From Salida Colorado, I began a period of climbing high passes to lofty elevations, reaching eventually the high point of the route at nearly 12,000 feet. But first I had several passes to climb up to, then descend off, over several days. The routine is climb for most of the day, then quickly whiz down the other side into a camping spot. When travelling at 3 miles per hour, it can take a long time to climb a twelve mile pass. The route from Salida to Del Norte, CO counts among my favorite of the route so far, winding among brilliantly-colored aspen and fascinating hoodoos and other formations in the volcanic rocks.

Beautiful stuff in Colorado.

Prior to arriving in Del Norte, the route dropped out of the mountains along the edge of the San Luis desert, and there I took up an extremely primitive two-track that rollercoastered the rest of the way to Del Norte. Look, I yelled, I’m almost mountain biking for real!

Two-track winding trhough the desert to Del Norte.

In Del Norte, I was given hospitality by Gary and Patti, two local mountain bikers who often host Great Divide riders when they come through. I arrived in town and made use of Gary’s well-stocked shop to change the cable and housing of my rear shifter, which had started to bind and creak several days before. After, Gary and Patti took me along to a wedding celebration where I met many interesting local people (of which Del Norte appears to be in no short supply of), congratulated the bride and groom, and ate many plates of wedding food and drank wedding beer from the local brewery. The next day, I had the biggest, baddest pass of the route to climb, from Del Norte’s diminutive elevation of something like 7,500′ to about 12,000′. In the morning, I hung around and talked with Gary and Patti, did a bit more work on the bike, went to the store and showered and packed, and by the time I finally got on the road, it was nearly 11 and I had 4,000′ feet to gain. While I was meandering alon south of town, I ran into Kevin, a guy I met at the party the night before, who farms free-range, organic buffalo just outside of Del Norte. I chatted with him for about a half-hour, and was nearly persuaded to stop at his cabin just a few miles up the road and eat some exotic birds his neighbors had just dispatched, thereby putting the gruesome climb off til the next day. Alas, I did not do this (perhaps the most regrettable decision of the trip). Instead I rode steadily all day, cresting the pass late afternoon just as a violent hailstorm was unleashed from the overburdened skies. Right after the pass, the route went through Summitville, a pleasant little Superfund site where copper had been mined since the forties. There was nothing up here except industrial reclamation equipment, one badly eroded and scarred mountain side, and miles upon miles of contaminated surface water that was unfit to drink even after filtering. I ran into a couple out for a drive near there who stopped to ask me for directions, then offered me water which I greedily took and drank. I hadn’t wanted to carry much water up that gigantic climb, so their offer was deeply appreciated. I rolled into camp that night just as darkness was filling the basin, muting the colors of the aspens to gray. Even here, the water was unsuitable to drink, so saturated in heavy metals that it could dissolve a nail in eight months. There happened to be some guys from Texas camped where I stopped, and I asked for some water from them. They, naturally, invited me to dinner. We had pork chops, beans, fried potatoes, and corn, a very southern-style meal, all tightly clustered around the table in the R.V., and the guys told me about how terrible the fishing was and the work they did in Texas (one was the dad, one was the son, and the other was a co-worker at the golf-cart business ran by the dad). The co-worker was missing his front teeth, and I could only barely understand the son through his heavy Texas twang. A handgun casually rested on the back of the booth seat we ate in. These were my kind of people. But ultimately, they were good people, kind to share food with me even though, in all honesty, I am sure we come from very different places and believe very different things.

The next day, I passed through Platoro Colorado and I stopped for breakfast (I’m a sucker for a big, hot breakfast). I laid out all my sleeping accoutrement to thaw the ice coating everything and then dry the residual water while I ate. When I cam back out, my groundsheet was gone – I had draped it over a bench in the sun just outside the window of the front desk. I asked the man at the desk if he saw where it went, and he came out to help me look. After a bit, a horrified look came over his face and he said “I think Jim may have picked it up with the trash”. Now, my groundhseet does sort of look like a big piece of trash. It’s a kind of dirty large piece of clear plastic, and has bits of tape patching various holes and half a produce bag ataped over one large tear in the center. But it is a fundamentally critical piece of equipment in my kit, and I really needed it back. The front-desk guy sent one employee to go dig around the trash trailer, but she came back empty-handed, too squeamish to take the plunge into the garbage to find the groundsheet. Eventually Jim came back and was sent to fetch it – Oh shit, he said, sorry – and he came whirring back 20 minutes later in the little cart, the groundsheet wadded up on his lap and smelling only slightly of garbage. I packed up, thanked everybody for their work, and headed on. The ride down the valley was incredibly beautiful, with everything in the boldest of color.

The incredible, confetti mountains of south Colorado.

Later on that day, I rounded a corner and found myself in the middle of a cattle drive on the road.

Cows! This went on for about ten minutes.

And guess what? That evening, I crossed into New Mexico! Yeah! It was a good day.

When I was coming into camp that night, I noticed a strange looking log which, as I came closer, turned out to be one very large, very dead cow lying on it’s side, it’s thin little legs sticking straight out. All night, the smell wafted into my camp, though it did bring in the coyotes which serenaded me as I slept. The next morning, a guy came over in an off-road buggy and invited me over for breakfast to his camp. The night before, as I was setting up camp, his friend came over to check if I was alright. They were up with their wives, hunting elk, and had shot one the day before. I had breakfast with the four of them, and then I was offered (and gladly accepted) a shower in the trailer. Talk about good people – they were kind and thoughtful, they offered a prayer for my safety and in the same prayer, thanked God for the beautiful creature they had just killed and were going to be eating. I should say now, at the risk of alienating a whole host of readership, that I usually identify as an atheist, and I have had both bad and good expreiences with the religous of all faiths. But I was so touched by thoughtfulness and graciousness of these people, who I hope I run into again some day. I love when people care for the land they live in and walk on, and I love when people who hunt honor the life they have taken. I appreciated deeply their generosity and concern.

The ride through New Mexico has been wild. I think that New Mexico may be my favorite state so far, where the roads are so deteriorated that it’s hard to believe a car could ever drive them (I coincided for a long while with the Continental Divivde National Scenic Trail along these horrible roads), and where the terrain feels more robust and featured than what I’ve been through so far. I skirted the Cruces Wilderness Basin, with spectacular views into the many river valleys, and climbed up and down, up and down through the Tusas Mountains. The only unfortunate aspect of being in New Mexico is that the day I hit the primitive roads that can’t be ridden if they are wet is the day it started to rain again. It’s been cold and windy, and even thunderous, but I’ve managed to race the storms and repeatedly I’ve just barely been leaving a primitive dirt road as the rain starts to fall hard. The risk of snow is fading, though I did have some flurries the other night, but I’m only four or five days away from being done with the Rockies (and out of the high country).

Today I came into what truly feels like New Mexico, passing several remote little villages. All adobe and cob, close to the road, junk filled yards, and dogs everywhere in the tiny roads, it reminds of Mexico.

A building with character in Vallectios New Mexico

I’ve met some very friendly gangster-types, one guy who showed me the (I actually lost count, there were so many – maybe 10?) bullet hole scars from where, apparently, the police shot him all up.

I head to Abiquiu tonight or tomorrow, and from there to Cuba.Thanks for checking in!