Madisonville, Texas – I’m traveling northeast out of Austin, Texas on Highway 21.
Known as the Kings Highway or El Camino Real, it was the stagecoach trail and the route for wagon trains and cattle drives from Mexico City to Nacogdoches to Louisiana.
After three days I’ve logged more than 182 miles in 97-degree heat.
Native Texans are complaining it’s too hot, too early.
I normally begin riding at 5:30 a.m. However, today progress slowed because I found another wallet; it’s my second wallet discovery on this trip and, oh yeah, I found that last night a dog attacked my luggage.
I’m not sure why it happened. Full disclosure, after two weeks of travel my bags smell like feet and ass.
The stink has actually forced me to abandon hand washing my spandex uniform and opt for a laundromat.
Luckily in Madisonville, a block over from the local paper The Madisonville Meteor, up the street from The Mule Barn Boutique and across from 8 Amigos Auto Inc. and the Quik-E-Mart, there’s the convenient Washateria. (See pictures in former post.)
It’s a coin laundry combined with a cafeteria. And yes, that emotion you’re feeling right now is jealousy. It’s a unique idea featuring an on-site attendant that sells detergent, soda, and frozen Popsicles.
I doubt anyone else can say they’ve had the Washateria experience.
JAKES IN CALDWELL…
The recommended restaurant in the small town of Caldwell, Texas is Jakes.
It’s a sidewinder cafe where the owner, Gladys, knows all her customers by name. The front counter at Jakes has the feel of a high school cafeteria.
A bowl of shredded lettuce sits packed in ice in the bottom compartment of a stainless steel counter. There are large slices of white cake with chocolate frosting on individual styrofoam plates on the second shelf and on the counter is a slab of butter the size of a toaster.
There’s already considerable yellow melt in progress.
And, there is the collection of 3-foot-tall raccoon-hunting trophies above the cake level on the serving counter.
It’s just like Norman Rockwell would have painted it.
The trophies reach the ceiling and it looks like the ceiling has been raised just to accommodate the awards.
Customers at Jakes are friendly – drawing maps of back-road routes to get me to College Station and scanning their cellphones to see if they can wrangle up a real cowboy to come visit before I leave.
One old timer, Bob, has married 1,800 people and buried nearly 3,000; he promises to say a prayer for me later that afternoon to ensure safe travel.
GEORGE BUSH LIBRARY..
The George Bush Presidential Library and Museum is located on the Texas A&M campus in College Station, Texas.
The exhibit begins with a series of black-and-white family photos of Bush’s parents, his siblings, and days of youth. The photos are displayed in a variety of frames and has the feel of a living room wall in the Bush family home.
The library covers Bush’s work as a Navy hero, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., his term as vice president to Ronald Reagan, and his election as the 41st President of the United States in Jan. 1989.
There were impressive displays of a slab of the Berlin Wall, Bush’s Oval Office and pictures and letters from the Gulf War.
One overriding theme is how the Bush’s stressed the importance of nobility of public service.
Bush credits his parents for teaching him about ‘common decency and honor’ and there are several references to Bush being known as ‘have half’ because he offered half of anything he had to friends and family.
Took a break at the Yellowjacket Cafe in the small, small town of Alto, Texas.
As I was downing my second glass of water a large man (think Wimpy from Popeye swallowed Cletus from Dukes of Hazzard) sitting at a table across the room.
He asked which way I was headed. When I said north, all he could do was laugh.
“You’re headed for Hyder Hill – you’ll never make it.”
Then the man started laughing; not a large-man boisterous laugh but something like “Tee hee hee hee…”
It made me think he was wearing Dora-the-Explorer underwear, meant for a large child.
He laughed all the way out the door.
A woman name Alma sat with me and had breakfast.
She too asked which direction and quietly stared at her plate, pushing her pancake around in syrup, shaking her head while mentioning Hyder Hill.
Eight miles out of Alto there were some minor hills, and I thought these people really didn’t know what they were talking about.
Then, just outside of Nacogdoches, it was like seeing Godzilla walking in your direction and you have no where to go but straight at him.
The hill was a jaw-dropping climb; pretty vertical – not Decorah Hill vertical, but close. And a little less than a mile long.
Temperatures was nearly 100 degrees and it was around 3 o’clock in the afternoon. I thought it was funny that a woman, standing by the curb at her mailbox said plain as day, “I wouldn’t even pull my truck up that hill in this weather.”
The next day while heading out of town I stopped at a Wal-Mart. I’m dressed in a bright bicycling shirt and spandex shorts and one of the clerks, a biker, asked me how I got to town.
I told him on Highway 21 and he interrupts and said, “You climbed Hyder Hill. You know that’s a Stage One climb?”
And then he gave me a windmill high five.
I did not know that was a Stage-One climb, matter of fact I don’t even know what a Stage-One climb is…. but I nailed it.
So I guess I’m awesome; everybody says so.
OLDEST CITY IN TEXAS…
One of the more beautiful portions of Highway 21 is a forested section between Crockett and Alto.
The 34-mile stretch changes from a flat prairie to rolling hills filled with trees offering an umbrella of branches that provide a cool canopy of shade over the highway.
It feels very “On the Road” with Charles Kuralt.
Nacogdoches is the oldest town in Texas. There are brick pavers lining the entire Main Street in the downtown historic district.
The Town Information Center features a lot of local history including a graphic black-and-white photo from 1902 of hundreds of people gathered in the town square for a noon hanging of a 19-year-old black man.
There’s also history on Stephen F. Austin University, the start of oil drilling and a framed newspaper article and color photo of the 2003 Shuttle Columbia crew.
After the February explosion, chunks of the shuttle were found along Main St. in Nacogdoches.
Back on the streets of Nacogdoches, historical markers dot nearly every corner and building.
Most interesting is the old Opera House and its link to the Marx Brothers and their improvisational style of comedy.
In 1907 during one of the Marx Brothers performances there was a disturbance on Main St. and the audience left their seats to witness the goings on. There was some confusion whether it was simply a runaway horse or a mule that kicked a cart to pieces and dragged it down the street. Whatever the case, the Marx Brothers were angry with the loss of audience and began to race around the stage in a frenzy of comic behavior. Their antics brought the audience back and launched a new direction in their entertainment careers.
Today the Opera House is home to an art center and individual business offices.
I found accommodations that night while sitting on the corner listening to a group of guys playing guitar and mandolin. They put me in touch with a friend who let me stay in the Nelson-Davis House in the Stern-Hoya Historic District.
The “Yellow House” has three stories with 18 rooms, four bathrooms, two kitchens and architectural features indicative of the Queen Anne style. The house at 522 E. Main was built by Dr. Nelson in the 1890s. The second floor was added under a raised roof in approximately 1905. In the early 1900s it was a fashionable boarding house and still has screen doors on each upstairs bedroom. The home features 15-foot high ceilings, large 8-foot-high windows, and a Victorian Tea Room on the first floor. There is dark, stained hardwood through the entire house, including a 25-step staircase to the second floor.
A couple of interesting things include the transoms above the doors and the wallpaper is actually fabric – colorful flower patterns, stripes, and there’s a bathroom with Depression-era jugglers and clowns on horseback.
The home has been restored and is currently for sale.
TIDBITS FROM TEXAS…
I’ve seen a lot of armadillo, dead by the side of the road. Texans say they used to shoot them and eat them, now they all say the armadillo can give you leprosy… and they just steer clear of them.
When I was in Austin the local athletic apparel stores and bike shops would voluntarily put big, orange coolers of water on the edge of trails for runners, walkers and bikers. The goodwill apparently translates well and helps draw customers back to the stores.
Went to the Davy Crockett museum in Crockett, Texas. The town is named after Davy Crockett, which is odd since he only slept there one night and then went on to San Antonio where he was killed while helping defend the Alamo. Anyway, one of the interesting things at the museum was paperwork of someone’s will, which put a price on what their slaves were worth. A 6-year-old girl was listed at $300. An 8-year-old boy was about $350. A 35-year-old man was around $850 and a 70-year-old woman was free for the taking.
Stopped at a gas station in the small, small town of Garrison to get some water. Even with my savage tan I was still the whitest person within 10 miles. A big ole black man was in the store buying candy for his grandson and he asked me about my trip and how I was handling the heat. During our conversation a young, muscular African-American teen strutted around the parking lot, glanced at my bike and finally shuffled over to a pickup and sat in the passenger seat. He kept a keen / cocky eye on me. When the gentleman and I were done talking he walked past the pickup and the kid said, “Whut she want?” The old man nonchalantly said, “She’s looking for someone to ride with her and I gave her your name.” I love how the old folks mess with the young whipper-snappers.
By the time you read this I’ll have crossed into Arkansas. I’ll also have collected my first 1,000 miles on the tour.