The thermometer on the bike said 18 degrees when I woke up this
morning. We had been warm in our bags, but by the time coffee and
grits were put down, our fingers and toes were numb. What was there to
do but strip naked and jump in the water?
The day before we had climbed our highest pass yet, 7440'. It was a
great ride, starting in dry scrubland as we left Silver City, climbing
through dry juniper-pinyon forests.
There was very little traffic on this twisty and steep road, and every
time we rounded a corner, we were met with a completely different
Spruce and fir trees were just starting to show up as we crested out
final summit, and a stunning view of the Gila Wilderness opened up
beneath us. The last several miles of the day were a screaming drop
into the valley, where we found a campsite at the Gila Hot Springs
campground, populated by a unique mix of small rv campers, surfers
from Florida, and old hippies.
A nice long soak in the hot springs set us right up, but walking back
to the campsite with wet shorts in sub freezing weather was chilly
So this morning we had learned the lesson of the wet shorts, and we
stripped to the skin and joined the naked hippie rv campers in the hot
spring, where we were offered a morning "toke" and favored with 9-11
Dry-shorted and toasty warm, we hopped on the bikes, bellies full of
grits and hippie tacos. Where might a stranger find grits, in a land
where people say "what's grits?" They hide grits with the Mexican
food, labeled as "yellow cornmeal polenta". Ha!
A few miles down the road, the only bridge to the Gila Cliff Dwellings
had been washed out, and only bike and pedestrian could cross. It was
the first time in our entire trip that we got such looks of envy,
passing the formerly car bound down the final 1.5 miles of road to the
cliff dwellings trailhead.
After our short hike at the site came decision time. We had thousands
of feet to climb, and bad weather was setting in. If we got caught in
the high pass, it would be a chilly night. We had met enough of th rv-
ers that we thought we could bum a ride over the next couple of passes
into the low land below, where the weather would present not a mortal
threat, but merely severe discomfort.
Of course we decided to push for it, and we began to climb up the hill
we decended yesterday, 1500 feet in five miles, with some slopes of
8%. There is a professional bike race called the Gila Monster that
makes this same out and back trip, and this is truly a monster! In my
lowest gear, I struggled to keep my feet moving, the road a never
ending ribbon stretching up and up in front of us.
A few miles in, the wind began to pick up, boxing the compass. Icy
gusts of 20 mph cut through my sweat-soaked shirt, checking my
miserable, strained 4 mph to a near standstill. Adam climbed on out of
sight, and the mountains and grand views we enjoyed the day before
disappeared in rain and snow.
The first snow began to fall on us as we summited the pass, so light
at first that Adam thought I was seeing things. We threw on our warm
gear after climbing in shorts and t-shirts. Adam busted out a set of
pushups to spit in the mountain's eye and we set off down the mountain
in thickening snow. By the time we reached bottom, snow was falling
steadily, sticking to our jackets and hats.
At a small "fine dining restaraunt and motel" the waitress called down
the road to see if she could find us a sheltered camping spot. That
put us in the care of Francis, a retired inn owner a few miles down
the road. She was worried about people camping in the worsening storm,
and offered us a 170$ cottage for 50$. This even though she's closed
for her birthday this weekend!
So tonight we sleep in warmth and watch tv, as the snow piles up
outside. I won't get to send this post untill tomorrow, we haven't had
cell service since we left Silver City. Tommorow we face Emmory Pass,
the highest point left on our route, and our biggest hill yet,
climbing past 8200 feet. If snow doesn't block the pass, after that
summit, it's downhill all the way to the Mississippi.