The gun, the knife or the hammer?

What’s the first thing you think of when someone says Texas?

We came up with:

  • Lance Armstrong
  • Cowboys
  • George Bush
  • Longhorn cows

From now on, we’ll probably think of Carol.

Carol is one of the most inspirational people we’ve met. She’s a Warm Showers host, and she’s legendary. Over the last ten years, she’s hosted over 700 cyclists just like us, fed them, helped them and sent them on their way. A guy we met in Florida said we should stay with her, so we looked her up, got in touch, and 2,500kms later we met her.

We asked what made her start hosting travellers. She said:

“I saw some cyclists in the rain, who looked soaked, and so invited them to stay at the barn. I asked them what they were doing, and they were on a bike tour like you guys. The girl went on to say she worked in a hospice and the thing people most often said whilst on their death bed was, “I wish I had done X, when I had the chance”. The couple had always wanted to go on a bike tour and so they set off.”

“After this it made me think that I only want to do the things that I want to do. I don’t want to be one of those people who has regrets on their death bed.”

She subsequently transformed her barn, into a “bunkhouse”, filled with beds for travellers to stay in. She started a B&B which she runs for a living, she literally built her house – procured the materials, nailed the beams etc together, and with the help of friends erected it into a beautiful wooden country house. She volunteers at a local shop, she maintains the four buildings and the grounds on her farm, she plays poker regularly and works out at the gym four times a week.

Over a home cooked meal, she was telling us that she’s just started a new project that is building a second, smaller house on the farm. She’s 87. That’s not a typo.

Carol is the type of person that reminds you to live life to the full. If she can do all that stuff at 87, we figure there really is no excuse for us not to do the stuff that we’ve always wanted to do – hence why we’re on this trip.

In additional to Carol, when someone mentions Texas, we’ll probably also think of guns.

There’s possibly no state in the USA where gun culture is more prominent. A classic picture of a sign for your garden that you can buy at a petrol station read: “Ten reasons that men prefer guns to women”.

A memorable conversation occurred whilst leaving a diner between us and an innocent looking woman, probably 40s, likely has two/three kids, probably enjoys books and walking.

“Say, where y’all heading?”

We explain where we’re from and where we’re going etc.

“Wow, sounds like a great trip! Y’all carrying a gun?”

“Erm no. Should we be?”

“Yes definitely, there are crazy people around”

“Ah right, we’ve not noticed many. Do you carry a gun?”

“Yup, I carry a gun, a knife and a hammer”

“I see – have you ever had to use them?”

“Oh yes, one time, this homeless man came up to my car window and asked if I had any change. I said “which would you rather: the gun, the knife or the hammer?”, and he left me alone.”

“Ah right. Usually when that happens to us we just say, “sorry mate I don’t have any change”.

The mindset (of some people) is: everyone else has a gun, so I have to get a gun to protect myself, just in case. It’s like a never ending arms race, fed by a culture of fear that there are loads of crazy people out to get you. There are undoubtedly nasty people around, but we’ve seen nothing to suggest there’s any more or less “bad guys” than back home.

The people we’ve met have been definite “good guys”.

George and Shelia put us up for a night, and gave us some brief Texan history, which is really interesting.

Texas was inhabited by Native Americans, before being colonised by the French, the Spanish, and then Mexico. It then declared itself an independent nation from Mexico after the Texas Revolution, before voluntarily becoming the 28th state of America, which in turn led to the Mexican – American War. It then withdrew from the US to join the Confederate States, and after the American Civil War, re-joined the USA after a period of reconstruction.

A key part of Texan history is the Alamo. It’s a church where around 250 Texans, famously including Davy Crockett, were brutally killed by the approaching Mexican army who had come to quell the revolution. These martyrs became the focal point for many other Americans to join the fight, and when the Mexicans were defeated, the battle cry was “Remember the Alamo”.

We visited the Alamo in San Antonio, you can walk around the grounds and check out the church where the defenders hid. Their slogan was “Victory or Death”. San Antonio is a great city, as is Austin were we spent a couple of days beforehand.

We were kindly hosted by Sophie, a friend from Loughborough, and her husband Frank who were brilliant, and cooked us fantastic veggie food. Austin is the state capital of Texas, but doesn’t fit with the “Texas Stereotype”. It’s really liberal, quirky, full of vegan restaurants, and the birthplace of the Wholefood Supermarket. We saw more cyclists here and on the way to San Antonio than we had done in the previous 2,500kms. We spent two days basically eating our way through Austin, and resting after some long days cycling.

Austin doesn’t conform to the Texas voting stereotype either. Texas has voted republican each election since 1980, whereas Austin votes democrat. In fact, the major cities in the state: Houston, Dallas, Austin have voted democrat in the last two elections.

It’s the election next week, and no one knows which way it’s going to go. The polls seem very tight, and as we know from the EU referendum and the 2015 general election, the polls can be wrong. Some people we’ve chatted to are really worried about Trump getting in, others are voting for him because they always vote republican, others are voting for him so he puts a conservative on the supreme court, which is quite a big deal here.

Assuming we stick to time, we’ll be in the Mexican border town of Del Rio for the results night. We’re looking forward to seeing how it all plays out, and what the reactions are in the aftermath.

We’ll be right on the border…. Maybe even we’ll see “The Wall” going up!