It was the worst of times, it was the best of times*

This post is going to be 95% travel narrative, because sometimes the story of one damned thing after another is a reasonably interesting yarn. The last post ended with me pushing off to Lordsburg. I felt OK as we headed southwest, but pretty rapidly realized the day was going to be a difficult one. It was a lot cooler on the bike than I thought it would be and there was a strong headwind. It was nasty enough that i stopped 5 miles into the ride to change into warmer clothes, eat something and re-bundle-up Lotte. We used a small shelter south of the Tyrone open pit mine (complete with info plaques extolling the mining company’s reclamation efforts o_O) and I could see precip coming at us from the west. We continued on NM90 and got maybe another 5 miles down the road before it started to spit rain. Low 50’s (10’s C), rain and a 20+ knot headind? Ugh. Then the wet snow pellets (not really graupel afaic) started. It got to the point where I was shifting with the palms of my hands because my fingers wouldn’t work to do it. But there were a couple good moments: crossing the continental divide for the 3rd time, seeing some patches of sunlight on the plains to the west, and realizing that I’d finally done all the climbing I was going to do and that all I needed to do was descend into Lordsburg. Looking back on it, I think I was a little under the weather with a little digestive distress. I was laboring up hills suddenly doubting whether I’d ridden myself into shape at all. All in all, one of the tougher days of the trip so far.

Saturday the 13th dawned cloudless and cool and we rode southwest again – this time with Portal, AZ as our destination. Goog initially steered us to a road that, as far as I could tell, did not exist. No matter – there was an alternate route that peeled off left instead of right a quarter mile farther on, just past the CDT trail marker. The alt route turned out to be a pretty rough jeep trail, complete with gates – fun!

Happy trails!

The jeep trail eventually debouched on to Animas St., a lane and a half dirt road. Lots of dust and lots of grinning – the kind of terrain where Molly Fin the bike can really strut her stuff. Another nonexistent Goog road (it may have been converted into a wash a monsoon season or two ago), then it was a long slow descent to NM338. A bit northward to pick up NM145 and thence to NM80. We’d started south on 80 and I was checking he map on my phone when a truck pulled over. The driver got out and we exchanged greetings – turns out he was (is) a Warmshowers host in Portal, just coming back from pilot trucking an oversized load up into the PNW.And just like that, my tenative plan to bike up into the Coronado NF and camp for the night changed for the better. It took me a while to get to R’s place (Google bike routing again), but once there: paradise. R is a fascinating person and we had a lot of interests in common: birds, trains and Copper Canyon – turns out he used to lead tours there! The contrast between Friday and Saturday couldn’t have been more stark: tough, doubtful day/glorious, long, fun day.

Entrance to the canyon last night.

* with apologies to Chuck D (no not him – rather, this dude 🙂 )

Next, into Cave Creek Canyon, Tombstone and Tucson…

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Mimbres and Mogollon

One of my measure of goodness of an experience is how much curiosity it excites, how many tangents I wander down because of it, what I learn as a result. By this metric, New Mexico has been HC.

It started with a roadside historical maker. According to the marker, the Apache first acquired horses after the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. Until the moment I read the sign, I’d assumed that the conquistadors had ‘leaked’ horses starting about 5 minutes after they pitched up on shore. But if it wasn’t 1520-something, but 160 years later, my amazement at the brief blossoming  of southwestern and plains horse culture increases. A way of life that left a mark across the planet lasted for something like 200 years. People got horses, mounted up, became consummate riders, made and adapted their culture and then… Crazy Horse and Wounded Knee and dead buffalo and the rez.

I knew that there had been long-time trade between southern Mexico and the southwest,  but holy carp, Scarlet Macaw feathers? And for all I know, given the macaw perches in Paquime, perhaps the birds themselves? My first encounter with macaw feathers and trade routes was at the Mimbres Cultural History Center.

Macaw feathers

Macaws and parrots popped up again in a film at the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument; even today the Hopi people have a Parrot Clan.

Another connection with something I’m interested in – some think that the Mogollon people migrated south when the drought of the 1200s made living in Gila cliff dwellings untenable. The genetic evidence suggests they ended up in Copper Canyon (where folks continue to live in cliff dwellings). Chatting with a ranger at the National Monument, I had a small inspiration: a ride from Chaco Canyon (northernmost trading center), through Paquime, to Copper Canyon. Maybe next fall? Regardless, I need to read more about the Pueblo revolt and ancient trade routes.

Gila cliff dwellings

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High-heeled sneakers

It’s been a while since the last update – much to tell. I’m going to break it into two posts: the last bit of Texas first and then New Mexico, so far.

I had a great experience in unfortunate circumstances at Crazy Cat Cyclery in El Paso. I’d ordered replacement tires to be drop shipped to them and anticipated a quick and easy swap. I’d swung by the bike shop Monday the 1st to introduce myself and got a call Tuesday morning that the tires had arrived. I was already on my way in to town, so it only took 15 minutes or so to roll into the parking lot. I chatted with Dave, who I’d met Monday, just to confirm the plan of action. He pointed me at a couple good spots to check out: a falafel spot around the corner and San Jacinto Plaza a few blocks away downtown. Lotte and I set off for the alligator fountain in the center of the plaza and hung out for a bit… then we got a call from Dave. Seems that the tires I’d ordered were not tubeless compatible.

Tangent for non bike weenies – the traditional setup, tires with tubes inside, is being supplanted in a lot of applications by a setup using special rim tape (to seal spoke holes), rims and tires that are tubeless compatible, and a healthy potion of latex sealant sloshing around inside the tire. The main feature that makes the rim and tire tubeless ready is a very tight fit at the bead – the place where the tire latches on to the rim. WTB has a good picture of what I’m talking about here.

I was a retrogrouch regarding tubeless. Mike at Maine Bike Works suggested it when we set up the bike, but no no no I was going to run with tubes. Then I talked with Liza and Tyson about their experiences on the Baja Divide Route. The word from them was that a ride like that (still on my to-do list) would be ridiculously difficult with tubes, much much better to go tubeless. So I converted.  It was a good decision – it’s impossible to know how many patches I would have put on tubes by now, but I can tell you that I accidentally ran over a couple twigs with 1″ thorns attached, gritted my teeth and pulled them off the tires. Bubbling latex, hole sealed and off I went. So I am very much a convert; Mike was right!

Back to a week ago in El Paso: I’ve had Schwalbe G-Ones on Molly Fin since the beginning. They’re got a tread that works well on pavement or dirt and plenty of volume which makes for a comfortable ride. But I’ve been doing most of my riding on pavement and I noticed that the tires were wearing quickly – especially the rear. So I decided to switch to Moto-Xs and in a fit of misplaced optimism managed to assume that any 27.5+ tire would be tubeless ready. Sadly, no. We had a couple options: Moto-Xs with tubes or stay with the G-Ones and swap front to back. I decided on the swap and Dave agreed with me. We looked for other 27.5+ alternatives that I could get shipped to the next big bike town, Tucson – no luck at all. I’m going to write Schwable an email, suggesting the Moto-Xs go tubeless, but that won’t help me this ride. I’m guesstimating that by the time I reach Tucson and fresh G-Ones, I’ll have a little over 3k miles on this set (2853 miles now) and I guess 2.5 – 3k is what I can expect going forward. It could be worse: one of the tires Dave and I looked at (and rejected as being too dirt oriented) was the Terravail Cumberland. I looked at a review of the tire later, just out of curiosity.

To illustrate tread wear, each tire was photographed (front at left and rear right) after about 300 miles on a somewhat equal amount of singletrack, gravel and pavement… 260+ miles loaded and over 40 unloaded. As shown, the grooved lines on the center tread are still intact. I would expect the tread on the Durable Cumberland 29×2.6 tires to last well over 1,000 miles. *

*huge grin*

Old woods hippie in front of an excellent cyclery. : David D. (incredibly helpful bike person)

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When the thing you’re experiencing…

… stops you from diagnosing the thing you’re experiencing :). My last morning in Marfa, I woke up dizzy. Tent spinning, can’t hold your eyes on a reference point, afraid to sit up dizzy. I forced myself to calm down and relax and the feeling passed. It recurred while I was showering a while later and, folks, I was concerned. Was I having some kind of mini-stroke? Had my inner ears decided to betray me? I have a friend who deals with vertigo – not fun.

I’ll bet you’ve already figured out what was going on, but it wasn’t until later in the morning after I’d moved around a bit that the light bulb went on for me. Marfa is at 4830′ above sea level and dizziness is a symptom of mild altitude sickness. Marfa is not high altitude by any means, but getting there by bike, thus high exertion levels, doesn’t help. It’s happened a couple times since; I pay attention to breathing deeply and regularly and >poof< all gone. Moral of the story – mildest possible oxygen deprivation does not make you smarter.

Daily driver

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Bees, hills and a late night.

An eventful few days since Marathon. I’m pitched up at El Cosmico in Marfa after taking a tangent through Big Bend country. I’m going to take a couple days off – today is day 1 – to recharge after a few big mileage days. It’s not that I’m turning into a marathon hound, more that 60 – 70 miles seems to be typical distance between water sources out here in W Texas.

No deep thoughts to share. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that a lot of my thinking this leg has been of the “one more hill, John” and “jeez my ass is sore” variety. That’s part of bike hoboing too, it’s not all meditation on glyptodonts. One observation: it seems that I start to notice altitude somewhere around 3600 feet. Nothing super obvious – just not quite as much oomph in my legs and a bit of lightheadedness and the occasional flashbulb going off  when I stop to rest after a good climb. We’ll see how quickly I acclimate.

One last random observation – there are a lot of bike tourers here at El Cosmico, And I’ve met a few on the road. It’s likely a function of the time of year (not summer vacation), but I seem to be right in the middle of the demographic age-wise. I’m obv hors catĂ©gorie when it comes to co-pilot, unusual bike and general hobo attitude 🙂 .

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Paris^H^H^H^H^HMarathon Texas

Taking a needed rest day in Marathon, Texas (a filming location for Wim Wender’s Paris, Texas – thus the title). It’s been a fun and strenuous few days moving out of scrub and caliche into high desert and mixed sandstone and caliche with real mountains on the horizon.

One of the things I’ve been thinking about while riding has been the past and the future of the land I’m riding through. I’ll save future for another day – too depressing – but imagining Pleisto-scenery has been a lot of fun. Two things have been big inspirations: all the vultures, black and turkey, eating road kill, and the rock shelters at Seminole Canyon. The vultures make me think of their big cousin, the California Condor and the tar pit illustration on the cover of Brooks’ Mythical Man Month. I’d really like to see something huge sitting on one of the roadside deer or calves. And another variety of road kill, armadillo, brings to mind an all time favorite: glyptodonts. The environment in and around Seminole Canyon reminded me a lot of the Dawn of Man sequence from 2001 – again tossing me back in time. So along I rode, imagining family groups of glyptodonts, herds of the extinct pronghorn, Tetrameryx shuleri, stalked by American cheetahs, all watched over by soaring condors. Proper!

Seminole Canyon

Travelogue below fold, as usual.

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Del Rio

A very short update – we clicked off approximately 70 miles today, riding US 90 from Uvalde to Del Rio. I’m not distance crazed, but the route was pretty flat, there was a slight tailwind and a Warmshowers host in Del Rio. Why not go for it? It was good riding – not exactly flow state, but something close. My legs were turning the pedals, the road was straight and I had a chance to watch birds and wildflowers, horizon lines and cloud deck. Today’s big sighting (not new, but I love seeing them) was a Caracara. The next section, especially Comstock to Marathon, is supposed to be pretty isolated. I’m going to restock tomorrow morning before heading to Seminole Canyon, but there may be a bit of a gap in blog updates. See y’all on the other side!

Pano with glitched p/u

Uvaldeeee

Checking in from Uvalde, Texas. A great few days of riding – I’m starting to get my rhythm going. A morning routine of making coffee, eating and breaking camp, riding for a good long time, and pulling in to the night’s camp site, getting set up, eating, showering, replenishing water bottles and having a bit of a nap. Again narrative to follow, but before that…

The wildflowers are getting underway!

Texas stork's bill

paintbrushes

diamond flowers

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Report from the road!

Coming to you from *clap clap clap clap* deep in the heart of Texas! I’m taking a rest day in Fredricksburg; though I’ve only been moving west for 2 days, I put a lot of miles and saddle time in kicking around Austin.Some impressions, and a more detailed chronology below the fold.

The experience so far has re-affirmed that, for me, the best way to really see (and hear and smell & that’s important) the world I’m moving through is pedaling along on a bike. Petrichor, the repeated kee-ah of frisky red shouldered hawks and small wildflowers right on the road margin are all things that are tougher to take in when one is moving faster. A convertible or a motorcycle might do it, but for me it’s all about the bike. On earlier rides I’ve found strangers consider me approachable – perhaps a “dude is probably crazy, but good crazy” vibe? Put a wee adventure teckel in a basket behind you and approachability becomes sheer Lotte-animal attraction.

Pedernales River pano

The bike has been performing beautifully. It’s a good solution to hauling an extra 16-20 pounds of dog and dog food and probably 7 or 8 of camera, lenses and electronics. It’s not fast up hill but it’s geared perfectly – I just downshift and goooo slooooow.

A more detailed narrative follows…

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A note on providential timing

Today is Fat Tuesday – Mardi Gras! – and I am in Austin, getting ready to head out on the Big Bike Ride tomorrow. The Mardi Gras Indian chant “Indian Red” supplied both the motto for the ride and the bike’s first name: M’allĂ© couri dans deser” which became “Madi cu defio, en dans dey”. I didn’t plan it, but it’s very fitting that I’m beginning my run into the wilderness the day after the parades, chants and partying come to a crescendo!

Shinrin Yoku

Via Maine Bike Works on Instagram, a heck of a good read on bicycling in a less competitive, less focused way. This has been, and is, very much my goal on the the bike – get myself back to that carefree feeling I had when I jumped on my crappy wonderful Sears Sting Ray knock-off as a kid.

At one time, Jacquie even thought about starting a male version of WOMBATS, and had “already dreamed up the acronym, which is M-A-N-A-T-E-E: the Male Auxiliary Non-Athletic Testosterone-Enhanced Enthusiasts! Just a silly retort, because it’s this giant thing that’s, of course, going extinct, but sort of a pleasant animal—and obviously not up to any seedy tricks.”*

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