Updated: May 31, 2019
Some endeavors are strange in the realm of planning, doing, and remembering. This was a surreal experience. We spent 2 months planning, 9 days riding, and now that it is done, it is strange to think of the trip as something I actually completed. I'm not sure if that is due to the length of the trip and mass amounts of memories, or simply the pace at which the brain deals with the facets of navigation, water rationing, intense physical activity, and other details one must manage during something like this.
Once arriving in Santa Fe and making the last-minute adjustments to our bikes, we went for dinner and called it an early night. We almost had to walk back to the hotel too, by the way - Santa Fe needs more Uber drivers.
- The Google photo album for these photos and a few not seen here -
Day one we left Santa Fe behind and spent the first dozen or so miles cruising the smooth and maintained decomposed granite trail system that the city maintains so wonderfully. Heading South and then up into the mountains we were being tailed by a thunderstorm while we worked our way towards the tree line. The water source tagged on our GPS devices from the original published route was not where it was supposed to be. Well, maybe it was but we thought we knew better once we could see the mountain and trail that was preventing our approach. Our route took over an hour to trace out and ended up being a windmill + cattle tank combo requiring the first round of filtration. The day was ending so we camped near an old pumpjack and endured the dirty looks from the local cattle herd.
Day two we got a late start and took our time packing up camp and getting back on the route. We had to backtrack a couple miles to the windmill to top off the water supply for the day ahead. Being mindful of how many miles until the next reliable water source proved to be a topic of daily effort for the rest of the trip. We worked our way through some jeep roads and started a descent on some reasonably rough terrain as we approached the first pavement we'd seen since Santa Fe. The paved road provided a welcomed speed boost as we left the National Forest and made for Moriarty. We were all pushing harder than we should have to reach town before dark and ended up burning ourselves out as we wrapped up a 65 mile day. The hotel was our first chance to recharge device batteries and take a shower in the last 2 days. We ate dinner at the local burger place and tried to ingest as many calories as we could, though none of us had much of an appetite. Another lesson learned... two actually... pace yourself and drink water even when you're not thirsty. We all felt pretty rough that night.
Day three revealed a round of altitude sickness for John. We left town late and didn't make it more than a couple blocks before he started feeling pretty ill. We decided to stop for lunch and get more calories and fluids in him to see if that helped. Around 1 pm he was feeling well enough to ride and we left Moriarty. The plan was to just keep ticking off miles since we had a long road ahead and every hour spent riding would add up in the end. We proclaimed this as a 'recovery day' and kept the pace slow. We had intended to fill our water either at a local store (which did not exist) or a local church yard (which was behind a locked gate) but neither was panning out. We probably could have made it further but had already learned the valuable lesson of managing our water supply and none of us felt too good about running as low as we were while still having enough to drink and prep meals that night.
On a whim, Odis flagged down a passing truck pulling a horse trailer and asked the driver about water sources. The two men gestured to stay put and pulled a mid-road u-turn into the closed church driveway. They explained there weren't many options locally for water, then opened the tailgate of their truck and offered us about a half-dozen water bottles from the cooler. After a brief chat we learned of a potential camp spot up ahead. Their suggested spot would have put us on the shoulder of a highway intersection and we weren't too comfortable with those arrangements. We decided to stick to our existing route and pushed on. As evening approached we started looking for potential camp sites but seemed to be surrounded by private property and no trespassing signs. It was dusk before we knew the next town wasn't going to happen this day. We had the intention of sleeping near a store on the map in the next town and now had to come up with an alternative. As we passed a private driveway we encountered a woman out for her nightly walk. We asked her if she knew of anyplace we could camp for the night. After leaving us to discuss it with her husband, we were invited inside the gate to camp on their property. There was just enough daylight left to quickly setup camp and prep meals before sunset.
Day four began with high energy and hopes. Revitalized from a low mileage day before and a good night's rest, we only had a couple miles before we made it to the small town we had aimed for the previous evening. It proved to be everything we had hoped. The locally owned stop had all the typical fares of a convenient store plus a small grocery section, microwavable burritos, and day old gas station coffee. It might has well been a Starbucks for us. We refilled all of our water containers, re-stocked a few food items and ate breakfast while occupying half the entrance and parking area with our junk. The owner was friendly enough and didn't complain although I suspect he was ready for us to move on. As the afternoon progressed we had conquered our first summit.
At 8100 feet it was a challenge for sure but I think we all were aware there was another climb to 9000 feet in our immediate future. On the way up we stopped at a state park and topped off our water again for the rest of the day. As we started down the fast dirt road downhill on the back side of the pass, I was aware of how exited I was and how uneasy John and Odis were. They are both very experienced road-cyclists but get a little uneasy on loose dirt descents. We agreed to wait at the bottom and I took off eagerly for the excitement of a few miles of fast rolling dirt. At the bottom I only waited for a few minutes before they both appeared so they obviously managed it well. We soon found ourselves on another paved highway climb, followed by one of the fastest and longest downhill sections I have ever managed on a loaded bikepacking setup. I was on a fat-bike that totaled 65 pounds with all my gear and water and I broke 40 mph on the way down. I was laughing out loud and probably yelling something funny too while Odis passed me. At the bottom, the fun was rudely and abruptly ruined by a 30 mph crosswind, desert heat and one of the longest, flattest, and straightest paved stints I have ever done while bikepacking. 20 miles later we reached a highway intersection and realized daylight was coming to an end. We needed somewhere to camp but the store that was marked on the map was non-existent. After scouting out a couple mosquito infested sandy areas near the Rio Grande river we kept moving. John located a potential spot under a railroad crossing that was not looking too appealing with the used syringes and graffiti so we decided to head to the upcoming RV park. While we were planning this route we consulted notes from the previous riders and saw the Kewa RV Park was flagged as 'not friendly to cyclists' and with photos in the blog of pro-gun and anti stranger signs, we were all a little apprehensive about even entering the property. One of us commented it was worth at least asking though and if they tell us to f#ck off then we will. We approached the building to find a closed sign that had only been flipped by maybe 15 minutes and a phone number to call for after hours check-ins. With the same nervousness we called the number. 3 minutes later a helpful woman walked up with her two kids and within 20 minutes we had paid for and checked in to the tent camping section. It turned out to be a very pleasant stop with hot showers included in the $20 per tent fee and they also had a few basic grocery items. Our concerns were relieved as she explained they were under new management and we agreed to spread the word that the Kewa RV park is now 'cyclist friendly'.
Day Five proved that we had mastered the morning process. Each of us had worked out our own routines by now and we could wake, eat and pack up in a little over an hour. Heading out we passed a construction zone where a historical bridge was being replaced with a more modern design and within an hour we were on another lonely desert dirt road. This route was like a mirage. Riding for an hour or two while looking at the distant mountains and seeing they never seemed to get any closer. Even though each of us had the capacity of 5 to 7 liters of water, we were painfully aware of how much we were drinking, and how barren the area was for any opportunity to refill. A passing truck informed us there were no options, they didn't have any water, and offered a warning to not drink any water we found in local tanks. We pressed on.
We were aiming for the Cibola National Forest boundary. As evening got closer we found a small spring and filtered water from there. Surrounded by animal tracks it proved the local furry residents were drinking there and we deemed it 'good enough for us'. Not far up the hill was a ghost town and church where there was evidence the church at least was still being cared for. The other buildings were in ruins and offered some nice photography opportunities. The church was accompanied by a graveyard with headstones ranging from the late 1800's through just a couple years previous.
We joked about how we might find out later that no-one camps here due to unruly and mischievous spirits. More on that later...
Nearby there was a community style covered area with a welcome sign that we took advantage of as a good place to make camp. We ended up foregoing the tents and flopped down directly on our sleeping pads and the concrete slab. Not that a tent provides much real protection, but somehow sleeping in the open air provides a sense of exposure that is tough to overcome unless you have 'cowboy camped' before. John and Odis slept behind a makeshift counter area and I opted for the middle of the open floor.
Just as I started to drift off, we were all jolted awake as the jetboil flew off the counter top along with a few other items and crashed loudly to the floor. A gust of harsh and unexpected wind had assisted in cleaning the counter from everything we had left on it. We picked everything up and looked around again still feeling slightly spooked. Shortly after they had gone back to sleep I was again startled awake by a rat or large mouse deciding the trash barrel about 20 feet away was too tempting to wait until morning. I finally dozed off at a late hour with one eye open. That was a pretty restless night for us all.
Day six started and by dawn we were all ready to get out of that area. This next part requires a little backstory... I have a military style bag that is a little smaller in size than a 2-liter soda bottle. It perfectly holds my jetboil, spork and one extra fuel can while still zipping shut before it is strapped to my bike. The previous night I had set the bag and jetboil on top of a nearby table while I cooked dinner with the intention of packing it up again after breakfast. As we were packing up to head out I could not find the bag. We walked the perimeter of the shelter and looked under, behind, and around everything in the area. It simply was not there. I commented about how the ghost of Santa Rita must have stolen my bag. Since I had not used the tent and had never unpacked it from the bike, it didn't take long to get everything ready to go for the day.
We joked about the local ghost taking my bag and I made a comment that I was going to freak out if I saw it hanging on one of the local tombstones. I strapped the jetboil directly to the cage and we rode out. As we passed the graveyard I hesitantly looked at the headstones not really wanting to see my missing bag hanging there.
As we worked our way up through the National Forest the route slowly changed from hard packed dirt road to soft washboard and sand. We knew this would be a low mileage day but we were looking forward to getting two meals in town and another hotel room for the night. Around lunch time we arrived in Magdalena and enjoyed lunch in a historical hotel. We found a room in a quaint little place and by this point we had gotten pretty good at cramming our three fully loaded bikes into a small room while we spread our gear out for resupply check and re-organization. We had a few conversations with locals and as night approached we devoured two pizzas between the three of us.
Day seven started with a 10 mile paved highway climb out of town. We were feeling strong and rested and by this point I'm pretty sure our bodies and minds had simply accepted this routine as 'our new lives'. We crossed over to dirt that slowly transitioned into an interesting old roadway with the gravel interspersed with evidence of old blacktop under the weeds. Several miles of riding on the abandoned highway switched over to another long straight stretch as we passed the VLA in the distance. On the horizon we could see the beginnings of the 9000 foot summit we would be climbing in a short while. Some abandoned vintage trucks at the foothills offered an excuse to rest and opportunity to take more photos and get off the bikes for awhile.
We started the longest climb to the 9000 foot summit which provided amazing views of the entire valley we had traversed that morning. We had developed individual methods of working through these long climbs. We would spread out and work it at our own pace while spending alternating times of walking, pushing and granny gear spinning at a 11% grade for several miles. I encountered a dozen false summits where the road that climbed ahead of me appeared to be the last one. It looked to be the highest point with nothing visible behind it. As I would reach the high point, the road would continue past the next curve and look identical to the one I just climbed. It was a twilight zone for awhile. I popped in the earbuds and started listening to an audio book to take my mind off the thought of climbing for an unknown amount of time. I ended up zoning out for awhile and realized I was looking ahead at some yellow signs directing cars to the next road. They were facing the other way... I had finally reached the top.
I rested the bike on a cattle guard at the highest point and grabbed a snack while taking some photos. Odis and John crested the mountain fifteen minutes later with a similar look in their eyes. We had done it. This was, at least in my mind, what I had set up as the hardest point of the trip. I had told myself that once I reached this point it would all be downhill from there. Kind of a cliche I know, but even though we would still encounter a 7000 foot peak, this was the highest point of the journey.
After conversing at the top for a few moments the colder temperature and increasing wind motivated us to move on and cut our summit celebration short. The downhill side was promising 2000 feet of elevation loss in. the next 10 miles and I for one was excited to experience that. We regrouped on the descent and rolled together through some beautiful forest and caves with frequent stops for more photos. It didn't take long from there to cover more miles and reach our campsite for the night. Around the fire John informed me I had earned the honor of 'King of the mountain' for reaching the summit first. I wasn't aware of this road cyclist tradition so we joked about not being 'such a roadie' while we toasted the accomplishment.
Day eight revealed a vantage point view of what was ahead of us. We could see most of the valley and the distant mountains leading to the next resupply point in the small village of Winston. As I packed up my tent I noticed something fall out of my handlebar roll. My missing black bag from the cemetery stop had somehow reappeared out of nowhere. Apparently the ghost of Santa Rita decided I could have my stuff back.
We all felt the morning ride would go quickly considering the large amount of downhill ahead. A few miles later the route once again proved how little weight our plans carried as we hit a wall of high headwind. The report on the weather app revealed 35 mph winds with gusts up to 50. At one point I hopped off the bike for a minute and squeezed the front brake to stabilize it. The wind hit so hard my bike began sliding backwards while dragging the skidding wheel despite the brake being on. My eyes were probably huge as I yelled at Odis to 'check this out!'. We all put our heads down and fell back into hill climbing mode and somehow managed to push through this tough section.
Eventually we arrived in Winston just ahead of another storm. We were only thinking ahead in 5 minute intervals by then and were only concerned with whatever food the small store might offer. After a welcomed rest and several hundred calories we departed again for the rest of the day. Climbing out of the valley we were greeted with the top of the pass and saw the storm had caught up with us. We experienced a run of sleet and freezing rain as we started down the other side. The storm was short lived and within the hour we were back in sunshine and blue sky again. At one point we were joking about breaking the speed limit as we rode through a small intersection town at 30 mph in a 25 mph zone. The up and down style of weather matched the stretch of hills and descents as we rode into Truth or Consequences. The wind was picking up and the temperature was dropping when evening approached and we found a hotel.
Day nine was teasing the possible end of the ride. We weren't sure how it was going to go, if we would be able to wrap up another 60 mile day or if we would need to camp one more night before finishing. We had already agreed to end our journey near Hatch and had rerouted to an alternate option trying to prevent some reported sandy sections. We ended up following a powerline dirt road through a gate where we had to call a posted number to obtain a combo for the lock. We went the wrong way down one trail and paused for awhile to question the accuracy of our GPS. After realizing all 3 devices showed us equally off-course we turned back and found the correct road. We spent the next hour navigating some pretty rocky and technical jeep road that was pretty much single-track in a few spots through the washouts, large rock, and mesquite branches that had broken off and littered the trail. They would puncture and stick to our tires as we rolled along causing us to second guess the amount of sealant we had used. Luckily we were fine and had no flats. We learned to not pull out thorns, just leave them in - I actually had one large mesquite spike stuck in my front tire that had been in the tire since Texas and I felt I should name it since we had developed such a long history together.Yep, you guessed it... "Spike" it is.
We reached the end of this dirt road and headed West on the last stretch of our journey. It followed the railroad track all the way to Rincon. At one point the road dipped down through some type of water crossing that would have been waist-high so we opted to get up on the tracks and walk a tenth of a mile or so until we passed that area before dropping back onto the trail. It required all three of us working together to push and pull each bike separately from the trail up the steep rocky embankment to get to the tracks. A couple deep washouts and some sandy miles later we reached the final gate.
As we closed the gate and arrived at the truck it was a odd mixture of accomplishment and disappointment that it was over. We had traversed over 400 miles in the last week and a half and just like that - we were done.