Day 12. 752 Miles. Emory Pass-tronauts.

If you’re just coming in, feel free to have seat on the right. Time travel is a familiar face around here. When I’m now qualifying time using temperature, the only true measurement left is distance — the geographic space travelled. Revealing the cold fact that time travel can’t be real because time isn’t real. Time is now playing the part of prison bitch to Fahrenheit, Celsius and Kelvin. Especially Kelvin. So yeah, time is fucked We’re talking about space travel. And the mission is to gain as much distance and elevation as winter will allow. Thus, I am a space traveler. An astronaut. A pilot. Captain of the one horsepower machine that is me. Miles and feet. Or feet and miles. Whatever the king would want. Regardless, today is weighing in as what might be the hardest day of bicycling I’ve ever bicycled. The switchbacks up to an Imperial 8,228 feet look cold blooded. What I’mma do about my legs?!

With a scientific shit ton of climbing, it’s looking like heavy cardio engagement for most of the day. Not much air to spare for yapping. So Damon and I get our debates out over coffee in this toasty 70° motel room. Complex stuff that Damon is mega passionate about: innovation, finance, and cryptocurrency are his babes right now. He’s so ready for the reign of the baby boomers to be over; can’t understand why use the penny but not the block chain. Talking about what happens to Americans if we lose the power of the purse worldwide – our world currency status. He says guns won’t matter. Money matters. Innovation and ideas matter. He’s clearly got a total Elon Musk man crush. That’s cool. I’m into it, though I’m also thinking about the climb ahead, psyching myself up in between two morning poops followed by a shower.

We’re on the road, navigating a few rolling hills before dropping down to the Mimbres river, then climbing to 7,000 feet in a few miles. The ol’ up down, up down. way down way up. This is all before the big enchilada of a mountain pass. It is a hard appetizer to swallow. I’m playing the mind game where I tell myself to try and save my lowest gear for the final 3-4 miles, knowing that the wind and incline await on those switchbacks. I’ll need something extra when the the probable headwind tries to drop me from three to zero miles per hour, so I keep pushing it now to stay on my second chainring. I don’t know that I believe that I’m going to be able to so that. This climb is not easy and it’s the first of two. It is absolutely beautiful though and I’m going slow enough to witness it all. Stunning scenes of red rocks on one side. White snow on the other wide. Green trees throughout and a blue sky above. I yell out to the beauty, wanted to confirm it’s beauty officially to the galaxy. My senses are overloading with sight, sound and smell.

With about seven miles to the top, I’m absolutely trying as hard as I can but I am gassed. My legs are burning and I’ve been going 3-5 mph since second breakfast. This is beautiful. Intensely beautiful. Indescribably beautiful. I notice that when I hear the whir of traffic approaching, it’s actually the gust of wind or the occasional rush of water. My mind makes it seem like traffic. There’s absolutely no traffic. But over and over I mistake wind and water for vehicles. My brain is all sort of scrambled. Suddenly, I’m overwhelmed by the scent of pine. It heroically take over like an Apollo mission helmed by Tom Hanks. It’s the strongest smell I’ve smelled in months. The air is so clean up here and I’m using every ounce of it, in my nose and out my mouth. Long, deep breathes in succession. Theres a cleansing aspect to all of this. But not some artificially scented floor cleaner; an unspeakable feeling that my mind, body and soul are being completely cleansed and replenished. My 160 bpm heart rate would agree. I really can’t figure the words out, but between the exhaustive cardio, the massive elevation and the aesthetic assault on all of my senses, I’m riding high as can be. Au naturale. Exercise is my stimulant, the environment is my hallucinogenic. Kubrick level visuals are provided by Mother Nature; she is still undefeated.

3 miles to the top and the road signs let me know we’re in switchback land. The winds are easily a sustained 20 miles per hour up here, threatening to whip me right down 11,001 foot high Hillsboro Peak. This is precisely what I’ve been saving that granny first gear for. I hit a total u turn and shift down as the wind shifts to my side, then – smack – on my face; the pedaling is grueling as I repeat the process again and again. Still climbing and now above 8,000 feet, I’m turtling along at 2 mph as my front wheel wobbles side to side in the wind… then my mind takes over – like HAL taking over Discovery One on its way to Jupiter. Neurons fire, brain chemical release, blocking out the pain and fatigue — and after a 30 minute battle that feels like hours — I conquer these switchbacks and am finally at the pass. Celebration, bitches!!!

Resting the steel steed against a sign, I walk the 500 feet up the side trial to the vista point. Vista is Spanish for view. The view, while spectacular, is nothing compared to the indescribable feeling I’m feeling right now. Well, they certainly go hand in hand. Words are futile. Photos can’t capture it. This is a feeling I can only acquire on these tours. It’s why I do it. It’s worth the planning and the pedaling and the pain.

I want to share this indescribable feeling and Damon exhaustingly rolls up just as I was started to wonder if he was having issues. We sit at the top for quite a bit. The wind is cold up here but we’re taking it in. This is the physical highest point on the route, so in essence, it’s all downhill from here…

Not that these downhills are easy. Heavy winds and switchbacks downhill provide quite the challenge as well, my breaks needed a little adjustment and I realize that just a bit too late. Struggling to stay under 25 and out of the oncoming lane in these sharp blind turns, I’m definitely a candidate for death by rode-his-bike-off-a-mountain. Six million ways to die, choose one. I finally put my foot down. Literally. That and some pull-off gravel allow me to come to a stop at one of turns. I make the brake adjustment and eventually the switchbacks become only winding downhills. Now I can gain speed. Right into this little town called Hillsboro. There is no cell service (yes!) but there’s a town park where we can camp. It has water and bathrooms. It also has fellow travelers who are car camping. And. Dogs! Multiple canine lovables. Also a local with some horses next door. I chat with them all, especially the dogs. I catch two of their names: Chubs and Pharaoh. I get all the humans names. Dave. Lindsey. Court. Parker. Parker gives me a beer. It’s good and the first of this tour so it goes down quickly. He gives me another. We talk lots of stuff. And eventually covid. It’s always an interesting talk. A few of us have had it. Lindsey and I are both double dosed with the vaccine. She’s a physician from New York who saw the worst of it almost a year ago. I can relate and then joke that we could even actually hug if we wanted to; that it’s up to us to start making up the post pandemic rules. Stranger hugs used to be so much fun back in the day. Maybe one day they can once more be a bit thing, but not yet. They chat a bit more but I’m starting to fade after that whole mountain pass ride thing. I bid them adieu.

They told me Chubs wasn’t a people dog. But he took a selfie with me.

A true, indisputably rare moment, today will not be a day I forget. Damon neither. For our entire lives. This is not some everyday shit and I feel more alive than I have felt in a long time. Actually living. I pop the penthouse up and climb in for a serious snooze as the stars begin to twinkle.

Posted in bicycle touring | Leave a comment

Day 11. 698 Miles. Push It Along.

Proper rest, indeed.

Feeling energized, we’re loading up on extra water and moving out by about 40° in the morning. I usually tell time with a watch. Except on bike tours when I rely on the sun. Except on this bike tour when I use temperature. We’re headed up into Gila National Forest and over the next two days we’ll climb through the mountains via the 8,228 foot high Emery Pass. Basically we’re getting high as fuck for the next two days straight. I believe it’s called AF.

We gain 2,000 feet in the first 20 miles. Slow and steady at seven miles per hour, Damon and I do our debate thing. Where we agree to agree and then disagree on how to get to the agreement. Basically more discussion about society, innovation and the future of the world. I enjoy our conversations and I feel great about the road conditions, the scenery, and the lack of traffic. I like that. Whereas yesterday would have delivered a death rate of 20 vehicles every 2 minutes; I now get 2 every 20 minutes. It’s probably how Danny Aiello would have felt in Do The Right Thing if that film didn’t have a climax and Radio Raheem wasn’t killed by the cops. For the Spike Lee-uninitiated among us… I can hear myself think. As usual, Damon crushes the uphills and is miles ahead after an hour. The solo tranquility has my brain sifting through the mucous membranes that are the idiosyncratic differences between summer and winter bicycle adventures. Like how I have to tell time in temperature. Or how I rely more on indoor remote sleeping and how this limits my long days. Not to mention the obvious shorter daylight hours. Red pill or blue, there is still no spoon. Comparisons are futile; I’m assigning no value, just identifying the variances in my mind.

Eventually I choose a more aesthetic way to occupy the miles and fire up an all A Tribe Called Quest playlist — perfect for this cool, crisp and sunny ride into the mountains. And instinctive path. A dozen cuts in and a low end theory of thunder rumbling come across the mountains and canyons. I wanna be pissed at my weather app until that rumble reaches divine levels and an unmarked fighter jet screeches low across my world, dipping his wing, zooming off with the same thunderous rumble. What a sight! I get my own fucking flyover and I bet Tom Cruise is in the cockpit. The password is Fidelio.

Pushing it along, the continuous incline spills into the Continental Divide, so I stop to take a pic and drink an afternoon cup of black gold.

6,355 feet definitely feels that way as the air gets thinner and the cycling gets harder. My quads know this, maaaan. Eventually the scenario becomes a series of rolling climbs and descents. Whereas Damon owns the uphills, I crush when I can get into gear on the downhills and use that momentum on the incline. I go from 36 mph in 27th gear to 6 mph in 1st gear in 30 seconds. Over and over again. I find a way. I pass him after a couple miles, get to the top of one particular steep uphills and get this text from Damon:

Well fuck, that’s no bueno at all. This isn’t what they told me enchantment would be like. I push it along and get it into town, not knowing how bad of a problem Damon has on his hands; wondering the whole time that after one derailleur issue after another, this might be it for him. I make it into Silver City. It’s a cute funky little mountain town that see a lot of hikers and bikers in non-pandemic times. There’s two bike shops in town. I head to the first and the guy there is hella cool. His name is AJ. I let him know my friend is having issues and will be here ASAP, not even knowing how true that is. I buy a new cable lock, a set of used toe cages, and some new handlebar tape. AJ looks out the window, looks back at me and asks “your friend got a red bike?” “Yeah.” “He just rode by and was texting.” Turns out Damon basically jogged his bike most of the way into town and went to the other bike shop. What I thought might be hours before he arrived was maybe an hour. The other shop hooked him and we’re hoping that’s it for issues.

I push two burritos down along my quest for caloric replacement. We’re chilling in the hotel room and Damon gets the mysterious self popping flat tire while we’re planning for the serious challenge of switchbacks through Emory Pass. It’s a good chance for him to practice fixing flats as I wrap my bars and install a new toe cage. He’s feeling down but I’m feeling up. I try to keep him optimistic, knowing I’ll need him to do the same for me some time. And I’m damn sure glad it’s not down to a one man ride. Tomorrow is a big one.

Posted in bicycle touring | Leave a comment

Day 10. 650 Miles. Rest Stop Redemption.

Today is that day. Every long bike tour has one. The first day out that I really realize just how deep in I am. Shit is broken, lost, or left behind. The day when multiple things go sideways and all I can do is manifest the miles. There will be no time traveling. No movie references. Just miles.

Temperatures reach below freezing overnight. Plus a desert wind chill. Up all night fighting the wind as it whips through our baseball-dugout-campsite, we drag our asses out into the frigid morning at the crack of dawn. I rip my tent bag while stuffing it back in. Our cable and lock jumped ship yesterday somewhere on 10. Whoever cleaned up our room in Tucson came up on my butt butter (which is not to be confused with anal lube). My face and nose are shedding leathery skin like an iguana. The sun has only been up an hour and the day has already kicked me so hard in the face that for the first time in 20 years I eat at McDonalds. Number 3. Sausage egg and biscuit. Yes the meal. (If you’re keeping score at home, I’m not counting the one time at a New Zealand McDonald’s. If you’ve been to New Zealand, you know why. If you haven’t been to New Zealand, go to New Zealand or zip it).

Nothing but Interstate 10 for the entire day. It’s worse than the day before. More debris. More bumps. More uphills. More headwinds. I stop counting nails that I see, because it’s in the hundreds. Less traffic, though. But they’re still going 87 mph and I’m now only going 7 mph. A few miles in and Damon is well ahead. I’m blasting music as loud as I can to drown out the sound (and thought) of imminent death by splatterdom just 5 feet away from me. Turning back to look when I come to an exit ramp produces a life-flashing-before-my-eyes moment every hour or so. The way this day has started, I’ll be surprised if one of us doesn’t get a flat or something beyond.

Somewhere around mile 25, my right pedal cage snaps off. Fuck. Not today. Not any day really. But not on top of all this. My first solution fails, and the pedaling is fucked because my right foot keeps sliding off the pedal. About mile 55 an unexpected real rest stop appears. When I say “real”, I don’t mean that there’s a Starbucks and a Burger King. Because there isn’t. There’s parking spots, bathrooms and warm water out of the sink to refill the bottles. That’s the rest stop. I eat some trail mix and engineer a proper solution to my pedal problem.

A few minutes later and it’s the same dude with the three dogs at the last rest stop – walking into the bathroom. He recognizes me and we chat a bit more. Now he tells me has six dogs. Australian Herding dogs or something. He travels around and sells them; he is American, he loves American people but not American politics – can’t stand Trump or Biden, so he’s doing this to avoid the noise. I normally would wade right into a conversation like that, but he busts out the 8 week puppy he’s calling Mister and it takes all my energy to not give him $50 and put this dirty little pup on the back of my bike for the next 2500 miles.

Needless to say, Mister brightens the dreariest of days. Thanks for that, little guy… whatever your name ends up being.

Next thing you know I’m in the Land of Enchantment and things are looking up. Enchant away por favor. New state; New Mexico state of mind. The Interstate of mind still sucks gorilla balls but my pedal solution holds up. Damon and I regroup and hammer out these last 20 miles together, music still blasting, we’re powering our way through New Mexico. We hit our exit ramp off Interstate 10 into Lordsburg; I breath a huge sigh of relief that we’ve survived the grueling adventure without dying or busting a wheel. Glad to be alive and looking forward to our climb to 8,228 foot Emery Pass, am I. For now though… proper rest.

Posted in bicycle touring | Leave a comment