Texas Hill Country
October 12, 2020
If there's anything I'll remember about New Mexico, it's wind.
On the day we rode into New Mexico, we had 90 miles to do in Texas and 10 more to do in New Mexico, for a total of an even 100. The entire time we were in Texas, we had the wind to our back, so we were able to log a ton of miles in not much time. As soon as we crossed the state border though, it seemed like it died, then quickly switched into a head wind, making the last ten miles pretty tough. That would set the stage for the remainder of the state.
Our next day, to Fort Sumner, was not a long day by any means, but we had wind to deal with, and that made it difficult. Once we got into town, we found that it was the location of the Billy the Kid Museum. David talked to the owner and got us free admission! It was cool to see, but maybe a little boring. Still glad I went (hey, it was FREE). Afterwards, Dairyland let us eat burgers and fries for free, so it was a good day.
Then there was Vaughn. Oh man. At the beginning of the day, we were thinking 60 miles, how hard could it be? Well, when you're dealing with a 25-30 mph wind right in your face all day, that can be pretty gosh-darn hard. Not to mention the rolling hills kept getting bigger and steeper all day. There were hills I could normally coast down and hit 30 mph, and instead, I was pedaling hard to get to 15 mph.
Late in the day, you could tell there was a corner at the top of a hill. Alright, maybe the road turns away from the wind! Instead, it turned maybe five degress tops, and even more directly into the wind, if anything. Oh, c'monnn!! And on top of all that, very quietly, we had reached an elevation of 6,000 feet by the end of the day, and maybe that affected us too. Patrick, for one, got a nosebleed due to the thin, dry air.
I'm chalking it up as the worst day on record, despite the lack of distance.
After Vaughn, heading into the next day was nerve-racking. Vaughn to Albuquerque was supposed to be 110 miles with about the same wind, plus mountains at the end. The wind wasn't nearly as bad, but we did have to fight head winds part of the time. At one point, two of us unknowingly got lost, and Paul heroically sprinted ten miles into a headwind to catch them from behind, just to tell them to turn around and go back.
A few of us were in a paceline in the middle of the day, trying to use teamwork and draft off each other to limit the effect of the headwind. At one point, with John leading the line, they saw a dustdevil approaching from one side of the highway.
"Keep an eye on that," warned Dan. So, John didn't.
A few seconds later, the entire paceline rode directly through the dustdevil. A few seconds after that, no one was still on their bike.
A chorus of "Everyone alright?" They gathered themselves, checked their bikes. Everything seemed to be in working order. They looked around. They were in front of the entrance to a homestead, appropriately named "Wild Winds Ranch."
At the end of the day, we had our first taste of REAL hills (not Texas ones). Most of us were inching up the hill in our lowest gear, going the speed of a brisk walker, at best. John and Andrew wound up taking the hill together, and the clash of personalities led to an amusing dialogue. Andrew, the eternal optimist, kept inisting, "It goes downhill after this corner," and John kept yelling back "No it doesn't!" Every time John was proven right, but Andrew would just pick the next corner and say they'd go downhill after that. By the end of it, John was screaming, "Just shut up and stop saying there's a downhill!!"
Once in Albuquerque, we still had to ride another 20 miles across town, part of which was on Route 66, before we got where we were staying the night. The day wound up being 130 miles long, and once again, I'm proud to say that no one sagged.
We had a "day off" in Albuquerque, but we wound up having so much to do as a team that we had less free time than we normally do on a day when we ride.
Leaving Albuquerque was my first drive day. Not too fond of it. It hurts me to see my teammates riding and not be out there riding with them. I also didn't want to take two days off in a row. So when we got to Cuba, I went for a five-mile run. I'm not used to altitudes of 7,000 feet, so I got out of breath quickly.
One of us had grown up in New Mexico, and knew a famous restaurant in Cuba. New Mexican food has a few distinct differences from Tex-Mex, most notably a love of green chiles, and the use of a red or green chile sauce on nearly everything. Apparently the signature New Mexican restaurant in the entire state is in the unassuming town of Cuba, population 730. Matt had been talking up this place for 11 days now, ever since the ride started. When we got into town, we found out that it had burned down less than a week ago.
Cuba to Farmington was our last day in New Mexico. There were Vaughn-like winds all day, only they were from directly to our left most of the time. A lot of us had bought aerobars in Albuquerque to try to help fight the wind, and since no one was used to riding with them yet, we were making bets on who would get blown off their bike. It woun up being Athan, who didn't even have aerobars. It probably had more to do with being about six feet tall and 140 pounds; the guy is like a sail.
Occasionally, I have to dial back how fast I'm going, not necessarily because I ride faster than everyone, but because I don't spend as much time at the aid stations. Farmington was one such day, and as I left one aid station, I was warned not to push it, because some people were still far behind and needed the sag wagons to stay back. So at one point, I saw a sign pointing towards a scenic overlook and decided I'd check it out.
It wound up being about five miles round-trip, most of which was on sand. No, not a gravel road, sand, the deep, loose kind you see at the beach. I had to walk Invictus through some of the worst parts, but hey, at least I got to see a canyon.
The detour must've taken about 45 minutes, and by the time I reached the next aid station, there were already at least five riders there. They looked at me with surprise; they'd passed me while I was at the overlook, but since they hadn't seen me, they thought I was way far ahead.
"Hey, you said not to get away from y'all!"
With ten miles to go, our directions had us turn left, right into the teeth of the wind. So we had to do something like Vaughn over again, only this time the shoulder of the road had more cracks than you can imagine and enough rocks to rebuild the pyramids. It was a tough ten miles. We finally arrived at a medical center that treats cancer patients, where we were served barbeque sandwiches and split up into host families.
Host families are by far the best lodging arrangements, since you get a shower, laundry, a bed or at least a couch, and you get to talk to new people, which are usually exceptionally warm people. I knew this trip was going to be great, but the people we've met along the way have been the most pleasant surprise. It's encouraging to see people opening up their homes and hearts to us like this.
So that wraps up New Mexico. Had to fight wind every day and stayed at an elevation of 6,000 or higher most of the time. If you ever travel through on bike, do it from west to east so the wind is behind you instead of right in your face.
from Texas 4,000