After a couple of delightful days in Big Bend National Park, we began the long ride north to Marathon. Normally, the winds would have been at our backs. But, a storm decided to blow in, and we crazily decided to just push through. (Note to self: The next time you wake up to howling winds, just go back to sleep!) After spending a night at Stilwell Ranch, we slogged 45 very long miles at an average of 6mph over the course of an entire day, just to get to Marathon. By the time we rolled in, we knew we would need to stay for a few days to rest, which is exactly what we did. Our three days in Marathon so completely delighted and surprised us that I felt it needed its very own post.

With a population of only 600, we really didn’t expect much from Marathon. We knew about the historic Gage Hotel, but we assumed the town would be pretty barren otherwise. Surprise, surprise! This little community has incredible food, a bookstore, galleries, and really lovely people. It felt like a wonderful little island in the middle of the desert, and you should stop here if you’re ever out in West Texas.

Our first night in town, we were so tired that we felt completely anti-social and pretty much non-functioning. So, we ponied up for a room at the Marathon Motel. This is a cute older property, where each room is part of a two-room cabin, complete with a little porch. After grabbing dinner at the Oasis Cafe (a short walk down the road), we spent the evening in the heated comfort of our room and watched really terrible cable tv.

In the morning, we discovered that another bike tourist had also spent the night at the motel! Nancy is a veteran tourist and is in the middle of crossing the southern tier (east to west). We chatted for awhile and then headed off, a bit surprised by the sudden meeting of so many cyclists (we had also met two cyclists and their sag-er when we first rolled into town the night before).

We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast at Johnny B’s, poked around a photo gallery and the bookstore, picked up some snacks at the French Co Grocery (a great little market), and rode around the neighborhood a bit. Then we rolled over to the Gage Hotel, where we had arranged a night’s stay! We were excited in advance of checking in and even more enthusiastic when we got inside.

Our room at the Gage was in the historic building, which was built (and is currently maintained) with shared bathrooms and shower facilities. To make this more comfortable for guests, they provide robes (ooh la la!). Our room was simple (no TV, no phone), and beautifully furnished with western decor. WiFi reaches to the room, so we opened the window to let in some fresh air and spent the afternoon lounging on the wonderfully comfortable bed.

For dinner, we decided to check out the White Buffalo Bar, which is part of the Gage. The Gage operates a full-service restaurant, Cafe Cenizo, which has gotten tons of rave reviews (and which was also a bit out of our price range). The White Buffalo Bar, we had been tipped off, has a small menu made by the same kitchen at a lower price range. Russ got a buffalo burger and I got brisket sliders… delicious!

After a delightful night’s sleep at the Gage, we woke up to discover one of the best hotel breakfasts ever. And then we, reluctantly, packed everything up and rolled out. Even if you don’t have the chance to stay a night at the Gage Hotel, this should be on your list of places to see, because it is a truly beautiful property that has been lovingly restored.

Because we were still so tired from our crazed windy ride, we decided to stay in town a third night, this time opting for the free option, La Loma del Chivo hostel. This hostel is relatively new to town and is across the railroad tracks from the rest of the “strip.” If you’re on bicycle, you can stay for free. It’s a bit rugged feeling (we slept in our sleeping bags), but quite welcoming. I often feel that it’s the people that make an experience, and it was definitely true in this instance. After a fantastic dinner at another great restaurant (Famous Burro), our evening was spent swapping stories with other travelers at the hostel and enjoying music and a campfire under the stars.

Most of our time in West Texas has been surprising in one way or another. But, I have to say that the town of Marathon was the most surprising, because I would never have expected such an outpost of amazing food and great culture in this tiny little spot. Of course, in three days, we pretty much exhausted everything there was to do, see or eat in town, but we very much enjoyed ourselves (and the welcome break from peanut butter and sleeping on the ground).