Time has been gliding by so smoothly and quickly that it’s been difficult to divide our journey into emotional or measurable sections. Today, a little more than three months into the adventure, the drive across central Texas felt like a milestone.
It is the longest gap between markers on our map – the biggest single 'hop' in distance so far. Most of the distance covered was east to west, almost directly and as the crow flies. About the same distance (>300 miles) as New York to Pittsburgh, further than San Diego to Phoenix. More than that, the land transformed and we left behind thinning signs of the old South for the humbling landscapes of the Southwest.
As we traveled west from Austin, we passed through more Austin-esque country of hills, rivers and springs, and were surprised by young vineyards along both sides of the highway. These continued into the lovely, mind-boggling town of Fredericksburg: population 10,000 souls, every one the owner of a German biergarten or bakery.
A bit west of Fredericksburg, the wineries became peach orchards, with huge painted signs hawking preserves and bushels. Then a change in landscape, low creeks and small trees, which reminded us of South Africa, accompanied by the arrival of Texas ranches. Each plot, of every imaginable size, obliged to include fences and at least a few cattle. Sometimes it was hard to say which ranch the herd belonged to, because the distance between big ranch name-gates was many miles. Then cattle ranches gave way to some sheep and to a wide range of goats, all huggable, as the creeks became drier and drier, the trees smaller and smaller.
Then, it seemed quite suddenly, all sign of man or beast vanished hundreds of miles before our final destination of Fort Stockton, and we were on a dry scrubby desert of ridges and mesas. This was the exact landscape that the spaghetti westerns were trying to reproduce in Italy. Hours passed when all we saw were tiny industrial sites like mars habitats, probably natural gas wells and plants. Despite refilling The Beast’s diesel tank early and often, we came too close for comfort to running out of fuel. At one point the truck’s indicator estimated 82 miles of fuel remaining, while our Gas Guru app advised that the next fill available at any price was 75 miles ahead, providing a nervy if beautiful sunset drive toward an unmanned and shuttered but operating Shell station a few miles east of empty.
My advice would be to leave early if you are attempting this drive. Refill your fuel tanks whenever possible and be aware that Google Maps bases its estimated trip duration on the 80 MPH speed limit that you may or may not achieve based on the rating of your trailer tires and the severity of the head and crosswinds. If you leave enough time, however, the 'Central Texas Burn' is an iconic American drive. You can hit a wine tasting, scarf a schnitzel, pick peaches, ride a bull, hug a goat, and re-live genre favorites while on the run from the posse. At least I imagine you can if you don’t bring a cat.
Kathryn Tully and Shane Sesta are a married couple, one American and one Brit, who are spending a year traveling across America and writing about their discoveries. Sonny is their rescue cat and fried chicken aficionado.