Scott's trip journal along the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. South to North in 38.5 days. To index each entry by day, go to the daily summary / map page.
Scott's (mostly riding) journal, where these entries were originally published, can be found at http://www.topofusion.com/news.php
The journal has been split into four parts due to length.
Part 1/4 covers Silver City to Polvadera Ridge.
Part 2/4 covers Abiquiu to Silverthorne.
Part 3/4 covers Mugrage to Red Rock Wildlife Refuge.
Part 4/4 covers Lima to the end.
The trip began with a short drive to the Chiricahua Mountains in eastern Arizona. Doug Kelly was gracious enough to give us a ride. In the end he really went out of his way to help us start out this adventure.
We drove up Cave Creek canyon and found a nice spot off the side of the road to camp. I have visited the west side of the Chiricahuas, but never the east. Supposedly the “Yosemite” of Arizona, it did not disappoint with plenty of cliffs, caves and other beautiful rocks. We went for a short hike up the south canyon trail. Dozens of different trees fill the canyon to the bursting point, and the creek was still flowing with water (it’s June in Arizona!). There were small fish in the creek too.
Doug cooked us up some tasty Pesto pasta which we ate until we could not breathe–we will need all the calories we can get for the upcoming days (and especially tomorrow). We slept early.
We awoke just as the sun was barely lighting the sky-4:15 or so. We were attempting an early start, but early would have been more like 2:15. Before we reached Antelope Wells it was 9am and the sun was shining bright. I was worried and anxious to get going, so we rolled across the border, took some quick photos then headed north.
New Mexico 81, 'the lonely road', was a nice ride...for a while. It really was an enjoyable road ride, but I tired of pavement after a few hours (I will never make it as a roadie). The scenery was surprisingly nice, given others’ description of the area. But most ride the GDMBR in the other direction, so by the time they reach here it may seem quite bleak. Big Hatchet Mountain (8700 feet) towers over the valley floor. At first we could see it in the distance to the north, then we passed it through Hatchet gap, and for the rest of the ride (while we had daylight, that is) we watched it get smaller and smaller.
"Dip... Courtesy Pays" - road sign along the lonely highway.
At mile #1 of the ride we met face to face with our invincible enemy: the wind. It blew from the northwest throughout the day…. and unfortunately we were heading north. Any time we turned west it was impossible to keep rolling above 7 mph. It was, I’d say, a constant 15-20 mph, gusting to 30. It was almost tolerable through Hachita (where we stopped only for cold gatorades) and to Interstate 10. But just before I-10 Paula lost the will to fight (5 hours nonstop will do that to you) and slowed down considerably. This was ok with me, but I did worry about making it to Silver City, still 75 miles away.
Unfortunately after reaching I-10 we turned west along the dirt frontage road, which meant we were riding straight into the wind. Despite losing a few hundred feet over 7 miles, our travel time was about an hour. We stopped to rest under a freeway underpass (the only shade) and found wild gourds (squashes) of some kind. This was pretty cool–they were fist sized but far too sweet to eat.
In Separ we met Doug, who had been waiting for about an hour. On his way back to Tucson he had dropped our stuff in Silver City, meaning we could push through this 125 miles of low deserts and hot temps in one day. Without his help we would have been dry camping at 4000 feet in mid-June.
Instead we fought endless winds, laying siege to the hills towards Silver City. Once we said goodbye to Doug we had no choice but to make it to Silver City. We traveled northeast out of Separ and were amazed how easy it was to climb–15 mph with little effort. This little gem of a section lasted all of 15 minutes. From there we once again turned west, this time riding right along the Continental Divide on an open ridge. The wind was worse here than before and it successfully brought us to our knees. The only thing we could do was ride 10 minutes then stop and take a break. It was that kind of wind–the kind you just cannot stand to fight continuously against. It didn’t help that we had 90 miles of wind battling behind us that day either.
At some point along the Divide I got a bit ahead of Paula. I turned around, no Paula. The wind was bad enough that I didn't even want to ride back to look for her--that would mean losing the 500 feet against the wind that I had gained. Eventually I did go back for a bit which afforded me the simple pleasure of being able to hear myself think for a few seconds.
As I pulled away Paula had honked her Monkey horn and screamed to get my attention--she wanted yet another break from the wind. I didn't hear a thing and instead kept riding. The wind was such that we couldn't hear each other while riding side by side, so I really had no chance of hearing her. She proceeded to take out her rage and frustrations on her poor little monkey honker. Pound, pound, punch, punch, SCOTT, STOP! Unfortunately the monkey was never the same after the savage beating--he used to squeak both on air intake and output, but now he only squeaked on output.
She took a short screaming break alone then rode back up to where I was waiting, where we took a longer break. "We're never going to make it! It's too slow..." "What? Say that again?" "We're never going to make it! This stupid fucking wind!"
Of course we had no choice but to get back on and ride. The sun was nearing the horizon and we still had plenty of riding yet.
I looked off the ridge to the north and noticed a large white animal galloping across the plain. It was a beautiful wild horse who seemed to be following us. He would run, then stop for us to catch up (remember we are riding about 5 mph, climbing uphill into the wind). It was pretty cool. A while later a few deer were crossing and we watched them leap with skill over 4 foot ranch fences. Very cool.
Our northwest section along the divide seemed to never end. This time it took us nearly 2 hours to travel 7 miles. No matter how you dice that one up, that’s not good time. But at last the road turned to the NORTH and now we were only fighting a near-sidewind. We dropped into a canyon (finally) and were nearly out of the wind. We shared our first conversation that did not include shouting.
It was not long before we reached NM 90 for the final 18 miles to Silver City. We were hammered, it was still windy and it was nearly dark. Fight, fight, fight… the rollers made for slow progress as the sunlight disappeared altogether. The shoulder was wide and we had blinky’s so we were safe–just dying to be done for the day.
A 300 foot climb out of the mine resulted in a blissful 5 miles of coasting. But we were still miles from Silver City. The lights twinkled far away but grew closer with each agonizing pedal stroke. About 3 miles from town Paula’s handlebar bag (which was bungeed to her rear rack) fell off, shooting the bungee cord into oblivion. I made a vain attempt to find it, riding a while back on the road, but it was gone.
Even Silver City itself had a few hills left for us–but at least it wasn’t windy. Our motel–Copper Mannor, was on the other side of town.
Before we could access our room phone it was 10:08 – 8 minutes ago every eating establishment in town closed, ugh.
Paula summed today up rather well -- if every day was going to be like this (wind hell), she quits. So do I.
An early start was not to be after yesterday’s deathmarch. But we were up around 6am to walk over to Mickey D for some grease and grits. 2000 calories later, we walked out feeling refreshed. We didn’t know if we’d be riding AT ALL today, but it seemed like the thing to do.
So we loaded everything up and were on the road before 9am. The rollers out of Silver City were not so bad, however, our good friend the Northwest Wind was still in force. At least we were going North East this time! Ha!
There was a pullout to grab a view of a huge open pit mine (I’m assuming it’s Silver). A mountainside is gone, but at least the impact is all in one place.
At last we turned onto a nice dirt road–Georgetown RD. I was beginning to think this tour was going to be mostly pavement. It was great to find some steep climbs, a few large rocks and some great views. Cedar trees were abundant which means when we stopped it could be in the shade. I sort of felt like we were mountain biking.
A nice descent lead us to the town of Mimbres and the rich river valley (more trees!). Bad news though–the only cafe was in the wrong direction (2 miles or so). It was well worth it though, the place filled us to the bursting point with quality Mexican food. It was a real treat to get such a nice meal before heading out into the wilderness.
2:00pm - We still don’t know how far we will make it today–but we’ll head to the Ranger Station (about 8 miles) to hopefully nap in the shade, waiting out the burning afternoon sun. We’re only at 6200 ft, which is great (Tucson is 2500), but it’s still not exactly ‘cool’ in the afternoon.
Mimbres Ranger Station – Wilderness Ranger District. We found a nice picnic table to lie on, but there was one small problem: they were clearing the parking lot with a ridiculously loud machine. And to top it off all the dust was blowing right at us. We waited to see if they were almost done, but no, it went on for a half hour.
Then as they were leaving (the other trucks doing asphalt work) he turned on and off the machine at least 5 times for who knows what reason. It was just unbelievably poor timing. I kept moving the bikes around to keep them from a thick coating of dust.
Now, we need to see where to head next and how Paula is feeling. I wasn't sure we would make it anywhere today, but she seems happy and is still riding strong. Given that her total cycling mileage before the trip was maybe 200 (including one 105 mile ride), her legs are holding up very well. Her running mileage, of course, is somewhere in the thousands, so she is in incredible condition (just not for cycling).
Eventually Paula woke up from her picnic table nap and we rolled out. After a bit of pavement we turned right to climb through the Gila Forest, right by a sign that read "No services next 120 miles." This forest road, “the Germino trail” snakes through a narrow corridor between two wilderness areas. We climbed, facing our first real challenge on the loaded bikes. Our legs were drained, but we finally felt like we were mountain biking. My upper body strained to control my train wreck of a bike (+bob), keeping it on the steep road. At last, a bit of a challenge!
We climbed up to the continental divide then rode along it for a few miles, finally diving off into a very nice side canyon. Here we found our first ponderosa pines… which were especially nice knowing that we hard worked hard (climbed) to get to them. The granny gear climbing continued on roads that motivate me to dig my feet into my pedals and feel the rush of burning around the corners. But we were both tired so about halfway up the climb above Rocky Canyon we saw a tempting dispersed campsite… Paula thought she could ride further, but when we hit the next steep pitch it was clear that we were done. We happily glided back to the site to dry camp (we had about 2 gallons or so).
It was a superb spot. We tied our food in the trees and watched an awesome sunset.
The next morning saw more awesome challenge. Up and down into deep canyons on endlessly switchbacking roads. At the crest of the next canyon you could stare at both: the canyon you just conquered and the one that lies ahead. We did not see anyone on this road until about 1pm (no one yesterday either). Maybe this is the real lonely road.
These sky island mountains make for some beautiful riding. Deep forests of pines, the CDT footpath trail head and signs warning of wolves. Very reminicent of southern AZ.
The sun scorched us on the climb out of Black Canyon (which had a nice flow, but we had plenty). Motivation would wax and wane among various parts of the day for both of us. But it was a difficult day and progress (in terms of mileage) was slow. I was impressed to see Paula climbing so steadily. My legs were tired so I knew hers must be completely drained. Her legs are trained for the pounding of running, not cycling.
The gradual climb out of Diamond Creek (where the FS had to remove a belligerent’s cattle this year) was sandy enough that I lost my line a few times with the Bob. You really have to be careful on side-sloping roads… once you lose the line it is difficult to regain. I was happy to be challenged, but also anxious to make some progress towards Canada, which seems so far away.
We descended into the endless sea of ‘private property’ and ‘no trespassing’ signs that haunt the area around Wall Lake. It’s almost like the owners are hiding something here… although the trees abound, it’s a desert out here and this nice lake seems like an oasis. But it’s off limits to everyone.
We stopped to admire the lake and enjoy a break. We were on the road side of the fence and minding our own business. We had not been sitting there 5 minutes when a green car approached on the road and we had the pleasure of meeting a woman who was, how to put it delicately, a bitch. She had seen us ride by and saw it fit to get in her car, bounce down the washboarded road then open her door and holler at us without even getting out. I heard something inaudible, then “…Oh you’re just sitting there! … A lot of people think you can camp here, but you can’t!” “Uh, yes, we saw the signs” … Then she drove up the road a bit, driving back later to make sure we were still there and not, presumably, in the lake.
We climbed again away from the lake then met with our old friend the NW headwind in a flowing valley that lead to the Beaverhead work center. We could see dark clouds around and were unwilling to fight the strong headwind, so we decided to stop and camp there. It was a very short day, but recovery was on our minds and Day 1's wind was still fresh on our minds.
The FS employees at the work center were nice enough, but not overly hospitable nor interested. We relaxed, organized our stuff and played with the various dogs wandering around the place including one completely out of control puppy. He wanted to bite and chew all of our stuff. Apparently the FS employees had gone drinking in town and then in a moment of genius decided to adopt an entire litter of pups. They were cute pups, but definitely a menace.
We asked many of the FS guys if they had seen any cyclists doing the GDBMR. Most of them, to our surprise, responded that they had, then proceeded to tell us about motorcyclists and ATV riders that had done a single day ride along some of the roads. I was baffled that they did not understand what we were talking about or that those guys were not cycling the divide. It was not until we were about to go to sleep that we met a very interesting FS guy: the head of the trails crew. An avid backpacker, he immediately told us they had a group of riders doing the divide come by 7 days ago (before the hitch he just finished). He was very kind, giving us information on the upcoming roads and wishing us luck. He said he always sees the riders coming through and wonders if he should be doing it one summer instead of working. I think so.
Watching the FS guys was entertaining. Although the complex is the size of a tiny city block most of them see it fit to drive everywhere they go. One guy would jump on his ATV to ride 200 feet only to shut it off. Others drove their trucks from the office to their houses--and back again. It was quite amazing. Why not walk instead of making noise, dust and wasting tax money? Typical forest service though. It reminded me of the North Fork office in Idaho (where I worked as a wilderness ranger last summer) : big fire guys walking around like they are the toughest toughies in the world. Pretty amusing, though they are all nice folks.
Another odd thing was that I often asked them about the fire season and if the recent storms (today) had set off any smokes. Two of them responded that it had been a terrible fire season… which through further conversation I realized meant that they had very few fires to fight (just a few they let burn and some prescribed stuff). Interesting viewpoint, though I can understand getting of sick of idling and waiting for action.
Surprisingly it did quiet down and we slept well. Now it is time to make some headway.
We left early from Beaverhead. I immediately noticed a sharp pain on my right hamstring. I had slept funny on it, so I think it is not an overuse problem. But it still hurt like crazy.
We cruised up a nice valley, with pines, rolling hills and occasional steep cliffs. It was just a perfect morning. Over the next 60 miles we were passed by one car: a UPS driver who succeeded in dusting us, barely slowing down.
The best part of the entire day came after crossing the divide and rolling down La Jolla canyon: RAIN! For a Tucsonan who has not seen a drop for months, this was pure heaven. It was just getting hot, too, so it felt perfect. As we cruised down through trees we got pleasantly soaked. Just enough that I almost thought about pulling out the rain gear, but in shorts it felt refreshing. It’s funny how something like that can make your day. I had not expected any rain for at least another week or so (maybe Colorado?). What a treat, but I did hope that our camps wouldn’t get rained, or that the roads wouldn’t get hammered.
Out of La Jolla canyon we saw the breadth of the St. Augustine plains. With swirling clouds it was an impressive view. Our sweet desert clouds followed us through the plains and to State Highway 12 where we took a break after 60 miles. I can imagine how this could be a long, dusty and hot section, but we were spared.
The sun peeked, but shade was available to cook some easy mac and kick back. Then we began another climb –Paula rode awesome having only two days of tough (but shorter) riding to recover from the 125 mile ride of death (Day 1). We climbed with ease (though we climbed more today, the riding was much easier than yesterday's ups and downs of the Rocky, Black and Diamond canyon areas). We found Valle Tio Vinces Campground empty and quite enticing. The only problem was water: the spring was not running, but had some water deep inside it. There was a pond for cattle down the road that I initially thought would be better than the spring. After pumping I saw green water come out we went back to the spring.
At 8150 feet this was our highest camp yet and perhaps our best. Huge trees made easy food hanging and we got only a single car driving down from the Mangas Lookout tower (I assume it was the lookout, switching with another employee).
Great progress today (70 miles) but Scott’s hamstring and Paula’s quads screamed for respite throughout.
Lot’s of wildlife today: 4 elk, 10 deer, 1 turkey, bunnies
We left early from Valle Tio Vinces, climbing up to our highest point yet–the divide at roughly 8350 feet. We coasted out of the Mangas mountains into a supposed river valley full of small ranches and old rock-slab buildings. Another divide crossing later (and some slow climbing) gave us a straight shot towards pie town on a high roller road. We were going down the rollers so shifting to big ring and hammering would keep up enough momentum up to crest the next hill. It was a blast.
In Pie Town we ate at the Daily Pie Cafe which was a little slice of heaven. After a 3 days of camping this food was solid gold. Fries, chicken sandwich… then a kid walked in and ordered a chocolate milkshake. “Did he just say what I think he said?” I asked. A milkshake was soon on our table and being hastily slurped into me.
The owner, Mike, was a super nice guy. He told us about hungry divide hikers and bikers who are built like beanpoles (like us) but will sit and eat steak dinner after steak dinner. He said he loves it how owning a Cafe in Pie Town allows him to meet people from all over the world even though his town is only 50 people. He was happy to help out (filling our water jug) and very interested in how our trip had gone so far.
The sweet desert clouds floated back in as we ate lunch. So we loaded up and continued north—into a hellacious headwind. 2 miles later I felt the wind change. Now we cruised downhill at 22 mph with the wind nipping our tails. Wow. Then, still silence.
The road turned into sand. It was actually quite fun to maneuver my rig through it… a new kind of challenge. But it did get old after about 30 miles. After we passed Wild Horse Ranch (one of those fab new complexes doling out land for people to build “ranches” on), the road turned to gravel and, well, crap. Washboard city, I say. And drivers who refuse to slow down or even acknowledge us. We ended up not pleased with the residents of Wild Horse Ranch.
On the state highway (paved) for 2.5 miles we were happy to not be riding through the narrows and the east side of El Malpais park. The paved road was bad enough for 2.5 miles, let alone 30. We witnessed 2 very near accidents within the 10 minutes we were on the road. The drivers were out of control, passing like mad and there was no shoulder. The 2004 GDMBR maps now take the route along the west side of the monument/wilderness, adding 20 miles and 2 divide crossings to the route.
We turned right onto the “Chain of Craters” backcountry byway and the sand continued. But the road was empty… until we came upon a large group of cattle near a running RV. As Paula rode by they all decided to kick it up and stampede: into me! Riding with a Bob does not improve one’s rate of acceleration, but I was barely able to make it out of the way before the cattle crushed me. It was too close.
Throughout the sandy road we noticed bike tire marks cutting across the middle of the road, always in sandy sections. Either the road was more sandy when those riders passed through or they simply stink, because we had no problem in most of the sections where they did. I wonder how far ahead this group is?
We rolled into our 70th mile making this our longest ride with the loads. Paula just kept going and going, amazingly. The road was soft, but quite challenging with the sand and lava rocks.
To our right was the Malpais wilderness area–a vast land of lava flows–the so called Bad Lands. It made for some pleasant evening cycling. We stopped about a half hour before dark with 84 miles and hastily set up a dry camp between ant hills and juniper trees. We would not stay here long, but it was a nice spot.
From our El Malpais camp, which seemed the middle of nowhere we heard the distant sound of music: someone was practicing a saxophone or some other instrument. Very odd, but it seemed to somehow fit the landscape.
We continued paralleling the wilderness and watching bike tires cut across deep sand sections. We gradually climbed near 8000 feet and then hit some high elevation lava fields. We explored around a bit, marveling at it all. Still no one on the road.
Near highway 53 I saw an oddly shaped and tree-less ridge above, but I couldn’t make out exactly what it was due to the morning sun in my eyes. We turned on the state road, deciding to visit our first “off route” attraction: the Bandera Volcano Crater and Ice Cave. 2 miles later we were at the trading post talking to the friendly owner. We hid our bikes a bit, paid the $8 fee and went off hiking up the trail to the crater. (Yes I asked if bikes were allowed on the trail–they aren’t).
It was great to do something other than ride, and the crater was impressive. This was the tree-less ridge that I was squinting at only a half hour earlier. A huge crater that finally broke on one side, flowing lava out into the valley below.
We found a trail that looped down to the Ice Cave trail, the descended into the cave. Near the opening you could feel the temperature drop dramatically. The ice was quite amazing–that it stays all year and grows with each passing winter. What an odd effect and definitely worth the extra pedaling to see.
At the trading post we ate a burrito and other snack foods (ah more food we aren’t carrying!) then headed back on 53 towards the national forest land. As we climbed the dirt road we saw signs for “extreme fire danger"… then over the other side noticed signs (going the other way) saying “area closed, no public entry".
Yet, in that area we saw two kids riding an ATV and at least 2 other cars (including one that said “Fire Prevention” on it–that guy just waved as we rode by). But I was still a bit uneasy. Soon it was pretty clear that this road was open, but all side roads and trails were closed. But I wasn’t so sure about the top part we had rode through.
We cruised a very long downhill from 8200′ to 6500′ and Grants. The road was an old railroad grade, wide and dusty. Several cars amazed us with their consideration – not slowing at all as they passed leaving us dust-blind and forced to slow down until it cleared. I don’t understand why it is so difficult to understand that a cyclist might not want to get covered in a cloud of dust. Is it too much to ask for people to slow down and show a little respect? It also is hardly safe–passing bikers with full loads on narrow dusty roads at 55 mph. Fortunately there were few cars, and a few respectful ones (the FS were always very kind in slowing down).
Near the bottom we stopped to use the facilities. Paula set her bike down and walked down off the road. As I waited a Jeep Cherokee came flying (60 mph at least) down the dirt towards me. It did not slow down. I winced at it as it passed, then turned to avoid the dust. The Jeep slammed on its brakes and skidded to a stop. The driver, a woman, got out and yelled, “Is there a problem?”
“No, you were just driving too fast” … something inaudible, then she hopped in and spun out her wheels accelerating back up to top speed.
I have had more than a few motorists stop and give that exact phrase “Is there a problem?” when they notice that I was unhappy with their driving skills or etiquette. Sometimes I just thrown up my arms, shrug my shoulders or whatever. This time I just winced and shook my head.
But this one was confusing. A few minutes later down the road I wondered if she wasn’t being aggressive, but was seeing if we were ok. Though “Is there a problem?” is not the wording I would use for that. I mean, she was a woman, alone.. what was she going to do, kick the crap out of us?
Things got more strange as we rolled into the outskirts of Grants. A sheriff’s car was driving the other way and upon seeing us, turned on his lights. “Oh great” I thought, wondering if we had violated some NF closure. He rolled down his window and I heard him saying on the radio, “I’ve made contact dispatch.” Great, they were looking for us.
He got out and asked us if anyone had stopped us up there. I replied that we hadn’t been stopped. “A woman didn’t stop you?” I explained to him what had happened, and that we thought she was being aggressive, not helpful. I guess she had phoned us in on her cell phone and the sheriff’s dept had gone to check on us. He asked us about our trip, the city of Tucson and other stuff. He was a very nice guy. He said they had a few (3 I think) GDMBR riders come through town just yesterday. We may see our first cyclists of the trip.
First, to business. We found a cheap motel (that was surprisingly nice) on ‘historic route 66′ – wow. Our first shower in 4 days felt great.
A call to the Mt. Taylor district office revealed that we would be allowed to ride through the closed National Forest *if* we had written permission from the Ranger. The problem: they are closed tomorrow and at 5pm today. We had two hours to get there, which was just about enough time considering the powerful monsoon storm raging through town. We rode towards Lobo Canyon, bracing ourselves against a roaring side wind. I left Paula at “Taco Village” for food and continued the 2 miles or so to the Ranger Office. The written permission was a mere formality–they were handing them out left and right apparently. And the secretary didn’t even tell me about fire restrictions or anything (I had to ask her if stoves were ok–and they were, but not white gas). So I am not sure what the point of braving 3 miles of monsoon winds to get the silly piece of paper was. But I suppose it was worth the piece of mind we’ll have once we pass the “Road closed” and such signs.
I noticed in the permission book that a group of CDT hikers is slightly ahead of us. I hope to see them out on FR 239 tomorrow. It will take them almost a week to get through the area we’ll grunt through in a day. They are much tougher than us.
Tomorrow we head into the high country of Mt. Taylor (11,200 feet), all through closed National Forests. With any luck we’ll be in Cuba by the next day. Then, Colorado will be within our grasp.
We were fairly to mostly hammered in Grants, so we got off to a late start. By the time we ate at the Route 66 “Grant’s” Cafe, where we were clearly out of place, and got rolling it was almost 11 am. But thankfully it was not yet hot.
With our written permission in hand we pedaled off towards the mountains. Ah, our first big climb. Paved for the first 8 or 9 miles, it went by fairly effortlessly. It was awesome to watch the vegetation change from scrub to pines–though not as spectacular as, say, climbing Mt. Lemmon. But the trees felt like heaven when we got there.
On the dirt we began seeing boot prints–could it be we have found our CDT hikers? Not 2 minutes later I saw a backpack on the side of the road.
Klaus and Susan are from eastern Washington and have been hiking for 6 weeks. There pace is admittedly slow, but they seem like they are really enjoying it. We sat and chatted about this and that for over an hour. It was nice to finally meet someone crazier than us. They have to carry enormous amounts of water at times. They filled us in on some of the bikers they had seen as well as the thru-hikers that are ahead on the trail. Klaus was nearly floored when we told him we left antelope wells just last Sunday. 6 days! We’ve been out here for 6 weeks!
We could have talked to them for hours, but it was getting very late and we hadn’t been riding much. So eventually we pressed on towards 9000 feet. I smiled as the road changed from gravely to narrow soft pine. It was almost like riding pine singletrack with swooping turns and some nice up and down. The biggest challenge was at the end: a very steep pitch that had us struggling in granny gear.
We got a tiny shower near the top and some lightning but nothing to worry about. It was a good thing we had the permit since a Sheriff drove by and asked to see it.
The descent was again almost singletrack. I was happy to be riding it in the direction we did. Instead of descending on pavement we got the nice, soft, dirt road to cruise down. It was the best downhill of the trail thus far, easily.
We bottomed out not far from Grants itself then turned onto BLM land which apparently has no name. We’ll call it the “windlands.” The elevation varied from 6000-7000 feet, but there is hardly any vegetation and many deeply eroded arroyos. The road in this section is more of a 4x4 road, especially with the arroyo crossings which can be quite steep and technical. The area reminds me of upper elevation southern Utah. Some very nice rock formations and cliffs.
About 10 miles into this windland the storms began to roll in. To either side of us we had dark clouds. Some were parked above Mt. Taylor. Another was rolling in from the west. We felt lucky for a while until a wall of dust was approaching from the west.
Before it hit the wind picked up to 40-50 mph gusts, nearly knocking us off our bikes. It was a crosswind, so somewhat rideable, but difficult to keep your composure. Every 10 minutes we’d get hit with one of the walls of dust and would be forced to close our eyes, stop and wait it out. It was actually quite frightening at times. There literally was no cover–no rocks to hide behind, deep canyons to seek shelter and certainly no trees. I was preparing mentally for a night of 40 mph winds, no sleep and definitely no warm food. We were stuck out there.
It was getting late but we just kept riding–standing around or setting up camp would have been a fairly futile exercise. As sunset approached the wind died somewhat–I couldn’t believe it. We set up camp next to a wildlife “exclosure” (where cows are not allowed to use the water and kept out). As we ate our dinner a moose ran across the plains attempting to access the water. We felt bad for being a little bit close to the fence, but I’m sure he/she was able to get around us later on. It was a beautiful creature to watch from a distance.
Sleep was pretty good interrupted by a few bouts of wind. We got up early to try and make Cuba before the afternoon storms rolled in.
The first 15 miles to Ojo Frio spring were more of the same–difficult arroyos and almost technical riding (there was even slickrock in places). It made for slow but enjoyable time. At the spring we were nearly out of water and ended up not filling up enough. It was about 47 miles from the spring to Cuba and unfortunately things got hot after that.
We were tempted to turn off the route and take the highway into town, but we pressed on despite our lack of water and the scorching sun. The final unmarked road through BLM land was sandy and slow, cutting even deeper into our water supplies.
We saw a single vehicle on the road and asked them if they knew where we could find some water. When she reached into her cooler to hand Paula two ice cold bottles of water I almost could not believe my eyes. We were definitely saved by the kindness of a stranger. We would have made it, but it would have been much harder. Even with the extra 40oz of water we both still ran out right as we reached Cuba.
Cuba is a decent enough place to get a cheap motel, refuel and head out. I like it better than Grant since it’s smaller and we can walk around. El Bruno’s restaurant was good, but definitely too hot for these gringos and definitely not worth the price.
Now we head off to the high country (and hopefully some signed roads). I just hope the storms are kind to us.
Today was a hard but very interesting day. We started early climbing the paved NM 126 out of Cuba. After a few miles of rolling things turned steeper. But we were in the very nice tree filled canyon that was straight out of the Wasatch Mountains. I could tell we were further north–fewer ponderosa pines and more firs. Also just more under brush and smaller trees. It was nothing like the sky islands of AZ or the southern NM forests.
We really enjoyed the climb up to Horse-shoe springs, where potable water gushes all over the road. However, it was here that Paula realized she was not wearing her camelbak. A little thought revealed that she had left it in the fridge at the Del Prado motel. A few minutes of indecision resulted, but in the end I decided to unhook the Bob and coast back into town (about 8 miles and 1000 feet lower). I second guessed this decision as I flew down the canyon, but it was too late. The next place (a bike shop) to replace it would be Salida, and it also had her rear blinky light in it.
I made it to the hotel in about 20 minutes, grabbed the camelbak then took off in a fury of speed towards the Jemez mountains once again. Riding without the Bob was very strange. I could maintain much higher speeds on gradual climbs and the acceleration was incredible. However, no matter how hard I tried I could not stand up and pedal. My muscles have been trained to adjust for the wiggling of the Bob and now without it I nearly fell over a few times trying to stand and pedal over small roller hills. Scary, actually.
About 3 miles up the canyon a small pickup truck slowed with its window down. The driver asked, “are you going back up to horseshoe springs?” I was confused at first, but responded in the affirmative. I had given a passing thought to sticking out my thumb to get back up, but I’m much too shy and against using cars to do that. However, this ride was *offered* to me, and I couldn’t really refuse.
The driver had a truck full of girl scouts that she was taking up to the camp high on the mountain. She had seen me leave Paula at horseshoe springs on the way down. Figuring that we had some problem she promised herself that if she saw me riding back up she’d offer a ride.
Riding without the bob was a strange feeling, but driving up NM 126 was stranger still. It’s been over a week of only bike powered climbing. I actually felt scared in the truck going so fast up the hills. But it only took a few minutes to reach Paula, where we thanked the driver profusely for saving us an hour or so on our day.
The pavement continued as we climbed higher. Our next bit of fun: road construction. They are paving more of NM 126, so we waited and waited for the pilot car. We only had .4 miles to ride through the construction (the cars had 3 miles) since we turned off onto FR 70. But they would not let us through (the woman claimed they had heavy equipment there).
Finally it came out that the pilot car had a flat tire. And still we waited.
At some point, and I’m not sure why, the flagger decided that she was being ridiculous by holding us up for the .4 miles we needed to ride and let us through. All we saw were orange barrels–no trucks and no equipment.
FR 70 continued the attack up to above 9000 feet. What a beautiful area! I saw several side trails that seemed worthy of investigation (without loads) and the rocks and trees made for many miles of nice cycling.
We rolled long the ridgetop for miles before deciding to stop for lunch. I could see dark clouds swirling in more than one direction, but could not ascertain which way any of them were moving. It was quite confusing–they seemed to be circling if anything.
Well, we happily finished our lunch before the storm hit. First a light rain (and I assumed it would only be that). Then, worse. And worse still. It hailed and poured for over and hour and a half. So we sat and stood under the trees and tried to cover our bikes and gear. At 9400 feet it was getting quite cold.
Soon the FS trucks began rolling by–they were all rained out of whatever job they were doing so they were heading back to town. The first truck was driven by Robbie, who was out GPS’ing trails not far from where we stopped. He was kind enough to offer us his warm truck to wait the storm out in.
He too was confused by the storm–couldn’t tell where it was going and how long it would stick around. We all agreed that it looked like it would be a typical short one. Not so–this sucker was parked on the ridge and continued to lay it down. We were in the truck warming for a half hour or so and finally left once it seemed to be letting up (only a drizzle now).
Cautiously we started to pedal again and found the road fairly free of mud. It’s been 47 days since a real rainstorm so the ground is happily accepting the water. Some spots were definitely mud bogs, but overall we were able to ride OK.
As we rode further on towards a lower pass we entered winter. The hail had been much more intense in this area and had collected into large drifts that looked like snow. I was happy that there were *worse* places we could have stopped.
The road was covered in mist in places (from the sun peeking out), which combined with the snow made for an eerie landscape. A rough and tough FS fire crew truck drove by and gave us a big thumbs up.
More and more miles went on until we hit the dreaded FR 144. We had heard the horror stories about this road, which goes from 9100 to 10,400–all on 4x4, rough, rocky and rutted terrain. Most people barely survive it, and they are going the other direction!! With the rain I did not know if we had any chance of making it up it. I also was not very keen on riding above 10,000 since it was cold enough at 9. It was also late–5pm. But we rolled onwards anyway.
The rain had been kind to this road, I guess, because we didn’t have too much trouble at first. It was wet in places but not really muddy. After a few easy hills we hit some very challenging stuff. We turned a corner and stared at a very rocky, steep and wet pitch. It would have challenged most riders without a load. I gave it my best effort and came out riding–amazingly. Another hill shortly after was similarly technical, but barely rideable. Granny gear with the Bob can be quite interesting.
We expected to keep plugging away on this technical road to 10,400, but at about 9800 it turned to gravel. Slow gravel (muddy), but gravel. We were on our way to the highest elevation of the trip thus far. The wind blew and the sky was shrouded in clouds, but it was starkly beautiful up there.
We climbed to near 10,300, then descended below 10k. Then back up to 10,200, then back below 10. The elevation profiles on the map is definitely not accurate in this area. The final climb took us to 10,400, where we turned onto FR 27 for some very challenging downhill. Rocky and rough (even moreso that FR 144), I decided to crank up my downhill speed instead of babying the Bob as usual. It worked fairly well. This was some real mountain biking–hard even without the bob. Line selection was key.
Mid descent a herd of 40 elk ran across the road directly in front of Paula. They just kept coming!
It was getting very dark–towards 8pm now. But we pressed on at Paula’s insistence. She was determined to make it to Abiquiu, but it was still 30 miles (almost all downhill) away. But I was happy to get lower off the mountain where we’d be warmer in case of any more storms. FR 27 turned less technical and somewhat fast until we hit the slickrock sections. Now we were doing some very fun riding and losing elevation fast. At about 8:30 when visibility was going down the tubes I stopped at a decent camp spot and convinced Paula that continuing down this road in the dark was not the best of ideas, even with the promise of hotel and a nice shower in Abiqui. Our second headlight was malfunctioning, so we would have to ride side by side. So we camped and were sleeping like babies.
A difficult day, without a doubt, but probably the best so far. I guess we like it difficult.
Contine to Page Two
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