I was up at 3am today to tackle the big climb over Indianna Pass. I ate the last of my turkey sandwich and quickly packed the bike up. The cabin is located at the beginning of the climb up the pass, so it was straight into the work. The upside to riding in the dark is that you cannot see the steepness of the hill in front, just a small patch of gravel in front of you. By this stage of the race I was able to simply zone-out on these climbs and turn the pedals.
Soon enough the eastern sky began to lighten as the sun crept toward the horizon. I could see that I was climbing through pine forest.
As I got to the top of the climb the pines thinned out (much like the air!) and I was treated to amazing views across the mountain top. There were still large patches of ice by the side of the road which indicated how cool it stays up here and I was glad that it was a calm, clear morning as this was damn pleasant cycling!
I passed the 11 910ft sign and was looking forward to a hooting descent down the other side.
The road went steeply down for about 700ft then began to climb again as I approached Summitville. The mountain top was sliced in half, as neatly as a big cake. I understand this was done as part of a clean up but I may be wrong here. Either way, it was imposing to climb up toward this man made eyesore, especially as I felt as weak as a kitten now. The air was thin and I had no power. I had to get off my bike a few times as I passed the dam and long abandoned town site and push my bike. This I did very slowly as well. I just wanted to drop onto the ground and have a sleep. I wasn't sure if this was just accumulated fatigue or the elevation as I had only previously felt like this south of Wamsutter on Day 11. I guess it was a combination of both.
I got myself up the climb past Summitville and began to enjoy some more descending road through wide open meadows, with views across toward the mine site.
I was roaring down hill when I came to a hard left turn. This is the point where the torture really began. Every other pass involved a big climb followed by a long descent. Not the case on Indianna Pass though! No, here I would descend and climb continuously between 11 200 and 11 700ft. I grovelled on the climbs and rejoiced on the descents.
Cruel turn back into the climbing. I came down from the top right.
The scenery up here was simply stunning and I passed a campground with a hut that looked like THE place to stay up here. It overlooked a huge green bowl with views on three sides.
I began to pass numerous small tents, including some cyclists and it was clear that it wasn't just me that thought this pass was something special. I was so glad that I was riding it on a glorious, clear morning and not grovelling past, immersed in race mode in a dark space at night.
Even the hurtful climbs were stunning, as this talus slope really stood out against the surrounding pines.
View back from the photo above.
I was pleased to see that there was a pass and a camp ground named after the theme of the morning - Stunner!
All the while I was very slowly creeping toward Platoro. That last 5 miles into Platoro took forever, especially as I was stopping to take so many photos. Platoro was in the bottom of the valley below.
As I dropped down into the valley the view changed with each twist and turn of the road. Platoro looked reasonably large.
Just around here I passed a woman out for a run. She was getting along quite quickly and I said "hi" as I passed her. Shortly after this I passed a minor road heading into Platoro. I soon realised that this was the main entrance so backtracked up the hill where I again bumped into the runner. We chatted a bit as I fantasised what I was going to do to breakfast, when I got to it!
I stopped at the Cafe' where a very stylish blue heeler cross strutted around, checking out my rig. It was nice to see a familiar looking pooch but I was soon inside perusing the menu.
This cafe is the home of the Bigfoot challenge. If you can eat a huge plate of pancakes and sausage patties you get your breakfast for free. I can't stand the US sausage patties as they illicit an image of roadkill having gone through a press (see my breakfast muffin at Wise River) so there was no way I was going that way. Instead I ordered bacon and eggs, then a huge plate of pancakes all washed down with a big orange juice and a huuge coffee.
While I worked my way through this feast the jogger I had passed earlier came over for a chat (this was a very small cafe). She was a school teacher from Texas and she and her husband came here each year for 6 weeks over the summer holidays as her brother-in-law owned the cafe. We chatted about the stunning mountains, mountain biking in general (she rode as well) Australians, Americans and well, lots of things. I really enjoyed the chat as I had been feeling pretty low this morning. Clearly, weeks of riding pretty much all alone saw me craving interaction and to chat to such an interesting person with similar interests really made my morning.
As I paid up I realised that I had taken my sunglasses out this morning, carefully placed them on the frame bag while taking a break, then picked my bike up and rode off! So, somewhere between 10 000 and 10 500ft on the climb up Indianna Pass, there were a pair of Oakley Radar Path sunglasses just waiting for a new owner. Bugger. I purchased a cheap pair from the gift store in the cafe and loaded some more snacks into my frame bag while enjoying the morning sun, all overseen by the dog above.
Platoro was a fishing village in summer with fly fishermen everywhere. As I descended the valley I passed many parked cars with people in waders dotted along the river.
The road was a little rough in places but the main feature was that it went up and down a lot. I had been feeling pretty weak all morning and was getting quite frustrated at my lack of forward motion.
Checking out my bike I noticed that the rear tyre looked a bit flat, so I decided that must be the reason for my struggles and decided to stop and pump it up. Doing this was easier said than done as I was feeling light headed even just pumping the tyre! I guess I was still at 10 000ft and it wasn't until I got home and looked at the following photo that I took while stopped here that I realised I was still climbing a steep hill! To my tired eyes it didn't look like a hill at all!
I was passing quite a few cyclists going the other way and we all exchanged greetings but didn't stop. I was thinking little did they know the huge climb that lay ahead of them but was also jealous of their time in this beautiful Rio Grande national park. I would have to say that this was the section of the divide that I wanted to return to and look around again. It was the most stunning and interesting by far.
The road got better but a thunderstorm was making it's way up the valley and I was soon riding on muddy roads but thankfully the rain slid past without actually falling on me. Again, my timing was impeccable!
I soon came to the little shop/RV park that is Horca. I didn't stop as I figured I had plenty of food but in hindsight I realise that while I did indeed have plenty of snacks, I had no real food. This would be the last resupply point until Canon Plaza roadside store, some 136 very tough kilometres (85mi) along route in New Mexico.
Taking the right turn at Horca I was again on a sealed road. I soon saw the La Manga Pass sign and felt a bit cheered up. A few years ago Cjell Mone (pronounced Shell Money) put out a challenge to other racers. He pedalled his heart out on the La Manga climb ( 468m over 8.8km), recorded it on a dollar bill with a Nikko pen then deposited it into a slot on a road sign post. He then challenged others to do the same, with the fastest climber taking the pot. I don't recall the winner that year but it sure did put La Manga pass on the map!
There was a lot of traffic on this road and the shoulder was not very wide but I was happy to be grinding away uphill with the views becoming more and more expansive. I could see the rain engulfing the valley that I had just ridden out of. All still at 9500ft!
The climb didn't seem to end but at least it was consistent.
I finally did reach the summit at 10 230ft and enjoyed the views to the south west.
There was a huge downhill run here until the next turn on the route and I enjoyed it very much. But then it was over. It was time to turn off onto the dirt again.
From this vantage point I could see thunderstorms and rain in a 180 degree arc to the south. All I could think was that I would be up on Brazos Ridge in the lightning. Every account I had read of this signature section of trail had included the unsettling experience of being caught in a lightning storm. Great!
Photo courtesy Mike McElveen
But what can you do? The road looked so inviting and this is a race and as a racer you just have to get on with it. No point throwing the toys out of the pram!
So, I pushed off and as I progressed I noticed the trail start to degrade in quality. It became rougher and more pot-holed. Very soon I came to a cattle grid that was one of only two marked border crossings that I saw.
New Mexico over there...
Colorado back there!
I was in the final state that this race would cross! Woo hoo!! This gave me a small lift but today hadn't been a good day. I was still feeling weak on the climbs and it was just my determination pushing me on. I would not let myself stop!
The trail continued up and up. The road varied between nice smooth dirt crossing open meadows to rough , rocky goat track through close forests.
I just seemed to be pedalling and pedalling with not much evidence of forward movement. The beauty was undisputed and I did pass some horse riders and numerous atvs who all told me that there was another rider an hour in front of me. An hour for them or an hour for me? It was probably Patrick but I wasn't sure. It was nice to have a carrot to chase and helped spur me on. Well, it spurred me on just as much as the feeling of isolation and exposure did. Boy, did it feel lonely out here!
The ride up to the Brazos overlook was spectacular but I just wanted the miles to roll under the wheels today. There were still thunderstorms banging away on three sides and I was not keen to ride on wet roads as they have been described as "peanut butter" once they get wet.
Brazos Ridge was another of my "carrots" that I had decided before the race that I must see. The closer I got to it though, the harder the ride became. The final climb to the ridge was a rock strewen nightmare that I mostly pushed up as I had no climbing left in my legs. This may have been because I had already ridden 134km, climbed across Indianna Pass, Stunner Pass, La Manga pass and was at 10 700ft amsl at this time....
Finally reaching the Brazos Ridge Overlook I was actually a bit disappointed. I had a picture of a dramatic ridge line in my mind that I had seen on Scott Morris's blog last year and had assumed that was the ridge itself. Not so. I could see the ridge off to the north but Scott had clearly hiked over there to get his photo, which was not where I was standing. I munched a small bag of nuts while taking in what view there was, somehow feeling a bit cheated despite the still amazing panorama in front of me.
The rest of the afternoon consisted of hours and hours of climbs and descents on rough, rocky roads. I was getting beaten up by the roughness of the trail now and it was all at high elevation. I just focused on the trail in front of me and tried to take it at the fastest speed that I possibly could. Whatever was happening off to the sides didn't matter or register to me. It was tough going but I never remember thinking "I can't do this". The thought simply did not enter my head. Instead I though "I have to do this?!" My legs hurt, my hands ached, my backside was sore. I stood up to pedal so as to rest some muscles. I walked some climbs to use different muscles but I didn't stop....at all....I was FOCUSED.
I suddenly came to a section of trail that was wet and steaming. There was what looked like snow everywhere and many leaves and branches littered the road.
The temperature dropped at least 10C and I guessed that a hail storm had recently passed through here. I couldn't really tell how long ago this had happened as I didn't notice any big storm right in front of me. Sure, there were storms all around me by this stage but nothing seemed to be "right there" so the hail could have fallen hours before.
It all added to the eerieness of the afternoon as I had not seen other humans for at least 5 hours now. The road surface was a bit soft but the Muru had no issues with mud clogging the wheels, again proving an excellent choice for the task.
The road proved to be wet and soft for quite a few kilometres and I had some scary fun moments on steep downhill bends as the bike drifted in the mud as I took the corners. This helped keep my mind off of the fact that I was 100 miles into the day and still turning pedals.
The countryside changed to open range not long after this and I stopped beside a cattle grid for a few minutes to eat the last of some salty potato chips that I had turned into crumbs. They tasted as good as any food I had ever eaten, period. I was beginning to rue the fact that I didn't have any "real" food with me, just snack foods like nuts and Sweet and Salty bars. I was rationing my small stash of spicy beef jerkey until I got within range of resupply.
The rest of the afternoon was very hard mentally. After this short break I did not let myself stop until my overnight destination of Hopewell Lake. I didn't take any photos even though the countryside around Cisneros Park was quite pretty, I just wanted to keep moving so that I could get off the bike and sleep. I was also getting worried about my water supply as the last fill up was at Platoro and I had seen no viable water sources since Horca, just 37km after Platoro. I was now 130km past Horca and starting to run low on my three litre Camelbak bladder. The fact that it was a cool, overcast day probably saved me this day for if I had battled high temperatures at this elevation I would have been in serious trouble hydration-wise.
At one point I passed an RV about 100m off the trail, with a guy sitting outside it and fantasised that he would yell out "hey, you want a soda"? as I rode past. He didn't but I waved to him just the same. I was getting very over today's ride now.
I finally came to the 64 highway and turned right, toward Hopewell Lake. It was nice to be on sealed road again as the dirt of New Mexico had beaten me up today. It was only 8km (5mi) to the campground but it was ALL uphill! I had to climb from 8800ft to just on 9900ft over that 8km and my legs just had NOTHING left. I got off and walked my bike at least 4 times in that short 8km climb while some deer looked on. I was so relieved when the turn into Hopewell lake came into view.
Turning into the lake entrance I found that there was no water at any of the day use area facilities. I exited again and rode into the campground itself. It consisited of a loop road with designated pads designed for RVs. There were many RVs set up and lots of people around so I just kept riding, all the time scanning for a water spigot. Two thirds of the way around I found a water trough with a constant stream of H2O pouring into it and quickly filled my Camelbak bladder and bottle. Riding a little further around the loop I found a small stand of pine trees that screened me from all the other campers, so I ducked into this spot and stealthily set up my tent.
I ate a frugal meal of beef jerkey, Sweet and Salty bars and some nuts while I looked at tomorrow's route sheet. Canon Plaza was not too far away at 30km and El Rito, a proper town was 64km(40mi) along route.
Today was another massive day in amongst a host of massive days. 200km(124mi) with 3700m (12 200ft) of climbing left me very tired. So tired that I did not even consider making a few more kilometres past Hopewell lake tonight even though there was almost an hours worth of daylight left. No, I was going to camp near other humans but not close enough to interact with them. I guess I took some comfort from having other people close by but was pleased, in my fatigued state not to have to talk to anyone.
I set my alarm for another early start.