The mornings were still cold necessitating several early stops to strip off layers, but the scenery was spectacular, dominated by growing silhouettes of the rugged edges of the El Malpais wilderness and the Sawtooth Mountains, which guard Pie Town, coming into view. In contrast with the more rolling higher altitude hills of Colorado, New Mexico was increasingly a more eroded landscape punctured by jagged little teeth. We got to Pie Town about 8:30, skipping the pie shops altogether (not open till 10) for the sanctuary of the Toaster House.
The Toaster House is an institution for passing walkers and cyclists, kept afloat with donations, and magically packed to the gunnels with snacks, cold drinks, laundry facilities, mattresses and shaded seats. Miro made coffee and we munched on snacks and relaxed, indulging our preferred state of procrastination, until we really felt we should kick on, at least before the pie shops opened, which would have delayed progress even further, and before the nastiness of the heat became too much. A hot one was clearly on the cards. The next major resupply town, Silver City, was 300 km away. We clearly wouldn't make that, especially given the jagged route profile ahead, not to mention the uncooperative winds, but hoped to get as close as possible.
We passed through dry forest, then open desert, at one point coming across an unexpected water stop, courtesy of a local farmer who'd stashed half a dozen 4 L bottles of water inside a signposted barrel. More trail magic! Back into forested gullys where dry stream beds were a counterpoint to streams in previous states that always seemed to be running. The heat was on and periodically we'd take a break under the shade of a tree atop a rise. The trail finally changed tack, and shortly afterwards we crossed paths with some north-bound riders who reckoned we'd have tail winds for the next 30 miles. A-grade!
We descended down a spartan valley with a taily at our backs, and generally hard buff clay under our tires. Apparently this is one of the sectors impassable after rain courtesy of the trail transforming to peanut butter. Paul Lester was a victim of this very phenomenon last year, getting marooned at the same spot for several days. As Miro pointed out, days of uncooperative wind were preferable to rain in this part of the Divide.
The final water point of the day was the Beaverhead Workstation, featuring a famous Coke machine. Naturally, when we finally rolled in just before dark there was a conspicuous piece of paper stuck to the outside indicating it was out of order. Not that I had any coins anyway.
I was keen to make an extended evening push from here into the Gila mountains, but Craig was the voice of reason, suggesting that we still had time to finish comfortably inside 21 days. I wasn't so sure he was correct, or even that the day count was correct, but we'd come this far together so I trusted that he had a better idea of where we were placed than I did.
We got ourselves over one pass in the Gila, and noticed disconcerting clouds of smoke down where we were headed. Now I was nervous about whether another re-route might have been issued that we'd failed to receive notice of, reception having been fairly scratchy. But what could we do? We dropped down into the valley and camped in a relatively open area just off the trail, but with a few trees overhead to ward off the dew. I was so conditioned to crawling into my sleeping bag filthy by this stage that it hardly even registered. Almost inconceivably, this might be my last night on the Divide - all things going well, the following day might be our last on tour!
(216 km, 1953 m)