Sunday, 30 October 2016

Tour Divide 2016: Day 16

Lake Fork Campground, CO to outskirts of El Rito, NM
Mileage: 193 km (119.9 mi)
Riding Time: 16 h 42 m
Standing: 14th place


Day 16 Map

Sometime during the night something crawled on me.  It was probably a rat or a mouse.  Any other time and I would have been concerned, but the need for sleep outweighs these kinds of concerns on the Tour Divide.  I simply flipped my hand knocking whatever it was off my bag and went back to sleep.  It didn’t bother me again and I slept great.  I woke up at the usual time and wanted to get on the road before Justin and Bailey.  I knew they rode faster than I did and the only way to stay ahead was to ride longer. Crack on!  I descended the gravel down into Horca.  It was a nice ride and forgiving on sore, tired legs and ankles.  Overall, my ankles were the sorest part.  It must have been due to the walking and slow grinding on the single speed.  They would usually loosen up after the first hour or so so I would take it easy for the first bit of riding.  The cramp in my leg wasn’t bothering me at all.  Good news!  One technique I learned from watching Bear Grylls on TV is to keep focused on the positive.  Say what you want about Bear Grylls (his show is certainly a lot of fluff), but he does have the odd piece of good advice.  Choose to focus on every tiny good thing and celebrate it.  The more time you spend focusing on the good, the less time you have to focus on the tough times, whatever they may be. 

I arrived in Horca and nothing was open.  To the best of my knowledge, the store has permanently shut down anyway.  I rode past all the buildings and stopped at the base of the climb up to La Manga Pass.  I took off my leg warmers and some layers since I knew I would be heating upon the climb.  This was a long, steady paved climb all the way.  It was nice to do first thing in the morning before it got too hot. 

Bullet-hole-ridden La Manga Pass sign

After the pass, the paved road continues for a while and then turns off onto the gravel toward Brazos ridge.  While I stopped to put on some sunscreen a mountain biking couple rode up.  They lived in the area and were doing an early morning loop in the area.  We rode together for a while and talked about biking and the Tour Divide in general.  It was a nice conversation in the beginning of the day.  One rider was nice to take my picture at the border of New Mexico.

New Mexico - last state!

It was an awesome feeling to be in the last state! The couple and I parted ways as they headed back to their destination.  The trail had its smooth parts and its rocky parts. 

One of the rocky parts

I had to walk some of the rockier sections, but managed to ride a lot of the way up to Brazos Ridge.  I liked this section although it was hard.  Lots of difficult climbing, but gorgeous countryside with sections of pine and meadows.  I stopped at one spot to filter some water and ate the banana bread from the drunks in Platoro.  The stream flowed through a wide open meadow and I could see the trail quite far in both directions.  As I did so many times during this race, I would look back on the trail to see if anyone was close.  Not this time.  I was still ahead of Bailey and Justin.

Somewhere near the top of Brazos Ridge

I made it to Brazos Ridge with good weather, but then some thunderstorms rolled in.  As I was riding quickly down a fairly smooth road, the rain started to fall.  I ducked under some trees to put on my rain coat.  Continuing on, the temperature got colder and the trail got muddier.  A Jeep and a couple of Hummers passed me on the muddy road and I was able to keep pace with them for a while.  I found I could keep a good speed if I stayed in their fresh tire track.  The mud wasn’t so bad right after they went through.  I kept the pace fairly high to stay warm.  I didn’t want to stop to put on more clothes just to take them off again a little while later.  I could tell the rain was going to stop sometime soon and I would warm up.  The rain stung my face and my hands froze as I rode through the driving rain.  Eventually the rain stopped. The sun came out again and warmed me up.  There was still some lingering mud on the trail that would stick on the tires, but it was sporadic.

Brazos mud

The gravel led down past some farms and cows and ended up at a paved section.  This paved climb led up to Hopewell Lake.  I stopped at the campground and filled my water up at the well.  I used a couple of purification tablets just to be safe.  The route led through a campground and back into the woods.  On a descent I passed a pickup truck on the way down.  I discovered that a mountain bike can usually go faster than motor vehicles on the rough descents.  Not on the way up though.  The same pick up passed my on the way up the next hill.  They jokingly asked me if I wanted a rope as they passed by.  Nice campers!  The road went up and down, up and down and up again.  Never think the climbing is done until you are at the border.  I loved the Ponderosa Pine in this part of the country.  It was so much different than the forest back home.  What an adventure!

Ponderosa Pine on the way to Canon Plaza

I crossed a small bridge and down a fun downhill to Canon Plaza.  I was excited to be at the legendary Sylvia’s store!  I got there and the doors were closed.  The writing on the sea-can said to honk for service.  I didn’t have a car horn on me so I started looking around for a bell to ring or button to push.  Then I heard something from the house up the driveway.  Sylvia was calling down asking me if I wanted to come up for dinner!  They were just sitting down for supper and were inviting me to join them.  What an awesome opportunity!  I slowly rode my bike up the driveway and was greeted by the sweetest woman.  I was covered in mud and she assured me not to worry about it.  “Dirt can be cleaned”, she said.  I came into her house, met her husband, son, and daughter and sat down for supper at the dinner table.  I felt out of place in the sense of being a dirty biker in a nice, clean dining room, but felt very welcomed due to their hospitality.  I enjoyed chicken, chili and tortillas as I chatted with her husband at the dinner table.  Her husband kept asking something in Spanish that ended in “Espanol.”  I didn’t understand every word, but was pretty sure he was asking if I spoke Spanish so I said, “No.”  After I thought how silly it was to say I didn’t speak Spanish by answering a question asked in Spanish.

She was watching Trackleaders and said Justin and Bailey was not too far behind.  I didn’t care.  I was enjoying the time with Sylvia and her family and wanted to appreciate their wonderful company and hospitality.  Sylvia’s husband let me wash my bike off with his hose.  Justin rode up by then and was waiting at the store.  I said my goodbyes to Sylvia’s family and we headed down to the store.  Justin and I bought some supplies and at the same time Bailey rode by.  No stopping for him.  We were wondering if he was planning on resupplying in El Rito.  Justin was nice enough to take a picture of me with Sylvia, we said our goodbyes and headed down the road to El Rito. 

One of the nicest women on the planet

We rode together for a little while, and eventually Justin pulled ahead.  I had been passed.  It was a bit disheartening, but the visit with Sylvia was worth it.  I thought about my change in race philosophy and how I can enjoy those once in a lifetime opportunities and didn’t have to be so concerned about my race position.  I would cherish these memories more than gaining one or two positions in the race standings.  That didn’t mean I wasn’t going to go my fastest though.  

The paved road led to Vallecitos.  Dogs.  I was worried about all the stories I heard of dog alley.  The towns were looking more like what I imagined towns in Mexico looked.  The buildings were more run down and looked ramshackle.  I rode as quickly as I could through town expecting packs of angry dogs to come running out of every dusty driveway.  No dogs for me thank goodness.  I got through town without incident.  What a blessing!  Leaving town, the road climbed through the forest up over a small mountain.  The forest in this area was dirtier.  Beer cans and trash sporadically littered the trail.  I’m not sure if it was justified, but I had an uneasy feeling as the sun set.  I started to imagine running into people who are up to no good camping in the woods.  All the movies of Mexican gangsters dumping bodies in the woods started coming to mind.  The unfamiliar forest with the gnarled trees and dusty ground with bits of garbage added to the spookiness.  As the sun went down I even passed by some loud campers with a big bonfire.  I rode by as fast as I could in the darkness hoping they wouldn’t notice me. 

The road was fast, but sketchy.  My white lights reflecting on the white sand made it difficult to see the features of the road.  It was very rutty and sandy at parts and I almost lost it a few times catching my tires in the ruts.  I decided to stop a couple of kms from El Rito to sleep.  I didn’t know what I would see in town and had my fear of undesirables and dogs to deal with.  I thought it would be safer to tuck away into the dark woods by myself among the cacti, huge beetles, and creepy trees.  I called Kristin when I found a place to sleep and described my uneasiness as dogs howled in the background. 

Stealth camping in a bit of fear

Sleep was not a problem though.  Once was nestled in my bivy, I had another great sleep.  

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