Day 47: Pie Town to Valle Tio Vences - 29 miles
|The tent was absolutely soaked this morning when I awoke. A combination
of the precipitation from the previous evening and my hot, steamy breath. I had been
spoiled the previous days when I was camping in the desert; everything was dry. It's a
bother when there is so much moisture around as it is necessary to try and dry things as
best one can before packing them up and even then all too often one climbs into a damp
tent or sleeping bag. Not fun.
I managed to get a local radio station on my radio and the forecast for today was of rain and lightening in the afternoon. This helped to firm my plans. The guidebook called for a short 29 mile day and I decided to follow their advice. It would ensure that I missed any afternoon storm, or at least had my tent set up should it hit. Even in the midst of a large continent like this the weather forecasters don't always get it right, but after Brazos Ridge I've become quite paranoid. With good reason.
The previous evening I had tried unsuccessfully to get hold of Lis by telephone so I tried again in the morning. Since my cellphone did not have coverage I cycled over from the campground to the main highway and used the call box. There was a diesel pickup truck noisily idling by the box but when I stopped the driver considerately turned off the engine. It's incredible the racket the engine made, and it was a new vehicle to boot. They must not have noise limitations on diesels here in America.
I had no luck contacting Lis so I cycled down the road to the cafe to see if they were open for breakfast. There are two cafes in Pie Town and the one from last night was closed Tuesdays; the other one closed Mondays. Unfortunately it was still closed so I headed back to the campsite and had cereal for breakfast. It was quite cold and I was in the mood for a hot breakfast but that was not to be.
As the sun rose the temperature warmed up quite quickly so I laid out my saturated tent fly while I leisurely packed up my bags. This managed to get rid of about 80% of the moisture which was great all things considered. My main tent area also dried out completely and that was the important one; it's where I actually sleep.
By 09:15 I was on the road again, cycling down Highway 60 to my turn off onto county road 916. It was a good thing that the day was going to be a short and easy one as my knees were still sore from yesterday's effort with the sand. Unlike my previous days in New Mexico I was not presented with a road going off endlessly into the distance, but instead I had the panorama below. The route headed towards Alegres Mountain (10,229'), crossing the divide twice on the way, and then skirted the divided as it continued south.
Although the cycling today was one with lots of ups and downs, and thus harder work than much of the flat desert cycling that I did the last few days, I enjoyed it more since I was in a markedly different ecosystem. From Pie Town there were lots of juniper and pinon trees and their fragrances made the air smell sweet and inviting. I was also blessed with a tail wind for a change, a result no doubt of last night's storm moving north.
Within the first six miles travelling from Pie Town I did two divide crossings without even noticing. Not only were there no signs, but the road was what the map called "roller coaster terrain" so it was impossible to tell which exactly was the divide. The map had the mileage but with quite short distances between hills I didn't bother trying to monitor them.
While climbing one hill I saw another tarantula spider crossing the road so this time I stopped and got the photograph below. It doesn't do it justice I'm afraid since my camera doesn't have a zoom. It was about 40 - 50 mm long and very hairey. Wouldn't want to find one of them in my tent, bags or shoes.
One of the strong points of the route they mapped for us is the absence of traffic and today I saw only one vehicle during my 29 mile trip. I was having and energy bar break and the driver stopped to chat. He asked if I was doing the divide trip so it was obvious he had come across other cyclists. I was pleased when he told me that the road today was well formed and not affected by rain. He also commented that there was 1.5" (40 mm) of rain the previous evening. Glad that I had made it to Pie Town before that hit!
I was not feeling very energetic so I was pleased that the cycling was relatively easy. The road was bad in places, but nothing too difficult. The hills were frequent, but for the most part not too steep, and the scenary was beautiful. The photo below shows the road passing through juniper stands. Sure beats the desert cycling, which is enjoyable but in a different way.
Eventually I reached Apache National Forest and was treated with huge stands of ponderosa pine trees towering to the skies. I also commenced what was to be about a 5 mile climb to the Continental Divide but it was not too steep and with this lovely forest all around me I hardly noticed the climb. There were birds all around and the smells that I had been treated to earlier where even stronger.
Growing next to the road was a very unusual grass which the photo below tries to show. It was coloured pink and created a light and fluffy carpet. It looked as though it belonged in a bride's bouquet, not hidden to all but a few who passed through this way. There is such beauty in God's nature, and I thought how lucky I am to have my all my senses, particularly my sight, so that I can revel in his creation.
I reached the Continental Divide which was at about 8,200' and took the photo below. There was no sign and I doubt if there will be any for the remainder of the trip. The crossings are not as significant as earlier in the trip when they stood out among the other hills and were also marked by major passes. I think that this is about crossing #26 for me as it is marked as #21 on my map and we did three extra ones in Yellowstone and I did a further two on the alternative route from Cuba to Grants. Whichever it was I at least am certain of one thing: I''ve done quite a few.
From the divide I enjoyed a delightful downhill run through the forest. After only half a mile I came to the Valle Tio Vences campground which was the recommended destination for the night. There were dark clouds forming in the skies so I had decided to stop here anyway, and even if that wasn't the case it would have been difficult to pass. Nestled in a stand of Ponderosa pines, it was one of the most beautiful campgrounds I've come across this trip. Between the clouds the sun was shining and the ground was covered in pine needles which gave a sweet aroma to the place.
I was quite hungry so I parked my bike at a picnic table and cooked up some rice for lunch/dinner. I added some vegetarian chilli to it and had a delightful meal. During this time I dried out my sleeping bag and other gear and shortly after lunch put everything in the tent. The wind was gusting, the clouds were dark and I was certain it was going to rain. I also retired with my radio for company to snooze and wait out the storm.
Fortunately the rain never eventuated and so a couple of hours later I went out for a stroll in the late afternoon sun. The campground is at 8,000' and there was a chill in the air so it will likely be a cold night. The only other drawback was the lack of water. There were two corrals for horses with stock tanks, but the tanks were empty. There was also a spring marked on my map, but it is likely the source of the tanks so it's pretty certain it is also dry.
As I walked back to the campsite a large pickup truck with a horse float drove up. The driver got out and went to inspect one of the corrals and water tank. I told him the other one was empty as well. Bruce was from Ogden Utah and had two thirsty horses with him so water was important. He kindly offered me some water so I gratefully replenished my water bottles; one needs to get water when one can here. He was keen on using the corrals for his horses (he had a portable electric corral with him but it wasn't as reliable) and so decided to drive off and see if he could find a water supply nearby that he could fill and put in his truck. About 15 minutes later he returned and put the horses in the corral and pitched his tent so he must have been successful.
With darkness falling I decided to light a fire in one of the fire pits, the forest service having kindly supplied all the wood to do this. It would be nice to have the fire and savour the outdoors since in just over a week my trip will be over.
The last time I had a fire was when Sean and I were cold and wet at upper red rock lake in Montana. We had real trouble starting the fire as everything was wet, including the kindling. Here the ground was covered in tinder dry kindling of all sizes so it only took me a short time to assemble enough to start my fire. I created a pyramid of kindling and added lots of ponderosa pine needles. When I added the match it started right away and in minutes I had a great fire going. It's easy to see how these forest fires get started and out of hand quickly.
The fire put out an amazing amount of heat and the flames were impressive. I watched it closely to ensure that it stayed inside the steel 'fire ring' that the forestry service had kindly provided. I invited Bruce to join me and he soon arrived offering me a beer which I declined. It reminded me of a joke I heard in Utah two years ago which goes something like this ... Why do you always invite two Seventh-day Adventists [or Mormons or Muslims] fishing. Because if you only invite one they will drink all your beer. Not true in my case, but like the best jokes it has a grain of truth.
There is something about the ambience of a campfire that makes an evening especially enjoyable. It brought back memories of my youth when I spent many an evening around a fire yarning and socialising. Bruce felt the same way and it was great to have some company.
Bruce was here to hunt with a muzzle loader. He entered a lottery and won the right to come to this area for hunting. He explained that there were different seasons for different weapons and how he preferred the muzzle loader for the challenge. When I first heard of muzzle loaders I thought of the old muskets with flints. He said that some use those but he uses a percussion cap and has a rifled gun. Still, it makes it quite a challenge compared to using a high powered rifle. It also made me think of the film 'Distinguished Gentleman' where they went duck hunting with M-16 automatic rifles.
The evening passed quickly and as the fire died out it got quite cold. We both retired, although Bruce was planning on an early morning scouting. Better him than me, although at least he had a heater in his tent to keep warm!