February 10 2010 by Jason Fogelson
Overcast skies covered the city of Laredo when I woke up this morning. A quick check of the forecast gave me some encouragement, though. I've been using the free Weatherbug app for my iPhone, which gives great hour-by-hour predictions, along with live view Doppler radar maps of each area. I spotted an area of clear skies down the length of the Rio Grande all the way to the Gulf of Mexico, so I charted a course that would take me near Brownsville, then back up the Gulf Coast to Corpus Christi. My other option would have been a much more direct route across the desert, which promised to be shorter, less eventful, and much less interesting. Longer, more eventful and more interesting won out. But first, breakfast.
I joined Best Western San Isidro Inn's General Manager Celina Solis in the hotel's informal dining room. A delicious fresh hot breakfast buffet lined two walls, with everything from homemade empanadas to scrambled eggs to biscuits and gravy joining the usual continental fare, along with tempting pastries and cakes. I chatted with Celina and one of her assistant managers while I enjoyed my breakfast. When I was sufficiently fortified, caffeinated and full, I bade them farewell, loaded up the bike and checked out of the hotel. I couldn't help but notice all of the awards and accolades on the lobby walls as I signed my bill. With service like Celina and her staff offer, they're going to need to add another wall for awards very soon.
Layered against the cold, I rode away from the hotel and toward the center of Laredo. I hadn't had much of a chance to explore, so I took a quick ride through downtown and the historic district. Laredo is on the move, with construction cropping up on every corner. It is definitely worth another trip back.
But I had a long ride ahead of me, and I had to keep ahead of the weather. I picked up US 83 South, and pointed the Electra Glide toward Brownsville.
The ride took me through small towns and cities, alternating with wide expanses of ranchland. US 83 runs along the US/Mexico border, and Border Patrol vehicles are a frequent sight along the route. I had to pass through a few checkpoints, which was little more than a minor inconvenience. The Border Patrol officers were businesslike and efficient, asking me only if I was a US citizen (I am) before waving me along.
I passed through the towns of San Ignacio, Zapata and Falcon before stopping in Rio Grande City for fuel. Rio Grande City is ripe for discovery, with a well-preserved downtown stacked with beautiful, if neglected, buildings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I wouldn't be surprised if it crops up as a tourist destination in the near future.
I continued on through Mission and McAllen. I wish I could have hopped across the border to visit Rio Bravo and Los Angeles, which I have heard great things about. But my Fly & Ride contract stipulates that the Electra Glide can't leave the US, so I missed out.
In the town of Harlingen, I was presented with a dilemma. I wanted to reach Brownsville, which lay some 20 miles or so to the south. Brownsville is the southernmost city in Texas, and I wanted to go there for the simplest of all reasons -- to say that I did it. But the traffic leading to Brownsville was at an absolute standstill, and I had no real destination calling me there. So, I chose to turn north, leaving US 83 for US 77, which would lead me along the Gulf Coast up to Corpus Christi.
It turned out to be a great decision. The road was open, smooth and wide. I realized as I was riding on US 77 that the landscape of South Texas was growing on me. For a city guy, the distance to the horizon seems impossibly far, and the sky impossibly long and flat. The views sometimes tricked my eyes into thinking that I was looking at a distant ocean, because that's the only time I get to see that far into the distance living on the West Coast. It gets a man to thinking...
I had a bit of a start while thinking and riding. I passed a sign that said "Next Service Station 60 Miles." I didn't remember passing a station recently, either. I checked my gas tank, and it was about one-quarter full. The Electra Glide's trip computer registered 61 miles remaining in my tank. It was going to be a close one. I set the cruise control for the speed limit (70 mph) to maximize fuel economy, and prayed for a tail wind. I didn't dare risk going any slower, for fear of being run down by a truck (a distinct possibility on this busy corridor). Luckily, I made it to the service station with 20 miles left in my tank. Another reminder of how thinking and riding just don't mix.
I pulled in to Corpus Christi at around 4 pm, and quickly located the Best Western Marina Grand Hotel. An impressive 11-story structure, the Marina Grand overlooks the Corpus Christi City Marina and Yacht Club, and the Gulf of Mexico. My room on the 9th floor has a beautiful view of the harbor. I unloaded the bike, grabbed my camera, and went for a walk.
Moored in the City Marina is a full-size replica of Christopher Columbus's ship, the Nina. It's much smaller than I imagined it would be at just 70 feet, especially juxtaposed with some of the yachts and sailboats that surround it in the harbor. According to the story on Sail Texas , the Nina was built by the Spanish government and sailed to the US, along with a replica Pinta and Santa Maria, in 1992, to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Columbus's journey. The Pinta and Santa Maria replicas sit in dry dock at the Museum for Science and History in downtown Corpus Christi.
Nearby the hotel, I discovered the Texas Surf Museum, a cool little free museum dedicated to -- you guessed it -- surfing in Texas. The museum adjoins a very hip boutique/independent record shop, Surf Club Records , and a restaurant/live music venue, The Executive Surf Club. I asked the friendly record store clerk to recommend his favorite local band on CD, and he sold me a copy of "Burn," by the Scott Wiggins Band . I will play it tomorrow on the Electra Glide. Outside the store, I perused the stars on the South Texas Music Walk of Fame , pausing to genuflect at Michael Nesmith's star. Cooler than you think. Check out his work after the Monkees.
Time for dinner. I walked to a highly recommended restaurant that sits in the shadow of the Best Western, the Water Street Seafood Company . A delicious repast of fresh oysters on the half-shell (half-price between 4 and 7 pm), an iceberg wedge salad and salmon Florentine left me so stuffed that I had to pass on desert.
Back to the hotel. I have to plan tomorrow's ride to Galveston, and get some rest. The weather's turning cold, and I'm going to need all my energy to make the day.
Miles traveled: 332