Southern Pacific Crest Trail & New Mexico

 

Fall 2010

 

Denis Kertz, ©2010


Day 26: Fri, Oct 01, 2010 - Casa Grande, AZ to Douglas, AZ

I stopped at a McDonalds on my way out of town to grab a quick bite for breakfast.  Since I wasn't riding I had no need for a large breakfast.

 

I picked up I10 to Tucson.  On the drive I learned from the radio that yesterday's high in Tucson was 104F, which was the highest temperature ever recorded for this late in the year.  This September was also the second hottest September ever recorded.  South of Tucson I headed north about 8 miles to the Saguaro National Park.  There are two sections of this park, one on each side of Tucson and I visited the east side.  There was a narrow, hilly, one-lane, 8-mile scenic loop against a background of the Rincon Mountains that I drove and shared with a few bicycles.  The main claim to fame for this park is the giant saguaro cactus which has a life span of 175 to 200 years and can grow as tall as 50 feet and weigh as much as 16,000 pounds.  At one time it was feared that the saguaro was going to die out in the park but has been making a comeback in recent years.

 

After leaving the park I headed east on I10 and then took 83 south since it was labeled as a scenic route and it was scenic but somehow zipping along the road in a car just wasn't the same as a slow-paced bicycle ride.  At Sonoita I took 82 east to Tombstone, of OK Corral gunfight fame.  This town was predictably touristy so I didn't spend much time there.  The actual OK Corral was walled off so you had to pay to see it.  The gun fight reenactment was at 2pm but I would have had to wait around for an hour so I took a pass.

 

I rode south to Bisbee which is built on the hills of the Tombstone Canyon.  Bisbee was founded as a copper, gold, and silver mining town in 1880 and is named after one of the financiers of the Copper Queen Mine.  After the mining decline Bisbee was reborn as an artist colony in the 1970s and was discovered by the baby boomers in the 1990s.  It was very interesting to see the Victorian houses built on the sides of the Mule Mountains.  I had thought I might stay in Bisbee but the motels were predictably tourist priced so I drove on to Douglas, further southeast near the Mexico border.  I stayed in another Motel 6 for $36 and spent several hours planning the rest of my trip to Albuquerque and doing a load of laundry for the first time in a couple weeks.

 

The country was very scenic from the time I left I10 on 83 to Douglas.  Too bad it all whizzed by so quickly.  That wouldn’t have been a problem on a bicycle.

 

Day 27: Sat, Oct 02, 2010 - Douglas, AZ to Grants, NM

I left Douglas headed for Silver City so I drove northeast on 80.  There was more nice scenery along the way.  I had to get on I10 for a short distance to Lordsburg where I stopped for a bite to eat at McDonalds.  Then I drove the rest of the way to Silver City.

 

In Silver City I picked up 180 north.  I had ridden this road from Springerville, AZ to Silver City on my Southern Tier ride in 2004 so this allowed me to relive some memories although I was seeing the route in reverse.  I saw twp groups of touring cyclists coming the other way, a single and a group of 3, so I presumed they were riding the Southern Tier.  The best scenery of this stretch was the Mongollon Mountains.

 

When I reached the intersection with 12 I took it to Datil.  During this time it became rather cloudy and threatening in spots.  At Datil I took 60 west, another road I had ridden on another tour in 2006.  In about 20 miles I reached Pie Town and stopped at the Pie-O-Neer Cafe for my pie.  I had stopped here in 2006 on a Tuesday when it was closed.  At that time I met the owner, Kathy Knapp, just as she was leaving on her weekly shopping trip to Albuquerque for her baking needs.  This time it was open when I got there about 2:30pm.  Surprisingly, they didn't have that much pie selection (the waitress said I should have been there earlier) but they had their award winning chocolate cream pie so I settled for that.  The pie was good and had a really good, flaky crust that virtually melted in your mouth.

 

I had to do a little double take because Kathy looked somewhat older than I recalled in 2006 but I introduced myself and she mentioned that she thought I looked familiar although I could imagine she was just saying that.  I would have looked somewhat different in 2006 dressed out in my cycling attire and wearing a helmet.

 

When I got to the cafe it wasn't that busy but by the time I left it was packed.  This place did have a sparse menu of other items besides pies but pies were obviously their specialty.  As an added bonus, the place had used books and I was able to trade the first paperback I had read for another one.  This was good timing since I was nearly done with my second paperback.

 

As I headed west on 60 I passed the other cafe where I was forced to have my pie in 2006.  It had only a single car parked in front so it wasn't doing the booming business that the Pie-O-Neer was.

 

A little further I picked up 36 and then 117 on my way to Grants.  I passed along the El Malpais National Monument that had some limestone bluffs that were impressive including an arch.  El Malpais is Spanish for “the badlands” although they didn't look that bad from the road.  I stopped at the Sandstone Bluffs Overlook that required a little climbing on the rocks but afforded a great view of The Narrows, a stretch of 500 feet high sandstone cliffs, and the surrounding countryside.

 

It was near 5pm when I reached Grants, about 60 miles from Albuquerque.  I found an inexpensive motel for $30 with Internet access and a Subway to boot.  Tomorrow would be a short drive to Albuquerque where I would dump the car and get back on the bike where I belonged.

 

Day 28: Sun, Oct 03, 2010 - Grants, NM to Rio Rancho, NM [24.3, 2:12:16, 11.0 mph]

I woke up around 6:30 and was surprised to see bright daylight.  Then I remembered that I was about 300 miles east of Yuma and the time zone changed to Mountain Time when I crossed the Colorado River at Yuma so it was really 7:30 and I changed my clock.  I rode to a McDonalds for a quick breakfast and then drove the 75 miles to Albuquerque.

 

Dropping off my rental car at the airport was uneventful.  The bicycle went back together without a hitch.  When I had everything out of the car another rental customer quizzically asked if “is all that stuff going to fit on the bike.”  I assured her it would.  Then she asked if the bike was hard to pedal and I said only when going uphill and she laughed.

 

I left around 11am.  I was actually well located in Albuquerque at the airport for making my way around.  I simply rode south a short ways on University Blvd to Rio Bravo Blvd and then a couple miles west.  There I picked up the 16-mile Paseo del Bosque Bike Trail that took me north along the east side of the Rio Grande River which was never visible from the trail.  It was a paved trail with a number of cyclists riding.  It was probably the best way to get through the city and most of the time the city wasn't even visible.

 

I rode the trail to its termination at Alamada Blvd and then rode across the Rio Grande River to 528, stopping to do some grocery shopping along the way.  528 was a major road and I rode most of it on a good sidewalk.  Unfortunately, this was the start of Albuquerque's International Balloon Festival.  I stopped at a Day's Inn in Rio Rancho, northwest of Albuquerque, and was shocked to learn a room would cost $112.  This was double the normal price and due to the balloon festival.  Had I still been in my rental car I would have kept on driving but with a bike I wasn't sure I could go any further so I swallowed hard and whipped out my credit card which has been getting a workout.

 

I ate at another Subway and did some more grocery shopping at an Albertson.

 

It was great to get back on the bike although it was also good to have two days of rest.  Tomorrow's start of the ride to Bandelier National Monument would test my rested legs.

 

Day 29: Mon, Oct 04, 2010 - Rio Rancho, NM to La Cueva, NM [58.8, 6:37:10, 8.9 mph, 3,109']

I took advantage of the motel's continental breakfast.  They had a waffle making machine so I had 2 waffles.  Their choice of cereal left something to be desired so I used my own cereal.

 

I left a little before 8:30 and there were a couple hot air balloons already further north than I was.  Then there were over a 100 balloons somewhere near the balloon park.  I followed their progress for a while as I rode north on 528.

 

After not too many miles I felt my rear tire go soft.  When I stopped to fix it I checked the tire and found a piece of wire still stuck in the tire so locating the leak was easy.  I patched the leak and put everything back together getting messy hands because I had to handle the chain.  Unfortunately, the patch didn't hold and I could tell before long that the rear tire was going soft again.  So I stopped at a McDonalds where I had some place to lean my bike while trying again.  I ripped off the first patch and replaced it with another.  This one held for the rest of the day but I probably spent about an hour on the two patches.

 

I picked up 550 north and left the hot air balloons behind.  Other than one fairly substantial hill to climb it was pretty easy riding on a busy 4-lane road with a good shoulder.  The scenery got better as I rode north.  Just before turning off on 4 at San Ysidro there was a food mart so I stopped for a cold drink and a bite to eat.

 

4 was a fairly narrow 2-lane road with virtually no shoulder but most of the traffic was moderate speed and most of the traffic were very careful when passing me.  4 was very scenic as it wound its way through the San Diego Canyon with steep red rock walls on both sides while following the Jemez River upstream.

 

Along the way there was a visitor center that had forest service information.  I inquired about campgrounds and learned there were a couple along my way just past the intersection with 126 although I had some question whether I would make it that far.

 

I stopped in Jemez Spring, a small village of 375 with hot springs and several religious retreats, and had a cold drink.  After Jemez Spring the road started climbing more seriously.  Previously the road was climbing a little in a roller coaster fashion.  The last few miles to La Cueva were steep and it was a hard grind.

 

La Cueva had a store, a cafe that was closed, and a lodge.  I checked out the lodge even though I expected it would be expensive and the cheapest room was $75.  After a cold drink I rode 2 miles further to the Redondo Forest Service Campground that I had learned about earlier.  I was told it was open and had water and would not have been surprised to find it closed.  It was open but it had no water.

 

The campground had a host and he had what looked like a water tank at his site so I talked to him after I paid my $10 fee.  He said the water tank was for him and his chores.  I inquired about the next water source and it wasn't promising.  I had enough water to last the night and for breakfast but I wasn't sure how much I would need for the ride in the morning until I found another water source.  I learned that the host had lived in Las Vegas for a while and I mentioned my trip through Death Valley and Henderson last fall.  Eventually, unprompted, he said I could have some water.  He had his tank under lock and key so I partially filled my 2-liter water bag which would get me comfortably through tomorrow until Bandelier.

 

My host mentioned it had rained last night and there was a bit of flooding through some of the campground including his site.  He also said it was cold overnight, which is not too unexpected at 8,000 feet at the beginning of October.  He said it was 41 in the morning and he was reluctant to get out of his sleeping bag.  After an interesting discussion I retired to my site and ate from my food supply.

 

I made it further today than I expected.  As a result I had about 1,000 feet of climbing tomorrow before a descent to Bandelier.  However, I wasn't sure where I would be staying since the Bandelier campground was supposedly closed until next spring.

 

Day 30: Tue, Oct 05, 2010 - La Cueva, NM to Espanola, NM [61.6, 5:52:57, 10.5 mph, 3,148']

It rained a little overnight but not much.  It didn't get as cold as I expected for 8,000 feet in early October.  I had breakfast in bed and left about 8:15.

 

My campground host had warned me that there was a lot of traffic for some reason early in the morning but by the time I left there was only occasional traffic.  As I rode along there was a truck coming from the other direction putting out road divider cones.  A little later a truck came from the other direction spraying the edge of the road and I guessed it was oil.  Shortly my half of the road looked and smelled like it had just been oiled.  A little later a pilot car came through leading a single vehicle.  It looked like I had started just early enough to avoid all the mess.

 

I had about a thousand feet of climbing left to reach the peak 9100 altitude so the riding wasn't too bad.  Just before reaching the peak I rode past the Valles Caldera National Preserve, a large open meadow formed by a volcanic collapse in the Jemez Mountains.  This collapse spewed 500 times more debris into the air than Mt St Helens eruption.

 

After I reached the apex, it was a steep descent down to Bandelier.  The steep part was curvy with some very tight turns so high speed was not an option.  Then the descent lessened and it was mostly coasting the rest of the way where I encountered several cyclists riding in the opposite direction.  There was a Bandelier group campground about 8 miles from the main entrance with a bunch of tents up.

 

Bandelier National Monument preserves the the homes of the Ancestral Pueblo People and is the most popular national monument.  The main attraction, Frijoles Canyon, contains a number of ancestral puebleo homes, kivas (ceremonial structures), rock paintings and petroglyphs.  clMy senior pass got me into Bandelier and then it was a 3 mile ride to the visitor center in the Frijoles Canyon with the last mile a very steep descent into the canyon.  The first thing I did at the visitor center was inquire about camping since the regular campground was closed for renovations until next spring.  The ranger was unaware of anything within a reasonable distance.  It looked like my option was either a motel in White Rock or a motel in Espanola.  I doubted White Rock was a good option since it only had a single motel.  Espanola wasn't on my planned route and it was about 30 miles away so there was some question whether I could make it.

 

What wasn't in question was the amount of time I had to spend in Bandelier.  I had expected to be able to camp in the Bandelier campground in which case I would have been able to spend the afternoon in the park.  Instead, I figured I could only spend about an hour and then I would have to be on my way.

 

The obvious way to spend an hour was the main loop walk from the visitor center.  This loop went by a couple of cliff dwellings in the wall.  However, it was pretty crowded and a lot of the folks were either not in a hurry or not capable of moving very quickly.  So I did my best to worm my way through the groups to see as much as I could as quickly as I could.  I did get to climb a couple ladders to peek into some of the cliff dwellings in the sandstone walls and that was about all there was to see besides walking along the path.  Nevertheless it was worthwhile to do this simple loop and I finished in less than an hour.  The aggravating thing was the return loop went through a picnic area that would have been a fine place to camp overnight.  Instead, it looked like a lot of the sites were being used as parking spots.

 

Back at the ranch I wanted to get a bite to eat at the limited food place but it was obvious that was going to be slow so I decided I would wait until I got to White Rock, which turned out to be further away than I expected.  So about 1pm I climbed back out of the canyon and the 3 miles back to the main road.  Rather disappointing to be able to only spend an hour at this place.

 

It was a winding and up and down road leaving the park and headed to White Rock.  It was about 8 miles to White Rock and when I arrived I saw that the single motel was a Hampton Inn, an upscale motel.  I stopped at a food mart for something to eat since I hadn't eaten since my breakfast in bed.  When I asked I was told Espanola was only about 11 miles and downhill.  I believed the downhill part but when I checked my map it looked more like 20 miles and it turned out to be about 18 miles.

 

When I left White Rock still on Hwy 4 it seemed like all of a sudden I had entered a raceway.  There was pretty heavy traffic and the road essentially had no shoulder.  I checked my GPS and map to make sure I hadn't made a wrong turn but I was on the right road.  A few miles later 4 ended and I picked up 502 east.  This was a 4-lane road with lots of traffic but it had a very wide shoulder so it was at least safe riding.

 

In a couple miles I left 502 to take 30 north to Espanola.  30 also had a lot of traffic but also had a very wide shoulder.  However, after a few miles I heard a noise and then a couple seconds later my rear wheel was flat.  When I checked the tire I found a bit of embedded glass and suspected that was the culprit.  But when I got the tube out it had a gash much bigger than the piece of glass I found so I probably ran over multiple pieces of glass.  After my practice the other day I patched the tube and was ready to go in about 20 minutes.

 

However, while I was patching the tube I noticed the wind picked up and then looked back towards White Rock and saw some ominous clouds.  So then it became a race of whether I could make the 8 miles to town before the rain.  Looking back it was pretty obvious it was raining and I would almost surely have gotten rained on had I stayed in Bandelier.

 

The rest of the way to Espanola was easy.  There was some tailwind and it was probably still a little downhill.  There was also lots of traffic in my direction and I guessed this was rush hour since it was around 4pm.

 

When I got to town I had to find the motels.  My first choice was in the wrong direction but a query got me pointed right and then I found a Comfort Inn, Day's Inn, and Motel 6.  I was pretty sure Motel 6 was the cheapest so I got a room for $45.  I didn't get an AARP discount but the Internet access was included.

 

While I was cleaning up it started to rain.  There was a Sonic Drive-in immediately next door so with the rain this was the obvious choice for dinner.

 

Day 31: Wed, Oct 06, 2010 - Espanola, NM to Taos, NM [58.9, 7:02:50, 8.4 mph, 4,447']

I got up fairly early because I figured I had a pretty hard day ahead, taking the High Road to Taos.  I rode down the road a half mile and stopped at a restaurant for breakfast, my first restaurant breakfast in over a week.  I had a stack of pancakes that were pretty good.

 

I left a little after 8am and picked up 76 going east.  This wasn't a great time to be on that road.  There was a fair amount of incoming traffic and the road didn't have a shoulder.  On top of that I was riding right into the morning sun which meant the drivers coming up behind me could potentially have trouble seeing me but I lived to ride another day.

 

The first 8 miles or so was kind of in a country suburban area with houses fairly frequent.  There were also a lot of dogs and I heard dogs barking to note their objection to my passing.  Of course these dogs were either chained or behind a fence so they didn't bother me.  That is, until I heard a couple dogs that sounded pretty close and looked over my shoulder to see two dogs on my rear wheel.  They didn't appear to be in attack mode so I just yelled back at them to note my objection to their objections.  Seeing those dogs initially was an adrenaline boost.

 

This road starting climbing gradually from the moment I picked it up.  I stopped at one scenic overlook and met another couple who said they saw me yesterday at Bandelier.  From this point on the climbing started in earnest.  Overall I had to gain about 3000 feet to the maximum altitude but because of some of the ups and downs I was guessing it was about 4000 feet of climbing.  There were two major climbs, the first one to Truchas and then a later one.

 

The climb to Truchas was steep and on top of that there was road maintenance.  In a couple places there was hard packed dirt in preparation for paving which added to the climbing difficulty.  When I neared Truchas I could see the homes stretched out along a ridge.  Truchas earned fame as the site of Robert Redford's “The Milagro Beanfield War”.  It now has gained renown as an artist colony and that was evident by seeing the gallery signs passing through the town.

 

What I was hoping the town would have was some place to get a cold drink where I could have my second breakfast.  There was a small store but even though its sign claimed open it was closed.  So I headed out of town for a short ways until there was a turnout with a sign explaining the Truchas Peaks.  The sign had a couple posts that were suitable for a place to sit, especially since there wasn't anything else around.

 

So I broke out my breakfast cereal and settled down for some food and some needed rest after the difficult climb.  The turnout was next to a field that had a grazing horse and the next thing I knew the horse was at the fence staring at me.  Maybe he was hoping to have a second breakfast too.

 

After my needed break and refueling I continued on.  The road had some short descents and ascents to add to my climbing total.  After a while I was hoping for a cold drink.  Every time I saw a group of buildings I hoped it was a small town but nothing showed up.  Finally, when 76 ended at 75 there was a small store where I got my cold drink and an ice cream.

 

The weather forecast for Taos called for an afternoon thunderstorm.  I could see the clouds gathering and looking ominous but I was hoping they would bypass me.  There was some thundering and I saw some lightning but most of the bad weather moved north just past me but I could see it was  raining not too far from where I was headed.  Finally I felt a few sprinkles and I prepared for the worst and put on my rain jacket for the first time but I only had to fend off a few drops.

 

At Penasco 75 took a hard left and I climbed up through a valley.  That's when it seemed my rear wheel was getting a little squirrely.  So I stopped and checked and my rear wheel was getting soft.  I stopped and pulled out the tube but I couldn't find a leak.  So I pulled out my remaining good tube and put it on.  While I was working a car came along from the opposite direction and pulled over next to me.  I assumed it was someone who was checking to make sure I was okay but it was a local from Truchas.  He said he saw my pass through Truchas earlier.  Now he told me about some of his bicycle touring and his desire to do another one but he had a bad back.  This was all interesting and in normal circumstances I would have welcomed the exchange but I was trying to get my bike back together.  Finally he moved on and I got back on the road.

 

Just after starting again I did a u-turn on 518 and started the second major climb.  However, this one was a little easier than the first one, taking about an hour to climb maybe 4 miles.  Just over the top there was a turnout with a nice view of the mountains near Taos in the distance, about 15 miles away.  Then it was a fun descent the rest of the way.  There were a couple steep sections where I was able to turn the bike loose and hit 40 mph on one section.  There was a car trailing me at that time and I would guess he might have been surprised how fast I was moving since he didn't pass me when he could have.

 

Beyond the steep sections it was easy pedaling the rest of the way with a great shoulder.  I got lucky and pulled into Taos just a little before 5pm so I was able to stop at the visitor center.  I was guessing I would get stuck with an expensive motel room but I learned about a nearby RV park that had tent sites.  I got a tent site for $25 and checked in just as the RV park office was closing for the day, which seemed a little early.

 

There was a Taco Bell almost a mile away so I set up my tent, unloaded my bike, and rode back to the Taco Bell for a couple inexpensive burritos.  Back at the park I took my two leaky tubes and used the basin in the men's bathroom to find and fix the leaks.  The first tube that I had an issue with a couple of weeks ago had a slow leak so I knew I would need water to identify the leak.  But the tube that flatted today had an obvious leak and I'm surprised I wasn't able to find it on the road.

 

After fixing the leaky tubes I cleaned up and rinsed out my day's riding clothes.  The park had a laundry room so I used the dryer to dry them out.  The park also had WiFi but I was unable to get it to work.  I wasn't sure if there was some incompatibility or I had a weak signal but that was a disappointment.

 

Day 32: Thu, Oct 07, 2010 - Taos, NM to Red River, NM [45.5, 5:19:28, 8.5 mph, 2,651']

I slept in late, not getting up until 7am.  I checked out the two tubes I patched yesterday and they seemed to be holding up fine.  As I was getting ready to leave I guy walking his dog approached.  He grew up in the Sierras and told me he had biked all around the Sierras when he was younger and he still had his bike attached to the back of his RV.

 

I was actually about 2 miles south of Taos so I rode into town looking for a breakfast place.  I stopped at the Taos Diner which had won some awards for local breakfast.  I had a good breakfast in a nice airy place but it wasn't cheap at $11.

 

It was almost 9:30 by the time I left town.  Today marked the start of part of the Enchanted Circle, an 85 mile loop, which included Taos, Questa, Red River, Eagles Nest, and Angel Fire.  I would only be riding to Eagles Nest when I would break away and head to Raton and the Colorado border.

 

Once I picked up 522 to Questa I was riding in a wide open space with sage brush and mountains in the distance, a nice change from pine forests.  There was a descent to the Hondo Arroyo and then I had to climb out of the arroyo.  More climbing followed and then a fast descent to Questa, a small town where I stopped for a bite to eat.  I nuked a burrito and had a couple Gatorades to prepare me for the climb to Red Rock.

 

I took 38 at the intersection in town to Red River.  It looked like the road had no where to go but into the side of some mountains but the road weaved its way through the mountains on a pretty constant moderate grade.  Most of the way I was climbing moderately hard at 5-7 mph with some steeper sections at the end.  The road followed the Red River upstream.  There were a number of Forest Service campgrounds although some were now closed for the season.  It was a nice, scenic climb with temps in the upper 60s.

 

Just outside town there was an RV park with camping that I later learned was closed.  When I rolled into town there was essentially just a main road with services all along the road.  It didn't take long to figure out that Red River was a ski town.  It had lots of motels and condominiums and there was a ski chair lift nearby.

 

I stopped at the visitor center to get accommodation information and learned that motels were $50 and up and the RV park with camping was closed.  The visitor center had WiFi so I spent some time using it.  When I was done around 3:30 it was clouded up and looking like it was going to rain.  I rode around perusing the motel possibilities and waited out a little rain.  I eventually settled on a motel at $59 which I was told was the off season rate, $20 less than normal.  According to the motel proprietress it had been a very slow off season.

 

Surprisingly, there weren't a lot of food choices.  Some places were closed, possibly because there wasn't enough business to be open.  My first choice was a pub but it was closed so I ended up at an Italian place.  I didn't want a full meal so I had a hamburger where I got spaghetti as an option to fries.  I also had a beer with the meal, the second time of the trip.

 

Back at the motel I decided to make my Amtrak reservation to get home.  Earlier at the visitor center I had checked pricing and had come up with $221, $181, and $145.  The $221 was for purchasing a ticket the same day.  The $181 was for Saturday night and the $145 was for Sunday night.  For some reason I assumed Sunday night was cheapest because that would be the least desirable night.  The Amtrak Southwest Chief left La Junta at 8:16 and I expected to be in La Junta Sunday afternoon.  So I went ahead to purchase that ticket and was surprised to find it cost $181.  Then I realized it was just after 8:16pm and that I was getting the more expensive ticket because I was buying it less far in advance.  Bummed by just missing the 3 day advance purchase I went ahead anyway.  Then things got real slow during the process and I eventually just gave up.

 

Day 33: Fri, Oct 08, 2010 - Red River, NM to Cimarron, NM [47.5, 4:29:26, 10.6 mph, 1,713']

Over night I decided to go ahead and book my ticket reservation.  I figured I could wait until Cimarron but there was always the possibility that I wouldn't be able to get Internet access.  When I booked the ticket I was really surprised to see that now I got the $145 price again.  So it was good that things were slow last night and I gave up.  With my senior discount, the price turned out to be $123 which was pretty good.

 

Then I packed up while in a good mood and when I opened the motel door to leave I was surprised to see the cloudy sky and the drizzle.  It looked like a layover day might make sense but my ticket committed me.  At first I was going to ride my bike to breakfast but I realized that was stupid because I could keep it in the motel and walk to breakfast and I didn't have to check out until 10am.

 

I walked a block or so to Shotgun Willy's Cafe and there was a glimmer of hope with a small patch of blue in the southwest, giving hope that clearing was a possibility.  The cafe was kind of a dive with just a long room with tables on both sides of an aisle.  You ordered at the counter and picked up your order when called.  I had the Willy Special which was eggs, bacon, sausage, potatoes, and biscuits and gravy with coffee for $6.  They didn't have pancakes but did have french toast but I still went with the special.  It was the bargain breakfast value of the trip so far.

 

Just after I ordered and sat down to wait for my order about a dozen folks showed up.  I was really glad I wasn't just a few minutes later.  I got my order and took my time eating since the longer I waited the more likely the weather would clear.  In fact, by the time I left there was some sunshine and it looked like full clearing was underway.

 

I left town close to 9am and applied sunscreen, which I wouldn't have expected to need earlier.  My goal for the day was Cimarron, just 40 miles or so away.  It was almost all downhill except I had to climb to Bobcat Pass at 9820 from Red River.  That meant about 3 miles with 1000 feet of climbing and then riding would be easy.

 

As soon as I got to the edge of town the climbing started.  In a short distance there was a good view of the town looking back.  After almost 5 miles I reached the pass with the last mile easing off quite a bit on climbing.  Then the descent was great, not because of the descent but because of the views.  There were Aspen flaunting their autumn gold colors and some mountain tops in the distance were visible with a dusting of snow from the overnight rain.

 

With the road still wet I was reluctant to descend very fast which was fine given the great views.  A little later there were views of meadows and grazing cows and horses as I rode through the Moreno Valley.  The scenery was great all the way to Eagle Nest where I left the Enchanted Circle to head east to Cimarron.  It was good that I wasn't continuing on the Enchanted Circle.  It was very breezy and I would have had a head wind the rest of the way.

 

I stopped in Eagle Nest for my second breakfast at about 11am.  Then I picked up 64 heading east.  First I had a short, steep, winding climb out of the valley which gave some nice views of Eagle Nest Lake, a reservoir created by damming the Cimarron River, and the surrounding hills and mountains.  Then I descended through the Cimarron Canyon following the Cimarron River downstream.  This was completely unexpected scenery and it was really nice, especially since it was downhill and I barely had to pedal.  About an 8-mile stretch of the canyon was part of the Cimarron State Park.

 

It was 24 miles from Eagle Nest to Cimarron and they were easy miles, all downhill.  As I approached Cimarron I left the Rockies for the Great Plains.  When I pulled into Cimarron I stopped for a drink and a short rest.  I had planned Cimarron as my destination but it was only 2pm.  However, Raton, the next possible destination was another 40 miles, some more very modest downhill but then the start of some uphill to Raton.  I only considered moving on because I thought the wind might be helping and you never want to quit on a tailwind.  However, looking at some flags it looked like the wind was more westerly and Raton was mostly north.  So I decided to call it a day even though it had been an easy day other than for the initial climb out of Red River.

 

Cimarron was a small town of 900 so it was easy to ride through the town.  I eventually found the library and was able to use its WiFi for Internet access.  Around 4pm I decided it was time to find a place to stay.  One sign advertised an RV Park with a campground but when I showed up there was no one around and there didn't look like anything really suitable for tenting.  So I rode back to town and checked the first motel which also had an RV Park.  The motel wanted $45 for a room but I went for a tent site when I learned they had sites for $10 including a shower.

 

The tent site was no great shake but it was good enough.  I set up, cleaned up, and ate at a little drive-in.  After that I retired to my tent for the night.

 

Day 34: Sat, Oct 09, 2010 - Cimarron, NM to Trinidad, CO [66.1, 5:56:23, 11.1 mph, 2,220']

It was fairly chilly in the morning, probably mid or upper 40s.  I broke camp and rode to the historic St James Hotel which advertised a breakfast buffet for $7, a deal that sounded too good to be true.  Along the way I passed a deer along side the road and spotted a couple more out in the field.  As I expected the buffet was basic breakfast food with no pancakes, french toast, or pastries but that was no surprise given the low price.  I got my fill of basic breakfast and some cereal in an impressive dining room in the hotel that was arranged with western artifacts, like spurs, hanging on the walls.

 

The St. James Hotel was built in 1872, initially consisting of only a saloon, but the saloon proved to be so popular that guest rooms were added.  A whole raft of famous people have stayed here including Wyatt Earp, Jesse James, Kit Carson, Doc Holliday, Billy the Kidd, and now me.  The hotel is reputed to be haunted and in particular a couple of noted rooms, which is why I chose to camp last night rather than risk unwanted company.

 

I left just before 8:30.  On my way out of town I saw there was another campground that would have had nicer campsites but not as well located.  The goal for the day was Trinidad which was across the border in Colorado.  Most of the 40 mile route to Raton was pretty flat with a little descending and a little climbing.  It was nice riding and good scenery with plains eastward, some mountains to the near west and then mountains in the north, just north of Raton.

 

Cimarron’s great claim to fame was that it was part of the Sante Fe Trail, 900 mile trail from Missouri to Sante Fe that was vital trade route for 60 years before it was eventually replaced by the railroad.  Originally the trail routed from Cimarron, KS, in southwestern Kansas to Cimarron, NM but this “dry route” was water-limited and risky.  This motivated the Mountain Route or “wet-route” that continued west to Trinidad, CO, and then south over the Raton Pass and down to Cimarron, NM.  So today’s route to Trinidad and tomorrow’s route to La Junta, CO, was tracing the Sante Fe Trail.

 

The most important feature of today’s route was the climb from Raton to Raton Pass, a climb of about 1500 feet.  I was glad I didn't press on yesterday to Raton because I would have been focused on grinding away and not enjoying the scenery as I did today when I had no reason to hurry.  When initially leaving Cimarron the shoulder was super wide but it had periodic cracks and some of them were several inches wide, leading to some good, or not so good, thumping, first by the front wheel and then by the rear wheel.  After about 5 miles the shoulder narrowed some, still leaving a wide shoulder, and the cracks became minor.

 

A few miles before Raton I had to get on I25 for 3 miles.  I took the first exit to Raton and passed a number of motels and a KOA so had I pushed on yesterday it would have been easy to find accommodations.  I stopped at a food mart around noon for a burrito and a Gatorade.

 

Then I asked the attendant for the best way to get on I25, meaning to stay off I25 as long as possible before I would be forced back on it for the climb to the pass.  I asked about a frontage road and I got directed to the frontage road which I doubt was the best route.  I think if I had stayed on the Business 25 that I was on I would have avoided I25 for another mile or tow.

 

The climb to the pass was a little uneven.  It was hard but not the hardest climb.  It was also the last climb of this tour barring some surprise.  The last mile was the steepest part and I climbed it at 4mph.

 

The rest of the way to Trinidad from the pass was all descending, initially steep and then easy coasting the rest of the way.  Normally, Interstates have wide shoulders but there was a stretch of a mile or so where the shoulder was disturbingly narrow.  There are cases where a narrow shoulder is necessary because of limited real estate but that wasn't the case here.

 

As I got closer to Trinidad there was a frontage road but I couldn't be sure where it went so I stayed on the Interstate and got off at a main exit in town.  I wasn't sure about the town layout but there was a Colorado Welcome Center so I stopped there.  I got good information there including a city and state map.  I also got directions to Main Street where there were a couple motels on the east end.  Main Street was perfect because it turned into the road I needed to take to La Junta tomorrow.

 

I backtracked a bit and picked up Main to where the two motels were within a block of each other.  The first motel didn't have anyone there to take my money so I went to the other motel and got a room for $35.  The room was a little bit small but still fine.

 

Later I walked a couple blocks to eat at the Trinidad Diner and had an okay fish diner.  Then at 5pm I was able to watch the Missouri-Colorado footbal game which Missouri won rather handily.

 

Tomorrow was a potentially hard day with the need to be at the La Junta train station to pick up the Southwest Chief at 8:16 pm with the ticket office opening at 6:45 pm.  It was 80 miles to La Junta with no services along the way.  I wasn't too worried about the distance because the route was downhill, losing 2000 feet of altitude pretty gradually along the route.  However, at the diner I saw a paper which predicted north winds 9-16 mph and the route was northeast.  So these would be some measure of headwinds which is what I didn't need.  That made it more important to get off to an early start.

 

I bought some milk for my small refrigerator so I could eat breakfast in the room and not waste time eating breakfast at the diner down the street.

 

Day 35: Sun, Oct 10, 2010 - Trinidad, CO to La Junta, CO [83.6, 6:57:13, 12.0 mph, 865']

I got up early because I wanted to get as early a start as possible.  I had milk in the refrigerator so I had my cereal breakfast with some pastries so I wouldn't have to waste time waiting in a restaurant.  It didn't get light until after 6:30 and I left right at 7am.

 

It was chilly with the sun not out yet.  All I had to do was head east on Main Street and that became US350, the road to La Junta, 80 miles away.  The road kept the railroad in sight for most of the day but I saw an early train and later I saw the Amtrak Southwest Chief coming from La Junta but nothing beyond that.  I had expected I would see several trains.

 

The scenery wasn't exciting.  It was plains as far as you could see so it was just a matter of settling down and cranking out the miles.  The route lost about 2000 feet which sounds like a lot but that was pretty gradual when spread over 80 miles.

 

My two fears were weather and the head wind prediction I saw yesterday.  The other potential problem was bike trouble.  I was somewhat paranoid about getting a flat given the 3 flats I already had over the last week.  I kind of thought there was little chance of a flat because the road had no shoulder for the most part, with almost no traffic, just something every few minutes.  Usually the flat risk is due to riding on the shoulder and picking up debris such as a piece of wire or a piece of glass, both which happened during the last week.  In this case I was riding on the road where vehicular traffic causes the road to be swept by the traffic to get rid of wires and glass.  Or so I thought.

 

Early on I thought I felt the rear wheel was a little squirrely so I stopped and felt the tire pressure and it was okay although it seemed like it might be not quite as hard as when I checked at the motel.  However, later I was pretty sure the rear wheel didn't feel right and when I checked the tire pressure was obviously lower.  I decided to pump up the rear tire and hope it was just a slow leak that wouldn't require fixing.  I managed 10 miles or so on the first pump and that would have been fine but the second pump only gave me about 6 miles.  That told me the leak was getting worse so I stopped at a bridge where I had some shoulder and where I could lean the bike up against the railing. 

 

What I found when I pumped up the tube was not only the leak but some abrasion.  So I matched the trouble spot against the tire and it matched where the tire had been cut by glass when I was riding to Espanola.  When I looked inside the tire I could see how the inside was causing some abrasion leading to the leak.  I think the thumping due to road cracks yesterday and this morning had caused the tire to deteriorate.  I patched the tube and figured the patch would protect against the abrasion over the remaining 20 miles I had to town.

 

For the most part the wind was calm during the morning and I made almost 50 miles by noon.  However, in the afternoon the wind started picking up and suddenly I was struggling to make 8 mph on what was if anything a slightly descending road.  So the last 10-15 miles were a grind but my destination was well in hand so that didn't bother me too much.

 

When I arrived in town right around 2:30 I immediately headed into town to find the Amtrak station which was right along 1st street.  That taken care of I stopped to get something to eat.  After that it was a matter of killing time until the train was due to arrive at 8:16pm.  The Amtrak ticket office didn't open until 6:45pm but the waiting room was open.  That was good because no one else was around yet and I was able to use the restroom to clean up at my leisure.

 

When the ticket agent arrived a little early I had my bike out so it was obvious I was looking to take my bike on the train.  She warned me that it needed to be boxed which almost caused me a heart attack since I thought she was saying they didn't have a bike box.  But she assured me they had a bike box when I asked and I assured her I knew how Amtrak handled bikes.  She got a box out and I removed the pedals and turned the handlebar sideways and slid the bike in the box.  I had to pay $15 for the box and $5 handling, much cheaper than either shipping the bike or taking it on an airplane and a lot easier to pack.

 

After the bike was taken care of I lashed my two rear panniers together to form a unit and stuffed my sleeping bag and tent and other things into my duffel bag for my second carryon luggage unit.  I used one of my front panniers for my valuables and sensitive electronics to carry on and stow under my seat.

 

The train was about 40 minutes late.  When I got on there wasn't any great seat selection so I got stuck with a seat on the upper level right by the stairwell, not the greatest location.  Then I settled in for the night.

 

xxDay 36: Mon, Oct 11, 2010 - La Junta, CO to Naperville, IL

I slept reasonably well considering the facilities.  I did have 2 seats to myself so I was able to curl up across 2 seats.  So I got in 8 hours of sleep with periodic maneuvering to find a comfortable sleep position.  When I woke up around 6 am I was on central time so it was technically 7am when I got up.

 

After getting a breakfast sandwich from the cafe car I grabbed my current paperback and settled in a chair in the observation car.  I completed my book about an hour before I reached my destination.  My ticket was actually for Chicago Union Station but the train stopped in Naperville, about 1.5 miles from my house.  The train was due in Chicago at 3:10pm but it was running a little late so it was probably going to make Chicago 30-40 minutes late.  If it was about an hour earlier I would have stayed on the train to Chicago and ridden the 34 miles home from Union Station.  But given it was going to be late and I wasn't sure when darkness would set in I decided not to ride home from Chicago. 

 

Instead I got off at the Naperville train stop but since the Naperville station doesn't have baggage service my bike had to continue on to Chicago.  Last year, when I had to ship my bike separately, I got off in Naperville and carried my luggage home but that was a real pain.  This year I called my neighbor and had her pick me up.  However, that still left the matter of my bike sitting in Chicago.  So later I took the 4:50 Metra train to Union Station and picked up my bike.  Fortunately, it is possible to take a bike on the Metra but not during prime time.  So I had to wait until the 7:40 pm return train to Naperville which got me back to Naperville close to 9pm.  From there I rode home in darkness using my lights.

 


 

Copyright Denis Kertz, 2010. All rights reserved.