Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Great Divide Chapter 8: The End

Sometimes it takes being at the end of something to truly appreciate it. When you're in the moment, it's pretty hard to see the forest for the trees. I think the first time we actually looked back at the trip was in the community center in Hachita, because even though we were still 45 miles from the finish, we knew we had made it. I always sort of hesitated to imagine being done, because I thought if I did, a bike would break or something would happen that would prevent us from finishing. But like I said, in Hachita, I let myself think about the finish. I couldn't possibly be more grateful to have Will as a friend to do this with. I'll save the rest of my ramblings for another post, but even just writing about this really makes me appreciate how fortunate I am. Bikes are fun, y'all.

Day 42 - Silver City to Hachita

Surprisingly, I woke up feeling pretty good in Silver City. At that point, I wasn't sure if I had giardia or not. I had some of the symptoms, but I seemed to be getting better. I tried to convince myself it was just food poisoning. Either way, it was a pleasant surprise to feel good in the morning. I even ate a pretty good breakfast at the hotel.

The first hour or so out of Silver City was pavement. There was one long, gradual climb, where we passed a backpack-wearing legend also doing the Great Divide. More on him later. There was a left turn onto a dirt road, and the fun for the day really began. I was still feeling really good, and I was super excited to be riding on dirt again after our pavement mud detour.

We ended up seeing Taz again along the way. We rode with him for a little, but he stopped to take some pictures so we went ahead. The dirt road was really nice for riding; it was a mellow downhill through a really neat desert landscape. I think in northern New Mexico, the desert was still occasionally interrupted by pine trees and more "alpine" terrain, but here in southern New Mexico, it was the full-on desert. Some people love the desert, and other people hate it. Personally, I love the desert, and even though Will doesn't love the desert, I think he enjoyed this stretch a lot to.

There was one convenience store stop for the day, in a little town called Separ right off an exit of Interstate 10. Will and I passed the Polish couple just before Separ (they had cut the corner off by Silver City, so they were ahead of us for a while) on a quiet dirt road, just after being passed by a few dudes (presumably) riding the Great Divide on motorcycles.

There were several seats outside the store, so we bought what we wanted and then came back outside sit. As we were eating, the Polish couple rolled in, then Taz, and then the backpack wearing guy named Michael. We all chatted for a while as we enjoyed gas station food and drinks.

Apparently, word of my throwing up and illness had gotten around, and the Polish couple joked with me about it.

"We heard you pooped yourself back to life", they joked, referencing my surprisingly revival in Silver City.

It was a lot of fun to just sit there on the porch of that store and chat with everyone. I'll get more into the philosophical (that's the wrong word, but I don't know what the right word is) side of bikepacking in a later post, but still, it's such a cool feeling to be all part of a tremendous individual journey and yet still be able to share it with people.

All of us had traveled via bicycle from Canada down to here, some podunk little store 50 miles from the Mexican border.

When we left the store, Will and I rode on the dirt road paralleling Interstate 10, but everyone else rode on the actual interstate. It's legal to ride the interstates in places like this, but still, Will and I had no interest in saving a few minutes. Taz says that interstates are extremely fun, but I'm just going to take his word for it.

There was another 20 or so miles from Separ to the final town on the route, Hachita. There was a single store in Hachita, so the group of us from Separ all met up again in Hachita.

The store itself was old, small, and somewhat run-down. There was a leak in the ceiling and a bucket on the floor to catch the drip. The cashier was a heavyset gentlemen who was extremely friendly, and the store itself had plenty of food.

At one point, a few oil rig exploratory drillers came in with a hell of a story to tell: "My buddy got his dick bitten by a black widow".

Apparently he was going to the bathroom in a Port-A-John when a black widow bit him on his, er, private parts. He went to the hospital, and as far as I know, he was fine.

Before long, the actual owner of the store came in and took over for the cashier, and we all started talking. All told, it was me, Will, Taz, the Polish couple, Michael, and Taz's friend Tyler with his girlfriend. We were all sitting inside the little store sharing stories and having a good time.

The store owner, whose name I forget, raced the Divide himself last year. He was in his 60s. We talked to the store owner about Gary Johnson, the former Libertarian presidential candidate and governor of New Mexico, who has raced the Divide five years in a row. He's now 69 years old, and he finished the Divide in under 30 days this year even with inclement weather. Gary even stopped to share a joint with the store owner in Hachita on his way to the border this year. Absolute legend. 

Will and I weren't getting picked up at the border until the next day, so we were staying in Hachita for the night. Everyone else at the store was making the final 45 mile push to the border that day, so they were getting some final supplies and resting up before the final push.

It was such a strange feeling to be all sitting together in the store. We all come from different backgrounds and completely different areas. Will and I are from Pennsylvania, Taz is from Oregon, and the Polish coupe are from, well, Poland. And yet, despite those differences, we were all sitting there chatting like we had been friends for years.

I really do think it is one of the most special feelings you can have. There's something to be said about a shared experience. Even if we all rode the route on our own (or together with a friend like Will and I), the experiences we had seemed to tie us together.

After talking for quite some time, they started on their final push to the border. Will and I bought some supplies and got the keys for the community center, where we'd be staying for the night. According to the store owner, there was an oven and fridge in the community center, so we bought a frozen pizza for dinner.

We pedaled the quarter mile down the road to the community center, unlocked the padlock on the front door, and made ourselves at home.

It's a pretty unique place, the kind of place you'd miss if you were racing the route. The community center building was pretty big, easily over a few thousand square feet, and was completely empty. On the walls were the names of local families in Hachita, and there was a stage in the back with a few cots on it.

There was also a kitchen, a bathroom, and a big storage room in the back. It looked like none of it had been used in quite some time. Will and I cooked the pizza for dinner, flipped through some old National Geographics from the 1910s, checked out a trophy buck mount, and reminisced a little about the trip.

This was it, the last night of the trip. We'd been thinking about this trip for a year, and now, here we were at the end of it. I think I expected to be happier to be done, but instead, I didn't really have much emotion. I think the feelings of happiness to be done and sadness that it was over sort of canceled each other out. But that's the nature of doing fun things, they all must come to an end eventually. 

We talked for a while that night about everything we'd seen on the trip and everything we'd done. We knew that the things we talked about now, while we're in the moment, will be things we'll remember forever as a fond memory.

Eventually we got to bed in the cots, and overnight, a nasty storm hit the town. Lightning flashed outside and lit up the inside of the building. Bats were making noises in the rafters, and there were cockroaches occasionally climbing up onto me. It was a hell of a night to end the trip, that's for darn sure.

The first dirt road after Silver City; a jumping cow!

Sign for Antelope Wells; Michael at the store in Hachita

Views from inside the Hachita Community Center, we slept on the stage in the left picture

Day 43 - Hachita to the Finish

We had 45 miles, or about 3 hours, left of riding to get to the border. Will's dad and brother were going to pick us up just before noon, so we hit the road sometime around 8am after buying a couple final supplies from the gas station.

The miles from Hachita to the border were surreal. There's no other way to put it. Maybe for some people who've done lots of long trips, the end of a trip like this isn't so crazy. But for us, on our first big bikepacking trip, it was a crazy feeling.

The landscape itself was desert, but in the distance, we could see big mountains that were in Mexico. We saw a big rattlesnake on the road, but really no other wildlife. Most of the cars that passed us were border patrol cars, and in a way, they made it feel even more desolate than if no cars had passed us.

I watched the miles on my Garmin count down. Before long, we were in the single digits of miles remaining on our trip. We crested a hill with only a mile or two to go, and just as we did, an SUV came up behind us. It was Will's dad and brother. They cheered to us and then continued on to the border station to see us at the finish.

As the border wall came into view (it's much bigger than I expected) and we looked around for the last time at the sights of our trip. Their SUV came into view, and they yelled to us as we arrived. 

It was over. A month-and-a-half of riding and a year of planning came down to this. Except it that's not the right way to put it. The destination isn't really what the trip is about, it's just the final chapter in an epic story.

We took some pictures in front of the signs, and then the friendly border agents let us walk into Mexico for a quick picture without even needing to look at passports. We got our share of pictures, then partially took apart the bikes to shove them into the SUV. 

Just like that, it was over. We drove in the SUV back the same road we had just biked down, all the way back to Hachita, then turned toward El Paso.

Danger noodle

Almost there; there. Haha

Post-Ride "Festivities" in El Paso and Getting Home

The drive from Antelope Wells to El Paso was interesting. For the most part, we drove right along the Mexican border. The border wall was everywhere, and we even passed a few border patrol holding stations. It's a pretty desolate place, and definitely not a place I'd like to live.

When we got to El Paso, Will's brother Josh found a little Mexican spot for lunch. After lunch, we went to the hotel to get checked in. Will's dad booked us the fanciest hotel in El Paso, which was quite possibly the best way to end any bikepacking trip ever. 

Instead of a dirty community center with cockroaches, Will and I each had our own room with a king bed, a fancy frosted glass shower, and a big screen TV. We were moving up in the world.

We took our bikes and bike bags, which Will's brother and dad had brought for us, up to my hotel room, where we disassembled our bikes completely and put them back in the bags.

I didn't really think of it at the time, but looking back at it, it's pretty funny to think that the trip started and ended the same way. I still remember standing outside the Calgary airport taking the bikes out of the boxes, and now here we were shoving them back into some more boxes.

While we were taking the bikes apart, Will's dad and brother walked into Jaurez, Mexico to have a look around. They didn't need a passport, just a drivers license, but they didn't stay long. It's a pretty dangerous place.

We went out to dinner that night at a nice Mexican place with authentic tacos and some fancy corn-on-the-cob. It was a busy place, and they wouldn't let us sit down at a table until we ordered our food. Luckily, Will's brother Josh went to work to get us all some beers ordering food. After dinner back at the hotel, we sat down at the hotel bar to talk for a little bit and have another beer. It felt strange being done. 

In the morning, we got some breakfast at the hotel (which was just as fancy and great as the hotel) and then headed to the El Paso airport. Unlike Pittsburgh, this airport is pretty small. It was super easy to navigate, and I dare say it was a stress-free experience.

Will, his dad, and brother had an American Airlines flight, but I booked with Delta because I stole my dad's frequent flyer miles from Delta. Their flight left before mine, so we said goodbye and I thanked Will's dad and Josh for coming to get us.

My flight left shortly after, and I had a connecting flight in Atlanta. I distinctly remember sitting in an airport restaurant in Atlanta and looking around. I don't know why, but the people-watching at an airport made me feel a bit like I was in third-person, looking at everything including myself. 

My family was on vacation at Lake Erie, so my Uncle Steve picked me up at the Pittsburgh airport and drove me home. It was pretty late, after 10 PM, by the time I landed, so it was really nice of my uncle to come get me.

I drove up to Lake Erie the next day to see my family, and the whole time, I was asking a few friends if they thought I had giardia. I ignored everyone's advice and chose not to go to the doctor yet, but after a couple days at Lake Erie, I drove home and went to MedExpress. They put me on antibiotics, and within a few days, the test results came back that I had giardia. Oh well, with the marvels of modern medicine I was totally fine within a couple days. It's a small price to pay for such an epic trip, and I obviously would not hesitate to do it all again.

Hotel room; restaurant for dinner in El Paso

Leaving the hotel in El Paso; back in Pittsburgh!

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