“I am cooking pancakes for the road after eating 2 frozen pizzas and sucking down coke. The drink, not the drug.”
I had to somehow protect my delicate scalp from the New Mexican’s sun, but today’s 130 mile ride was completely uncovered with two places to restock on water and food. I was riding on pavement for the entire day, which was nice. But I had to ride through some pretty rough Native American reservation land. I saw enough roaming packs of dogs and not-so-understanding locals to put me on edge. I stopped forty miles into the ride to get food and water from a small grocery mart on reservation land. While I sat on the shaded concrete porch of this place, gleefully eating my candy bars, a lanky dog strolled up to me. It couldn’t have been more thirty pounds. It was amiable enough, so I shared my banana with it. It sat with me for a while as I rested. It didn’t have a collar, and I can safely assume it was a wandering stray. This little guy made me miss my own dog very much. I wished it well and stepped back onto my bike.
About sixty miles into the ride I stopped at a small store in the middle of the desert. When I say it was in the middle, I really mean it. Blue sky extended in all directions until it touched the dirty-red desert ground. It was rather flat, very dry, and I saw perhaps a handful of cars the entire day.
This small store had a few great things going for it. For starters, it had potato chips. It also had some packages of nuts, M&Ms, Gatorade, and a banana or two. But the best part about this little Native outpost in the desert was that it was fully stocked in bandanas.
Bandanas of every color and size were available to me. I picked out a white one and paid the nice lady for my new protective unit of clothing. From there to the border, if I was on the bike, I had that bandana do-ragged to my head.
After feasting on junk food, I was off again. Another seventy miles until I could stop for the night.
There’s really not much to say about this ride. It was unnervingly boring and annoying. It took a long while of pedaling through dusty, arid conditions in the middle of the day. The heat was getting to my head and the miles were getting to my legs. But a few (ok more than just a “few”) hours later I managed to roll into Grants/Milan, a rather large town that straddled an interstate. I found a bed for the night in a seedy little motel, stashed my belongings, and hobbled to a truck-stop diner.
My order actually caught the attention of two truckers standing by. They took interest in my ridiculous outfit, gave a smirk, but their interest turned to exasperated disbelief when I ordered two entrees, an appetizer, two drinks, and a dinner salad.
No matter what a man looks like, the ability to engulf huge quantities of food will always garner at least a little respect.
After I was properly stuffed, I passed out and promptly woke up after 7 hours of sleep.
It was a new day, full of sunshine, new places, and wondrous opportunities to make very bad choices.
I had consulted my maps the night before and concluded that, since I was fairly far south, I could send some of my cold-weather camping and riding things back home. It would lighten my load and allow me to put in more miles per day to get to the border just a bit faster.
So I marched to the post office and sent home my winter gloves, one large bag from my bike, and my sleeping pad and sleeping bag. I figured, hey I was in New Mexico now and it’s in the middle of the summer. Who needs a -7 C sleeping bag? Especially in the desert?
Even as I typed that last part, I cringed a bit and had to fight from kicking myself for past mistakes. More on how dumb I am later.
I ate a huge breakfast, hopped on my bike, rode pavement for about forty miles, then hopped onto the nastiest dirt road to date.
Every half mile the road would disappear into a sandpit large enough to trap a truck. Other than that, it was very rough and seemed to always go uphill. It was arguably the roughest thirty miles of “easy” road I had come across. I figured I would be in Pie Town in three hours when I hit the dirt road, but that stretched to nearly four and a half hours.
Which was just enough time for everything in Pie Town to be closed.
I must speak of the importance of Pie Town. It’s a tiny community that’s only breath of life keeping it from sinking into the dust and dirt of southern NM is its pies. The town is famous for pies. Mouth watering, succulent, wonderful pies.
But by the time I had gotten there, nothing was open. I rolled up to the pie shop only to find a locked door an no lights on. I lost it. I was deliriously hungry, and began kicking the door and screaming. If there was anyone around, they didn’t dare interrupt my tirade of curse-words aimed at the pie shop.
I tore myself away before I pulled a B&E for a few slices of pie. I consulted my maps and notice that this town had something called the “Toaster House” that hikers and bikers could use to restock and refuel. The only thing I had was its name and the fact that it was on the main route through the community.
As I walked my bike through the “community” (which consisted of about 5 or 6 houses and a few random trailers), it was clearly obvious which house was the “Toaster House”.
In fairly standard New Mexican fashion, the Toaster House was a rag-tag Frankensteine building with enough junk and Kokopellis to nearly obscure the entrance. I walked through a tall round metal gate with old toasters hanging anywhere there was room to wrap a cord. I pushed open an old weathered door and walked into the greatest hippy-house I’d ever seen.
From what I knew about this place, hikers and bikers used it to rest and restock. It was kept up by an old Hawaiian woman. However, I didn’t know if anyone was currently occupying it. Slowly I moved from room to room, scanning each corner and flipping on light fixtures as I went.
All around me was stuff. Stuff filled every corner, was stacked on top of every bit of space. Stuff on top of stuff. Playing cards on top of a coffee tin that sat next to a lighter and a stack of old climbing magazines that had some headphones laying on top of them with the cord dangling off the table nearly touching a few boxes of stuff.
Stuff stuff stuff. It was a cluttered mess. It was like if the house was rented out to thirty people and they all moved in at once.
I climbed the 2×4-constructed staircase to the small sleeping area on the second story. Bunk beds and sleeping mats were all that were here. The outdoor patio area had a fridge and freezer. The inside had a fridge as well, along with a sink of dirty dishes and random foodstuffs in every corner.
Magazines, newspapers, cigarette cartons, a stuffed bear, you name it and it was there.
I did manage to find the house’s ledger, however. I wrote who I was, what I used, and thanked the wondrous trail angel. They didn’t just keep me sane and fed, but all of pie town safe from my fit of hunger-induced rage.
I consulted my map as I ate two frozen pizzas and drank a few liters of coke. I had the Gila ahead of me, which is by far the toughest part of the course. No food, very little water, miles and miles of jeep/ranch road through a whole lot of beautiful nothing. It was only a bit after 6 PM. I decided I needed to put more miles in that night.
But what about food? What did I have? There wasn’t much else in this house other than beer and Gatorade mix. Unless that yellowish box is something. What is it? Is this? Could my tired eye be deceiving me?
No, they were not. I had just found a box of Bisquick. I quickly ascertained that I also had access to a few eggs. I found a few zip-lock bags stuffed among the cluttered kitchen. There was a small, portable electric cook-top sitting on top of a non-functioning gas cooking range. I had to fight with it to get it to work, but it started. I found and old pan deep inside a cabinet.
So my plan was clear: I was to cook a few pounds of pancake matter to keep me going through the Gila.
I used all the Bisquick that was left in the box, which made approximately six pounds of pancake. I packed it all in zip-lock bags, filled my water, took the little liter-coke bottle and put it to water-carrying duty as well.
With a longing look at the warm pancake house, I suited up and began to ride. I was chipper, if anything. Which was odd, seeing as how I just passed up a perfectly good bed for the night. The sun had gone down and I was riding by headlamp. I seemed to thrive in these unknown situations, a trait that’s sure to get me killed one day. How far would I go? Where would I sleep? What was ahead of me? I didn’t know, but I kept going. I kept going for another fifteen miles after Pie Town before the freak rain hit.
It wasn’t a huge rain. It wasn’t a really cold rain, nor was it heavy. But it was sudden and took me by surprise. However, my headlamp shone upon my savior for that night.
Beside the sandy road was a bunch of road-building equipment. A grader, backhoe, and bulldozer stood silent in the night. And in the middle of all of them was the huge trailer that pulled them all to this spot.
I put my bike up against a tree, out of sight of the road, grabbed my essentials, and ran for the trailer. once I was safely under the trailer, out of the rain, I slipped on every piece of clothing I had.
However, this amounted to my jersey, a tech-t-shirt, rain-pants, rain-jacket, shoes, and bandana. The rain pushed the temperature down and made it humid. The cold sand I lay on was unforgiving. I shook until I didn’t have the energy to shake anymore. My teeth were sore from the constant shivers, and as soon as I would almost get comfortable, a bit of rain would find its way between the large wooden slats of trailer and splash coolly upon my face.
And all I could do was grin, giggle, and think “Thanks, NM Department of Transportation, for your wonderful trailer.”
Also I’m fairly certain I was delirious again, because I’m fairly certain I was closer to death that night than I had ever been. I woke up at 4:30 in the morning because I was too cold to sleep. That was an odd feeling. I woke up thinking “I shouldn’t be awake yet, I haven’t really slept and it’s dark out, but I think if I fall back asleep I may not get back up.”
The more I forced my tired, groggy brain to function, the more I slowly realized that I was probably in a state of hypothermia. But, since my brain was slow from the cold night, this thought only registered with mild curiosity.
I was absolutely drained and felt like passing out again. I was on the bike for an hour and a half before I felt comfortable enough to remove any part of my clothing. By the time I was refilling a bit of my water at a dirty cattle trough, I began to realize just how lucky I was to be breathing. Memories of every hypothermia death came flooding into my mind. I found myself in a light rain, it only got down to about 55 degrees, but without the right equipment that’s easily deadly.
I shook it off and vowed not to be a stupid again. A promise I’m sure to break at some point.