One last storm. Or so I hope.
The ride from Pie Town to Silver City, just 120 miles from the Mexican border, proved to be a little more challenging than we were expecting. The gauntlet was thrown down one last time. And I like that. It’s good to be humbled, and reminded that Mother Nature can always put you well and truly in your place.
Storms were brewing as we left the idyllic haven of Pie Town. Snow had been forecast, though Stan confidently assured us we'd experience little more than a 'dusting' along our route.
Clouds were puffing up in all kinds of dramatic shapes.
And it was getting chilly. Here's Jeff in full cold-combat mode.
And here's the promised dusting of snow.
Still, it was undoubtedly beautiful; New Mexico is wild and remote in feel.
Now that the days are shorter, the temperatures colder, there's a rhythm to the evenings. Ride till dusk. Gather wood. Pitch tent. Light fire. Gulp down food. Chat philosophically round the blaze. Sleep.
Up in the higher reaches, snow had begun to gather.
But more of a worry was the dirt track that was rapidly becoming a mudpit. Mud jammed under the braces of suspension forks, or in mudguards, reducing us to an abrupt standstill.
It even stuck to shoes when we pushed the bikes. (now I know what it's like to wear stilettos)
In fact, the only way around it was to heft the mud-laden bikes onto the grasslands along the road, clean them as best we could...
... and push.
Then came the snow. Definitely more than a dusting. It was cold...
And conditions were starting to look a little bleak.
Though luckily for us, it was something of a blessing in disguise, as the snow softened to tacky mud, and allowed us to ride again.
Mind you, not the best places to have a mechanical. The mud and snow wreaked havoc on derailleurs, and abruptly, Jeff's chain snapped.
Luckily, the Rohloff hub was still trucking along happily.
Despite its icy shell.
Hm. Not a lot to see...
With repairs seen to, we scrunched our way through snow and ice.
There was a definite icy beauty to the surroundings. Perhaps not what I was expecting to see in southern New Mexico, but stunning none the less.
By now, it was getting (even) colder, and darkness was beginning to fall too.
Time to find a campspot, and light a massive fire.
Anna's Tubus front rack needed some TLC too. I forgot to mention the deep sand that had pocked the trail the day before. Hitting one patch fast, she stacked, earning herself a nasty bruising and bending her front rack.
Heading back onto the trail from our camping spot the following morning.
Thankfully, the road was clear and, with a little imagination, there was even a few hints of sunshine. We stopped at Beaverhead Work Station to clean the bikes, fill up our water bottles and prepare ourselves for the three big climbs ahead.
This area is close to Geronimo's birthplace, the famous Chiricahua Apache. Geronimo fought against the invasion of his people's tribal land for decades after his family was killed by Mexican troops near Casas Grandes in 1858. No one knows exactly where Geronimo was born; apparently in Apache tradition, the birthplace remains secret in order to return there to meditate and receive strength.
The road climbed and dipped relentlessly onwards. Most of it was fairly fast riding, mined with unexpected muddy patches that slowed us right down to a pitiful crawl. At the top of one 8000 ft pass, a man with a silver moustache and a cowboy hat pulled over in his log-laden truck, and announced that a storm was due in 'in one hour', bringing with it up to two foot of snow. Great news! Worried we might get stuck in the mountains, we pushed on even when darkness fell, slipping and sliding our way down a rocky, icy gully of a trail.
After a few precarious stacks, we decided to call it a night. Wood was gathered and a fire was hastily built. We cooked our food in pots heated by the embers and mulled over the information we'd been given. When would the storm hit?
As luck would have it, the storm passed us by that night, and we awoke to blue skies and sunshine.
One last climb lay ahead, before the trail emerged up on the Continental Divide ridgeline. In fact, this was our last big climb of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route.
Volcanic views. Sunshine at last!
After a fast descent, we emerged back onto pavement, detouring to the Gila Hot Springs on the banks of the Gila River. The road there was beautiful but tortuous, with steep, punishing climbs. In fact, this road forms part of the 105 miles final stage of the Tour de Gila, deemed enough of a challenge for Lance Armstrong to race this year.
Sinuous, 1000ft climbs were rewarded with big views.
Driftwood artwork at the springs. Unfortunately by the time we made it there, the grumpy German running the only store for miles around decided to shut early for the day; he actually shooed Jeff, who'd raced ahead to make it there five minutes before closing time, disdainfully away. Luckily his far kinder neighbour offered us all the ingredients for a gourmet dinner: pasta, sauce and elkmeat.
The ride to Silver City along the mountain road was no less forgiving, emerging at the historic settlement of Pinos Altos, on the Great Divide, before a final plummet down to Silver City. There, the local bike shop, Gila Hike and Bike, found us a wonderful place to stay and recharge our batteries. The very last leg of the US lies ahead. Only 120 miles to Mexico!