Monday, February 22, 2010

The Cavalry Drives a Mini-Van

It has been an eventful few days.  We have climbed some tall mountains and seen some great sights.  We had our best campsite so far in the Gila National Forest outside of Silver City, and our best ride, from Silver City to Gila Hot Springs on near deserted high mountain roads.

No matter how spectacular the natural wonders, equally memorable are the interesting and incredible people we have been meeting along the way.  All along our route we have found friendly faces and helpful attitudes.

In Bisbee, our host (who saved us from a cold night searching for a campsite in the dark) took us down this tunnel, which was not on the published walking tour:

It was an underground (literally and figuratively) art gallery.  There was some beautiful and colorful graffiti down there, far past the reach of any outside light:

The Warm Showers list hooked us up with Patrick and Elieen in Silver City.  Patrick is a former cross-continent cyclist, and his wife is an accomplished fiddle player.  She put on a short show for us our second evening there, playing Irish jigs, marches, and aires. 

While in Silver City, my map geek side surfaced.  Elieen works at the public library, and Patrick took us by to visit.  I found the map chest, and we spent the next hour going over USGS topo maps of the terrain we planned on crossing the next few days:

Here are Patrick and Adam inspecting Adam's swollen toe in the middle of the library. A spider bite seems to be the consensus diagnosis.

Also, in answer to Mom's question - the wound from the loss of the unimportant part of Adam's knee is doing great - as I said it was an unimportant part.

In Silver City, we had our first encounter with other cross-country cyclists. Tony and Brendan are on the same route we are, and caught up to us in Silver City. We spoke for a while and exchanged website information and said our goodbyes, reasonably confident that we would run into them on the road again.  Check out their blog at .

In Gila Hot Springs, we ran into our most colorful crowd yet. This tiny campground was tucked in a bend in the river in a little valley near the end of a 14 mile long, one-way road mountain road. It had three little pools dug out, fed by a nearby natural hot spring.

The campground was inhabited by a crowd of RVers and campers, the likes of which I have never seen. There was a crazy/hyper man named Bill, his wheelchair bound wife, and her service dog Lightning in a pop-up pull behind, Josephine and her well lived in, dirty old van-sized RV,  (and not pictured below) two surfers from Florida bound for California (we had noted their car passing us earlier - who drives with a surf board in New Mexico?), and a grizzled old hippie whose name, conveyance and form of shelter remained a mystery.

And they all soak naked.
But hippies are wise in their ways, as we were to learn. Getting out of the 110 degree water into 25 degree air, then making it back to your campsite, drying and changing while staying reasonably warm is an impossible task. I was shivering and cold to the bone by the time I got in my sleeping bag, and it took quite a while to get warm enough to fall asleep. So our morning soak was done hippie-style. There is nothing better than taking a dip in hot water upon waking up and seeing the thermometer on your bike's computer display this: (if you can't see it says 20 degrees - 30 min and 4 degrees after waking up)
The cliff dwellings we visited that morning are a great segue from people to places. A series of caves between high mountains have made the perfect hiding place for many of the successive inhabitants of this land. The mix of natural grandeur and historic culture is incredible.

At the cliff dwellings we met our second group of touring cyclists - Sundance and Yana, two Aussies whose itinerary makes me feel like a wimp. They started in Ontario and are heading for the west coast, where they hope to find a yacht to crew en route back to Austrailia. They, too, are writing a blog about their adventures, check it out if you're interested:
Wisely, they had paused in El Paso and rented a car to check out some of these more northerly areas. As we were to learn, it can get cold and wet quickly.

Since the cliff dwellings were at the end of the long mountain road, we had to turn around and head back out. Clouds were rolling in and the wind picked up as we approached the climb out, the longest, steepest stretch of road we had yet faced. A pack of javelinas charged across the pavement as we rode, not twenty yards in front of us. As I frantically tried to get out the camera, the little pork chops huffed and snorted and stomped out of sight. We had been hearing about these creatures for days, and it was a treat to get to see them.

The climb was long, slow and hard.  The beautiful vistas I remembered from the day before on the same stretch of road-

Had faded into snowy, fast moving clouds by the time I struggled through the pass:

By the time we reached the bottom on the other side, snow was falling steadily, and I was trying to convince Adam that we should look for paid accommodations for the night.  We lucked out with our place to stay, and ended up with a nice cozy cottage for 50$/night.  The owner was a retired NC State professor (!) who was a former long distance horse-riding camper, so she has a soft spot for people like us. 

By the time we were inside and settled in, the scene outside made us happy we had found shelter.

We enjoyed a beautiful sunset, all the more so as we knew we had a warm den to retreat to.

In the morning, we found that more bad weather was predicted for the next three days.  I was of a mind to wait out the storm in the snug little cottage, but our food bag was getting light, and there was no store nearby that could provide us with and groceries, nor any restaurant. There was supposed to be a break in the weather for a while that morning, so we packed our things, said goodbye to Frances, and headed out in the snow.

It was very pleasant at first, with a light snow blanketing the trees, and rocks, leaving the canyon walls bare and stark in their contrast.  Before long, however, the snow had soaked through our gloves and jackets, and we began to freeze.  Snow began to accumulate on the bags on our bikes and Adam's beard.  My fingers started to burn.  The thermometer dropped from 35 to 34.  As we climbed numerous small hills, I began to sweat, threatening to soak through my hat and shirt.  Meanwhile my fingers ceased to burn and went numb instead.  They felt like frozen hotdogs stuck in gloves.  The thermometer dropped to 33.  I was worried that if it dropped below freezing, we would start to risk frostbite. 

You notice there are no pictures from this leg of our trip.  We only stopped once so I could add another layer of clothing, we were intent on making it the 20 miles to San Lorenzo, where there was supposed to be a store and cell service.  We were not in the mood for piddling around framing shots.

Clumps of snow were falling off my hat as the wind picked up and the icy snow stung harder against my face. I began to wonder how much more I could take.  If a pickup truck had passed our way, I would have flagged them down, but for once there was less traffic that could be desired. 

Nothing has been more welcome than the sight of the sun starting to push through the clouds, and the feel of the snow getting lighter against my face.  It continued to clear, but we did not get warm or begin to really dry out till we pulled into the only cafe in San Lorenzo.

From San Lorenzo we took a good look at the weather and the road before us.  There was supposed to be a break in the weather for a while, but the snow was supposed to close back in on us before evening.  We had 2500 feet to climb, and it appeared that while we were in a dry spot, the pass before us still looked quite frosty. 

For once we decided to play it safe, and we called Adam's family friend Luann to come pick us up from El Paso.  It was torture sitting around for a couple of hours in perfect weather, thinking about the climb we were passing up.  At least it gave us a chance to check out the bakery run out of a trailer behind the house of a clan of "Not-Mennonite Mennonites", as described by the waitress at the cafe.  Not where you'd expect to find a gouremet bakery, but we keep our eyes open for good bread wherever we go.  We found this place on a tip from the Wise Hippies of Gila Hot Springs.

Luann arrived and put us in her minivan and took us to her home in El Paso.  So instead of hunkering down in the snow, we sit around drinking coffee in her sitting room,
watching the olympics on her 60" HDTV and mixing drinks at the wet bar,
and lounging and reading and writing on the computer in her library:
All while hanging out with Barney and Karen,
and eating Luann's delicious homemade chili.

We'll wait out the bad weather here, and probably head out Tuesday afternoon.  Our highest elevations are behind us, and we plan on taking our time exploring southern Texas, a place I have never been, and Adam's childhood home.


  1. Thanks for the great pictures! I'm glad you both are warming up in El Paso before starting across southern Texas.

  2. Fellas,

    I think the snow is following you. We woke up this morning in Sierra Blanca to snow and ended up in Van Horn after a very short 33 mile day. We are taking an alternate route out of Van Horn on 90 which will shave some miles and save some major clmbing. Hope all is well.