Five days, 400 miles, 18,000 feet of climbing … our days have been long. From Santa Fe we rolled northwest into the high hills of northern New Mexico, making our way into Georgie O’Keefe country. When I asked who Ms O’Keefe was, the answer I received from a local at the gas station was, “A nice old lady who was an artist. She did a lot of flower pictures that looked like vaginas.” I haven’t checked her work to see if this is true. We actually passed her museum on our way to the campsite that night, but it was closed off. A film crew and its cast—I later found out it was Tarantino’s latest film Hateful Eight—had reserved the complex for the time being. Neat, right?
We were planning to camp at Abiquiu Lake on a primitive campsite. Our climb took us up to 7,000 feet and there it was, the lone water source for miles and miles. However, the campsite was closed for another two days. We were caught in a tough spot.
There was conversation among the ranks—do we go forth and try our luck sleeping stealth in a ditch on the side of the road? Do we sneak onto federal lands and give it the old guerilla campsite? Well, ladies and gents, I cannot say here what we did, other than it turned out to be a lovely evening. I woke refreshed, with chill morning keeping pushing me back down into my sleeping bag until I’d warmed up enough to face the day.
From there it was a dog-fight to Dulce. Headwinds, long climbs, fat mountain ranges sitting gross and unyielding amidst the highway scenery. Beautiful country, desolation population. There was little and less … gas stations every 30 miles to break up the ride. I rode ahead of the group, having set up a host with the Dulce Reservation to sleep at the high school that night. I wanted to get there before they closed up doors for the night and so put on LOTR,FOTR (Lord of the Rings, Fellowship of the Ring) and boogied over the Continental Divide, into a long and windy canyon, and up into the mountain reservation town.
At one point five sheriff cars passed by, speeding south. I was told later there had been a prison riot in a neighboring reservation town.
But Dulce itself was lovely enough. Our host, Issac, opened up an empty apartment for the group. His school had made us sandwiches and encouraged us to use their oven for food. I’ve never had mac & cheese so good (sorry Mom)! I started drooling into my pan. It was great. Life was great. We hit the sack early, having a 106 miler into Durango, Colorado the next morning.
Well, rat farts. It was cold, windy, and extraordinarily mountainous. Oh. And it was a hundred plus mile day, with no services for 83 miles between Dulce and Ignacio, Colorado. Wow. I spent the morning in the high country numb and screaming as blood decided to rush into and out of my fingers and palms on ascents and descents. At one point I was unable to put any pressure on my right hand, the pain of returning warmth was so intense. I don’t think I’m cut out for mountaineering.
After a rousing chorus of 99 Bottles, where we sang all 100 verses on a particularly devilish ascent, Tyler and I split from Brady and Rachel and cranked pedals into Navajo nation, where 6% grades are no more and the climbs kept coming. At one point I told myself “Hey! We’re as high as we can get!” And then we descended, rounded a corner, and BOOM! There was a bigger, longer, steeper ascent leading up higher into the hills. Yes, yes. All a part of the journey. So up we went. Tyler and I lived off of Clif Bars and week old tortillas I found deep in my food bag. I started dreaming of a meatball sub, the kind with heavy mozzarella and thick, crispy bread. The kind so big you cut it into fifths and the sauce soaks deep into the bread.
I bonked, sat on the side of the road, and thought about crying.
Tyler sat with me and we talked about how much we wanted to ride these donkeys that were watching us into the next town. Meh. Mah. Marr. I ate another Clif Bar, the fourth of the day, and wondered what the next 30 miles into Durango had in store for us.
Ignacio! Food! Gatorade! Hillshire Cheddarwurst sausage roller dogs! I ate two, drank a Gatorade, stuffed more tortillas into my face, and felt much better. So onwards! Upwards, you dastardly Rockies! Heeyah!
We destroyed the last twenty miles, the last eight being a fast and shaded descent into numbness and Durango. Our host that night was a friend of a friend of Tyler. Their house was called Future, and it was a bunch of late 20 year olders who let us crash on their floor space, rather than brave the 20 degree weather that night.
We stayed up talking about Durango, and it jumped to the shortlist of places to move to after this trip. I mean, dang. A hidden gem, folks. A ruby in the red.
Well, six am came fast and hard and punched us right in the nose. Tyler and I were up and at Alberstons Grocery eating one dollar pastries by eight. The next two hours our of Durango was a long climb up into the Mesa Verde region. It was bonkers. Five mph, coldness. I’m sick of being cold. Whatever. We made the ascent, started the descent, and stopped. With the wind chill we were in the teens.
Thus began a day of taking off all warm clothes on ascents and stopping at the top to reattire ourselves with our gear. I ate pizza at a pizza place, and was surprised and relieved to hear that some nice stranger who is touring around in a Sprinter Van bought us hotel rooms at the Super 9 in the scooting metropolis of Dove Creek, pinto bean capital of the world, in lieu of our lack of host for the night and coming snowstorm.
His name is Dakota, and he was with us for the next three days, sharing stories of the road and hanging out when possible. He’s the #1 Mortgage man in Portland, and at the ripe age of 33 he’s figured out a lifestyle with his wife that affords him the opportunity to travel to sweet lands and ride bikes and run. He’s author of traipsingabout.com, and a huge inspiration to me to figure out stuff in life.
Plus he’s cool, and nice, and fun. I can’t go on about Dakota enough.
So! Hotel room! Super 9! Presidential suite! We woke up to two inches of snow on the ground and heavy truck traffic on our highway into Utah. Buckets of ruckus, let’s woogie out!
I managed to wear all of my warm weather gear meant for my final days in Alaska, and discovered that it was not adequate. Where the first third of the day was beautiful in the dry snowfall, things got hairy as we descended into sleet and ice.
Hold on. First Utah. We made it to Utah! We’re a third of the way there! Dang. Dadgum. Looking back to 2014, when Keys to Freeze was but a scream in my head, to have made it 3,000 miles unsupported in the late US winter is a pretty huge deal. I’m proud of our team and what we’ve accomplished! I danced, and mooned Colorado. We’re in Utah!