Exit New Mexico, enter Arizona

The Toaster House in Pie Town provides a place to sleep for the night, and books and maps to keep us entertained for hours. The house is full of stories of other bikers and CDT hikers. We can’t not stay.

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Dirt roads lead us south from Pie Town. Questionable and non existent water sources keep us on our toes.

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We spend three hours boiling mud puddle water, and then searching for a cache a couple on a tandem tell us about. We don’t find it.

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70 miles south and we leave the Divide for the final time, aiming for Reserve. Soon, water is flowing along the side of the road. It’s been ages since we have seen good, clear cold flowing water, I think. I guzzle a bottle just because I can.

Reserve has everything we need and want. We’re in and out and on heading down the road again, back into the National Forest to camp for the night.

We leave pavement again and climb up along the edge of the Blue Range Wilderness. Don’t take your bike in the wilderness though, just skirt the edge. Bear scat litters the road. It looks like bears here eat the flowers of the prickly pear. I assume they are small and inconsequential compared to Alaska bears. We don’t see any, so I’m not proven wrong, or right.

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The road drops down to the Blue River, and into Arizona. Red rock spires frame the landscape. We climb out of the river valley towards Alpine, refuel in town and then pedal on. All the roads are uphill today. We haven’t showered since Albuquerque and I think it’s time.

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Back in Apache National Forest we make camp. I fall asleep to elk bugeling in the distance, and coyotes howling.

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Photo by Tyndall Ellis.

Divide Again.

For $9 the Railrunner takes us from Santa Fe to Albuquerque. It’s 90+ degrees and riding there on pavement holds no appeal. I munch on turnips and carrots from Thomas at Stan and Rose Mary Crawford’s El Bosque Garlic Farm while the landscape passes by. 

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We ride city trails and bicycle boulevards. We see hundreds of hot air balloons take flight. We get to know our hosts, Tammie and Ethan.

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We spent time at the community bike shop. We eat good food. We visit an urban farm.

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I glance at my calendar, see it’s the first week of October, and that we probably need to get a move on. Tyndall’s itching to get his feet wet.

Adventure Cycling’s Route 66 takes us west out of Albuquerque. Much of the real Route 66 has been gobbled up by I-40.

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The interstate is straightforward and my mind wanders. I wonder where all the truck freight is going, where it’s come from and what, exactly, is being hauled all over the country. I think about rereading The Grapes of Wrath. I-40 does have a large shoulder with a rumble strip and takes us where we need to go, just don’t get distracted by the casinos along the way.

Storm clouds circle, but we thread the needle and manage to stay dry.

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Doug Johnson offers cyclist camping in his backyard, 15 miles from Grants in San Fidel off Highway 124. Instead of the tent, we sleep in his trailer. As rain patters on the roof, I’m grateful for the sturdy shelter.

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We aim to reconnect with the Divide one last time in Grants, but recent heavy rains send us down a paved alternate.

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Finally (finally!) we turn off Route 117 onto the dirt road that will take us to Pie Town. It’s solid and firm. Tarantuals and woolly bear catapillars march across.

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We ride until sunset and camp among pinyon pines. Elk bugle all around. Three stumble into our camp. I’m happy to be back in the woods. It’s been awhile.

Gearing Down

4000 miles and we begin to get acquainted with our steeds. For Liz, this has meant long climbs and sore knees. Strengthening exercises a morning routine. The pain remains. Something just isn’t right. 

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Photo by Elizabeth Ellis

We have known for a long time that the gears on the Salsa Fargo are too tall.  Unfortunately, the crank that comes with the bike won’t take smaller gears and we haven’t had time to order new ones.  Further, I’ve come to learn that Liz has shorter cranks than I do meaning she has to apply more force while climbing.  I share this information with Liz and immediately she feels betrayed. “I’ve been working harder than you!”

In Santa Fe, we finally have the opportunity we are waiting for. Good bike shops and lots of time to make something happen. Mellow Velo helps us source new cranks. Lower gears.

We pass the time waiting for the cranks to arrive researching gear inches and frame geometries. Liz reads a post by Off Route and sees a familiar theme. She sends it my way. Liz may need a new frame as well as lower gearing. Moving from 29″ wheels to 27.5″ wheels is another way to reduce the amount of force required to climb. At 5’3″, the smaller wheel set will allow for a better fit and a lighter set up.

We consult the owner of Mellow Velo the following day regarding fit. Luck would have it, that at that exact moment, a customer brings a Soma B-side into the shop.  It’s the exact size we are looking for. We ask the customer if Liz can try it out. She rides around the parking lot. Much more room between handle bar and knees. We decide to go for it and ask the shop owner to order a frame but everyone is out of stock in the size we need. Unable to wait longer, we get the cranks and move on to Albuquerque loaded with ideas.

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Photo by Elizabeth Ellis

In Albuquerque, we find out that the frame could be a month out.  Maybe more.  We work with another bike shop to try and improve the fit instead of swapping frames. A new seat post and stem move Liz forward on the bike and create more room between hands and knees. New cranks are installed at Esperanza Community Bike Shop. It’s a quick solution that will be tested in the coming weeks.

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Photo by Elizabeth Ellis

My bike sees upgrades as well. A new RockShox Reba RL shock for the front and a modified Salsa Anything Cage HD for the down tube. A sawzall makes for quick work removing part of the cage that interferes with the front chain rings. Clearance with the front shock is tested by draining it of all air pressure and bottoming out the suspension. A few well placed dents are made in a 64 oz Gatorade bottle. Everything fits. I can carry 2 liters in the new cage where I previously had 0.7 liters. Liz’s bike gets the same mod for water. No new shock for her yet. We want to test the new fit. If it works, a new shock is in her future. If not, a new frame.

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As for the shock pump that one is advised to carry with air suspension… it’s getting tossed. I’ll use the bike pump we already carry if there is ever a need to add air in an emergency. I’m already developing an SOP (standard operating procedure) where I can set the shock pressure accurately without a gauge.

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Route Selection

Planning long distance rides off the beaten track require some homework. Luckily, most of our riding has been on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route put together by Adventure Cycling. This has been a wonderful route. The maps provide details on where to find the next grocery store and water source as well as some brief history about each area. It’s the perfect bike packing starter to test your ride and yourself before leaving the country on grander exploits. 

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Of course, it would be easy if we could just follow the route. But we can’t. Distracted by friends, family, the glamor of big city lights, we keep making detours. This can get tricky. Hairy vehicle packed highways. No shoulders. Fast speed limits set us on edge. As a result we try to connect dirt roads as often as possible. This is where Google Maps and Delorme’s Earthmate App come to the rescue.

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Another helpful resource is the National Forest Locator Map. Each national forest has a link for bicycle trails but I’ve found the motorized use maps to be the most helpful. These cover all the dirt roads through the area and what vehicle type is allowed.

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Lastly, the Department of Transportation in each state has put together a bike map that provides shoulder widths and traffic volume for the main thoroughfares. This is for use when all else fails and we have to ride the road. The maps themselves can be a bit difficult to find. I’ve had my best luck searching “(state name) Department of Transportation Bicycle Map” and Google usually finds what I want. Most states have been spot on with their descriptions of the road ways. New Mexico has not. Find local knowledge or consult the police for good road riding.

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Photo by Elizabeth Ellis

Time

We arrive in Abiquiu knowing there’s time: time to slow down, time to do a few less miles each day. There hasn’t been a frost in ages and the nights are warm. For the moment, we have outrun winter.

On the recommendation of a friend, we check out Ghost Ranch. On arrival, there’s chaos. A movie is being filmed. Since it’s a Western, there are horses and cows running around everywhere. Oh, and side by sides, too. It’s almost like the National Forests. We continue on. The gardener waves us down, and soon, we’re being given armloads of fresh produce with an invitation to come back for more. I can handle this.

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We find The Best Campsite Ever, and then go explore. It turns out to be a great place to stay for awhile.

Vegetables, a 24 hour library full of old, obscure books about wind energy and Permaculture that are still relevant, hiking trails.

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Reluctantly, we leave, aiming for Taos. Roadside fruit stands pass by, and then we ride along the rim of the Rio Grande Gorge.

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A short detour takes us to the Earthships, and then to town. A mediocre bike shop and lots of traffic has me wondering why we came, but we’re here now, so go off to explore.

From Taos, the High Road takes us to Santa Fe. We pass art galleries and vinyards with espeliered apple and pear trees.

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Once in Santa Fe, the traffic slows and we take a breath. Warmshowers hosts Dennis and Patty welcome us into their home, and we make plans to eat our way through Santa Fe.

I have never been to New Mexico before

Wind buffets the tent in the night. A few fat rain drops plop down now and then. The morning light shows dark storm clouds whipping by overhead. I have seen enough photos of drive trains clogged with New Mexico mud to be wary.

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But, the clouds aren’t consistent and the rain is intermittent. We decide to go for it and pack up. 20 minutes later I gaze at the sky again and all my confidence goes out the window. The sky is a consistent dark metal gray.

What to do. Go back to the safety of pavement, or go forward and gamble with the dirt.

We go forward, and New Mexico rewards us. Enchanted forests of evergreens, groves of aspen. Tyndall finds mushrooms that look like inky caps, but without a local expert or guidebook, we leave them behind.

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The rain finally catches us just as we turn onto paved Highway 64. We road climb as fancy, expensive cars whiz by in the other direction. Amanda catches up and we find a picnic shelter to regroup in. Instead of a campsite, we find camp host Sarah. She offers us water, beer, edibles and a spot on her sofa inside her trailer. We pass the rest of the afternoon laughing and talking. As the sun sinks and the rain clouds pass, we return to the picnic shelter for food and sleep. One beer on an empty stomach has us all a bit giggly.

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It doesn’t rain all night, so we figure the roads are dry enough to make a go for Abiquiu. Only a couple small ascents stand between us and a real meal. Ready, set, go.

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New Mexico is rugged, but it rewards.