Wednesday, May 18, 2016

2015 Tour Divide - Days 21 - 23

Not wanting to cause any issues, we set our alarms early and were on the road before 6 AM. The famed dogs of Vallecitos were still asleep at this time, and it wasn't until we were out of town that I remembered that it was the one spot on the route where the dogs concerned me. The climb leaving Vallecitos was a reasonable grade and scenic. When we arrived in El Rito, but the restaurant wasn't open, so we ate from the food on our bikes and continued on the paved descent through Tierra Azul and into Abiquiu. Jean-Michel and I rolled into Bode's General store and ate some delicious breakfast burritos and refreshed our supplies. We had a brief talk with some north bound touring cyclists and a few other people before beginning the long climb out out of town on Polvadera Road. The climb to the base of Polvadera Mesa was steady and beautiful. The ride  to the top of the mesa seemed like it would never end. There were miles of stair steps across the lava flow that was exposed on top of the mesa, and the thumping of each step grated at my nerves. Half-way up, I spied a green bag on the ground. It was Jean-Michel's bag of extra fluids. After little debate, I opted to pick it up and bring it with me as the temperatures were climbing. If I didn't find him, I'd at least have the extra fluids for myself. As I approached the top of the climb, the temperatures dropped suddenly and rain soaked the course. Soon I was pedaling both up and down hill, and the extra weight of Jean-Michel's bag was not making things any easier. It took 5 hours to cover the next 40 miles of undulating gravel roads. The effort combined with the drop in temps made it feel like I had ridden twice that far. I finally reached  Highway 126 about 9 PM, where I stopped to add extra layers of clothing. The ride into Cuba was quiet and unremarkable other than the lightning in the distance. At 10:30 PM the streets of Cuba were quiet save for me and a passing pickup truck. I pulled into a gas station and inhaled a pile of food from the attached McDonald's. I spied a hotel from my seat and made a bee-line towards it, hoping to find a room. As I pulled up the lobby attendant came out and asked for my name. Once I answered, she pointed across the parking long and said "Room 19". I rolled over, knocked on the door and Jean-Michel opened the door. He had left my name at the front desk to ensure I had a room for the night. I rolled my bike in, handed Jean-Michel his bag, and took took a shower. After a bit more conversation, I crawled into bed and fell asleep. -

I prepped myself and my bike for the ride to Grants. My driveline needed some tlc and some extra air in the tires would make the pavement roll by just a little bit easier. After a breakfast at McDonalds and resupply at the C-store, Jean-Michel and I headed out of town. The miles rolled by quickly and we made a quick stop at a convenience store about 30 miles in. A few miles down the route, the road signs changed from New Mexico 197 to Navajo Route 9, and suddenly we were riding through the Navajo Reservation.  In addition to the Route 9 signs, the other obvious change was the graffiti hiding all of the mile markers, making it difficult to distract myself by counting down the miles. Not  long after a stop for some food, shade and a nature break, we encountered two riders touring northbound. While we were having a good chat, all of us wanted to move on. I stopped at an area called Whitehorse to top of my water supply. I rode into the group of houses where I expected to find a well. Instead, I found houses with open doors, no people, and mattresses laying on the floors. For better or worse, the conditions were making me uncomfortable, so I turned around and headed down the road onto NM 509. I saw a large hill off in the distance and as I approached it, I realized that it was huge overpass made for the trucks at the nearby coal mines. Further down the road, I stopped to take a photo of a roadside memorial I spotted in the ditch. Something about it's location compelled me to stop. The remainder of the ride was uneventful. Jean-Michel had stopped to wait for me just outside of Milan, and a brief stop at a truck stop for fluids, we rode down old Route 66 into Grants. After some discussion and map inspection, we rode a bit off route and grabbed a room at a Comfort Inn near the freeway. We had 125 miles behind us for the day, and Grants was the last major resupply before Pie Town and the Gila wilderness, so it made sense to stop. We tossed our clothes into the laundry, filled up at the Chinese buffet across the street and then went back to the hotel to catch some sleep. -

Early in the morning of July 4th, Jean-Michel and I got ourselves and our bikes in order, stocked up at the neighboring convenience store, and then hit the breakfast in the hotel lobby. It was going to be at least two days until our next resupply opportunity in Silver City, so starting out with plenty of food in our stomachs and on our bikes was a must. I went for calorie density and variety - six honey buns, seven packs of pop-tarts, three fruit pies, two packs of vanilla sugar wafers, three packs of oreos, three Snickers bars, and a dozen assorted granola bars. At least 8000 calories and probably wasn't going to be enough. Despite wanting to get on the road early, it was 6:45 by the time we were on our bikes and moving. The first 35 miles out of town were along the cliffs in El Malpais National Monument. The roads were in good shape and devoid of traffic. Around mile 15, I stopped and moved my food from my backpack and into my seatbag to take the extra weight off of my sit bones, which were really starting to suffer after 20+ days in the saddle. I met back up with Jean-Michel where we left the pavement and headed south towards Pie Town. We rode together for a while, but soon the difference on our pace caused us to separate. The scenery along this section of the route was sandy and barren, save for an occasional ranch, cemetery, or homesteaders cabin. As I got closer to Pie Town, I was once again dodging building storms. I missed the severe parts and only had to deal with a few rain showers. I thought it was about 62 miles from Grants to Pie Town, but it was closer to 70. The extra 8 miles to get to pie really bothered me. I met Jean-Michel again as I approached Pie Town Cafe. I knew it would be closed and proceeded to the top of the hill where proprietors of the Pie-O-Neer Cafe welcomed us. I ordered both of the available entrees, chile verde with pork and a gluten free pasta salad with fruit, and I claimed my two free slices of pie, courtesy of Salsa Cycles. While we ate, drank, and charged our electronics, I noted that the skies south of town were starting to darken. Soon the dark skies turned nearly black and filled with lightning. Jean-Michel was ready to leave, but after checking the radar, I didn't see the sense in leaving until the storms passed. As soon as the hail started and the winds tipped our bikes over, I knew I had made the right call. I ate two more slices of pie and had a cup of coffee while the storm raged outside. With the food, hospitality, and the friendly patrons, there were worse places to wait out a storm. With the worst of the storms past, we left the Pie-O-Neer. I wanted to stop and spend the night at Toaster House so the roads would have a chance to dry, but Jean-Michel wanted to move on. Against my better judgement I followed him. A few miles down the road we encountered a couple on BMW motorcycles. They were in the process of righting the larger of the two bikes after it fell over in the mud. They mentioned the roads ahead were bad. I kept my comments to myself and rode on. A mile or two down the road, we hit one of the infamous sections of New Mexico mud. Fortunately it was only about 3/4 of a mile long. We stopped for a bit to clean our drivelines and figure out what to do. Jean-Michel went to a nearby house to borrow a hose, but no one was home. I dammed up a water runoff area in a ditch, used that to fill a spare water bottle, and poured the water over mine to clean it off. At this point Jean-Michel decided that he was going back to Pie Town as he was worried about his bike breaking down and being unable to fix it. He asked me to come along with him. Before the race started, I had promised myself that I would keep moving forward, never backward, no matter the circumstances. I followed Jean-Michel back towards Pie Town for about 10 yards, when I decided that I had to ride my race, and not someone else's. I turned around, got on my bike, and started riding into the Gila. That was the last time I saw Jean-Michel. It took me 45 minutes to cover the next two miles due to the road conditions. The temps were dropping, it was getting hard to see, and my driveline was skipping horribly. I found a small stand of trees next to the road, shoved some food and fluids in my body, and crawled into my bivy for the night. It was just 7 PM. I was alone in the middle of New Mexico, but I was warm and I had made the right decision. -


Joel Mundt said...


Thanks SO much for sharing your experiences. The Tour Divide is a remarkable event, and those who complete it are even more remarkable. I believe the experience is deeply personal for many, so it's very special for you to re-live it and open it to us. I truly appreciate it. And thank you again for speaking to the Des Moines Cycle Club a few months back. I thoroughly enjoyed that as well.


Steve Fuller said...

Thank you for the kind comments Joel. I hope the words and photos I've shared with people over the last few months encourage people to get out and try something a little bit (or a lot) out of their comfort zone. :)