PS to Sept 30: Forgot we had one Continental Divide crossing (#14)
PS to Oct 1: Also had at least 5 CD crossings (#15-19). We wiggled back and forth across it so it was hard to count on the map.
Oct 2 Grants, NM (update from last blog)
After we blogged in the early afternoon, we had some time to kill, so we went to the New Mexico museum of mining. Found out that the mine we camped by last night was a uranium mine, but it, and all the others are being reclaimed (closed down and the land restored). Uranium was found here in the 50's and Grants suddenly was a boom town as everyone and his brother was out staking claims. Then in the 80's the price of uranium fell and the companies could no longer afford to pay the workers what they had, so they went out of business, and the town of Grants went bust, so to speak. All the uranium now comes from Canada and Australia.
The main street of Grants is the old historic Route 66. For you young people, Rte. 66 was the first east-west paved road, going from Chicago to Santa Monica, CA. It was completed in the 20's, and was not an interstate, but a 2 lane road through all kinds of tiny towns. At that time, driving across the country by car was quite a feat, and thus has inspired numerous movies and songs. Much of the route has been torn up, but some, like here in Grants, is a historic road. You can still see numerous motor courts (the forerunners of motels) and cafes that served the traveling public.
Another milestone--we turned 2000 miles today.
Oct 3 28 miles to El Malpais National Monument Dispersed site
El Malpais National Monument means "the Badlands". Riding down the highway, to one side was the Monument, which consisted of huge fields of lava flows from volcanoes which have erupted as recently as 1000 years ago. The vegetation is sparse, short and squat junipers eaking out a living on the dark volcanic surface. The other side of the roadway is wilderness, which contrasted with the stark lava beds with sandstone cliffs carved into wild and grotesque shapes by millions of years of wind and water. Camped near a spot called "the Narrows", where sandstone cliffs and lava beds come together and touch the road on either side.
Oct 4 41.8 miles to Nita's porch in Pie Town, NM (pop, about 60)
It was a long hard day that ended with a blessing. The first 10 miles were paved, but the last 31 dirt, which was often soft sand, so that we had to push our bikes, even when it was flat. The usual assortment of ups and downs all day. At 6 PM, when we were almost to Pie Town, we were stopped on the road by Nita, the (un)official Pie Town welcoming committe and Trail Angel. She was on her way to a friend's for dinner, but she had in the back of her car--guess what-- none other than PIE! So we at a piece right there on the side of the road. She invited us to camp on her porch, so we found the house and made ourselves comfortable. She had some old car benches on the porch that made a comfortable, if narrow bed (especially when the dogs joined us). She had a fascinating home. She was a collector, even on the outside, and we entertained ourselves by looking at her collections.
Pie Town, for its small size, is the crossroads of the Great Divide Mountain Bike trail, which we are on, and the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, the hiking trail. It has also seen the Race Across America (a bike race from the west to the east coast, usually completed in 6-7 days). Nita is known as a Trail Angel, for helping out hikers/bikes, like us, accepting packages they've mailed ahead, providing a box where we all can exchange stuff (we picked up a map and left a gel saddle cover we didn't like), and of course, feeding us pie.
In the morning, Nita took us to an interesting site in Pie Town, a VLA radio Tower. That stands for Very Large Array, and is used to pick up radio signals from celestial objects in space. There are a number of these huge towers spread across the US from New Hampshire to Hawaii. They are all controlled remotely by a lab in Socorro, NM. While we were there, the tower rotated 180 degrees, on command from headquarters. If I am correct, all the towers work together to "look" at the same object in space at the same time, so presumably all were moving at the same time.
Then we had breakfast with Nita at "the Daily Pie" restaurant. The other restaurant in town is "the Pie-O-Neer". I guess you have to serve pie to operate in this town. We just missed the annual pie festival. That would have been something to see.
One more story about Pie Town. There was an eccentric, but harmless character named Sundown Bob who lived/traveled in a wagon pulled by a mule. He had come to Pie Town for years and camped in the city park for several months, and then move to the next town. Everyone knew and liked him. Anyway, he died last week right there in the city park. Too bad. We saw his wagon, still sitting where he left it. The city is thinking of putting in front of the local museum.
We got a late start out of Pie Town that morning, but a very enjoyable experience in a tiny town that we didn't expect much from. Looks can be deceiving.
Oct 5 31 miles to dispersed site in Apache National Forest
After the enjoyable morning, we decided to take the pavement instead of the gravel. Plus, they were predicting several days of rain. The field we camped in was full of tiny little prickers, not much bigger than the point of a thumbtack. They aren't strong enough to puncture our tire, but sure stick to our socks and shoes and the dogs fir, and cause an irritation. We had a herd of elk grazing on the hillside across a valley from where we camped. Heard them bugling at dusk. Wonder if they had prickers.
Afton seems to have developed a preference for running right on the white line, when we are on pavement. I can move my bike back and forth within the length of her leash, and she stays plastered right there, all 4 feet on the line. I don't know if she has discovered that the white line is cooler than the black pavement, or if it is smoother, of if she just knows that if she follows it, it will take her somewhere. Lander, however, stays about equal distance from Jon's bike. He likes to run off the side of the pavement, if it is grass or soft sand.
Oct 6 44.8 miles to Reserve, NM (motel)
Climbed pretty steady for the first 14 miles, then mostly downhill the rest of the way. However, a cold/hard rain whipped up just as we were flying down the steepest part of the hill. Let up later in the day, but started up again just as we got to a motel-rain/hail/lightening/thunder. Good thing we were inside.
Afton saw a jack rabbit that we kicked up when we stopped once. It was the highlight of her trip. The vegetation is mostly dry grass interspersed with Yuccas. We also are in the land of many grasshoppers-big ones. I try to run them over with my tires. It makes a nice crunching sound. Oh the things we do to amuse ourselves after 7 hours on the bike. We have seen large (1.5 inches) black spiders as well. They are smaller than the tarantula I used to have for a pet, but it might be another species.
Oct 7 37.4 miles to Glenwood, NM (motel)
Woke up to a dense fog, which was starting to lift as we started riding. Went through several steep canyons and crossed numerous dry washes, or arroyos, as they call them here. There must be a lot of water around here at some time of the year. We finally saw a river that actually had water flowing in it--took a photo, as I think it's the first one in NM. More dark, ominous clouds all day, but the rain held off. It started getting darker about three miles from Glenwood, so we were pushing it. Then I ran over a branch with thorns and flatted by front tire. So we patched it as quick as we could and pushed on. 1/2 miles more and whoosh, flat again. Found two more holes from the same thorn bush. Another quick patch job, rushed down the road--I just pulled in to the first motel in town and bingo, flat again. In all, we patched 5 holes from that one incident. The motel actually had no rooms--none in town did because of a bluegrass festival. While debating what to do, we met a group of cyclists who were doing long day rides and hikes in the area. One of them was leaving that night anyway, and offered us his room. We are very thankful, as I wasn't going very far on my tire. It actually never rained that night, as nasty as the sky looked. Can't tell about this southwest weather.
Oct 8 49.8 miles to dispersed site in Gila (pronounced Hee-la) National Forest
It’s 8 PM. Had to ride late to get to public land on which to camp. We had hoped to make it to Silver City, but just could not do 15 more miles. We were sitting in the tent as a thunder storm just kicks into full gear. It's been ramping up for an hour. Black sky and impressive lightening. We stopped at a home on the way down the side road towards national forest land and asked if we could sleep in their barn. The wife was receptive, but he was not. So we had no choice but to weather the storm in our tent. He did drive out to our site a little later and brought some water. Either he felt guilty or his wife got to him.
Anyway, did PB&J for dinner and hunkered down for a long night. Wave after wave of storms went through the area. Lightening so bright it hurt our eyes, even when shut. Thunder so loud it made the dogs jump. I don't know of any tent that would have been water proof through this. Water started seeping in from all sides. Lander was actually drinking from the bottom of the tent. Either he was thirsty or he was trying to bail himself out. We kept the dogs between us as we tried to snuggle together as close as possible so stay away from the wet walls. As the floor got soaked and we curled up on the mattress pads, I could not help but think of Noah in the Ark after he landed on Mt. Ararat. He was on the only high and dry spot surrounded by a wide sea.
This went on for who knows how long. The storms quit sometime in the middle of the night, and we finally got some sleep. Everything--sleeping bags, pads, clothes--was wet in the morning, but the sun was out, which at least made us feel better about packing up.
Oct 9 16 miles to Silver City (motel)
Another wave of storms was coming in as we pulled into town. Just enough to soak us before we found a motel. The motel had a laundry for guests, so we threw all our wet stuff in the dryers and washed our clothes.
It should have been a short, easy day, but it was uphill all the way to a continental divide crossing just before Silver City. (Elev 6230 ft, crossing #20). Plus we had the headwinds which we've had every day since we got to NM. Afton seemed to be limping, so Jon pulled her all the way and I ran Lander.
Silver City is the beginning of the end. It is about a 3 day ride through the true desert to the terminus of the Great Divide trail at Antelope Wells. We are taking at least a day off to consider our options about finishing up and getting home. The next blog should be after the end. It's a bittersweet feeling to know we are so close to the end, yet excited about reaching our goal.
In honor of the occasion, and in the spirit of late night TV, we have developed a list of the top 10 reasons for bike touring.
10. No watch, no calendar, no schedule.
9. Crawling into my warm sleeping bag at night.
6. Cleaning the house means shaking out the tent.
5. Three months off work.
4. You get to spend 24/7 with your significant other, for better or for worse.
3. What better way to get to know America-the mountains, the plains, the vistas, the bugs in your teeth, the smell of roadkill, the potholes in the pavement.
2. You can eat anything and everything you want.
and the number one best thing about touring is...
1. The people we meet.