Silver City is my last stop before Mexico. And it’s proved to be something of a find: alternative, liberal-minded, quirky and very bike friendly. To those familiar with Wales, it’s like Machynlleth in the desert (so without the rain). Yet again, I’ve been experiencing the all-encompassing and unifying embrace of bike culture, and have spent the last few days exploring the abundance of local singletrack, socialising, bike fettling – and storing up on massive amounts of cheap and tasty burritos.
I'm not a car fanatic, but despite my love of bicycles, I do have an admitedly bizarre fascination for big, gas guzzling American classics. Silver City is rife with them.
I love the boldness of their designs. The wheelchair sticker is the finishing, somewhat surreal touch.
A few streets away.
Outside the Food Basket supermarket.
First things first though. No sooner had we arrived in Silver City, then the kind folks at Gila Hike and Bike pointed us over to Jamie's bike-friendly houseshare. There we were promptly invited to camp out in the living room and set up HQ. Apparently the Bike House regularly scoops up passing bike tourers. It's an eclectic hangout, home to a violinist/roofer, an artist/carpenter, a uni professor/goofball, a trail maintenance worker/musician, a triathlete/student and a musician/student. As you'd expect with such a bunch, a interesting characters came and went too.
In fact, it had a somewhat magical, infinitely sprawling layout, complete with a dog (Muzquiz), black cat (Snowflake), duck (Mussolini) and chickens (Ginger Balls, Ramseys and Stuart, the cockroach hunting A-Team). The house was also home to a giant puppet making collective who put on plays and build floats at festival times. It's owner, Jamie, is sure we've entered into the age of Bikes and Giant Puppets: 'You can't function in the new world without learning to ride a bike. Not being able to ride a bike is on the same level as illiteracy.'
Mussolini and the chickens, a few of the many residents we met.
It's easy to find too. Just look for the house decorated with bikes.
Here's Jamie. I'm not sure if I've ever met anyone with as much positive energy and exuberance, flitting between sheer brilliant originality and complete lunacy... Jamie's a university professor, and as we rode back from one ride, he commented: 'Humans have an almost infinite capacity for civility, if they're given the right structure. Like this,' he said, pointing to his bike, 'and not that,' pointing to the university.
Delving into the former magnesium and iron mines that burrow beneath Boston Hill.
I managed to get a taste for most of the trail systems in the area, which can all be reached by bike from the centre of the city - like the Continental Divide and Little Walnut. Silver City seems to be a place where you really could live car free, a rare thing in America.
The contorted fingers of a Cholla cactus.
One of the most unusual trail features I've come across - a vast net made from stainless steel cables, cast across a deep chasm. Riding over it is like bobbing out at sea on a boat.
There's a wealth of interesting, grassroots projects going on in the city. The brightly decorated Bikeworks, housed in a big warehouse on the edge of town, is a bicycle co-op which will keep you mobile on the cheap. There you can work on your bike and buy/swap recycled parts.
Dave teaches a couple of kids to split a chain.
Then they get to work doing up some bikes that will be given away as Christmas presents. Bikeworks run a program to promote cycling amongst kids - put in as many hours as you are old doing up bikes and you get to keep one. Very cool.
The space was immaculately kept, with an impressive array of tool stations and shelf upon shelf of old parts waiting to be recycled.
Anna took the opportunity to straighten out her damaged Tubus rack that resulted from her recent spill. Luckily it's made from chromoly so is bend-happy.
Marcus and Dustin, from the Navajo reservation I'd ridden through, had rebuilt an early carbon Trek and a lovely lugged Japanese Centurian road bike. They were planning their maiden rides the next day.
On Sunday, I went for a locals ride, cycling through the Arenas Valley to Fort Baird. There's a lot of cowboy history here. Aside from being the birthplace of Billy the Kid (so named for his kid-like features which garnered him a lot of attention in the press), the area around Silver City was also home to the Buffalo Soldiers, the African American soldiers who were stationed here to fight the Apaches. There's lots of rich folklore to the area. We rode past Brewer Hill, named after Madame Brewer, who 'serviced' the African American soldiers. The gargantuan Milly took care of the Whites. Both women were astute business ladies and important figures in the local community. They provided loans for 1st properties of Hispanics and Afro Americans who couldn't get money from more conventional banks.
Also en route was this adobe church in Pinos Altos, built largely on donations from the Hurst family in 1898, who amassed their fortune in mining in the area.
Their son, William Randolf Hurst, then went on to become the powerful newspaper magnate - building the incredible Hurst Castle in California.
Putting down some mini roots for a few days is a good chance to recharge, repair bikes and embark on projects. This is Jeff's self made framebag, designed to squeeze between the seat and chainstays. Looks a bit like a squirrel coffin.
And here's the coke-can-cooker I made. I figure I'll be cooking less in Mexico, so can save some weight by sending the MSR Whisperlite onwards.
In fact, I'm losing my front panniers too, as I've culled my winter clothing. The theory is that as soon as we leave Silver City, things should start to warm up... I'm planning to get a rack top bag to fit to the front rack, for bits and bobs overflow, and a frame bag to fill in the dead space above the water bottles. Now that I'm not carrying a heavy DSLR, I'm running my Ortlieb bar bag again, which will be very practical for Mexico. Luckily it fits in nicely wedged up against Epic Designs' sling-style handlebar bag, which gives me lots of options for lightweight, hike and bike tours.
Now though, it’s time to move on from Silver City. Thank you Jamie and friends for all your kind hospitality.
I’m not sure if I was expecting to feel this, but I’ll be very sorry to leave the US. The last few months here have been nothing short of incredible; the majesty of the places I’ve ridden through matched only by the warmth of those who have welcomed me into their lives.
The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route has revealed remote and wild trails, incredible desert and mountain communities, and the US’ unavoidable mix of fearless individuality and adventure on the one hand, and its State of Fear mentality on the other…
The next blog post should be from Mexico, only 120 miles away…