I don’t think I can find the right words to really do this adventure justice and describe just how close childlike excitement and utter exhaustion lie together on a daily basis.
Three days ago we left Vallecitos, the former, small but rather prosperous Timber town in northern New Mexico. It was very interesting (and definitely a bit sad) to hear Arnold talk about the place’s history. ‘This was a big store and this used to be the dance hall in the 1950s when I was a young boy..!’ pointing at the derelict building opposite us. In any case, we were very thankful to be let into the community centre to stay that night. The rat wasn’t to be seen again..if only the same could be said about the mosquitos..
To our surprise there was a paved road going out the other end of Vallecitos and we enjoyed the easy terrain for the first 10 or so miles of day 11. Not long though that we were back on the dirt and the gradient started to rank up too. The weather seemed a little colder and more overcast than the days before but we didn’t think much of it. However, we had been warned about the very special ‘New Mexcian mud’ and that some parts of the trail become practically unrideable when wet and the enormous craters previously passing cars had left visible even on dry paths were in fact testimony of that. Still we didn’t quite believe it until we experienced it – after all riding in the English winter is practically defined by mud. So it started raining (and hailing!) and after having put on our rain gear and waiting it out for a few minutes we decided to keep going. It felt fine for about a quarter of a mile until we both almost came off and within a minute our bikes were totally clogged up worse than anything I’ve ever seen. I was simultaneously laughing and crying watching Richard trying to push his 30kg load!
Of course we were in the middle of nowhere so all we could do was to push on for a bit and hope for the rain to stop. It did stop pretty quickly but the damage had been done. What made it harder was the knowledge that we’d have to camp out somewhere tonight as were way too far from the next town. 50 miles into the day and slightly less than what we had hoped for, we made camp somewhere. I was the first day I felt myself struggling a bit, I was shattered and just wanted to crawl into my sleeping bag.
However, warmed up and dry and after almost 10 hours of sleep, the next morning (day 12) things seemed alright again. Still we knew we had another though day of riding ahead of us before hopefully reaching Platoro, a small mountain town that was said to have cabins and a little restaurant. Sweet! That, together with another service stop coming up after 30 miles in Horca and the crossing into the state of Colorado, kept us going for the morning.
And plenty of motivation was needed as we hit incredibly challenging terrain and – no joke – it took us 5 hours to ride the first 25 miles of the day! Crossing the Colorado state line and seeing the scenery changing with streams of fresh mountain water everywhere was cool but at that point I was too knackered to appreciate it fully. Finally we hit the Tarmac and I think I’ve never been happier to see a road. What followed was an insane 7-ish mile descent into Horca on the State Highway 17. We were cruising at almost 50 miles an hour! (A welcome change from the 4 mph that morning). In Horca we were excited to stock upon some supplies and to have a little delayed lunch break . According to our map there was a gift store which sold snacks and cold drinks, perhaps a restaurant. Surprise, surprise, nothing was open and we both felt a bit desperate. I was starving and couldn’t face even the 20 something miles to Platoro, our planned destination for the day. Richard decided to ask a lady he saw in a garden, just beside the route, whether there was anywhere to get food. We couldn’t believe it when she offered to make us some sandwiches and was waving us in. Anette and her husband Stan, from near Albuquerque, soon turned out to be the most amazing hosts offering us a full blown lunch buffet and even sandwiches to take. We were entirely humbled by the generosity of the two and we couldn’t stop grinning as we pedalled off towards Platoro fully refuelled. People are good and this ride has proven this in so many ways already. Anette and Stan – if you’re reading this and do ever want to visit a quintessential English village then do please get in touch, we can promise thatched cottages, castles, and stunning coastal views where we live in Glynde, East Sussex.
In Platoto, a small fishing and hunting town at over 9000 feet we stayed in the Gold Pan ‘Divide Cabin’ with toilet and showers facilities nearby, which felt like a real luxury. We ate Pizza and chatted to the guy in the RV parked next to us, who told us he just drove 28 hours straight from Chicago to spend a month or so out here to ‘work out problems with his wife.’
Thankfully the day looked relatively ‘easy’ with just under 50 miles to the ‘all services’ town of Del Norte. That usually means a proper dinner, a shower and bed. Having said that today’s route would also lead us over the highest point encountered in the entire GDMBR with the Indiana Pass at 11910 feet! To make things even more interesting, Elwood Pass which leads to Indiana Pass from Platoro had only been officially opened to bikers (not yet vehicles) by the Foresty Commission two days ago due to the still considerable remains of last winter’s snow.
What that meant we found out at about 12 miles into the ride. Getting off the bike and pushing it over knee-deep patches of snow and getting wet feet remained a feature for a considerable part of the morning. Still it was exciting to experience it and all appeared like a different universe to the southern New Mexican desert.
Higher altitude also meant cooler temperatures and with thick dark clouds hanging over the impressive summits and rain on and off we must have stopped to change clothes a dozen times.
After 25 miles of climbing and again almost 5 hours of solid riding having passed already we finally reached the top. It was too cold to hang around for long but we rewarded ourselves with what was left of the peanut butter and jam sandwiches lovely Anette and Stan gave us the day before.
Approaching Del Norte and having dropped more than 3000 feet within such a short distance, the scenery changed once again and we felt like having re-entered New Mexico.
Yet another Pizza and local beer for dinner later we’re ready for bed and hopefully another 60 miles tomorrow. In the knowledge of no more such luxuries for the next 3 days I could swear everything has been tasting extra special in Del Norte. Night night!