Outskirts of El Rito, NM to outskirts of Cuba, NM
Mileage: 169.8 km (105.5 mi)
Riding Time: 16 h 06 m
Standing: 14th place
|Day 17 Map|
I awoke looking at a cactus and saw a huge beetle crawling near my head. The new terrain was unsettling but also awesome. I liked seeing the new bugs and vegetation. I was on an adventure! Temperatures were getting warmer and I often didn’t need my leg warmers in the morning. I had my last communion (Sunday) and packed up and headed down the road to El Rito. I passed through town and again felt like I was in an old Mexican town. Everything was closed and it seemed everyone was asleep. The paved road was nice riding into Abiquiu as the sun rose. It was nice to know that today was the last really big climb of the race. I remembered to tell myself the climbing wouldn’t be over, but this was the last big pass overall. Good news to latch on to!
|Riding into Abiquiu|
I loved seeing the desert terrain. Rolling hills and sage brush as far as the eye could see. I rolled into Abiquiu and noticed it was a fairly big town. I stopped at the gas station at about 6am and saw that it opened at 7:00am. It was a bit disappointing that I had to wait, but I took the time to do some chain cleaning and organising on the bike. As I was doing this, I saw a huge rat wandering around in the parking lot. Cool! It reminded me of a much less-cute version of a squirrel looking for handouts at a campsite. Several drivers arrived and looked really annoyed that the store wasn’t open yet. The worker at the store looked equally annoyed by being continually asked when they would open. Justin arrived and we both got some breakfast and did some shopping. I was gone before Justin and the racer in me wanted to get ahead of him and Bailey. As I was leaving town, I had my first run in with an angry dog. It came bounding out from a driveway as I was riding slowly up a hill. All I could do was continue to ride slowly up the hill. I just said, “Hey dog,” the same way I greet the many cows I saw. The dog ran up, and then stopped short. Moving slow seemed to make me an uninteresting target. It stopped, looked at me, then walked away. It reacted the same way the dogs do back home. Slow way down, then they lose interest and walk away. Per advice from my legal counsel, I take no responsibility in others following this advice. Just kidding, I don’t have legal counsel. Ha Ha. Just know that this worked for me, but hasn’t worked for others. The road climbed up through some rocky cliffs. There was lots of variable terrain on this day. It looked like I was climbing up onto a plateau with steep cliffs all around. I wondered if this was a little mesa. As I travelled through the desert areas I wondered what a mesa was. I thought it was a mountain with a flat top, but wasn’t sure and there is no Google riding your bike in the back country roads of New Mexico.
|Road climbing through the cliffs out of Abiquiu|
I got up on top of the plateau and it was flat riding for a while. Every once in a while, I would look back expecting Bailey and Justin to ride up, but I didn’t see them. The wide open trail led up the mountain.
|Road leading up near Polvedara Peak|
|Making my way into the forest|
The wide open space with sage brush led into forest again. Climbing, climbing, climbing. The road was fairly decent, but then it would get really rocky. There would be parts of slick rock, then piles of sand. Tricky and exhausting riding. My quad was starting to act up so every time I stopped I would stretch it out. The road got rockier and sandier and my quad got worse and worse. Walking seemed to aggravate it more than standing hard on the pedals up the steep climbs. Between the walking and stretching, I felt like I was going super slow. I popped some Aleve and continued to take the electrolyte pills I got in Salida. The pain continued to get worse, but I just continued to move ahead. Pain can be dealt with and stopping isn’t going to make the border come any closer. As I was slogging along Justin and Bailey rode past. It seemed like they were just flying up the hill. That was disappointing. I had a feeling I would never see them again. I kept plodding along in pain hoping it would get better. Eventually the pain began to subside. I felt good that I built a lot of character. Pain equals character building, especially if you work your way through it.
I continued to ride and then heard a motor. A pickup truck drove by and I wondered what they were doing out here. I started to see dark clouds and heard thunder in the distance. The forest started to look less desert-like as I gained in elevation. There were leafy trees and bushes that reminded me of home. I rode and rode up and down the hills enjoying the scenery. Then I came upon something that looked like snow. Hail. Lots of hail. I missed the storm (thank goodness) but was riding through the after effects. It was like riding in the spring slush in Canada…but I was in New Mexico!
|Slush in New Mexico|
The road wound through the forest up and down many climbs. Then out of the corner of my eye, cow! Mountain stealth ninja cows! Before I knew it they were popping their heads up out of the bushes munching on their grass all around me. Cows are everywhere on this route – even when you least expect them. At one point I couldn’t tell which fork to take in the trail. I climbed up one hill and it looked like I was off route on the GPS. I could see another trail down the steep slope to the left that went past a herd of mountain stealth ninja cows. I headed back down the hill and scared off the mountain cows. I continued on and found I was worse off route than the other way…so I went back. The first way I took was the correct way. I continued through the forest on the meandering road. Not a straight line for miles. There was one close call with an oncoming truck and I had to veer off into the ditch. Must stay to the right of the road at all times. I didn’t blame them. The road was tight with lots of blind corners. This stretch seemed to go on for a long, long time and eventually I started to see signs of civilisation. More campgrounds and RVs. I saw a few people walking and greeted some campers as I rode by. Eventually I was on the paved road leading into Cuba. I knew this was the start of a long paved section all the way to Grants. I was looking forward to it after the hard painful climb of the day.
The road was steep and fast leading into Cuba. Climbed all day just to lose all the elevation gain in less than half an hour. I must have hit close to 60km/hr on the way down. At one point a driver tried to hand me a water bottle out of their window. I gratefully refused and tried not to crash as the distraction sent me into the ditch. The people of New Mexico were really nice. My fears about unsavory people of the previous day appeared to be unfounded. My notes said there was a 7Eleven and Subway in town and I was looking forward to a decent meal. I stopped at the Subway and bought the usual two subs. One for now, one for supper and breakfast. I called Kristin and gave her an update as I munched on the delicious sub. I was on the home stretch! We discussed the possibility of me pulling a big 30-40 hour stretch to the finish. I finished eating my sub and stopped at a gas station for some food and a dollar store for some batteries. Off into the sunset I went.
|Riding into the sunset out of Cuba|
|Continuing to ride into the sunset|
As I rode into the dark, the wind started to pick up. I could see far off into the distance and saw lighting flashing. Back home, when it got really windy and you could see thunderstorms nearby, that meant you were about to get hammered with rain. I thought I felt a few raindrops and started looking for a spot to bivy on the side of the road. I rode over some bridges that crossed dry creek beds and understood the temptation to camp under one. They were easy shelter if the rain got bad. The thing to realise though is that the rain that falls from the sky has to flow somewhere and the bridges were there for a reason. Camping under a bridge during the rain would result in a waterslide ride in the bivy. Not smart! It was a bit earlier than I usually stopped, but I wanted to set up camp before the big rain hit. I found a spot hidden from the traffic and started to set up. It turns out the cues for big rain is different in New Mexico than Alberta. I shouldn’t be surprised. They are thousands of kms apart. The sky opened up into a beautiful clear starry sky with a full moon. My head light was not required as I munched on a Subway sub and set up camp as the odd car would drive by.
I put my head under a bush and tried to go to sleep. This was my one and only restless sleep. The bush I put my head under was on ground a bit lower than my body. I half slept trying to get comfortable until I was woken by a pack of howling dogs. The howls were very close and sounded like they were coming from all around me. I was still a bit paranoid about the New Mexican dogs. If I was in the Rockies back home, they wouldn’t worry me since I was familiar with howling coyotes and the lack of danger they posed. Being half asleep and uncomfortable didn’t help as I imagined a pack of wild, angry, mangy mongrel dogs surrounding me. Pit bulls, Dobermans, and German Shepherds frothing at the mouth ready to eat the Canadian burrito were all around (or so I imagined). I got up and headed for the bear spray. Getting up and walking to the bike woke me up enough to realise the situation probably wasn’t that dire. It was probably just some coyotes like back home. The sky was clear so I moved my bivy out of the bush on to level ground and went back to sleep with bear spray nearby (just in case). I slept great from that point on.