The crawl to Shattuck

Today would be a long day — way longer than we thought. We didn’t know that setting out, which is why we lingered in town and had a fine breakfast.

We're pretty sure no one in a wheelchair needed to get by us. But yeah, we should have geared up somewhere else!

Actually found some good snacks in this town!

Around us the town hustled and bustled!

There was a “Museum Of The Plains” just north of the hotel that we should probably have checked out, but for some reason it didn’t feel inspiring.

I invite you to make up your own caption.

We rode due east all day, ranging away from each other for most of the afternoon, then bunching together as evening approached. We reached the edge of the Texas panhandle and entered Oklahoma around 6pm, stopping for snacks in a tiny town right on the border.

THE QUOTABLE NICK, #8

Nick:
“Why did I put a cookie in this pouch? That was stupid.”
Me:
“What happened?”
Nick:
“I put a cookie in and it got all mashed up. What did you think happened?”
Me:
“I think … you need to clean that pouch really thoroughly.”

Night fell, and the clouds thickened into a blanket and erased the stars. The wind began to push at us from the right side of the road. To keep our legs moving we paired our headphones and listened to a selection of Braindead Monkeys tracks, finishing up with Pavel Zmiewsky’s interview.

We were treated to a little chunk of midwestern spookyness as the mist thickened below the clouds and the moon came out.

Finally we reached Highway 283 and turned south for the final 10 mile stretch to Shattuck. We knew it would be tough because the wind had been blowing from the south with increasing intensity all night, and now we had to pedal straight into it, up and down a series of big rolling hills.

First sight of Shattuck.

Since I had all my gear packed low on the bike – and a lot more practice with this sort of thing – I slowed down to about 3 miles per hour and chugged along in a straight line. Nick charged ahead, motivated by what he called “loud music and anger.” With teenage-adjacent angst powering his legs he kicked his way back and forth across the road and over the hills and arrived in Shattuck fully an hour ahead of me. While I was listening to Act I of Hamlet (performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company) and gazing out across the misty hills, Nick was unpacking his bags in our motel room.

When I finally arrived in town, I paused to take a short video showing just how nasty the wind was.

I went straight past the motel to the one food source that was still open – a Sonic burger stand – and bought several hotdogs and hamburgers. Nick joined me a few minutes later and we obliterated the meal, stuffing things into our faces as fast as we could chew them.

And finally, we were in Shattuck! Having covered so much ground on bikes, it really did feel like a remote place. Combining it with “The Worst Hard Time” audiobook also made it feel a bit like a journey into the past. Time to look around…

Hey! It’s HAY!

Packing went quickly, and we were out and pedaling long before checkout time, like a couple of seasoned pros. On the way out of town we stopped for snacks and Nick got into a conversation with a local resident. When she learned that we were traveling to Shattuck to explore our Russian German ancestry, she declared that she too had Russian German roots, and we were probably all related in some way.

Nick reported: “Apparently there is a parts shop on Main Street in Shattuck, where a guy who is from a family that has been there forever lives and he might be able to tell us if he knows any Birkels.”

That’s pretty cool. We start a conversation with exactly one person in the area, and she turns out to be a semi-distant relative.

Today would be a day of riding through flatness, and checking out the growing things on both sides of the long, straight highway.

When I say the roads were straight, I am not kidding.

Did I mention that these roads are long and straight?

They also provided no cover. Which makes it a bit weird when you have to pee. But we were effectively in a private space — not because there were walls around us, but because we were just so far from anyone else that even if they were looking straight at us, they wouldn’t be able to tell what we were doing. Unless they had a telescope. But then they would be the weirdos, not us.

Pee break on a long long road.

The weather was magnificent, and though the wind wasn’t being helpful, it did bring us all kinds of interesting smells.

Leftover cotton from the harvest.

Every now and then we’d pass through a cluster of buildings, usually next to a massive grain elevator. Out here there’s a strange mixture of structures in constant industrial use with other things that are clearly abandoned.

Yes, that's a boxcar integrated into the structure of a building.
These towns are so small and remote that even vandals don't bother visiting.
When a new grain elevator replaces and old one, the old one just hangs around.
Texas likes to put stars on everything.
Now that is a great name.
HEEEEY!!!!! It's hay.

The few people we did encounter were friendly. I like to think we were making their day a bit more interesting too.

Friendly farmers, doing the work of hundreds of men thanks to fancy machines.

On we went for big chunks of time, bracketed by pee breaks, grain elevators, and interesting plants.

Nick catching up.

Almost caught up!

In the tiny “town” of Waka, I came across this imposing structure:

Dangerous things happen in Waka.

Nick figured it out after just a few seconds of looking. It’s a pumping station, for a pipeline used by a nearby refinery, and it’s well protected because it can potentially spew hydrogen sulfide gas in lethal amounts. Don’t mess with it!!

Grain forever!

It's still intact, after days of riding! Drying out a bit more though.

The day wore on, and we were treated to the sight of massive flocks of birds making their way from horizon to horizon.

Lots of birds around here.

In the evening we arrived at the day’s goal: Perryton, the so-called “Wheatheart Of The Nation.”

First and only order of business: Procure lots of food. We threaded through town and located a sushi restaurant, the “Ninja Sushi Steakhouse.” Perfect! We hadn’t seen sushi in quite a while.

Much evening snackage ensued.

This is the internationally recognized I GOT SUSHI! face.

We’d made good time despite the headwind. One more day of riding before we get to Shattuck. Hopefully the sushi will propel us!

Seeing Spearman

Today was another day off, and well-deserved since we’d gone 90 miles the day before.  I needed to lounge around and catch up on work anyway.

He was going to keep napping, but I mentioned coffee and snacks. Up in an instant.

In the mid-morning we went riding in search of food but didn’t see much.  The cafe at the end of the street was still closed.

The Spearman train museum.

This is a coffee shop. It even has a drive-by window. Wouldn't be out of place on a San Francisco street. Awesome.

On the far side of town we found a restaurant and got a meal while sitting outside.  Four of the restaurant staff came outside to gaze at our bikes and ask questions, which we gamely answered.  The other patrons were friendly but none of them were wearing masks.

On the way back to the hotel I stopped at a market for miscellaneous snacks while Nick rode ahead. Then I briefly explored the big Spearman tourist draw alongside the highway: The outdoor windmill museum.  Pretty neat, actually.

Lots of innovative windmill designs.
The J. B. Buchanan Windmill Park entrance.
Contributors and sponsors for the museum.
Lots of proud sponsors.

Nick worked on college stuff for a while and did his own exploratory ride, then disappeared into Star Trek and memes for the evening. 

At the hotel I ran a load of laundry, checked in at work again, and made travel plans for the next week.  Hotel rooms, truck rentals, train tickets.  Once we got to Shattuck we would be able to stay there for at least three days, recuperating and looking around, and then we’d ride one town over and grab a U-Haul the day after.

Twilight with Spock

In the morning I discovered that Nick was up early, finishing a meeting with a co-worker.  Afterwards he announced that he’d completed work on the feature he was co-developing.  Awesome!

As usual, the grain towers are the highest buildings in the town, by far.

Coffee and noise canceling headphones. A perfect combination.

It was going to be another long day or riding, possibly into the night.  We packed up and I decided that I needed even more calories for the road, so I gave the remains of my chocolate shake to Nick and then got a donut on the way out of Dalhart.  Nick took the chance to grab a cup of coffee.

We were both in good spirits as we threaded our way to the main highway and turned the bikes due east.  The land was flatter here, making progress more consistent, but the wind was being less predictable and gusted around us.  We passed a chunk of hours listening to The Worst Hard Time and watched the fields roll by.

The combination of sun, soil, flatness, and heavy machinery made for some astoundingly productive land.

Inspecting roadside foliage.

Old corn cob by the roadside.

Grains by the roadside.

We're road warriors and whatnot.
I had to get a shot of Nick enjoying his sausage snack.
Notice the cool new grain accessory on the bag.
Giant rolls of cotton ready to be trucked out.
Taking the opportunity to poke at the largest cotton bail he'll ever encounter.
That flag on the right actually says "ALL ABOARD THE TRUMP TRAIN."
Grain drying and storage facility.
This is an actual town in Texas, yes. You etter check it out.
Local farmer makin' bales.
Another town, another massive collection of grain elevators.

After a while we passed a dairy factory farm on the left, and the sheer size of the installation compelled me to just stop the bike and stare for a while.

Then we passed through the town of Cactus, which was dominated on the west side by a meat packing facility.  Out of curiosity I switched to “satellite view” on the phone and looked at the place from above.  A tangle of piping and big rectangular boxes next to bare-dirt holding pens with many hundreds of cows milling about, a couple of square lagoons as big as football fields, a feeder line into the railroad that passed through the town, and a giant parking lot full of truck trailers.   A massive intersection of power, water, and transportation, preparing meat consumed by millions of people a year.

We stopped for snacks and a bathroom break.  Nick was worried about how much ground we still had to cover.

THE QUOTABLE NICK, #6

Nick:
“Seeing as the next town doesn’t have anything in it, what do you think about hitchhiking?”
Me:
“Sounds like a great way to end up biking very late at night.”
Nick:
“Won’t we end up biking later if we don’t?”
Me:
“You’re assuming that standing by the side of the road waving our thumbs for several hours of remaining daylight would result in a ride.”
Nick:
“I thought we may be able to get a ride while we’re still moving. Perhaps with a little cash clutched in hand.”
Me:
“That’s … An interesting idea. I’ve never even heard of that working.”
Nick:
“I was thinking maybe a 10 or a 20. That would get the message across combined with the classic thumbs up at passersby.”
Me:
“Sorry, I’m not willing to endorse this plan.”
Nick:
“I’d put up half of that since it’s my idea. It would more than cover their gas given the prices around here!”
Me:
“Uh, I guess you can try it if you want? Assuming your mom doesn’t reach through the internet and kill me?”
Nick:
“Well I wouldn’t want to do it without your approval.”
Me:
“I’m not saying I’d prevent you.”
Nick:
“Nah, I would hate to leave you alone here. So I’m going to tough it out with you.”
Me:
“Aww. Thanks man!”

We continued due east, eventually reaching the town of Sunray.

So that's where Zoe keeps her stuff!

Nick found a convenience store and purchased a selection of canned items.  After he went in, I made him guard the bikes and got some snacks of my own.

When I came out, Nick was chatting with a guy who’d been in the store ahead of me.  The guy was telling a story about how his grandmother was driving too fast on a highway nearby, and t-boned a cotton harvester that was entering the road from a field, and died on the spot.  He finished his tale by admonishing us to be careful on our bikes.  We said we would.

On the way out of Sunray we turned left, going east again.  The sun had set and the wind was dying down, and the sky was going through that deep indigo transition marking the final stage of twilight.  Stars were appearing.  I paired our headphones together and started playing a selection from a playlist I’d made, aptly called “Twilight.”  It was perfect for the moment.

Startoucher25:03BiospherePatashnik
Memories Fade (DJ Fixed OVA Rip Mix)1 of 12:54CorneliusGhost in the Shell Shin Gekijouban OVA
Surveillance (DJ Fixed Half-Edit)3 of 103:34Noise UnitVoyeur
out of body29:35InnersphereAmbient Soho Vol 1
Sputnik Sunrise10 of 134:56DesolateLunar Glyphs
The Third Planet10 of 138:31BiosphereTrance Europe Express 3
Nightstalker7 of 111:45Kenji KawaiGhost In The Shell OST
Mir65:19BiospherePatashnik
Bardo Thodol5 of 95:35Demdike StareTryptych: Liberation Through Hearing
Sunspot8 of 116:49MobyPlay: The B Sides
Three Years3 of 145:48PlateauWild Planet
Trust (Jealousy Mix)2 of 167:36MicroglobeEl Mondo Ambiente
Time Reflects (excerpt)1 of 114:59Mick ChillageSonitus Liberabit Vos
The End (Remix)7 of 118:15ScornMacro Dub Infection Vol. 1
Silver Rain Fell (Deep Water mix)9 of 125:25ScornA Brief History Of Ambient Vol 4: Isolationism
Novelty Waves (Biosphere Darkroom Mix)3 of 57:03BiosphereNovelty Waves (2-Disc Single)
Modring_intro1 of 105:16S.E.T.I. (Lagowski)Temporary Distractions
Signals42:47Brian EnoApollo: Atmospheres & Soundscapes
35.7c14 of 171:47Yoko Kanno (菅野よう子)Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex OST 3
Decription35:52BiospherePatashnik
Download11 of 1111:40Skinny PuppyLast Rights
Gebirge2 of 521:26Biosphere + Pete NamlookThe Fires of Ork

To keep us both moving I unwrapped a chocolate bar, and as we drifted past each other on the road I held out pieces to Nick, which he grabbed and chomped.  With this pleasant combination of cool air, music, and chocolate, we passed well into night.

THE QUOTABLE NICK, #7

Nick:
“I finally have a stable rhythm and my knees are in equal amounts of pain!”
Me:
“Hooray…?”

Eventually we stopped to take a break from riding, and let the circulation adjust in our bodies.  We’d been doing the equivalent of sitting in recliners for most of the day so it felt good to just stand for a while.  I busted out the remains of the Chinese food and chomped it.  Nick said he wasn’t hungry.

The entire time we stood there, we were passed by only one vehicle — a giant truck, which we saw approaching from miles away.  Excluding that, the highway was entirely ours.  It was cool with a mild breeze, surrounded in all directions by fields of long grass shining faintly blue in the moonlight filtering down around the clouds.  With all the heat in our bodies and the layers of clothing, we felt absolutely no effect from the cold.

I recognized the moment as one of those fairly unique to bicycling.  We were on a random patch of road, but between the darkness and silence and insulation, and the convenient collections of useful stuff kick-standed nearby, the spot felt more like the living room of a house.  A private spot to relax — one that we’ve been to a dozen times before and might wander into again later.  Except in reality, as soon as we put our feet back on the pedals and cycled away, the spot would be gone forever.  We’d never return for as long as we lived.

I got the impression that Nick was subconsciously getting this and enjoying it, even if he didn’t quite have the words.

We moved on, leaving the spot in the past.

After a while we hit highway 207 and turned northeast.  Vehicles began to pass more frequently, though still at a rate less than one every ten minutes or so.  One of them turned out to be a police SUV, which activated its lights and pulled over about a hundred feet in front of us.  The officer got out and chatted with us.  “Just wanted to check in and see if you were okay,” he said.  We thanked him and he drove off.  We were probably the weirdest non-illegal thing he’d seen in a week.

With about five miles to go, Nick cued up an episode of classic Star Trek on his phone, and we paired headphones again and listened to it together.  It was “Spock’s Brain”, the one where aliens physically extract Spock’s brain and replace it with a remote control device.  Goofy, anachronistic, outrageously sexist, and full of cantankerous Kirk-McCoy-Spock bickering.  It carried us all the way to Spearman, where we checked in to our room for the night.

Preparing for another expedition into a snack store.

Nick decided it was time for Second Dinner, and turned the microwave area into a laboratory.

Combine all the canned things into one vessel, and dinner is served!

In what new and exciting way is the interface broken on this particular microwave?

A day of discussion

My first order of business in the morning was to prop my folding chair out in the sunlight of the motel parking lot and attend the weekly work status meeting.  It went alright, but I had less progress to report than I wanted, so I silently promised myself that I would find a way to add more downtime to the schedule.

Afterwards I started researching online, and hatched a plan to spend a bunch more days in Shattuck and use a U-Haul to get us from there to Fort Worth, rather than biking all the way.  The journey to Shattuck was the important part of the trip, and I knew from experience that rushing to cover more ground would not enhance things overall.

Once Nick was awake I suggested we ride to the cute little downtown section of Dalhart and get mochas at the coffee shop.  He was all over that, and soon we were seated at a tiny table outside the shop with our bikes parked nearby, sipping caffeine and talking animatedly about the trip, and the terrain, and politics.

Drinking mochas and discussing politics.

I found a nifty sticker at the counter, and slapped it onto Valoria:

A new sticker for the bike!

Nick and I were both impressed by the fact that we could travel so far across the country and be among people we had never met before, but still feel like we were part of the same civilization.  We did have some sense of being outsiders, but a far stronger sense that we were moving among people that shared the same national identity and would sooner fight alongside us than against us.  And vice-versa, of course.

Me:
“I wonder if there’s a geographical difference that makes for stability in this country.”
Nick:
“Totally. There’s so much land. If you don’t like what’s going on around you, you can just move to another state. And we have a lot of natural resources and technology here…”
Me:
“That’s how it is. But that doesn’t say how it got started.”
Nick:
“I think it started because everyone was leaving places that were taking away their rights and their stuff.”
Me:
“Well, we got an influx of immigrants starting a new life, working hard, lots of land for them to go play in – more or less – and an economic system with very little support structure, so they had a chance but they had to work for it or they’d just … die. And a lot of people did die. But, the threat of death is quite a motivator. Maybe that’s part of the secret sauce for this nation: If you don’t pull your weight to some degree – either by feeding yourself or by making money to buy food – you could just die.”
Nick:
“I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.”
Me:
“Maybe. I don’t know how I feel about it. It’s a strong motivator, but like I said, a lot of people just died. Sometimes they screwed up, but sometimes it was just something went wrong in the economy far away and they lost their money or their land. There should be a support system. People shouldn’t starve in the streets, in a country that can make a surplus of food and water and medicine.”
Nick:
“Well, we can get rid of some of the unfairness. Level out the opportunities in our institutions at least. And then we can talk about safety nets.”
Me:
“A more level playing field would certainly help. Then people might not fall into the place where the safety net needs to be.”
Nick:
“So, maybe you set up the safety net, and then use all the money being spent on the safety net as the motivator to fix the institutions. You tell everyone, ‘Hey, if these people really had a shot, we wouldn’t need this net to be so big.'”
Me:
“That’s an interesting idea. It pushes back against the people who resent paying for any kind of safety net because they’re judging all the people who fall into it, like, ‘If you fell into the net you’re obviously just not a hard worker.'”
Nick:
“Yeah, that’s what I mean.”
Me:
“I like it — directly linking the unfairness of the system to the need for the safety net. Because yeah, paying that money to feed people who don’t have jobs or a place to stay is not ideal, but instead of blaming the people in the net, this changes the focus to all the rich people on the hill moving resources around in a way that deprives other people of opportunity. So if we want to shrink the net, we might want to march up the hill and change things for the rich people – change the rules of the economy, patch a few holes – and then the net will get smaller.”
Nick:
“Yeah, maybe something like a wealth cap would be a good idea. Like, let people earn as much as they can right up until they hit that cap, and then say, ‘Hey, good job, you won at capitalism! Well done! Now, you clearly don’t need the rest of this, so we’re gonna tax the rest off and send it directly to the social safety net.’ Or, I dunno, public schools or something.”
Me:
“Here’s a problem with that. I don’t know for certain but I’m fairly sure that all of the people these days who are super rich got rich through the increase in valuation of a company that they had a big stake in.”
Nick:
“Ah. Yeah, that’s not liquid is it. We can’t just take it.”
Me:
“Exactly. Their wealth is tied up in the valuation of this other thing, so it’s kind of fragile. Like, Jeff Bezos is the richest guy in the world because he owns 50 million shares of Amazon, but if the government told him he had to sell 190 billion dollars worth of that and hand it to a national school lunch program, what would a move like that do to the value of Amazon? That’s like 10 percent of the company. Dump that on the market and you might cause everyone else’s portfolio to slump, even day-traders who could really be hurt. So, it gets complicated. And you can’t quite work around that by saying that it should be gradually applied – that Bezos should have been selling his stock in chunks every year just to stay under the cap – because the stock market is honestly not grounded in reality. A company could do an IPO and turn a bunch of middle-class employees into multi-millionaires overnight, and then drop them back into the middle class a week later when the stock tanks, and if those people aren’t careful they could suddenly owe more money in taxes than they’ll ever be able to pay. It’s smoke and mirrors.”
Nick:
“Hm. I don’t know what to do about that. It does seems unfair. But there’s also money coming from the other direction that we can put a stop to. Like, oil companies and rocket companies are getting huge amounts of government assistance. Amazon took advantage of a bunch of grant money. That’s taxes on everybody’s wages, being used to finance the biggest companies in the world. That makes no sense.”
Me:
“Yeah, you’re right. But I’m still mostly annoyed by this valuation thing. It seems like the biggest loophole in the whole economy, that one person can ride a valuation up into billionaire-land, and thousands of other people who worked at least as hard building that company don’t get any of it.”
Nick:
“Well they still got paid. Just not with stock.”
Me:
“Sure, sure. And there are investors involved, taking risks, and so on. But it’s the relative difference that bugs me.”
Nick:
“You know, I read somewhere that Jeff Bezos is actually considered to be the “lowest class” of billionaire because he hasn’t diversified. Like, compare him to Bill Gates, who not only diversified, but now he’s actively trying to give away his wealth to good causes. Bill Gates is … really rich. He set up a lot of stuff for his descendants, and all that. He moved a lot of his money around and he’s still rich, which is hard. And then there’s the rich people who are royalty, like, the great grandsons of kings from some other country who just own huge amounts of land. It would take, like, a massive revolution for them to stop being rich.”
Me:
“Like the Saudi princes and such?”
Nick:
“Yeah, and English dukes.”
Me:
“The Earl of Poopington? Lord High Moneychunks, et cetera?”
Nick:
“Right. Or even the ones in America, like the Rockefellers, or the people whose names you don’t even know, who want to stay unknown because it’s easier for them.”
Me:
“But is there really a connection, I wonder? Between how many rich people are around, riding high on the system, and how big the social safety net needs to be to keep people from dying?”
Nick:
“Well it’s probably more complicated than a ratio. But I think more rich people brings more potential for abuse.”
Me:
“Or evidence of it. I bet Amazon is valued so highly right now exactly because of all the business it has displaced — all the other smaller stores it crushed or bought or starved out of existence.”
Nick:
“Yeah. Too bad people love getting their crap in two days so much.”

The discussion ranged on.  Nick told me a really interesting summary of the Spanish-American war, and how that led to our relationship with Cuba, and how it helped to turn Spain inward and keep them as one of the less prosperous counties in Western Europe.  It astonished me how many facts were crammed into his head that I would never have known about because we spend most of our time talking about computers, memes, video games, and flatulence.

Not that there’s anything wrong with those topics!

We rode back to the motel and quietly attended to our work and projects. Eventually we got hungry again, and decided to avoid another night of hamburgers and hit the Chinese place instead.

When we got there we discovered that the lobby was closed and there was nowhere to sit outside. Just as well since it was cold already. We walked up to an open window and submitted a giant order, then stood around waiting.

We noticed a guy standing in the middle lane of the road, next to a massive truck stacked with cylinders of cotton. Was he having engine trouble and waiting for some kind of support vehicle? As soon as we picked up our food we had the answer: He walked up to the window after us and got his own massive order, then hauled it up into his truck and merged it slowly into the traffic. In retrospect it made sense: Where the else was he going to park that massive thing? It was longer than the whole parking lot for the Chinese restaurant.

He says this is part of a stretching routine he does regularly.

Later in the evening I had a hankering for ice cream – gotta keep pouring in the calories – so we rode out again for snacks. I also grabbed a heap of home-made potato chips for the next day’s riding.

A little Star Trek while you ride? Why not.

THE QUOTABLE NICK, #5

Nick, surrounded by luggage on his bed, begins to clear it off by shoving everything onto the floor with his fists.

Nick:
“I’m using cat-style bed clearing techniques.”