I am finally home. I’ve actually been here a couple days now. I’ve spent a gentle twenty minutes unpacking my saddle bags and placing my one outfit in the laundry hamper. Lolita arrived today in a large and streamlined bike box. I’ve become teary-eyed at my closet and its overwhelming selection, and I have thoughtfully and conscientiously prepared a meal using techniques more complicated than adding things to boiling water. Some parts of all this are still strange and surprising to me, and that’s good. I want to hold that feeling of wonder at the urban world for as long as possible. Given how competent the human brain is at adapting to the new and unusual, I probably won’t get to keep the sense of awe for long.

The period of time immediately proceeding a trip is generally referred to as re-entry. I remember re-entry for my Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike being quite easy. This time I expect it to be a bit harder. I’ve come back to Seattle, a city teeming with anonymous life, whereas after the PCT I went and lived out in the country for a year and grew vegetables. Vegetables are benign and loving compared with some Seattlites. I went to Pike Place Market today and swam upstream through throngs of busy people and no one stopped to ask me where I started my trip (Capitol Hill!) and where I plan to finish (also Capitol Hill!). Which is fine, because the answer now is not nearly as satisfying to say or hear.

A beautiful thing happens when a person and their bicycle embark on such a long and focused journey. Things simplify: the crucible of the trail boils off those cluttering irrelevancies until only the basics remain. And the point of all tasks narrows and deepens until, I suspect, the singular sense of purpose carried by the traveler is visible to others. I loved ascribing my life to this sense of purpose. I will miss it terribly. How often in our lives do things become so simple and so focused?

Traveling alone is hard, harder than having company (which is hard in it’s own way). But many of us need more solitude, probably. I would advise a person thinking of doing this trip to go, even if it means going alone. You will find the tangled expanses of your inner solitude as wild (wilder, really) as the terrain you travel through. It is a rewarding place to go explore. So go explore it! However you can, go walk in the woods or ride a bike or climb a mountain or sit quietly somewhere and keep your own company. Mirroring the inner exploration with an external one is powerful.

Now that I’ve returned to Seattle, I will start tutoring and looking for work. And to keep me busy, I’ve been talked into signing up for National Novel Writing Month for the month of November. The challenge: to write a 50,000 word novel from scratch over the course of the 30-day month, which works out to 1,6667 words a day. I don’t even know what I’m going to write about yet, but I have until to tomorrow to figure that out.

Thank you all for your readership and your kind and supportive comments over the course of this trip. Keeping a blog was a new step for me. I gave a list of things I’d left behind on the trip a little while ago, and one thing I did not leave behind was my sense of shame (which is just as well, since scientists think this is the one emotion humans have that no other animals do, so in a sense I’ve kept my humanity). Writing a blog is a weird and exposing thing to do on a trip, so your support meant a lot to me.

Thanks for reading!

 

So there it is then. I finished the trip, arriving at the border on the the 20th of October. From Silver City, where I was pleased to find a well-stocked co-op grocery, I meandered briefly among high country desert-y foothills of the Gila mountains before diving to meet the desert full on. The Chihuahua desert is huge, reaching far into Mexico and only just a fragment of its impressive expanse touches on New Mexico. Nonetheless, it felt larer than life to me. I only had a couple days in it’s austere company, but what a couple of days. Yucca plants speared the sky from soft amber grasses, and at the edges in every direction were clumps of bold and bald desert mountains, of the kind that stand so isolated from one another, separated by the flat reaches of desert in between, that one asks how they even got there. One of the preominant adaptations of desert plants made themselves known to me more personally: thorns are everywhere there, and in the last couple of days of riding, everything that was supposed to hold air no longer seemed capable of such.

I spent the first night out at Separ, NM. Where, of course you should ask, is Separ NM? It’s barely a blip on the radar for the people who pass it on busy I-10, holding nothing more than a gift shop (a strangely well-stocked gift shop full of kitchy ‘Mexican Imports!’ and fireworks). For me it was a veritable oasis, in a rather literal sense because I could stock up my water bottles there. I had a slower day getting out of Silver City, though, and so I stayed in the gift-shop parking lot with permission of the manager. Oh, what a sad night that was. I-10 carries an incredible amount of truck traffic all hours of the night, and likewise the train tracks paralleling the interstate carrying a large amount of train traffic, all of which blasted warning whistles at the road crossing right there next to the parking lot. The parking lot itself was flooded by ghastly orange halogen street lights and to avoid these, I went to bed down in the ‘Pet Area’. I found a clean-ish area, spread out my well-worn plastic groundsheet, and laid down on Big Fluffy, my tough-as-nails and totally dependable sleeping pad (which is inflatable – have I mentioned that?). And 10 minutes later it was totally flat. Because of the cacophanous freeway next door, I couldn’t locate the leak, and slept pressed into the hard parking lot of the pet area. The next area I was tired, my hip bones were bruised, and I was reassured once again that a person can put up with anything for a short period of time. Under my sleeping pad I found the culprit – a goathead, which is a woody little ball with hard, strong thorns protruding in a pattern reminiscent of a goat’s head.

In Silver City I got my first flat of the trip. Because it was a tear in the valve stem of the tube, I gleefully maintained my love of the tires I’m riding, which amazingly had no puncture flats or blowouts and in fact I hadn’t yet even added air to either tire. I replaced the tube and went on my merry, but somewhere between Sliver City and Separ the thorns struck their first blow, and a tire went flat. I had trouble with that tire the rest of the day, and the next day I got another flat. Ah well, the tires did alright most of the trip, losing integerity only in the true desert. And it’s fitting in a way that everything should fall apart at the very end of things.

After Separ I left the dirt for good. The remainder of the route follows paved, narrow roads cutting long straight lines through the desert. Abundant on these roads where huge crickets (grasshoppers? cicadas?). Their bodies were the size of a large thumb and they had beady eyes like a rabbit’s. It seemed to be the season for them, and they were largely engaged in the romantic activity of feasting on the bodies of other crickets, as many as 7 clustered around a car-flattened corpse. After such dates, the crickets seemed to engage in a protracted and unspirited coitus, little stacks of them all over the road. I tried my best not to run them over but it was quite difficult, and every now and then one would fall under my tire and crunch like a potato chip (definitely the airy crunch of a potato chip, not the earthy crunch of a corn chip). They were my amusing companions for miles and days of riding.

I road south from Separ to Hachita, and then, rather than continue another 50 miles south into the bootheel of New Mexico to Antelope Wells (the official terminus of the route), I turned east. I rode another 50 miles east to Columbus, New Mexico, a small and sleepy little border town. Along all those miles of riding, I did see an increible amount of border patrol traffic, and while I wa expecting them to leap out of their trucks and frisk me and demand my proof of citizenship in some dramatic display of federal power, no such thing happened. In fact, they were incredibly polite, swerving way over to the other side of the road to pass me, and only stopping once, but that was to make sure I was okay when I stopped to eat a sandwhich on the side of the road. Otherwise, there is nothing going on down at the border. People have been saying to me for months not to go anywhere near the border, that I’ll get killed by some crazed Mexicans and they’ll stuff my corpse with drugs and use it for trafficking or something. But I hardly saw anyone at all. It was beautiful , quiet, and empty.

I stayed my last night out in Columbus at Poncho Villa State Park (the site of the only foreign invasion ever to occur on American soil), and then rode north up to Deming to catch the train. I dropped Lolita off to be shipped home, and it was like losing a talisman. I stripped her bare of bags and bottles, hung them all over myself, and struggled from one side of Deming to other in search of the elusive Amtrak platform (taking the train appears to be unpopular in Deming, since everyone I asked said ‘Train? Train don’t stop in Deming.’).

I took the train through the night to San Diego, where I am now visiting a very dear friend and my goats. I head back to Seattle in a couple days. People ask if I am sad, or if I am happy, to be done. It is, of course, complicated. I am sad to leave the freedom of all those wide open spaces behind. I am sad to no longer carry the essence of my home in my mind through all those miles of riding, stopping every night to manifest it on the frame of what I know: how to pitch the tarp, what to cook, and so on. I will miss the vast and impenetrable solitude that was my troublesome companion for these couple months. I will miss the unmistakable sense of purpose that has governed my life on the trip. But I am happy to go home and see loved ones. I am happy to cuddle my goats, their rotund little bodies like beached whales in my arms. I am happy indeed to have electricity and running water at my disposal, a roof over my head, and to be very unconcerned about which the way the wind is blowing and how hard. In only hours, I travelled by train across terrain that would have taken me days on my bicycle, and when I fly home I’ll cover in even fewer hours what would take me months. I am happily astonished by this fact of modern mobility.

I’ll post once more after I get back to Seattle with some undoubtedly good afterthoughts, and I’ll put some gear reviews up for those who are curious. Check back for these. In the meantime, here are a few pictures. Unfortunately I dropped my camera up in El Malpais National Monument and it was semi-broke for a bit until it completley broke right at th end, so I don’t have as many pictures of the desert as I would have liked. Again, there’s that collapse of equipment showing up.

Desert sunset and ocotillo plant.

Columbus New Mexico.

Here I be in Silver City, NM. After a winding and extremely hilly route through the Gila National Forest, where I was squeezed to within yards of two different wilderness areas, the route dumped me out here. That is not fully accurate, actually. The route deposited me almost on the doorstep of Dave and Jackie Smee, who I found by very lucky coincidence of stopping at the local fire station to ask for water. Dave offered to let me ‘camp’ at his home, and as so often is the case, ‘camp’ became ‘sleep in my guest house, have dinner, take a shower, enjoy good conversation over wine and then tea’. I love meeting people on this trail because I get such wonderful view of what (some) Americans are up to these days, and I am at the mercy of their hospitality. Anyway, after such lovely hospitality, I made the remainder of the journey into Silver City. From here it is a scant two day ride to the US-Mexico border, so the next time you hear from me will be sometime in the process of going home.

From Grants, as I mentioned in the last post, I took a day of paved road riding to rest my palsied hand, and went through El Malpais national monument. El Malpais has lava, very young lava that oozed across the desert in geologically recent history. It has also this feature, La Ventana:

La Ventana - window to somewhere.

Beautifully eroded cliffs crowded the road on one side and the chunky lava hugged the other. Lavascapes are singularly fascinating, managing to be both young and yet to us seem very old at the same time.

After a humdrum day of ranch riding following El Malpais, I came to Pie town. Pie town sits at the confluence of the Continental Divide Hiking Trail and the Great Divide Mountain Biking Trail, and is home to some fantastic pie as well as the Toaster House, so named for the toaster-laden arbor gracing the entry way. The Toaster House is something of an institution on the trail. It was once lived in by Nita, who now lives elsewhere and keeps the house for bikers and hikers. I met a throng of CDT thru-hikers there and took a rest day, lounging on the porch, talking with the hikers, and drinking Tecate. Most of them had heard of me, Rob, and Sid on the PCT (for those who don’t know, Rob and I hiked the PCT in 2005 and we brought Sid (my goat) who got kicked ,off the trail by a park ranger 800 miles in due to some technical definitions of stock animals), and I realized the reason people know is because of the video I was in by Sasquatch, a documentary film maker, titled Still Walking and about the PCT and those funny folk who hike it. It was fun to relive it with hikers and to stir up some outrage. I think maybe my next adventure will be to hike the CDT with a horse.

My hand is okay these days, but only okay. The pain is less, mostly I think because I am doing some stretches for the nerve and I adjusted the grips on my bike. But the weakness is still there, and it’s starting to interfere with holding a fork. That means it’s starting to come between me and my food. That is sad news indeed. I weighed myself the other day and I’m down 13 pounds, perhaps more. While it’s likely all upper body muscle mass from a neglected yoga practice and months of bowing to my handlebars, I still feel that my shorts are baggier than when I started. Which brings me to a musing.

I’d like to revisit the topic of things I have left behind on this trip. Long ago I had a bit of a list, which you may recall. I lost a pair of underwear on the first day. I left behind the tent poles, twice. I left behind a stake for my tarp, the whistle for my bike, my cycling gloves. I lost one of the mounting clips for my saddle bag. I left behind thirteen pounds of me somewhere in the last couple months, left droplet by sweat droplet on the trail. I left behind the grizzly bears in Pinedale, WY, and then I left behind my bear spray in Abiquiu, NM when it fell out of my bar bag on the way to he farm. I left behind the snow in Colorado when it dusted on me the last night in the state, and I left behind the rocky mountains in Grants. And now, arriving in Silver City, I have left behind the mountains altogether. I plunge now headlong into the Chihuahua desert, where if I am very lucky, I will see a Javelina rooting around in a century plant.

The end is both sad and happy, and I feel accordingly. I’ve loved New Mexico, wild and thorny and beautiful, and I’m sure I will also love sitting on a train in just a couple of days and covering in hours what would have taken me days on my bike. I’ll post as soon as I can get internet again (who knows?!). Til then, I leave you with:

Beautiful, open New Mexico

New Mexico sunset between Cuba and Grants

So many days and so many miles creates a time warp which I’ve found myself fallen into. What day is it? I have no idea. I have a vague sense of where I am, enough to keep me from wandering around in my pajamas and a bag full of cold cuts as though I had advancing dementia, but still, there is a quality of disorientation permeating my days. It is not disquieting, though. In fact, I expect it is the result of the quiet deepening around me as I go further into empty New Mexico. My mind is getting still to the point where I hardly even know what to write here. What I have been doing is as follows: I get up, I putter around tending to the Koenig affairs which must, by necessity, follow a very particular order due to packing constraints, I hop on Lolita and we ride, ride, ride, and we ride. I may stop periodically to eat, to get water, snap a photo, pee, or whatever. And then I stop for the night, somewhat reversing the order of the morning as my camp blooms before my very eyes. I am like a nocturnal flower, closing up as the dawn breaks and opening again to the night. Sometimes things happen in the middle of all that: a hunter stops and gives me candy after pontificating on the route I should take even though I have found my way from Canada; a rock gets stuck in my derailler and prevents shifing, and it takes almost an hour, the help of a passing truck, a huge wrench and a long, thin screwdriver to get it out; a blood sugar crash upon arriving in Grants and a deperate and frightening exhaustion coupled with a sense that I was totally alone and no one could help me navigate the town to food (terrifying, it was); and cows (enough said).

Worth noting, in particular, is the rest day I tool in Abiquiu, the first rest day in twenty days of hard cycling. I had ridden ten miles into town, and Abiquiu has nothing in it except a wistful memory o when Georgia o’keefe lived there. I was sitting a the mercantile when a woman walked by and offered me a shower at the farm she worked at. I ended up staying the night there, after spending the morning cleaning tons of onions for market and just hanging around on the afternoon. There were goats for me to pet, and nothin else could have soothed my soul more, unless of course I had my own goats to pet. It was a sorely needed rest day, and prepared me well for the huge climb out of the trench that Abiquiu occupies and back up to high country. 

Back in Wyoming, I developed a pain on my right wrist which I now know is a case of handle bar palsy, a kind of temporary nerve damage in the hand that sometimes afflicts mountain bikers. I have pain sometimes with certain ranges of  movement and especially in the mornings, but more disconcerting is the weakness that has begun to affect my grip. Zippers have become difficult to operate, and at the end of the day, I can barely hold a pen to write in my journal. Watching your body fall apart, even superficially as this, is strange. It’s as though I were standing very far away and watching myself erode into dust or something (or at least my dominant hand, and it gives a sense o how terrifying some neurological conditions that damage the body really can be). On account of this injury to my dominant hand, I am taking a day of riding a paved alternate through El Malpais National Monument, to give the pressure on he palm from repeated bumps a rest.

 I am in Grants, a strange, sprawling, traffic-centric town through which route 66 used to deliver hordes of cash spanking tourists, most of whom now bypass the place on the interstate. I aim now for Pie Town. I plan to eat pie.

I have fewer than ten days til I arrive at the border and this is done. I am beginning to think now of life beyond the trail, though I try not to spend too much time being so distracted from the marvelous places I am. I’ll post pictures as soon as I can.

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!

Over the last few days, I have been so delighted by being alone. And over the last few days I have found things I would love to share with someone who will laugh with me. Isn’t this the tension I have sought to explore? From Silverthorne, I climbed over boreas pass along the route of an old narrow-gauge railroad. Trains can’t climb really steep stuff, so routes that follow old railroad grades are generally a pleasure to climb, not to mention historically  interesting.

The view from the road up to Boreas Pass.

Boreas pass, the apex of the climb, used to be a town, albeit a small one, situated at about 11,500 feet. Can you imagine? It used to have a big stone house for turning the trains around, a post office, and miles of shed housing the tracks to protect them from snow drifts. Now the old post office building is all the remains. I traced the route of this train down the other aide of the pass to Como, another historic town with roots in the railroads. Como doesn’t have much else beside those roots, though. The one store in town had almost nothing in it except one deeply irritated woman who bristled and my request to use the bathroom and to fill up my water bottles. “Just hurry, will you? I’m trying to close. I don’t like other people to use my bathroom. All the water is shut off because you’re too late in the year,” and so on. Como is something of an important water source, since there is no more water for another thirty-plus miles. In my rush to get out if the woman’s store, I didn’t quite fill up as much as I should have and spent the rest of the evening riding with an eye for a water source. From Como, I went into South Park, which is a large, mountain ringed basin with little in it: cows, the occasional wind mill-driven water pump (the ones I checked were dry) and road after eerie road laid in a near grid patter with nothing on them. Each intersection was marked with your standard-looking street sign, with names like Arapaho Trail and Navaho Drive. What strange ideas someone had once, about what to do with this empty basin. I passed empty road after empty road, none of them paved, many starting to be reclaimed by the native grasses and dead-ending only shortly after branching from the main road. That night, as the sun dropped behind the western mountains edging the basin, I stopped where I was, waterless, and crept through a hole in the fence surrounding an abandoned playground. Is there anything quite as eerie as an abandoned play ground at dusk?

Abandoned play things in the creepy playground.

I checked the cinderblock bathroom structure to see if the water was on, but this place had clearly been long abandoned. No water, the toilets filled with rotting excrement, rodent nests and droppings all over the floor, and garbage, broken bits of furniture, decay. The tennis courts were being reclaimed by weeds, the nets on the basketball hoops were disintegrated, and the only reason I knew there was a baseball diamond was the batting fence – the rest had returned to arid desert. I slunk about in the dark, trying not to be spotted trespassing by the occasional car that passed, and left early enough to leave under the cover of darkness and moonshadows.

I’m now in Salida, which is a nice littel town. I met a man at the laundromat as I stood around in my rain gear, my clothes tumbling away in the machines, and he was an authentic miner working a claim he filed up on some huge mountain near by. That’s like something out of the late eighteen hundreds; most miners work for big companies now, not on their own just shipping away at some random bits of rock. He has had some success, though. Apparently he found, a couple years back, the largest aquamarine gemstone ever found in North America. As I was talking to him, a woman asked me where I was staying, and then offered a place at her home. Yay! I am so lucky! I was given the old carriage house, which had a small kitchen, a bathroom and shower, internet, a bed, and even a clean towel. Jen and her family just moved to Salida to start a sustainability retreat center on a beautiful, vistorian-esque piece of property, which I delighted in occupying, if only briefly.

I’m headed ever south, over a series of passes in the next couple days and down to Del Norte. The weather looks lovely, save for some possible thunderstorms in the afternoons, but I can dig it. I’m getting into the rapid swings from being waterless and hiding in the shadows, to sleeping in the swanky, converted carraige house of an old Victorian estate. What can I say – I like surprises.

In Steamboat, as I wandered slowly around the natural food store and feasted my eyes on all the options, a woman struck up a conversation with me about the bike ride (I apparently have the look of a bike rider – I think it’s probably the gleeful confusion showing in my eyes when I am in a store). She asked where I planned to stay that night and when I told her I’d sleep in a ditch somewhere, she must have felt sorry for me. She came back to offer me a place to stay, which is how I came to meet Karen, John, and their son Hill. I had a beer with neighbor, I got licked by the dog, and Hill and I compared our hat tricks. This turned out to be timely, since Hill was headed out to his first middle school dance, and was sporting a very nice hat. Karen and John gave me a shower and let me stay in the his-shed out back (they have his and hers sheds). Really, it’s hard to overstate how great this kind of hospitality is when you are on the road. All of you reading, if you can find it in your heart, and then you can find a dirty, weary hiker or biker, take them into your home, offer them a clean towel for their shower, and then watch the tears well up in their eyes. It doesn’t take much.

So I had a great time in Steamboat, and the next day departed in fair spirits which only grew fairer, because I finally got that day I’ve been wanting. No rain, no wind, hardly a cloud in sky, just a beautiful autumn day. All the fishermen were out to enjoy it, and the aspens were lively in color. It was  gorgeous.

Riding out of Stemboat Springs. See how beautiful it was?

All the anglers in that same river enjoying the day.

While in Steamboat, I asked a number of people about the trends in colorado weather to figure out if I was going to get a weather break. From the people in the bike shop, I heard that they’ve had a lot of snow in October in years past. Someone told me to get a move on. Others told me if it didn’t snow, it would be the perfect time to go through the state. John told me that most years it would be fine, but every, say thirty-first year it would dump a bunch of snow early October and they’d all get twenty days of good skiing. So apparently there is no way knowing how that wind is blowing; I will just have to ride and make the best of the beautiful weather I’ve got. This isn’t as easy to do as that sentence makes it seem, though. With all the free time I have every day to think, it’s hard to avoid thinking about what could be happening a week from now. 

Whether snow or not, the cold will be unavoidable. From where I am now in Silverthorne, CO (at about 9,000′), I only go up, and then stay pretty up for a little while. The first night out from Steamboat, to avoid a slightly warmer but still very cold version of the ‘cold night’, I slept in an empty, two-story log cabin that was built in the 1880s. All hand-hewn logs, the building was stabilized by a historical society in 2000, and now people can walk around on the dirt floor and peer at the non-original engravings in the interior: “Amber 7/10” or “D loves K”. The building used to be home to a woman named Katherine, back when it was built, and also served as a hotel for travelers, so I felt it fitting to be housed under it’s roof for a night. It was a roof I shared, though; as I was settling into my sleeping bag, mice came out and were crawling up and down the walls. Lucky for me, mice tend to prefer the edges of rooms, and I was in the middle, so we had an uneasy (for me) arrangement.

The former home/hotel/polling place/mail stop.

The next day, hot and sunny, found me diving several thousand feet out of the high mountains to the Colorado river. In a few miles, the aspens and lodgepole pines gave way to shrubby hillsides of juniper and pinyon pine.

The Colorado river is the shiny ribbon on the valley floor. I took this right before plummeting several thousand feet to reach it.

Sometime during the descent, I noticed a familiar kind of stiffness in the handlebars. As I climbed away from the river bottom and above the gorges it wound through, the steering grew stiffer and more recalcitrant. I repeatedly held the front of the bike up and swung the handlebars back and forth to test how they moved unloaded, and by the afternoon, they were thickly falling into discrete positions. My headset was once again shot. At camp that night I overhauled it as best I could, cleaning out the grit and smearing more grease on the bearings and races. It returned enough responsiveness to get me to Silverthorne. I don’t know why I am having such fascinating luck with headsets on this trip. When I was in Steamboat, I took Lolita into the bike shop and had the bottom bracket overhauled. The mechanic found the bottom bracket shell was full of, yes, water. You must have had a lot of rain, he said. So I can only imagine the same is true of the headset. That coupled with the fact that it bears a great deal of weight when I go downhill, I suppose is my perfected recipe for destroying a nearly brand-new headset (I got this one new in whitefish Montana, if you’ll recall).

Though, the day I left the log cabin, I had to ford a creek and the water was so high, it came over the bottom bracket. As I have yet to ford a creek where the water comes over the handlebars, I hope that there is at least somewhat less water in the headset than in the bottom bracket.

Fording Rock Creek. So cold.

(Think about the implications of this photo. I am traveling alone. It was 7:30am when I took the picture. The dregs of my breakfast tea had frozen into my pot when I left camp only fifteen minutes before, and frost was still on the grasses. I forded the creek, set up the camer on auto timer, and then ran back into the creek with my bike to get the shot.)

I am riding in a world tinted with the light of fall. Colors have become more amber. Trees are in brilliant autum colors.

Aspens.

Also Aspens.

I am so not disappointed by Colorado at this time of year. The weather is perfect, though of course the nights are cold and long. It gets dark around 7:30pm, and the sun rises around 6:30am, which leaves me many hours to pass sleeping, reading, writing, and eating. But the pleasure I take in each day’s ride is immense. As long as the weather holds, this will be a spectacular several weeks.

The road from Rawlins plunged headlong back into the desert, though this time it was intent on leaving. After thirty miles, I climbed out of the desert landscape and crossed the continental divide into the Sierra Madre mountains. However, it was not an easy thirty miles: the headwind was as bad as it ever has been, and the terrain, on account of ascending the foothills of the mountains, was filled with pointless steep ups and downs. Around three o’clock, the rains started and continued for the rest of the day. Rain and wind have become a perennial state of being for me on this trip, a state of affairs which at some times feels so ridiculous, I can’t help but laugh. I put in another 20 miles that day in the drenching, miserable weather, the stiff headwinds, the steep hills, and the mushy road before stopping in a wet little creek valley. It was definitely one of the hardest days of riding yet.

The view towards Rawlins as I climbed into the Sierra Madre.

The following day, it was cool and the mountains were dressed in slithering, thick gray clouds, which slowly dissipated. By the afternoon it was sunny again and I could begin the somewhat tedious task of drying out the soggy things. I am greatly looking forward to the day of riding that has neither headwinds nor rain. It has been so long I can hardly remember what that feels like, to be unencumbered by bad weather of one kind or another. 
What is it like to ride in the rain? It feels dangerous out here, more so than riding in the rain at home. This is amplified by the high elevations and sub-freezing nighttime temperatures. It feels strange on the legs, which have some kind of plasticy, nylon fabric soaked through and clinging to them, growing taut at the pedal stroke extension. The water soakes the helmet and drips down onto my nose, the back of my neck, and even soaks through my rain coat and my back becomes damp. My shoes, forget about it. They are quickly soaked, and stay wet for a full twenty-four hours after the rains stops. Everything is wet and muddy. Everything.

My very wet and cloud-ensconced campsite. But hey, I was back in trees again!

The desert has ended most definitely, and now I am in Aspen-covered mountains, entire hillsides lit up with quaking, shimmering leaves in green and gold. I started my trip when I did partly to arrive in Colorado at the time when the aspens were changing. In this section I rode through Aspen Alley, an especially loved miles of road crowded by tall aspens:

Aspen Alley, just before the leaves change.

If you’ve seen a desktop picture of a picturesque road flanked by aspens and covered by a brilliantly colored canopy, you were probably looking at an iconic picture of Aspen Alley. Unfortunately, they hadn’t quite changed yet when I was there, though it was still very beautiful. 

Though I seem to be a bit early for the foliage change, in the minds of many I am quite late indeed. On many occasions I have been told that I am too late in the season to be doing this. The day out of Rawlins, for example, a man pulled up in his truck and warned me of the rain that was coming and said it could be snow in the mountains, that I needed to be really careful, and that I was late in the season to be doing this. See? I’ve been getting that a lot lately. And it’s fair to say, since last night at Steamboat Lake campground, it was as cold as it’s been so far on this trip. The frost was so thick on the bike and the tarp that it almost looked like snow. 

I am now in Steamboat Springs, CO, which I am happy to report has a very lovely library. My sense is that Colorado will be the most civilized-feeling of the states I ride through, with towns popping up more frequently, and more often being filled with espresso shops and boutique stores. I can deal with that; it might be nice since morning after morning I’m bound to wake up frozen and in need of a warm place and hot drink to help me thaw.

The desert. As has been reported, it is a windy, waterless, desolate place. It is stunning and dangerous: the road traverses stabilized sand dunes and can have treacherously soft sand that sink the tires, the road is often heavily washboarded, or studded with large angular rocks that deflect the bike tires. The wind is hard and relentless, and makes my nostrils cake and bleed and causes an ache in my sinuses that spreads into my cheekbones and up to my brow. The wind demands your attention by whipping your clothes about on your body and by rushing across your skin. It is a relentless assault on the senses, violently filling any bit of space on or near your body that you aren’t currently using. It passes the ear canal like a shreiking suicide jumper, always in a hurry, panicked and tormented. Being in the wind means getting no rest; it is like constantly getting shoved, little persistent and annoying shoves, over and over. It is that frustrating. In the desert, water is the most precious resource, and since there was hardly any on this stretch (and the sources that might exist were reportedly unreliable), I carried seven liters of water on my bike, which caused the rear tire to sink ever deeper into those soft sand roadways. And it is empty, which can at times cause a sense of disquiet, and strange sadness. Like the hardest parts of solitude, unforgiving and taking no excuses. Even so, it is stunning in it’s austerity; the stark contrast between a brown baren earth and a blue empty sky; the way it open to your eyes, inviting your gaze as far as you care to take it while still hiding a bounty of surprises.

On the first day out from Pinedale, the landscape changed quickly to scrubby desert, where sage brush rolled out like a pungent carpet in all directions and round boulders filled the inbetween spaces. You can sometimes mark the passing of places by the roadkill found along the highways, and as I had a bit of pavement to ride before getting back on dirt, I was able to observe. Instead of deer and chipmunks, rabbits and pronghorns littered the roadsides in varying states of gore. The landscape undulated, sweeping up to meet the Wind Rivers to the north, and otherwise forming sculpted plateus and bluffs. I was riding sort of in tandem with Diederik, Tom, and Sarah (all from previous posts), and we converged on our one water source of that first day, the Big Sandy River at a crossing used by hundreds of thousands of emigrants in the the 1800s. Precious to us as well, we got water to drink, and then went for an afternoon swim.

Cyclists resting after an afternoon swim. (Lazy cyclists.)

Diederik with the Wind River mountains behind him.

 The route traced portions of the Pony Express Trail, the Oregon Trail, the California Trail, and the Mormon Trail, even crossing South Pass, which was a critically important passageway through the Rocky Mountains for travelers headed west. This terrain is largely unchanged from what is was like when emigrants will still coming through, though I had the advantage of a well and a reservoir to get water, not to mention some better weather than some fared.

Lolita at the intersection of the Pony Express Trail and the Oregon Trail

 After the first day, the trail left the foothills of the Wind Rivers long behind and plunged headlong into the desert proper, toying with the Continental Divide along the way. The next several days were largely the same terrain, and could almost, callously, be called monotonous. But in truth, though the desert is hot and windy and exposed, it is also exceptionally beautiful, but not even remotely disarming. To the contrary, it is a beauty of bared teeth and ferocity. And so you go in bringing the same. You go in teeth bared. You go in fierce.

The animals out there are rich and varied. At night, cayotes yip and mice scurry around and eat your granola bars. During the day, almost every rise and turn brings startled pronghorns into veiw, and then they turn and race away. And those pronghorns move fast, too fast to get a picture of (they are hunted, and so wary; even if one doesn’t bolt as far away as possible at the sight of you, they do as soon as you point something at them, even if it is only a camera). The pronghorns are dainty, often travel in large herds to you see many at once prancing across the desert on their thin, delicate legs. They also have very very white behinds, which seems an unfair disadvantage to them in hunting season, since long after their tan coats blend into the scraggly dun terrain, their brilliant white behinds shimmer in the sun like a target. Also abundant are wild horses, multi-colored and proud.

Wild horses racing across the desert alongside me.

 It was a beautiful and hard stretch, and I enjoyed it immensely. From Rawlins, I now will climb back into the mountains, windless and wet. And it looks like rain is forcast, so at least everything will feel familiar. I cross into Colorado very soon, and again the character of the trail will change dramatically. I’ve never been to Colorado, and I’m not sure what to expect other than high elevation – days and days above 9000 feet. Wyoming has been enchanting and surprising, from the jagged theater of the grand Tetons to the vast, folding desert of the Great Basin. What have you got Colorado? What have you got for me?

Desert sunset behind Lolita.

Days off the bike are harder than you would imagine. I took 4 days off in Yellowstone, and during that magical time, my knees started to flare up. Some of you may know, or remember, I have a strange, undiagnosed inflammatory condition that affects my knees and occasionally my hips, and it isn’t a problem all the time. But when it is, I’m so affected by it that I can’t go up and down stairs without using a kind of shuffling-hop to prevent my knees from bearing too much weight, and I can’t sit down on a toilet without setting my hand on the seat behind me and easing my weight down onto the bones of my arm. I wonder if resting so long started to destabalize my joints, which had come into equilibrium without the work of biking every day. At any rate, my knees were in terrible shape when I left, popping every rotation of the pedals and radiating pain eventually up to my groin and into my feet. In order to make time up for what I had spent lounging around fumaroles and other steamy things, I rode a very long day over several passes on those weak knees. They’ve been getting better, but when I have opportunity to use a public restroom, I roll up on my bike then go straight to the handicapped stall so I can use the bars to support myself on and off the toilet. I am a walking, rolling contradiction.

I rode in Yellowstone’s west entrance and out the south entrance, shortly after which I caught up to Tom and Sarah (from an earlier post). We camped together that night, then took a bit of a detour south along the eastern edge of the Grand Tetons (or the Grand Breasts, as we might roughly translate the name, since the mountains were originally named Les Trois Tetons, or the three breasts, by a French party of fur traders). The Tetons loom, and it is this feature which makes them so very striking: jagged, bereft, and hard, they tower over the plains that surround them.

Lolita being loomed over by the Tetons.

We rode to the town of Moose, WY after camping at Jenny Lake, then turned around and headed to north to pick up the route again. It was a lovely detour, all of it spent in the cradle of the spectacular Tetons. It also was entirely paved. In fact, much of the route has been paved lately, which is a necessary feature of riding through such a dense concentration of national parks and wilderness areas. The pavement is a nice change because the miles fly by with realtively little effort, and after so many days of climbing pass after pass on rough, bumpy dirt roads, a little flying of miles is well-received. However, pavement doesn’t last forever, at least not on this route. Before long, we were climbing another dirt road over yet another pass, and then another. But I tell you, the veiws from some of the little forgotten places we set our feet on during this ride are incredible. Take, for example, this sunset behind the Tetons from a high camp near Togwotee Pass:

Incredible Wyoming sunset behind Grand Teton.

Overlooking the eroded cliffs in central Wyoming.

Wyoming has a different character than Montana. The mountains are bigger, and tend to expose their sheeer, rocky flanks more. The entire route is higher, actually. I’ve been to about 10,000 feet already near Uinion Pass, and for several nights I was camped at 9,000 feet and traveling at roughly that elevation.

At 9,000 feet, the nights are cold. I get sense of what a frozen rock this planet would be without the daily infusion of sunlight, because as soon as the sun goes down, the temperature drops to below freezing fairly quickly. I wake up to the dampness on the sleeping bag from breath frozen into an intricately patterned, flaky crust of ice. To avoid having to thaw out the solid sheet of ice on my tarp in the mornings, if the weather is clear I find a little spot under some trees and sleep without pitching the tarp at all. In the morning, I wake up, shake the earwigs out of my shoes, and brush the pineneedles from my hat.

I am now in Pinedale, which is a great cowboy town. What I mean by this is people have spurs attached to the heels of their boots. They wear cowboy hats. They deal with cows. The town has everything I need before I get ready to ride through the Great Basin Desert, which is a part of the Continental Divide, though less straightforward. It’s a big basin where the waters drain to nowhere, simply evaporating out of the temporary, alkiline lakes they form. Never having been there myself, I can’t say, but I hear these things about this stretch: no water, fierce headwinds, desolate and empty. For the next four days I’ll roughly trace this difficult part of the Oregon Trail (or the Mormom Trail, or the Pony Express, or whathaveyou), though statistcally speaking, my odds of making it are much much higher.

Speaking of cows, I dreamed about cows last night. I dreamed that my good friend Rob and I were on some kind of a trip, perhaps on bicycle but perhaps not, and we decided to stop travelling, buy a herd of cows, and graze them on the piece of public land we stopped on. A weatherworn man in a cowboy hat showed us the long, angular wooden fenceline climbing into the forrested hillside that would keep our cows in. “You’ll just have to figure out how to get them cows over that cattle guard,” he said, and gestured to the iron bars laid across the road. I tell you this so you’ll understand how thoroughly I’m in a world of mountains, cows, fences, and cattleguards.

Lolita, barb wire fence, and the Wind River mountains in the distance.

The weather, while cold at night, is sunny and dry during the day. What a great relief to me. As I am about to head into desert, I don’t expect more rain for a little while. This is good, since I can now work on my tan. Until Rawlins, my dear co-conspirators!

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