Day 18, 19, 20: Lions and spiders and bears - Oh f***!

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The journey down to Big Bend National Park was a long but staggeringly stunning one. We really were now driving amongst the scenery and towards the horizons that we had always imagined when hearing the words 'American road trip'. The desert was now beginning and so was the lack of civilisation. The road was completely straight for miles into the distance. We could see endless bare space all around us and wondered how many Londons could be fit into everything we could see. Well you'll be please to know I'm sure that it was roughly between 5 and 20. Maybe. We would drive for near to an hour at a time without encountering any other traffic or even people. We topped up ol' 'Chrissie' Chrysler's oil after she emailed us via the dashboard like Knightrider's sexy sister asking for a wee dram of the good stuff. With potential to be without the opportunity of filling up on gas for hundreds of miles too, we sensibly pulled into the tiny town of Marathon and topped her up to the brim one last time before we entered the wilderness. It wasn't likely that we would come unstuck on the road; our motor's MPG was doing better than expected, but then again I conked out from lack of petrol just trying to drive between Manchester and Leeds a couple of months back and Seb's written a car off from letting the oil run out before so we weren't taking any chances on this one.

One of the few things to break up these liberatingly free stints of desert driving was border patrol. Despite remaining in the USA, we were now expertly straddling the Mexican border and we had to deal with a near elbow deep inspection on more than one occasion. 

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We climbed the winding roads of the mountains of Big Bend slowly. Sign after sign came and went; 'Fire risk: medium' - not bad, we thought, 'loose gravel' - again...that's ok, we ploughed on, 'bears' - deep breath, 'lions' oh come on now! What were were heading int-

-'What the hell is that!?' Iain shouted out of nowhere.

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It was a tarantula, the size of a mans hand having a nifty little stroll in front of our approaching car. Then not even ten metres later, there was another only slightly smaller. More chance of climbing through a tiny hole in the tent, I thought to myself. Iain and I were not feeling positive. We were grossly underprepared. The tent would need to be pitched, the sun was disappearing rapidly, the wind was howling and we hadn't eaten. Seb either naively or bravely (Iain and I still aren't sure) insisted we would be fine as we had a sleeping bag each, a bag of nachos and 3 warm cans of Lone Star somewhere in the trunk of the car. There was a tough debate on whether we were equipped to stay here; no torch, no water and bloody bears, Seb! Bears and lions! We talked until we ran out of energy and stumbled around a corner only to see a small campsite restaurant emerge from the rocks like a mirage. Only it wasn't. It was real and we had tacos and fish and everything felt better again. With a renewed drive to have a successful camping trip, the tent was eventually set up in the crazily strong winds. With pegs bent out of all recognition, we held the tent down in the mountain storm for the next twelve hours with big rocks, suitcases, bags and ourselves. It was another painfully uncomfortable and sweaty night with a distinct lack of sleep...

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That next morning, we clearly still hadn't recovered from Austin.

I awoke in the tent surprised that I had slept at all. Seb snored loudly next to me as Iain spooned a bear next to the jar of half eaten queso. The sun beat down onto the tent. It was bright and hot but probably only about 9am.

'Oi...' I said.

Everyone stirred. 

'Can we leave this sweat pile right now?'

The bear took the hint and let himself out.

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Within half an hour we were packed up and driving back down the mountain towards the flat Texan desert. Around midday we pulled into Marfa, Texas, a town that we'd been told by a few people was worth a visit. From what we were heard, a guy moved over from New York to a disused army base about thirty years ago to set up an art studio. Since then artists have flocked to the town to do a similar thing, generally keeping building facades and shop fronts the same as how they found them. Looking at the place from the streets you wouldn't realise just how much was going on behind closed doors. As well as the studios and galleries, interesting thrift stores, bustling cafés and presumably come-evening time, packed bars fill the town. It all felt a bit like being back in Dalston. We had a great healthy lunch that refreshingly involved no burgers, pancakes, fried chicken or pizza. We also saw a really really long train pile it's way through the level crossing in the middle if town. We drove past it later and I'm sure it was over a kilometre long. Barney's fact of the day there.

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About half an hour west of Marfa we drove past an art installation that local artists put there in 2007. It's a Prada shop, or at least it appears to be as it displays years old Prada bags and shoes. Sitting there in the desert in the middle of nowhere gradually degrading back into the earth around it, I suppose it carries some sort of message about globalisation or consumerism or just the isolation of the desert itself or summink. I guess it's whatever you want it to be. If you like robbing, it's a good chance to grab some Prada. Also in case you were getting worried, there was not a dead emaciated cashier on the floor behind the till, left there after being sealed in seven years ago. We knew what the 'store' was and that it was going to be there as we drove up to it but it still felt completely bizarre actually seeing it sit there all alone and erring on the side of decrepit in that vast silent space. In fifty years I'd like to see it again when it's a little bit more ballsed up. 

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More tight security followed as we drove through El Paso and along the Rio Grande. Mexico really was just metres away, little villages stretching over the hills into the distance. We crossed the border into New Mexico and into our third time zone of the trip. We were now seven hours ahead of British Summer Time. The huge advantage of going east to west over the month has been that we do get back an hour every so often. This was the case tonight and despite a long day of driving we got to Albuquerque at a leisurely 7.30pm. Finally, comfy beds and a good night's sleep awaited us. We swam in the pool, attempted exercise again and pigged out on room service. When travelling a lot, one of life's great comforts has to be that wherever you are in the world, however knackered you might be, a club sandwich delivered to your hotel room makes everything ok again. We munched away and relaxed in our suite and two out of three of us blocked the toilet somehow on separate occasions and we had to order a plunger from room service. Albuquerque was the home of the worlds most famous meth dealer and we were going to check out all things Heisenberg the next morning.

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Walter White's house minus the roof pizza

Walter White's house minus the roof pizza

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Fully recharged (Seb - pancakes etc), we excitedly toured all we could from the world of Breaking Bad. Iain pin pointed all the big locations on a big Albuquerque map and we spent the next few hours taking wrong turns and turning maps upside down til we'd done it all. We saw the houses, Saul's office, a few bits and bobs in and around the town and Chrissie used Walt and Skyler's car wash with the proprietor wishing us an 'A1 day' as we paid up. We pulled into Twisters, the fast food outlet used to portray Los Pollos Hermanos. It wasn't fried chicken and it wasn't good. It was completely rancid. I managed a bite, Iain managed two and Seb ate half a large burrito before he went 'Oh yeah' and got up and walked out, leaving Iain and I sat awkwardly trying to leave without the staff seeing we had eaten 2% of what they had made for us. I have to move on now otherwise I will throw up in my mouth. 

Everything was made better with a visit to Sonic drive-in. I highly highly rate this burger. For all those burger lovers out there, it's worth a visit or let's just hope it comes and invades the UK like Shake Shack and Five Guys has in the last couple of years.

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We drove through Colorado, and into Arizona that day after a lot of driving. We struggled for a cheap motel that night and ended up forking out online for our most expensive one yet. We drove the now winding desert roads in darkness as nightfall hit and finally reached the motel, which as well as being the most expensive we'd paid for so far, was also one of the worst. It was also in a place called Tuba City. However, we were only there for a matter of hours and as Louis CK presented SNL on the telly we sipped warm Mexican lager in bed 'til we dozed off.

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Speak soon!

Barney