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