Tour Divide, Chapter 19

 

“…but I did find a water resevior for a cattle trough. I love finding those…”

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I woke up at 5 AM. Sleep did not come easily that night.  I had too much on my mind.  Today would be my last day on the tour.  I’d like to write that it was bittersweet, but that would be lying. It was sweet. Really sweet.

 
I carefully made it down from my nest, using both ladders as deftly and quietly as possible. I didn’t want to disturb my hosts, but something told me that they would be out cold until noon. I made myself a sandwhich, took some gatorade, and left them a little bit of change I had laying around for their hospitality. I couldn’t wait to hit the road.

 
The way out of Silver City was by pavement.  I hit the highway and pedaled south.  I passed through large red expanses that looked Martian in the early morning light.  I even got to see a large mining operation as I pedaled farther and farther south.  I had a while to go until I hit the desert.

 
It was mid morning when my tires finally touched sand. I ate a small snack while consulting my map.  This late in the game, I knew I had to be sure of where I was going.  The desert roads all looked the same to me.  About that time, the wind kicked up.  It was a tailwind, and only the third tailwind of the entire trip.

 
This let me zip through the desert roads with crazy speed.  I remember averaging 20 mph for a few miles. I was singing to myself and pushing forward hard.  I was happy to be alive, rolling, and so close to the end.  All that joy must have been the reason I didn’t see my turn off and went a mile off course.

 
I didn’t know this until I was literally in someone’s back yard.  Oops. Don’t shoot, I’m just a crazy, spanex-clad, smelly biker!

 
Back on track.  I ran over the last of the Continental Divide crossing of the trip rather unceremoniously.  In fact I only knew I did so much later while I was consulting the map.

 
The desert was fast. The tailwind and weather favored speed, and I was well rested and excited enough to push hard. I was through the desert in just a few hours, making my last calculated turn at a random, rather remote ranch. The route had us going right through this small ranch in the middle of the desert. It contained two water towers, a small house, a shiny-metal camper, a few 4×4 vehicles, and no signs of life.  From there it was just a few miles to Separ, which was a few scattered buildings.  The real exciting thing about Separ was that Interstate 10 ran right through it.

 
I-10? Hell, I’ve driven on that highway before!

 
I stopped at a garish looking roadside attraction/tourist trap to pick up a few supplies and eat some junk food.  This was the kind of place where you could buy all your Kokopellis, tiny cacti, serapes, sombreros,  and fireworks in one convenient location. While washing down my second honey bun with a root beer, I studied my map.  I had a four mile stretch of dirt road before I would be on pavement all the way to the border.

 
I sat down and took in my surroundings.  I-10 hummed every once in a while with the passage of a vehicle. Next to the empty gas pumps, the store had an old 1950’s chevy up on blocks with two fake (at least I hoped so) skeletons propped up in the front seat, grinning at the visitors as they walked in.  The store was mostly New Mexican knick-naks, junk, and postcards.    However their honey buns were as good as any, and the shade felt lovely. The desert didn’t have much in terms of shade, and my prospects didn’t look good farther down the road.  Beside the store was a small auto-shop that specialized in flat-repair. The sun reminded me that I was nearing the height of summer.

 
I packed my things and set off down the road.  It was a tiny, bumpy, gravel road that was pocked with potholes and washboard.  It was a culmination of all the terrible roads thus far. Thankfully, only four miles down the road I made it to pavement and began my final sixty or so miles to the border. I know I complain about the roads, but I feel that from about Del Norte to the border the road conditions went south.  I shouldn’t be complaining, since I’m a big tough mountain biker, but it is what it is.  My hands were tired of bumps.

 
I was on a paved road leading to Hachita, NM. This road cut directly south, away from I-10. My maps said there would be water, food, even chances for camping if need be. It was only an hour before I began to see traces of civilization.

 
Most of my riding that day had been through completely deserted land. Separ and Hachita, along with a few random outcroppings in the middle of the desert, were the only places I would see that really contained traces of civilization.  Hell, Separ even had a post office.

 
But as I pedaled into Hachita, something wasn’t quite right.  I had seen enough of this on the tour already, so I wasn’t too surprised.  Just another bump in the road.

 
The place was a ghost town. And when I say ghost town, what I really mean is that there was no one there.

 
Let me say that this is something that happens frequently on this route.  No matter how new your maps are, things change.  The year after I competed, I had a friend race.  He told me that where I had found water and food, there was nothing for him.  The entire route is always changing, growing and shrinking all at once.  If you want to ride it, do some research on the route. The last thing you want to do is rely on your maps, only to find your destination deserted.

 
Back to Hachita. I not only didn’t see anyone, but I didn’t see any sign of anyone.  Stores looked like they hadn’t been frequented in weeks. What vehicles I did see looked like they hadn’t moved in a while. Dust had settled on their windshields thick.

 
What this meant to me is no food or water.  No food? That’s ok, I can limp along another forty or so miles to the border on the peanuts and powdered donuts I saved from Separ.  But I needed water. I felt my Camelback sit much too lightly upon my shoulders.

 
As I pedaled out of this ghost town, an old church caught my eye.

 
Its walls were made of dark stone, and a heavy wooden door met its visitors. The roof looked like it had buckled a bit, and some of the northern wall was missing. It was a historic site for this town.  As beautiful as this sight was, my real interest was slightly to the left of the church.

 
Cattle.

 
A couple of skinny looking Brangus were staring at me hungrily. My eyes scanned the area until they fell upon the trough.  A water trough. My dirty salvation.

 
I walked away from the old church and gazed into the black water.  I didn’t know what looked worse, the water or the reflection in the water. There were bits of grass, dirt, bugs, and other unmentionables floating around in that stone trough.

 
I had four purification tablets left, and all of them got dumped into my Camelback. I gave the bag a good shake and an even better prayer before slinging it back onto my shoulders.
I had another forty miles before I hit the border. I started pedaling, but I had a new enemy to battle. I caught myself picking up speed  on the flat pavement that cut a black line through the desert.  Not that this was a bad thing, but I figured I had at the very least two and a half hours of riding to go. And I didn’t quite trust my poo-water and pack of crackers to get me there unscathed.  I had been subconsciously pushing hard all day, knowing that all my friends and family were watching me via my SPOT GPS. It was hard not to start speeding, but I knew the limit of my legs at this point in the ride.

 
While my speed slowly climbed, I saw two types of vehicles traveling the road.  Every once in a while, a van or truck with Mexican plates would be seeing trucking its way towards I-10.  For every one of these, I saw at least five green-and-white border patrol cars or trucks. I practically had a police escort all the way to the border.

 
In the end, my anticipation won out, and my average speed was pushing above eighteen miles per hour. It was a surreal experience.  I was singing Mexicali Blues and waving at all the border patrol agents. The cacti and brush baked under the desert sun, but I didn’t seem to feel it at all. The wind had picked up and was crossing my bike, but I hardly felt it. Cloud nine was being ten miles from the Mexican border on a bike.

 
Then some rude, crude, and poorly dressed driver in a candy-red Dodge Dakota pulled up next to me, nearly swerved into me, matched my speed, and yelled at me to “Get off the road!”
She then proceeded to take my picture.

 

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My fantastic friend and ride back to Texas had intercepted me while she made her way to the border. I waved and told her to meet me at the border. Laughing, she pulled away as I picked up the pace a bit.

 
I dug in for those last few miles. The effort of the day was starting to settle in, too much pushing and too little food. My mind knew this, but my legs never got the memo.  They kept on pushing. Off to my right I saw a lone windmill and smiled.  I knew the last map-cue when I saw it. Only three miles to go.

 
Rolling up the hill in wind, I could see the border checkpoint.  It was a mile away still, but I bolted. I held nothing back.  My legs burned severely but I still pushed on, head down against the wind. I looked up again and it was closer.

 
Antelope Wells, my final destination, was in reach.

 
To anyone else, it was nothing more than a gate, a few surly border patrol agents, and a big sign welcoming everyone to the US. To me, it was my white whale.

 
I felt weightless as I flew into the checkpoint, straight past the border patrol agents and across the border.

 
I wasn’t done until I was kissing that big, stone sign. The agents had to practically peel me off of it. My friend took pictures, which almost got her camera smashed into the ground by the border patrol guys.

 
Did I mention they were a bit testy?

 
I was singing as I stuffed my bike and gear into the back of her truck. I waved goodbye to the border patrol as my friend threw the truck into reverse and rolled away.

 
I wanted to hug her, but apparently I smelled like death. She made me wear an automobile air freshener around my neck on the ride out.

 
We exchanged fevered discussion about the events of the past month. It was all so much, so sudden.  Speaking at length with anyone I really knew was nearly foreign at this point. Sure I had phone conversations, but speaking in person was different.

 
I hadn’t even noticed that we were at I-10. What was this?

 
A sign said “70 miles to Demming”, which was our destination for the night.  Seventy miles? Damn, that’s going to take eight or nine hours on pavement.

 
I almost voiced my concerns to my driver, until I realized that I was being dumb.

 
What can I say, the Divide changes the way you think.

 
And yes, I would do it again.

 

 

Jamis2

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55 comments on “Tour Divide, Chapter 19

  1. Bill says:

    Pretty incredible story, Nick! Very well written.

    I live in AZ; would like to do the stretch from Separ, NM; to Pie Town. Not sure I even have the mental/physical stamina for that! Amazing that you did the entire route. Sincere congratulations!!!

  2. Josh says:

    wow what an awesome read 😀
    thanks for sharing such an amazing adventure!

  3. Hey Nick,
    I have just sat down and read the whole story, brilliant writing to. I’ve known about the Divide for years, but your personal story has made me really sit up and take notice. Thanks for taking the trouble to write it all up and to share it.

  4. Andrew says:

    I couldn’t stop reading once I started. Very well put together and sounds like just an amazing adventure. Good luck in your future attempts at it again! Makes me want to go ride right now. Unfortunately, we in Ohio are currently covered in that “snow” stuff you talked about.

  5. Nick, enjoyed the write up, brings back memories. We were at same pace to Helena and I eventually finished a couple of days ahead of you. I found a nice shop in Hachita with a comfy chair to buy drinks and some food.
    And the Scot you met was called Will Snow, last saw him just after Marshall Pass.

    • Nicholas says:

      That’s funny about Hachita. When I went through it was absolutely dead. That’s the GDR for you.

      Thanks for reminding me of his name. He is a really neat guy. His bike was something else too.

  6. Gary Kean says:

    Great story, everytime I read accounts like yours, I wonder if I could do it.
    But I like junk food, like to ride, but never have ridden so much on a daily basis………something to dream about.

    Thanks,Gary

  7. Dave B says:

    What a great read! (And that’s coming from someone who hates reading and stays away from books…) Very inspiring and a excellent job on making me feel the adventure (somewhat) Bookmarked and will definitely share.

  8. Mart says:

    Hi Nick,
    Thank you , congratulations and what a ride report. Couldnt stop reading it.
    You’ve help me plant my seed, now all I need is the right conditions for it to grow 😉
    Cheers’n’Beers
    Mart

    • Nicholas says:

      Mart,

      Hopefully it’ll grow quickly! I feel like the TD is one of those things you have to jump headfirst into. It’s great to try to plan for a specific year, but I tend to think in terms of “If not now, when?”

      Good luck, if you indeed attempt the ride!

      Nick

  9. unchew says:

    Awesome man thanks for writing it, great read.

  10. Marty says:

    Great read Nick. I like this quote from you adventure-
    If you’ve ever wondered if God has a sense of humor, take my word for it. He’s got one, and he loves deflating egos.

  11. Dave says:

    Great write up Nick. I couldn’t stop reading it either.
    I have been interested in coming over to the US and doing the Divide for a couple of years now and your “pedal stroke by pedal stroke” story certainly helps stoke the fire to give it a go. Just wondering if you used a gps or relied on the ACA maps? The navigation part in a foreign country( sun is in the wrong part of the sky!) worries me a bit. Cheers. Dave.

    • Nicholas says:

      Hey Dave,

      I used both the GPS maps and the ACA maps. My GPS map file only went to Atlantic City, WY. From then on I used the ACA maps. Those ACA maps are fantastic, and I trust that I can navigate the entire route using just those maps.

  12. Luc says:

    Been reading as much as I can about this epic ride, as eventually I would love to do it. Yours was truly very well written, and inspirational. Thanks for doing the time. I freak out about Bears, and you made me feel slightly better 🙂 Congratz for the accomplishment.

  13. Thanks for the fun read Nick. Great job illustrating that attitude makes the difference! You went out and did it for yourself because you wanted it, not for cocktail party conversation fodder, or some grand introspect. I think it is important that readers understand the value of just going out and doing, and you really showed us that. You rode, you ate, you got stalked by a mountain lion, you conquered! We have some fun rides up here in AK, so drop a line if you are ever in Anchortown.

  14. Ken GReen says:

    Well done. If you’re ever in SF I’ll buy you a beer or two 🙂

  15. jr says:

    Such a good read. Thanks

  16. Josh says:

    Awesome read – most first person accounts of the tour divide are mostly photos and videos – your words are so much better and inspirational than that. Thank you!

  17. Rob says:

    So I started reading this last night, went to bed woke up at 5am ( two hours before I normally do ) and first thought was continue reading your story. Such an awesome read………Questio were you penalized for hitching in WY ?

  18. jtreuel says:

    Incredible account of your heroics. Great writing style as well. I have also read Jill Homer’s book about her race and the more I read about personal accounts of this race the more drawn in I become. I truly feel it’s now or never and I’m planning to give it a shot. Thanks for the inspiration, tips and congrats on your finish. JT

    • Nicholas says:

      JT,

      You can totally do it! It’s entirely doable. I think that it’s all about your mindset. With that, everything else will fall into place.

      That, a little luck, and a lot of gas station burritos!

  19. Justin says:

    Great read! I like how you relied on words and not a ton of pictures to tell your story.

  20. Dan says:

    Awesome ride and an excellent write up ! Well done fella, big respect ! Take care and ride safe.

  21. Paul says:

    Fantastic writeup. Doing the event this year. Your story inspires me even more. Lots of little tidbits of learning as well. Thank you for that. Question: How much did you record each day? Either you have an incredible memory or must have taken notes often enough to spark such great and descriptive writing. Do share. How to record my experience is the last big thing I am trying to prepare for.

    • Nicholas says:

      Hi Paul,

      I used a journal to remember details and schedules from day to day, but while I was writing the piece I actually surprised myself with all i remembered. It was a lifechanging experience for me, and some days are burned into my brain.

      I had dreams for months following the ride.

      My journal was just a standard leather piece I picked up for 10 bucks. It worked fine.

      Are you headed northbound or southbound?

  22. Rob Davidson says:

    What a great read! I am currently hoovering up all the riding accounts I can on my way to TD 2014. Yours is one of the best – such great descriptions. I love the humour and the expressions of explosive, frustrated angst that filled your days. I felt like I was there – minus the saddle-sores!

    • Nicholas says:

      Hey Rob! Thanks for the kind words. TD is a wonderful experience, and I wish you the best of luck for 2014. This year will be interesting though. Plenty of people are out for the record.

  23. Rob says:

    Go you good things I say but my own goals are much more modest! Thanks for the reply. I will keep watching and reading for now. At this stage I can revel in my endless potential… The reality will no-doubt be a different story:-)

  24. mtbtrucker says:

    Great read Nick. Like many others, I couldn’t put it down. There’s no way I could commit the time needed to do the whole route but this July I’m planning to ride the route from Silverthorne to Summitville then bomb down the forest road to hook up with the family in South Fork, west of (and much nicer than) Del Norte. While I was reading your account of this section, I had my wonderfully descriptive ACA map out and followed along.

    Thanks for the write-up, David

    PS: mountain lions are really the only thing that freaks me out when I’m out alone

    • Nicholas says:

      I was more scared of bears. I’ve dealt with cougars before, but bears were a totally new aspect for me.

      Silverthorne to Summitville would be very nice. That’s a beautiful part of the route. It has plenty of climbing for you as well! Have fun with it, and take pictures!

  25. Pete Aron says:

    Awesome read, Nick. I can feel my own TD seed growing and a try at it in my not-too-distant future.

  26. Tom Morales says:

    Wow. That is all I have to say. Had to read it all in one sitting.

  27. John Girmsey says:

    Nick, I REALLY enjoyed your read…can’t believe you were 22? and writing with this much skill. It was a great, fun, inspiring read. I bothered the crap out of my wife while she was watching TV by running in and reading sections to her. 12 Bears….bears….only one black bear….grizzlies. Gripping!! I’m 55 and will retire by years end…riding parts of the Divide route are first on my list. Thanks for the amazing first person account! Best of luck!

    • Nicholas says:

      John, it’s hard to believe it actually happened. It’s just one of those things I guess. Definitely give it a shot! Bikepacking is great, and there are some really beautiful parts of the Divide!

  28. Duane Bishoff says:

    Nick, I agree with the other comments before me, great job putting us in your shoes. I rode part of the Divide from Whitefish to Lincoln with an ACA tour just after you rode through. I could totally relate to that section of the Divide. I am 55 now and I have hopes to possibly ride the whole thing also. Thanks for your perspective. Near the end when you met the four mountain bikers and you started shouting “I am Great” really got me. You are Great. You realized you can do anything you set your mind to. I am sure you will use this experience later in life to overcome other obstacles. Congrats!

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