Cycling the Great Divide, Day Twenty-One: A Meadow Off Forest Road 133, New Mexico to a Few Miles South of Brazos Ridge, New Mexico
June 21st, 2016: 28 miles. Total so far: 686 miles.
Our goal today was to get over the top of Brazos Ridge, at about 11,000 feet, which would require us to ride up (and down) a notoriously steep and rough road. We failed.
We broke camp relatively quickly and were soon riding in a pretty, open, park-like area with lots of wildflowers blooming. Because this was New Mexico, the road became extremely rocky for a while, before transitioning into plain old gravel for several miles.
After a visit to an old, abandoned ranch, where a couple of buildings were still standing, we stopped at a river to collect water to filter, and watched as a couple of workers in a Forest Service truck pulled over to change a flat tire, which they blamed on the many sharp rocks on this road. I bragged about our lack of flat tires the last three weeks, and the Joy and the two men almost simultaneously said “Don’t jinx it!”
A few miles later I found an almost completely full bottle of “Ocean Potion” sunblock lying in the road. Score! (While we were initially excited by this find, it turned out to be disgustingly perfume-y, and we left it in a hostel a few days later.)
Not long after that we had to climb a very, very steep hill. I was barely able to ride to the top, wobbling up at 2.0 mph, and then I walked down and rode Joy’s bike up the hill, as a small payment for the many favors she does for me every day, including, but not limited to, preparing a little “snack bag” and placing it in my handlebar bag each morning.
We filtered water under the shade of the single tree at the top of the hill for twenty minutes or so, then continued climbing through a pretty grove of aspens. We had lunch in a clearing, where a chipmunk was perhaps overly familiar. “That chipmunk wants our Cheez-Its!” Joy said.
Throughout the day Joy attempted to predict the cloud behaviors. I was very worried about getting caught on top of Brazos Ridge during a storm. Around noon the clouds started to combine, and talk turned to what we would do if we were caught in a storm. I joked that we would call my father, who recently retired and bought a large motor home, and summon him to Forest Road 87 to pick us up. Not really a feasible plan, since we had no cell signal, and it would take him approximately one week to drive from Kentucky to Forest Road 87, assuming he could locate the road, and keep the motor home in one piece while driving over the many large, sharp rocks.
We moved into a gorgeous, wide open area for a while — flat terrain, and very fun riding.
Then, as we started the long climb up to Brazos Ridge, a fast, fast rider zoomed down the hill toward us. It was the famous Mike Hall, the leader, by a huge margin, in this year’s Tour Divide race. He yelled out “Good Luck!” to Joy, who was a few hundred feet ahead of me, and then as he approached me he hit a bump and something flew off his bike. “You lost something!” I shouted a couple of times. But he was already far down the road. I walked over and found Mike Hall’s sunglasses lying on the road. We waited for a while, but clearly Mike Hall, who was on his way to setting the all-time record in the race, was not coming back.
We decided to carry the sunglasses, which were an expensive brand, with us and contact Mike Hall later to see if he wanted them back. Meanwhile, Joy wondered if wearing Mike Hall’s glasses would make her faster, and considered wearing them — “But only after a thorough washing,” because the elite Tour Divide racers basically ride the entire 2,700 route with little or no sleeping, washing, clothes-changing, sunglasses-washing, etc.
We continued climbing as the sky darkened, and occasional large raindrops splatted on us. Small puddles, then larger ones, appeared in the road, which began to narrow as the trees seemed to close in. I rode around a slight curve and saw a Jeep stuck deeply in the mud in the middle of the road. I called out “Hello!” and a man crawled out of the Jeep just as Joy arrived.
He told us that he’d gotten stuck in a “bog,” and after walking three miles up the mountain to get a faint cell signal, had called his friends to come pull the Jeep out. He was certain they would arrive shortly, he told us, “Because I’m carrying all the beer.”
As we chatted with the man, who was an amiable guy, it started to drizzle and then rain heavily, so we got under the umbrella we were carrying. (Intended to protect us from the sun in the hot desert, we were still lugging it along.)
The man offered us some cold drinks, so I had a Diet Coke while Joy drank a Corona (not her favorite, but this was definitely not the time to be picky about beer.) The guy’s friends arrived after fifteen or twenty minutes, pulled out the Jeep, and then were on their way down the mountain. We continued to stand in the rain, hoping to wait out the storm and finish riding up and over the top, but as it grew colder and the rain turned to hail, and I began to shiver violently, I began to accept that we’d have to spend a wet, chilly night at 10,700 feet.
It was now after 5:00. We weren’t going over Brazos Ridge today. During a period when the rain slacked off we found an acceptable campsite near the road, which was now a muddy, impassable mess, set up the tent, and retired for the evening.