Desert adventure worth the stings, stabs, sears, scrapes

The best part about my latest adventure in the Big Bend?

Between nights spent snoozing in a tent under star-packed skies, cacti blooming with flowers so purple they looked like colored tissue paper and rock-strewn trails that twist through the prickliest scenery in Texas, it's hard to choose.

We started our three-day, two-wheeled scramble through Big Bend Ranch State Park at the Barton Warnock Visitor Center, where I met a two-day-old orphan javelina (more below).

By noon, I had 16 rugged miles under my drawstring cycling shorts. Before the trip ended, our mangy group of six bicyclists (and a couple of very fine support drivers) had passed an old mercury mining community, gazed on colorful handprints left by indigenous people hundreds of years ago, cooked up elaborate campsite meals and hula hooped under the night sky.

The route, which incorporated the 56-mile Epic Loop, took us along some new pieces of trail that bypass what I like to call the "soul sucking sand." It also included some roller coaster new stretches of single track that had me whooping and hollering. We camped one night at Tres Papalotes, and another at Mexicano II.

Everything in the desert stings, stabs, sears or scrapes, it seems. After a while, you embrace it. At one point, a yellow jacket crept up my shirt sleeve, stinging my wrist. My shins are still ragged from slow kisses by an array of sharp-spined plants. The sun fried my lips until they cracked, and an impromptu close-up inspection of a hillside littered with canteloupe-sized rocks left me with a few bloody scratches and full-calf bruise.

For more information about Big Bend Ranch State Park, go www.tpwd.state.tx.us.

Helping orphaned piglet

Some campers discovered a two-day-old javelina in a parking lot, abandoned by its mother. When they returned later that day, the orphaned piglet was still hanging out, hungry and alone. They delivered the bristly bundle of joy to the Barton Warnock Visitor Center at Big Bend Ranch State Park, where a ranger took it in, staying up all night to feed it every few hours.

The next morning, the little piglet, rejuvenated by the milk and kindness and making tiny grunty noises, had bonded with the ranger, sticking to his boot heels like a cocklebur.

The ranger arranged to have it transported to Shafter, where a wildlife expert who'd raised javelinas before was hoping to match it with a surrogate mother. With a little luck, the little guy will return soon to the wild.

When he gets older, he won't be nearly as cute.

Blessings for bicycles

St. Martin's Lutheran Church, 606 W. 15th St., is hosting the Austin Blessing of the Bicycles at 10 a.m. today, and cyclists are invited for the ceremony, bicyclist-friendly fare and music from the church's Reformation Band. A ghost bike will be in the sanctuary as the names of cyclists killed on roads in the last year are read aloud. Afterward, cyclists can join a joyride through the historic Judges' Hill neighborhood.

Blessing of the Bicycles reportedly started in 1999 in New York City. The nondenominational event focuses more on rider safety than religion, although it typically includes prayers and Bible readings, and bicycles are sprinkled with holy water.