Archive for April 2006
Distance: 62 miles
Climbing: 1,900 feet
For more photos, be sure to check Flickr.
“At least it’s hump day,” said someone at breakfast this morning. Well, it’s true that we have only 14 days to go now, but I think the end seems near in more ways than that. Tomorrow is Anurang’s last day on the tour, for instance, and it will be completely different without him around. When we started, the number of cycling days seemed incomprehensible, and now only 14 are left. Before I know it, there will be fewer than ten, and then we’ll be down to less than a week with Chicago looming ever closer.
By then, though, I’ll be getting excited about seeing my home and family again.
But now I’m sitting in my all-time favorite motel on Route 66: The Blue Swallow of Tucumcari. I think I could live here quite comfortably. This town seems quiet and sleepy (and hot) on a Sunday afternoon, but it looks like a good life, and the Blue Swallow is such a lovely place. I can’t wait to see it tonight with the neon swallows lit up.
Physically, I feel the best that I have since the trip began. In fact, ever since that one good night of sleep in Las Vegas, I’ve felt great. Of course, it could be the last two days of tailwinds. Tomorrow the wind is supposed to change and we will have a real distance to ride (120 miles) through some flat, harsh and (frankly) boring countryside.
Getting back to today, Lon, Anurang, Jim Meyers, Reed Finfrock, and I rode first to the famous Blue Hole of Santa Rosa, which is a natural spring that also happens to be the only place where you can get certified as a scuba diver for hundreds of miles. People come from Colorado, I heard, to get their certification there. I suppose it’s booked pretty much solid for diving, and there were at least three groups of divers in it when we stopped by. Reed, who is a wonderful resource when it comes to anything natural history related, pointed out an invasive exotic plant (the name escapes me now) that the city of Santa Rosa really ought to try to extirpate from its perch on the lip of the Blue Hole.
After that, we climbed what Jim Meyers told me the locals call “Suicide Hill,” a little grade under the interstate, before following Route 84 to a frontage road. The day was already becoming warm. The frontage road turned into a long straight climb that Lon’s route card described as “steep.” When Lon puts “steep” on a route card, you’d better pay attention. Jim, Anurang, and I had fallen quite a bit behind Reed and Lon (taking off warm clothes and attending to other personal matters). I could see Lon and Reed a mile or two ahead on the climb as it got steeper and curved off to the right, but they were just two dots that hardly seemed to be moving at all. It was like watching the minute hand on a clock.
I decided to speed up a bit and left Anurang and Jim behind on the climb. When I got to the top, Reed and Lon were still just two dots, but now they were heading down an even longer, shallow descent – still perfectly straight. I figured they weren’t riding very hard, and since Lon was riding his single speed, I had enough of a slight advantage on that terrain that I might be able to catch up to them. That took about five minutes.
Did I mention that our promised western tailwind was blowing strongly? I know I’ll look back at today wistfully at some point during the next two weeks – perhaps as soon as tomorrow.
Not too long after I caught up to Lon and Reed (they really weren’t going very fast at all), we reached the turnoff for the Cuervo Cut-off. This is an old alignment of Route 66 that shaved off some miles from the very first route but was abandoned when a new alignment was laid out in 1952 (where the present-day I-40 is). It was paved, but the asphalt survives only sporadically where truck tires have kept the weeds down. Once it was twenty feet wide; today it’s just two strips of asphalt for truck tires. It rolls up and down some hills and dumps you out next to the interstate after seven miles.
We waited for Jim and Anurang (not far behind) before venturing onto the cut-off. It was a blast and in better shape than I remembered from five years ago, when I rode it alone with Lon after we’d messed around for an hour in Santa Rosa looking for an old alignment that probably had long ago vanished beneath the airport. I thought I was doing a lot better with my descending this time – almost keeping up with Lon, when I heard a “woo-woo-woo” from behind me and Anurang went blasting by both Lon and me. I guess he’s found his dirt legs.
During Cuervo, we caught up with a few riders who’d left ahead of us and, after finishing the cut-off, were back on the frontage road with the big tailwind at our back again.
Lon and I wound up ahead of the others at this point and I broached the idea of Anurang and me trying to ride Lon’s “Twin Air” Bike Friday tandem the next day on our long ride to Amarillo. He seemed initially receptive to the idea, but then started having second thoughts since the tandem has brand new wheels and Anurang has never captained a tandem before. I didn’t think that I was up to captaining with Anurang as the stoker, so I suggested that maybe Lon and Anurang could ride the tandem the next day, and I would just follow along behind them.
At the first rest stop, at mile 27, Lon suggested that he and Anurang try riding the tandem the rest of the way to Tucumcari. That meant changing the pedals and finding a bigger seat post and so on, which took about ten minutes. Then we set off.
I kept close as Lon explained the basics of tandem riding to Anurang. This was great for me, as it amounted to a master class in tandem riding. Sample exchange:
Anurang: “How do I know if I’m working hard enough?”
Lon: “If you… can talk… and I… can’t… you aren’t… working hard enough.”
Anurang loves to talk, so this could be interesting.
I was afraid that they might go so fast that I wouldn’t be able to keep up, but with a lot of spinning, both Jim Meyers and I managed to hold their wheel all the way to Tucumcari. It wasn’t even easy to follow them on the short climbs; they went at least 14 mph on them. I think this may have been one of the few times on the tour when Lon really had to put in some effort since he’s usually trying to slow himself down to our pace.
After we got to Tucumcari and had showers and lunch (we went to Kicks on 66, which was a good burger place and will hopefully also be a good breakfast place), we had a tour of the new murals that artists Doug and Sharon Quarles have painted around town, both inside and outside. Doug and Sharon led us all over downtown Tucumcari on their cruiser bikes, talking about each of the murals. These were fantastic and reminded me a lot of the Duboce Bikeway mural in San Francisco. Almost all the murals contain life-sized depictions of real people and wildlife from this area, and the backgrounds usually show real geographical features as well. My favorites were twin murals on either side of the interior of Lena’s Café. The café is closed on Sundays, but Lena herself met us to let us in for a look. The typical luncheonette booths are set away from the walls so that you can see the murals better (and probably to keep salsa and scrambled eggs off of them, too).
It’s twilight now and the neon signs at the Blue Swallow have been lit for a few minutes. I’ve already downloaded my photos for today, but I’ll take a couple of pictures tonight and upload them tomorrow if all goes well.
With 120 miles to do tomorrow and no more tailwind in the forecast, my plan is to follow “Team Lonurang” on the tandem if at all possible. Lon thinks they can cover the distance in about eight and a half hours of riding time, with an hour for lunch.
Distance: 78 miles
Climbing: 2,400 feet
For more photos, be sure to check Flickr.
If yesterday (Day 13) was about the sorts of things that make this trip occasionally challenging, then today was like winning the PAC Tour lottery.
The lights came back on at 11:30 last night, so I got up and posted what I’d written and uploaded my pictures. I then went back to sleep. I think I probably slept close to nine hours last night, which is about two more than I’ve been averaging on this trip. As a result, I felt a lot better when I got up today, and felt pretty good throughout the day, although the cycling conditions might have had something to do with that.
When I looked outside at first light, the sky still seemed pretty threatening, but by the time we walked across the road for breakfast it was starting to clear somewhat, although it was still chilly. Lon, Anurang, and I left the motel with the intention of checking out downtown Las Vegas, which is about as unlike the other Las Vegas as it could possibly be.
The town bills itself as the best-preserved example of western boomtown architecture in the west, and I believe them. The center of town is full of the lovely Italianate buildings such as a well-to-do person would have wanted circa 1900 to 1910. Many buildings were constructed of native stone (and there’s some nice stone around here) and then faced with bricks brought in on the railroad.
Once we got rolling, it was clear that the forecast north wind was blowing steadily, and what seemed like arduous hills on the way into town melted beneath our wheels. I believe we were the last riders to leave Las Vegas, thanks to our sightseeing detour, but we almost caught up to Joe and Phil before the first rest stop at about 27 miles. Very light Saturday morning traffic on Highway 84 and beautiful New Mexico scenery also made the miles go more pleasantly.
At one point, I made them stop and look behind us: the mountains we came over yesterday were covered in snow. Lon said he heard that it snowed in Glorieta Pass yesterday, in fact. Well, New Mexico needed the rain, so I’m glad we were able to do our part to end the drought.
We continued on Highway 84 through the town of Dilia, which is where five years ago Lon, myself, Don Norvelle, and Gary Bass tried to find the great lost shortcut to Colonias. Although Lon had a note about this possible old alignment on the route card, I don’t think he expected anyone to try taking it, since he hadn’t had a chance to scout it out properly since 2001 and still wasn’t sure where the road actually was.
You can probably get most of the story from my 2001 Route 66 website, but the short version is that that we got lost when we took a dirt road from around Delia and finally got directions from some ranchers who were out looking for a lost puppy (which Lon found for them). One of the ranchers gave Lon his card and said he could help him figure out the route, but Lon misplaced the card a couple of times and was never able to get back in touch with the guy.
So, we were keeping an eye out for a road that might be the correct one branching off to the left toward Colonia. The alternative was to continue straight south on 84, make a left turn when we hit I-40, and then take that east to Santa Rosa. Lon’s theory was that the Delia-Colonia road would eliminate this right-angle route and shorten the distance like the hypotenuse of a triangle.
Lon suspected that County Road #40 might be a candidate, although it was quite a few miles past Delia. I noticed what I thought was the dirt road we took five years ago, and I kept an eye out for other possibilities, but I didn’t see anything very promising until Lon pointed out what turned out to be #40 switchbacking over a distant low hill to our left. When we got to the road, we stopped to wait for Anurang and decided that we might as well see where it seemed to go. We were still a few miles shy of the second rest stop, so we also flagged down Joe and Phil before they passed us, and told them to let Rosemary know not to wait for us.
County Road #40 headed due east from Highway 84 for about a mile before reaching some ranch buildings at the base of the hill, and the first few hundred yards were actually paved. A sign said that it was called Moon Ranch Road. When we got to the ranch, a pickup truck pulled out, so we stopped to talk and see if we could find out where we were going.
The rancher was tall, lean, and dark, with a black moustache and a cowboy hat. I got the feeling he was a bit suspicious of us at first, but as Lon explained what we were doing, his attitude softened a bit to where I think he just thought we were harmless eccentrics. Yes, he said, the road did go through to Colonia; you just kept going until you hit pavement at a t-intersection. If you turned left, you’d go to Colonia, and if you turned right, you’d go to the interstate, near Stuckey’s.
This sounded promising, so we continued on. Anurang and I could see that Lon was excited about possibly filling in this part of the Route 66 puzzle, but it was a lovely ride in and of itself. We went for over an hour without seeing a single vehicle, although we did scare a few cows.
The road was well maintained, but it was basically hard-packed dirt and good-sized gravel. It wound up and down, following the contours of the land, until we finally did reach the promised asphalt road. Sure enough, a left turn would take you down to Colonia, and the paved road was called the Colonia Road. We probably should have taken the left turn to see what would happen, but instead we decided to go right and see how far it was to the interstate. I was pretty convinced that the road we were on used to be Route 66 before 1937, but neither Lon nor I was sure how it related to the road we had been on five years previously.
This paved road was really nice with, again, almost no traffic. At one point Lon wondered whether maybe this was the road we had reached Stuckey’s on five years ago, since it reminded him a lot of where he found the puppy, but it was pretty clear that the asphalt had been there longer than that. Eventually, we topped a rise and saw the telltale semis in the distance. A little closer, and we could see Stuckey’s, which was off to our left. We pulled in there to get some snacks and drinks, since we had been almost 50 miles without any support.
Inside Stuckey’s, I asked the lady at the cash register if the road to Colonia went anywhere after Colonia. Oh yes, she said, to Moon Ranch. I said we’d come on the Moon Ranch Road but wondered if the old road had used to go straight, perhaps to Delia? She wasn’t sure, but she asked another woman who worked there, and she said that the road used to go straight but that now it was private property.
So, we got on I-40 and rode, quickly, downhill and with the wind at our backs, to Santa Rosa. One complication: the interstate was being resurfaced, so there was no clear indication where the shoulder was for most of the way to town. This was a bit disconcerting, but we managed to get in all right.
Anurang and I grabbed a grilled cheese sandwich at the motel’s restaurant (the worst fries on Route 66 said Anurang) before he, Lon, and Franz took the van back to Colonia to see if any sign of a road still existed north from there.
Distance: 70 miles
Climbing: 4,400 feet
For more photos, be sure to check Flickr.
What can I say about today? We had all the ingredients for a classic PAC Tour experience: bountiful headwind, hard rain, and a seemingly endless series of rolling hills. But it wasn’t all good.
We got out of Santa Fe fairly quickly and after a few miles got onto I-25, which would take us all the way up and over Glorieta Pass. This was all climbing, but it wasn’t too steep until the last couple of miles. The scenery was beautiful and, although there were plenty of clouds in the sky, we had relatively nice weather, for which I was grateful. I heard later that it snowed at the pass after we went through.
The top of the pass was at mile 18, after which we descended gradually toward the town of Pecos. I say “we,” but I lost track of Anurang early during the climbing. This descent was one of the most pleasant parts of the day’s riding — not that there was a lot of competition for that distinction.
There was a rest stop near the Pecos Monument Ruins, which jogged my memory from five years ago. This time, though, our rest stop was across the street from the visitor’s center.
After this rest stop came a series of gradual climbs for 19 miles or so until we got to the turnoff for the village of San Jose. There was another rest stop here as well as an “explorer” option to go one mile down a gravel road to see an abandoned original Route 66 bridge. When I got there, several guys were standing around wondering whether this really was the right turn for the bridge. The rollers and the wind (now coming from the east) were slowing folks down enough that they were reluctant to gamble on going one extra mile down the road. This seemed crazy to me, so I went down the road, (which has apparently been paved sometime in the past five years), dodged two big black barking dogs who chased me, found the bridge, and took some pictures of it as well as of the local church.
Eventually other riders, including Lon and Anurang, showed up. I left the rest stop with Lon and some others (Anurang was still messing around in San Jose), and started on what would prove to be the hardest section of the ride, most of which I ended up riding by myself.
The clouds had been getting more threatening, and soon after leaving the rest stop I started to feel some sprinkles. So, I put on my rain jacket. I road a little farther and decided to put on my rain pants, booties, and long gloves. Now the rain started to come down in earnest, so I was glad I had all this stuff. And, as Franz had observed, it was starting to “chill off” (must be a Canadian expression). Staying warm was never a problem, though. Sometime during all of this wardrobe adjusting I got behind Lon and never saw him again.
After a while, the rain stopped and I took off my rain jacket but left on the pants and booties since they’re harder to take on and off and I didn’t seem to be in any danger of overheating. Now, I concentrated on just getting up the hills. These were especially awful because as soon as you got to the top of one long series of them, you would see the next series waiting for you. “What have I done to deserve this?” went through my mind more than once. Making matters worse, it was now well past lunch time and I hadn’t been eating or drinking enough (a common occurrence when the weather’s bad). I made myself slow down and eat a couple of PowerBars, which eventually perked me up a bit.
Finally, after about 64 miles, I came to a gas station mini-mart, which also marked the turn to Las Vegas. It seemed like it was starting to rain again, so I decided to pull in and get some more food and put the rain jacket back on. I had an egg salad sandwich, some water, and a Hershey bar. When it went out to get ready to leave (now it was getting really cold, Anurang pulled up in great spirits and announced: “I’m going to have a hot dog!”
By now it was raining hard. I left Anurang to his hot dog and started on the last six miles of the ride, some of which, at least, were downhill. The rain was bouncing off the pavement; I think it might have been semi-hail. When a drop would catch me on the lower lip, it hurt like heck, so I tried to keep my head down and just concentrate on getting into town.
I was really, really, really glad when I finally found the Santa Fe Inn. And they have an excellent free wireless connection. Anurang rolled in after I’d showered, followed shortly by Bruce Fields and then a smiling Susan Rosenblatt, who gets my nomination for gutsiest rider. Leon told me how he nearly froze while fixing a flat tire. Because he’s faster, he managed to ride in the rain for a couple of hours at least.
Anurang and I went to dinner with Lon and the crew at an excellent restaurant that I think is associated with the hotel a little after five o’clock. Not long after we got our entrees, though, the power went out.
In fact, the power is still out. I’m sitting in my room in the dark typing this on battery power. Wireless? Gone. The phone doesn’t work either. And it’s still raining.
The good news is that once this storm peters out sometime tomorrow morning, we’re forecast to have a tailwind to push us south to Santa Rosa. And the forecast for Sunday is even nicer, with sunny skies and a west wind that could get us to Tucumcari. Let’s just hope the power comes on before tomorrow morning….
Distance: 74 miles
Climbing: 4,300 feet
For more photos, be sure to check Flickr.
Today was all about La Bajada. We left Albuquerque around 7:30 after a great breakfast at the Village Inn. (Anurang, who is sitting next to me right now says “What is the point of writing the blog; I’m giving you all the information. And not only that, you make fun of me. I could sue you for hurting my feelings. Is tomorrow supposed to be a beautiful day?” He’s still going on, but I’ll stop now.)
Before we left, I said to Lon: “Anurang and I have decided that we’re going to hammer today.”
Lon took this in stride. “It’s about time.”
Albuquerque is a big city, so it takes quite a while to get out of it. I was kidding about hammering, but we did start out at a pretty good clip behind Franz, who is a strong rider. Our group of four or five eventually caught up to another group of four or five as we fought the rush hour traffic through town.
Thunderclouds were much in evidence, and at one point I could see where it was raining up ahead of us (in fact, it rained on Jay, who is one of our fastest riders). After 18 miles, we reached the town of Benalillo, where it had clearly just rained. I counted only one bike amongst our group that had fenders, so it was pretty messy and my lovely wool Swobo jersey got spotted with mud on the back.
Shortly after this, I decided that I’d had enough of “hammering,” so Anurang and I dropped off the back of the paceline and settled into a more manageable speed: “sweet sixteen” as Anurang said. Unfortunately, the wind, which has been mostly from the south since I can remember, was now blowing from the north, so “sweet sixteen” soon became “slow thirteen.” But at least I could see something more than the rear tire of the guy in front of me.
After a couple of miles, another paceline of a few riders caught up to us, so we followed them for a while. Scott Alperin, who was on the tour five years ago as far as Albuquerque, and who joined us today to ride as far as Amarillo, was pulling these guys. After resting at the back for a while, I went up to the front to give Scott a break for a couple of miles before we reached the first rest stop at Algondones.
From here, we got on I-25 heading toward Santa Fe. Lon caught up to us on this stretch, so I rode with him for most of it. We stopped after passing an Indian casino in San Felipe to take a photo of “The Big Notch,” which was the way the old road used to come over the hill. We were riding a series of very big rollers that gradually gained us some altitude.
After 15 miles of the interstate, Lon and I climbed over a concrete barrier to get on a nice frontage road that took us the last couple of miles up to where the van was parked for the second rest stop. This was the last stop before La Bajada, so Lon warned everyone who was planning to do that option to make sure that they had enough food and water to last them several hours. Most of the fast guys we’d ridden with early in the morning had already left, but we (Lon, Anurang, Phil, and myself) waited around until all the riders had reached the rest stop, especially Susan, who Lon knew wanted to do La Bajada.
A little bit about La Bajada: It supposedly means “the descent” in Spanish, although we would be climbing it. As a route, it’s centuries older than Route 66. In fact, Route 66 only went through Santa Fe before 1937, so La Bajada’s tenure as a Route 66 byway accounts for only a small portion of its history. It’s never been paved. Going up it now, it’s hard to imagine how Model T’s ever managed it, although I suppose it’s changed a lot since those days. It’s a volcanic escarpment so there are lots of big igneous rocks everywhere on the “road,” which is more like a steeply switchbacking hiking trail than a former highway.
Lon, Anurang, Phil, Susan, Scott and I all started together. We broke up into three separate groups pretty quickly: Phil and I were at the front of the regular La Bajada route, Lon and Anurang decided to take an older route to the top that forked off after about a third of the climb, and Susan and Scott were a bit behind Phil and me.
Lon always makes La Bajada sound like a highway to hell when he describes it to people, but it’s really not that bad if you’re willing to walk a few sections. I had to walk more sections than I recalled from five years previous, but I think I rode more than half of the climb, as did Phil. The views were stunning.
Once you reached the top of the plateau, the riding became much easier: basically across a grassy plain with a two-track hard-packed (mostly) dirt road. Phil and I rode until we got to the point where I reckoned the route that Lon and Anurang were on rejoined ours and stopped there to eat and drink a bit while we waited for them and for the other two. They showed up in about 10 minutes, and Scott and Susan arrived not much later.
Now we had about seven more miles across the plateau before a “steep gravel downhill” (I live for those – not), after which we met the SAG truck driven by Rosemary.
I confess: I was getting tired at this point. Riding through all that sand and gravel takes a lot of spinning, and spinning isn’t one of my strong suits. But we still had 10 more miles of riding, some of which were uphill. Fortunately, the wind had now changed back to its normal southern self, so it wasn’t too long before we entered Santa Fe.
After getting cleaned up, I had just enough time for a quick walk around the plaza and to upload some photos at a wireless-enabled café across the street before meeting my sister-in-law and her husband for a really nice dinner in town.
The forecast for tomorrow is rain, and they could really use it here. My ideal would be for it to rain a lot – wherever we aren’t. We’ll see tomorrow, I guess, when we climb Glorietta Pass – the highest point on this trip.
Distance: 78 miles
Climbing: 5,000 feet
For more photos, be sure to check Flickr.
I woke up at 4:00 this morning thinking, “Did I charge the bike computer?” I had no choice but to get up and see if I had.
I hadn’t. What’s worse, it wouldn’t turn on. It had been acting up during the previous day – shutting off at random – but I’d been able to re-start it each time. Now it wouldn’t do anything.
This irked me. You see, this was an extravagantly expensive (by my standards) GPS-based bike computer that purports to tell me (based on satellite data) how fast I’m going (not very, is usually a good guess), how far I’ve gone, what direction I’m heading, my current altitude, time of day, elapsed time, and calories burned. This last would be more useful if it simply displayed in milkshake units.
Anyway, it wasn’t displaying anything. I blamed myself for letting a sexy technology seduce me away from the keep-it-simple ethos of the true randonneur. Who am I to mock those with busted aero wheels and broken STI shifters, when I have this satellite thingie on my handlebars?
Then I looked in one of my water bottles, and that upset me as well. Yuk! And I don’t have any brushes with me to clean them or my CamelBak, which is also starting to look a bit dodgy in the tube.
And my knees were very sore yesterday after our ride and were still a bit sore when I woke up this morning.
As I was telling Anurang how all this stuff conspired to keep me awake after I woke up at 4:00 this morning, and how it put me completely out of sorts, he laughed. “This is the Jim I love!” he said. “It’s just like you are before a double.” OK, I’m glad someone finds panicked Jim lovable at least.
And yet, I had a great day. After breakfast at the Grant’s Café (not bad, but I probably didn’t order enough; just French toast and cream of wheat), I hurried back to my room to call Garmin tech support to see if they could miraculously bring my computer back to life once they came online at 8 Central time. After half an hour on hold, during which I somehow managed to finish getting ready to go, I was connected to a tech support guy who gave me the magic reset button combination.
Voila: working bike computer. It had even charged a bit while it was seemingly dead. The tech guy had suggested that I download newer software to correct possible “anomalies,” but of course I have a Mac, and they don’t support Macs yet (later this year). And I don’t have a USB cable for the bike computer. Then it occurred to me: What about that cable that Anurang had bought at Radio Shack in Barstow that actually didn’t fit his camera (we were guessing)? Turns out it’s the right size for the bike computer, and he has a Windows laptop. So, sometime in the next few days we will try to do an upgrade.
I asked Lon about spare water bottles, which he had, but decided to go with just my own good one and the CamelBak for now. I can mail order some cleaning stuff tonight.
As for my knees, I did ice them some last night, and I’ve been taking my anti-inflammatory twice a day. I even did some yoga stretching this morning. I also resolved to stay out of the big chain ring as much as possible today – to just ride easy and give myself a rest if at all possible.
When we rolled out at 8:00, there was a bit of wind, but it was light enough not to make life miserable, and although it did pick up a little bit later in the day, it was pretty steady from the south, and we were heading east. So that helped.
It also helped that took us through some of the most scenic parts of the trip. Almost immediately after leaving Grants, we were passing more black lava fields – this time dotted with Chula cacti in bloom. The temperature was perfect and the skies blue with just a few puffy clouds here and there (this will probably change soon from what I gather).
I had left with Anurang, Franz, and our Scottish friends (this was the last day they’d be riding with us for a while, if not forever, as they’re not doing our northern detour toward Santa Fe and expect to be two days ahead of us at least as far as Amarillo). Lon pretty quickly caught up to us.
We were on quiet country roads without much traffic. This was Indian country for the most part. We stopped to look at a Whiting Brothers gas station, at an old steel bridge from 1941, and at Santa Maria Mission. I remembered a lot of this from our trip five years ago, although the order of things had become jumbled in my mind.
As was the case five years ago, the stone and wood carver named Frederico was not in his workshop when we passed, which I think disappointed Lon. You could tell even from the outside of his property that it must be a pretty amazing place.
After a stop in New Laguna Pueblo for water and food, we proceeded on what Lon says is one of his favorite parts of the old road. It really was lovely and, yes, Owl Rock does look like an owl, although it could have as easily been called Ewok Rock.
At Mesita, we started an “Explorer’s Option” that was fabulous. Ten miles of riding the old road with just one pickup truck along the way. We saw more old bridges, an unidentified snake, and a weird assemblage of two broken children’s bicycles and the skull and spine of a horse. This was one of the strangest things I’d ever seen on a bike ride, but I later found out it was the work of Leon and not some Indian shaman.
Lon was encouraged to see that several bicycles tracks were visible in the sand that occasionally covered the pavement. He’s concerned that some people are skipping the sightseeing and exploring aspects of this trip and treating it like a regular Pac Tour where you just concentrate on getting to the next motel as quickly as possible. “All these hammerheads…” he grumbled. “We don’t hammer, Lon,” said Anurang. “Just mallet.”
This part of the road was actually much more ridable than any of us remembered from five years previous. There had been much more sand then; it was almost as though someone had swept the road clear.
When we finally emerged from the optional route, the sag truck was waiting for us with food and water, along with Gavin and Rhona towing their trailers. Now came a long series of rolling climbs first on I-40 and then (after a bit of fence hopping) on a frontage road to get us to our lunch stop at mile 62.5. This was at a giant truck stop/Indian casino, the name of which escapes me now, but I think you can catch Howie Mandel or The Fabulous Thunderbirds there.
At the Roadrunner Café, a modern 50’s themed restaurant, they even let me plug in my bike computer to get the battery charged up enough to last the rest of the ride.
After lunch, one long, shallow climb on both I-40 and a frontage road (no hopping required this time), which Lon, Anurang, Franz, Gavin and Rhona and I all did pretty much together.
That was followed by a quick, straight descent down Central Avenue right into Albuquerque. Both Anurang and I got up to about 40 miles an hour briefly. “First time this trip, dude!”
Traffic was hellacious in the city, but we fortunately didn’t have too far to go before crossing the Rio Grande and finding our motel.
I felt the best I have physically for some time; my knees certainly feel better than last night. Let’s hope the trend continues.
Distance: 62 miles
Climbing: 1,500 feet
For more photos, be sure to check Flickr.
The only thing that sucks more than headwind is having Microsoft Word crash after you’ve been typing for half an hour. Which it just did here at the Grants Laundromat.
Anyhow, as I was saying (pause while I save), we had a great wireless connection in the lobby of the fabulous El Rancho hotel last night, so I managed to get caught up a bit. It was quite a sight at 9:00 or so, with half a dozen Pac Tour riders sitting in the ranch-style armchairs in the lobby with their laptops in front of them. I e-mailed Anurang two chairs down to let him know that I’d posted the day’s Flickr photos. I finished up by 11:00, but I think Lynette was out there until 1:00 or so.
The next morning, I checked my tires and discovered that the front had gone soft, although not completely deflated, during the night. So I took it off the bike and went out to sit on the hotel’s porch to fix it. A Japanese tourist came out to take a picture of the hotel front and I could see him hesitate while deciding whether my presence would spoil his shot or not. He opted for a picture of the hotel with a cyclist fixing a bike wheel in front of it.
Mindful of the price I paid for not having found the guilty thorn in my front tire the first time a few days ago, I checked the tire inside and out. I could find nothing that might have caused a puncture. John Welch told me a technique that he had heard about, but never actually tried, that involves running a lady’s stocking along the inside of the tire on the theory that the stocking will snag on things that your finger might not feel. Alas, I packed no lady’s stocking on this particular trip. So, I went ahead and replaced the tube and hoped for the best.
After a pancake breakfast, I was ready for a “rest” day of just 62 miles with a slow climb to the Continental Divide followed by a mostly downhill run to Grants. I decided that one good way to pace myself would be to stick with Anurang for the duration of the climb, and that’s exactly what I did. It took about two hours to get there, and about half of the climb was on the interstate again.
When we got to the rest stop at the Continental Divide, we reconnected with Rhona and Gavin, the Scottish cyclists who are 11 months into a 12-month trip around most of the world for charity. That was great because it gave Lon the opportunity to give them the spare route cards that he’d found for them.
Anurang, Lon, and I left the rest stop at the Divide together with the Scots, and we headed for Grants on the frontage road. Here’s the strange thing: yesterday we were essentially climbing all day and feeling like we were descending because of the tailwind we had. Today, we were pretty much descending all day, but having to work hard to do it, as the wind got progressively worse. Some of the time, I rode behind Lon and Gavin, who were discovering mutual acquaintances and discussing all sorts of things I couldn’t really hear over the wind. Other times, I rode with Anurang and Rhona, who were keeping a slightly more reasonable pace.
Anurang told me later that we rode this same stretch five years ago 50 minutes faster (on the bike) than today. I believe it. Toward the end, it really felt like we were crawling. So much for a “rest” day. However, we did finally get in early enough to have time to eat a big lunch at the Grants Café with our new friends and to wash clothes in a real laundromat rather than in the sink.
(For lunch, I had some pretty spicy cheese enchiladas. Lon ordered a bowl of chili. After it came and he took one bite, he called the waitress back and asked if he could please have a cheeseburger. I don’t think they make the chili quite that hot in Wisconsin.)
After getting back from the laundromat, I offered to let Gavin and Rhona check their e-mail et cetera on my laptop while I got my stuff sorted out. It was nice to have an excuse not to be writing this, so I got out my Route 66 ukulele and noodled for a bit. Next thing I knew, it was time for dinner.
Ride. Eat. Eat. Ride. Such is our life. This time, we walked a hundred yards farther to a place called El Cafecito or something like that. I had some New Mexico-style burritos to complement my earlier enchiladas. I have also become addicted to sopapillas with honey. Rhona and Gavin joined us and we heard more about their travels and talked about all kinds of stuff cycling-related and otherwise.
Distance: 100 miles
Climbing: 3,100 feet
For more photos, be sure to check Flickr.
What a great day! This was one of the most fun days we had on our trip five years ago, but today was even better. For one thing, the wind finally shifted to the west, which meant it was giving us a good push all day long. That went a long way toward making me feel as though I’m finally getting stronger and riding better, although my aching knees this evening tell a slightly different story.
My alarm went off at 5:00 am because we planned to head off for breakfast around 6:00. It takes me about an hour to get everything together each morning and figure out how to get it all back into the Pac Tour bag. Plus, there were the last ten minutes of this classic Twilight Zone episode with one of the Darrens from Bewitched, you know, the one who was also in the movie about the Scopes trial. Honestly, I was just trying to find the Weather Channel.
Anurang and I rode the three quarters of a mile down the road to Joe and Aggie’s, where we had a fair breakfast but enjoyed great service. Although I ate French toast, two eggs, and two good-sized sausage patties (and a banana when I first got up in my wigwam), I was still hungry all morning long.
Rollout was at 7:30, and the wind was helpful right off the bat. We started toward the back of the pack and enjoyed the easy pedaling after a longish shallow climb out of town. After four miles, we had to get on the interstate. Lon got a bit irked when some riders ahead of us skipped the first option at mile 18, which was actually a very nice frontage road. It did dead end at a junkyard though, where we had to jump a fence to get back onto I-40. The fence wasn’t too bad, but the “goathead” thorns all around it were nasty.
After a few more miles we got off the interstate again at the exit for Petrified Forest National Park, which also was our first rest stop. The next dirt option starts inside the Park ($5 per bike entry fee) and is one of the highlights of the whole trip, in my opinion. There is still old pavement, but there is also a lot of sand. Very quickly, you find yourself in what seems like the middle of nowhere. It’s hard to believe that thousands of cars used to travel this route until you step a few feet into the desert and see all the old tin cans.
This is also one of the longer “off-road” options, lasting about 12 or 13 miles. We tried to stay in small groups as that made it easier to get over the few fences that we had to hop along the way. I concentrated on trying to relax and let my bike find its way through the sandy bits. It’s still a little unnerving when I feel the wheels slipping beneath me, but so far so good.
I found some reading glasses on the road and stopped to scoop them up, figuring there was a good chance they belonged to one of our riders. We have a lot of people on this tour who need reading glasses, yours truly included, although I’m fortunate that I can still read Pac Tour route sheets without them. When we got to Gallup, I found out that they belonged to Gerd.
A few more miles on the interstate took us to yet another nice frontage road. Frankly, I think old frontage roads are nice when you have a ripping tail wind. Even the interstate is nice under those circumstances.
Lunch was at the Sanders Diner, which is an original Valentines Diner. I didn’t see anyone in there except Navajos and Pac Tour riders. It’s in pretty decrepit shape, but it is for sale. Four of us started lunch a little after 1:00 and were finishing up around 2:00 when Anurang said something about how late we would be getting in to Gallup.
“If we ride well,” said Lon, “we should be in in two and a half hours.”
There was a pregnant pause as we all pondered what Lon meant by riding “well.”
“And what if we ride like we usually do?” I asked.
In fact, it took us just a little under three hours. Although we had to briefly get on the interstate again, most of our remaining miles were on frontage roads and Route 118 (into Gallup). Shortly after leaving lunch, the landscape started to seem more like New Mexico to me, with pinon pines and grass. Although it hardly felt like it with the tailwind, we were climbing pretty much all day, and the temperature was cool when you stopped and could feel the wind.
The sculpted cliffs on the side of the road were as impressive as I remembered from five years ago. We crossed the border into New Mexico and after passing many many motels and most of the town itself, found ourselves at the El Rancho.
The rooms in this hotel aren’t that much bigger (or more modern) than a wigwam, but the lobby is spectacular (it kind of reminds me of Will Rogers’s house). Will Rogers probably stayed here, along with most of the other great old movie stars. The rooms are named much more impressively than the ones in Seligman, although I have to admit that I’d never heard of the person whose name adorns my door: Zachary Scott.