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Serendipity on the Great Divide

On a long bike tour we end up very focused on what is in front of us. Each turn of the wheels pushes us into the next moment as we make connections and course corrections and think hard about what is to come and how we are going to get there. It as if time itself gets compressed into now and we get to live more intensely in each new moment. I think that is a lot of the attraction of doing these trips, to live life more fully and be alive in the present moment with each pedal stroke.

The flip side of living in the moment, at least for us pensioners of a certain age, is that the past moments in time fade all too quickly and we can't remember where we camped or what we ate two days ago. The past recedes behind us as we roll along and slips quickly away.

Since the pandemic arrived, we can't seem to keep track of what day it is or even what month. We have to use the pictures on our phones to remember what happened. But I do remember that our ride through New Mexico was marked by a series of fortunate events and trail magic.

The first piece of good fortune we encountered on our Northbound trek was connecting with Jeffery Sharp- the bicycle patron of Hachita. Jeffery met us in Lordsburg, where we dropped off the U Haul van, in his battered Volvo station wagon. A few hours later we were riding into the afternoon heat from Antelope Wells, headed back to his bicycle ranch. At first it was not too bad, but a couple of hours into the ride we were hiding in culverts and dipping our shirts in stock ponds to find some relief from the sun. Although we did not feel lucky at the time, some 15 minutes later we rode into a New Mexico desert thunderstorm, complete with multiple bolts of lightning and world shaking thunder. This inspired us to greater speed and also cooled us off as we were suddenly riding through gusts of wind, rain and hail that pushed us into Hachita.

We spent the evening at the Hachita Bike Ranch, getting in touch with New Mexico's post apocalyptic vibe, drinking beer and watching the lightning storm do battle with the most incredible sunset. Jeffery was a great host and a font of good information.

We rode out of Hachita the next day in the predawn light. As the sun rose it got hotter and hotter and soon we were following a dirt track with no shade that climbed north of the highway. The heat was a bit too much for us, so we stopped at a ranch that we had learned about the night before to beg for water and a bit of shade. They pointed us toward a faucet and the barn and we decided to take an afternoon break that eventually stretched into spending the night. Who needs camp chairs when you can recline on feed bags and irrigation pipes? The shade was most welcome and we did not encounter the snakes that they warned us about.

The next days' ride was into Silver City and over the first of the Gila hills. Having spent a night here on the way down in the U Haul, we knew where to find the first burrito food truck, where we started refueling immediately, then moved on to a motel and continued to eat steadily until we passed out from carbo loading. A giant breakfast from the local Denny's the next morning got us started on the big road climb out of Silver City. The afternoon heat zapped us again and we stopped at a campground with some shade on Lake Roberts.

From there the Great Divide Route goes between the Gila and the Aldo Leopold Wilderness areas. We began the first of a series of strenuous climbs and descents that would take the next two days to traverse. The landscape is beautiful and we arrived at the tail end of a near record summer monsoon so the grasses and vegetation were blooming. Sometimes we rode over an undulating plateau of grass and juniper and then through stately groves of ponderosa pine. Then we would plunge down into the valleys and ride through creeks that crisscrossed the washed out roads.

This was our first experience with heading northbound (NOBO) on the Great Divide. Most riders ride the route North to South. On our previous trips, we had always headed south, so it was rare that we encountered other riders, since we were all headed the same direction. Now we began to run into riders nearly every day, most of them nearing the end of their months long tour from Canada. One of them told us about staying at the Beaverhead Ranch; a hunting lodge at the end of the Gila hills. We took their advice and the trail magic worked. It was the height of elk hunting season so there was no room inside, but they let us camp in the yard and fed us a spaghetti dinner and a hearty breakfast. Since I had managed to eat most of my food I was carrying all too quickly, it was most welcome, along with the hunters lunch and snacks they gave us. The lodge was a hunters fever dream, full of dead stuffed animals a la Teddy Roosevelt and complete with a resident ghost. We passed the afternoon and evening in a conversation with the proprietor Kate, who filled us in on the history of the place and what it's like to operate a huge hunting camp.

After the steep hills of the Gila, the more rolling climbs over the Divide were most welcome as we began to cross central New Mexico. It might be because we are getting older, but we certainly found that the riding was harder here than the other states we have ridden through: Montana, Wyoming, Idaho and Colorado The climbs are steeper, the roads are rougher and the distance between reliable water sources and towns are much longer. By way of compensation, the ever changing landscape is varied, beautiful and interesting. New Mexico is an incredible place to ride and our route went from classic high plains to desert to forest and volcanic domes.

We soon learned to fill up every water container we could at every opportunity and carry enough for multiple days. The bikes were heavy but it was a lot better than having to ration water or ride on too far in the afternoon hoping that we would find something to drink. There are lots of cow ponds out there, but the water is pretty thick and brown.

Speaking of cow ponds, there were a lot less cows in New Mexico than Montana, Wyoming and Colorado. Maybe it was the drought, but we appreciated finding campsites that did not need to be cleared of cow dung or having to scrape fresh poop off the water bottles.

Around this time on the trip, it became clear that New Mexico trail magic is really a thing and it became something great that seemed to happen almost daily. Call it serendipity, good luck or simply magic, there was more of it in these three weeks than the all the other time we have spent on the Great Divide. I even came to expect it and somehow I knew that when a truck stopped along a lonesome ride to say hi we would end up with full water bottles and maybe a cold drink. There was the A-F Ranch magic boxes- two coolers full of water and snacks on the side of the road at just the right spot where we needed it the most. There was the truck that stopped and asked if "y'all know about the campsite just up the road" at just the right moment in the late afternoon when we were prone to make bad decisions about how far to go. So instead of riding into the night looking for Pie Town, we had a place with showers, laundry and wifi in the middle of nowhere. There was even a can of Pork and Beans to supplement our last dinner. We were able create our own trail magic when Karen found an Iphone 12 laying in the road and we were able to connect with the motorcyclist who lost it 5 days before and get it back to him.

The biggest piece of trail magic occurred the next morning as we rode the last miles into Pie Town. Thanks to our new friends along the trail, we knew that the two restaurants in Pie Town were closed on Tuesdays, so we spent Tuesday night outside of town and rode in on Wednesday searching for breakfast and pie. You can imagine our disappointment at finding both places closed on Wednesday as well. I guess the lack of help is affecting everywhere in America, including Pie Town. We were stunned to the point of tears when the woman in the restaurant abruptly told us they were closed and the nearest food was 22 miles away. We sat on the porch to consider what to do next, as we were pretty much down to a few M and Ms. But, you have to trust the magic as 10 minutes later she opened the door and asked if we would be interested in some leftover green chili stew that she was going to throw out. The magic only works when you say yes and soon we were eating stew with cornbread muffins and being ushered out the side door with enough food for dinner as well. We weren't sure what to do next so we headed across the road to the town campsite to consider our next move. As we rolled into the picnic area, the support vehicle for a cross country bike tour pulled up and started to lay out the snacks for their clients. They offered their food to us and a few minutes later we were laden with sandwiches, fruit and everything we needed for several days on the trail. Sometimes the magic works overtime when you really need it. Soon we were ensconced in the Toaster House, a donation based biker and hiker hostel in the middle of New Mexico. We had missed out on the famous pie, but the magic continued as Nita the owner went out and brought back 20 slices left over from the previous weekends Pie Festival. She gave us a tour and the history of Pie Town and we finished off the pie with 5 other bikers that showed up as well. From the depths of despair and hunger we finished up a truly magical day by filling up on pie and green chili while getting stories from the road from our new friends.

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