The Other Side of Texas
In early 2018, we traveled to the desert of West Texas to explore on SRAM RED® eTap® HRD-equipped road bikes with three SRAM ambassadors. Here, Ted King recounts the strange and wonderous place that is the other side of Texas.
In an era of incessant connectivity, the simplest way to disconnect is to make it impossible. Drive nearly five hours southeast of El Paso in West Texas and you’ll reach Terlingua. Not so much a town as a categorized “census designated place”—that census reading in the middle double digits—Terlingua’s night sky is as magnificently expansive as its cellular reception is non-existent. Want to get away? This is your place. Exploring the surrounding area from which the original 1880s mining town flourished, the number of establishments can be counted on two hands with digits to spare. A single cafe and one saloon, the remaining businesses consist of a half dozen motels, small cabins to rent, and providing the most stark contrast to the craggy, rocky landscape are three white tipis jutting skyward, Basecamp Terlingua. These lone businesses are the quiet murmurs of a dusty ghost town, therefore it’s not off-base thinking you’re deep into a peyote trip as the tipi door flaps open and you step four feet below ground into half subterranean palace. It earns your undivided attention as reception remains nonexistent.
This is the wild west, lest we forget. When asking locals where to ride, it was with a friendly south Texan twang that described near perfection in all directions—rolling open roads, broad shoulders, and very little traffic. Except for one particular back road well off the beaten path where a saucy elderly lady has been known to shoot guns at aggressive dirt bikers tearing up her dusty road. Not to worry, though, our pedal bikes likely wouldn’t cause a fuss.
What’s bleached in the rays of the sun during the day is transfixed into a prism of color at dawn and dusk. Terlingua sits north of Big Bend National Park, one of the largest, most remote, and least visited national parks in the United States. How large? That enormous curve you see on a map delineating the Texas-Mexico border is the Rio Grande forming, ahem, a big bend in the landscape. Thin strips of pavement are sparingly painted throughout this gargantuan sea of rocky color for a few moments on either end of the day, which are equally juxtaposed during the vivid brightness of daylight. The distinct lack of cars will make a traffic-conscious cyclist giddy with calm excitement as long stretches of time pass without seeing a soul. The hollow silence is deafening.
To set out and explore even further, roughly half way between El Paso and Terlingua is sleepy Marfa. A quaint grid town with a proud downtown square, time slows to a standstill with a very concise list of things to do. The mysterious Marfa Lights are as ubiquitous as they are unexplained. Visiting the Chinati Foundation, celebrating minimalist art courtesy of artist Donald Judd, is at the core of this town. As Marfa has matured over the past few decades, it’s found purpose in simplicity. Head to the laundromat, this is a place where you go to commune, rather than to labor. Adjacent and part of the same establishment is Frama, an anagram of its hometown, where you meet and wait unrushed for clothes to spin while enjoying a delectable coffee or ice cream cone. A pair of modern restaurants, worthy of AnyHipTown, USA, draws out an enormously bustling clientele of bohemian chic folks when the sun slips below the horizon. The very few shops, galleries, and boutiques never seem to have more than two people in them which it begs the question where have these people been all day.
Marfa was first planted on the map as a water stop in a previous generation. Leaving town offers vast expanses in every direction. Silhouettes of mountains lumber far in the distance with the expansive and unmistakable stretch of high desert ranches in between. The pancake flat terrain subtly changes to rolling the further out of town you go, with rarely a climb more than a minute or two. Come prepared as you set off for any rides; the rest stops and gas stations are few and far between making Marfa’s initial gravitation as a water stop all the more relevant. The few loops that exist are in the three hour range and often double that with no more than one or two turns necessary. It’s simpler that way.
To disconnect you need to be out of reach. To seek isolation, simplicity, peace and quiet — often the reasons we ride — disconnect in southwest Texas.
SRAM ambassadors Ayesha McGowan, Ted King, and Laura King all ride SRAM eTap HRD drivetrains and brakes, Zipp wheels, bars, stems, and seatposts, and Quarq power meters. Read Outside Magazine's recent profile on Ayesha's work to diversify road cycling here.