The sun sets on west Texas; I’m out of the frigid cold and in a papercrete hostel in Marathon — population not very many. It’s the most unique accommodations I’ve ever been afforded at any price and it was actually free because I am on bicycle. It’s certainly a one of a kind experience that I would have unknowingly pedaled past otherwise. I love this place and I didn’t know about it this morning and I really don’t want to ever leave.
Get in the hot tub that I wish I had right now and bend quantum physics back to when “you may ask yourself, well… how did I get here? That’s the dilemma at 7am in Alpine Texas. Our ride length and destination today is up in air; tomorrow is a different story. I have important zoom bike nerd matters that I’ve pre-arranged to handle from the comfort of a motel room 85 miles up in Sanderson Texas in a couple days. But today, Damon and I have weighed our options and none of them are very sexy. The weather outside is frightful; the good weather has gone to absolute shit; highs in the 30’s and 16-20 mph winds with gusts twice that are not making anything attractive at all. Overnight wind chill lows in the teens mean we’re reliant on the already far-spaced civilizations a bit more; we microwave some oatmeal in this one star motel room on the east end of town get moving into frigid morning. 85 miles is Sanderson and 30 miles up is a town called Marathon. Nothing else. After Sanderson it’s another 80 miles before anything. This is as spread out as it gets in the lower 48. Montana has more railroad towns, thanks grandpa Caferro.
After agreeing on not to agree on a destination and plan with Damon, I am cold as fuck and biking into this headwind at 11 mph. It sucks. He’s way ahead already. My mask that’s a bandana is now a scarf. Or something. I’m prepared for cold but not my normal ride-to-work-in-Western-New-York-cold. About 40 minutes outside of town, a guy pulls alongside me in this sweet little 1980s coupe. He’s got an adorable pup riding shotgun but I’m focused on trying to get up this hill. I’m thinking he’s gonna ask me where I’m riding to but instead says he has some information for me. What the fuck is going on. Is this how the internet works in West Texas? Am I being recruited for some clandestine organization? Is this guy an alien and this is how abductions are really conducted? I pull over at the top of the incline and he stops alongside/in front of me. His window is down and his dog is chilling. His name is Gil and asks if we’re going to Marathon. I say we’re shooting for Sanderson but open to either. Turns out his lady Ingrid is the proprietor of some bicycle friendly lodging ahead in Marathon. He gives me her number and says we can stay tonight for free. I thank him profusely and shove forward, excited to make Marathon, place the phone call to Ingrid and break the news to Damon about our possible stroke of amazing trail magic.
A couple frosty hours later and my feet are snow-manned as I get into Marathon. Damon’s posted up outside a cafe which in a strange judging-a-book-by-it’s-cover way, looks amaze-balls compared to anything in the last five towns. I catch Damon up on the serendipitous rendezvous with Gil. I call Ingrid. When I ask how she is, she says busy. So we neglect the coffee shop and go straight over to her, hungry for caffeine and calories but hungrier for any sort of indoor shelter for the night.
The second we meet Ingrid and are shown around her spread of land, La Loma del Chivo, I know we have found what we’ve been looking for. Ironically, our shortest mileage day of the tour is into a town named Marathon. We are good to go. And it somehow just fell in our lap. If you’re reading this, you really should come and stay here and see it yourself. I will (poorly) attempt to describe this place, share photos and then call it a day and a night on this days report so Damon and I can enjoy a half. There’s something like 15 different little lodging setups across the dusty spread. Most are made of paper and cans and other recyclable material. There’s no building code so folks can let imagination run wild. It is the coolest fucking thing I may have ever laid eyes on. There’s an outdoor brick oven complete with a pizza peel. I believe it all may be now run more like an Airbnb than a hostel, but the structure we’re in for the night is definitely the most eccentric and communally set up for groups. Tons of books. An outdoor kitchen and wood burning stove. A rooftop patio. Above my bed hangs a portrait of Emiliano Zapata and Van Gogh’s Starry Night. It is all on brand for me. I’ve been involved with Hostel Buffalo Niagara for more than a decade and so hostels hold a special place in my heart. They are now more rare in the US than Europe or Asia, but remain an amazing way to connect people through shared experiences while traveling. Maybe post-pandemic they will see an uptick as people begin to rediscover the culture of connecting.