Day 2. I wanted to quit. I was beaten already and I felt like an idiot.
Eventually, having no other option but to ride on, I found myself in Silver City, which, apart from the ugliness of an enormous open-cast mine, was quite a nice little town. It had a great bike shop and it was there that I experienced my first ever burrito. 42 years of age and I’d never eaten a burrito. Honestly, it seems like I’ve wasted my life sometimes.
I still can’t recall where I stayed that night, but I set off the following morning to ride through the small town Pinos Altos and then up over some gnarly old hill. Well, God knows why it’s on the Great Divide mountain bike route because it’s un-ridable. In both directions. Still, I shoved my bike up and down every rock and slope that couldn’t be ridden. I found out later that there was an alternate route, which consisted of a lovely paved road. Great. I’m so glad that I didn’t at all feel like I’d wasted an entire day sweating up and down a mountain, smashing my shins on my pedals and falling over into prickly bushes every two minutes! No, really, it was a total joy.
Back Of Beyond
The next day would see me tackle a 120-mile track through the New Mexico wilderness, with the intention of ending the day in Pie Town. At the entrance to North Star Road, I would find a large warning sign – ‘No services for 120 miles’. ‘Hmmm, interesting’, I thought to myself, but remaining optimistic, I decided to turn my handlebars and steer myself towards Pie Town.
Well, this isn’t going particularly well, I thought. After 15 miles on the track, I realised that all the stream beds were dry from the heatwave the southern and western states were experiencing and as I’d already used half of my water I just wasn’t prepared to run the risk of passing out again. Next time I might not be so lucky. Sometimes retreat is the better option. So, it was then that I decided to think about quitting this section and finding an alternate route. It took me a mile to make the decision, but as soon as I turned around I knew that it was the right one. I found myself a diner, had my second ever burrito and set about planning my next move. That move was to head back to Silver Town to take a paved route around to Pie Town. It was longer by about half a day’s ride, but it was certainly a safer option.
Rather than riding back to Silver City, I stuck out my thumb to catch a ride. If I’m honest, I was exhausted, sunburnt and slightly demoralised about going back to the day’s starting point; I just couldn’t be bothered to pedal my sorry-self back there. A nice ride in a comfy car, with aircon and nice folks to talk to, would do me just fine.
Thumbing a Ride
That’s how I met Tommy. After a few minutes, the gods of hitchhiking smiled upon me, and I was delivered a ride in the shape of rust laden pick up being driven by my new-found friend. After lugging my bike into the back, we set off, Silver City bound. Now, Tommy, as nice as he was, is, without doubt, the most frightening driver I’ve ever encountered. None of us likes to think of ourselves as backseat drivers, but the words just fell out of my mouth as silently screamed in horror. To this day, I still not entirely sure how we didn’t end up wrapped around a road sign.
‘You not used to bends?’ he said.
‘I am. I’m from England and we have millions of them. It’s just that there seems to be absolutely no correlation between the bends in the road and your hand movements on the steering wheel.’
Tommy seemed to find my criticism quite funny. I didn’t. It was, genuinely, one of the more terrifying experiences in my time on this Earth.
Thankfully, it all worked out in the end, and I arrived in one piece, back at the point I’d started some ten hours before. I chilled out for the rest of the day, ate some food, drank some coffee and chatted with a man whose parents had just bought a farm in the town I grew up in, which was some 8,000 miles away. I really do love these random coincidences found when travelling to different parts of the world. On that note, I once met a girl in a bar in Rotorua, New Zealand, only to find out that her father – or step-father – ran the pub in my hometown; a pub that was, literally, two minutes’ walk from my front door, some 11,000 miles away. I love that.
From Silver City, my chosen route brought me to the small town called Reserve, which with a population of only 300. Bizarrely, even though it’s such a small town, Reserve has five churches. Churches, however, are often God-sends for cyclists and travellers in the U.S. as they are often left open or have great lawns for the pitching of tents. The churches in Reserve, however, seemed to be placed rather inconveniently next to tumble down houses or trailers with smashed windows. Add to that image a couple of beat-up cars with noisy exhausts prowling slowly around the town, and it gave a feeling of unease and, maybe, a little malevolence.
As I stood and contemplated where I’d be staying that night, with my bike propped against the window of the local bank a car pulled up on the street in front of me. Instantly I felt a sense of unease. The way both the driver and passenger had their seats reclined and the fact that the driver looked like he’d been working in a mine – covered in grey dirt – set alarm bells ringing. As they offered me their assistance I resolved to be vague in my responses, simply telling them that I was looking for a restroom. It was when they offered to give me a ride to a ‘good spot about half a mile out of town’ that I decided that I should trust my instincts: this smelled of trouble, and as I’m only armed with ability to make sarcastic remarks I should just get the hell out of there quickly. I did not savour the possibility of being robbed, shot, or even worse, being exposed to country music. I watched them prowl away in their car, and I pedalled like crazy out of town, lights off and in stealth mode.
That night I slept under a tree. Funnily enough, it was ‘a good spot about half a mile out of town’. Perhaps I was being overly cautious about these two fine fellows.
After a comfortable sleep, I returned to Reserve to find food, drink endless coffee refills and to contemplate the rest of the journey. My quest for sustenance found me at Ella’s diner at 7.00am and I was surprised to find it busy already. I was greeted by a cheery lady who I can only assume was Ella. She was bubbly, chatty, welcoming and armed with two coffee pots. I liked her immediately. As I sat down to biscuits and gravy, a lady sitting in the booth in front of my table craned her neck to look round at me and said,
‘How much do you pay for your phone and TV?’
And this is how I spent an enjoyable half day with Lee and Bob.
Lee was a lady just shy of her 77th birthday and, as I found out, rather rock and roll. She’d raced Porsche cars in her earlier years and had travelled throughout the US after her divorce. She told me that when living in Virginia she had had a vision of a man in the future, wearing an unusual shirt with a unique pattern. Within a short space of time of having moved to New Mexico – a place where she felt immediately at home– she had some renovation work carried out on her house. It was then that a construction man walked in wearing the exact same shirt as the one she’d envisioned before. That’s how Lee met Bob. That was thirty years ago.
Bob was a religious man, as I later discovered, entering into my conversation with Lee with him asking, ‘What do you think of Trump? I heard you guys don’t want him over there in the UK.’ Diplomacy isn’t really a forte of mine, but I sensed that question could be one hell of a minefield. These people might have guns and I was just some foreigner on their turf. It doesn’t do well to be critical whilst a guest in another land. It turned out that both Lee and Bob were Democrats and utterly charming.
Now that we were friends I joined Lee and Bob in their booth where I spent an extremely pleasant hour chatting about all things US and British, discovering that Bob was a drummer and Lee played bass in a band. We’d also discussed my problems on the trail and my thoughts on taking the highway instead. It was then that they offered to drive me the thirty miles or so to Quemado, where I could then catch a ride north to Grants. Without hesitation, I took off my wheels and threw my bike in the back of Lee and Bob’s SUV and we set off north together. It made it all the better that I was joined in the back seat by Jade, Lee and Bob’s dog. It was good to be in the company of these nice people
When we arrived in the Quemado it was time for a spot of lunch and it was after the burgers had arrived that Bob, the religious man, took my hand and that of Lee, inviting me to join them in prayer. Now, as I am both British and an atheist, this sort public demonstration of faith unsettles me ordinarily, but I was grateful for everything that Lee and Bob had done for me. I joined hands with both across the table and was happy to direct my thanks to this couple. Good people, Lee and Bob.
Still felt like a colossal idiot, though.
The meeting with Lee and Bob really set the scene for the remainder of my journey. I had intended to ride the entirety of the Great Divide route, but I had to face that fact that I was just not prepared enough. It’d still be an adventure, just not the adventure I’d planned on having. There were roads, spectacular beauty, tiredness, getting lost, sobbing (yes, really), but it was the people I met along the way that made this trip for me. I made it to Banff on July 14 and had ridden around 2,500 miles. Does that feel like a particular feat? Not really, but the memories of the dozens of kindly people, each with their own unique story, are ones that will burn most brightly.
Thoughts On My Adventure
Occasionally I get asked why I embark on journeys of this kind. Aside from the fact that I get to see nature in all its glory, I have decided that, in fact, the spectacular views are relegated to lowly a position. Of course, some things are so beautiful that they can reduce me to tears – seeing my first wild bear, for example – but like many people, I often feel restricted by living a life consisting of either being at work and waiting to go back the next day or after the weekend. As I observe those around me it seems that people often become a colourless version of themselves; monochrome. Surely there is more to life than working a job we tolerate to live a life we cannot fully enjoy because we work in jobs we just tolerate?
The more I spend outdoors, the more I am convinced that we were never intended to live like this, and going off the grid for a few weeks always brings this home to me. I feel the pressures of life subside, realising the weight of the burden I’d been carrying, now conspicuous by its absence. Going into the outdoors, for me, allows me to reconnect with how I believe I should live my life, with the only things that truly matter: food, water, shelter and people to share time with. I have found that my adventures are just really about the great people I meet and the stories we share. That’s it. This and feeling free is what really drives me to put my bike on a plane and fly off to other parts of the world. Back in ‘real life’, when surrounded by walls and screens and deadlines, I often catch myself staring out of the window thinking that ‘out there’ is a place where I am truly free to be the person I was meant to be.