September 2010

Day 13: Hatch NM to El Paso TX

Started: Sep 30, 2010 7:39:11
Ride Time: 5:44:22
Stopped Time: 1:51:16
Distance: 79.54 miles
Average: 13.86 miles/h
Fastest Speed: 472.67 miles/h
Climb: 24219 feet
Calories: 4831

Not a lot to report today. I slept little last night, with the sounds of yapping dogs and traffic, and concern over my sketchy camping arrangement keeping me up. When it started getting light, I admitted defeat and started to break camp. Got rolling early. In my haste to exit Hatch, I forgot to put sunblock on, only remembering after I had been rolling for 40 minutes. The exposure shows on me.

Passed through a lot of fields growing cotton and peppers, as well as some enormous pecan orchards. An orchard would be divided into sections by berms, and some of the sections would be flooded a few inches deep. One of these orchards extended for a couple miles.

Passed through Las Cruces and its cute little sister Mesilla, where I stopped for a late breakfast.

Gwen had arranged for me to stop at the home of old family friends, Jim and Marylou, in El Paso. I had to fight headwinds all the way from Mesilla on, but made good time getting to El Paso. Then I had to ride through El Paso—from what I’ve seen of it, it is a uniquely ugly city. Anyhow, I am at Jim and Marylou’s now, and they’re providing another one of those very valuable home stops where I can do laundry, be around people, and generally feel a little more human.

The route I’m riding, the Southen Tier, is broken into 7 sections. Each section is printed on one foldout sheet, subdivided into about 15 highly detailed maps, each of which covers about 30 miles, showing what services are available in each town as well as detailed route directions. El Paso is the dividing point between sections 2 and 3. It’ll take me 3 sections just to cross Texas. I’ve got the hardest climbing behind me, although there are still some considerable ascents in West Texas. That’s one thing about riding this route west-to-east: the difficulty is all front-loaded.

Day 12: Silver City to Hatch

Started: Sep 29, 2010 7:28:30
Ride Time: 8:24:54
Stopped Time: 2:15:29
Distance: 106.94 miles
Average: 12.71 miles/h
Fastest Speed: 149.86 miles/h
Climb: 6303 feet
Calories: 4602

Today is the day I made gravity my bitch and crossed Emory Pass. The climbing was about as challenging as the climb from Three Way to the New Mexico state line, but it had better scenery and I was better prepared mentally.

Much of the climb was inside the Gila National Forest, which is beautiful. At one point I was on a horseshoe bend, with a cliff face on one side of me, a declivity, creek, and another cliff face on the other. The road seemed to disappear, obscured by the rock faces. Trees and cacti were growing right out of the rocks. Minutes would pass without a car driving by, and as I glided slowly along, I felt like I had the place to myself, and that I was seeing it from a perspective few others have. I almost wept.

I realized that while the climbing so far was tough, it wasn’t as tough as I knew it was going to get, and wondered when that would change. There were three tent sites shown on my map: as soon as I hit the first one, the climbing got really hard. Down into my lowest gear, taking frequent short breaks to let my heart rate drop 10-20 bpm.

Eventually I reached the pass. I had been riding on very new chipseal the whole way. At the top I saw the gravel spreader parked in what I’m guessing was the overlook. The first few miles of the downside was reduced to one lane, as the other had an unfinished bed of gravel. I had to wait with several cars until a pilot car led us down to the point where the road was no long under construction. It was hairpins all the way down, and I mostly kept pace with motor traffic.

When I got to the bottom, and exited the forest, I was overcome with emotion.

I made it quickly into the tiny town of Hillsboro and had lunch at the first place advertising “food,” Lynn Nusom’s Kitchen, which served me a huge and good breakfast burrito. I chatted with a couple who passed me on the climb in their RV—they’re on their way to Tucson to work on a balloonist’s crew for the balloon festival. The husband rides a recumbent, so we geeked out on bikes for a while. Very pleasant.

It was just after 3:00 when I got up from lunch. I felt inexplicably strong after 60 miles of mostly hard climbing. I knew it was pretty much downhill all the way to El Paso, so I decided to push on to Hatch.

It was 43 miles beyond Hillsboro, and I made it in just over three hours, tearing along over mostly flat land. When I got here, I received the rude surprise of learning that the one hotel in town was out of business. Has been for over a year apparently. There’s an RV park nearby. Not really set up to accommodate bike tourists—no communal toilet or shower. I cleaned up as best I could at a water hookup, pitched my tent, and had a sumptuous repast at the nearby gas station/Subway. Apparently the only restaurant open past 6:00.

It’s funny that Hatch is so well known for its peppers, but the town itself really doesn’t have much going on. It’s clearly not capitalizing on its reputation, and it’s not set up to.

Day 11: Cliff to Silver City

Started: Sep 28, 2010 8:11:37
Ride Time: 3:04:21
Stopped Time: 27:00
Distance: 29.33 miles
Average: 9.55 miles/h
Fastest Speed: 42.80 miles/h
Climb: 3863 feet
Calories: 1667

A short day today, and not a lot to report in terms of riding. The road into Silver City had a shoulder that would have been great to ride on if it weren’t covered in loose gravel, probably left over from a recent re-application of chipseal to the travel lane. It was almost all climbing to get in, but I had gotten an early start, and was in no hurry. Crossed the Continental Divide, which was much less epic than it sounds.

Silver City is a nice town. There’s a touristy main drag not far from where I’m staying. Since I’m a bike tourist, I can’t complain. Where I’m staying is with a Warm Showers host who runs a b&b. When she doesn’t have paying guests, she let’s WS members stay in the empty rooms. I’ve got a little apartment all to myself, and it’s really nice. If I ever pass through here on a road trip, I’d gladly pay to stay here.

I’ve always appreciated the starkness and emptiness of the desert states, but I’ve always done that appreciating inside an air-conditioned car cruising along at 70+ mph. It’s different when you’re on a bike averaging 11 mph. I see a lot more detail as well as a bigger picture, and I can observe gradual changes unfold. When I was riding through the Yuha Desert, I noticed that the terrain got rockier, and the earth shifted from yellow to red, as I moved through it. I mentioned this observation to Gwen, and she confirmed that the same changes are visible from the satellite view.

Tomorrow I ride over Emory Pass. I’ve had a few people tell me that it’s not as hard as the elevation profile suggests, and that it is beautiful. So I’m actually kind of looking forward to it. Depending on how much energy I have after, I’ll either stop in Hillsboro or push on to Hatch.