Friday, December 14, 2007

SURPRISE! The final post

Well, I know that it’s sort of presumptuous of me to start blogging months after we finish the trip, but I also know how busy Keith has been and that this story needs to get told. So, for those of you wondering, The Porch in Pie Town is on the front of the house that Nita used to live in and where her daughter, Autumn, grew up. The house is called the Toaster House, because the front gate and most of the house are literally covered in toasters. They had moved outside of town about a year ago, and now the Toaster House exists solely to give cyclists and through-hikers a place to stay, relax, and converse as they came through town. The hospitality that we encountered there was like nothing that I had ever imagined. For example, we were almost out of bread and were asking where we could buy some more, but Nita told us that there wasn’t any type of store for at least a 45 min drive. We figured we’d just have to make do with what we had, but then she pulled some frozen bread and rolls out of the freezer and gave them to us. Not to mention the homemade pizza, salad, casserole, mango, fresh-squeezed lemonade, and pie that she also fed us right then and there. All in all, Pie Town was, without a doubt, one of the highlights of the trip.

The next day, we woke up and knew we were going to have to make some serious miles, since we had only ridden for less than half of the day before. Unfortunately, it had absolutely poured the night before, and the dirt roads we were riding on had turned to clay.

We slogged on for a few hours and then realized that – when we hit an intersection that wasn’t on the map – we had no idea where we were. After randomly choosing one road to follow, we continued on hoping only to be heading in the right general direction. Before too long (although having to stop every 10 minutes to clear the mud from our gears, chains, shoes, and fenders made it seem much longer), we saw a pickup truck headed our way. They stopped when we waved them down, and told us that if we kept going we’d hit a main road in a handful of miles and we’d be able to figure it out from there. So, with a new rainstorm forming over our head, we booked it down the road, and back onto pavement. Luck also smiled on us that day when we stopped for lunch at a closed gas station and found that they had a little lean-to type shelter, just as the rain hit, so we were able to stay dry.

After eating and cleaning off the bikes (and Keith rebuilding his wheel for the last time) we found the road we were supposed to be on, and headed towards our last primitive campsite. It turned out to be one of the most beautiful, as we camped next to the dirt road with only a windmill and some fencing for as far as the eye can see. When the sun came up over the horizon the next morning, Keith took some pictures that could grace the cover of National Geographic.
It was a beautiful start to another long, grinding day. Even though we had managed to get back on route after getting lost the day before, we hadn’t made as many miles as we were planning on, so we were looking at around 70 miles for each of the next two days. Our goal for the day was to make it to Silver City, the last big city of the trip.

One thing that is pretty scarce in New Mexico is water. On this particular morning, the only option for water was to filter it out of an animal trough. Bicycle touring is not for the faint at heart as you have to beg, borrow, or pump water from any source that presents itself.

Our normal routine when we pulled into a big town was to wake up the next day and hit up the grocery story and the library to post on the blog and check our email, but Silver City was a little different. While we did keep the tradition of testing out some local beer (for scientific purposes only, of course) the night that we pulled in, we woke up the next day and decided to push on right away. It could have been the big mileage facing us for the day, or just the fact that we were down to our last two days of riding, but we wasted no time that morning before heading out for Hachita.

Leaving Silver City, we had about 20 miles on a paved road, and what the map showed as a gently downward slope, but it turned out to actually be 20 miles of climbing and then dropping, climbing and then dropping, before we hit the last dirt road of the summer.

This road didn’t want to ruin the reputation that New Mexico had been creating for us, so of course it was completely washed out in spots…but at least we avoided flat tires! We crossed the Divide for the 29th and second-to-last time and even rode through an ostrich ranch, but were not lucky enough to spot (or race!) any of the giant birds. We were also looking forward to hitting a store at around the 40 mile mark, so we put our heads down and got there for lunch. I was looking forward to it for some cold Gatorade, but Keith was mostly excited about loading up on fireworks, since in New Mexico just about any kind of firework is legal. When we finished lunch we got ready ride again, only to discover that both of us had flat tires. Keith patched his, but mine seemed like a slow leak, so I tried to ride it out.

Sure enough, about 10 miles later (when we hit the paved road that would take us to the border), I had had enough of stopping to pump every 30 minutes, so we stopped again and I patched my tire for – dare I say it – the last time of the trip. Keith enjoyed himself while I patched it though, by setting off some of his new fireworks in the middle of the road. Our destination for the day was a little town called Hachita that is about 45 miles north of the border. A man named Sam lives there, and for years he has been shuttling hikers and bikers back-and-forth to the border. He had some great stories to tell about dropping hikers off, and then 3 days later they would come staggering up to his house, covered in blisters, and get a ride to the airport to head home. We had arranged to have him drive us to Deming (where we were going to catch the Greyhound home) after we finished, but still did not have a plan to get from the border back to his house. While we had been having huge mileage days for the past few days, looking at 90 miles on the last day did not seem agreeable to either Keith or I. But we didn’t want to spend the money to have him pick us up, so we decided to figure it out when we got to Mexico. That night, as we were camped in Sam’s yard, drinking some beers he had given us, we lay down in the grass and watched a meteor shower take over the absurdly clear sky.

When we woke up the next morning, it was an almost unreal feeling to know that only 45 miles stood between Keith and I and the Mexican border. After trying not to think about how much further we had for the entire summer, finally we had a manageable distance to look at…and all on pavement too! Even though it was a pretty flat ride down a paved road, for significantly less mileage than we had been doing for the past few weeks, and carrying only what we needed for the day in a single trailer, I think our bodies knew that it was the last day of riding because those 45 miles were some of the most painful of the trip. Counting down the mile-markers didn’t necessarily help either, but somehow we dragged ourselves to the border.

We did have some excitement along the way though, as we saw a number of rattlesnakes hanging out on the road. They were the first ones we’d seen, and the middle of the road was a good place for time since it gave us plenty of warning and room to get around. Keith has some great pictures of one getting riled up at the sight of us.

When the border station came into view, though, we got a burst of adrenaline and shot up the first signs and started high-fiveing and snapping pictures. The guard came over and let us know that the actual border was about 25 feet past where we were, and if we didn’t ride up to it, he’d tell everyone we had cheated. After joking with him for a few minutes and getting him to take a picture of us in front of the building, he offered us some hamburgers, potato salad, and ice cream. Then he told us that there were a number of shuttles that brought workers over from Mexico (or something like that) and that they’d probably give us a ride back to Hachita.

Sure enough, the second one that came along had enough room for our gear and us, and hauled us back to Hachita…and then told us not to worry about paying since it was on their way anyway. Once again, good luck had been on our side.

As soon as we got back to Hachita, we decided we’d rather get right over to Deming and get a hotel instead of waiting another night. So we let Sam know, packed up our stuff, and headed over (about 45 minutes) to where we’d leave our trip behind for good. We were lucky enough to find a really cheap motel room and got some cardboard boxes from Wal-Mart (they’re good for something I guess) to pack our bikes and trailers in. While it was a hassle getting everything ready to be shipped back (and transporting it all around town with having the bikes to haul stuff), the bus ride back was even worse. But that’s a story for another time and place.

As Keith has said before, thank you all so much for giving us your attention, support, encouragement, and king-size Snickers bars, as well as a place to tell the story of the best summer that I’ve ever had. My goal when we started was to simply make it to Montana, but once I got a taste of what it was going to be like hitting the road everyday, I knew I wasn’t going home until it was done. Also, my thanks to everyone who sponsored us with their products (Nuun, EMS, Katadyn, etc) and to Keith for all the work he did to get us enough stuff to even make such an adventure possible. Much love to everyone and keep the rubber side down.