South Padres Island trip - Christmas 2008

I drove down Tuesday 23rd, and drove back on Saturday 27th, full details on the trip, some (small) but interesting pictures are behind the cut to save space on friends page. Also details on my brush with US Border control, even though I never left Texas! South Padres Island is just 30-miles north of the Mexico border. The west end of the Island is pretty developed, although there is easy access to the beach, it is mostly obscured by hotels, condos etc. At the far west end there is a large park with parking, access to the beach and to a long sea wall. The road down the center, Route-100 ends after almost exactly 11-miles, dead-ending in the sand. You can get a good idea of what the Island and the sea looked like from this aerial picture on the city website.


I packed for an athletes trip. As well as a bunch of sports clothes, wetsuit and bike gear etc. I also took food for the holidays and for performance.

In the cooler chest was a pre-cooked Turkey breast, and some Talapia fillets I'd cooked before. Apart from the celery, salad, bag of carrots and Diet Pepsi, I also took a stash of Cliff Bars, PowerBar Gels, a box of Go Lean Almond Crunch and enough Soy Milk to make my own Frap style coffees with some ice from the Hotel; along with Propel powder for hydration.


Half way down I stopped to buy some things that I knew I'd forgotten, like a razor, shaving oil and a large bottle of water. I meant to take a picture at the end of the trip too, but forgot. In the end it was about 352-miles each way. On the way down I averaged 65-MPH, and it took ime about 5-hours 40-mins, slightly slower on the way back, and much longer elapsed time due to an extended break at a US Border Control checkpoint in Texas. Running the Merc on cruise control, speed set to just over 80MPH, on the way back I had my fuel consumption up to 28.4Mpg, but as I foolishly decided to try stopping at the San Marcos outlet village, and didn't in the end, my AMPG dropped back down to 26.9Mpg.

As I drove across the Queen Isabella crossing bridge to South Padres Island, I noticed a large which clearly stated no bicycles. This was going to be a problem given it was the only access to the Island. Turns out that if you want to get a bike back and forward to the Island, and don't want to drive it yourself, you can put on a bike rack on the Wave, the citys public transport system.

I stayed at the Comfort Suites in the main downtown section. I got a cheap rate for the 4-nights, $210 inc taxes. The hotel was wedged between R-100 with a McDonalds and a typical US Beach style t-shirt, wake-board type store, a by a bigger condo/apartment style building overlooking the beach. There was a small passage way to get to the beach. Hot breakfast was included in the rate.

Christmas Eve
Surprisingly I slet in until 9.30am. Rather than rush downstairs for the free breakfast, I had cereal in bed and made coffee with the in room coffee maker.

After reading a selection of free local papers I'd picked up in the lobby I headed out for a long run. I started by doing 5k on the broad shoulder/bike path, as I hadn't been down to the beach and wasn't sure what the sand would be like. Given it was also overcast and damp, I figure I'd be safer on the shoulder. The further I got out of town though, the sunnier it got, and I got to beach access point 2 and stopped, walked over to the beach and picked up the run from there.

The sand was firm and easy to run on, except where it had been cut up by vehicles. The further east I got the more vehicle tracks, and vehicles there were, but this really wasn't a problem since the beach got wider, or the tide went out ;-) Sadly the beach was also littered with horse turds, where a large group(collective noun for horses, herd?) had just gone through carrying visitors. by 6-miles I really wasn't doing so well, and decided it was time to head back. I got back on the beach to the 4-mile marker and couldn't run any more. A disappointing 10-mile run, I had hoped for 12-or-more.

Did lunch back in my room and went back to bed for a while. Around 6pm I went out for dinner and headed up to Port Isabel the otherside of the Bridge. I ended up at Marcello's Itallian many of the others were closed. Although Marcellos was packed the service was pretty good, and the food great. I figured it was carbo loading time and had the Chef’s Combination Platter(Chicken or Veal Parmigiana, Lasagna, Eggplant, and Shrimp Fettuccini Alfredo). I asked to keep the cork for the wine, re-corked it and took the half bottle back to the room.

Christmas Day
Up early to phone home, I went down to the beach hoping to get some shots of the sunrise on Christmas day. Saldy not. Not only that, but the noise from the waves crashing on the beach made it too noisy to hold a reasonable conversation.

By the time I was done with calls I went back, grabbed some breakfast and got ready to head out on the bike. I headed due east on R-100. I figured I'd push as hard as I could all the way to the end, and then recover on the way back and repeat. The road surface on the way out was pretty good until the end of the buildings, maybe a mile or so further than I'd run the day before. After that it was worn but even chipseal. In a couple of places the sand had encroached onto the shoulder, and for a few hundred feet completely covered it. However, traffic was pretty light and it wasn't an issue biking in the single lane.

The last few hundred yards of the road were covered in patches of sand. These had to be crossed very carefully. You have to cycle pretty evenly, not sharp breaking, otherwise it's just like ice and the wheels will go sideways pretty quickly.


My time out was 32:12 for the 10.82-miles, giving an average MPH of 20.2 - a bit slow, but given I wasn't racing from the start, and was a little unsure on the sand at first, not bad. I did the return trip, plus out and back twice more, giving a ride distance of 67-miles for the day.

That was pretty much it for the day. By the time I got showered and fed in the room, I pretty much sat around, watched some TV, read a bit and went to bed early.

Friday 26th December

Up early again to catch the sunrise, and I was mostly disappointed again to start with. I ran the 2-miles down to the sea wall, by the time I hung around taking pictures etc. It had cleared up and the sun was emerging from behind the clouds(see below). I jogged back, my knees were hurting and after breakfast figured I'd go do the ride again as a recovery ride.



After a brief warm-up on the bike, I suprised to find my legs actually felt pretty good. I set-off down the road hard, and was surprised this time to have a much faster run. The time the distance measured 10.9-miles, I completed it in 29:05, over 3-minutes faster and with an average MPH of 22.5.

I took my real camera this time, when I got their I propped the bike up against a post and went for a walk and got some stunning beach and sand dune pictures, the sun and clouds were perfect for some good shadows etc. From this point as far as you could see in both directions, the beach was like this.

The only shame was the amount of trash on the beaches. The city could do worse than put out some garbage bags and a collection point, and ask the people who are collecting shells to collect some trash. I assume the bulk of the trash was created by Hurricane Dolly, July 2008 which seems to have affected a number of the buildings and also the main part of the beach and from which the city seemed to be busy recovering.


The ride back into town was tough, it became apparent that at least some of my faster performance was wind assisted. Once I got back to the smooth road surface I tried changing gear and nothing. I got off and examined everything, but nothing seemed to be broken, just no gear shifting on the rear cassette. So that was that, just 22-miles for the day.

After the ride I went back down with my swim gear. Collected the wetsuit from the car, tried taping my neck with duct tape to save from getting wetsuit rash. And walked out to the beach. I swam hard for nearly 10-mins trying to get out beyond the breakers, but that didn't really happen. So I figured I'd just try to swim to the sea wall, that didn't happen either. After about 15-mins swimming parallel to the beach, I ended up about 50m back from where I started. When I got back to the hotel I asked, and the guy behind the desk said it would be like that for much of the winter season. The hotel pool was too smal for practical swimming.

Saturday 27th December

I was planning to get up early on the Saturday and do another run, but my legs were toast and I decided given the drive ahead, I decided to pass. I set off at 9:15, first to the town Post Office to mail my postcards. Sadly the Post Office didn't open until 10am and it didn't have a single machine to buy stamps from.

So I headed back to Austin. I stopped for a Starbucks after about 38-miles, helpfully located by Google Maps and the built-in GPS on my phone. After the restart I went maybe another 30-miles or so, when I spotted what looked like the front end of a Police car parked behind some buches at the side of the road. I slowed down until well past it, but was surprised to see it was a White with green stripped US Border control truck.

Further down the road I was again surprised to find all the cars ahead breaking. There was a permanent US Border Control checkpoint across the road. There hadn't been anything on the way out and we were 70-miles or so from the border and about the same distance from Corpus Christy.

When my turn came I was asked if I was a US Citizen. On reflection I should have said yes, but I didn't. As I didn't have my passport with me I was asked to pull over to the side of the road and wait in my car. After about 15-mins, a border control office came over and asked me to step inside the building. I had to remove everything except trousers and shirt and go through the scanner. I was then interviewed for about 15-mins, while some unimpressed border guard behind a bullet proof glass screen taped away on a computer keyboard. I was let go with a reprimand about not carrying my passport and I94 at all times.

The rest of the trip back to Austin was uneventful, I got back just before 4pm and went straight to Jack and Adams bike shop to get my bike sorted out for the ride the next day.

I'd go down there again. I should have thought to have swum in the bay instead of fighting the waves in the sea. I suspect peak summer season would mean the shoulder on the side of the road would be pretty packed with parked cars; also it's apparently a pretty popular location for spring break. Also, the Comfort Suites was pretty booked up for the weekend after Christmas so book early.
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