Sunday, December 11, 2022

Great Divide Chapter 7: Cuba to Silver City New Mexico

The Great Divide threw us a few curveballs in this stretch. For one, I got giardia. We also hit tremendously terrible mud just south of Cuba, New Mexico. But, looking back at it, those are the things that add color to the trip. Nothing that takes over six weeks - like our trip did - is going to be all sunshine and rainbows. And I wouldn't want it to be. Anyways, here's a recap of how our trip went. There's gonna be one last chapter and then I'll make a more general, broader overview post. I'll include one of my favorite pictures of the stretch here before I dive into the daily recaps, partly because it's a cool picture and partly because it'll be a good thumbnail picture for Blogger.

The flash flood creek that we couldn't cross

Day 37 - Cuba, NM Into Death Mud

We left Cuba just before 8 AM and started on a gradually-downhill highway for the first 10 or 15 miles. The route then turned onto a dirt road, and we headed off into the wilderness.

The terrain was unlike anything we had seen yet on the route, and really, it reminded me of, well, New Mexico. What I mean is, when I've ridden in New Mexico before (off of I-40 near AZ border), it was extremely desert-like. Prior to today, the New Mexico we'd seen had been mostly alpine.

Instead of trees and meadows, the landscape was a desert-brown with rolling hills and arroyos every half-mile or so. For those of you who don't habla, arroyos are like little flash flood creek ditches. Often, they run right through the road and they build the road incorporating the arroyos. The ones we crossed were usually anywhere from 10-50 feet deep, although I'm sure that varies greatly.

Luckily, for the first part of the day, it was bone dry. The arroyos were sometimes steep, and the road climbing out of them was tough,  but still, no mud, yet.

There were storm clouds on the horizon, and around that same time, a rancher in a side-by-side drove up to us. He was extremely friendly and gave us each a Gatorade from a cooler he had. We chatted for awhile about the land he owns. 

He used cattle guards to describe the land he owned, saying things like "I own the next five cattle guards going that way", which was pretty neat. I'd guess he owned several thousand acres, if not more. Surrounding his land was a mixture of public and private land, but he told us that camping just off the road was likely fine no matter who owned the land. At least, he said he wouldn't mind if someone camped just off the road on his land.

He also warned us about the storm clouds, saying: "If the clouds are just grey, you'll be fine, but if the clouds are black, they're gonna turn the road to mud".

Sure enough, just after we left him, a bunch of black clouds appeared on the horizon.

The storms clouds are extremely spotty in New Mexico; heavy rain could hit one area and completely miss an area just a mile away. That's what happened to us. I don't think we ever really got hit with rain, or at least, not much rain, but before long, the roads turned to mud.

At first, the mud wasn't so bad. We just had to go slowly and carefully pick our lines. Before long, however, the mud got more serious. 

The mud is pretty weird there, it's sort of like a layer of sticky clay, followed by a layer of dust, all on top of the hard ground. When you ride through the mud, the top layer of sticky clay "peels" off and sticks all over your bike. When you look back at your tracks, the tire mark looks dusty and dry because all the wet clay is on your bike.

When the going got too bad, we stopped for some food and pulled off the road to let it dry. It improved surprisingly fast, and after maybe 20 minutes, we started riding again. We actually had some in the fun, but we both almost crashed once or twice. Actually, Will did crash once riding through a big puddle.

Eventually, we got to a big arroyo with a raging creek through it. The water was dark brown and looked pretty menacing. But, we knew we had to cross it. Me, being an idiot, took off my shoes and threw them across so as not to drop them when walking. 

I first walked across without my bike to test the feasibility of it. It was pretty sketchy, but I reached the other side. However, seeing as I'm 6-feet tall, and Will is more like 5-foot-6, it would be pretty dangerous for him to cross with nearly waist deep water. Not to mention, it would be difficult even for me while trying to carry a 50-pound bike.

I threw my shoes back across and waded back across the creek once more. The bottom was a soft, muddy clay that actually felt pretty good on my bare feet, but it had absolutely zero traction. I made it back across, and we looked for a spot to set up camp for the night. I guess this is as far as we were going for today.

At this point, it started to rain a little more, so we took cover under a rock-overhang. When the rain stopped, we set up our tents, cooked some dinner, and did what we normally do at camp. We decided to get an early start the next day to avoid the afternoon monsoons, so we went to bed early and set alarms for before sunrise.

The Homestake Well; a neat gravel road

The start of the mud; the danger flash flood water we couldn't cross

Taking shelter under a rock overhang

Pretty nice campsite

Day 38 - Death Mud to El Malpais

Our alarms went off when it was still dark, so we started breaking down our tents with our headlamps. We didn't have any great breakfast foods, but we both made do with assorted gas station snacks. Luckily, the raging creek that was too dangerous to cross yesterday was now just a tiny trickle through a ton of mud at the bottom of the arroyo.

Not wanting to get our shoes covered in mud, we took off our socks and shoes to cross the mud. One step into the mud and we sank almost to our knees in a horrible, black mud. We made it across, wiped off our legs, and got ready to ride again. 

A hundred yards ahead was another washed out arroyo with mud at the bottom. Man, this storm must've been pretty bad. The entire drainage pipe had been ripped out of the ground, and a huge ditch, maybe 10 feet deep and 10 feet across, was across the rode.

We carefully crossed it, once again getting our feet covered in mud, and then started riding again. That was the last of the mud, and we chose to take a paved alternate route to Grants rather than get stuck in more mud.

We got to Grants and stopped into a McDonalds, where we knew we had some decisions to make. The forecast was calling for afternoon monsoons every day, and with the ground already wet, we were worried about mud in the Gila National Forest. 

I texted my friend Montana who has raced the Tour Divide before, and he said that the Gila can have some nasty mud. He said the pavement roads in the area were incredibly scenic, so we decided to ride a pavement detour to Silver City, rather than get stuck in more mud.

After a whole bunch of McDonalds food, we set off to a gas station to buy a few supplies. There was a really cool Land Cruiser at the gas station, which I photographed and sent to my friend DAHN PAHRS.

We left the gas station heading toward the El Malpais National Monument, where we'd camp for the night. It was a really pretty road, and totally unlike anywhere else I've ridden. Man, I still have a hard time believing we came all the way from the snowy mountains in Alberta, Canada.

As we were riding along the pavement toward our campsite, some black clouds formed overhead. Within a a couple minutes, it started to pour. When I think of the heaviest rain I've ever experienced, I think of two things: driving outside of Salt Lake City last summer with Will and this downpour we were now in.

We made it to the campsite, a free BLM spot (that's Bureau of Land Management), and were pleasantly surprised to see shelters at every campsite with a concrete pad. 

We pulled under a shelter and noticed the rain was like a shower coming off the roof, so we used that water to rinse off our clothes and our bikes. It felt pretty funny standing barefoot on the concrete pad rinsing our socks in the stream of water coming off the roof.

After the rain let up, we set up our tents and went about cooking dinner.

Later on, a friendly guy camping nearby came over to talk to us. He brought us each a beer, so we talked for a long while and drank some beer. He was really a fascinating guy: he worked as a fisherman in Alaska for half the year, and then he pretty much just traveled around jobless in the southwest the rest of the year. He told us about his fair share of adventures, some by bike, which were all pretty good stories.

The one thing that really stood out to me was how he got his job as a fisherman. He said he went to Alaska with no money in search of a job, and after meeting some people in bars, he eventually got a job on a fishing boat despite knowing nothing about fishing. Many years later, and he was still doing the same thing. I don't think I'd want to be a fisherman in Alaska, but still, the guy had some really great stories.

Storm clouds were in the distance, so Will and I wanted to make sure our tents wouldn't get flooded overnight. The wasn't much we could do except make sure the rain fly's were on good and cross our fingers. Thankfully, even though it did rain overnight, neither of us really got wet at all.

The washed out road early in the morning

Feet covered in mud; a sweet Land Cruiser in Grants, NM

Storm clouds in the El Malpais; the clutch pavilion at the BLM campsite

Day 39 - El Malpais to Quemado (Mud Detour)

We waved goodbye to the fisherman dude we chatted with and rolled out of camp. I still can't get over how scenic the road was; huge cliffs, distant mountains, and just all-around good views made for a very enjoyable morning of riding. 

My stomach wasn't feeling too great, but I sort of chalked it up to just weird foods. Eventually my stomach started feeling even worse, but there was nothing to do except keep riding. We made it to a little convenience store a couple hours later, where tried to eat and drink more mellow things. There was also a bathroom there, which was nice.

From the convenience store, it wasn't far to Quemado, the next town. My stomach still wasn't feeling very good, but it wasn't so bad as to take away any of the enjoyment of the riding.

When we got into Quemado, we stopped at a little Mexican place for some food. There was a cop parked outside, so we left our bikes leaning against the store without any worries for once. I ordered a Chimichanga, which was a mistake. It was extremely spicy. Like, extremely extremely spicy. It put me in the hurt locker, but with enough Dr. Pepper's, I made it through.

Our plan was to ride a little further and then camp, but seeing as there was a cheap motel in town and seeing as how my stomach was feeling pretty funky, we decided to just stay the motel. You can never underestimate how important a close bathroom is when you have giardia, which I later found out was the cause of my stomach issues.

The motel was really nice, actually, and the clerk was a friendly old lady. She showed me a picture of her large cat which she said lives with her in the office. She told me everyone wants to take a picture of the cat and it's almost like a mascot of the motel. I just sort of smiled and made friendly small-talk.

The room was clean and there was a restaurant attached to the motel, so we got take-out dinner there. 

Really good views in the El Malpais, followed by the plains riding


Day 40 - Quemado to Gila National Forest (Mud Detour)

The one thing we needed to do before leaving Quemado was get more cash out at an ATM in town. Not all small towns accept credit cards, and we were almost out of cash.

It was a standalone ATM just on the side of the road in a little enclosure. There was an older local gentleman there when we got there, obviously in a lot of distress. The ATM was malfunctioning, and he couldn't get any money out. 

The menu options were only in Spanish, which he did not know, which prompted him to angrily complain about the "darn Mexicans who can't learn English". He was one of those kind of guys, so Will and I just nodded along with him and waited for him to leave.

I don't know Spanish either, but I was able to figure out how to use the ATM, so we both got some cash out.

My stomach still was not feeling very great, but it was manageable. The riding was fairly easy - it was all pavement and not much climbing.

Around lunchtime, we stopped into the town of Reserve to get some food. We pulled up to a little restaurant and saw some bikes leaning outside, which was a good sign. When we headed in, we saw our friend Taz, who we had met several weeks before in northern Colorado. It was pretty crazy to meet back up with him after going our separate ways long ago.

Will and I both had a really good lunch with lots of food, and despite my stomach issues, I got most of the food down. Taz was ready to roll at the same time as us, so the three of us headed out together.

Riding with Taz was really cool, and he's a strong rider. He was on a mountain bike with a huge 150mm fork, but he was still keeping up just fine. In fact, he was doing more than keeping up. Sometimes he was pushing the pace quite a bit.

We hit some rain along the way, but for the most part, the riding was really great. There were a lot more trees around us, and it felt less like a desert. We passed a young Polish couple on a climb who left the restaurant just before us, and it seemed like Taz knew them somewhat well from previous days of riding.

Eventually, we got to our destination for the day, a little place with some tiny cabins to rent just off the road. Supposedly one of the buildings there is where Billy the Kid was held prisoner.

The little cabin we got was really nice for the cheap price, and the whole property was really cool. We offered to let Taz stay in the cabin with us, but he liked his tent, although he did take advantage of our shower.

In the evening, we watched a bunch of bats fly out of tower on the property. I think the guy said there were 7,000 bats. After the sun set, we went back into the tiny cabin and we talked a long time with Taz. He's a super interesting person, especially being the same age as me. He hiked the Pacific Crest Trail (3,000 miles!) last year, and also rode across the country on a bike the same year. He obviously had lots of good advice and stories to tell.

Riding with Taz in the rain; the inside of the tiny cabin

View around the cabins; supposedly where Billy the Kid was held in jail

Day 41 - Gila National Forest to Silver City

We got some breakfast with Taz at the gas station across from the cabins, which for me was a couple frozen burritos and a mountain dew. As soon as we started riding, I could tell I wasn't feeling too great. Will and Taz switched bikes for a few miles, and the whole time, I was hurting. Every climb felt like death. 

When we stopped about 20 miles in for a quick snack, I ate a few gummy bears before sitting down on the side of the road. I was really hurting. Taz got out his camera and took some videos and photos, and while he was doing that, I was throwing up on the side of the road.

I don't usually throw up. In fact, I don't think I've thrown up in maybe 10 years. Not even DAHN PAHRS could make me throw up. Giardia, however, is much more powerful than DAHN PAHRS.

After I finished throwing up, Will and I got rolling again while Taz took some more pictures. I really can't stress enough how much I was suffering. But, Will was really nice and rode nice and slow for me. At least I wasn't suffering AND riding alone, so it really wasn't too bad.

When we reached a gas station, I tried to eat something, but I couldn't. I ended up just drinking some soda and gatorade before we got rolling again. Rather than camping at an RV park, we decided to get a hotel in Silver City, instead, because with my giardia, I really needed a bathroom close by.

The miles from the gas station to Silver City ticked by slowly. We rode with Taz and his friend Tyler for a little bit, and stopped by Tyler's girlfriends car for a minute or two. When Tyler and Taz turned off to cut the corner and go to the RV park, Will and I stayed straight to Silver City.

Eventually, we made it to Silver City. Will was very patient with me. We stopped at a gas station, where I bought about 100 Pedialytes and some ice cream. I was feeling extremely bad at that point, like deathly bad. I basically hadn't eaten all day. Will seemed worried that I'd keel over or something, and he made sure that I found my way to our hotel.

Once in the hotel, I just laid down on the bed for a few minutes. Phew. That helped a lot. I meticulously drank my Pedialytes and ate my ice cream, which seemed to revive me. We got some pizza for dinner and I tried my best to revive myself. By some miracle, I actually did start to feel better.

Now, this whole day may seem like it wasn't fun. And I'll admit, at the time, I was feeling pretty rough. That being said, I think it's a perfect example of "a bad day of bikepacking beats a good day in the real world". Looking back at it, my experience with giardia and the tough couple days I had in New Mexico are some of the most memorable parts of the trip for me.

Leaving the cabin in the morning; Will and Taz switched bikes

The stop where I threw up

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