Saturday, June 27, 2015

Day 32: Antelope Wells to Hachita

First of all, apologies to my readers for not posting for almost a year!! I won't get into it all, but life, busy, not inspired, blah blah blah. Not that I have that out of the way, below is the last part of day 32 which I did not have written when I did my last post. 

In other news, I am planning on compiling these posts on my Great Divide Ride and printing a book sometime in the next year (if things go as planned). I am doing this mostly so all the time I spent writing these posts does not go to waste, and so those that would love to experience an adventure like this can live vicariously. It truly was a once-in-a-lifetime journey and I love sharing my experiences. I hope to begin editing and adding some new content this summer and fall and hope to have the text, pictures, etc. finalized by the end of the year.  If anyone has a good idea for a title for my book, you are free to leave suggestions in the comments.

So now, here follows the almost last blog post of my Great Divide ride.

After only a handful of pictures at the border, Joseph and I put our bikes on Sam Hughes truck and folded our tired bodies inside the Toyota’s tiny cab. As a thunderstorm banged away only a few miles in the distance we headed back the long lonely road toward Sam’s home in Hachita. Sam wouldn’t drop us off in El Paso until the next day so it looked like we would have to spend one more night in our tent.

Since Joseph was a little smaller than I was, I sat in the front seat. After a few miles I began to feel a little discomfort so I scooched around until I was sitting in a more comfortable position. That didn’t seem to help at all. I soon realized that my bottom was not used to sitting on a wide, soft seat. For the last thirty-one days I had sat for untold hours on a narrow bike saddle until my muscles had become used to sitting on what many people would say was a decent facsimile of a hatchet head. After about another half hour of pain we rolled into the mostly deserted streets of Hachita.

Hachita New Mexico is about as much in the middle of nowhere as any town on the Divide. It is forty-five minutes from the closest grocery store, and upwards of two hours from Silver City, where were had just ridden from that morning.

As we rode through the streets of the town I had to wonder why anyone would want to live here. Mongrel dogs trotted down bare dirt streets bordered by sagging houses and yards of scrubby weeds. Joseph and I wearily hoisted our bikes and gear out of the back of Sam’s truck while the neighbors stared at us from the front steps of their trailer. Sam told us that the town had a total population of around fifty and that many of the houses were vacant. The town had a run-down and decayed atmosphere, as if it had been forgotten long ago by the outside world and the residents spent what was left of their lives just trying to survive.

After we had set up our tent for the last time and eaten some hastily cooked supper, Joseph and I whiled away the evening talking to Sam. As Sam and Joseph talked I nursed a cold Mt. Dew which had been fished from the back of Sam’s refrigerator. The cold sweet nectar poured down my throat, washing away the last dry dust of the Divide.

Sam had lived a full life. He had been drafted into the Marines and had fought in some of the largest battles of the Pacific Theater in WWII. After the war he had worked in Germany and other countries around the world. Later in life he had spent some time in New Mexico prospecting for gold. Although he had never struck it rich he had found enough gold to pay the bills. 

Sam and his dog
As I listened to Sam tell us about his life, I noticed the dog that never left his side. I had first seen the dog inside Sam’s Toyota as we rode back from the border and he had appeared to be particularly attached to it. As Sam continued to tell us about the events of his life we learned of his wife that had died years before and his children that had moved to other parts of the country, I began to feel a deep sadness for this man. Yes he had lived a life full of travel and adventure, but at the end of his life he had to turn to an animal for companionship. I began to think of the community and family I had so often taken for granted and I felt simultaneously blessed and ashamed.

Last time sleeping in our tent.
By dusk both Joseph and I were beginning to feel the effects of an early start, riding over 100 miles, and the emotions of the day. We changed into our sleeping clothes and laid on top of our sleeping bags inside the tent. We chatted for a while but after over a month of spending almost every waking moment together we had run out of things to say. I went inside the house to use the bathroom, then walked back out through the screen door and looked up to the sky. The clear desert air did nothing to disguise the arrival of the stars. As I stared into the heavens with a warm breeze tousling my hair, it finally began to sink in, the journey that I had spent years planning for and over a month completing, was finally over.

Til next time,

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Day 32: Silver City to Antelope Wells

Journal Entry: A pretty uneventful day. Just lots of riding! We had Sam Hughes pick us up at the border. He is quite a character! We are camping in his yard in Hachita, which is pretty much a ghost town. I have mixed feelings about the end of this journey. I am very ready to get home, but at the same time I have become used to the life and would like to continue on if I could. I am just glad God gave me the ability, resources, and support so I could see His amazing creation. God be praised for all I have experienced over the past 32 days!!!!

On the morning of our 32nd day on the Great Divide Joseph and I awoke early, just as so many other mornings since Montana. However something was different this time, today was the end of the journey I had dreamed about and had spent much time and effort to accomplish. As I was putting on my biking clothes for the last time in the tiny bathroom of our motel room, I looked at the mirror and almost didn’t recognize the worn, gaunt, and sunburned person looking back at me. Even though I had stuffed myself at every opportunity over the past month, I could tell I had visibly lost weight. All of the extra flesh accumulated from years of eating delicious but heavy Mennonite cuisine had fallen away until my body had become a finely tuned machine with one purpose, to cover many miles over terrain that many people would hesitate to tackle with four wheels and a motor.

In many ways I had changed more mentally than physically. Obstacles that would have looked insurmountable back home, now looked like a joke in comparison to what I had faced over the last month. Whether it had been wind in Montana, dehydration in Wyoming, mountains and hail in Colorado, or mud in New Mexico, I had encountered each challenge and had come out the other side much stronger. This is not to say that I had not suffered or had moments where I doubted whether I could finish. Instead when I was faced with moments of doubt or physical weakness, I knew that I had no choice but to forge ahead by sheer force of will. It is in these moments of physical and mental anguish that you discover what really dwells inside of you. When you face adversity, the facade of triviality and cliché comes off and the pure essence of your character is revealed. Every flaw and inadequacy is revealed, and often what you see is not comforting. I would hesitate to say that through these hardships I had become a better person, but I had received a greater insight into who I was. Now that I had seen the grimy reality of my soul I could no longer fool myself.

As my mind was mulling over the past few weeks, I packed up my gear for the last time and rolled my bike out the door of our room. It was encrusted with the dirt of several states but still was rolling along with only a few squeaks here and there. Joseph and I crossed the parking lot of motel, checked out, and then hit up the local McDonalds. We wolfed down our food and were soon whirring down the empty, pre-dawn streets of Silver City. The first 18 miles were on a four lane highway so we got as far to the right as we could and pedaled as hard as we could. The miles passed quickly, and after a stop at a convenience store for some food and drink, we turned left onto a dirt road that ran through the sandy desert. The road danced in and out of dry creek bed so I had to be careful not to let the sand suck my tires down as I crossed it. After an initial downhill, the route climbed up and over another Divide crossing. There were not any big climbs, but each one we encountered was made harder by the fact that the sandy road kept holding us back. After cresting the Divide the route steadily descended into Separ. We crossed the railroad tracks, rode under Interstate 10, and rolled up to a tourist trap called the “Historic” Divide Trading Post. I parked my bike outside and hoped they would have some food.

They trading post was chock full of tacky Indian memorabilia, and I had almost given up on some food until I saw a small kiosk in the back. There was a small assortment of microwavable burritos and a cooler full of drinks and prepackaged sandwiches. I wasn’t sure how long the food had been sitting there but I was hungry so I really didn’t care. I bought a tuna salad sandwich, a drink, and some other food for the seventy or so miles remaining. After eating our food, we set off on a gravel road which paralleled the interstate for about eight miles. The gravel road ended and we curved right onto a paved road. Shortly after hitting blacktop we saw a sign which filled us with joy, “65 miles to Antelope Wells.” It now hit home that, barring any mechanical mishaps, we would be at the end of our journey in only a few hours.

Away from the roar of the interstate traffic, I could now look around and appreciate the scenery. All around were cacti and scrubby brush that looked as if they were barely surviving in the parched Chihuahuan Desert. We were on a flat road that stretched straight in front of us a far as we could see. For the next ten or so miles we gradually climbed until we passed our final Divide crossing. A couple miles later we entered the town of Hachita, where Sam Hughes lived. He must have been looking out for us because as we pedaled through the tiny community he pulled besides us in his Toyota truck. We introduced ourselves and told him that we would probably be at the border by around four o clock. We waved goodbye and prepared ourselves for another forty-five miles of heat and wind.

The desert was beginning to really heat up but luckily it wasn’t as hot as our second day in New Mexico. Just like the past 31 days we pedaled and pedaled on a ribbon of smooth asphalt that never seemed to end. All the while I squirmed around on my saddle trying to get comfortable on a rear end that was still suffering from chronic saddle sores. Every half hour or so we were being passed by a Border Patrol vehicle. Antelope Wells is one of the least traveled border crossings in the US but it looked as if the government was not taking any chances on illegals getting across the border.

After an hour of mostly easy riding we were hit with a pretty stiff headwind. Our average speed quickly dropped from the mid to high teens to barely 11-12 mph. I had hoped to get to the border before it closed at 4 pm, but it soon looked as if that was not going to happen. Far in the distance it looked as if some thunderheads were forming which were probably the source of the headwind. We were heading directly toward clouds which were now spearing the ground with frequent and powerful lightning. The headwind picked up until our progress slowed to a crawl, then shortly after we began to get hit by some heavy sprinkles of rain. Not knowing if the rain would soon end or intensify, I pulled off the side of the road and put on my rain jacket. After a few miles of battling wind and rain the road bent toward the east, and finally our headwind lessened a bit. The black storm clouds still grumbled and rumbled to the west but it looked as if we would be able to miss getting struck by lightning within sight of the end of our ride. After stowing our rain gear Joseph and I called on our tired legs to pedal for just a little longer.

Ever since we had hit pavement near Separ we had been watching the mileage markers by the side of the road. It seemed as if the closer we got to the border the further apart they were. Each time I passed a marker that showed we had five fewer miles to go the fact that our trip was almost over began to sink in. Finally the 15 mile marker came and went, then the 10 mile. With only a handful of miles left to go, Joseph ran out of water. Luckily a Border Patrol truck stopped and gave him enough water to make it the rest of the way.

Although I was beginning to think I would never see it, we finally passed the 5 miles to go marker. This sign that the end was near lent speed to my legs that I didn’t know I had left after 2,500 miles of mountains and wind. The last few miles sped by as Joseph and I averaged close to 20 mph. At the 1 mile marker Joseph got out his IPhone to film the last mile.

With the tailwind helping us along I pedaled and coasted the last mile, all the while trying to wrap my head around the fact that my journey would soon be over. I wasn’t sure what to do or say. I was glad that the ride was over, and I wasn’t. I was dog tired, and I felt great. I couldn’t wait to get home, and I wanted to turn around and start riding north. As this storm of emotions stormed around inside of me, we curved around some of the buildings at the border, crossed a cattle guard, and rolled up to a black and yellow gate marking the end of our journey. I smiled at the camera and flashed a thumbs up, I had finished riding the Divide. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Day 31: Beaverhead Work Center to Silver City

Journal Entry
Beaverhead Work Center to Silver City 84 miles
Lots of steep hills today! Butt is really sore but legs feel decent. Ate a good lunch at a café at Lake Roberts then rode on to Silver City

Over the course of riding the Divide I went through many different emotions. When I first started in Montana, it seemed surreal that I was finally doing what I had dreamed about for years, and I almost had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. After crossing the halfway point near the Wyoming-Colorado border, I knew that barring any accidents I would be able to finish, and I began to push myself to ride faster and longer each day to get it over with. With the end only a few days away I became conflicted. I wanted to go home to see my friends and family again, but somehow over the past four weeks I had been infected with the desire to just keep pedaling till the money ran out. Riding my bike every day and sleeping in a tent had become the new normal for me, and I had reached the place where I would rather face exhaustion and dehydration than the humdrum world of “normal” life. It was with these conflicting emotions that I began my second to last day on the Divide.

Knowing that we would be facing heat and lots of climbing, Joseph had set his alarm so that we could break camp and be on the road before the sun came up. As we rode through the chilly pre-dawn air, Joseph and I talked about completing our trip. It was something that we had both eagerly anticipated since the beginning of our ride, but I had a feeling that I wasn’t the only one that did not want this journey to end.

Chilly morning

Only minutes after starting out we began the first of many relatively short but very steep climbs. Joseph and I would climb for one to two miles on loose switchbacked roads, then descend at hair-raising speeds down the other side, our tires scrabbling for grip till we reached the bottom, only to do it all over again. I had not eaten as much food as I probably should have that morning and the combination of steep hills and lack of energy was beginning to take its toll. Reaching the bottom of yet another hill, I stopped to take a swig of warm water and gag down another granola bar my body was rejecting, but knowing I needed the calories I ate anyway. Pedaling in my lowest gear, me and my 50 lb. bicycle began to climb another hill in what was becoming oppressive heat. My legs were rebelling but I forced them to submit and keep pedaling. My head hung down with sweat drenching my jersey and dripping off the end of my nose. A half hour later I had gained the top and was rewarded with a cooling downhill that ended all too soon. Much of the enjoyment of letting gravity take over was squelched by the fact that many of the switchback, of which there were many, had loose gravel in the corners that constantly tried to drag me down to join it in the dirt. After 45-50 miles of constant climbing and descending on dirt roads we finally reached Highway 35 and turned right toward Lake Roberts.

After mile upon mile of dusty, rocky roads, my behind almost sighed with relief at the smooth pavement. The road was almost completely flat and if anything slightly downhill so we made good time. After more than 100 miles in the Gila my food supplies were getting low so I was looking forward to a hot meal at one of the restaurants around Lake Roberts and maybe a resupply at a store. My hopes were crushed, however, when I passed a restaurant that had boarded up windows and a For Sale sign out front. After following Sapillo Creek for ten miles we climbed up and around Lake Robert. Just on the other side of the Lake we discovered a small store with some candy bars and cold sodas, also known as cyclist nirvana! While we were talking to the proprietor he mentioned that there was a restaurant just a few miles down the road. With visions of burgers dancing in my head I quickly got back on my bike and pedaled like a mad man toward my lunch.

It was around 2 pm when Joseph and I pulled into the parking lot of a nice-looking restaurant. We walked in the door and were directed upstairs to the dining room. With our dirty and sweaty biker garb on I felt a bit conspicuous in a restaurant filled with cool, clean, and deodorized patrons, but at this point I just wanted some calories and something cold to drink. We ordered our food, I got a burger, and just set there soaking up the AC and our sodas. After quickly dispatching all the food put before us, we paid our bills and walked back out into the heat. I refilled my water bottles at a garden hose, then looked at the map. We still had twenty-five hilly miles to get to Silver City, but with it being only mid-afternoon, we weren't worried.

Yet Another Climb

Pinos Altos

About a mile after the restaurant I turned onto Route 15 and began to climb up a road that reminded me of what I had ridden that morning, but lucky for me it was paved this time. Over the course of the next few miles we climbed back up to over 7000 feet. After a few mile downhill and another steep uphill to the almost ghost town of Pinos Altos we crossed the Divide and began the long paved descent into Silver City, the last real town before the end of our ride.

A sign I love to see

We rolled into town and our first stop was (no surprise!) a restaurant. We walked into a Taco Bell and as we were waiting for our orders, a rather thin and sunburnt man in cargo shorts walked up to us and started talking. He had seen our bikes outside and immediately knew we were riding the Divide because he had just finished it himself! He was one of the racers doing the Tour Divide and he had finished a few days before. After getting the obligatory Divide rider chit chat out of the way, we starting talking about what it took to get back from the border. The border crossing of Antelope Wells could hardly be more in the middle of nowhere. The nearest community, Hachita NM, was 45 miles away from the border, and it was at least another 40 miles to the first decent sized town. It was something that had weighed on my mind from even the very earliest stages of planning this trip. In Pie Town Joseph had seen an advertisement from a man that lived in Hachita called Sam Hughes who ferried CDT hikers and Divide riders to and from the border. Since we had had no cell service during the last two days we had not been able to call. We finished our meal pedaled the few blocks to the local Motel 6 and rented a room for the night. Joseph had earlier gotten a message that his cousin, Sherman, was buying a truck in Texas and would possibly be able to pick us up. After calling Sam and getting our ride from the border set up, Joseph then called Sherman and confirmed that he would be able to pick us up in El Paso in two days. This left us one day to ride to the border, then one day to get to El Paso. For the last couple weeks I had been praying each night that we would find a solution to our problem of getting home, and it seemed that things were working out even better than I had ever imagined! 

As Joseph and I were celebrating the fact that we had a ride home from the border, a woman walked into the motel and we soon found out that she was Dan's girlfriend. She was sure that he and Michelle would have been into town by now but they still had not shown up. After looking online at Dan and Michelle's GPS trackers we saw they they were still moving and were still a few miles outside of town. After chatting for a few minutes I headed back to our room to get some sleep.

Dan's girlfriend and the Divide racer
As I was cutting off the light I started thinking about the next day and I could hardly believe what I was about to accomplish. My dream of completing the Divide was only a day's ride away, and not only that, it seemed like everything was falling into place for the last leg of our journey. With my mind at peace it was not long until I drifted off to sleep.

Til next time,

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Day 30: Pie Town to Beaverhead Work Center

 Journal Entry: A great day of riding through gorgeous country. My butt was sore and I was tired and hungry.

After packing and unpacking my gear no less than 58 times over the previous four weeks, I think it is safe to say it was becoming second nature. First I would cram my 15° down sleeping bag into its stuff sack, then force it into a yellow dry bag. My cooking kit with the cooking pot and bowls went in after the sleeping bag and the remaining space was filled with whatever I wanted to stay absolutely dry, usually clothes. I would then turn my attention to my seatbag where I would put my sleeping pad, down jacket, stove fuel canisters, and food. The rest of my food and a 3 liter Camelbak bladder for water went into the frame bag along with maps, a stove, and my titanium mug and spork. This daily ritual was done quickly and with an efficiency that could be acquired only with experience. My packing completed, I filled up the water bottles mounted on my bike’s fork legs, the two smaller bottles in my backpack, partially filled the water bladder in my frame pack, and double checked to make sure I would have enough food for the next two days it would take to make it to Silver City.

 Joseph and I finished packing before Dan and Michelle so we left without them, figuring they would catch up with us later when we took a break. The day had started out warm so I knew that it would only get hotter by the end of the day. There was a cattle tank with a spigot after only 17 miles so we decided to top off our water and eat a snack. While we were almost done filling our half empty bottles, Dan and Michelle rolled up. We chatted together for a few minutes about how far we planned to get today and where the water sources were, but I knew that every minute we spent talking was another minute we would have to spend in the sun and wind so we once again set off on the dusty and wash boarded road.

Don't worry we drank water that came from the pipe, not directly from the tank.

  After a few miles I was feeling good so I began to pull away from Joseph unintentionally. I had yet to ride by myself since morning so I kept up the pace until he disappeared around a bend behind me. As I navigated the rock-strewn road I began to think forward to the end of my ride. It had been around four weeks since my journey had begun and I could hardly believe it would be only two more full days until I reached the Mexico border. I finally stopped to take some pictures of an old church and decided to wait for a few minutes since I still had not seen Joseph. Five or so minutes later he showed up with pictures that proved he had seen a horned toad!  We began slowly climbing through scrub pine forest until we crossed the Divide for at least the 23rd time. I reveled in the cool wind that rewarded me for the previous hour of climbing through stifling heat because I knew that the road was sure to turn uphill once again. The road never got quite as bad as it was coming into Cuba but it still was one of the rougher stretches I had seen so far in the trip. Sharp rocks poked up from a rock hard dirt surface that looked like the lethal combination for any bike tire. With every rotation of my tires I prayed that I would not get a flat and my prayers were answered. 

 New Mexico roads

After miles of horrible New Mexico roads my rear end thanked me when I turned off of dirt onto the smoothly paved Route 12. After less than a mile Joseph and I turned off the road to once again replenish our water supplies. Although there was no official water source here, Dan had told us that there was a church which had an outdoor faucet that many Divide racers made use of. I unchained the gate, rolled past a nearby house, and pulled up beside the church. The church was actually two buildings connected by a covered walkway instead of a single building. I leaned my bike up against the walkway and flung my aching body down on one of the benches. Now that I was not moving the stifling heat washed up on me and started to sweat even harder than before. It was nearly lunchtime so Joseph and I decided to take a long break to eat lunch and to prepare ourselves for an afternoon which promised to suck every drop of energy out of your body. After replacing the lukewarm water in my water bottles with cool, clear water from the faucet I dug out my lunch. I had almost polished off my pack of sardines when Dan and Michelle once again caught up with us and parked their respective bikes near the church.

            After resting and replenishing our dehydrated bodies with liquid and calories, we rolled out the lane and headed across the Plains of San Agustin. While reading my maps the night before I saw that the Plains hosted a feature that I had often heard about, the VLA or Very Large Array. The Very Large Array radio telescope is composed of 27 antennas that are independently movable and are placed in the shape of a Y with each of the arms being 13 miles in length. Each of the individual telescopes work together to form a virtual antenna dish that is miles across rather than simply hundreds of feet. The VLA was placed in the Plains of San Agustin because of the lack of radio interference from man-made sources. Although we were too far away to see the VLA it was still thrilling to be so close to the largest radio telescope in the world. For the next hour we skirted around the side of the plains, fighting the inevitable winds that seem to come whenever the terrain flattened out. The surroundings were desolate but I was still surrounded by transcendent beauty. Although we were hemmed in by mountains it was at least fifty crystal clear miles across the plains to the other side and all we could see from one side to the other was the occasional cow or windmill pumping water into stock tanks. The ditches on each side of the road were filled with gorgeous wildflowers that were being blown back and forth in the warm breeze as we drafted behind each other to hide from the wind.

            After crossing the plains we finally entered the Gila National Forest, or The Gila (hee la) as it is called by everyone on the Divide. When The Gila is mentioned fear strikes the heart of every Divide rider. Here the water sources are scarce, the heat is suffocating, and the climbs are short but impossibly steep with a loose road surface that makes it hard to keep your rubber side down. If I would be able to make it through The Gila all that would remain to our ride would be the 125 or so miles of mostly pavement from Silver City to the border. I had the rest of the day to dread the climbs because for the next couple hours we continued to slowly climb until we crossed our Divide crossings #24, 25, and 26. Our legs were grateful as we now turned downhill and followed a winding river on an impossibly rutted road for ten miles. Shortly after passing a ranch house Joseph and I startled a herd of forty elk who ran frantically toward a nearby stand of pine trees and disappeared into its shelter. As the sun began to near the horizon we turned right and struggled toward the top of a short climb where we could survey what we had been riding through for the last several hours. Golden light bathed the arid landscape, casting our long shadows to the east as our tires struggled for traction in the loose dirt and gravel of the road. The wind began to slacken and the blistering heat of the noon sun had moderated to a gentle warmth. The road slowly headed to the east, and with the sun to our backs we coasted down a gentle gradient toward a campsite we hope would lie a few miles further on.

            With the wind and sun now to our backs Joseph and I were finally able to sit up and relax. The road wove back and forth between sandy colored rock formations while slowly heading downhill. I still had some water left but I was so tired of drinking warm, plastic-flavored water that I was finding it hard to stay hydrated. It often isn’t until you go without something you usually take for granted that you realize how blessed you are to have it. During this trip I had begun to see water as more than something you take a few swallows of at a drinking fountain, it had become life itself. When I roll into camp at night all I want is two quarts of cool clear water that I don’t have to filter out of a stagnant pond. When you are away from the comforts of civilization life is distilled down to its bare essence. All that matters is food, drink, and shelter; and these thing consume your every waking thought. You are always looking at what resources you have and weighing them against how long it will be till you can resupply. When I reach a town my first thought is not calling home or getting a shower to rinse off the past five days of accumulated crud, it is to get something cold to drink. With an urgent thirst beginning to make itself known I was starting to worry that we might not be able to find a good water source for camp that evening.

            It was getting late and we still had not found a water source or a place to camp so I breathed a sigh of relief when the sign for the Beaverhead Work Center came into sight. Out by the road I saw an outbuilding with some bathrooms nearby so Joseph and I decided to use them and prayed that we could find some water nearby. As I downshifted to make it up the steep lane leading to the work center I saw a small concrete pad with a spigot, a run-down phone booth, and of all things, a vending machine! The water forgotten, Joseph and I threw our bikes against the nearby trees and raced over to the vending machine with money in hand as fast as our sore legs would take us. I reached into my wallet and with trembling fingers franticly inserted coins into the slot. Never in my wildest dreams had I ever imagined this but I could already feel the cold, sweet liquid flowing down my dusty throat. After inserting the last coin I made my selection (Pepsi, what else?!), and pressed the appropriate button. Disaster!! Instead of hearing the familiar clunking noise as an aluminum can fell toward my waiting hands I heard nothing. I pressed the button again, but still nothing. Only moments before I had felt like a desert traveler happening upon an oasis, but now my dreams collapsed around me as dry as the roads we had ridden all day.

            I was very disappointed but we did have a water spigot and a flat place to pitch a tent so I was tried to be thankful for what we had and began to unpack my gear to fix supper. I had hardly begun to unpack when a man in his upper twenties or lower thirties came around the corner of the building. He must have seen us struggling with the vending machine because he apologized and told us it had been acting up lately. He offered to get us a refund for our quarters but I told him I had only lost fifty cents so it wasn’t worth it. We talked for a little and I found out that the Beaverhead Work Center was a base for wild land fire fighters to train and it was also used as a base of operations for nearby fires in the Gila.  Joseph and I must have looked really dehydrated because he asked us if we would like some Gatorades. Joseph and I quickly accepted his offer and a few minutes later were given two 32 oz. Gatorades each. After thanking him profusely I walked over to the nearby picnic table and collapsed on it before draining at least half of the first bottle in one long gulp. Using all my restraint I was able to save one bottle to drink with supper. Our supper was Kraft mac and cheese but since we didn’t have any milk or butter it turned out pretty bland. It was starting to get dark so Joseph and I zipped ourselves into our sleeping bags and tried to get some sleep. Just as I was drifting off to sleep I heard a noise that sounded like bike tires on gravel and soon after I saw lights on our tent fly. Once I heard their voices I was able to quickly determine that it was Dan and Michelle, who we hadn’t seen since lunchtime. I closed my eyes again and finally fell asleep. I was waken in the middle of the night by a call of nature so I extricated myself from my bag and unzipped the tent fly. As I stepped out of the tent I looked up and was awestruck by what I saw. A broad band of brilliant stars blazed across the sky from one horizon to the other in a Milky Way I had never seen before. If it is clear back home in the Shenandoah Valley you might be able to see a faint band of stars, but here, far from artificial light sources, the brightest lights were those in the heavens. I gazed up at the vast blanket of stars above me and it almost seemed as if they were so close I could reach up and touch them. There in the wilderness of New Mexico, thousands of miles from my family and friends, I knew I was not alone.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Day 29: Grants to Pie Town

Journal Entry: Got a late start. Had a flat tire. Met up with Dan and Michelle, some racers. Rode with them till the last 30 miles into Pie Town. Ate at the Daily Pie Café. Got fried cod and some mixed berry pie. We are staying at a quirky hostel called the Toaster House.

There were two options that we could use to get to Pie Town, one was mostly off pavement, and the other was mostly pavement. After riding 125 miles the previous day, Joseph and I decided to take the shorter and easier route. We knew we only needed to ride 70 miles to get to Pie Town so we didn’t get started as early as we maybe should have. We stopped at a fast food place for some food and grabbed some breakfast sandwiches.

As we sat outside munching on our food and draining our orange juices, a man approached me. He looked like he was either fully Indian or at least half-blooded. He said that he didn’t have any money and that he needed money for food. Since I live in the Shenandoah Valley where begging is fairly uncommon, I was a little taken aback. After evaluating the condition of the man and his clothing, it looked like it was entirely possible that he really did need some food. Since we were literally right beside a restaurant I offered to buy him whatever he wanted on the menu. It was soon apparent that that was not what he wanted. Because he spoke in a very heavy accent it was almost impossible to ascertain what he wanted, but it seemed that he liked the food better at some other restaurant and he just wanted some money. By this time my antenna were going up. If he really was hungry he would be happy for a breakfast sandwich or a burger. I realized that he doesn't really want food, he probably just wants some money to buy some drugs or alcohol. I was tempted to flat out refuse him any money, but at that moment the words of Matthew 25 went through my mind, “For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in.” I still was convinced that he wanted money more than food but I decided to buy him something anyway. He and I went inside the restaurant where he ordered some chili and crackers which he took outside to eat. I paid the bill, went back outside to where Joseph was sitting, and finished my own breakfast. After finishing my food and putting my refuse in the trash can, I looked over to where the man I bought food for was sitting. He had just finished but had failed to throw away his trash. Somewhat miffed at this blatant lack of common decency, I walked over to clear off his now vacant table. When I got there I was astonished to find that his container of chili was only half empty, and not only that, he had smeared some all over the table. It was now obvious that he never wanted food, he just wanted to beg a few bucks off of some naïve passersby. My first reaction was anger, but that soon faded as I realized that after I gave him food it was out of my hands. If he was actually trying to deceive me to get money for drugs, the responsibility for that lay with him and I just hoped I had done what I could.

With Joseph and I done eating, and having finished cleaning off the table as best I could, I walked over to my bike and groaned, the back tire was flat! It had slowly went down while we were eating so it must have been a very slow leak. I didn’t feel like patching the tube only to fix it again in another day so I decided to find a service station so I could convert my tire back to tubeless. I pumped up the tire as best I could and rode in the direction of our route, hoping to find a place with compressed air before my tire went flat again. Luckily, only a mile or so later we saw a car repair shop right beside the road so we quickly wheeled in and asked a man of the Hispanic persuasion if we could use some of their compressed air. He seemed only too happy to oblige. Before we knew it a couple of the workers at the shop had gathered around us and were firing questions at us. I don’t always work the best with an audience but I was soon able to take out the tube, screw in a replacement valve stem, dump in some tubeless sealant, put the tire back on the rim, and inflate the tire after a couple tries. After thanking the friendly employees of the service station and waving goodbye, Joseph and I went on our way.

With my faith in humanity restored, I pedaled down a highway bordered by broken down motels and faded signs. We finally left the city and began to parallel Interstate 40. After a few miles we stopped at a gas station where I fueled up with chocolate milk and sweet pastries before crossing the interstate into. After riding though one of the biggest towns on our whole trip it was nice to get back on the road but it was soon apparent why we should have started earlier, it was getting blisteringly hot. After entering the El Malpais National Conservation Area, a region of lava flows and sandstone formation, we took a short break at the ranger station to use the bathroom and top off our already lukewarm water bottles. Just as we were getting ready to leave Dan and Michelle wheeled up, they had evidently had the same idea. After chatting for a while about Divide related matters, we decided to ride together for a while.

If you look closely you can see a natural arch
It was refreshing to ride and talk with other people that had encountered the same struggles and hardships over the last three weeks as we had. We talked about everything from our bike setups to our favorite parts of the trip so far, and the time passed quickly. We made a short stop along the road for a snack break, I choked down a dry and crumbled Moon Pie then washed it down with some more lukewarm water. As we were riding Joseph and I realized that our riding speeds were very different than Dan and Michelle’s and we wanted to get to Pie Town before too late, so we eventually upped the paced and left them behind. We turned left onto a dusty dirt road which didn’t have any large climbs but was almost totally rolling hills that never let up. The ever-present wind and the heat wrung every drop of moisture out of us and soon we needed more water. Dan had told us about a CDT water source that was not on our maps so when we saw the small sign along the road we pulled off and filled up at someone’s outdoor faucet. Feeling refreshed after getting some cool water inside us, we continued along the road that never seemed to end.

After thirty or so miles of dirt road we finally hit pavement but now the wind was right in our faces. There was nothing to do but to put your head down and turn the pedals over, hoping, just hoping, that the wind would slacken or the road would turn, it didn’t. When we finally got to Route 60, just down the road from the Daily Pie Café, I had been dreaming about a cold drink and some food for so long that to do anything other than to go straight to the restaurant seemed like insanity. However, Joseph pointed out that we needed supplies to make it the 180 or so miles to Silver City over the next two days and that we should ride downhill a couple miles to a small store for supplies first. The stress of the day and dehydration had frayed our nerves to the point that our disagreement became rather heated. I knew that he was right and that we needed to get our supplies before the store closed, but I had been thinking of a cold drink for so long that I found it hard to go along with what he was saying. I eventually gave in and we got our supplies. Those 5 miles of backtracking to and from the store felt like an eternity but we did make it to the restaurant a little later.

While Joseph and I were ordering Dan and Michelle rolled up to the restaurant and parked their bikes outside and then joined us. After my delicious meal of fish and chips, which was not nearly large enough for a starving biker, I surveyed the world’s only true pie chart which serves as the Daily Pie Café’s pie menu. It is a tradition that if you are riding the Divide, you must eat a piece of pie in Pie Town and I was more than happy to not break tradition. I looked at all of the different option, but quickly decided on their mixed berry. A few minutes later a plate was plunked in front of me bearing a mammoth slice oozing mixed berry goodness. I cut off a small bite with my fork and conveyed it to my waiting mouth. After contemplatively chewing for a few seconds, I deemed it edible and dove in. With utter abandon Joseph and I soon finished our respective pieces with relish. I don’t know if it actually was that good or if it was just the setting, but it was one of the best meals I have ever had.

Joseph feeling much better after some food
After talking to a few of the locals about lodging in the area we heard about a nearby hostel called the Toaster House. It caters mainly to CDT hikers but since the advent of the GDMBR many cyclists have started to stay there as well. Dan. Michelle, Joseph, and I rode the half mile or so to the hostel and parked our loaded bikes on the wrap around porch. A note on the kitchen table told us to leave a donation for the use of the house and that we were free to eat whatever was in the fridge. I quickly found a fruit pie in the fridge and started my second supper. Shortly after, a lady who Dan and Michelle had talked to the restaurant, showed up with a box full of food. She had heard that they needed supplies to get through the next couple days and had decided to bring them some of the groceries out of her own pantry. After Dan and Michelle had picked through what they wanted, they offered what was left to Joseph and I.

Dan and Michelle getting some free food from a local lady

Just relaxing after a hard day in the saddle
After putting away our newly gained food, we rested our aching bodies and talked about our experiences on the Divide. It is so easy to be cynical; but over the last few days we had experienced some of the best of mankind. From the helpful employees at the car shop to strangers in Pie Town opening their homes and pantries to us, we could feel the love of others, and had been truly blessed. I don’t know if any of the people we had met were Christians or not; but they were certainly carrying out the command, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” The people I had met during this trip had challenged me to ask myself, “Do I actually love my neighbor as myself to the point that I am willing to sacrifice my own comfort to help them, or do I just love myself?” Christ calls us to help others and to give of our goods until it hurts. Do we as relatively wealthy Americans fulfill this command or do we make excuses so we don’t have to? What we often forget is that what we have, our homes, our cars, the money we make from our jobs, even our time on this earth, are not actually ours. They are blessings given to us from God, and as a result they are His. We are simply the stewards of these blessings and they are to be used to further His kingdom and to help those that are hurting on this earth. How are you using the blessings God has given you?

Till next time,