I woke up under the carport at the RV park at around 6 am. Joseph and I packed up our gear and then looked around for some food to eat. Unfortunately there wasn’t really any place to get breakfast, but lucky for us, the lady who had given us the carport the evening before had some bread and butter along with plenty of hot, strong coffee in the lounge area. We chatted with the locals for a while but we knew that sooner or later we would have to climb to the top of La Manga Pass, which was a short but steep climb away. Joseph and I rolled out around 8 am and were shortly made it to the top of the pass.
|Overlooking the Conejos River Valley|
We flew down the other side, dodging cows which were roaming freely on either side of the highway as well as in the road itself. Not long after we turned off the pavement onto a dirt road which crossed the narrow gauge tracks of the Cumbres and Toltec railroad. Only a handful of miles later we passed a sign that showed us we were now in our last state, New Mexico. Almost immediately the road conditions began to disintegrate. This is something that would be a constant throughout almost all of the dirt roads in New Mexico.
The trail pointed up and skirted the edge of the Cruces Basin Wilderness. Miles away we could see lightning and rain emanating from foreboding storm clouds. Since it was nearly lunchtime we stopped and chewed on our giant cinnamon buns we had bought the day before in Platoro. As good as they looked from the outside I’m afraid they didn’t live up to what I had imagined. The icing had sunk into the rock-hard dough and had rendered the pastry almost inedible. Knowing we needed the calories anyway, we munched away until we could take it no longer, then figured the animals could use a snack, and tossed them aside.
A few minutes later I started to feel what I had been fearing all day, raindrops! I put on my rain gear and continued to slog uphill though roads that were soon achieving the consistency of peanut butter. After only a few miles my bike was rendered useless. With my tires packed full of mud I no longer had any traction so I soon ground to a halt. I pushed my bike to the top of a small hill, then used gravity to propel me down the other side. After I reached a certain speed the centrifugal force of the spinning wheel slung almost all of the mud off. I pedaled to the bottom of yet another small rise and I soon had to dismount to push my bike again. At times the mud accumulated so badly that my rear wheel ceased to turn. All the mud had jammed between the frame and the tire and locked it in place so that I was skidding my bike rather than rolling it. While all this is happening the rain is intensifying. There are periods where it slows down for a little only to start again harder than before. The combination of not enough food, the rain, the mud, and a drive train that was starting to sound like a broken cement mixer was starting to wear on me. “Why am I doing this, what is the point?” “I could easily be at home, dry and warm, stuffing my face with my Mom’s home cooking; but instead I’m in the middle of a rainstorm, covered in mud, and halfway hypothermic.” This was supposed to be enjoyable vacation and it was quickly turning into one of the worst days of my life.
Joseph and I stopped at a small stream and tried in vain to clean our drivetrains of mud. After realizing that we weren’t getting very far, we just cleaned what we could so we had at least a few usable gears, then continued on. Not much further we hit a paved road. I flagged down a passing motorist and found out that there were really no hotels and restaurants within a 30 minute drive. Our only choice was too keep pressing onward.
Mile after mile of climbing passed under our mud-laden wheels and still we did not see the turn off. By this time it was late afternoon and we had covered only 60 miles in 8-9 hours, less than a 10 mph average. We needed to find a place to stay for the night because there was no chance we could reach where we were originally planning to stay. At long last we arrived at Hopewell Lake. Right beside the gravel road we had turned on there was a day use area that had a small shelter. Although there was a sign that said the area was not to be used after dusk, we decided to set up camp anyway. We were exhausted and the idea of a roof over our heads with a place to dry our gear was more comforting than you could ever imagine.
As Joseph sprayed off his bike at a nearby hydrant I cooked up a pot full of ramen noodles. We both changed out of our soaking clothes and ate our noodles in silence. There really was nothing to say. We had had one of the worst days of our trip so far, but we had made it through safely and would be ready to tackle the GDMBR tomorrow.
Till next time,