Our first morning in New Mexico began with a dark climb up and over Brazos Ridge. Seb pointed out the spot where his fork broke, where he camped and had to hike out. It was remote and wild and I didn’t envy him having been stuck out there in a thunderstorm at all. We bumped into the kiwis (again). I was riding along enjoying the morning and then realised I was falling behind the guys. Then struggling. Then feeling a bit dizzy. What was wrong with me? I could see Seb cringing at the pace.
When I stopped and thought about it, I realised I was really really hungry. I’d only had half an old burger for dinner and a sugary fruit bun for breakfast. I had absolutely bonked for the first time on the divide. I was starting to make bad judgements, especially about food and water. My mouth was blistered from continually eating. From sugar. Gross muesli bars. If I never had to eat another another sweet and salty nut bar in my life I would be happy. But I had nothing else at the moment, so I stopped and reluctantly forced down nut bars and snickers. Seb caught me letting go of a few tears while muttering something about muesli bars. But the food worked and after an hour or so of easy riding I had managed to dig myself out of my bonk hole.
As we approached Vallecitos the thunderclouds were rolling in and starting to grumble. We rejoined the kiwis for the ride through town, hoping that a group of four would be safe to combat the aggressive dogs which live in the town. We slipped through unnoticed, but not by the storm. Large drops started hitting us and as we climbed higher into the forest, the air started to feel static. Seb and I kept pushing but eventually a huge front of hail came through followed by a downpour of rain. We took shelter under some trees and crouched next to each other grinning. It was a wild storm and nice to have someone to sit it out with. Unfortunately the rain turned the top of the pass and the entire downhill to sticky brown goop which covered and clogged everything. We washed our bikes at a ranger station and got aero for the downhill to Abiquiu.
We stopped at the Abiquiu Inn to see if there was a room for the evening but it was all booked out for a wedding. We were fortunate to meet Cricket Butler and Keith Brodsky sitting out front and they invited us to eat with them. It turned out they booked what appeared to be the last room available in the town. We shared some laughs and stories. They were riding North and meeting up with Dave Nice who I had bumped into in Del Norte. Such amazingly cool peoples, they got me smiling again and told us if me rode up less than 10km we’d be in the national park and would be able to camp and tackle the Polvadera Mesa fresh(er) in the morning. This sounded like a plan and so we headed off into the mountains again. We stopped earlier than I think Seb liked but I was spent. I hate riding into the night tired and would much rather get up at 3am and see dawn from the bike seat.
Polvadera Mesa was pretty evil. The start was tough going: sandy, slab rocks, bumpy. Maybe any other time it would be a rad climb, but not with the previous 16 days in the legs. It was dark, I was grumpy and it was pretty much like sucking big hairy balls. I winged and cried my way up the freaking long climb. I was dropping-my-basket and not enjoying any single part of the day so far. Then when we caught up to Marshal. That made me at least stop complaining out loud as I told myself to HTFU. Eventually, though, the sweet downhill came. We meandered through some spectacular countryside and as we got closer to town we passed through some sweet campgrounds full with people enjoying their Sunday.
After a slight water-point miscalculation (ended up drinking from a cattle dam…. yuck), we rolled into Cuba on sticky tar under a scorching midday sun. I hadn’t eaten a full ‘bikepacking’ size meal since Del Norte, so all I could think about was McDonalds. As we rolled up there were lots of racer’s bikes lined up out the front. Seb ordered us a family pack (2 x burgers, 2 x chicken nuggets, 2 x large chips, 2 x thickshakes), and laughed at how gross that all sounded. We quickly realised we were going to need more, and ordered another family pack between the two of us…
Everyone was debating about the best strategy: go now or wait until it cooled down a smidgen. Outside it was close to 40 degrees Celsius and we had a 125 mile stretch of tar across the desert to Grants. Everyone else left to give it a go, and we did too. I wet my buff and covered my face with it. Leg warmers on, arm protectors on. An hour later, riding in intense heat on the tar, my McDonalds got to me, stomach cramps!!
As we rode along the Navajo Route 9 through the canyon, the sky darkened and a huge electrical storm came in. We skirted the edge for hours and I started to get really worried. Knowing that our buddy JC had an incident with lightning a few years ago, I felt it was a bad idea to keep going, but there was literally nowhere else to go. It was a vast desert.
We rolled into Grants at midnight and got a room at the first accommodation at the Crossroads. A shower and bed was just what the doctor ordered after a big 180 mile day. I rinsed my disgusting stinky clothes and passed out, the alarm set for 5am.
The mission for the next day was Pie Town. It closed at 4pm (?) and we agreed we MUST get there! After a fantastic, hot, big breakfast was woofed down we rode through the beautiful El Malpais National Monument, an area of basalt formation made by volcanoes and lava.
It would have been nice to look around, apparently there are lava tubes, caving and other cool structures; but we were on a mission for PIE! The heat was back and we struggled into Pie Town desperate for some shelter from the sun, and some pie. At the Good Pie Cafe we presented our Salsa top caps and put the order in for two pieces of pie. I had lemon coconut followed by a yummy burger followed by blackberry pie. We had a great chat to the cafe owners and also Kathy, the Toaster House owner. Then we each got a solid burrito to take away and headed back into the sun.
Later that evening we munched on those burritos at the church by the highway, made famous in the Ride the Divide movie. We also restocked with water here – indeed a ‘god send’ of a spot. We bumped into Ryan Correy who was also on the search for water.
As we rode up towards the canyon we passed an enormous herd of elk. We don’t have many animals back some in such huge groups. In the fading light, thunderstorms full of lightning ahead, gazing back across the grassy basin, listening to the eerie elk calls, I felt quite insignificant. Partway up the canyon, the walls closed in and darkness came, and so too did the rain. I wanted to stop, Seb wanted to continue. We stopped under some trees, had dinner, sleep and were back riding by 3:30am.
As we got to the top of the pass, all of a sudden I felt like I was riding through quicksand. Gross, all encompassing mud. We shouted and yelled at each other, Seb annoyed we hadn’t ridden through the night before. Shmeh! It turned out to be (just) possible to ride on the bumping sage brush type ‘grass’ on the side of the road, which he did for a looooong time until we intersected a more rideable road and were able to continue. This turned out to be our last ‘day’ on the divide, as we technically didn’t sleep now for about 30 hours. And this turned out to be the first of many dramas in our journey across the Gila Wilderness.
We entirely miscalculated the amount of food and water required for the huge stretch through to Pinos Altos / Silver City and the Gila was tough. It was spectacular country but hard riding. Hot, dusty, dry with constant undulations that wouldn’t allow you to get any respite or easy miles.
We were both struggling big time. Seb says he saw a huge bear running fast through the trees, I never saw it. Maybe he just had the heat crazies? The CDT was a tricky little section made all the more trickier by me being afraid of heights, crap at singletrack and tired. We got through faster than I had hoped though and in no time we were cruising the tar again towards Pinos Altos.
Then I spectacularly almost ruined my entire race trying to copy Seb’s mastery. Turns out he can turn off his red flasher on his rear seat stays by unclipping and using his foot; I on the other hand, cannot. After sticking my foot in my rear wheel and almost breaking my toe, I got going again, amazed I hadn’t fallen off or broken any spokes. Very lucky. Very stupid.
At McDonalds in Silver City we decided to keep going. To be honest, my reasoning was simply that I didn’t want to have to wake up again and put on clammy, stinky knicks. I just wanted to keep going and get this thing done. The one thing that got me out of that chair was that if I kept going, I could beat Eszter’s old record. Of course Lael had already beaten it days before me, but it meant something I could push for to get me to the end. And so we went!
We had been riding since 3:30am that morning so it was fair that when dark settled in I got the sleepies. We weren’t far out of Silver City and had to pull off the side of the main highway and I slept for 15mins. Feeling refreshed we pushed on to the dirt turn off. Riding Separ Rd at night was a very cool experience. It was a perfect temperature, no wind, lots of stars. The riding was easy, fast. At around 1am we stopped for a 45min nap. No bivy or tent, just sleeping bags on the dirt. It was so good. I dragged myself off the ground and packed things slowly. Seb and I were riding a bit separate after this point. He was keen to get it done, I was showing obvious signs of exhaustion. He said he’d wait at the turn off of the final road. And there we met. We got aero and started the final countdown to the finish. As the sun rose it was a bizarre landscape. A few cactus, some distant mountains. This place was so incredibly different to the place we started from 19 days ago and I disliked it very much. I like trees and water and mountains.
After sunrise I started to bonk incredibly. We were running out of food and I was running out of energy. At 19 miles to go I had eaten every last thing I had. I was doing about 7 miles per hour and getting slower. I had to sit down under the ‘shade’ of a salt bush twice. By now it was hot. I told Seb to go ahead and I’d see him at the finish. When he rode off I was crying at how crap that would be to finish together, but not together. I totally lost my shit! I felt sick to my stomach and considered calling it quits and trying for an ambulance or something. I spoke quietly and calmly to myself. Talked myself through every inch of about 10 miles. It was truly terrible. Eventually poor Seb appeared on the horizon and said he had to wait. What if I never made it to the finish??
Then something happened. Something kicked in and I swear it was pure adrenalin that got me to the finish. It was one of the most emotional moments in my life. Everyone says how they breezed into the finish. But for me, this was THE hardest part of the entire ride. Having ridden about 35hrs straight with a few nanna naps, it was terrible.We crossed the line, had obligatory border photos and then pretty much passed out in the shade with some of the other riders still there.
Many many thanks to Doug from Wisconsin who collected us from the finish in a huge RV. Also thanks to for Lukas for the fun chats and companionship throughout the race and for your company for those few days after the race where we spent the time sleeping, swimming and showing off our tan lines in the middle of the dustbowl that is Lordsburg.
This was the adventure of a lifetime. Maybe I have made it sound hard or horrible, maybe not. It was indeed that sometimes, and I asked myself plenty of times why I was doing it! But the best part is that I got through it. I saw amazing sights, met amazing and courageous people, witnessed firsthand my strengths and weaknesses. I can now say I rode my bike across America and that’s one hell of a story to tell the grand kids one day. Thanks for reading!