By Barin H. Beard
Day 1, December 25, 1997
Everything has its place; food, water, extra clothes, stove, sleeping bag, bivy sack. I am in the parking lot of the visitor center at Big Bend National Park where I am packing my mountain bike for a 5-day tour in the backcountry. The weather is cold for Big Bend, near freezing. The sky is overcast.
Last night I had a great Christmas Eve dinner with Mike Long, his business partner Jim and Jim's wife, and Mike's full-time RV-er parents. All of us were crammed into a 5th wheel travel trailer at the Lajitas resort RV park. It was tight quarters, but it was one of the best meals had I enjoyed the whole year.
What am I doing in Big Bend? I am escaping. I am running away from the cold weather of the Navajo Indian Reservation. I am running away from my immediate family. I am running away from my father's death. I am running away from my own failure. I decided I've had enough! Enough moping! Enough depression! Enough weirdness! It is time to get on with my life and I have decided to start it by doing my favorite thing at my favorite place.
To get to Big Bend, takes commitment. It is remote and isolated; some 7 hours southeast of El Paso, TX. The park is named for the northward "bend" the Rio Grande takes on its journey south and east to the Gulf of Mexico. Within the park are the Chisos Mountains, the southern most mountain range in the contiguous U.S. It is big country in the heart of the Chihuahuan desert. It is a spectacular setting, and is a place where I find peace.
Day 2, December 26, 1997
I am riding on the Old Ore Road and so much for escaping the weather. On the second day of my trip, I am dealing with snow flurries. I have on every bit of clothing that I packed. It is cold, but the desert is beautiful with the blowing snow.
I arrive at camp 2 and all day the air has been freezing cold. Hunkering down in my sleeping bag for the next 18 hours doesn't sound too exciting, so I've decided to ride to the hot spring. I unload my bike leaving my panniers, sleeping bag, and bivy on the ground. I hope my stuff will be there when I come back.
I head south...Unburdened without my panniers, I easily ride ten miles down the rough track of jeep road and eventually intersect the park highway where I turn north. I pedal about a mile when I see the sign for the hot spring, then turn southwest onto the improved dirt road and ride two miles to the empty parking lot (a good sign), dismount and push my bike past the abandoned buildings (the hot spring was once part of a health resort in the 1930s or so) on the old trail. About 100 meters down the trail I reach the hot spring pool.
The empty parking lot is confirmed; I am alone. I lean the Merlin against a low wall next to the pool, strip naked in the blowing snow, and step into the steaming water. Crawling along crab-fashion, I find the warmest part of the pool in the northwest corner next to the old rock wall which holds back the northeast flowing Rio Grande. Mexico is on the opposite bank just a stone throw away.
I relax in the hot, soothing water. A light snow is falling. I have the whole place to myself.
Peace...Solitude...I am healing!
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