Clear skies, cold nights, and muddy roads

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20111110-095540.jpgPredictable, and seasonably cold weather has not been a problem. Despite consistent hoar frosts come morning, an Alaskan and a New Yorker –by upbringing– aren’t deterred by temperatures less than half their age. A spoonful of rain, however, doesn’t go down so easy, not in New Mexico.

With a close eye on the weather, we’ve danced around bouts of precipitation, visiting Santa Fe and Albuquerque in the interim. Leaving Taos/Santa Fe after a few days, we enjoyed clear skies, cold nights, and dirt roads through Abiqui, and on to Cuba. A few challenges arose in snow-covered roads facing north, and their muddy south facing counterparts. Which to dislike more? The mud.

In Baja, the highlands were sometimes horrendously rocky, but the lowlands were depositories for infinite sands, loose or washboarded. We came to prefer the bone-shaking rippled washboard to loose sands; and the irregular rocky terrain of the mountains, to the washboarded sand. Baja was a treat, but be sure to check bolts and fillings for loosening, regularly.

Abiqui was once the secret rural hiding place for Georgia O’Keefe. Now it’s the once-unknown rural hiding place of a deceased O’Keefe– and lots of talk and visitors make it a little less charming. The landscape is still astounding.

More storms chased us out of Cuba, and into Albuquerque for a few days, reluctantly. Albuquerque has been the biggest surprise of the my travels– it’s a great bike city and a funky, youthful place. Guidebooks praise Santa Fe and Taos for being artists communities, enclaves even, but I suspect those days are over, despite a glut of galleries. Those towns are insulated; Albuquerque is alive and thriving. If you like sun, biking 365 days a year, green chili burgers, and taking short showers, Albuquerque is the place. It’s cheap, too.

The road ahead: I’m trading cut-off tees for skis and snow tires this winter, in Anchorage, AK. A few more weeks on the road– what’s left of the Divide, then headed for the coast. I may ride as far north as the Bay as the weather allows, but eventually the Coast Starlight will take me north to Tacoma/Seattle, where I’ll visit friends, and catch a flight to Alaska. Anyone on the west coast up for a bike ride? As weather allows, some overnight trips out of the Bay, or the Puget Sound, may be happening.

Note: a snow filled cassette, mud on Lael’s bike before it dried and froze, an Earthship in progress, a frozen and broken Kleen Kanteen, and fingerling hoar frost emanating from the Jandd logo of Lael’s pannier. Lael melts ice from my frozen Kleen Kanteen, while harvesting ice from my Carradice saddlebag, simultaneously. This was our only water for the day.

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Chiles, red and green

20111030-015131.jpg20111030-015628.jpgOut of the mountains and into New Mexico, it immediately looks as either new or old Mexico should: dusty expanses of sage with mountains beyond. Taos is a bit of a “has been”, with a broad economic divide, and a legacy greater than it’s current draw. The country is beautiful, but the town is a bit odd. Santa Fe is currently happening, and getting better by the minute.

Chilis, red and green, are in season and roasted in wire cylinders on the streets and at market.

Goodbye to Greg, who’s certainly off to smaller and better in the Virgin Islands. He describes an island in the Carribean, where everything is perfect:
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Like a sailor with a lifetime on the seas, Greg can almost see over the horizon. He squints, saying “rich with sun, it appears that money grows on trees where I am going”. Good luck, Old Greg.

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For us, a recent dusting of snow rests at elevation, but the route should again be clear and dry. Ten days of good weather are forecast. Maybe I’ll be a weatherman in New Mexico when I grow up. Sunny, with a chance of sun.

We charted a route through BLM lands into Taos, with a spectacular descent into the Rio Grande Canyon. Cass and Nancy passed a few days later, with mud up to their ankles. It’s good for building houses, but bad for bikes.20111030-020136.jpg20111030-020201.jpg20111030-020214.jpg20111030-020344.jpg20111030-020426.jpg20111030-020723.jpg20111030-020800.jpg20111030-020816.jpg

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Over the hill

20111024-103912.jpgAs we trekked deeper along the snowy road, the tracks of spinning truck tires gave way to ATV tracks, Danner boots, and finally, black bear paws. Eventually, only tiny trails tracing rodent superhighways marked the snowscape that clearly, and thus not completely, clouded our route. Clear, only because the graded, winding ribbon of snow was obviously our route. It’s hard to hide a Forest Service road with snow.

I must have mentioned Indiana Pass a few times. It is the highest point on the Great Divide Route, one of the greatest single climbs along the way, and is usually impassible this time of year.

With a bit of lifting, huffing, and grunting– we passed. There was no marker to indicate the height or name of the pass; rather, there was a massive Superfund site– an old mine– and several miles of snow covered roadway.

It’s really nothing to write home about, as we had a full day, full of sun, to get us through the snow. Climbing is always an effort, and rocky descents can be taxing in an unexpected way, making mountain passes such as Indiana anti-climactic; but for almost five miles, we labored like railroadmen and pioneering gold-seekers, carrying and pushing our loads through knee-deep snow. For a minute, we were living the high adventure that everyone suspects. And then we were back on solid ground, with wet feet. Life after high adventure is a bit dull.

Over the hill, a lucky thing happened. Upon reaching Platoro, the end of the fourth map section of the Divide, we noticed that we (I) had lost the next map section. Maddened, for but a moment; we all instantly began planning our futures. Greg is going to the Virgin Islands. Lael and I are going somewhere– all of us are “going” by way of Taos and Santa Fe. Full of adventure once again, we are no longer committed to the daily toil of the Great Divide.

Backroad BLM tracks whisk us toward Taos, in relative heat– a long way from snowdrifts.
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