This land is beautiful and cruel. Cacti and creosote dot the ground and bloom from the road's edge to the far horizon. Long, sharp spines flare from the waxy stems, ready to draw blood.
So far, fighting wind, rain, and heat on US 90, we aren't impressed. My KTM Adventure LC4 enduro seems a match for the landscape, and Christian rides comfortably on his Agusta MZ, but these roads are so long and straight. The fun must be hidden elsewhere. Finally, we arrive in Del Rio, an Air Force town, where the jet fighters that streaked the horizon throughout the day are based. Population: 40,000, many of them servicemen, and a fair portion of those are venting some steam in their cowboy hats and boots, dancing with the ladies in the bar across the street from our rooms at the La Quinta Inn. The map still shows a full day's ride to Big Bend National Park and, unfortunately, the dot of Del Rio appears to be the only major oasis along the way.
The first test of our mettle comes the second morning. Just out of Del Rio, we cross the Amistad Reservoir. Christian signals a stop at an overlook for some photos on the rocky shores of the blue-green lake. Rolling the bikes onto some rocks beside a boat ramp, we take the shots, and I start the KTM and move her back up to the lot. But the MZ won't crank. After some uneducated speculation about the cause, we use the KTM to jump the MZ, which gives the battery enough juice to flush a small flood, and it rumbles to life. Later, we learn that the fuel line should be turned off, even for very brief stops. Hot and frustrated, we push forward.
I have to wring sweat out of my T-shirt at every stop. As we head toward the afternoon sun, the road seems endless. Thoughts of an air-conditioned room are little comfort as I watch the heat-wavering horizon remain constant for hours.
Finally, a few roads intersect in the town of Sanderson. The squelch of metal scraping metal on a sign swinging in the wind at the gas station is the only sound. I almost expect to turn and face the unblinking eye of a buzzard. There is definitely no lodging here, but the attendant tells us to check in the next town over, Marathon. In these parts, getting to 'the next town over' might as well be a marathon.
Within twenty minutes of leaving Sanderson, the sun hits the horizon, the temperature drops 40 degrees, and a numbing tingle crawls up my hands and feet. After so much smothering heat, this frigid air is shocking. Counting each mile to Marathon, both of us wary, we open the throttles and race the cold. I grit my teeth and look for the lights of Marathon over each rise. Eventually we coast onto its main street in moonlight. Parking in front of a handsome lodge, Christian goes inside to check on a room. He's told that it's full. Our frustration heightens when we come upon the only other option's NO VACANCY sign; so we continue to Alpine, another 35 minutes west. Shivering and hungry, we finally get a room, and thankfully the restaurant across the street is open. At the end of two days, the Texas desert is laying on a beating, but we've finally reached the gateway to Big Bend National Park, and after all we've been through, getting here is no small accomplishment. Spicy beef taquitos in a warm family restaurant begin to heal us, and though fatigued we're excited over the prospect of finally reaching our goal and exploring an area that is so well protected by the desert.