Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A Descent Ascent

A few months ago, I happened upon a writing contest in Bicycle Times magazine 12 hours before the due date.  It was for the Tough and Tender 500 word writing contest.  The parameters were to speak about your relationship with a bicycle, from a female perspective.  Well, I didn't win.  But, I decided to share my short story with you here.  It is about mine and Neva's summit to over 10,000 feet in elevation coming from 6900 feet Cuba. I know I've told this story in previous posts, but here is a condensed yet detailed version of the most difficult portion.

Neva giving the peace sign while going up the hill.

We left Cuba, New Mexico three days ago, prepared to be in the wilderness for four days. No access to food, clean water, or civilization. Just me, Neva, and the wild. Neva is my three-year-old daughter and only cycling companion. We will break 10,000 miles together with the completion of this 60 day, 2000 mile off-road bicycle tour of the Great Divide Trail.

This section of the trail in northern New Mexico is not for the faint of heart, and is notoriously known as one of the most difficult portions. A mountain biker’s golden chalice : the sheer thought of which simultaneously conjures up feelings of both desire and agony, pain and triumph.

Camp spot before heading up "the beast"

I pitched our tent last night at the base of the beast, knowing that I would awaken and be staring it in the face. The map reads, “4WD, may need to walk, possible washed out sections…” It continues on with mention of lava rock, sand and double track. I pack the map away; it's not to be looked at for another five miles, when we've reached the summit. The landscape slopes dramatically upwards, gaining elevation quickly; the terrain is strewn in piles of white rocks of every size, packed down and untouched. There are no footprints or tire marks here.

White sand was another diverse terrain obstacle on this short stint up an over mountainous territory.

Gear, check. Baby, check. Here we go. I hop on the bike in my lowest gear and navigate over Paul Bunyan’s marble collection at a snail's pace. The only way I can propel forward is to stand on the pedals and push down with all 98 pounds of strength, as if I want to meld my feet and pedals into one object. The trailer bounces gently, ignorant of it's mass, and my front tire spins under the pull of the weight. I must walk the bike.

I inch step by step over boulders, pushing 150 pounds of bike, child and trailer. My vision tunnels to one purpose, to get to the top. All concept of time has left me now. I take a death grip on the handlebars and my body is at a sharp angle as I try to compete with gravity. Skin glistening, sweat rolls down both sides of my spine and brow while gnats feast on the endless moisture, treating my eyes as a delicacy. Neva no longer rides in the trailer, but chooses to push from behind or walk beside me while I pedal 2.5 miles per hour.

We're down to a single liter of water. A cattle guard shakes the life out of me and I stop from exhaustion. Up ahead, I see a filthy, muddy, mosquito ridden cattle tank. An oasis! The filtered water is ice cold and instantly rejuvenating.

Neva prepared to filter water from the cattle tank.

The crest of the trail. It looks so mundane to the layman, just a downward slope. But that arc will drop us over 3000 feet in elevation. Neva and I stop for the first meal of the day, five hours after we began. A victory feast. Now it’s time to get in some mileage, find a campsite and rest. It’s all downhill from here.*

The next day, we rolled into Abiquiu, covering 37 miles of off-road downhill in less than 4 hours. We rolled up to the only gas station in town, Bode's, and had a sandwich outside. My adrenaline was still pumping from the 180 degree difference between the previous day and the present moment. All of the hard work, rewarded with a fast journey down, and a great meal. I also ran into my friend Cjyell who I had met earlier on the tour. He was heading northbound in the Great Divide Race. Big hugs, a big meal, and a nice stay at the Old Abiquiu Bed and Breakfast, I was absolutely on cloud 9. It is a moment I will never forget.

Cjell's day is only half over.  He will ride far into the night to keep his place in the race.

Cjell has a great blog that you can check out here. This link is to his experience riding the GDT for the 4th time, racing for the second time. About 1/3 of the way down, Cjell talks about when he bumps into us. Here is an excerpt of what he says about his experience riding the Cuba to Abiquiu section of the divide :

"The longer I follow the tracks the more I contemplate how amazingly difficult it must be to navigate and ride over one of the toughest, if not the absolute most difficult sections of the divide, with a trailer, fully loaded, and…and…a f***ing 3 year old!!! That is all i am able to think about as I ride over the extremely rough terrain myself. There is no self pity now. This 95lb girl and her daughter just made it through, I had better be able to right? An her tracks don’t stop. They constantly confront me with this reality."


  1. Cjell told me about you. He isn't easily impressed and doesn't throw hyperbole around without cause. If Cjell says you're cool - you ARE quite likely cool.

    You and the child ride safely.

  2. Interesting memories you have my friend! I also like cycling very much. I am deep interested in tourism and like to see the most adventures things all around the world. I got this great experience during my washington tours. Riding a bicycle is very good activity for both girls and boys. Your blog is very useful for all riders of cycle.

  3. Interesting sharing! Neva is very cute! I love bicycle riding in beautiful surrounded tracks. I would like to enjoy cycling in this section of northern New Mexico after my cherry blossom tours . I think it is amazing for camping and bicycle riding.