Day 45: The Divide to the Narrows - 70 miles
|It was a very cold morning with a biting wind. However, when the sun came
out it cut the chll to the point where it was bearable, but I still had breakfast
sheltering in my tent. At least the wind was not going to be a headwind as it was from the
NW for a change...
After breaking camp I put my bags and bike over the fence and then headed south again. The photo below shows the road ... and it is very similar to what I would see almost every day in New Mexico.
It was great not having a headwind and I was able to make excellent time. With an average speed of 13 mph the miles ticked away. The terrain was generally downward which made for fun cycling.
At one point I surprised a small snake on the road so I went back to look at it more closely. It was tan coloured and with a triangular head it was a baby rattlesnake. As I approached it coiled itself up as if to strike, but I didn't get too close. It was an interesting introduction to New Mexico. Earlier that morning I saw a small scorpion at my campsite as I was breaking camp; the previous day a large black tarrantula spider slowly crossing the road. There are a lot of things here to be wary of and I made a mental note to remember to shake my shoes out in the morning before I put them on. Spiders and scorpions have been known to crawl inside during the night ...
The road ended a Milan where there was an Interstate highway and a railway line. As I approached I saw a huge train -- I counted 92 cars with three locomotives. Interestingly, most of the cars were carrying tractor trailers. It seems that the truck drivers must drop them off at the train yard and then another truck must collect them at the other end. A good example of the efficiencies that come from multi-modal travel.
I turned east and soon had a 'calorie stop': Dairy Queen. I had a fantastic chocolate ice cream sitting out in the sunshine. Two other patrons joined me and we had a chat. Mary Anne and Dave lived in Milan and were most intrigued about my trip. Like many Americans they were interested in what I though of America, and very pleased at my appreciation of the beauty and positive aspects of their country. I think that it would be hard for anyone to have anti-american feelings if they cycled through the country and saw the inate friendliness and helpfullness of Americans.
After today I was going to be in the wilderness for about a week so I had some housekeeping to do. High on the list was finding a laundromat since I still had clothes caked in mud from my time on Brezos Ridge. Food was a second priority as I needed at least 5 days supply.
As I cycled east from Milan I came across a laundromat. The place was massive, with about 40 washing machines, all quite new. Importantly, they also had a restroom so I was able to go in and change out of the clothes I was wearing and include them in the wash. Fortunately, I always have a clean pair of shorts and shirt for such eventualities.
I added my meagre offering to one of the machines and then plugged my computer into one of the power points to work on my journal. I also used the opportunity to recharge my cell phone. Power points are such a luxure one takes advange of them when one can. My palmtop computer was a focal point for a number of the children in the laundromat and I tried to ignore them as best I could. What was hard to ignore was the noise one of them made with a portable game boy machine. I would not have made a very understanding parent ... it wouldn't have lasted an hour.
They had a television which was showing Sunday football; a great American tradition. I was amazed how it attracted the patrons like a bee to honey. They would stand there transfixed worrying whether Dallas was going to score (they didn't) or the New York Giants would maintain their lead (they did). Here we are in outback New Mexico, as if it matters in the big scheme of things ...
Once my laundry was done I changed back into my cycling gear and headed out again. The road entered the town of Grants and was advertised as part of the famous 'Route 66'. This confused me a bit since when I passed through Joiliet Illinois they also advertised that they were part of Route 66. It transpires that the highway went from Chicago to Los Angeles and was quite a cultural icon for the USA, due in no small part to the old TV show 'Route 66'. There is even a song which has the verse 'get your kicks on Route 66' -- and this motto was painted on one of the buildings in Grants.
I was unsuccessful at finding a grocery store open in Grants (it was Sunday) and I was advised that my best bet was to go over to Wal-mart. That suited me fine since there was the (slim) chance they had something vegetarian as well. On the way I found a Subway sandwich shop so I stopped and had two vegetarian subs -- I was storing up for the next 30 miles I still had to cycle -- and also filled my water bottles.
My visit to Wal-mart was very successful. I was able to get everthing that I was looking for, and even a couple of soy protein 'meats' that I had enjoyed during my last visit'. I can see how difficult it is for smaller stores to compete with Wal-mart since they have such a great selection and good prices. I also got myself a 1 Litre bottle of water as a spare. As I was packing up my panniers a couple stopped by to chat. Her uncle was doing part of the route and she was most interested in how I had found it (hard, but worthwhile).
On my way back to Route 66 to pick up the trail I passed a fellow with a sign asking for food. I offered him one of my tins of vegetarian baked beans which he gratefully accepted. Seemed a bit funny to me as he looked mighty healthy and strong, but at least I did my Christian duty.
I was soon out of town and heading towards the wilderness. I had a bit of a surprise as I found the rattle snake shown below next to the road. It may not seem like it but the snake looked to be about 1 m long. Apparently, with the cooler weather they hibernate in 'dens' with other snakes and during the day come out to get warm. Roads are ideal for warming up. S/he was not impressed by me so I kept my distance. I wanted to be able to frighten it off the road for fear of it being run over, but in the end decided to leave it to fate and gave it a wide bearth as I cycled by.
Before long I reached El Melpais national park. This is spanish for 'badlands' and describes the volcanic terrain that covers much of the area. The eruptions were quite recent -- about 1000 A.D. -- and you can see the black volcanic rocks around the area.
There were spectacular cliffs lining one side of the route, with the road travelling between the cliffs and the volcanic area. At one point I passed an indian trail which is today part of the continental divide walking trail. However, it's so late in the season that there will not be any walkers. The 'Zuni-Acoma Trail' linked the pueblos (towns/ villages) of Zuni and Acoma and is thought to be a thousand years old. The trail crosses the lava field and there are several lave "bridges" built by the indians. The trail is marked with stone cairns and many predate the arrival of Europeans and have not been changed. Since the terrain is so difficult walkers are advised to always focus on a cairn and never be out of site of one.
At one point there was a natural arch which I unfortunately arrived at just after the sun was setting. I met a family of four who had passed me several times as I was cycling along. They had stopped at the various places of interest. The first quiestion was 'what do you think of America' and they were very pleased with my reply. This was then followed by 'how do you get so much time off'. The second most common question.
My destination for the night was the campground at 'the Narrows'. It was few miles from the arch and I became concerned as I saw that there was not much flat land to camp at. Fortunately, I found that there was an established campground/picnic area at the end of the Narrows and I gratefully turned in. There was a very noisey party going on at one end of the area, but I found a great spot near the entrance, complete with a picnic table under cover.
As I unpacked and set up my tent a camper van came in and parked in the next site. The owners came over and invited me to join them for a visit as they would have a campfire. Once I was all settled in I had a tin of fruit salad for dinner and wandered over.
Bob and Terrie were from Colorado and on a camping holiday. They were going nowhere in particular, just where the fancy took them. The ideal way to travel. Bob worked as a pipe fitter in hospitals and Terrie did many things including editing a quilting magazine and currently designing web sites.
It was very pleasant for me to chat with them and learn more about Americans and their culture. I was quite interested in Bob's comment that he was 'unionised' and I naively asked if that was particularly important. Apparently if you are not unionised, in some places (like Chicago or Detroit) it can be detremental to your health through things like broken arms and legs. In the west there are some states that are not very supportive of unions (like Utah). We discussed the current port workers strike which have crippled the West Coast. It's appalling how greedy some workers can be -- they are already the highest paid blue collar workers in the USA and seem to be unwilling to allow for improvements in efficiency that can come through technology.
I asked Bob about the snake I took the photo of earlier on and it was he who told me that with a diamond head it was probably a rattle snake. This led to the next logical question: just how dangerous is it to be bitten by a rattler? Is it like in the movies. Bob said that if you are bitten what you do is tournequet off the area to reduce the flow of venom and get yourself to the hospital. He then added with a wry grin that if one is on a bicycle there is little hope as by the time you get anywhere the venom will be throughout the system. He also added that they coil and spring at you, but that the further you are away the worse their aim. Glad I gave the snake such a large berth.
Eventually it was time to retire and I enjoyed reading my 'Outside Magazine' before bed. There was an article on Mustang province of Nepal which brought back memories of the treks I had done in the area, and the fun that I had with my young friend Ruan who I took on the Annapurna circuit when he was 14. I've been very blessed in life to see some amazing places and meet many great people.