Cycling the Great Divide, Day Eight: A Field Thirteen Miles Northwest of the Beaverhead Work Center, New Mexico to Horse Springs Bible Church, New Mexico.

June 8th, 2016: 47 miles. Total so far: 274 miles.

Very chilly this morning. Joy was warm in her 15 degree bag and down jacket, while I was freezing.

Because we were “stealth camping,” and I was paranoid about someone seeing us, I insisted on breaking camp before dawn, and riding out soon after, thus delaying Joy’s morning coffee until we were 6.5 miles down the road. I of course blame myself for the 6.5 miles of crankiness that ensued.

Back on the rutted dirt road, we immediately saw, and talked to, numerous open-range cows. We try to let the cows know we’re coming so they won’t be startled.

The ride itself started out much easier than yesterday; it was flat or a very gentle climb. We stopped and watched several antelope for a while, and I wondered what they think about all day.

Joy was riding ahead when a fast-moving, lightly-loaded cyclist pulled up behind me. I shouted out a hello to him, but Joy kept riding for a while, probably assuming I was greeting a rabbit, or something.

The cyclist was Payton MacDonald, from New Jersey, who is riding the Divide while making a film ( The three of us had an enjoyable conversation before he was on his fast way… but not before he lifted my bike and expressed surprise that I’d been able to ride it up the steep rocky roads the last few days. Or maybe he was just surprised that someone would be so foolish as to ride the Divide with such a set-up.

(An incident during the visit with Payton helps reveal the touring mindset. We observed Payton drop a cheese-cracker on the dirt road, pick it up, scrape it off, consider it briefly, scrape it off again, then eat it. I’ve done similar things myself, and as I’ve said before: The rules are different on a bike tour.)

The ride continued to be enjoyable all morning. At one of our rest/snack breaks, as we sat on our camp stools under a tree, Joy expressed a desire to relive a childhood memory by having a cowchip throwing contest. I declined her invitation, not wanting to touch an actual cowchip, but I did express admiration at the distance she achieved with hers.

Late in the morning we rode through some nice pine forests, crossing the continental divide a couple of times.

Around this time I noticed that the “new voice mail” indicator on my phone was on. I must have had a faint signal just long enough for the voice mail to register, but now the signal was gone and I couldn’t listen to the messages. Distracted while imagining various worst case scenarios that the voice mails (which I almost never receive) could represent (house burned down, bank account looted, etc.), I rode into some loose gravel on a slight downhill, and experienced the sickening feeling of losing control of the bike. I shouted out “No, No, No!”, regained control after about five seconds, and skidded to a stop. Joy, who was riding ahead of me, witnessed the entire affair in her mirror, laughed loudly, and shouted “Way to go!”

Next we rode into an area our maps called Collins Park. Yesterday at Beaverhead, E.T., the helpful medic we talked to, said that the firefighters jokingly call the area we rode through “Downtown Collins Park”, because the only man-made structure in the entire gigantic, empty Collins Park area is a small wooden corral. We saw the corral, dutifully took its picture, and moved on.

After some more nice riding, and lunch by the side of the dirt road, we made a long, easy descent into a not-quite-as-nice section, where we saw more vehicles (six or eight pickup trucks) than we’d seen the entire last few days. The trucks, with the clouds of dust they generated, annoyed me. It was also getting much warmer; we were now in the hot, sunny New Mexico midday which is the least fun time for riding out here.

I got a cell signal for the first time in days and was able to check the two voice mails, which of course were unimportant — one of those cases where the first voice mail is a question, and the second voice mail is the same person leaving you a message to tell you that he figured it out on his own, and not to bother calling back. At least they weren’t from the guy at T.D. Ameritrade who sometimes calls to annoy me about doing something “smarter” with the money I have in an account there. I would have been really pissed if they were from that guy.

After we checked emails and I did some roadside technical support for one of my customers, we headed into the Plains of San Augustin, an enormous, empty basin. It was super hot and windy, and this was a difficult section, especially for Joy. I think I was as dirty as I’ve ever been in my life (literally dirty — I was covered with greasy sunblock mixed with the dirt from the road.) We were aiming for a church just outside the Plains of San Augustin which was reputed to contain an unlocked water spigot.

We finally arrived at the church, which was at the intersection of two lonely roads, and was the only structure visible for miles, except for a possibly abandoned house next door. No one was around. The water spigot worked, so we immediately started cleaning up and replacing the warm water in our bottles. The next official camping site was ten miles up the Mangas Mountain, and there was no way that was happening this evening, so we decided to “cowboy camp”, and just put our sleeping bags on the porch of the church. While the church does not officially allow cyclists to camp, they also do not explicitly prohibit it, and we knew of riders who had slept there, so it seemed alright. We left a note of thanks and a donation taped to the door, since we had used quite a bit of water.

It was my first time sleeping outside with my face exposed to the elements (and bugs, bats, snakes, etc. etc.) but I was so tired that I fell asleep quickly.

The road we were on was literally a cow path.
With Payton MacDonald.
Into the woods to tend to an urgent matter.
Providing tech support on the side of the road.
Into the Plains of San Augustin.
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