Somewhere in the Gila Wilderness – Antelope Wells; 274km distance, 1,830m climbing, 14hrs 20mins moving time.
Last morning crawling out of my bivi. Last morning eating a Poptart. Last morning putting on cold stinking shorts. Not entirely sure I’ll miss this. Rick clatters past on the trail below me, as normal he’s up that bit earlier and moving while I’m still waiting for my bowels to wake up. As normal the first climb of the day takes me a while to get into. The positive side of it is that this is really the only climbing on bike I’ll need to do for the day. Once I get over it I’m cruising along the top with enough speed to catch up to Rick for a chat. We roll along watching the elk running beside us confused at people being in their home so early in the day.
A quick stop for breakfast is in order as we pull up to the Sapillo Campground. We’d both hoped to make it here last night, but the final climb of the day never happened. We sit and chat with another camper out walking his dog – it’s bowels appear to be just fine – and we get ready for the last alternate of the trip. The now famous Continental Divide Trail alternate – in short, it’s bloody hard. I knew it was going to have a lot of pushing up to the burn zone, but I didn’t reckon for it being narrow and off-camber. Any slip was going to result in a tumble into some cacti and there was more than enough to go around.
it wasn’t the easiest of pushes up but it was rewarded by some excellent riding through a massive burn zone on tight and technical singletrack. As much as I didn’t want to I loved this section, it was punishing yes, but the riding was stunning – a section I’d love to come back to on a light bike with fresh legs. After an hour or so I dropped out the far side of the mesa and onto lush fast forest trails, something I’d never have expected from this part of New Mexico. Fast and cool riding through hoodoos and cacti. Stunning. All the time following the CDT trail signs that the thru-hikers follow for months on end.
The day had clouded over by the time I reached the road to Silver City. It was getting towards midday and I was starting to get hungry, so I planned to try and eat some real food for the first time in 2 days. Rolling down into the town on the blacktop I saw a woman walking towards me eating an ice-cream. “Man I could go for an ice-cream right now…hang on that’s Pauline!” I skid to a stop and chat before deciding I want a McFlurry for breakfast – I ride off to the McDs and soon after Pauline arrives – Rick’s along not soon after and he gets to meet my wife for the first time. I mostly concentrate on cramming two portions of fries, “chicken” nuggets and an McFlurry in my face. Not to mention a gallon or so of Coke. It barely hits the spot and I go back for more. I get my shopping done in Silver City as Rick rolls on – I stop and eat more real food at a local health food store – I fill up on almonds, juice, coconut water and some other actually healthy food. I’m like a fat kid in a sweet shop and I love it. I say my goodbyes and roll out into the headwind along the freeway – last climb of the race, once I top out it is actually all down hill from here.
I crest the climb and turn onto the dirt for the last 60km stretch to Separ and the final food stop of the race. I can see huge clouds building and I know I’m going to get wet again, but, it’s warm at least. Just as I left Silver City the lady at the tourist office confirmed the monsoon season had been declared, we were just going to get caught. Hopefully, I’d get through it without any final run ins with the adobe mud. I ride hard, make a nav mistake, back up and catch Rick sooner than expected. He tells me to ride on, I just laugh and say no, at this point we may as well keep each other company. It’ll be good to chat to someone, especially for the last section. We get rained on. We get to Separ and sit out the last of it on the porch in rocking chairs drinking coffee and talking shit like old friends. It’s good.
Eventually we make a move – me to the toilet, Rick to his bike. I always take that bit longer to get going, even more than Rick. I wanted to ride the final section of dirt on the Divide on my own. It felt right to me. A crappy frontage road beside the Interstate, but dirt none the less. I stop at one stage and look at the mountains on the horizon. It’s Mexico. I laugh and shake my head. I can’t believe I made it here.
The next few hours pass in a boring haze of tarmac – 70 miles of dull riding along a straight road broken by one town. We alternate being the front rider and rear with a few hundred meters between us. We have a tail wind and it’s easy riding on the body, but dull on the mind. The entertainment comes from a car stuck in the mud – occupants fuming in their white chinos and loafers. I send a state patrol officer out to help them, he just laughs and calls them something rude in Spanish. Hours pass. We get buzzed by more border guards, they know what we’re doing, probably even who we are from our SPOT trackers. It gets dark and we stop in Hachita under a green tinted light for a eating and chatting. Watching the animals run around us. It’s too late for real humans to be out.
As we ride out I put on music for the first time in the whole race. It’s not that I don’t want to talk with Rick, it’s that we’re both tired and I want something else in my head other than the drone of out tyres. We chat away while in my other ear The Clash give out about the UK in the 70s. Pretty much the same now Joe. Sorry. Bet you never saw Brexit coming.
We roll to the vision of a huge thunderstorm on the horizon, the wind sweeping around to the side of us.
We ride along suddenly crunchy roads as the tarantulas and frogs come out.
We spin and chat, chat and spin as the hours pass.
We laugh as our wives drive past on the way to the border, I smell pizza in the car.
And then we are done.
2,800 miles from Banff to the Mexican border. I stop and get the photo. I get a hug, I am handed a beer, I sit in the middle of the road for the next hour talking shit and eating pizza at a closed border checkpoint on an international border. Tomorrow I won’t ride my bike. Or the day after. Or the day after that. But this… I’ll remember this.
Thanks to Shona, Rich and Steve at Keep Pedalling in Manchester for all the help over the years with bikes and general ideas. To the folks at Salsa Cycles in the UK for supporting me. To Nils and crew at Lyon Equipment for the Ortlieb and Exped kit. Also, to any of you who’ve helped me over the years. The reccy went fine, I’ll be back to race properly in 2018.