Tour Divide, Chapter 15

“Was served free pancakes with breakfast.  God does love me!”

I took the morning easy. I had just eighty or so miles before I hit Cuba, NM, and it was along a totally new route.  I had no idea what was ahead of me, but I knew I wasn’t going anywhere without a big breakfast and caffeine. After personally decimating the town’s supply of poultry eggs and salted pork, I walked over to a coffee shop for a chai latte.

I know what you’re thinking. “Wow, Nick, you’re not really treating this like a race, are you? You might as well shave your legs and trade your mountain-bike in for a nice road bike.”

Considering my first goal was finishing, and my second goal was to finish in under 35 days, I was doing pretty well with time. I was also tired from yesterday’s spin-fest. I drank my warm beverage as I talked with Lucile and packed my gear.  I didn’t have far to go today, but I didn’t have anything between myself and Cuba.

However, at the time, I did not know this.  Luckily I bought a hamburger in Chama as I left town.  Without this, I’m pretty sure I would have died.

The route today was fairly straight-forward.  I followed the highway out of Chama for a bit, then turned off onto another small paved road.  This road had a sign at its start that said “Lake-Side General Store! Cold Drinks! Good Food! Air Conditioning! RV Hookups! Come on down! 12miles”

Twelve miles before I could be sipping a cool drink? Too good to be true. After this sign, every other mile was a sign for this general store. Towards the end, I could practically taste the ice cold root beer as it danced around my mouth. I think the heat was starting to get to me.

Not seeing any cars on this road should have been my first sign, but my hopes were high and my water was running low as I rolled up on an overgrown rest-stop.

The place had been abandoned for quite some time. Nothing was here.  It was truly a dead place.

I sat under the awning of this abandoned gas station.  It’s white walls were cracked and insects scurried away from my lyrca-clad bum as I found a suitable place to sit and mope.

Never get your hopes up for cold root beer on the Tour Divide.  It never ends well.

I ate half of my burger and all the french fries. I was low on water, and I didn’t trust this next section.  I was going through national “forest” land, which meant desert and dusty roads. I was passing over a dam, however, so I decided to walk down to the water and fill my bag.  There was a single individual fishing. I popped two water-purifying pills into my Camelback and took off.

The road after the dam was dusty and bumpy.  Washboard was my constant companion these days. My wrists really hated washboarded roads at this point.

The national forest land I rolled through was red, dry, gravelly, with large, steep, rounded hills protruding all around me. A few old car frames, like rusty skeletons, poked out of hillsides here and there. Buzzards dotted the sky and I caught the smell of wood smoke every once in a while when the wind was right. After miles of badly eroded road, the dirt morphed to pavement and I was allowed to climb out of the valley.  It was hot, but I had to conserve what water I had. For all I knew, there was no other place to fill up between myself and Cuba.

To the east I could see smoke. Far away the world was on fire. The smoke hung in the air, even on this alternate route. This year half of New Mexico was on fire, hence this uncharted re-route. I had a few more hours before I hit Cuba, but thankfully I was out of the red, dry desert for now. I was surrounded by trees and grassland, making my way up long rolling hills through a sparse countryside. There were old farmhouses and trailers two my left and right, spread far out.

Then I ran out of water.

I guess it had gotten hotter. I didn’t realize how much I was drinking, or how I was sweating.  I must have needed it.  But now I was a few hours out, the day was hot, and I had no idea where my next water point would be. As I stopped and stared longingly at a ditch of putrid looking water, a truck stopped to ask if I was ok.

A few Mexican men were staring at me, most likely wondering what the hell I was. I choked out my situation and the driver threw the truck in park and grabbed a gallon jug of fresh water from behind his seat. He gave it to me readily. I offered to pay him, but he simply stated that I may need it more than he.

Trail angels in an old chevy truck, those guys. I thanked them profusely  and refilled my Camelback, throwing the last few swigs into my parched throat. I was back on the road once again, watching road signs come and go.  They announced a town hardly ten miles away.  I had no idea what the size of this town would be, but I hoped they would have something to eat. That burger was long gone, and I had no reserves.

That town turned out to be a few deserted buildings and a gas station that closed its doors at 4 PM on weekends. Giving Del Norte a run for its money, I see.

Dejected, but determined, I sauntered on. I had another twenty miles before Cuba.  It was all paved roads, up and through the hills and trees of northern New Mexico.

I rolled into Cuba two hours later. I was insanely hungry, but with mind enough to grab a motel room before I went for food. There was a small southwestern Mexican food restaurant (Because “TexMex” was unheard of out here, those poor fools) next to the motel I booked for the night. I walked across a parking lot in my vibrams, rain jacket, and full biking kit. The vibrams were to let my feet stretch out, and the coat was to hide my smell.

I walked into the restaurant and chose a booth away from everyone else. No need for my smell to attract unwanted glares. There seemed to be a single waitress working that night, but with only four tables it was completely doable. I told her to not worry about me, I was happy with a pitcher of tea, some tostadas, and something to sit on that wasn’t a bike seat. She was a pretty, young Hispanic girl, and a great waitress.

However the dinner crowd began to rush the place not twenty minutes after I arrived.  The place swelled, and suddenly this waitress had at least fifteen large tables to deal with. I really felt for her, as you could see she was getting flustered. Both myself and Lucile had worked service jobs before, so I could sympathize. I made my order simple, easy to remember, and told her to take her time. She caught that I knew she was under a lot of stress. The burrito took a while to get to me, but it didn’t matter. I was happy to be at my destination. Today had been hard on me. I could feel my body become worn.  I remembered back a week before this kind of day wouldn’t have been a problem at all. I figured the heat was just getting to me.

This Texan had spent too much time in those damned mountains. I needed to get back to my sweltering roots if I was to finish this race strong.

When I was done with my meal, I walked up to the register to wait on the waitress.  She was also the only one working that as well. When I reached into my wallet, I could see she was visibly flustered. I had noticed people getting upset at the service, and even heard quiet jeers and comments.

If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s people treating others like dirt for doing their job.

I reached into my wallet and, in my arguably unstable mental state, tossed thirty dollars at her. I’d like to think that it wasn’t so much an extravagant tip as payment for a job well done. But what really made it worth it was the way her face lit up and those tired, frustrated eyes opened in astonishment. Her mouth formed a breathless “Thank you” and I wished her good luck with her shift. We both nodded to each other, and she readily stepped back into the fray of refilling drinks and serving up extra ranch with their dinner salads.

That night I slept hard. I had a long ride in the morning.  From Cuba to Grants was 130 miles of pure highway, mostly flat, through the Native American reservation lands of middle New Mexico. I could count on it being hot.

Which brings me to an interesting fact.  Somewhere near Del Norte or Chama I lost my helmet.  I’m not sure where, not sure when, but I must have left it somewhere along the route.  It may have been in a dirty motel room or the side of the road somewhere while I was relieving myself. It might have been in a restaurant somewhere, who knows? But I had no helmet for all of the New Mexican part of this race. Don’t tell UCI, they might take my ranking away from me.

Which brings me to yet another interesting fact.  Even if you have hair, you can get a sunburn on your scalp. Crazy, I know, but nothing nails that fact home better than stepping under the hot water of a steamy shower and feeling a million tiny fire-ants suddenly wage war on your skull.



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