I left the Ballinger Inn on January 12th ready to tackle West Texas. The storm that dumped five inches of wet snow in Ballinger had moved out of the area. Locals told me they typically receive and inch or two every winter. So far this season, they have received almost a foot of snow! Despite the sunny skies, I was in for a few chilly days.
It was a brisk 35 degrees as I made my way towards downtown Ballinger and Highway 158. I meandered through town and enjoyed the yard art and signs in front of a curiosity shop in the central business district.
The walk north on 158 was enjoyable. Traffic was light and I had a huge shoulder all day. There was a nice mixture of farms and ranchland. I continue to enjoy the wide open skies of Texas.
Midway through the day, my friend John, who is completing Ernie Andrus’s second coast-to-coast walk, tracked me down. He sent me on my way with two of Ernie’s t-shirts, three gift cards, some cash, and plenty of well wishes. We visited on the highway shoulder for 30 minutes. Thank you for your kindness and generosity, John!
I spent the night at the city park in Bronte. The next morning, PJ and I were rolling before dawn. Sterling City, 46 miles down the road, was our destination for the day.
46 miles can be an overwhelming number of miles to walk! Even though I have walked over 40 miles four times in my “walking career” (and on two other occasions on this trek) it’s still a tough mark to hit. I simply broke the walk down into 10 mile segments, which made it seem more manageable.
After passing through Robert Lee, I found myself in a new landscape. Parched cedar covered mesas lined the highway. Yucca, catci, and thorny mesquite trees were scattered throughout the arid hills. I felt like I had officially arrived in the West!
By the time the sun set, I was still 10 miles from town. I enjoyed a beautiful sunset before the sky filled up with stars. Flashing red lights from wind turbines surrounded me. I hit the city park in Sterling City exhausted but thrilled with the effort from the day. I haven’t slept that good in years!
From Sterling City, I slowed down a bit and took two days to complete the 50 mile trek through Big Spring. I enjoyed a rare night of stealth camping off Highway 87 under a crystal clear sky before walking through Big Spring and camping at an RV Park the following day.
After camping for the night at Arena RV Park just north of town, I covered 27 miles and ended the day in Tarzan. By the time I left Big Spring, I was squarely in the oil rich Permian Basin, which covers much of West Texas and portions of Southeastern New Mexico. The terrain completely flattened out. Oil wells and power lines towered above stumpy mesquite trees.
Although the landscape of West Texas is bleak (especially in the middle of winter!) I’ve managed to find beauty in my surroundings. Yucca and catci add splashes of green to an otherwise brown countryside. The constant churning and humming of oil wells brings me a surprising sense of calm and serentiy. Power line towers march towards the horizon in an orderly fashion.
Unobstructed views of sunrises greet me each morning. Beautiful sunsets wish me goodnight at the end of every day. Walking provides an unparalleled opportunity to find “beauty in the bleak.”
Once I reached Tarzan, I camped in a parking lot across the street from “Tarzan and Jane’s Grill.” Unfortunately the grill was already closed when I reached town at 5 PM. I was going to look for Jane in there since I already found Tarzan!
From Tarzan, I walked 29 miles and ended my day at appropriately named Flatland Campground just east of Andrews. I had some company on the last few miles of my stroll.
A young black lab came running up to PJ and I after she squeezed through a barbed wire fence. I prepared for attack when I saw the dog barreling towards me. Fortunately, all she attacked me with were kisses! Most dogs are aggressive when PJ and I roll by. I was relieved to find one that just wanted to play. I spent 20 minutes with her on the roadside before continuing my walk. She followed us for about a mile. She didn’t have a collar and people I have spoken with in town have told me there are a lot of stray dogs roaming around. I briefly entertained the idea of keeping her and having another companion for the remainder of the walk, but she eventually dissapeared. Still, I was happy for the brief period of puppy love.
Despite the beauty of West Texas, the area has posed its fair share of challenges. There has been a noticeable uptick in traffic, primarily due to the prevalence of the oil industry. I am guessing 50 percent of the vehicles on 176 are oil related, whether they are oil tankers, sand trucks, or support vehicles. I know a few things for sure. They are all big, loud, and don’t take Sundays off.
The wind has been relatively calm the last few days, which I am grateful for. However, cooler temps and higher winds are supposed to move in when I leave Andrews.
Mesquite thorns continue to be an issue (or at least an annoyance). My left tire has gone flat three times in the last three days. However, I have been able to reinflate it after each flat and it has held for the most part. Right now, the Ben vs. Mesquite Thorns score board reads Ben – 3, Thorns – 1. I get a win every time a tire goes flat but I can still successfully reinflate it, indicating the tire sealant did its job.
I decided to take a rest day in Andrews after walking the final four miles into town from Flatland Campground. By the time I finished doing laundry and grocery shopping, it was past noon. I typically don’t get motel rooms when the weather is nice (the high was 70) but the most difficult stretch of my walk (up to this point) begins when I leave Andrews. I figured a night indoors was a good investment.
I will continue following Highway 176 into New Mexico tomorrow. Eunice is the only town in the 108 miles between Andrews and Carlsbad. From Carlsbad, El Paso, Texas is the next major destination. There’s a whopping 133 mile stretch after White City (18 miles south of Carslbad) with no services. The next 275 miles will test my physical, mental, and emotional toughness in a whole new way. I can’t wait for the challenge.
Favorite Three Photos
Days – 68
Miles – 1536
Jars of Peanut Butter – 57
Roadside Change – $5.15
Miles Per Shower In Texas – 70