Words: Andre Chelliah (@andrechelalalala)
Photos: Andre Chelliah and Roslyn Howard (@roslynhoward13)
For half of March every year, Austin is the center of the world. South by Southwest descends upon the city and stretches from Highway 290 to Highway 183, from Mopac to Airport. For the first week of SXSW, Silicon Valley invades downtown and shows off all the new technology and gizmos and gadgets that they have to offer. The second week is when music begins and every band in the whole world comes to town to play at least 30 shows each (okay, I’m hyperbolizing a bit, but to us locals that’s what it feels like). Sure, SXSW is an awesome and enveloping time of culture and technology, but to us locals, it is often dreaded like the plague. Traffic is a nightmare, people drive carelessly, and all of our favorite watering holes and dive bars are overrun with Snapchat glasses wearing millennials because a Buzz Feed article told them that they had the “best Frito Pie this side of the Red River.”
This year, we took the opportunity to get away. We loaded up the car with road bikes, cameras, canned peaches, and headed west toward Big Bend National Park. None of us had been before, but have heard the legends of the park. Huge, sprawling Chihuahuan Desert and the Chisos Mountain Range - it makes for some of the best riding in the state!
Roslyn and I arrived at the park around 8am, paid our dues at the entrance and unloaded our bikes off the back of car. We made sure our bottles were filled and had plenty of food for the day. The plan was to ride the 26 miles into the park, stop for water at Maverick Junction, then double back and climb up the fabled Chisos Basin road.
The first 26 miles was unlike anything I had ever seen before. It didn’t even feel like Texas anymore. The Chihuahuan Desert stretched endlessly in every direction, only interrupted by dramatic mountain ranges and layers of light.
What stood out to me the most though, was the incredible range of flora and fauna we saw through out that first 26 miles. Jackrabbits, roadrunners, and golden eagles were frequent friends on the long stretch of road. Being wildflower season in Texas, the dessert was dotted with spots of bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush in blue, white, and red. The patchwork blanket of cacti and marigolds and wildflowers made for a surprisingly colorful corridor into Big Bend.
When we arrived at Maverick Junction, we refilled our bottles, ate some food, and took a seat. The dry air of the region kept the 85-degree temperatures from being unbearable, and the shade of the occasional mountain range was proving to be a nice reprieve from the punishment of the Texas sun. After we refueled, we set back out to climb the monster we came here for, Chisos Basin Road. Chisos Basin Road did not disappoint. A left turn off the main road gave us a view of the group of mountains that make up the Chisos mountain range. A single road leads into the range, and we were going all the way up. We grinded away for an hour, slowly making our way up the 5%-8% grade for 6 miles, with a couple stops to take pictures, eat food, and catch our breath.
When we finally reached the crest of climb, we took a minute to appreciate our effort, take more photos, high-five, and shift into our big rings in preparation for the descent down… Descending was insane; we went fast for a long time. Winding through the climb, knee-out, dry-eyes, chapped-lipped speed. At the bottom, neither of us could wipe the smile off our faces. We headed back down to Maverick Junction for Pepsi and jerky, passing countless cacti and wildflowers all the way down…
We've made new cactus StemCovers to commemorate the beloved Southwest! Those can be seen HERE.