Shit hits the fan in New Mexico

Trip Start Jul 15, 2009
Trip End Jul 15, 2010

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In the snow

Flag of United States  , New Mexico
Thursday, October 15, 2009

New Mexico

New Mexico is notorious for its mud, the map instructed that some parts would be impassable if wet. Overnight it had snowed but we thought we'd give it a bash, even if we only got 20 miles. We were out of water and knew there was a restaurant up the road. We set out but matty had to turn back as he was missing a bottle. The restaurant was closed but a nice guy gave me a gallon so I topped off three of my four bottles leaving enough for matty. We rode along tarmac for about 5 miles before the turn onto gravel. There, a couple of hunters were parked and matty was talking to them when I pulled up. The weather was overcast and they said it wasn’t going to change for a few days with snow coming. One of the hunters was limping after slipping with his elk skinning knife and putting it through his leg, the whole gnarly blade which he showed us. Ouch! They said the vintage narrow gauge steam train was coming so we waited to watch it go by. Those trains are impressively loud!

The road was tough, and getting tougher. Huge fist sized rocks over lava rock, volcanic sand and dirt, washed away road, ruts and holes everywhere. It was technical riding to say the least. Matty was out in front today, we had a small argument over weight in the morning as I was holding more, and wanted help, in which he denied. I was coming down a valley over some real hazardous rock when the rain came in. It was only spiting but I could see the full-on rain blanket coming. Matty was in the distance about a mile and I wondered why he hadn’t stopped when the rain came. I thought he was gunning for the trees on the other side of the valley. I had to take cover under a tree as it came in hard. After several minutes it slowed and I hit the road. It was 1230 and lunch pains where rumbling inside but I thought matty would be just ahead. The road had turned to muck! A sludge that stuck to its self, multiplying in my brakes, wheels, gears between bars, everywhere! I was sliding all over the place and after 100 meters the bike seized. I scooped out the gunk, and kept plugging away expecting matty to be at the other side of the valley under cover. He wasn’t! I’m not sure why but he kept on going. Normally we would wait for each other if too far ahead, out of sight, or, time for food. I stuffed in some musile bars and some of the peanut butter then continued, thinking he’ll be just up ahead. He wasn’t. More rain and hail came through and I was having the worst day of the entire ride, slipping in the mud many times once twisting my knee, bike clogging up with mud every five minutes and scooping it out, rain and snow patterns passing over soaking me to the bone and riding in granny gear as only one was working. It was hell! I now understood what everyone had said about this part of the journey, the New Mexico part! Treacherous and not recommended when wet, even the map and guides said this. I just wanted to put up my tent and wait it out but I had to keep plugging away to get to matty. I never did, and he never waited. At 5 I was physically stuffed and at the camp site where I thought I’d find matty. He wasn’t there so I put my tent up in the rain as got into my sleeping bag asap. I was pissed with matty. I had no idea what he was thinking! He had broken all the rules in all the books. He had left his cycling buddy out of sight in treacherous mountain conditions and gone ahead taking the stove, fuel and breakfast food with him, not to mention the map! I had my GPS but maps are necessary, especially if the gps failed. I was 11000ft high in snow and anything could have happened. A bad fall, broken leg or arm could have meant a bad case of death, if I couldn’t get my tent up. Luckily I had a little fuel left in the back up canister I bought when he left to see Mimosa in sanfran. I was hoping this would be enough to get dinner cooked and hopefully noodles for breakfast. Small meals but it was all I had. In the morning everything was white. My bike bags and tent were frozen solid from the mix of rain and snow. There was enough gas to cook the noodles with some spare for hot chocolate but I thought I’d be hard pressed to cook my rice that night. It was the only food I had left other than a snickers and a cereal bar. I had half a bottle of water and thought I’d better get down to a highway and town asap, as I couldn’t go on without either food or the stove to boil and purify water. I started out and heavy snow rolled in. I had a few centimeters over my arms and legs, then more mud, more clogging and more scooping it out. By now my breaks had failed from all the volcanic mud and it was near suicidal on some of the descents. I had to walk a few. It was slow work but soon enough the weather eased and I came onto better, harder roads. I saw three hunters on these roads but knew I’d make it to the town I’d looked up on my map software so I didn’t bother to ask for a lift. One guy pulled over and offered me half a roll of sausage salami. I said no thanks but on the second offer said ok sure. When they went around the corner I stuffed it in my gob, I was starving. I finally came to a cow poo colored river, eager to flush out the mud from my breaks. With a bit of cleaning and some retightening they were working well enough but I had to get new pads soon as they were worn down to the metal from the sludge. Upon leaving I noticed mattys tire marks and the dry square from his tent. He didn’t even wait the following day.

I made it to the highway, to the town, and was almost in a panic when most of the houses were deserted. There was a gas station which had a old car with flat tires parked at a tank, a dead coke machine with a crunched can in it and weeds growing through the cracks in the concrete. The rest of the town looked the same. I wish I could have taken pics but the camera and seized from grit. Then I saw a little shack and a caravan down the road. A sign said food; another said open and another closer up said open, on the door the sign read closed! I was desperate and called out. A young girl came out answered they were open and yes I could have some water. I bought a banana cake and six snickers knowing this would get me to the next town 65miles away which had a bike shop. She said hot food was going and so I ordered a burrito and a coke. Inside the shack was a fire so I ate, defrosted, paid, tipped and left happy knowing I’d dodged a hail storm while inside. I made it twenty miles down the road before my rear tire went flat. Both my tire leavers snapped trying to remove the tire. And on closer inspection the actual tube was ruined with a torn valve. The spare was missing, and I remembered matty taking it the other day and not replacing it. I thought thank god this didn’t happen up on the mountain, I’d be walking out with no food or water. At least here, on the on the highway, I’d be able to hitch a ride in the morning to the town Espanola, now 45 miles away. I knew there was no point hiking then as the sun was setting and rain was coming. I lifted my bike off the road over some baby cacti and behind some trees. It was a good a place as any to set up for the night.

It took 2.15 hours to get the right lift. The road was super quiet and three people stopped before the fourth could take me and my 100 pound/46kg bike. The first two (Hispanic ranch hands I think) were turning 2 miles down the road and the third (two skinny Californian Christian dudes wearing blues brother glasses) said they could take me but not the bike as no room. I said I’d wait it out for a pick up and they wished God be with me as they left. I was wishing it too! Eventually two older stern cowboys picked me up. They were true Texans. One helped me up with the bike and I jumped up with it for the ride. They dropped me right on the street corner of the shop. They both got out, said goodbyes after saying one of them had been to NZ and the Christchurch Park was the prettiest place he’d ever been. Nice!

I couldn’t find the store. "Oh shit, where the hell is it!" After asking a second person he pointed out a small run down building which resembled a garage more than anything. Rusty bars on the windows and door laid back from the road 30 meters.  He said, that’s Randy's place over there, but he’s not there, then started making phone calls with no luck. I had left my bike back on the corner and was a little worried about it being stolen, but then again you’d have to be super human to carry it anywhere as I had the back wheel with me. I walked to Wal-Mart but they only had standard valve tubes. On my way back to Randy’s I saw a pick up pull out of the drive and down the road. "I bet that was him" “bugger!” I couldn’t do anything but sit down outside the door and wait. A minute later the truck returned. It was Randy and he said it took him a while to register that a guy carrying a wheel must be on his way to his place.

This wasn’t a shop at all, it was a shed! Full of bits and bobs and some spare parts. He said he was cleaned out a few days ago by local kids who busted down the door. It had happened before and he had almost given up on it as it was a side thing anyway; something to help people out in the town as he had a passion for bikes and no one else could supply things. I felt sorry for him as he was a genuine guy who would do anything in his power to help someone out. The town Espanola was rough around the edges. The highest % per population of OD’s in America, lots of crime etc. People didn’t ride bikes in this town as they became targets for local hoods and would get knocked off. Randy was also trying to open an Art gallery and was having a lot of trouble getting council approvals as the casino owners were pulling the opposite strings! Strange place! Guess I was leaving the sweet mountain towns and entering towns of Hispanic, Native American and American, where most people are good natured but a lot couldn’t be trusted. Randy found a new tube with the right valve, his last one. Helped me fit it, gave me some tire levers, couldn’t find correct brake pads and said we could shoot down to the next town if I wanted. Santa Fe was 40 miles away and I didn’t want him to go that far out of his way for me. Also the wrong way for the route and I thought the brakes would make it a bit further. He said at least let him drive me 15 miles back to the route, which I did except. We chatted about music; he was in a blue grass band, and also about his kids and local life. He wouldn’t except any money but did let me buy him a 24oz, American size, cup of sweet tea from the vending machine in the service station. Said goodbyes and once he left I realized I had left my other tube in the truck. So I now had no spare tubes and brakes that weren’t going to last long. I stocked up on groceries, buying manly items which didn’t have to be cooked as I had no stove gas; also some noodles in case I managed a fire. I had some replacement struts and brace for my racks and panniers to collect from the post office which were waiting. I then got a burrito and sat waiting for a couple of hours in case matty showed as the trail went through this spot. After a while I decided to leave. Who knows where he was now? It had been two and a half days since I last saw him.

The next town was two days away over some of the roughest terrain on the trail. The weather report said superb weather so things were looking non muddy! I was a bit nervous after the run of troubles but thought my brakes should get me there. If I have any other troubles I had bought enough supplies to walk out; 4.5 liters of extra water and food for four days. Also, it was Friday which meant I could call on the hunters if desperate. They would be out in full force especially as tomorrow was the first day of Rifle on Elk. That night I cycled up 2000ft then a nice camp as the sun went down, gun shots echoing through the mountains as set my tent up which made me throw my orange vest on.

45 miles was as far as I could get over the tough terrain on Saturday. The grinding from my front brake was sounding like metal on metal. I looked down to see a flake come peeling off. Like when you drill through a metal plate. Shit! I whipped it off to find no rubber left and on checking the rim, found a rough concave groove. The front brake does most of the work when stopping so knew there would be some tread on the back. There was a tiny amount left so I took the back pads off and put them on the front. I put the front pads on the back upside down, as the bottom of each pad had a lip of rubber on them. I wouldn’t use them unless necessary and go easy on the front. After a few miles I heard that metal on metal sound again and though dam, I’ll have to buy a new rim and pads and wait while they are shipped in to the next town.

By the way the scenery was outstanding, a new type of forest, new type of pine running along canyon tops and along Mesa’s. The road would flattened out then back to shit over and over before coming to another 2000ft climb then the beginning of the downhill. Some more rough road where I had to walk for my own safety and the rim. I was down onto nice roads now, really nice, when I saw two cyclists coming the other way. They were a couple of French Canadians, going the wrong way I thought, until they said they were only doing the New Mexico segment. Already finding it tough and knowing they were coming to the hardest part I really didn’t know what to say to them. She was going to find it very tough; she said she already was having fitness problems. I didn’t want to tell them I’d just spent two days in the worst conditions and been forced off the mountain! We chatted for a little more then I asked the favor, do you have any spare brake pads? Yes of course they did. I tried to offer money but they said no no no. I wished them luck as they pushed on. After rearranging my brakes, I was stoked! No back brakes but fresh fronts and probably saved my rim. I was free to race down the hills again. Luck of the Irish aye! Evening provided a nice cam spot with plenty of wood around for me to light a fire. I cooked and boiled for hot chocolate. Nice day overall!

The morning skies were moody but not grumpy. I made it to the tarmac and rolled down down down into the town of Cuba. It was small and typically cowboy western. The tiny info center had a state ranger sitting in running it. I bought some homemade brownies for 50cent each, lovely! The small town had a big history of sheriffs and outlaws. It was kinda dodgy, I was hit up for money by an Indian bum couple with nowhere to live. I went for cafe, internet, hotel and wait to see if matty showed.

He was no show by 12 the next day so I left messages and moved onward to the 140 mile highway segment to grants. It was canyon and mesa lands. Vast, barren and desolate.  Mexicans would be hitchhiking in the strangest places, like the middle of nowhere. There was trash everywhere along the side of the road, mainly beer bottles and cans. Drunk driving is obviously common here I thought as a guy past me swerving on the road. There weren’t many places to camp; I ended up sleeping in dried up river canyon/bed, off the side of the road and out of sight, in the property of one of the many Christian missions along this highway. The next morning was a short pedal to the gas station for coffee, listen and giggle at two native ladies having a bitch fight in the courtyard and then on my way to the town of grants….until my gear cable broke. I patched it up with gaffa tape and that did the trick to get me to grants. Another shitty town. Here I stayed in the RV park. Two nights so I could further wait for matty and to have a rest day for bike maintenance. Amazingly I found a cheap cable set at Wal-Mart which did the trick, and some rubbish brakes to get me by until Sliver Town where there is a bike shop, or maybe a shed of helpful junk!
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