Monday, August 31, 2015

Tour Divide - Day 18

I slept in until 5:30am this morning. 

When my alarm went off  I just lay there for a few minutes, thinking how comfortable this was. I knew I had to get up but I was tired, very tired. But this was a race and lazing around in Cuba wasn't in the program so I jumped up and started packing all of my dry, clean gear onto my bike. 

I had plenty of snacks for today's easy ride to Grants but I did need to backtrack to the gas station for some new Spot batteries. I then cruised down to the diner for a proper breakfast of bacon and eggs all washed down with the de'riguer bucket of ordinary coffee and an orange juice.

The place was almost empty except for three divide tourers who were just finishing their breakfast. One of them came over to chat and asked if I was a racer. I replied that I was just two thirds of a racer now as I had noticed last night that I had lost some serious weight in the last few days. He replied that he was in awe of us guys because we were racing the divide. I replied that I was in awe of the tourers as I cast a glance at his heavily loaded bike. The slower you go, the more you have to carry, making touring a tough endeavour as well. Anyway, we exchanged gen on trail conditions north and south and I pitied these guys having to climb the Polvadeara Mesa and in hindsight, I reckon they might have pitied me my day ahead on the road.

I rolled out of town with the rising sun at my back and a spring in my step. My route notes indicated 200km (124 mi) to Grants with only 1000ft of climbing, all on a sealed road which made me very happy. I was buzzing along at 33 km/h and I had to keep telling myself to take it easy.

The cool morning air and clear skies were very welcome after yesterday afternoon's thunderstorm-fest. The countryside looked like something out of an old western movie with different coloured strata on the hillsides.

I was passing quite a few tourers heading north this morning and we exchanges friendly waves. One guy shouted out "the store is excellent" as we passed. I was only aware of the one store at Torreon, so guessed that was what he was talking about.

The wide open spaces and lack of trees hinted at how hot today might become but for the moment it was cool and I was making great time.

I can't believe how thin I had become!

The Torreon store soon loomed into view. I didn't really need anything but I decided to stop anyway, just to take a break. I wandered around and only bought an ice cream as it was starting to warm up.

There wasn't a sign to say where I was so I asked the girl behind the counter if this was in fact the Torreon store. She replied that it was and asked me where I was from. "Australia", I replied. She had a blank look on her face. "Near New Zealand" I added. Still a blank look. She didn't know where either was. That was cool as I didn't know where I was......

I pedalled onward, passing a few buildings where I saw this interesting sign on each gate. Talk about micro management by the local law!

This area was the "Reservation" that I had read other racers describe in their blogs. While I had heard many disturbing things, today in the hard light of day there was nothing to be worried about apart from the heat. I did see some random people walking around in the middle of nowhere but they all waved as I pedaled past.

Yes, this was "only" 200km but I was noticing that there was more than 1000ft of climbing. I had done 1000ft in the first 50 kilometres so I began to grumble on each climb now about the extra hills (looking at my notes now I see they indicate 4100ft climbing-yes, I was tired). I was in New Mexico proper and it was hot an open.

I was powering this ride with small bags of nuts that can be bought from gas stations for between 50c to $1 each. I couldn't even begin to estimate how many I ate during the race but it would have been a small mountain!

I began passing through mining country and I was glad of the shade that this overpass provided, once I made it there! It was like a mirage on the horizon that took forever to actually arrive but when it did I took a short break under it's shade..

The next few hours consisted of looong straights and more confounded climbs. I again had nothing left in the legs so I was happy to get off and walk parts of the climbs. In hindsight I realise that everyone else must have been hurting badly as well because I was waiting for people to pass me at any moment, yet no one had. I felt like I was absolutely crawling along.

I crawled past what looked like old mining country. These turned out to be old uranium mines. These were where the US mined it's uranium from the 1950s and had been closed for years now but there was still quite a bit of activity as contractors worked to clean up the countryside.

There really isn't anything else to say about this section of the divide. There was nothing really worth photographing and by the 100 mile mark I really wanted today's ride to be over with. I ran out of water about 10 miles out of Milan/Grants (Milan/Grants is a dual town setup) and was surprised at how thirsty I was now. 

To rub salt into my thirst wound I had to wait for 5 minutes at the boom gates on the railway line just outside of Milan as two freight trains roared past. At least the waiting cars waved me on once the boom gate was raised and I set my sights on the Love's Truck Stop, the first stop in Milan.

I pulled in, bought a chocolate milk, downed it in the blink of an eye then proceeded to buy my usual turkey sandwich, Gatorade, water and ice start with! 

As I sat out the front of the Love's in the heat I was deafened by the horrible music being piped out of the speakers in the forecourt. I wasn't sure if it was to keep young people from loitering there or if the speakers were just worn out and distorting the music. Either way, I couldn't stand it any more and decided to press on, looking for a diner or proper supermarket. 

As I passed over the tracks and so from Milan into Grants, I noticed that the town looked a little more affluent. Milan was characterised by the multiple Payday Loan Shops and Pawn Brokers whereas Grants looked a little more normal. I soon found the post office and packed some maps and all of my arm/leg warmers and full finger gloves into a parcel back home. I don't think there was much weight saving here but there was considerable bulk gone.

I asked the clerk if there was a supermarket nearby to which she replied that there was a Walmart "just down the road". This "just down the road" description was one that was treated with great skepticism by riders as the person giving the directions always had a car in mind, not a bicycle, powered by a cyclist who had ridden 200km in 38C heat.

Ten minutes down the road I crossed over the Interstate to a newer section of town and saw a Walgreens. Close enough I thought and proceeded inside. I am not sure what a Walgreens is meant to be but it looks like 20% supermarket, 70% chemist/pharmacy and the other 10% I dunno. Anyway I filled up on water, juice, Coke and more Coke. I quadrupled my Coke intake for the Divide at this stop.

I sat outside the store, even though it was bloody hot as I was getting funny looks inside. I knew I looked like shit and quite probably smelt like it as well but I needed some chain lube as I had used the last of my Ride Mechanic Bike Mix last night in Cuba to cure a very sick chain. Now, it was squealing like crazy and doing my head in. I sat pondering what might work as an improvised chain lube from the Walgreens pharmacy and whether I should go back in when I decided to just Google "Walmart". The search came back saying there was one just across the way! I jammed all of the water into my bike bags and backpack and squeaked my way over to Walmart.

Entering the store I was almost floored by the coolness of the airconditioning! It felt sooo good! The first thing I saw were these huge punnets of strawberries for $2. $2! They would have been $10 back home! I grabbed one punnet then went to find some chain lube. They had White Lightning lube so I bought one, dragged my bike into the foyer of the store and lubed the chain in the cool. I was feeling pretty cooked so I just sat, answering a few texts and eating strawberries. I didn't want to go back outside.

Eventually, I am stuffed with strawberries and decide that I must press on. It is too early to get a room despite common sense suggesting that I do so. To cool off and get a good nights rest then get going again in the cool of early morning made good sense. But I wasn't listening to myself. Backtracking to the route (past several motels) I am grateful that the race follows the paved El Malpais alternate as there are lots of thunderstorms around now and I don't want to be on dirt road if it is going to rain.

I feel the sun biting the back of my already sunburnt legs as I slowly pedal out of town. I have a few drops of rain splat on me and am surprised as I would estimate that the nearest storm is at least 20 miles away! I use the rain as an excuse to stop into a Subway at the truck stop on the Interstate about 10km out of Grants and grab a huge red Mineral Water. I find a seat in a comfy chair, leaving my bike unlocked around the corner, out of sight. I really don't care if someone takes it right now. I notice I have cell service and make my one and only call in to MTB Cast. I have tried to call-in a few times before but the pay phones have all been broken and I have had almost zero cell service on the divide.

I make my call then head out to find my bike still leaning against the wall. Damnit! Time to pedal on again. I cross the overpass over the Interstate as trucks whizz past below me. Anything over 15mph looks jet-like to me now.

I decide that my target for tonight is the campground 27 kilometres outside Grants in El Malpais National Monument. I am half way there already and it is still hot so I am not looking forward to camping.

I roll into the campground to find a huge Rottweiler bounding toward me. It barks viciously and the owner says accusingly "he doesn't know what you are, on a bike". Well, for fuck's sake, it isn't my place to educate him but I will if he comes within range. I am hot, tired, hungry and now angry. The dumb shits should probably have this land shark on a leash in a public campground but somehow it is my fault?

Stopping at the first sheltered park table the rain started to splat down again. I was also being eaten alive by midges or sand flies or something similar that likes the taste of divide rider. I decided to set my tent up under the shelter, tying it to the bench seat and posts of the shelter. This I did in record time so as to escape the biting bugs. 

So I sat in my tent, eating the remaining strawberries, reading my map and coming to the realisation that I hadn't really planned out what supplies I would need for this next section of the race. I had been really frazzled from the sun in Grants and despite great facilities, my limited stock of supplies was questionable at best. I mean, what the hell was I doing with a can of pineapple pieces? How heavy was that?!

 Looking at my map I could now see that after Pie Town, which was 80km down the road, the next resupply was in Silver City, some 296km (194mi) of dirt away. Shit. How did I overlook that during planning or even going over my route notes during today's ride?

It was still light, still hot and I was still hungry as I dozed off to sleep. I would be up at first light tomorrow to beat the heat but I was thinking that I really should have stayed in Grants, got a comfortable air conditioned room and a good rest then started riding at 1am........oh well, too late now..........


Friday, August 28, 2015

Tour Divide - Day 17

The day was just dawning when I again hauled on my dirty race kit and packed my bike. Quietly rolling out of the campground I was pleased that I hadn't been evicted by officialdome. I wasn't looking for a free nights camping, just a restful one.

Exiting the campground I was soon passing many campers that were looking for a free night. I could have ridden a little further last night and I would have been in amongst plenty of RVs. The road up toward the next peak, Burned Mountain, was in very good condition and was not too steep despite climbing up to 10 192ft. Had I known this I would have pushed on a bit further last night. Another example of rookie errors and lack of route knowledge. But as Bethany Dunne put it in her blog "I never really studied too much about the New Mexico section in my preparations. By the time I had gotten that far through the route notes I was often too flabergasted by the distance to even get there, I paid little attention". I had shared the same feeling as each year while being a blue dot watcher at home. I had lost focus on the race by New Mexico due to an annual combination of work committments and flabergastation at the distance. When it came time to make my route notes for this years race, work once again got in the way and New Mexico got a cursory glance. BIG MISTAKE!!

The first few hours of today's ride was through lush green fields and some Aspen dotted mountain sides. The ever present pines were there as well and I could see where the road had been wet in the days prior from the snaking ruts left by previous riders.

I dropped off a mountain via some switchbacks and I was suddenly at Canon Plaza, the roadside stall run by Sylvia as seen in the "Ride the Divide" movie. It was just before 7am and she was opening the door which I though extremely coincidental but in hindsight, I think she is a Blue Dot watcher and times her attendance to be there when racers cruise by.

The store had mostly sugary junk so I topped up my supply with a few more Sweet and Salty bars and chowed down on a yummy microwave burrito that she zapped for me. I think she was a bit disappointed with how little I bought but I had my eye (and stomach) firmly focused on El Rito. I was also over carrying too much food as I had done for most of the race so far. I had decided a few days back that it was time to push the envelope a bit more. (clearly not a smart move with my limited knowledge of NM!)

I pedalled off down the road feeling quite chuffed that I had ticked off another carrot on my "race motivation strategy" list. There was a small bit of trepidation though as the next turn on the route was through Vallecitos. The mere mention of this town has riders trembling as the town has a bad reputation for an ever present pack of viscous dogs that love nothing better then trying to latch onto divide riders.

It was only 8km from Canon Plaza to Vallecitos and I fuelled up for my intended sprint. Making that right turn through Vallecitos and it looked like a setting from the running of the bulls in Spain. The street was narrow, with houses butting up against the road edge, despite this vast expanse of New Mexico. It would be like riding down a tunnel!

I started cranking fast and zipped along the street. It was all over in just 2 minutes and I was pleasantly surprised when I heard nothing and saw nothing. Maybe I was too early for them but whatever the reason, I was happy to get through the infamous Vallecitos without even an angry bark my way! 

There was more climbing through pine forest out of Vallecitos and I grovelled along again. There had been recent rain here too and the black soil showed several sets of bike tyres and some footprints where it was clearly too wet to ride. In a perverse sort of way this cheered me up. I had it easier than whoever left those footprints so administered a mental uppercut to myself and pressed onward and upward!

Once I crested the mountain range, which was only a 300m(1000ft) climb I enjoyed a buzzing downhill ride as I lost some 500m(1600ft) of elevation. The road had two massive ruts in it and I had to concentrate on staying on the narrow centre section as the road twisted and turned down the mountain side.

I emerged from the forest onto wide open dirt road with glimpses to El Rito in the distance. I was soon turning onto the sealed road and cruised into town, looking for somewhere to eat.

El Rito looked an awful lot like Vallecitos in that the buildings were all right on the roadside.

Before I knew it I had ridden to the other side of town yet saw nothing resembling a cafe or diner so I turned around for another look. Stopping in the centre of town opposite a run down gas station I spoke to a local, who said he was waiting for the owner of a very small cafe that I hadn't noticed, to open up. When I asked how long that may be he was quite vague. Hmmm. I smelt a potential time suck here and decided that I was feeling fresh, had enough snacks and the road was suitably downhill that I would just push onto Abiquiu, another 30km down the road.

Leaving El Rito I was on a sealed road but horribly exposed to the sun. I had layered on the sunscreen and I was glad that the road was pretty much all downhill to Abiquiu so that I had plenty of cooling air whistling past.

I was able to maintain between 25 and 38km/h along here quite easily. About half way to Abiquiu another cyclist pulled out from the shade of a lonely tree on other side of the road, going the same way as me. I whistled past saying "Morning" as I did. He didn't look like a racer and he very soon disappeared from view.

I passed a reservation of some description and several abandoned stores. There wasn't much out here except for red dirt and trucks that drive too fast and too close. I almost got hit by a wing mirror on one of these penis extensions as it passed me. I re-passed it at the intersection of the 84 and I was tempted to go give them a piece of my mind but thought better of it. The rest of the ride into Abiquiu was on a wide, sealed road with a huge shoulder where I felt much safer, even when this tool went past again.

Arriving in Abiquiu, there was only one place to go and that is Bodes Store. It is right on the highway and to me, it IS Abiquiu because it is all I saw. I had another postal drop to pick up here but it was Sunday again (just like Pinedale) so another package went undelivered. I really could have used the Nuun tablets in this one though!

Making my way inside I saw that as well as being a gas station, it was a supermarket and a diner. The diner didn't open until 10am and with it being about 9:30 I decided to just shop up a storm and sit myself at a diner table for breakfast. The yogurt topped raspberry pie (that I threw together) tasted out of this world and I started to feel human again as I worked my way through the $50 worth of food I had bought. 90km(56mi) before breakfast is great for one's appetite!

The cyclist that I had passed out the road came in and sat down next to me. He introduced himself as Glenn Theron. He was from Silver City but was touring around up here at Abiquiu for a few days. We chatted for quite a while and I was trying no to be rude but it is hard to talk with food stuffed in your face! 

Official ACA map

I was worried about the next section to Cuba. It crossed over the Polvadera Mesa, an ancient lava flow and at 129km(80mi) was considered one of the most remote and difficult sections of the Tour Divide. There was no resupply before Cuba and one had to climb up, over 10 000ft again which was considerable as I was back down at just 6005ft in Abiquiu! This was going to be a bigger climb than Indianna Pass was out of Del Norte!

I repacked my bike at the bench pictured above while Glenn continued to chat away. I had soo much stuff crammed into my bags (in case I needed to camp out) that I tossed him one 50cent bag of nuts that I just couldn't fit anywhere. I was again carrying my full water load of 6 litres (1.6 gallons) as I wasn't aware of any water sources until Cuba.

Bidding Glenn goodbye I slowly pedalled away from Abiquiu. No through any longing of the heart to be there, no quite simply, it was uphill again, my belly was full and the bike weighed about 30 kilograms!

It was quite hot again as I had spent an hour and twenty five minutes refueling and chatting at Bodes. As I crawled past the outlying houses I could see that the sky was starting to brew for the day. Thunderstorms and the Polvadera Mesa go together like Brazos Ridge and thunderstorms apparently.

Not far into the climb out of Abiquiu, the road was paralleling a small stream which was down in a ditch. I was so hot that I stopped and climbed down to the water so that I could stand in it. I also wet my buff and enjoyed the cool trickle of water down my back.

Finally at the head of the canyon the road doubled back and I got to see what was behind me, back toward Abiquiu. It was a text-book example of a thunderstorm! The anvil was blowing out into a massive cloud preceeding the storm and I prepared to be Pulvadera-ised!

Luckily for me the road turned back toward the west and the storm charged by, heading south east with all of it's fury.

I stared across a long, open plain to the next series of hills. I would soon be entering the Santa Fe National Forest.

Looking forward,

Looking back.

The scenery was interesting and the road quite good but it was hot.

It was a case of just getting it done as I climbed and climbed. At least the road was in good conditon.

Until it wasn't. I had come to the first infamous (yes, there was more than one on the Mesa) section of trail, namely the sand. It was energy sucking and demanded attention at all times.

Photo courtesy Mike McElveen

Then I came to the rock section. It was all broken up into huge slabs and navigating the path of least resistance was tiring. Add to the mix that I was climbing the whole time and it was really hot now. I was getting seriously tired so it was hard to estimate but it would have been close to 38C (100F). My bike weighing just on 30kg(66lb) with all the food and water wasn't helping!

I eventually climbed into cooler air but it was probably more thanks to the thunderstorms that were all around by now that the air cooled a bit. In fact, up here at 10 000ft again the country looked a lot like that in Colorado, Wyoming or Montana. It was lush and green and I flopped down onto a nice patch of grass to eat my turkey sandwich. The silence of the forest was overwhelming. Why are there no birds chirping here in the US?

I managed to squeeze the extra water into my Camelbak bladder and the frame bag so that I had nothing on my back but with the trail going ever upwards it didn't help me feel any stronger.

I turned a corner on the trail and it seemd I turned a corner in the ride. The road went downhill for a while and the composition of the road changed to more soil and less rock but it was still rough.

The rest of the afternoon was a nightmare of rough, rocky climbs, rough rocky descents where I couldn't even get past 10km/h. When I finally did, I came up behind a truck picking it's way along the road. I wondered how the hell they got it up here? They were the first people I had seen since Abiquiu, some 7 hours earlier. They waved me past as it was a downhill section and I whizzed on by. While stopped to put my rain jacket on a short time later, the truck came up alongside me.   It was three young guys and I said "hi". They asked what I was doing and I explained and they were all "no way!" and the usual replies. They asked if I needed anything and offered me a beer. My first trail magic of the ride but a beer was the last thing I needed right now. I thanked them very much and said I had better get going as it looked like it was going to rain.

Photo Cortesey Mike McElveen

It did spit rain for a while and got quite cool so I got into my full rain outfit, including gloves. The wet road wasn't too bad in most places but I was starting to have trouble with gear shifting a the mud clogged the rear mech a bit and my chain lube cried enough in the conditions.

The short climbs and descents went on and on. When I thought I couldn't take any more I was still over 50km from Cuba! I began looking along the roadside for a spot to camp. It was nice and green with plenty of huge old pine trees to keep the rain off. 

But I also noticed that there were many old rotting trees littering the ground. All of these were in various states of decay and ALL had been torn apart to varying degrees. I remembered once seeing a documentary on how bears rip open dead trees looking for bugs to eat. Two men couldn't have lifted some of the sections of tree that were torn apart. Nope, no camping here for me!

Photo courtesy Mike McElveen

As I got closer to Cuba I began to pass camp sites that had campers in them. By this stage it was almost dark and I was totally focused on getting into Cuba for a proper meal and a bed.

This didn't look blurry at the time! I was TIRED!

It was now dark and I was descending the twisting forest road at speed. Too much speed for my lights to cope. I had a few close calls with wet sections of road and pot holes before I was spat out onto the sealed 126. Hooray!

But it went uphill. Steeply. And cars whizzed by again. It was a shock after being on my own for so long this afternoon. I put my head down and ground away knowing that Cuba was only about 16km(10mi) away. What I didn't know was that there was a huuuge descent of 1800ft into town. Even though it was dark and wet I let the brakes go, hoping that I wouldn't hit a deer or some other wildlife. I did hit 70km/h (43mph) down here, in the dark. Did I mention it was dark? Oh, and that I had been on the bike for 16 hours?

There were a few small, cruel climbs into Cuba and the main road went around the town and entered from the other side but I was soo happy to be in Cuba!! It was just on 10pm and nothing was open but the gas station/Maccas. I bought a drink and enquired about a motel. They said there were a few down the main street so I headed off to secure a room. The first one required me to ring a number as the door bell was broken. Checking my cell phone I had nothing. No service. Bloody useless Cricket mobile! 
The next was the Cuban Lodge, attended by an elderly Mexican gentleman. I asked about a room but he just dialed a number on his cell phone. When it answered, he spoke to the person on the other end then handed me the phone. Apparently I was now speaking to the owner and "grandpa" was going to take my cash and give me a key. I got the "where are you from?" and I answered all of the standard questions as patiently as I could. I was tired and hungry! 

I quickly pedalled the 1 kilometre back to the gas station and bought my first Maccas of the ride. I needed hot and fast food so this sort of fit the bill. Stocking up on nuts and snacks I pedalled back "home" and gorged myself on nuggets and a chicken burger. I washed my filthy wet weather gear in the shower and hung it to dry, then packed my bike as best I could for tomorrow.

Having wi-fi, I could see that Simon was in Cuba as well, at the first motel as you enter town. I figured he would be off early but I was too tired to leave early tomorrow. I had ridden 415km (258mi) and climbed 7000m (23 000ft) in the last 2 days! Plus what was done in the preceeding 15 days. No, I was going to sleep in until 6am, eat a diner breakfast then get to Grants, 200km of sealed road further on.

By the time I had eaten, showered and messaged home (all at the same time) it was just on midnight as I crashed into bed. I wasn't sure if I was more chuffed to have caught Simon or to have a warm, dry bed for the night after the massive day today. 

But either way, I went to sleep with a smile on my face. Tomorrow would be easy...............

Booyeah! Look at that climbing!