Day Thirty-Three

Snyder, TX to Lamesa, TX

My apologies to Buddy Holly. I originally planned to ride to Lubbock to see the Buddy Holly statue. From there,  I was going to go to Clovis, New Mexico, where I could visit Norman Petty's studio where Holly recorded. But then I thought, wait a minute--is it really worth pedalling all those extra miles for that? Instead, I decided to take the direct route west to New Mexico, rejoining an old friend, US 180. It was a beautiful Easter Sunday with sunny skies, temperatures in the 70's and mild winds.

After stocking up on Coke, water and OJ, I stopped in Snyder to read a historical plaque. By the way, Texas must lead the nation in historical markers. They are everywhere, even in the middle of nowhere. It seems like every cemetery, no matter how remote,  has a marker, and every town has several plaques. I stop to read most of them because they are ideal places to take a break. No one gets suspicious of someone standing in front of a historical marker, but lingering in front of a house is a good way to meet the family dog(s). Anyway, the marker told about a railroad called the Snyder, Roscoe & Pacific. It was quite an optimistic name for a railroad that ended up going between Snyder, Roscoe and Fluvanna for a total of 51 miles. A white pick-up truck pulled up about a hundred feet away, and a woman called out the window to me. " Are you from Snyder?" she asked. I said I wasn't and figured I was off the hook for whatever she was going to ask me about, probably directions. " Do you want to come to church?" I politely declined, even though it was Easter. Too bad--I would have looked great in a pew with my bright red cycling jersey alongside everyone in their Sunday best.

It was a pretty quiet day with light traffic and only one town to ride through. The town of Gail was so small its sign didn't give a population, even though it was the seat of Borden County. I didn't even see a functioning gas station (there were at least two former stations), but at least there was a post office across from the courthouse. There were several businesses:  a cafe, a small grocery, a junk shop and a  variety store. As I had feared, nothing was open. Fortunately, there were Coke machines--I had three to choose from in this tiny town. I drank a Coke in the shade, taking a break from the hot sun. It was another 30 miles to Lamesa.

The road west of town was freshly " paved" with tar and gravel. Up north they use tar and chip, but these rocks were bigger than chips. The surface isn't so bad after a few years when traffic has pushed the gravel down into the tar, but it's more bumpy on the less-traveled shoulders, and it's even more bumpy when it's fresh. My wider touring tires made it tolerable for the next 14 miles to the county line. On skinny road bike tires it would have been miserable.

US 180 had rolling hills all day. The surrounding terrain gradually became more rugged, better suited to ranching than farming. It was all so beautiful, straight out of  a western movie. I wanted to stop every five minutes to take pictures. West of Gail, I found myself flirting with the edge of the Texas high plains known as the Llano Estacado, Spanish for " Staked Plains." Out here, they usually call it the caprock. I had a feeling that with a name like " Lamesa," my destination would be up on top of the caprock (" la mesa" means " the table" in Spanish).

Finally, about halfway from Gail to Lamesa, the road curved and began to climb, disappearing into a ridge. This lasted for about a mile, a steady but not too steep climb. Suddenly, I was atop the Llano Estacado. The land looked totally different--it was flat, very flat. It brought to mind an excellent song by James McMurtry about a town on the caprock--" Levelland." I wasn't going to Levelland, which is 25 miles west of Lubbock, but the terrain was certainly just like McMurtry described it in his song:

Flatter than a table top, makes you wonder why they stopped here

Wagon must have broke a wheel or they lacked ambition, one...

So they sunk some roots down in the dirt

To keep from blowin' off the earth

Built a town around here

And when the dust had all but cleared they called it Levelland

After hearing the song I wanted to visit the town, even though the song wasn't exactly flattering. I read in an interview that McMurtry actually was inspired by a friend from Floydada, another town on the caprock, but Levelland fit the meter, so that became the town in the song. With that in mind, it could just as well have been inspired by Lamesa. The interviewer said he thought of all of Texas as " level land." Obviously this person never rode a bicycle across the state!

The high plains surrounding me were farmland, not ranch country. As McMurtry sang,

Daddy's cotton grows so high

Sucks the water table dry

Rolling sprinklers circle round

Bleedin' it to the bone

The cotton wasn't growing yet, but I saw lots of plowed land, a cotton gin at the south end of Lamesa and plenty of irrigation equipment. Somehow that climb onto the caprock energized me, and the last 15 miles to Lamesa flew by. I cruised along at 17-20 mph all the way into town. This was the kind of day where if I had a chance to go an extra 10-15 miles to another town, I would have. Unfortunately, it was 40 miles to the next town,  Seminole. I rode past several motels in Lamesa, settling on the Shiloh Inn. When I opened the door to my room, I was overcome by the smell of ammonia or some other cleaning chemical, as if someone had spilled somewhere. I called the front desk to ask for another room. " The owner says they just cleaned the room. Can we send someone down there with deodorizer for you?" This is the same school of thought that led to dumping sewage into the Chicago River because the water would dilute it enough not to smell. I told her I really didn't want to be breathing the stuff (there was already a slight burning in my nostrils), so she finally gave in and offered me another room.

For dinner, I took a chance on the gas station/mini-mart/short-order grill across the street. My Easter dinner consisted of a double cheeseburger, spicy potato wedges (like a curly fry coating) and a Coke. The cook asked if I wanted mustard or mayo. Neither, I replied. " Oh, you want it dry?" she asked. Well, actually I wanted it juicy, but after a couple weeks in Texas  I'd caught on to the lingo and nodded my head.  I was pleasantly surprised--the burger was really good. Then again, everything tastes better after a good day of riding. After I finished eating, I called my grandparents' house and talked to a bunch of relatives gathered there for Easter. It was a great day.

Totals for the day: 66.86 miles in 4:59:12 for a 13.4 mph average.

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Copyright 2002-2013 David Johnsen. All rights reserved.