This was a significant morning for us. After a typically slow start courtesy of my inability to do anything efficiently, including getting water from the river, Craig and I clawed our way up a steep bitumen climb (La Manga Pass) before being emptied onto the dirt and a sign that said New Mexico. After all this time we'd finally hit the last of a long list of states and provinces, from Alberta through British Columbia, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado and now New Mexico. For the first time, perhaps, I started to believe that even though I'd been on my knees for a long time I might actually get to the end of this thing.
We climbing our way onto a ridge and followed its gently meandering wanderings for some time, past stunted pines and a colour palette that increasingly reminded me of country New South Wales back home. It was a land of sun-burnt tan and straw-coloured grasslands and rolling hills intermittently punctuated by small struggling trees. The giveaway that this was hardly Australia was the odd snow drift, reminding one that we were still up round 3000 m.
We kept particular attention on our collective odometers. At km 137 we'd hopefully arrive at a crucial junction then change to a different GPX file on our Garmins to navigate along the re-route. Worked perfect. After following a contour in heavy pine forest we started a long and gradual descent down a terrific ridge before a right hand turn tipped us onto bitumen. At Del Norte and Platoro we'd stocked up big time, anticipating no resupply for an extended period, but somehow missed the fine print indicating a restaurant on this bitumen sector, so you can imagine our delight when it came into view. We parked our bikes next to those belonging to Peter and another rider who'd been comfortably ahead of us for days, Miroslav Novak. Peter was naturally in the process of leaving. In fact that would be the last we'd see of him as he made his push to the end.
We ordered we chatted a little with Miro who was busy procrastinating. Like me he was in the wars, with numb painful toes (mine had been numb since day one although I wasn't so bothered), but most crucially with undercarriage issues, carrying some open saddle sores that just wouldn't heal. This was one department where I considered myself lucky. Although I'd developed some scabby sores after the first 2 days, the change in knicks had done the trick, to the extent that i now hod some nice calluses and hadn't needed to apply more butt cream for the last week.
Miro asked me point blank if we were riding to the end together. It was something we'd never discussed, but probably both considered possible given our complementary paces - I could make up time on climbs if required but Craig was the better technical rider in the rough and on descents, and was quicker on flat sections with his aero setup. So we'd often ride apart, although together, the elastic stretching one way then the other before merging once more, often within the confines of a gas station or cafe. He had an extremely high cadence compared to mine that even appeared delicate or fragile, but this betrayed the fact that he could maintain this rhythm for hours on end, day after day after day, without seeming to tire.
Craig was an interesting chap too. A keen outdoorsman, he'd walked three of the top tier walks in the country, the so-called triple crown; the Pacific Crest Trail, the Appalachian Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail, which was different to the mtb version we were on, but crossed it many times. That's a lot a walking! Craig frequently pointed out points where the two trails crossed, and knew the type of terrain to come before we got to it, and the layout of resupply towns - a useful chap to have around! He was also quite the naturalist, helping me with the ID of birds and animals we'd see along the way. He also embodied the classic American optimism - funnily he reminded me of Bud Lightyear, a counterpoint to my more dour pessimistic outlook (i.e., Woody), but at the end of the day we seemed to get on well and enjoy each other's company. Perhaps we would get to the end together.
Miro kicked off as Craig and I went through burritos, quesadillas and multiple milkshakes.
Back on the road an hour or two later Craig and I rounded a corner to see Miro on the deck, wrestling with his bike in the sun. A "chain checker", attached to the frame directly adjacent the small chainring had rattled loose and was now impeding its rotation. The only way to access it was to remove the cranks altogether. Craig and I winced as Miro bashed away with a rock to pop the crankset out of the frame, allowing access to the offending chain checker which was removed altogether before everything was put back in place.
It looked like our party of two had just become three as we pushed on. We finally got to the tiny town of Vallecitos, signifying the end of the re-route section and were met with the local welcoming committee in the form of a squadron of small dogs that rushed out of gates to gives us a sample of their appreciation. This ritual, that hadn't occurred anywhere along the Divide till now, was repeated at pretty much every New Mexican town we entered. Ideally we would have liked to have made Abiquiu by day's end, but come 10 pm we'd simply run out of puff and desire, so bivvy'd under the cover of a small performance stage in a park in the the little town of El Rito instead.
(205 km, 2768 m)