Incommunicado

I could spilt this up into multiple posts I suppose, but I’m not going to, so it’s going to be a long one. If you don’t get bored with it, you might want to break it off in chunks.

I left Roswell, New Mexico on thanksgiving day. I always check what the winds are going to do two days out, and timed it so that I had 35 miles of south riding with a 20 mph northwest wind. It was the first taste I had of a tailwind in a long time.

I averaged over 20 mph heading straight south to Artesia, where I turned west towards Hope. There’s not much in Hope, but I didn’t have any choice but to camp there so I would be able to make the 60 or 70 mile jump through desert and rising foothills to Mayhill, where I could get water and food. My plan was to camp in Hope, assuming I could find some abandoned structure to provide some shelter from the wind. The road Gods had other plans for me though, and I couldn’t have planned a better Thanksgiving if I tried.

About 10 miles west of Artesia a pickup passed me, went a couple miles, then turned around and pulled right up next to me. “I’m going all the way to Alamogordo, you want a lift?”

Hell yeah, I did. The guy who picked me up was awesome. 53 years old from Odessa, Texas. He was on his way to his moms for Thanksgiving. He was in the national guard, spent nine months in Afghanistan, and loved it for some reason, he wanted to go back. A 4th generation Mexican-American, funny as hell, we talked and laughed the whole way.

He said after he passed me he kept thinking how shitty that road would be to bike on (it was) and how he’d feel awful if he heard about some cyclist that got run over. Decided he better see if I wanted a ride.

He gave me about a 90 mile ride to the top of the Sacramento mountains, near Cloudcroft, to a hostel I wanted to stay at. I got there about 1 or 2, and one of the owners was there to greet me and show me around.

The owners are very interesting people, John, grew up in Detroit, lived in upstate New York for part of his life, but has been all over the world. His German wife Stephanie is an architect and together they had rebuilt this old structure set into the side of the mountain, and turned the lower level into the hostel, and the upper level into their home.

John has worked as an executive chef in lots of places, and as it turned out, they were having 20-25 people over for Thanksgiving, and invited me, and all the hostels guests to join in the festivities. When the day started, I fully expected my Thanksgiving dinner to be rice and beans, alone, after setting up camp next to some abandoned building. Instead I got to enjoy a huge feast, in good company. Probably the best Thanksgiving food I’ve had, and it was all there, ham, turkey, potatoes, stuffing, squash. Glazed carrots, pies, cakes, everything you can think of and more. And it was all SO good. Couldn’t have planned anything better. A Thanksgiving I’ll remember to the end of my days, for sure.

I stayed at the hostel for a couple of days. I would have stayed at least another day, but I had been watching the weather, and I was aware that I was about to cross the most desolate stretch yet, on the whole trip.

As I’ve mentioned, the winds here are almost always out of the west or southwest, and they are frequently fierce. I woke up the morning after my second night at the hostel and knew I had to make a break for it. 5-10 mph west winds predicted, the next day was predicted to be 20-30 with 40 mph gusts. I knew that crossing an 80 mile stretch of desert with those winds wouldn’t be possible. I didn’t want to go, and hadn’t prepared at all the night before, though I should have. So I scrambled and got all my shit packed up, had a quick breakfast and headed out.

Fortunately from talking to locals I found a much better route down the western slope of the Sacramento mountains than the main highway would have been. I had 10 or 12 miles of downhill on an very beautiful and twisty mountain road on the way to Alamogordo. A river flowed over part of the road, and it had frozen overnight, but a vehicle had crossed it and broken up the ice. I had to take my shoes and socks off, throw them across and wade through with my bike.

After Alamogordo, it was a flat stretch of desert, past White Sands National Monument, and through the White Sand Missile Range, a huge military reservation, before I had to climb a mountain range, and descend the western slope down into Las Cruces, New Mexico.

This ride was the one that had me most worried on the whole trip. If I had to deal with a 20 mph headwind, or more, I knew I wouldn’t make it before dark. And climbing the mountain range near the end presented it’s own challenge.

But even the predicted 5-10 mph west winds never showed up, I had virtually no wind all day. I was able to average 14-15 mph, and when I got to the foot of the mountains in the early afternoon, I knew I had made it. That climb was a real bugger though. It would be one thing to ride a bike over those mountains after a 60 mile ride. It’s another thing to haul nearly 100 pounds of gear up those mountains after a 60 mile ride. But I got to the top eventually, and sailed down the other side into Las Cruces. It was my last full day of riding to date, and I felt damn good having tackled the challenge.

The next day, those predicted winds showed up. I was also looking at riding roughly 275 miles of interstate to get to Tucson. It’s pretty much the only route that wouldn’t take me hundreds of miles out of the way, and also take me thousands of feet higher in elevation. Any other time of year, that would be the way to go. But this time of year, towards the end of November, you get up above 5,000 feet, and you’re tempting fate. I had warm clothes and a warm sleeping bag. But I was already dealing with nights in the teens at 4,000 feet in the high desert. Spending nights, 70 miles from water, with a potential for real snow, temps much lower than 15, didn’t want to do it. It was the potential for being very far from anything, wet, AND very cold that could get dangerous. I knew my route this time of year would be limited.

I was going to take the bus from Las Cruces to Tucson, but the road Gods smiled upon me again.

I made my way to a bike shop in Las Cruces, and regaled the guy there with my saga. “I need to get all this crap (pointing to my loaded bike) to Tucson, as cheaply as possible. So I guess I’ll need to get the bike boxed up, etc…”

The only other person in the store overheard me, and approached me saying, “Uh, sir, I’m going to Tucson in about two hours, and I have that pickup, you can put your bike in back.”

No shit, so I got a 275 mile ride to Tucson where I stayed with my cousin Jen for a few days.

It was really interesting to see Jen. She kind of disappeared 20 years ago to reinvent herself as a multi-PHD holding biologist and geneticist. More power to her. I hadn’t seen her since were were young adults, now she has nearly grown kids, but the rapport we had was still there. It was weird, like I had just seen her two weeks earlier. There is some kind of bond that family has that transcends time and space.

Jen gave me me a ride to the Tufesa bus station, bought my bus ticket to Guaymas, and also gave me some cash. Which turned out to be momentus. I would have had 5 bucks cash, assuming my bank card would work in Mexico (the reason I got it.)

But it didn’t work. Not in several ATMs I tried. Long story short, I got it to work, eventually, in the Banamex bank in San Carlos, where it didn’t work on three previous attempts. So it goes in San Carlos, MX. Sometimes things work, sometimes they don’t, shrug your shoulders and move on. But if it weren’t for that cash Jen had the foresight to stuff in my paws, I would have been a street urchin, begging for change. Thanks Jen!

As always, there’s more left unsaid, but for now it will have to remain that way. Enjoying the sun, surf, and sand, glad not to be dealing with the Minnesota winter.

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    • Richard
    • December 12th, 2010

    I was born, during a Minnesota Winter. Although I can appreciate people that don’t winter here. I also appreciate your ride. Wish I was with you. Don’t regret Monnesota weather, regret that you aren’t here, to enjoy it!

    • Bob Bennett
    • December 12th, 2010

    We have been thinking about you and your life changing trip. So glad you made it safe and sound!
    Bob

    • Roger Wenschlag
    • December 13th, 2010

    John — What an interesting, compelling story. I hope that eventually you’ll write the biker version of Blue Highways, by William Least Heat Moon. I admire your grit. Good luck. Roger.

    • jen
    • December 24th, 2010

    Your own grit is awesome. Love your blog and your journey, remember what I said, you’ve got my number. If that card gives you any more trouble just give me a ring! Man I wish I was enjoying a beer and some of that lobster with you right about now. And those pelicans… cool as hell. Happy holidays blood brother 🙂 ~ jen

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