In Del Norte, getting groceries. My stomach’s a little distended from the giant taco salad I just annihilated. I found the Kiwis at a Mexican place - Geoff was still hungry after his first meal, so he ordered another one. The waitress was stunned and maybe a bit offended. (From what I know about Mexicans, they pride themselves on feeding people well.) Then the very hungry Kiwis split a big fried ice cream. Then the staff was just impressed.
I wander the aisles, something that drives Montana crazy when he tries to shop with me. There’s nothing fancy, but they’ve got the classic gluten-free Mexican staples. I pile corn tortillas, avocados, cheese, summer sausage and eggs into my basket. Then a bag of trail mix and extra M&M’s for good measure. Tomorrow I’m making breakfast, damn it.
While I’m loading up my bags, a guy in the parking lot comes over to chat. He’s wearing baggy shorts and a cycling jersey with cut-off sleeves, like the good old boys in West Virginia. He rides a lot, but hasn’t heard of the Divide race. Do I need a couch or a shower? I turn him down - race rules. I’ve already got a room at the hostel in town, anyway. He inspects my bike.
“That’s a nice light there!” he says. “You’d better start using it if you wanna win!”
I laugh. He’s right. I’m calling it a day at 8:30. But I’m beat from a day in the hot open high desert. I need a shower, a good sleep and real food before Indiana Pass. Anyway, it’s dusk now. I plug in my light and spin down the street.
The top of Indiana Pass is at 11,910 feet. I walk up the last turn, breathing shallow. Way up here, cell phone service is good. I’ve been getting texts from my dad - he says the first and second place girls are both disqualified for going off-route. It’s just Peggy and me, and she’s a day ahead. But I probably won’t catch up now. I’ve taken too many mental health breaks to make a fast time.
At the top, I lay my bike down. I’ve been climbing about four hours. Time for a pee and a snack. I drop my shorts on the open rocky hill, then wash my hands and open one of my last Bobo’s Oat Bars (bought in Frisco). I’s windy and quiet. The mountain ridges are bright and sharp against the sky. Something rumbles down the road.
A dozen quads roll up and stop in a big dusty cloud. Retired-looking people in hiking clothes pile out and look around, wiping grit off their sunglasses. Someone sees me.
“Where you headed?” he asks. I point at my map - Platoro. “Oh well, that’s a hard road. You with that guy we passed back there? We sure did dust him!” I half-explain the Tour Divide concept, but these people don’t care to listen. I get on my bike and wave goodbye.
“Good luck!” A guy says, “Hope you make it!” Buoyed by that vote of confidence, I start to descend.
Except it’s not really a descent. The road to Platoro is beautiful and brutal - up and down, rough and windy. Quads, trucks and dirt bikes throw dust up in my face around every corner. A guy asks me directions to somewhere. I don’t know.
Damn, these are the most amazing mountains I’ve ever seen. The plant peaks are streaked red, gold and orange. I stop and stare, wishing I could camp here and see these hills at sunset. But I’m almost to Platoro, and there’s a cafe. I cruise down the final hill, wave hello to the Northbound rider grinding up, and think about eating a burger.
So far, northern New Mexico isn’t much different from southern Colorado. It’s green and cool as Alex and I pick our way along Brazos Ridge. There was even frost on the grass this morning. A herd of elk crashes through the trees off the trail.
Alex caught me last night, when I stopped, exhausted, to camp at the New Mexico border. We decided to ride together for a while, since we keep ending up at the same place.
We’re close to the end now. Last night I had a nightmare that there was an extra state to cross after New Mexico ended. It’s not real, I promise myself, you’re almost done.
At the bottom of a rocky hill, we see some dogs. Alex rides past, but I slow down.
Someone yells from the woods, steps out and waves at the dogs. I stop and the three dogs circle around me, wagging tails. A man in a big hat wearing jeans and a heavy blue flannel comes over.
“Como esta?” he asks, smiling with big brown crinkly eyes. We chat for a minute - he’s happy that I can speak in broken Spanish. He’s a shepherd living on Brazos Ridge. His sheep are bleating in the forest. The shepherd is from Chihuahua. He tells me that the road ahead is very very malo. I laugh and nod, bid him adios. He shakes my hand with both of his and grins. I start pushing my bike up the rocky hill.
We’re cruising on pavement, watching heat rise in wobbly waves on the horizon. This year’s fire detour routed us out of the forest and through Tres Piedras, a tiny old railroad town with a restaurant/motel called the Chili Line Depot. When we stopped I got dizzy from deja vu before I recognized the place. Montana and I stopped for lunch there after his race in 2013. I told the owner, Deb, and promised to stop back through on our way home. We hid from the sun there for almost an hour.
At the turn to Vallecitos, I take out my emergency whistle. Alex turns the safety off his bear spray. Vallecitos is infamous for its mean dogs. We roll carefully through the tiny, crumbling town. Two big dogs in a driveway bark once, then a guy calls them inside. They back off. We’re almost out of town when two tiny terriers launch off their porch and run next to us, nipping our tires. We laugh and put away our weapons.
Pushing up the hill from Abiquiu, now it’s really hot. We walk up and over the dusty, dry slabs of rock, determined to get to Cuba before sunset. It was a late start, since we had to wait for the only store in Abiquiu to open at 8:00. As usual, my bags are stuffed with enough granola bars and nuts to get me through all of New Mexico. This food is heavy, but healthy pickings are pretty slim up ahead.
As we climb, I stare at the ground. Two sets of footprints next to one tire track - one big, one small. Must be the tandem. Rocky loose crap is not their forte. At least it’s getting cooler up on the ridge.
In Cuba, we’re shattered. We stop at McDonald’s for slimy burgers and fries. Not my best dinner. The Kiwis track us down and join our dirty dinner party. They didn’t have fun getting here, and they’re in a hotel for the night. We could join if we want. Sounds tempting, but there are 126 miles on flat, hot pavement ahead. Better to do in the dark.
We stock up on caffeine and sugar at the gas station. Finally I’m using my lights. It only took about 20 days.
I’m sitting in Sonic, staring into an empty ice cream cup. I could get another, but I don’t. Alex is making me nervous, fiddling with his phone and mumbling. I look outside. The day is white-hot, sun practically cracking the pavement. Little kids at the table next to us are yelling. I excuse myself to have a quiet mental breakdown in the bathroom.
Last night we rode under the starry sky until we both zonked out around 1:00. We set alarms for 4:00, to get rolling before sunrise. I think I annoyed Alex with my slow packing and morning rituals - drink coffee, eat a granola bar, sit and stare at nothing for half an hour. We didn’t start until the sun was nearly risen.
Then somehow I managed to get ahead of Alex on the road. He dropped back, caught up, then sat 20 feet behind me while we spun the endless hot, windy miles to Grants. I put headphones in and tried to ignore it. He’s not doing it on purpose. If my mom were there, she’d tell me to ride my race. But jeez, he should be way ahead of me.
By the time we got to Grants, I was overheated, over-caffeinated and grumpy. We couldn’t keep pedaling in this weather. Now we’re waiting out the heat.
In the bathroom, I splash cold water on my face and blow my nose. At least it’s stopped bleeding.
I repack my bags while we wait - cold-weather and rain gear stashed deep in my handlebar bag, making maximum room for snacks. I pull out my ACA maps. Jesus, still 50 miles to Pie Town. Then a million miles of the hot mean Gila. I hate the stupid desert. I try to call Montana, but he doesn’t pick up. The day’s cooled down to 90 degrees, so we hit the gas station for snacks.
I stare at my overloaded bike. Alex is ready to roll. I don’t want to go. I don’t want to ride the rest of New Mexico, but I have to. I lose my shit. Big gulping hiccup cries. Snotty nose. Alex looks freaked out, as he should. I’m being a nut.
“Sorry,” I whine, “I’m just tired.”
He asks if I want to go sit in the shade. A lady comes over and asks, “Is everything okay here?” She looks skeptical, like I might be damaged or deranged. I wipe my puffy eyes and reel it in. I pound another box of coconut water, get the hiccups.
“Let’s just go,” Alex says. “Standing here will just make it worse.” I snivel.
Pie Town doesn’t have any pie. At least for the next 45 minutes. We’ve got nowhere to be, so we park at a booth and wait.
This morning Alex and I picked up Mac, a chipper Englishman with a quick cadence and a funny sun hat. Mac should’ve been way ahead of us, but he had a tough ride into Cuba - involving a chipped bone in his elbow and a leaky bear spray canister. He’s in a good mood, happy he didn’t have to quit. After a good night’s sleep, I feel like a person again.
The Pie Town Cafe is the only cafe open in Pie Town at 10:00 a.m. on a Wednesday. The place is packed, and our food comes out a little slow. That’s okay, we’re happy to sit.
It’s the best breakfast I’ve had on the Divide - a big veggie omelet with potatoes and homemade corn tortillas. I wish there was more, but a second order would take another hour. When we finish, there are pies! The waitresses bring them around, passing pies under people’s noses. We cheerfully pull out the special Tour Divide top caps we got in Banff. Every rider who makes it to Pie Town gets free pie, thanks to Salsa Cycles. (Thanks, Salsa!)
I order a slice of coconut pie with ice cream, and eat around the crust. It’s perfect.
We finish eating and face the fact that it’s noon already. The entire Gila Forest is still there, waiting for us. But we feel good, high on our fat slices of breakfast pie. Alex buys a tea towel for his wife, then we roll out of town feeling festive.
It’s 2:00 p.m., and we’re walking our bikes along the CDT. It’s rocky and steep. This ridge is hot like an oven. Sweat evaporates as soon as it comes out, leaving a layer of crusty salt on my skin. I ate the last of my food a minute ago, and my water’s almost gone. Not that it matters - I’m parched even after I drink. Six miles of this crap. I turn my Garmin off.
Last night we rode as far from Pie Town as we could and camped at the Beaverhead Work Station. That part of the Gila was gentle and mostly flat. But the second half of the Gila’s been everything I was dreading - punchy, scrabbly climbs and blistering sun. I’m cracking in a big way.
Finally the trudge on the CDT ends, and we drop off the ridge. Climb so slowly back up to Pinos Altos, totally shattered.
“That was terrible,” I say.
“Yep,” Alex agrees. “Let’s never talk about it again.”
We plan to celebrate our Gila crossing with a cold Coke at the saloon in Pinos Altos, but it’s closed. We drop down to Silver City, find a Mexican restaurant, hide from the sun in the air conditioning. I want a margarita, but stick with diet Coke. By the time Alex eats most of his football-sized burrito, it’s getting dark again.
We stop at the Silver City gas station for our last sack resupply. Peanuts, M&M’s, Clif Bars. These things make me gag, but there’s nothing else to buy. One more night and day left. I think I can stand it. The gas station attendant chats with us while we pack our bikes.
Silver City isn’t the prettiest place, but the locals are aggressively nice. A cop tells me to be safe on the road, a local fireman offers us all the bike tools in his garage. A big tattooed guy walks past holding a pit bull puppy - “Poor little guy! I think he’s lost!” Another guy tells us to visit his donut shop downtown. They make me smile.
We roll out into the night toward Separ, with a big tailwind pushing us down the highway. Alex starts rolling faster than me. I let him go. I’d rather ride out the last 100 miles alone, anyway. I ride into the dark until the tailwind dies down, then pull off into the creosote to sleep.
The road is an endless hot strip through the stale monotone desert. I’m thirsty, even though I just stopped in Hachita for a cold drink. I’m also hungry and a little nauseous. The Takis and beef jerky aren’t helping. Shut my eyes for a minute, swerve, get back in the right lane. These saddle sores are fiery. I just want to get off my bike. Radiolab turned up loud in my ears. Try to zone out, almost done. Would it be cheating if I took all the bags off my bike and left them by the road?
Thirty more miles. Mile-markers should be illegal. The road turns left, a hot hairdryer wind blasts me back. I yell at the sky. Turn again, the wind quits.
Twenty. Something’s behind me. I twist around. The Shark! The blue hulking box on wheels is bearing down on me, bright against the silvery sky. Montana in the driver’s seat, smiling big. He passes me, pulls to the side and gets out. He’s wearing a new flowered shirt.
I stop for a hug - and maybe hug too hard. He pulls away. I must smell pretty bad right now.
“You’re almost done!” He says.
“Two more hours!” I laugh-cry a little. He gets back in the Shark and rolls down the road to wait. A few wispy clouds hide the sun.
Elbows down on the aerobars, I try to ignore my saddle sores. Miles ticking slowly down - in the teens! I don’t need this much water, so I dump half a bottle on my head. It trickles down my shoulder blades.
Three more to go, I can barely spin over 13 mph. Whatever. This is just a run down the block. It’s a long three miles. Then there’s the border station! The Shark looms over the horizon. Alex and Montana are waiting there, squinting in the bright sun. I can’t believe it’s over.