Great Divide to Copper Canyon
I was able to join the Randy, Jeff and Ron on the first leg of an amazing self-supporting bike trip, which starts in central Colorado and will end at Copper Canyon in Mexico. The trip follows the Great Divide trail, which are mostly dirt roads through some of the most remote areas in the western United States.
The last three days we rode our bikes through mountain resorts, over mountains passes, along high alpine meadows and past miles of sage brushed high plains. Colorado is truly an awesome state with bright morning sun, ominous afternoon clouds, and striking sunsets.
Each person carries their own gear, food, and water on their bikes. Randy pulls a trailer called a Bob trailer, and the others use saddlebags called panniers. For the long trip each uses a mountain bike with front shocks and wide tires. For the three-day journey, I used my touring bike with road touring tires and no shocks. It was somewhat of a challenge staying up right through the 123 miles of dirt, sandy, muddy, rocky roads. But I rode cautiously when needed and rode fast when the roads were hard packed and clear. Coming down the passes my wrist ached from pounding of the washboards and my hands cramped from braking. The guys flew down the mountain past me but would stop and wait every few miles. It gave them a chance to inhale the vistas and me a chance to catch up.
Ron had a slight mishap on the first day, just a half-mile from the campground we planned on staying at. Seems the road got a bit sandy and caused him to take a spill. Not to good of a start. After an attempt to cleanup the cuts, we voted that he go to town to seek medical attentions. As good luck will have it, a 4-wheel jeeper was passing by. After one look at the situations, he offered to give Ron a ride to town to get medical advice and supplies. Quinton, the passing jeeper was so kind as to give Ron and his emergency nurse, Nancy, a ride to town, which was 20, or so miles back over Boreas Pass. He waited while he got looked at, put them up for the evening and then gave them a ride back to the campground in the morning. Quinton even gave Ron his own helmet, which sports an incredible picture of an eagle. We hope he will not try to soar anymore or he will be very sore again.
By-the-way Ron is ok; he has a few bandages covering his varying degrees of road rash. The good news is he got on his bike the day after the crash and kept riding. Nothing a few days of healing won't mend. (Ouch!)
It was a pleasure riding with these three very different individuals and seeing them off on this epic bike trip. We hope you will enjoy the journey with them.
Just a quick entry because I don't have much time in the library in Del Norte, Colorado. We had a glorious ride over Marshall Pass from Salida, then down to Sargents. It was so beautiful up there, right near timberline.
Along US 50 we stopped at a ranch to ask if they would let us camp - and they set us up in a hunter's cabin, complete with running water and a *hot* shower! It was a delight.
Then on over to Old Cochetopa Pass, which was a hard, hot climb, but another beautiful day. We stayed in Luder's Creek campground and could have stayed for days - could be the nicest campground we'll see.
Today we rode over Carnero Pass toward La Garita and then found some really funky doubletrack to ride into Del Norte on. Could it really be the planned Great Divide route? We don't think so. But it was a lot of fun. Real Mountain Biking.
All are well!
Jeff sez: If your ever get depressed, go for a bike tour. You meet the most wonderful people and it completely changes your outlook on life.
In Del Norte we met Alex Colville, 71 years old, who runs Casa de Madera Sports. Why does he go to work every day at 71 years old to bring in $20-$100 total sales? Only because he's helping people like us who pass through. It's an aid station disguised (thinly) as a business. He will top off your bottle of white gas. (Everybody else makes you buy a quart or a gallon.) He has one BOB trailer in stock, but has never sold one. He uses it for parts so that when somebody comes in with a problem with their trailer, he can send them right on their way. Then he gets the replacement parts from the BOB trailer people.
Alex has entertained visitors to Del Norte with woodcarving, photography, and as a climbing guide since the 1970's. He can talk your ear off, of course, but in a very nice way. He's still climbing! How many 71-year-olds are still climbing 5.8 and 5.10 routes? He says he put up a lot of fairly easy routes when he was in his 50's just so he'd have something to climb now. And he can still climb all but one of them.
Alex even provided a place for us to stay right at the foot of Indiana Pass, so we could get right up there and start climbing the pass in the morning, breaking up the climb.
Since Salida we've been doing basically a pass a day. Some are easier than others, but we've just taken them one by one:
- Marshall Pass, 10,842 ft. Discovered in 1873 by Lt. William L. Marshall when he wanted to find a quicker way to Denver from Silverton because he had an amazing headache.
- Old Cochetopa Pass, 10,067 ft. Discovered 1869, Toll road 1874. This is the way Marshall would have gone if he didn't have a toothache.
- Carnero Pass, 10,166
- Indiana Pass, or Grayback Mountain, 11,910 ft. The highest piont on the Great Divide Route
- Stunner Pass, 10,541 ft.
- La Manga (10,250 ft) and Cumbres (10,022) passes
Otto Mears, the "Pathfinder of the San Juans," seems to have built nearly every road originally and operated it as a toll road. He built the first road over Marshall Pass and the first over Cochetopa. And he built roads all over SW Colorado.
The following was phoned in by Randy to Nancy (who may have taken some liberties to embellish the adventure as told by Randy)
Coming down from Summitville and Indiana Pass we got our first good taste of rain.
Summitville is known for its designation as an EPA Superfund disaster. The late 1980's mining activity leached cyanide into the river and killed the river. (For more information see below...)
The rain forced us to seek shelter, which was offered by an old cabin that had seen better days. What was left of the roof leaked like a sieve so Jeff and Ron got out their tarps and put them up inside, which gave us true refuge from the rain. The Dutch couple, Wim Van Hoorn and Tiny Van Der Werff, soon caught up with us and joined us in trying to stay dry and warm. We got the stove out and cooked up some hot chocolate and shared the rest of the afternoon. A wonderful warming touring experience.
[More reading about Summitville superfund site]
This 1,400-acre site is located in Rio Grande County, approximately 18 miles southwest of Del Norte. The mine site is in the San Juan Mountains at an elevation of 11,500 feet, surrounded by the Rio Grande National Forest. The Alamosa River and its tributaries flow from the site through forest and agricultural land in Rio Grande and Conejos Counties and past the San Luis Valley towns of Capulin and La Jara. The Terrace Reservoir, used for irrigation, is on the Alamosa River 18 miles downstream from the site.
Gold and silver mining began at Summitville around 1870. The latest mining operator was Summitville Consolidated Mining Corp., Inc. (SCMCI), which mined the site from July 1986 through October 1991 and abandoned the site in December 1992. SCMCI did open pit heap leach gold mining which used cyanide to extract the gold. The EPA Emergency Response Branch assumed responsibility of the site on December 16, 1992. The site was placed on the NPL of Superfund sites on May 31, 1994.
The following was phoned in by Randy to Nancy (she may have took some liberties to embellish the story as told by Randy)
This is a good story. Sorry Jeff. :-)
Alex in Del Norte gave us permission to stay on a property at the foot of Indiana Pass. It was a nice campground, tepee included. We had no neighbors until late that night when a father and his young son joined us. The child was about seven or eight and was one of the most hyperactive kids you would ever want to meet. The kind of kid that gets into anything and everything. We wondered if the young child was a candidate for Ritalin, a good drug for hyper kids needing to settle down for a while.
In the morning Jeff went in search for an outhouse which is always a wonderful thing to locate when the need arises. Well, Jeff goes sits down when all of a sudden he hears a rattle at the door and a click. He now finds himself in a small crisis he has never faced. Darn it! The impish boy has locked Jeff in the outhouse. Yes, there was a lock on the outside and now he is locked in. Yikes! He yells out in a very stern deep voice “Unlock this door NOW!” Which, the kid obeyed. He opened the door, peered in and then locked the door again with Jeff inside, just sitting there fuming.
This was not the way Jeff wanted to start the day. No relief for the needy.
So when Jeff eventually escaped from this awkward jail feeling somewhat abused and confused, he got on his bike and stormed away, away from this unruly child who strikes fear into grown men’s hearts.
So tourers of the world beware of the mischievous brat, near Del Norte Colorado, take all the caution needed not get locked in that dank dark outhouse by the terror of Stunner Campground.
After descending from Platoro, Colorado, the Great Divide route goes over La Manga Pass and then takes off into the New Mexico boonies toward El Rito and then Abiquiu. We had hoped to go that way, but feared that the afternoon rains we've had every day would make it impossible.
Well, we tried to go that way today, but got a mile or so down the route and talked to a rancher who had turned around due to the incredible slick and difficult adobe mud he ran into. He thrilled us with his description of the territory - he talked like something out of an old movie, describing the places and how awful they are. But we decided that discretion is the better part of valor and turned around.
We've experienced adobe in the bicycles before. What happens is it gets all caked around your tires, then fills in the spot where your brakes are, then your wheels won't go around any more. You have to poke it all out with a stick to even push your bike again. Then you get more. It just wouldn't work. So we took the alternate route to Chama, NM, and will ride to Abiquiu on the highway tomorrow.
By the way, Ron's road rash is healing nicely, and he's riding strong. He still has no feeling in the two little fingers of his left hand, so hopefully that will come back.
Of the three of us, Ron is the one who seems to have the knack for negotiating. (It must be all those years in business) We send him into places to get the best deals which is usually when we are looking for a campsite or a hotel. For those who know Ron, he has a quiet unique wit yet there is always a twinkle in his eye. He is definitely at his best when negotiating a business deal. I would like to share with you some classic examples of his these talents.
In Abiquiu, New Mexico while looking for a campsite, we sent him into the office where he reportedly said: "My buddies have a spot already picked out by the river but I thought I would check in with you first.”
In Chama the female host of the campsite commented on how bad his bandaged road rash must be. He replied to with an impish smile "This is nothing you should see me with my clothes off."
In Horca, they quoted a price of $65.00 for the night. Ron replied, “I guess that's ok but we will not be able to afford to eat tonight” It worked; we ended up spending $50.00 for a room.
He met his match at the Sands Hotel in Grants, NM. He said the hotel owner “Wow, $35.00 dollars is a lot for a room. The place down the street has a room for $19.95. Which the owner replied "Go on down there and tell him I sent you, I have a deal with that guy. I send him all the first rate cheapskates that come here wanting a better deal." Yes you guessed it, we spent the $35.00 for a softbed and a warm shower.
Of three major sections on the Northern New Mexico Great Divide Trail, we have only been able to do one. It has been raining here every afternoon. The mud is so thick we could not get our bikes through it if we had to. We have had to take alternate routes on pavement.
In one place when we did ride on some adobe mud, our tires picked up big globs of mud. The wheels refused to go around, the mud jammed between the brakes and the forks, creating one heck of an adobe mess.
We hope we can do the next off road section from Grants to Pie-town. We will see tomorrow.
Hello from Silver City, NM, in the far south of the state. We've covered a lot of territory!
Since the last time I posted, we've had two occasions to do what we call a "dry camp". That's where you carry all your water for the day, all the water you need to camp at night, and the water you need for the next day.
The first time we did this was leaving Abiquiu and going to Cuba - We had a really steep incline to climb on a fairly rough road. And we each carried 9-10 liters of water (2 to 2.5 gallons of water). that's 16-20 pounds of additional water for the ride, on a big uphill! We were successful, but actually had carried too much water and were pouring it out the next day.
The most recent time was in the Gila National Forest, and we each carried 7-8 liters of water, and that was adequate (this time - it's hard to guess how hot the day will be!)
In a dry camp, we don't waste any water for washing if we can help it, and don't throw out any water from cooking. And after doing a dry camp, it's a mighty wonderful thing to make it to running water (or some other water source) the next day!
Since Del Norte, Colorado, we've been riding with Wim and Tiny, an incredible Dutch couple from Delft, Holland (where the blue pottery is made). They're so strong and so experienced and such a pleasure to ride with.
Wim and Tiny have cycled and hiked all over the world - the list goes on and on: Gambia and Zimbabwe and Turkey, Nepal, India, England, China. And now the Great Divide. It's such a pleasure to hear their stories about all those exotic places.
Wim and Tiny started the Great Divide at the Canadian border and plan to finish their trip in Antelope Wells, NM at the Mexican border, probably next Tuesday. We hope to be with them to celebrate their success (and the pleasure of their company).
Our ride around the mud from Cuba, NM to Grants took us through a very remote and terribly interesting part of the country - the Navajo Reservation. The part we went through is called the "checkerboard" because it's not all reservation - there's different ownership every mile or so, but much of it is reservation and most is Navajo.
In Pueblo Pintado we asked permission to camp next to the trailer of Dennis and Brenda Buckman, who own the little grocery store there. (In the 120 miles between Cuba and Grants there are 2 stores, no towns, no other services.) Well, it rained then, and they ended up inviting us in for dinner and having us sleep inside. What wonderful people. But the best part was that Dennis told us story after story about the reservation. Of course it was from the point of view of a white man, but he's lived on the "rez" for years and years, and we learned a lot.
Dennis says Navajos almost never start their own business because their since of family obligation insists that they always share everything with their extended family, and so assets could never be concentrated into a business.
The younger children are frightened of Dennis and Brenda at first, but become accustomed. The reservation is a *very* different place.
We heard all about the various government programs, what's good, what's not. Dennis believes that almost all young people with marketable skills leave the reservation to work (as in many rural areas in the US) and leave behind many, many people who either don't work (jobs) or who work at the traditional sheep-based economy, which doesn't bring in much success these days.
It was a fascinating evening!
It was late when we got into Silver City, so Wim and Tiny and I set up our tents and then went in search of food. We showed up at a chain buffet place just as they were closing at 9pm, and were afraid they were the only place in walking distance. But guess who was being turned away at the same moment. It was none other than Charles Smith, aka Scott Rose, country singer. He showed us his guitar, told us about his gigs, and then loaded us into the back of his pickup for a ride down to another restaurant that would still be open. (It was Wim and Tiny's first US ride in the back of a pickup - they were shocked that it's legal here!)
Scott Rose is trying to make a comeback after years of hard times. We heard about his life and it sounded like the makings of a fantastic country music career. He's 60-something, quite overweight, dressed perfectly (with an embroidered hat that says "Scott Rose"), had a hard divorce, kids that treat him bad, and a hard life. He's ready to make Nashville music.
Anyway, we sat at the Red Barn restaurant and ate and broke bread with a coming country music legend. Then he drove us back to our campsite, and headed back to his home in Cliff, New Mexico.
It was a five-day stretch for us from Grants, NM to Silver City. There are no stores (there is one restaurant - at Pie Town), no gas stations, no nothing for 5 days and lots of miles. I'd never had to provision for that many days before, but we went to Walmart in Grants and stocked up. Then we had to figure out where to put it all, wonder if we could carry it, and worry about whether it would be enough. We got 2 large boxes of oatmeal for breakfast, 3 bottles of peanut butter, 2 jars of jelly, lots of trail mix, and four of our normal dinners (rice or pasta or ramen, something good to go on it, and some fresh onion and green peppers). We made it just fine, with a little bit of food left over, but certainly learned that we can provision for 5 days.
Jeff decided that 1000 miles of the Great Divide route was enough for him and that he'd head on back. We said goodbye to him in the wind on the way to Antelope Wells, and he'll either ride to Denver or take the bus there from El Paso, then return to New York. So we had sad goodbyes on the highway!
Then we got to the border and Ron and I said goodbye to Wim and Tiny as they rode back to Hachita to prepare for the ride to El Paso to catch their plane back to Holland!
Well, the Great Divide route goes to Antelope Wells, the US Port of Entry for Mexico. In fact, the name "Antelope Wells" would imply there's a town there, but in reality there's nothing there but the Port of Entry and two wonderful US Customs agents.
We anticipated an easy, easy 45-mile cruise from Hachita down to the border - nice, even roads, no traffic. But we immediately got a big headwind and the 3-hour cruise started looking like it would take all day. Wim and Tiny led the pack (they were riding without gear) and pulled us all the way down there, and we eventually made it. But oh, what a day. (Jeff had decided to return and not go on to Mexico, so he found no reason to fight th wind going down there.)
First I had a flat.
Second Ron had another flat, and Jeff got two big long thorns in his tire (but the True Goo worked)
Third Wim's front fork brace broke completely! He put a pipe clamp around it and continued cautiously.
Fourth Ron broke 2 more spokes (at least 10 total now!)
We finally got to Antelope Wells about 130 after a long, tiring haul. We took all th required pictures with Wim and Tiy and hugged them goodbye and sent them home. Then Tim Balderston, the marvellous customs agent, helped us out with tamales, rellenos, and even an ice cream. We filled our water bottles and prepared to cross the border.
On the Mexican side, there was no Immigration office, so we couldn't get a Tourist Card, so once again we're in the country illegally. Somewhere we'll have to find an office that will make Ron and me legal. But the Customs agent were wonderful. We had a beer, card tricks, magic handshakes, great conversation, and LOTS of fun with Ignacio (Nacho) and Rogelio (and Tim, from the US side). It was entirely a blast. More ice cream.
And then it turned out Rogelio had to drive to Juarez, and Janos is right on the way - so he offered us a ride. We accepted, because it was quite late in the day and it seemed like a great thing. Rogelio took us the 45 miles or so to Janos and we got a hotel for our first night in Mexico.
It was an incredible day!
Today Ron and I rode from Janos to Casas Grandes, an easy 36 miles or so, and went to the most important ruins in NW Mexico - Paquime. Paquime is part of the amazing complex of ancient sites that's found all over the US Southwest, and had trade and various relations with places as far away as Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon. And it was peopled by the same people group that made the Gila Cliff Dwellings we visited outside Silver City, the Mogollon. It's so interesting to see how these things tie together.
A Tribute to All the Little Boys of Mexico
In every town we stop in the plaza in front of the church and take a little break. And here come the little boys, on bike or with tops to play with.
They tell us what we need to know.
They take us where we need to go.
Yesterday, in the tiny town of Bavicora, we had an escort of a dozen boys, all on their bicycles. We were looking for a place to stay, and there was no hotel, no rooms for rent, nothing. But the huge cloud of boys took us from one end of the town to the other, until they found the Evangelical Free Church pastor Nehemias Ortega who ever so graciously put us up in the church bunkhouse. And the boys escorted us there...
Today, Ron needed to make a call in a town with no public phone. But the boys knew what to do, and took us to just the right place where an incredibly gracious woman opened up shop during siesta and let him make the call.
To all the boys of Mexico: Thank You!
We have been going so fast that we are just 1 or two days from Creel (Copper Canyon). We might arrive there tomorrow.
Since we got to Mexico Ron has pretty well sworn off camping - He had enough of it on the Great Divide route. So we´ve been looking for a room in each town we land in at the end of the day. Since we´re bicyclists, we can´t just make it to the next city. And many of these towns in Chihuahua don´t have hotels. So here´s our technique:
We get to town and look for the church. Every little town in Mexico has a church, and in front of every church is the plaza, a pleasant little park with some shade and some benches. We sit down and make ourselves comfortable, and before long some kind person comes along to chat and help us out. And they really help.
In Zaragosa, there were no hotels. But friendly, smiling Miguel made inquiries and found that a restaurant behind the church had rooms to rent. He came back, took us up there, and we ended up with a delightful little room just behind the chicken yard from the restaurant. And in the bathroom (across the chicken yard) was a hot shower.
In Babicora, there were not even rooms to rent, but those wonderful boys led us all over town until something worked out.
Our ride in the Mexican state of Chihuahua has been amazing. We knew that we would start in desert, because we were familiar with the Chihuahua desert, and because we were already in the Chihuahua desert in southern New Mexico (after Silver City).
What we didn´t know was that we´d only be in the desert a couple of days. The day after Casas Grandes we ended up climbing over a huge pass (to Zaragosa) and since then the scenery has been completely different. Where we expected desert vistas and dry land we found piney mountains and green valleys. We followed beautiful green valleys all the way to the climb up toward Creel, when it turned completely to pine forest.
As we climbed up toward Creel, it started seeming more and more like the mountains of Colorado. Creel is at 7300 ft of elevation, so there´s a reason for the similarity, but even the building materials seemed more familiar. We started seeing houses of log cabin construction instead of the ever-present adobe. Seemed like home.
Most surprising are the fields of yellow flowers everywhere. We´re filling up our cameras with pictures of beautiful fields that we hope to share with you some day soon.