Saturday, February 15, 2014

Day 28: Cuba to Grants

The alarm clock started blaring at 5:00 AM. Joseph and I achingly unfolded our sore bodies from under the sheets and started our morning ritual of packing up the detritus that had spilled from bike bags the evening before. After we finished packing we rolled out of the parking lot of the motel toward the nearby McDonalds. The air was cool enough I had to put on almost all my warm clothes; but I knew I would be shedding almost all my layers when the New Mexico sun started blazing in only a few hours. We got to the McDonalds before it opened so we had to wait until the friendly manager unlocked the door for us. I ordered my food, then set down on one of the cold plastic booths to gorge myself with bacon, cheese, and egg sandwiches. As I set there chewing away, another customer came up and asked us where we were riding to. I replied that we were heading for the Mexican border but that we hoped to make it to Grants by that evening.

            "You do know that Grants is about three hours by car from here don't you!" he exclaimed. I told him I did know, but that it was mostly flat between Cuba and Grants and that it should be doable to ride 120 miles by dark. He walked away looking a little incredulous that it was even possible for two cyclists could ride 120 miles of hot, wind-swept desert in only 8-10 hours.

            This conversation made me think about how it is so easy for us to compare ourselves to others. We think that everyone should have the same goals in life as us, and if they don't there is something "wrong" with them. If we see someone who is trying to accomplish something we think is impossible it is too easy to immediately assume they must be crazy. When I reflect on how it is difficult to see where other people are coming from, I always think about one of my favorite quotes from Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” We have no idea what motivates a person or what they feel is important to accomplish in the short life we have on this earth. Just because we cannot identify with that they are doing does not mean that it is automatically wrong or "stupid." When I told my friends and family that I was planning on biking across America from Canada to Mexico, people at home were generally supportive. However, I could tell that behind everything they thought I was a little off my rocker. I don't really fault them for this because they just couldn't identify with why someone would want to leave the many comforts of their home community to face the immense expanses of the West on nothing but two wheels. What they didn't understand was that this is exactly why I wanted to do it. To spend all day pedaling my bike across vast stretches of awe inspiring wilderness with nothing to do the next day but to do it again. Collapsing on the ground from exhaustion to fix my supper of ramen noodles over a hissing camp stove while listening to the sounds of a nearby murmuring stream. Waking up while it is still dark to fix breakfast and be sipping steaming hot coffee as the sun peeks over the horizon. Fantasizing about drinking a can of Pepsi for hours and at long last popping open that cold can dripping with condensation. Riding 60 miles by lunch just so you can eat a massive burrito in Salida CO. Falling asleep dry and cozy in your goose down sleeping bag as rain pelts on the fly of your tent. To me it made perfect sense to ride my bike 2,500 miles. In fact it would have been crazy for me not to do at least one thing like this in my life!

            As we left the restaurant we met the Tour Divide racers we had seen the day before. We chatted for a while but we knew we needed to get going so we left after wishing each other well. I turned off the main road just outside of town and paralleled it for a mile or so. Not long after we turned toward the west and started a series of short climbs and descents that went on for miles. We were now entering the Navajo Indian Reservation. Every mile or so we would go by a ramshackle hut or trailer sitting off the road. 

Each house seemed to have at least one mongrel dog whose only entertainment was to see if they could gnaw on the skinny legs of passing cyclists. Soon Joseph and I would start speeding up when we saw a house even if we did not see any dogs. They were sure to be there somewhere! The junky houses with dogs was not the only thing we had to deal with, the side of the road was covered in junk which was mostly shattered glass liquor bottles and fast food containers. We would be miles from any major town yet the roadside still had at least one alcohol bottle every ten feet or so. I am by no means a tree hugger but it was shocking to see so much trash lying around. We had been warned in Cuba that the Navajos were not very kind to outsiders; and between the slavering wolves and liquor bottles everywhere I was starting to get a little worried.

            As we were flying down a slight downhill on an arrow straight road I felt something wet spraying against my leg. I soon realized that it was sealant spraying out of my rear tire. We stopped and I turned the wheel until the hole was pointing down where the sealant did its job and quickly plugged the leak. I can only surmise that one of the many pieces of glass laying on the shoulder of the road had gashed it open. The tire was a little softer than before but it still had enough air so we soldiered on through the wind and increasing heat. A few miles later we stopped at a gas station/grocery store at a small community. I went inside and bought some food and drinks. Then I went outside to get some food down before we set off on the last 70-80 miles of the day. By now it was getting much hotter so I picked a place to sit where I could lean up against the wall while still being in the shade. As Joseph and I were sitting there eating snacks and downing Gatorades, we had a couple natives come up and talk to us. They seemed genuinely interested in what our trip and even wished us well before they left. So much for the Navajos being unfriendly!

            I threw my leg over my bike’s top tube and we set off. We turned toward the south and began to lose the benefit of the tailwind we had had for most of the morning. Instead of flat scrub we started to ride through the Chaco Mesa region with sandstone cliffs on both sides of the road. 

Chaco Mesa rock formations

Since the rest of the day was pavement I decided I should pump up my tires which had lost some air 30 miles before. I stopped, and using my mini pump, started to pump up my tire. I had only been pumping for a few strokes when the valves stem, which was made of brittle aluminum, broke off inside my pump. All the air rushed out so I had to take off my tire, move my valve stem, and install a tube. This took about 10-15 minutes and the whole time we were there by the road the sun was beating down and reflecting off the rocks around us. Finally I fixed my tire and we pedaled as hard as we could trying to get some more wind moving to cool us down.

            After that the road became rather monotonous. It was really easy to just space out when you were listening to the hum of knobby tires on pavement with nothing new to see for mile after mile. We crossed a slight rise to the Continental Divide and just kept pedaling. The one distinguishing thing we saw all day was a mine. Before we got to it we were passed by a guide truck and then by two low boy trailers which were hauling one half of dump truck bed each. Our mouths gaped open as the trucks whooshed by us.

 Not long after the trucks passed us we started to ride past the mine. This area had been called “the uranium capital of the world”, so I don’t know if it was a uranium mine, I just know it was huge. Several miles later we turned right into the worst headwind of the day. Joseph and I took turns drafting behind each other as we slowly churned against the wind. After 100+ miles of riding my legs were shot and my backside was hurting so bad I could hardly sit down; but unfortunately the wind had obviously not gotten the memo that it should take it easy on the two salt-incrusted bikers heading into Grants.

A horse trying to race us

            We rolled into Grants at around 4:00 PM. We had covered 120-125 miles in about ten hours.  I was hungry, partially dehydrated, and sun burnt. Joseph was as shot as I was, if not more, so for the second night in a row we decided to get a motel room. After taking showers we ordered in pizza and talked about the next few days. Except for Pie Town, about 70 miles further south, there was no place to resupply until we reached Silver City which was 250 miles away. I knew that because of a dry spring and summer the surface water between Pie Town and Silver City would be limited so I was starting to become a little worried. There was nothing I could fix by worrying so I clicked off the light and dropped into a deep slumber.

Til next time,

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