Just a few turns after I sucked the last of the water out of my bladder, the nicest cattle pond I’ve encountered anywhere came into view. We rolled right up to the edge of it, and Caroline set to work filling bladders and bottles and treating the water. During the 2011 race, I had been sternly warned by several different groups European northbound riders that there was no surface water anywhere in New Mexcio. Then I stumbled upon this same full cattle pond and kicked myself for hauling an extra gallon of water into the Jemez. This time around, we made use of that precious water. I washed off my sandy feet and took care of treating a few blisters and sores that had been bothering me. A dozen cattle wandered over, curious about who was visiting their pond. We stared at them, and they stared back. There wasn’t much to say, really.
The final days of New Mexico fly by at a painfully slow pace. I’m not sure how this is possible, but it is. You are so close to Mexico, and it seems like it should only take a couple days to get there, but in reality, there are still many hundreds of miles to cover. We departed Cuba before sunrise, and just outside of town, Caroline threw up her entire breakfast. And then some more. But she didn’t want to turn around, so we pushed on. She managed to somehow, with some encouragement, continue to eat enough throughout the day to keep her legs going even after vomiting a couple more times. The miles and miles of pavement across the Navajo Reservation came and went. The winds were mostly calm, thankfully, and the roads were deserted. I had my stomach set on the Dairy Queen in Grants for an early dinner, and that’s just what we got. After the heat of the day and so much pavement, we were pretty well fried. Then we shot across town to the post office to send our remaining warm clothes home so we’d have more room to carry food and water in the Gila, but I walked in the post office and was immediately informed they were closing. The woman had no desire to let me quickly ship a box, so we rode away annoyed, still with our jackets in 90-degree heat. And after a $90 food purchase at the last gas station in town, we happily left Grants behind.
The first big thunderstorms of the entire trip blew up that evening over the mountains of eastern Arizona and western New Mexico just south of us. We spent the first hours of darkness riding toward them, nervously watching bolt after bolt of lightning. The only distraction from this was the periodic patches of deep sand and severe washboards on the Pie Town Road. Caroline dozed off behind me on the intervening smooth stretches. The storms gradually weakened and drifted off to our west, so we stopped in the junipers for the night. The scattered clouds dissipated, revealing a beautiful star-filled sky.
Caroline seemed a bit nervous about the challenging section, but I was determined to enjoy it after what happened last year. A combination of dehydration, chafing, hallucinating from sleep deprivation, and then running out of food and water led to some very memorable suffering for me. This time around, we had ample food, full bellies, and hopefully sufficient fluid capacity to make it between water sources. Before long, the sun was already baking us. Then we sliced a sidewall on the rough climb up Mangus Pass. Luckily it was repaired with a simple plug, and we were back on the move in no time. By early afternoon, we were rolling around the edge of the Plains of San Augustine, watching the enormous dust devils twirl and dance across the dry lake bed. We almost successfully dodged all the storms that billowed up around us, getting rained on just a few brief times. These storms also brought the temperature down to something nearly comfortable.
A bit before 4 am, the tiresome alarm sounded. We packed up, ready to tackle the upcoming steep, loose, and difficult climbs before air temperature heated up. Amazingly, we froze on many of the descents before the sun rose. Our progress was slow, and before long, the orange glow of dawn illuminated the oak and ponderosa forests; we crawled up each climb in our lowest gear, dripping sweat and breathing hard. But we made it out to the Mimbres River valley by late morning and then dove into the challenging singletrack of the Continental Divide Trail just beyond. Just like last year, we were treated to this section at the hottest time of the day. The heat soon got to Caroline, and I struggled to keep her moving. We were able to ride nearly all the singletrack after the steep hiking section, and once we got out of a burned area and into the shade of the Ponderosa pines, Caroline began to feel better. Silver City was not far away now, and the border was just beyond!
We decided to stop and sleep for a couple hours. Doing so meant that we wouldn’t finish up in the morning before it began to heat up, but with 70 miles of rather boring pavement just a few miles ahead, there was no way Caroline would have been able to keep herself awake. We found some bushes to sleep behind near some idling trucks whose drivers were doing the same.
By milepost 30 I had to pee. I decided to wait until 20. The miles slowly counted down. A headwind kicked up as we passed through Hatchet Gap, but fortunately, it calmed as we moved beyond the low hills. We began standing for a mile at a time, in part to break up the miles and in part to simply take weight off our sore butts. Mile 20 came and went. I ate a pack of ShotBloks, content to have put off peeing for a few more miles. Anything to entertain the mind is much appreciated on this last section of the route. Caroline and I both were listening to music. At this point in the ride, there was little left to say to one another. We just wanted to be done.
The three guys in the station seemed completely uninterested in the fact that we were there. Caroline and I snapped a few photos at the border itself, grabbed a few bottles of cold soda out of the machine, and collapsed in the shade. It was just after 10 am and already we were roasting in the heat. We sipped our soda and wondered how the heck we were going to get out of there. A friend’s truck was parked back in Hachita waiting for us, but we were in no shape to ride 45 miles back into that headwind. And there was very little traffic on the road that morning, or any morning for that matter.