BROWNSVILLE — Aaron Chamberlain arrived at Xeriscape Park at the foot of Gateway International Bridge at 12:18 p.m. Wednesday, 58 days after departing from the same spot for a counterclockwise, circumnavigational bicycle tour of the state dubbed Vuelta de Tejas, or Tour of Texas.
A police vehicle siren sounded and a boom box blasted celebratory music as the Austin resident, wearing a flannel shirt against a stiff north wind, wheeled his dusty Salsa Journeyman gravel bike up to where a throng of family members, friends and supporters had gathered for the big welcome.
Chamberlain and his wife, Sofia, who grew up in Brownsville, both work for Texas Monthly. As he wrote in a piece for the magazine, he came up with the idea of biking the state’s perimeter near the end of his last bicycle feat, riding every street in Austin, a 385-day, 4,900-mile adventure. Chamberlain set out for Brownsville Wednesday morning from the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge.
His 3,046-mile jaunt around the Lone Star state he described as not necessarily a good idea, but not a bad idea either.
“It was a crazy idea,” Chamberlain said.
He was on the road as early as 5 a.m. some days to try to beat the worst of the wind and the heat, and changed his tires midway through the trip. Some parts of the ride, during which Chamberlain camped roughly a quarter of the time, were inevitably better than others. The fun parts of the trip outweighed the tough parts, though at least once Chamberlain seriously questioned the wisdom of the venture, he said.
“That was in Booker, Texas, which is the very top of Texas in the panhandle,” Chamberlain said. “It was kind of a day like this, 35 mph gusts, crosswinds and a 75-mile day. I was just exhausted by the end. I had like a mental breakdown in my motel room. I think I was just dehydrated really.”
Another low point was the Permian Basin, a state hot spot for crashes involving heavy commercial trucks related to the energy industry, and a place he says he’ll never ride again. Also, Chamberlain was nearly clipped by a pickup mirror between Roma and Rio Grande City on a stretch of U.S. 83 with barely any shoulder and never-ending traffic. He called it “just the worst ride I’ve ever had.”
U.S. 281, on the other hand, was smooth biking other than for the bridges. Big Bend National Park and Guadalupe Mountains National Park were two major highlights, Chamberlain said.
“And then like just visiting some places I hadn’t been, like El Paso,” he said. “I want to go back there. I’d never been to El Paso before. It seemed like a cool city.”
Even though he’d just completed a ride that very few people would attempt, Chamberlain said he doesn’t consider himself a serious cyclist.
“Mainly I just commute to work on my bike,” he said. “But I do ride my bike a lot, probably more than some cyclists.”
Chamberlain, who was in the saddle 53 days of his 58 days on the road, the other five days devoted to rest, said the next long-haul bike trip he takes won’t be quite as long.
“We want to do what we’re calling the saint-to-saint ride, a ride from St. Elmo Brewing Company in Austin to St. Arnold (Brewing Company) in Houston,” he said. “It’s like a 150-mile ride. Take a couple of days to do that, camp in the middle, stuff like that. More weekend type things. Not two months.”