Cycling the Great Divide, Day Twenty-Two: A Few Miles South of Brazos Ridge, New Mexico to Horca, Colorado
June 22nd, 2016: 29 miles. Total so far: 715 miles.
It was a restless night in the tent. We were camped a few feet from the dirt (now mud) road, and although it was impassable after all the rain, I somehow felt the need to ask “Is that a car?!” whenever I heard a vaguely car-like noise. Later, half asleep, I heard an unidentifiable sound, asked what it was, and was satisfied with Joy’s stock answer of “chipmunk.” The next morning we determined that it was the sound of her inflatable pillow. So I won’t need to inquire about that late-night noise in the future.
It was our fastest packing-up job yet, because the mosquitoes were terrible in our wet campsite. I wore my mosquito headnet for the first time, and was extremely happy I had it with me. I did not attempt to put my contact lenses in this morning, and instead decided to ride for a while wearing my eyeglasses (and the mosquito net), something I’d never attempted before.
We got back on the road to find that the rain had rendered portions of it so muddy as to be utterly unrideable. We rode (and walked) around gigantic pools of water in the middle of the road, until we reached a flat spot a mile or so up the mountain, where we sat in the sun and had breakfast. While we were sitting there, a racer, Chris Plesko, pulled up and talked to us for a while. He was in second place (a day behind Mike Hall), and, incredibly enough, was riding a single-speed! I didn’t notice that at the time, but later read about him; apparently he was trying to break his own Tour Divide single-speed record.
By the time we reached 10,950 feet there was snow on the ground, which diverted us for a while, and then we entered a section of wet mud, which wasn’t as fun as the snow, and required us to walk the bikes again.
We met a guy on one of the “adventure” motorcycles we occasionally see on the route, and he warned us about the impossibly rocky section just ahead, on the way down. We in turn warned him about the mud on the other side of the ridge. He was not at all happy to hear about the mud, which is apparently the one thing he cannot handle on his bike.
The riding conditions going down the mountain became increasingly difficult. We had to walk the bikes downhill, which was surprisingly hard. Later Joy declared that “Brazos Ridge made me cry.” (I’m not ashamed to admit that I have occasionally cried on this trip, but I wasn’t as bothered by Brazos Ridge as Joy was, for whatever reason.)
Eventually the road conditions improved from absolutely deplorable to typically lousy New Mexico dirt and gravel, and then we reached a cattle guard, and small sign, which was the Colorado state line.
Joy was thrilled to be out of New Mexico, while I had very mixed feelings. I’ve toured Colorado by bicycle multiple times, and each time I’ve experienced a day in the state that was the worst-of-the-tour, and almost caused me to quit. It’s some combination of terrible drivers, horrible weather (it seems to storm every afternoon), and jaw-dropping mountain scenery that, while spectacular, makes for terrifying descents down the huge mountains.
Not a lot changed after we crossed the cattle guard / state line, except for a slight (perhaps imagined) improvement in the quality of the gravel. We met two older men pulling heavy-looking trailers. I thought, but of course didn’t say to them, that there was absolutely no way they were riding their bikes up and over Brazos Ridge with that setup. They were inexplicably concerned about water sources hundreds of miles away, and asked us about specific springs and cattle troughs from several days ago on our trip. I of course had zero recollection of any of that information, and even Joy struggled to remember such details from so long ago.
Shortly after that we met Stefan, the racer in fifth place in the Tour Divide. He was walking his bike up the hill, which seemed an odd thing for an elite endurance athlete to be doing, but it was, he explained to us, the most efficient use of energy for the type and length of hill he was ascending. Interesting.
Then we got onto pavement for several miles, which including a terrifying (for me) shimmy-inducing six mile descent, reminiscent of so many other long Colorado descents, during which I gritted my teeth and squeezed my brakes until my hands were numb. For what it’s worth, I believe Joy found the long, coasting descent pleasant, or at least not terrifying. She thinks that Colorado has gotten me “psyched out.”
We arrived in tiny Horca, which has one open business: A gift shop that has a sideline selling snacks to Divide riders. The owners, an older couple, were extremely friendly and accommodating, even heating up microwave burritos for us, which we consumed while sitting on a couch surrounded by the kitschy merchandise.
After that we rode off-route a mile or so and rented a “sleeping cabin” in a nice-enough campground. I did our laundry using an actual washer and dryer, and while in the campground laundry room, stood on a scale and learned that I now weighed 169 pounds, a loss of 16 pounds in the last three weeks. So I went back to the cabin and ate numerous snacks before we went to bed.