Day 44: Cuba to the Divide - 82 miles

It was a cold morning so I was glad that I had been in a motel last night. I had turned on the heater so the room was quite toasty, but outside was another matter. I turned on the TV to see if I could get a weather forecast but the local news was focused on the Albuquerque Balloon Festival. This is an annual weeklong event that started that morning and attracted hundreds of baloonists from all over the world.

There was the most amazing array of different coloured, shaped and sized balloons floating serenely against the bright blue sky. There are an array of events, such as seeing who can go the furtherst on 60 gallons of fuel, who can drop something most accurately on a mark, etc. There is probably a prize for the most original balloon and my vote would have gone to the german with a balloon that was an elephant, complete with a maharaja's pallaquin on top. The stagecoach was also quite neat.

One annoying habit of staying in hotels around the world is the tendency of cleaning staff to barge in. While I was having breakfast they came in, without a knock, and then retreated when they saw me. The same thing happened the day before as well. It's not like I leave the door unlocked ... One day this is going to happen when I'm in a state of undress so there will be problems all around. It would not be so difficult to knock and wait a few moment before entering, so I don't know what their problem is.

Since they obviously wanted to clean the room I decided to head out. After filling one of my tyres at a tyre repair shop and getting rid of my loose change on a a drink I headed south towards the desert. The photo below shows the exciting terrain that I had to travel through.


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The weather forecast on Friday suggested that rain was a possibility on Monday. The guide book said that the route was impassible when wet so I decided to take the alternative route which was a bit longer but paved the entire way. It also had the advantage of crossing the divide twice while the main route was an offroad route which didn't cross the divide. I also felt better about breaking in my newly laced wheel on a paved road instead of an unpaved road. As the photo below shows, the road was in good condition but not exactly exciting or challenging cycling.


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The road wound its way through the Navaho Indian Reservations and the land was very dry and desolate. However, there were amazing stone formations all along the route, examples of which are below.


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It was interesting to note that there was a lot more garbage by the side of the road here than I had seen anywhere else on my trip. I wondered if it was due to the obvious poverty in the area. Whereas to date I had seen relative few old vehicles, here new vehicles were the exception. The people seemed to live in mobile homes perched on sections without any trees, gardens, or sign of economic activity.

The most common item was Budwiser beer cans or bottles. For the first 50+ miles there would be at least one every 10 feet. Interestingly, they petered out and were replaced by Coors cans, and then towards the end of the road it was Busch beer cans. I surmised that they preferred their Budwiser and when it ran out went to the less popular beers.

There were also a huge number of diapers tossed by the side of the road. When I stopped at a market to buy something to drink I was amazed at how much of the store was for baby food, diapers etc. However, I then noticed that without exception every woman who entered had at least one toddler in tow. Made me think of the old adage the rich get richer and the poor get children.

At the store there were some young guys who were quite impressed that I had cycled from Canada. I was interested to note that even though we were in the middle of nowhere they wore their clothes as per the latest trends (baggy pants hanging down; baseball cap on backwards) and they shook hands in the most hip manner. The popular culture is all pervading.

I had a break near the turnoff to the Chaco world heritage site. This is an area of cliff dwellings about 1000 years old, one of which is an apartment with 800 rooms! Unfortunately it was a 20+ mile trip (one direction) over earth roads to see them, and I didn't feel that enthusiastic. It's one of the problems when cycle touring since it takes a lot of effort (and time) to see things off route. At least it's possible to determine what's worth coming back to see again.

The road turned south and took me through a series of spectacular cliff areas. The photos below give an example of what it was like. With the afternoon sun lighting the golden sandstone it was very beautiful to cycle through.


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As happens most afternoons the wind came up, and of course it was a strong headwind so the cycling was hard. I'd also covered 60+ miles so was a bit tired. With the canyons behind me, I was still treated to some amazing natural sights, such as the hill below.


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I had decided to travel 80 miles that day since it would take me to the continental divide (actually, the second crossing of the day, although I didn't notice the first until I reviewed the map).  There was no town in the area and I had been a bit concerned about where to camp. However, I saw a Navaho policeman stopped by the side of the road so asked him if there would be any problems with me pitching my bike over the fence by the side of the road and camping. He said not to worry and since he would be the one called to arrest me for trespassing I figured I was covered.

The land was slightly improved as I travelled south and I saw some cattle grazing by the side of the road. For mile upon mile the fences had no trespassing signs on them with the name of a cattle company. I passed a car broken down by the side of the road and asked if they needed help. Someone had already stopped and they declined my offer. I was pleased to see that the next vehicle to drive by also stopped -- good to see such community support.

Eventually I crested the divide and having done my 80 miles I began to look for a place to stay for the night. I toyed with the idea of doing 100 miles but it was 18:30 and I didn't think it wise to cycle after dark if it wasn't necessary. A perfect spot soon showed itself, just off the road above a cutting with juniper trees to hide my tent from the view of motorists. There were also no 'No Trespassing' signs, although I knew full well that I shouldn't tresspass.

I pitched by bags over the barbed wire fence and followed with my bicycle and myself. After clearing an area of wood pieces sticking out of the sand I soon had my tent pitched. The photo below shows my spacious home away from home.


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It was getting quite cool so I treated myself to a pasta dinner which was great. I then watched a magnificent sunset over the hills, the sky a brilliant orange/red before retiring. After a brief call to Lis I listened to my radio and was soon asleep with the sleep of the exhausted. I wish that I could sleep so well at home!

On to the next day ...

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