“Go Fast. Be Safe. Be Aware. Always and Forever.” Such good advice from Howard, my friend and owner of Action Bikes in Universal City. It was on my mind most of the day as we started our journey north from Antelope Wells.
We left Deming at 5 am for the 95 mile drive down to the border anticipating a 7 am start. I asked Robin if she’d filled her bottles and she said “no” because we were gonna stop at a store along the way. I didn’t know it at the time, but the mindset of “We’ll get it later” would haunt us all day.
By the time we made it to Antelope Wells, we had not found any places to stop. The Border Patrol checkpoint didn’t open for an hour, so Robin partially filled her bottles from Gatorade leftovers in the truck. No problem; we will refuel in Hachita, only 45 miles distant.
After our obligatory photos, we were off. The pavement soon became monotonous as the only vehicles we saw on the road were from the Border Patrol heading south. For 65 miles, we were only passed by 2 pickup trucks! No wonder it is called the “Lonesome Highway.”
We pictured Hachita as our oasis … We couldn’t wait to get there to get water, cold drinks and snacks. Oops. Our oasis was a crumbling mirage. The “cafe” and the “convenience store” were not just closed; they were out of business! Robin talked some highway workers out of a couple of bottles of water. We headed north to our next hope for food and water – Separ.
I-10 loomed on the horizon as we hit about 60 miles on our odometers. We turned left onto a dirt road heading west towards Separ. Soon we came to a flooded area and had to lift our bikes over a barbed-wire fence, climb a steep embankment to the freeway, walk backwards along the freeway, then descend back down to the fence, lift our heavy bikes back over the fence, and only then continue toward the smorgasbord that was in Separ. I only mention this maneuver because we though at the time it was quite difficult.
It wasn’t long before the signs for the Continental Divide Pretzel Stand came into view. After 73 miles, we needed water and food. They had water. Food? Well, they had pretzels, nachos & candy bars. We scarfed down pretzels and full strength Cokes and pondered our future. We had read about others staying the night in a broken down teepee in the parking lot, but since it was only 2 in the afternoon, it did not seem that appealing. It wasn’t like we were gonna get any decent food there anyway.
Yet, both of us were already tired and the thought of another 50 miles into Silver City seemed impossible – particularly after our pretzel lunch. So, we decided to keep going with the idea of a hotel as our just reward.
We crossed I-10 and got on the dirt road heading north. Finally, the road and the terrain sort of looked like the idea in our heads of riding the Great Divide! Our spirits were high and life was good. Until about mile 95 when the trouble started.
We first started encountering some rollers which ordinarily are no problem. But, we were both beginning to feel the affects of our food deficit. Then the sandy gravel road began to change to damp sand then mud punctuated by frequent low water crossings. It took massive effort to power our way through the mud in order to not topple over and then we had to climb to the top of the next hill only to repeat the procedure again … and again … and again.
We were nearing the bottom of our water supply, too and filtering the muddy water didn’t seem too appealing yet. Robin began to feel nauseous and I started to worry. It was mile 95, we were both bonking, and Silver City was still 30 miles away.
There was no place to camp because the ground was so damp and desolate. Even if we did camp, our gear would be totally trashed and rain was looming and we ran the risk of getting totally soaked. Plus, when we woke up, we would still have no food or water and Silver City would still be 30 miles away! So, I refilled some bottles from a tank at the base of a windmill, and we pressed on.
It was dusk as we finally reached the paved highway to Silver City at mile 107. Still 18 miles to go. The pavement was heaven after the muck we had just traveled through. The lights of Silver City sparkled on the horizon. Looks can be deceptive though – before we reached the hotel, there were plenty of rollers and two long climbs to negotiate.
Never had a cheap hotel room looked so inviting! Finally, our oasis. After nearly 11 hours on the bike and 124 miles, we made it.
For Robin, it was her first day on her mountain bike, first day on a loaded 50 lb bike, first day of knarly, nasty, always climbing, creek-crossing, sticky clay and her first Century! All on a handful of pretzels and lots of prayers! Way to go, Robin! What a way to start.
So, I go across to the gas station/convenience store/meth lab in my cycling clothers. As I wandered around the store grabbing every bit of food in sight, I was amazed at the odd collection of scary looking people in there: one guy was tatted from head to toe, including his face, and wearing a Batman costume. I wanted to take his picture for Robin (Batman and Robin, you know?), but I was afraid if I made eye contact, he would kill me. There were a few other folks who looked as if they’d escaped from jail, and at the counter was a woman counting out coins to try to pay for a pack of cigarettes. Next to her was apparently her 5-year-old son asking for a pack of gum, but apparently, the cigs were the top priority. In the midst of this Star Wars bar scene, the kid looks at me and says “Mom, look at what that guy’s wearing!” I had never considered I was the odd one!
We had a good day just to make Separ. Making it to Silver City was epic. We learned a lot. I should have listened more closely to Howard.