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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.

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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.

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