We pulled into Austin. After I dropped Barney and Iain off at the posh looking hotel, I parked Chrissie and then set about the daily charade of pretending I don't know the other two in front of the reception, then sneaking into the lift, because it is about ten dollars cheaper as two guests than three. We decided it was about time we stopped being fat meat bags (except for Iain who is always slim because he eats granola) so we tried to do some exercise. After a few minutes of jumping up and down, we shot up the lift to the rooftop pool on the 15th floor and we splashed about whilst admiring the night time view of the city and when Barney accidentally lozzed our frisbee over the side we said goodbye to it as it flew away and landed 27 miles away.
Starving, we found a nearby restaurant that did all-you-can-eat BBQ and at that time, smokey fatty meat was exactly what we needed. We scoffed that stuff like it was oxygen, inhaling buckets full of pulled pork and beef brisket that tasted like those felt tip pens that smell of pine trees from school (in a good way). We strolled down 6th Street and it dawned on us we had probably come to Austin at the wrong time of the week. It was Labor Day, so everyone was knackered after a long weekend of partying. We had ballsed it right up. No one has yet cried on this trip, but right then, Iain came close to being the first. The bars were still open, and by god, we would still give the place a run for its money. We had a couple of beers each, but we had to concede that tonight would be a quiet one and tomorrow we would try again. But then we realised we hadn't seen Barney for a while, and as we looked across the bar we saw him doing shots with some Mexicans.
We spent the morning by the pool on the roof basking in the Texan sun, before heading out to see what Austin looked like in the daytime. We nearly got in some kayaks but were already knackered by the ten minute walk to the river, so we didn't. Yeah, that's right, I just told you a story about how we didn't do some kayaking. That's basically the high point of the afternoon. Things picked up at dusk when we went to the specially designed "bat" bridge. As we stood on the bridge, we could hear from underneath us the collective squeak of 1.5 million bats waking up and forming an orderly upside-down queue. At 8.03 they emerged like that stuff that comes out of John Coffee's mouth in the Green Mile, flying along the river and engulfing the waiting crowds with a musty fart of bat stink.
It was dinner time for us and we headed to Lambert's, a restaurant recommended by my mate Mitch. If the previous night's BBQ was a bottomless pit of tasty food, Lambert's was a step up. For two and a half hours we sat and ate like kings, leisurely mulling over steaks and beef ribs and gargling red wine. Sometimes when Barney goes out for a big meal like a curry he gets nervous and overwhelmed which mean he can't eat anything. However on this occasion his stomach welcomed this nutrition like a returning soldier eating his mum's roast chicken.
The night should have ended there. But it was Tuesday and that's one day closer to the weekend, and we were only going to be there for that night. We caught a cab to Rainey Street, which used to be a road full of residential houses but were now mostly converted into unassuming bars, which lent it a less touristy air than the Nashville-like 6th Street. We sat down at the bar of a place called Clive, which I think pleased the barman, as it meant the number of customers doubled as soon as we lumbered in. We each ordered an Old Fashioned, and got a kick out of ordering more and more with just hand signals and a nod. After an hour or so, Barney had mastered ordering a tequila without even moving his arms. We did not leave those bar stools all night.
We all woke up the next morning in a right state. Iain was half-naked and Barney was laying upside-down shouting words out in his sleep. For me, I had to pretend I didn't have a hangover... as though it were hot coals... if I made myself believe it didn't hurt, then I could magically tiptoe over my predicament and more importantly drive us out of Austin.
Barney and I ate in a cafe named Magnolia a mile away from the hotel, while a comatose Iain stayed in the car, unable to be anywhere near food. After lots of coffee, we drove south towards our next destination - Schlitterbahn Water Park. It was shut.
That plan ruined, we decided to find somewhere to camp, but by the time we found a campsite, it was past 7pm and for some reason Texans don't like you doing that and won't let you come in. We drove around some more and eventually found somewhere in San Angelo that had a cabin we could stay in. Sitting on the swinging porch chair with a beer and a slice of pizza each, we experienced a blissful stillness as we stared out to the stars, briefly punctuated every eight minutes by a aeroplane scraping its way across the sky one hundred feet above us to land at the nearby airport. We had our worst night's sleep yet, sleeping in bunk beds with crash-mat-style nylon mattresses that you had to rip your back off like velcro whenever you wanted to turn over.
With stiff necks and frail brains that still hadn't recovered from Austin, the next morning we set off even further South. This time we were heading to the deepest part of America yet - a stone's throw from Mexico... the Big Bend National Park.