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 cream.....to 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..........