scale of 1-5 Lone Stars—5 Lone Stars screaming Texas in the same way that a group of teenage cowgirls scream lyrics at a George Strait concert. Check out my map for some pictures of these gems.
5. Texas is big—big trucks, big personalities, big food serving sizes, big distances between towns.
6. Texas Hill County is spectacular. I can’t find the words to describe it. You’ll have to look at photos and videos on my map. The place was created for cyclists. One of my top two cycling locales so far.
7. Speaking about great cycling, the riding conditions west of Austin have been near perfect: little traffic, wide shoulders, pleasant motorists (although poor riding service, which I’ll cover later). If I had the option to cycle in the southwest or the southeast, I’d need a darned good reason to cycle in the southeast. There’s just so many reasons not to cycle in the southeast and so many great reasons to cycle in the southwest.
8. Latinos are much more likely to pay in cash relative to white folks. I was told that this is because many Latinos either (a) work under the table, (b) are in the United States illegally and thus cannot open an American bank account, or (c) both.
9. Despite the media’s portrayal of a porous American border, I passed countless US Border Patrol officers. These Border Patrol officers are all over the place, including as far north as Bracketville, a town roughly 40 miles north of the border. Mostly, I observed either: (1) officers waiting in their new Ford F-150 for something to happen, or (2) officers pulling tires along the dirt paths which flank the highways. Why were the officers pulling these tires? So that the groomed surfaces can reveal whether people—namely illegal immigrants—are traveling along these dirt paths.
10. Texas maintains long stretches of nothingness. Once I rode over 90 miles between resupply points. These stretches rarely contain cell phone service. But when these stretches intersect with a major highway—even though the highway is situated in the middle of nowhere—cell phone service appears. I suppose there is still money to be made in providing drivers with cell phone service.
11. There is Texas specific marketing. Yes, I rolled my eyes too.
12. The logistics and marketing folks at the big American auto companies must have the easiest jobs in the world. Everyone here drives a pickup truck. Step (1): make a “Texas edition” pickup truck. Step (2) ship every “Texas edition” pickup truck to Texas. Step (3) customers snap up the “Texas edition” pickup truck. Step (4) profits.
13. If you read my Louisiana recap about smoking, you’ll remember that I noted smoking cigarettes is extremely common in Louisiana. In large part, this trend has continued into Texas, most notably eastern Texas.
14. Dogs are mostly fenced or tethered. Louisiana, you should take note.
15. I met this guy in Navasota who raved about extreme four wheeling parties in Texas. He described it as “redneck tailgating.” Obviously, I had to look this up. It’s a real thing. I’d describe it as redneck spring break. Check it out here: http://www.news-journal.com/multimedia/photos/texas-redneck-games-muddy-gras/collection_a171fbfe-6d96-11e2-945f-0019bb2963f4.html.
16. Trains are inescapable. Unfortunately, a large proportion of my ride through Texas, with the exception of Austin and its surrounding areas, has closely tracked a rail line. It doesn’t matter how thick a buildings’ walls are, the flat lands in Texas permit a horn blast to be heard 3-4 miles away. Oh, and trains are perfectly designed to shake every piece of earth within half a mile radius of the tracks. To Union Pacific, your shareholders may love you, your customers may love you, but I’ve lost too many hours of sleep to your senseless horn blasts occurring in every west Texas ghost town. I now understand why law school chose trains to represent every externality case study.
17. I got my first flat tire in western Texas. Took 2,000 miles. Not bad. Props to Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires for warding off the countless thorns, metal and glass shards, and other debris over which I rode.
18. Idle oil derricks were a common sight, evidence that easy, conventional domestic oil plays are a thing of the past.
19. During my stay with a family of scientists at the McDonald Observatory, a location just north of the Permian Basin, the husband noted that an orange hue radiates over the southern horizon at night. What is this orange hue? It’s oil and gas plants flaring off perfectly good oil and gas. Why? Because (a) fracking wells are extraordinarily productive, (b) the existing piping infrastructure is already at maximum capacity, and (c) adequate storage infrastructure does not currently exist. As a result, energy companies process as much oil and gas as they are able and simply burn off the excess. Talk about a sharp distinction between the silent oil derricks and the overly productive fracking plants. Here is a great overview about the issue here: http://www.nbcnews.com/business/energy/fracking-boom-waste-flares-light-prairie-unused-natural-gas-n186946
20. Take the worst thing you ever smelled and multiply it by ten. That’s what a dead deer baking under the desert sun smells like. I’ll spare you the visual.
21. Austin, Texas is a polarizing place to many Texans. Here are the two schools of thought which were expressed by two native Texans I met during my journey (1) One guy in Leakey, Texas lauded Austin using the following logic: “America is the best county in the world; Texas is the best state in America; and Austin is the best city in Texas. Thus, Austin is the best city in the world.” Sounds fair enough to me. (2) Another guy in Navasota, Texas lamented over Austin as follows: “Austin is where all of the Texas liberals go. As far as I’m concerned, all of those liberals can stay in Austin. Texas would be better for it.”
22. My scoop on Austin: it’s awesome.
23. Land development in Austin is extremely controversial. People grumble over the increasing traffic congestion and the rising cost of living. On the other hand, people love their newfound home equity. I say, “Suck it up, Austin. Us Washingtonians deal with much worse.”
24. There is a Kyle, Texas. What’s not to like about that?
25. Yetti coolers! Yetti coolers were described to me as high-class redneck tailgating gear. Can’t argue with that.
26. Texas primary and secondary roads are, well, bad. Texas roads maintain this nasty pavement called “chipseal.” Chipseal is basically course aggregate scattered on top of asphalt. The idea is that instead of expending the resources to smooth out the road, the weight of the vehicles will smooth out the road instead. Here’s the problem: (1) cars don’t ride on the shoulder but cyclists do, and (2) it takes a lot of traffic volume to smooth out the chipseal. How would I describe riding on chipseal? Chipseal eats away at my tires like Christian Hackenburg’s untimely interceptions eat away my heart.
27. Whataburger! McDonalds<Whataburger<Five Guys
28. Texas rivers are not rivers at all. They are big sandboxes without the water. Where has all the water gone??
29. Cotton farms exist in Texas, most notably in the desert of west Texas. However, I thought cotton required a steady supply of water? Perhaps this is why the Texas rivers are devoid of water.
30. Border towns. Wow, these places looked poor. Frankly, many of the outskirts of El Paso looked more like Guatemala than Texas. Hard to believe that I was still in America.
31. Thousands of miles of telephone and electricity lines crisscross the Texas landscape connecting small town to small town—an investment that must reach into the billions of dollars. Hard to believe that it is economical to connect towns a hundred miles away with populations of little more than 100 people.
32. Hundreds of miles between towns means that there are hundreds of miles of highway shoulder to mow. And mow Texas does. I can’t imagine the mowing cost the state incurs each year. However, I know this: mowed shoulders make it much easier to observe debris and any animal lurking alongside the road. For this, Texas, I salute you. Louisiana: take note from Texas. Again.
33. I’ve found it difficult to articulate this bizarre social dynamic in the South where folks are overwhelmingly hospitable, kind, and friendly but can quickly become defensive, though, and even ruthless. Thankfully, I had an experience in Dryden, Texas which put everything into perspective. On Thanksgiving Day, I sat outside of a closed general store eating my midday lunch. Ultimately, an employee of the store opened the door, permitted us to buy drinks inside, and even invited us to Thanksgiving dinner! Even with all the hospitality I’ve received along the trip, this invite surprised me. However, about 10 minutes later, as we were finishing our lunch outside, the same employee noticed a stranger walking on the neighbor’s property. The employee shouted, “What’s he doing over there? He’s liable to get shot!” and sprints over to warn the trespasser. In one breath I observed one of the most generous offers I’d seen along the trip. In the very next breath I observed how overzealous property owners have no qualms about using a deer rifle to enforce what’s theirs. In short, people in Texas (and the South generally) are super friendly, but when the line is crossed, things get ugly really quickly. (For the unabridged version, see the map icon under Dryden, Texas).
34. White Top, Texas is an antique mecca. This place only has 90 people but somehow manages to support dozens of antique shops.
35. In the South (including Texas), you don’t wish someone goodbye with “have a good day;” it’s “have a blessed day.” Also, you know how people preface a jerky comment by saying “with all due respect” in hopes that the jerky comment won’t sound so jerky? In Texas, you preface the jerky comment with “bless his/her heart” and then add the jerky comment.
1. If you want directions, ask white Millennials. No, it’s not because we are good with directions. In fact, we are terrible with directions. But we have smartphones. And we know how to use them.
2. The most common farewell bidding I’ve received is “be safe out there.” On one hand, I appreciate the concern. On the other hand, I’m always thinking, “Is there something you’re not telling me?”
3. I’d be surprised if more than 80% of vehicles pass their state’s emission test.
4. There is one dead giveaway in determining whether someone is a serious cyclist: the person talks endlessly about bikes. Not biking. Bikes. For example, serious cyclists want to know what type of bike you ride and what type of tires you’re “running.” Here’s a favorite question of serious cyclists: “Do you (meaning me) regret using a trailer or are you (meaning me) happy that all of the weight is off the bike?” If you find yourself talking about bikes, you’re likely talking to someone serious about cycling.
5. Internet in many parts of the South (including Texas) is a luxury. “High-speed internet” is misleading, as it usually means DSL. Even worse, I was at a gas station in Mississippi and a woman apologized to me for the delay in processing my credit card. “Unfortunately, we are still on dialup,” she said. Although telecom companies are laying fiber optics cables, many parts of the South must rely on either DSL or dialup for Internet connection.