Anthem of the day:
I’ve decided to skip Texas for a couple of reasons. First, I’m behind schedule and I need to be in Arizona at the beginning of March to start work and receive the deliveries for everything that I’m moving from Rhode Island to my new apartment. Second, despite a few interesting spots like Marfa, TX, the roughly 800 miles of riding in Texas is extremely rural with limited services and a lot of repetitive scenery. Personally, I’d just rather not spend two weeks of my two-month sabbatical from college and work in the desert, as picturesque as it is. Since I’m cutting out some riding, I’ll have some more time to check out San Diego and the other places on the western part of the route, or hook up with some friends that are visiting Colorado before I start my new life in Arizona. I hope someday I can come back and complete the full route and find out what I missed out on in Texas.
Meanwhile back at the ranch, I found out the hotel actually has a free shuttle to the airport on request, so my late-night hike through the cold was in vain. I had reserved another rental car through Hertz and confirmed with an agent that there would be a car there when I got to the airport. I checked out of my room and took the front wheel off of my bike so it could fit into the shuttle. The shuttle took me to the airport but the driver told me I’d have to take a separate bus to get to the rental car center. Watching scenery move by without having to pedal was an unusual sensation.
I arrived at the rental car center and was told at the Hertz counter that they did not have a car for me. A mental chorus of sitcom laugh tracks played in my head and I brought my bike over to a bench to regroup. Since I was going one-way to El Paso I needed a car that didn’t have to be returned to the same place. I asked at the Avis counter if they had any such cars and she informed me that no one in the center has had one-way rentals for a few days, and it wouldn’t be until Tuesday until one was available (it’s Saturday).
I weighed my options. I could stay in a motel in Houston and wait until the weather climbed above 20 degrees so I could ride without fear of hypothermia, and then try to have a car ready for when I reach Austin, or I could figure out some other way to get across.
Unfortunately, generous strangers that would let a hitchhiking cyclist ride with them across the state were in short supply, so I needed to look at other options. None of the long-distance busses out of Houston allowed bikes unless they were packaged up in a case or box so that was out of the question (see my introductory posts to see how involved it is to pack and reassemble a bike). I considered a very climate unfriendly scheme wherein I would rent a car that wasn’t one-way drop off (the only kind available), then drive 9 hours to El Paso, drop off the bike at some kind of temporary storage, drive 9 hours back to Houston and drop off the car, then take the bus to El Paso. I decided not to do this because it is stupid.
I remembered from binging bike touring YouTube videos that you can bring a bike on some Amtrak routes. After doing some research I learned that there was a train from Houston to El Paso leaving later in the day, and it allows bikes, but there was no way my bike with all its gear and extra modifications would be allowed on the train. I figured I would have to ship some gear ahead of me and pick it up in El Paso, but this again seemed like it would be an unmanageable hassle.
Sitting outside the Avis car rental counter, I tried an experiment. I took everything off my bike and stuffed my saddlebags to the gills. I stripped the water bottle cages off of the front fork and packed them into a small backpack I’ve been using to hold my clothes, along with the rest of my gear that wouldn’t fit in the panniers. Miraculously, everything fit into my two saddlebags and single 18L backpack. With my helmet still strapped to my head, I was left with a bike that looked almost as bare as it did when my mom bought it in the early 90’s, and would hopefully be allowed onto the train.
Since it was looking more likely that I would be able to take the train, I needed to figure out how to get from the airport to the train station downtown 25 miles away. I thought about taking an Uber, but getting a bike into an Uber is tricky business. You have to hire the Uber then immediately call the driver and ask if they’ll take your bike (which you’ll likely have to disassemble to fit in their car). Also the requisite Uber XL downtown cost 50$. That would mean going downtown to Houston would cost about half as much as taking the 107$ Amtrak across the entire state of Texas. Thankfully, the 102 Houston Metro runs from the airport to downtown Houston, and allows bikes, so I got my first experience bringing a bike on a bus.
For the low low price of 1.25$, the bus got me downtown with plenty of time to spare to make the train. On the short bike ride from the bus stop to the Amtrak station I got to see some sights in downtown Houston.
I checked in at the counter and breathed a sigh of relief as the Amtrak agent told me my bike was fine to be stowed on the train. Now all that was left to do was wait for the train.
The train was delayed by an hour, but I boarded without any problems.
The train was awesome. My coach seat was bigger than any first class seat on an airplane. Everything was clean and comfortable. I got a seat on the upper deck so I’d be able to get some good views. When it’s not pitch black that is. Riding through San Antonio, stoplights and headlights were the extent of my sightseeing. It was cool to get to be on the train at the railroad crossing instead of waiting for it to pass for once.
I stopped by the café car and got some fantastic food fresh out of the snack bar’s microwave.
Here’s a short video tour of the train.
I hung out with some friends over Discord then passed out sprawled across both the seats in my row, draped in my raincoat.