Day 15: Santa Rosa, NM to Tucumcari, NM
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.