Tag Archives: Del Norte

Days 23 to 28: Del Norte, Colo. to Abiquiu, NM

The final 200 miles of my journey featured some of the most remote, undeveloped, and beautiful country I’ve seen since starting in Southern Wyoming. Far from any population center, the mountainous terrain of Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico offered virtually no services and presented me with some of the most difficult riding of the whole trip.

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On Saturday morning, I left Del Norte at 9:30 am, later than I’d wanted to, and began the epic climb up Indiana Pass, the route’s high point at nearly 12,000 feet. Initially, I hoped to get to the top or over the pass in one day, but it soon became apparent that it would be too far. The first dozen miles out of town were level to rolling and on pavement, so I was able to grind up the mileage quickly, but that was only like the pre-game warm-up. I gained about 1,000 feet of elevation in that time, so I’d still have to climb another 3,000 feet in the last dozen miles, on a dirt road.

As with many of these passes and big hills, the beginning was very steep, kinda loose, and somewhat intimidating. It was especially tough because I had to load up on water at the bottom. Streams and creeks would be scarce in the miles ahead, and once I crossed over the pass, I’d be in the middle of the Summitville Mine Superfund site, where the water is contaminated. After about 18 miles of riding from Del Norte, I was up at 10,500 feet and feeling exhausted, so I decided to make my camp and finish the last six miles of the climb on Sunday morning, when it would be cooler and the skies would hopefully be less threatening.

On Sunday, I woke up shortly after dawn and started up the pass once again. The first couple of miles were the steepest and had me soaked in sweat even though it was cool outside. Fortunately, the grade eased up toward the end.
The scenery at the top is impressive. You’re right at tree line and there are several barren peaks in the vicinity, including Grayback Mountain, a 13er in the South San Juan Range. But not long after you start descending, the ugly scar of the Summitville mine becomes visible and soon you’re riding right through the toxic waste site.

For the first time in days, I was able to descend the backside of the pass without a vicious headwind slowing my progress. In fact, on Saturday and Sunday, I had something of a tailwind during much of the climb up Indiana Pass; I shudder to think what it would be like to climb that mother with the wind holding me back. Yet another pass–Stunner–awaited me on Sunday, but I was already way up there, so it wasn’t as high, long, or as tough as Indiana.
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My map suggested I might be able to pick up a meal and groceries in the little outpost of Platoro, 50 miles from Del Norte, but I’d learned not to bank on such possibilities. Thankfully, the store and cafe were open, so I stat down for a huge cheeseburger and fries–the guy at the next table said he’d driven 75 miles from Pagosa Springs for the burger. I noticed he was drinking ice tea so I figured it was OK to order that as well, even though my map said tap water in Platoro might be contaminated. I was in GI distress later that afternoon, but it’s hard to say why given the dubious water sources I’ve been relying on.

There was just a smattering of food available for sale in the Platoro store, so the only thing I bought was another box of mac and cheese and a packet of ramen. From there the route followed the Conejos River downstream. It was a pretty stretch, but there were a fair number of vehicles on the road, many with Texas plates. I made my own campsite a couple hundred yards off the road and next to the river. It felt great to bathe in the water, which wasn’t too cold and surprisingly swift given the drought.

By the final week, some of my gear was being held together with duct tape and safety pins. All of the zippers on my tent and fly stopped working, so it would take a half dozen zips for me to get at least some of the teeth to hold. If rain threatened, I’d use safety pins to close the gaps. Both earpieces on my sunglasses had snapped and were being held together with duct tape. My GPS watch had failed in the first week, so I had to estimate distances because using my iPhone would drain its battery too quickly. I’d lost one hiking shoe along the way and there was no way to get a replacement pair, so my biking cleats would be the only thing on my feet for the rest of the trip. And then my rear derailleur started to malfunction. I could shift into easier gears, but not into harder ones; not unless I manually pulled on the cable running down my top tube. That’s how I’d downshift for the rest of the trip because I could never fix the problem. The dust, mud, rocks, and rain had subjected my bike to a lot of abuse over the previous three weeks.

Monday’s ride was relatively short, about 23 miles, due to the rainy weather. I woke up to cloudy skies and by the time I was rolling it had started to drizzle. After following the Conejos River downstream for another seven miles, I turned onto a state highway and headed up La Manga Pass, 10,230 feet. The pavement made the climb tolerable but the weather worsened the higher I got. By the time I reached the summit, it was pouring and I had to put on my rain pants. Descending was a little cold and miserable, but the showers soon passed and I started to hear the Cumbres and Toltec Railroad. It passed me behind a ridge, so I only got a glimpse of the locomotive and passenger cars, but I could see the trail of steam for a long way as it chugged up the valley. For the next two days, I’d occasionally hear that steam whistle and it added a nice little soundtrack to the rugged scenery, making it easier to imagine what it was like to traverse these mountains by rail, in a stage coach, or on horseback more than a century ago.

I missed an unsigned turn off the highway and wound up climbing an extra mile to Cumbres Pass, where the RR passes through, but then retreated and headed down into a valley, past some guys working on the tracks who really loved my BOB trailer and its suspension system. From there, the road quickly deteriorated and confronted me with some of the gnarliest riding of the trip. There would be a couple short stretches that would be unrideable even without the trailer.

In a few miles, I came to the NM border and the Carson National Forest. The skies were once again darkening and it looked like water would be hard to find in the miles ahead, so I called it a day at Apache Creek. It wound up being one of my favorite campsites. As soon as I got there, coyotes on the opposing ridge broke out into a cacophony of howls, yaps, and barks. I could hear and see elk up the valley, along with some cows. There were tons of birds flying around and the sky was incredible: clouds swirling before my eyes without the aid of time-lapse photography and moving in all different directions. I made camp around 2:30pm and promptly crashed in my tent for a deep sleep of a couple hours.

On Tuesday, I awoke on the edge of a slender fog bank that had settled above Apache Creek. Everything was covered in dew and I was on the shady side of the drainage, so many of my clothes were still wet. I’d washed my shorts and jerseys in the Conejos River, but then the monsoon returned and made it hard to dry them, even when I strapped them to my bag in an effort at air drying. As soon as the sun peeked over the high ridge, the fog burned off and I hauled a lot of my stuff out into the middle of the little valley so it could dry, at least partly.

While packing up to go, I heard a galloping sound to my right and turned to see a huge black bear tromping along, about 100 feet away from me. His big snout was sniffing intently on the ground and gave a nod over in my directions, but he just kept moving, up the valley, never threatening me at all but making me think about using my bike as a last-ditch shield if he charged. I was amazed at his size and how fast and agile he was (I’m assuming he was a male since there weren’t any cubs around, but that’s just a guess). Looked like he could easily outrun me.

The encounter with the bear definitely woke me up and I seemed to have a little extra oomph in my pedaling as I set out for another tough day of biking. Tuesday’s ride would take me up to nearly 11,000 feet, along the Brazos Ridge and around the Cruces Basin wilderness area. At times, the road was muddy, rocky, narrow, and fairly steep. I’m not sure my Subaru Forester could have made it through some of the technical sections. My map had warned me of the conditions and that I’d be facing a half-mile stretch that was unrideable. Sure enough, that segment wasn’t really a road, but more like a river of rocks and small boulders. It was a 20-minute slog, pushing the bike and BOB up that pitch, but I knew I’d be close to the top when I was done.

Along the ridge, you get an expansive view into the Cruces Basin and I was impressed by how undeveloped the entire area seemed (aside from the cows and roads). Amazingly, I got a strong cell signal up there and was able to call Ginette, which gave my morale a real boost.

I was able to make good time the rest of the day because much of the route was downhill. There were some great stretches of bombing through forests at high speed that reminded me why bikepacking can be pure fun. I did about 40 miles on Tuesday and camped in a pleasant enough setting in Cisneros Park, although the cows in the area were super loud and woke me a bunch of times in the middle of the night.

I tried to get an early start Wednesday because I knew the forecast called for rain, but it still got a little doused during the day. There was a climb up to Burned Mountain, 10,192′, but that would be the last time on the trip I’d be above 10,000 feet.

I had some trouble finding water. The wells at a picnic area weren’t working and when I got to Canada del Oso, there was just a tiny trickle coming out of the culvert. Strangely enough, the water was clear and some of the best-tasting I had on the trip.

After filtering the water, I started off, but only made it a few feet before I discovered my front tire was flat–my first one of the whole trip. So I set about replacing the tube with a spare, but the little stem in the presta valve snapped off, so that tube was history. And then I realized that I didn’t have the second spare tube that I thought was in my bag. My only option was to patch the flat tube and then hope that it held. I was worried that another stem would fail or I’d get a gash in a tube I couldn’t patch, in which case I’d have to flag down a motorist. Thankfully, the patch held and I was extra delicate in filling the tube.

My map told me that an upcoming stretch would be muddy if wet, and it had definitely been raining a lot, so I decided to take a small detour on a paved road. The dirt road on the route would also put me in an area where I might be stranded for a while if I got a flat. It felt a little like cheating, until it became apparent that I’d have to climb about 4 miles into a stiff headwind. Not sure the detour saved me much time, but at least I’d be able to hitch a ride if my bike failed, which felt increasingly likely.

I made it to the hamlet of El Rito at about 4pm and the only thing open was a “bar” that was more like a liquor store with some snacks. It was the first place I’d come to since Platoro that had any food for sale. I figured I’d be safe buying some packaged Grandma’s cookies and a Hostess fruit pie, but turns out these things have expiration dates and both were so stale I couldn’t eat them. The only other establishment I found in the town was a little hole in the wall restaurant, but it wasn’t opening for another half hour, so I headed back out of town to find a campsite.

El Rito is at about 7,000 feet, so the surroundings are covered with pinion, juniper, prickly pear, and creosote. Sadly, there’s a ton of trash in the area and it was tough to find a decent place to pitch my tent. I walked up a wash–carrying my bike to avoid thorns–and found a flat spot near some discarded construction materials. I went back to the restaurant for a burrito, which wasn’t so hot, literally and figuratively, and then headed back to what was my least attractive campsite of the trip.

It rained solidly for at least an hour Wednesday night before I feel asleep. As soon as the sun peeked over the horizon, it blasted my tent and I was broiling inside my sleeping bag. I only had about 20 miles to go to Abiquiu, but I was convinced that my tires would go flat due to the thorny environment and proliferation of broken beer bottles along the roads.

Much of the ride from El Rito to Abiquiu is downhill, so I made good time on the paved state highway. It was amazing how many empty cans and bottles of alcohol were on the side of the road. Plenty of other garbage as well. I don’t think the state has an adopt-a-mile roadside cleanup programs in this area because it’s so remote, but it was sobering to think how much drinking and driving is going on in this area. Not surprisingly, there were also plenty of white crosses denoting fatal accidents, mostly at curves and the crests of hills.

Three miles from Abiquiu, I took a right onto US 84 and promptly ran over the remains of a broken bottle that was scattered across the shoulder. I could hear the crunching under my tires and within a minute I could feel my front tire going flat. I didn’t have any spare tubes left and with so little distance to go until my final destination, I didn’t feel like stopping on the side of the highway to patch the tube. The leak wasn’t a gusher, so I was able to stop every few minutes and add some more air with my CO2 cartridge. By the time I reached the Abiquiu Inn, the tire was totally flat. I got off the bike, walked over the cattle guard, into the parking lot, and was done with the ride.

Although it was just 11 am, I was able to check-in and the prospect of a shower, real food, and being off the bike filled me with joy. I’m staying in their cheapest room, which isn’t much, but it feels like the Taj Mahal after six days and five nights of camping and bikepacking through some of the toughest terrain on the whole route.

After showering and getting settled in my room, I went to the hotel’s cafe and had some delicious huevos rancheros and a Santa Fe IPA. There’s no cell service or much of anything here. Abiquiu is where Georgia O’Keeffe spent summers and that seems to drive much of the tourism. The Ghost Ranch where she lived is 12 miles up the road, but I’m content to just hang out here at the hotel, relax, and recover. On Saturday, Ginette and her mom Jen will pick me up on their way from Mesa Verde to Taos and then we’ll stay in Santa Fe for a night before heading back to Denver.

I’ll have more to say in another post about what I learned, what I liked, and what I could have done without during the trip, but at this point I’d sum it up as one of the greatest adventures of my life!

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Days 19 to 22: Salida to Del Norte

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These past few days have featured a lot of tears and sweat, plus some blood for good measure. For all my friends who are green with envy about my trip, here’s a little taste of the dark side of the Great Divide.

I left Salida on Tuesday morning and knew I had a tough stretch ahead of me: 153 miles over four days, including crossing three mountain passes above 10,000 feet. Before leaving town, I decided to get my bike checked out at the shop since I was having trouble adjusting my brakes and stopping my wheels from wobbling. While riding over there, I noticed the side of my right hand was covered in blood, the result of a scab opening up (my hands, arms, and legs are full of scrapes and scabs). I wondered if it had also been bleeding in the pancake house where I’d had breakfast. I thought people were giving me looks because I was dressed in lycra or smelled like a homeless person.

I was able to get a full tune-up at Absolute Bikes for $45, which seemed like a pretty good deal, and that helped lessen my anxiety. There won’t be another bike shop on the route for the rest of my journey, so now I’m on my own as far as repairs.

Leaving Salida (“exit” or “departure” in Spanish), I rode 5 miles on a bike path and US 50 to Poncha Springs, straight into the wind, then started up Poncha Pass on US 285. The summit was 9 miles away, but I turned off a few miles short of that onto the dirt road that I’d descended during my ride of the Monarch Crest Trail. From there it would be another 15 miles uphill to Marshall Pass and the Continental Divide on a dirt road.

I’d been feeling pretty good during the climb on the highway since it was paved, the grade was fairly mellow, and there were some plateaus where I could recover. But the first part of Marshall Pass Road was steep, sandy, and so difficult that it really got me down. I knew I’d be churning in my granny gear for the next three hours and I was already drenched in sweat. To make things worse, I had four days of food and fuel with me, plus extra water since I wasn’t sure I could find any at the top of the hill due to the deep drought gripping the region.

And then I started to cry. Not really because of the grueling climb, although that had put me in a shitty mood, but because of memories of my mom and the looming anniversary of her death 3 years ago. I had spoken to my dad the night before, right after he had lit the memorial candle–it was the anniversary on the Hebrew calendar. Holding back his own tears, he told me he’d kissed her photo for me.

I decided that on this climb I’d allow myself to feel sad, mad, guilty, and whatever else about her death, that I’d let myself remember the terrible way in which she died from cancer and how I was completely and totally powerless to stop it, just as I was utterly helpless in the face of this hill and headwind. Anger soon dominated sadness and seemed to help me up the pass, as if I were transferring the rage I felt from every injustice I ever suffered into the brute power of pedal strokes.

Fortunately, the climb up Marshall Pass was worst at the start and I was able to cool off after clouds rolled in, so my mood lifted. A few miles short of the top, after hours of being totally alone, I came upon three bikepackers with BOB trailers, the first I’d seen on my entire trip.

“So this must be the meeting spot,” I said. There was male-female couple biking southbound like me, but they took off shortly after I arrived (do I really smell that bad?), plus a young guy who was heading northbound. We chatted briefly about the road ahead for each of us, empathized about our sore asses, and then parted ways.

By the time I got to the top of Marshall Pass I was wiped out, but the crying had been cathartic. I spent a few minutes talking to an elderly gentleman who was riding the entire Colorado Trail on horseback. I rode a few miles down the backside of the pass and found a decent campsite beside the road and a short walk from running water.

Although Tuesday was a hard one, I figured Wednesday would be easier since I’d start out descending the rest of Marshall Pass and then have a 13-mile stretch of pavement, also mostly downhill, before turning up again into the national forest. Sure enough, the first 20 minutes or so of the ride were fast and fun, but I soon noticed a strong headwind coming up the back side of Marshall Pass, slowing my progress, and killing it entirely on some flat stretches.

I got to Sargents, where there’s a gas station, general store, and cafe on Highway 50. I had visions of picking up a quick meal of real food, but the cafe was closed on this day. I had hopes of calling Ginette on either my cell phone or a pay phone, but there was no cell signal and the pay phone was broken. So I bought a big jug of Gatorade, a box of Fig Newtons, some M&Ms, and set off west on Highway 50, straight into a stiff headwind. I had expected these next 13 miles to go fast, being on pavement and mostly downhill, but the wind was coming right up the valley as if it were an air duct. The road would twist and turn, following Tomichi Creek, but the wind was always in my face. I had to pedal on the downhills to keep up my momentum and this really started to piss me off. I recalled that Blue Mesa Reservoir, just downstream, is a popular windsurfing spot.

I figured my suffering would be temporary, because after 13 miles on the highway going west, I’d make a sharp left and then curve around Cochetopa Dome until I was heading east, on my way up to Cochetopa Pass. The headwind should turn into a tailwind. But after I turned off the highway and headed southeast, I still had the wind blowing in my face. After an hour or two of that, climbing up through the rolling, semi-arid Cochetopa HIlls, I was finally heading east, but now the wind had died. It left me seething.

I hadn’t passed any water for 15 miles, so I felt obligated to fill up in a little creek that was just a trickle and had turbid, lousy-tasting water. After another 10 miles or so, I finally found a decent water source, Cochetopa Creek, where a couple was trout fishing. It was a hot, dry day, so I dunked my head in the water and literally got my second wind as the gusts finally started to blow again out of the west. That only lasted a half hour or so, but it helped push me up the hill for a little while.

I thought about making it all the way over Cochetopa Pass, but by 6:30 pm I’d done around 55 miles and I knew that the last few miles up to the pass would be especially steep and slow. My butt was also getting really tender. So I pulled off on a side road that turned into a rutted two-track, searched for a flat spot without cow patties, and made a dry camp beneath a willow.

Exhausted from two difficult days of riding, I slept 10.5 hours and awoke to a dew-laden morning on Thursday. All those shifting winds from the day before had heralded a weather shift and I could tell the air was much more humid and likely to spawn thunderstorms in the afternoon.

And then my stuff started falling apart. While moving my tent to a sunny spot so it could dry, one of the poles snapped. I discovered that one of the earpieces on my sunglasses had also broken overnight–how I don’t know. Both of those I could try to fix with duct tape.

But then I made a discovery that was not so fixable. I was missing one of my hiking shoes. I searched and searched, but couldn’t find it anywhere. It must have fallen out of my bag somewhere, or maybe I’d left it behind at my previous campsite. Ginette has been bugging me to get rid of these things for months since they’re totally trashed and she’s embarrassed to be seen with me in them, but now I have no other footwear than my mountain biking cleats. I tossed the one hiking shoe I still had into the bushes–at least my load is now a little lighter.

I had already woken up on the wrong side of the Thermarest mattress on Thursday after some nightmares. It was also the anniversary of my mom’s death. I ate my oatmeal and drank my coffee while sitting in the dirt in the middle of the road, waiting for my stuff to dry out. An elderly cowboy on horseback started riding toward me, pushing his cattle up the valley with cries of “Get the hell up there!” He’s been ranching that allotment since 1963, seven years before I was born, and the drought has hit him hard. “Not much grass,” he said, “and there’s just no water out here.”

Thursday’s ride began with about five miles of climbing to reach the top of Cochetopa Pass, where the Ute once passed through on their way to hunt buffalo on the Plains and where Fremont, Gunnison, and other explorers scouted for a possible route for the transcontinental railroad. Once again, tears of rage were mixing with sweat on my face as I did more grieving for my mom, more complaining about the persistent headwind, and more bitching about anything I could think of.

I just couldn’t believe the wind. This part of the route snakes east and west, north and south, and yet every direction I pointed I was greeted with a breeze in my face. At times I would repeatedly scream “Fuck you!” into the sky, not because I thought there was a god or higher being or anything up there that could make the wind stop. I had no reason: it just felt like the right thing to do. I almost felt a bond with the settlers, ranchers, farmers, and others who sought to eke out a living in this forbidding place before it was domesticated only to see curtains of virga evaporate before hitting the soil and watch their crops and cattle wither.

“Life is good” and “No bad days” say the bumperstickers on the SUVs blasting by me on the highways, but from my vantage over the past few days that seems like total bullshit. If I had to choose an adjective to describe life, it wouldn’t be “good” or “nice” or any other platitude. Life is hard. It’s about death, suffering, change, chaos, and disorder. No bad days? How about 9/11? How about the day your mother is diagnosed with Stage IV ovarian cancer? Those aren’t bad days?
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Thursday was sucking as much as the previous two days, so I decided to suck it up and ride over Carnero Pass so I could at least have a reasonable ride on Friday before Saturday’s epic climb from Del Norte to Indiana Pass, a gain of more than 4,000 elevation. I literally had a dark cloud hanging over me for the last hour of the climb and the outflows from the burgeoning thunderstorm were making it twice as hard to pedal. It drizzled, but didn’t start pour until after I’d crested the pass and was on my way down to a campground. I normally prefer to stay outside of developed campgrounds, but the weather forced me into this one. I got a little soaked rushing to put up my tent–gingerly with the wounded pole–but managed to get me and all of my possession inside without getting hypothermic. Ten minutes later, the sun came out and started baking my tent, so I was forced to get out.

Finally, I thought, some peace and quiet, a chance to write in my journal, read, and decompress in isolation. If only. Just as I took a seat at the picnic table, a bikepacker rolled up. He was a young guy from Israel, also heading south, but doing 2 to 3 times as many miles a day as me, as in 95 on this day. He asked me if he could pitch his tent in my site.

“You mean right here?” I asked. I was the only person in the campground and there were a dozen unoccupied sites all around us, but he wanted to stay in my site. I tried to gently explain that there wasn’t much room, but he said his tent was freestanding and he could set it up on some grass near mine. Before I could really strenuously object, he was making himself at home.

I’m Jewish by birth, so I get a free pass at saying that Israelis are notoriously pushy and this guy fit the stereotype. Americans, especially Westerners, like our elbow room and tend to go camping, backpacking, or bikepacking specifically so we can get the fuck away from strangers. But I guess Israel is a small country and people there are used to living on top of one another, so this guy had no shame about moving into my campsite. Other cultures just don’t have the same respect for personal space. I didn’t feel like talking to him, smelling him, hearing him slurp his food, or interacting in any other way with him, but I was stuck, so I made small talk for a while and then retreated into my tent as soon as it got dark. At least I didn’t have to worry about catching up to him on the trail.

By the time I woke on Friday, the Israeli had left and I was glad to be in solitude again. I only had about 30 miles to go until Del Norte, where I’d be staying in a hotel, but now I’d come to expect an “easy day” would be anything but. And sure enough, as I set off down the backside of Carnero Pass, the wind was right in my face, streaming up the drainage from the San Luis Valley. There were some cool rock formations on the descent, but I was still in a foul mood. After 18 miles, it was time to make a sharp right and head south to Del Norte and, you guessed it, the wind was now coming out of the south. By now, I had descended to the edge of the San Luis Valley, which gets something like 8 inches of rain a year, so it’s basically a high desert and the road was sandy, washboarded, and terribly dusty. Every 15 minutes or so, a vehicle–usually a big pickup truck–would speed past me and lift up a huge curtain of dust that would hover in the air for miles. I had to keep stopping until the wind pushed the particulates out of my path. I could feel my asthma acting up.

I arrived in Del Norte at about 1 pm and was thankful to be able to check in to my hotel early. It took ages in the shower to wash off the dust, sweat, sunscreen, and general funk that had been covering me for four days. The hotel didn’t have any laundry facilities, so I headed down Main Street to a laundromat, but then I had to hop back on my bike and go to the grocery because the detergent dispenser was broken. I left the rest of the bottle of detergent on top of the broken dispense. Good karma = tailwinds?

I was famished, so while my clothes were washing I went across the street to a cafe. I was excited to learn they were still serving breakfast, but then devastated when they brought out the worst huevos rancheros I’ve ever tasted. Who the hell puts hamburger meat in huevos rancheros? Maybe people who live in Del Norte but who refuse to pronounce the Spanish name correctly and call it “Del Nort.” Same thing up in “Bew-na Vista” to the north, or “Casa Grand” in Arizona.

With the huevos ranchers untouchable, I was still starving and went to the Subway in the gas station across the street so I could partake in some corporate-approved, standardized fare that I knew wouldn’t disappoint. I figured I could also pick up some beers at the convenience store, but they don’t sell booze in such places here in Del Norte, so I had to pedal to the other side of town to the liquor store, where business was hopping. I went in expecting I’d have to buy a tall boy of Coors Light or some other such swill, but I was pleasantly surprised that they had some bombers of Colorado microbrews. I waited in line behind a Vietnam vet with no legs in a wheelchair who bought a fifth of vodka for $7 and had a little dog in his lap.

I headed back to my hotel to figure out my next moves. There isn’t so much as a flip-flop for sale in Del Norte and this is the biggest town I’ll hit until the end of my ride in 8 days. I’m not gonna bike 30 miles on a US Highway to go to the Walmart in Alamosa to buy new shoes or sandals, so I guess I’m stuck with my mountain biking cleats for the rest of the trip. The studly, lightweight bikepackers carry nothing else, so I guess I’m in good company.

I studied my maps for a long while in my hotel room, half-watching the censored version of Scarface on A&E, which is kinda funny because every other word out of Pacino’s mouth is the F-bomb. The plan now is to stay in a hotel in Abiquiu, NM on Wednesday night and camp the rest of the time, until Ginette and her mom pick me up in Cuba, NM a week from Sunday. That means I’ll need to be self-sufficient for the next five days and four nights while riding around 195 miles through some of the toughest country on the entire route. Right now I’m at about 7,900 feet elevation, but by tomorrow afternoon I hope to be pedaling across Indiana Pass, 11,910 feet elevation and the highest point of the entire Great Divide Mountain Biking Route. Uh oh.

I went out to dinner to fuel up for tomorrow’s ride and had another unpleasant experience. I think because of my beard (I showered and I’m in clean clothes!) they stuck me in a back room all alone and then, for the first time in my life, I had a waitress stand over me to ensure that I signed the credit card, as if I were some vagrant ready to dine and dash. “Is it the beard? Is that why you stuck me in Siberia and are standing over me like this?” I asked. “No, I do it for everyone,” she said nervously. Yeah, right.

Looking back over the past four days, I’ve been mostly unhappy and suffering. This Great Divide route is hard enough under the best of circumstances, but pure hell if the rewards you expect from enduring these ridiculous climbs are erased by winds that suck out all the joy. The rash of mechanical failures and losing my hiking shoes are major annoyances, but not show stoppers, so tomorrow I’ll get back in the saddle and ride off, hoping for a brighter day.

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