Saturday, June 29, 2013

Gettin' High

This post doesn't quite fall in chronological order, but I wanted to show off some pretty pictures, and let's face it, I needed to brag a little.

View of Mount Princeton leaving Buena Vista, CO

Yesterday, Neva and I left Buena Vista and headed toward Crested Butte, up and over Cottonwood Pass.  For those of you not well versed in the topography of Colorado, Buena Vista is 7,965 feet in elevation and about 18 miles from the summit of Cottonwood Pass, which tops out at 12,126 feet in elevation.  And for those of you without a calculator, that's 4,161 feet in elevation. 

At the top, 5.5 hours and 18 miles of climb later.

The view was spectacular, and the smile on my face on the downhill was even better as the panoramic view of the Colorado Rockies dressed the horizon, dusted in snow.

Neva enjoying the top.

You look to the east, where we just came from, and you see majestic mountains.

That's the road that curved up to the summit, and that's a bunch of snow right in front of me.

You look to the west, our destination, heading toward Crested Butte, you see majestic mountains.

At the bottom of the pass, you see majestic mountains.

I did it.  "I thought I could."  - The Little Engine that Could

Riding the downhill.

Okay, bragging done, series of events will conclude as normal.  Stay tuned!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Riding the Divide - Baby Tracks (third leg)

If you've been wondering where we were for the last four days, it was here.  Between these elevation lines.

Cuba is at the bottom right at 6900 feet elevation, and the top black line is 10,000 feet elevation.  The profile goes right to left going northbound, so up we went from Cuba.

That's right, we are going northbound, right to left on the map here, and rode, walked or pushed every portion of the above profiles.


The climb out of  Cuba is pavement, but is a solid 2500 foot elevation climb.  I didn't want to push myself too much, so I decided to gain the elevation and get to a beautiful camp site.  We made it by 4:00 pm and had plenty of time to scout for a site.  Randy and some other hikers from Tucson were camped in the spot that I had been looking at, and they welcomed Neva and I into to the group as part of their small camping community.

Neva and I even had a chance to take a short mile hike to San Gregorio Reservoir and admire the wild flowers that were in bloom

I thought Neva might want to trade in the bike for hiking.

She was spouting a tutorial every ten minutes on how to hike, what things are 'pokey' and what animals can 'make you dead' while wielding her trusty, knotted hiking stick like she's a character out of Lord of the Rings.

We slowly started climbing, up and up to beautiful views.  The road was a nice packed down gravel and nice to ride.

We climbed up to an aspen grove.

Seeing all of the aspens, you can't help but think of famous artist renditions of the groves.  Picasso, Klimt, etc.  The white bark is so bright in contrast with the green leaves in the spring, and golden leaves in the fall, they're wonderfully meditative to bike through.

Neva and I camped out at the base of the most difficult part of the route.  We did our best to hang our 30+ pounds of food out of potential hungry bear reach, but I think we just successfully put our food out of our own reach.  We wouldn't have to worry about the Red Dawn guerrilla forest children running off with our food, at least not that night.

The road really deteriorates to a 4WD road that, as were apparent by the lack of car tracks, not many vehicles would be willing to brave.

Neva and turtle posed while I took a break.

I had to push a good portion, or have Neva walk while I biked very slowly up the rocky terrain.

The photos don't quite do the steepness or difficulty justice, but the Chariot, Neva and I made it to the other side... after about 5 hours and 5 miles later, we cleared that beast.  We were welcomed by a delicious oasis of fresh water.

Okay, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I guess.  Neva and I filtered the cow tank water, and it was cold and tasty, but we had to work for it.  The filter clogged up after filtering 0.5 liters, so we had to clean, pump and repeat about four times before filling up two water bottles.  About 30 minutes later, we were hydrated and refreshed and ready to cover some miles and find a nice camp site.

 We had quite a bit of down hill after that, and hit some thick, puffy white sand.  It was reminiscent of freshly fallen snow, it was so light.  The trailer and bike were covered in white like they'd been on the losing end of a flour fight in an I Love Lucy episode.

We found a cozy little camp spot, again right before the next ascent, and then it would be all downhill after that, though no piece of cake.  The route became extremely diverse, lots of fun, and sometimes heroing.  The downhill consists of gravel over washboard, hard lava patches and double track road.  The trailer was in for a ride.  Neva amazingly fell asleep for much of the hard terrain.  The leaf spring suspension on the Chariot CX does the job.

This looks like early morning, but it was dusk, about 7pm.

We started our day out with another Waldorf salad and a bowl of chia porridge. The breakfast of champions.

When we left our campsite, I had noticed bicycle tracks for the first time since I'd been biking.  The Great Divide northbound racers had started on June 14, and this was the first sign that they may have caught up to me.  What had taken me 10 days had taken them 3.  I was hoping it was Chyel in first place.

Not too far down the way, I got my first puncture, and it was on the trailer.  The time it took me to repair it really jeopardized my chances  for winning the race.  Neva is asleep again, through the entire removal and patching, she was still snoozing by the time I was pedaling again.

When we came close to the top, we turned around to enjoy the view.  One of the most zen moments of cycling (it's better when the view is at the summit, but it's still nice).

The views earlier were pretty, but it was really hard to tell how steep the terrain is through the area.  This might give you a better idea on the ups and downs we were dealing with.

That's the washboard gravel road leading to Abiquiu


About an hour after I had arrived in Abiquiiu, I get a tap on the shoulder.  It was a sweaty Cjell.  It's only day two or three for him, and he's already caught up to me.  He's been going about 175 miles a day, but he looks fairly fresh, and sharing his gentle, perma-Cjell smile.  The first thing he says to me is, "Few people will understand what you just did."  I'm so glad I have someone to share it with.  Cjell enjoyed a sandwich, a coffee malt and some conversation, and then hit the road again.

We stayed at the Old Abiquiu B&B, which is advertised on the Adventure Cycling Association (ACA) maps.  The owner's name is Wanda and she has a whole camping area set up next to the river for $15 per night, which includes a shower and wifi.  It's nice and cozy and Wanda is very welcoming, but bring the bug spray because the mosquitoes are heavy during this time of year.

Wanda's cove at dusk, right on the river.

We paid an extra $10 for whole wheat pancakes with berries and yogurt for breakfast.

Wanda offering Neva pancakes and honey.


Just 15 miles up the road is El Rito.  It's a steady 1000 foot elevation climb the whole way, but all paved.  There are lots of fun geological formations to look at, but there aren't many trees.  When we arrived in El Rito, we were looking for the college dorms that might offer lodging.  We bumped into a tiny friend on the search.

He won't take up too much space in the trailer, right?

We eventually found the right person to talk to at Northern New Mexico Community College, Hope.  I don't think I ever saw her sit down.  She attended to seeming all of the duties and was on top of things getting done in a timely manner, all while maintaining a lovely smile and a plethora of useful information.  We decided to stay an extra day in the dorms for only $36.00 a night.

Shirley and David in the kitchen kept us well fed.  At only around $5.00 per meal, and boasting the progress of funding for the first fully sustainable kitchen in a college in the U.S., we really felt at home in this nice community of 800 people.

Neva enjoying home made vegetarian manicotti, garden salad and peas.

I was fully satisfied to be done with one of the hardest portions of my journey, and felt very grateful to be so welcomed by the people in El Rito.  A fitting and perfect relaxation following a perfectly diverse and difficult ride.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Riding the Divide - Baby Tracks (second leg)


On the road again after a good recharge with good memories to ponder, vast scenery to look at, and the sound of dirt flying out from underneath my tires, I felt good.

We stopped for lunch about 16 miles down the road at the Thomas Mountain Ranch.

There is a fence on the side where you can bike around, get clean water, and relax on a swing or a reclining lawn chair under shade trees for lunch.  Truly an oasis in the middle of high dessert.

We sat back, relaxed and enjoyed a tuna sandwich with sweet peppers and a garden salad with grape tomatoes and cucumbers.

I swear, I'm on this trip too!

Knock, knock...

Who's there?

Curious Burro.

Curious burro who?

Can I curi-us burros off some of your food?

We had a burro couple join us for lunch.  The male had no concept of personal boundaries and kept putting his face right against mine, sniffing our recent smorgasbord.  Neva was extremely excited, and the burros were very docile, so they made friends quickly. 

We turned to take one last glimpse of where we had just been, then pedaled off towards unknown adventure.


After leaving Pie Town, it's 30 miles off-road until you hit the paved 117.  From there you can stick to the main GDT off-road route, or ride pavement on the alternate route all the way to Grants via 117.  We opted to take the alternate so we could arrive in a more timely manner, plus supplies are extremely scarce for the distance we can do in a day.  The shoulder of the 117 road is narrow and the road is windy, but it's not heavily trafficked and has a lot of nice scenery to look at.  As I would soon find out, this entire area is a geological haven.

The La Ventana Arch

We stayed at the Southwest Motel in Grants.  It's owned by a nice Chinese couple, the rooms are extremely clean, and it was only $36.00. In the morning, we biked down to the ice caves and lava tubes which are a short 25 mile bike ride away.  We took the paved road 53 to the Bandera Ice Caves and then the 49 gravel road GDT route back to Grants (it just happened to be down hill that way).

The caves never get above 31 degrees Fahrenheit.  That's a solid sheet of ice on the floor, ice speckles at the top of the cave, and neon green colored cold-weather lichen line the perimeter of the cave.

Less than a mile walk to the other side of the park is a volcano where you can hike up and see an impressive lava cone.

Or in Neva's case, run...

Leaving Grants, we decided to take the alternate route again to stay on schedule.  This meant more pavement, but a long stretch of not much.  You leave town via the historic Route 66.

Neva and I had stopped for lunch and ended up getting a ride the remainder of the way to Cuba, New Mexico.  We were ready to be out of the plains area and back in the trees.  The gentleman Glen, that was kind enough to give us a ride, told us about the surrounding area ailments caused by uranium mining and the toll it's taken on the locals, his father included.  He regaled multiple tragic stories from lung cancer to a tainted water supply as we went under a Peabody Coal underpass and through a cloud of smoke.

The desolate, windy, dust bowl style conditions bring multiple dirt devils across our path.  New Mexico is in desperate need of rain!


The answer is no.  There is no way to bike to Cuba, the country.  There is an attainable land route, however, to Cuba, New Mexico.  It's a cute little town with lots of outdoor opportunities, trees, and a local community supporting healthy foods and lifestyles.  With a population of 1300 people, the variety of reasonable lodging and vegetarian foods is quite good.

We ended up staying at the Circle A Ranch RV Park since the Circle A Ranch Hostel was full and not accepting campers.  We were the only tenters, but had a nice spot with grass, and wind protecting trees. 

Neva and I having fun in the tent.  She stays cozy in her 20 degree sleeping bag.

It was a good thing that we slept in, got a good nights rest and took the time to pack up on good quality food and supplies because we were in for one of the most difficult parts of the divide once we left Cuba.  Massive elevation climbs, washboard, gravel, sand, lava rock, you name it.  It was remote and beautiful though, and my favorite part of the trip (when you ask me about it now).

Truly, the calm before the storm...