Day 22 – Shadow of the Rockies, Part 2

Capitan, NM – Corona, NM
67 Miles

Today was very tough, hard day.

I started the day leaving the tiny town of Capitan and looked to continue the Shadow of the Rockies trail north. As you recall from the last post, the reason I stayed in Capitan was because I had some confusion as to where actual the trail was. So far, the directions I’ve downloaded have been spot on. Staying on-course is a cause of some concern for me as I’m venturing 50 miles into ranch country and national forest and if I get lost…well, let’s just say the blog posts would be getting a lot more sporadic.

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But around Capitan, things got confusing. Remember that I had a choice of two roads, the righthand route took me into the groovy teen bible camp.

The lefthand route was actually far more gnarly and gated off by the Forest Service. Apparently, due to the drought, there was an extreme risk of fire so Lincoln National Forest was shut down to visitors or any type of motor traffic. At first I figured there was no way that it was part of the Shadow of the Rockies Trail.  It seemed much greater in difficulty than the roads I’d experienced thus far.  However, I knew via my GPS coordinates that I was in the right place.  Clearly by process of elimination, the left route was the correct one.

Only one problem.  A big fat locked gate blocking the entrance.

But in my infinite wisdom, I also saw a really easy way around the gate, and surely the person who sent me these directions would have told me if I should avoid the National Forest.

So I went.

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Holy God in Heaven was that a tough route.  I really haven’t been that nervous in a while.  You can see by my distance that it took me most of the day just to do 60 miles. Part of that was due to the increasing numbers of locked gates that I had to maneuver around or partially disassemble in order to pass. I would have never committed myself so far into the route if I had any idea how tough or inaccessible the roads became as I ventured further.  Also, the top of the pass (pictured below) was at almost 10,000 feet and I was getting winded easily.

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The problem is, the road only really runs north. It’s much harder to negotiate the bike going south which meant that I had to keep going with the trail no matter what it threw at me. There was no turning back.

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The other reason I took so long is that I had a few crashes. I’m fine but poor Bumblebee finally went down. I knew it was only a matter of time, but still it was very sad and very frustrating to deal with.  I really, really love this bike and it just looks wounded lying down on the ground.  The bike weights over 700 lbs so moving it out of a ditch by myself was a sincere challenge.

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Soon, insipid thoughts start creeping into your head. What if I can’t get it out? What if I’m stuck? What if I have to leave the bike and walk out 30 miles? How will I ever get the bike out with the roads being closed and totally unreachable by most 4-wheel drive cars. I’d have to leave the bike here for weeks.  What if I actually got hurt?  Nobody is coming and nobody can help.

What if I really fucked up?

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Luckily, after about 2 hours of wrestling and revving I was able to get my bike out of the two ditches she landed in. But I had used up most of my strength, all of my water, and fear was starting to get the better of me.

I finally got the bike through Capitan Pass and around all of the locked Forest Service gates. I was heading for a blessed paved road, Route 246. It stood a mere 10 feet away from me. One problem. Another locked gate. This one was big and there was no going around it. I had also ventured onto private land, which generally isn’t a big deal as long as you stick to the roads (assuming they’re open).

I stood there stumped. I’d be able to overcome every other exhausting obstacle so far, but there was no way I could move forward, and I sure as hell couldn’t go back. I was stuck and there was no way out.

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Finally, a truck passed towing a large horse trailer.  It slowed down enough to allow the driver to stare menacingly at me.

Me: Hi there!

Ranch Owner: <silence>

Me: Boy, I sure am lost. Am I on your land?  I feel like I might be.

Ranch Owner: You are.

Me: Well, I’d like to get off it as soon as possible. I’m very very sorry.

Ranch Owner: How the hell did you get in there? The gate is locked.

Me: I came the other way. Over the mountain pass from Capitan.

Ranch Owner: But mountain is closed right now.

Me: I know. It’s been a long day.

Half an hour passes and the Ranch Owner finally comes back with a key for the gate, allowing me to pass. He was definitely a little pissed (rightly so) that I had been trespassing on his land and on the State’s Land when there were clear signs forbidding it. I think my saving grace was that I tried to be as apologetic and polite as possible, but also I had New York plates. Everyone knows New Yorkers are pretty worthless when it comes to ranches so I think he might have written me off as an example of dumb Yankee tomfoolery.

At that point, I was feeling pretty sure that I wanted to bail and just stick to paved roads for a while. But deep down, I knew that wasn’t the spirit of this part of the journey. Despite the difficulty of the riding today, I was still rewarded with some of the most stunning vistas I’ve seen the entire trip.

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I pushed down Rt. 246 another few miles until I got to the trail head for the next leg of the trip. Now that I was off the mountain, I was driving on flat country and ranch roads which were much easier going. I traversed the Hasperos Canyon and passed a dozen or so cattle ranches along the way. Beautiful country. I’m so amazed how these ranchers can live such an isolated life. All of them (including the guy I trespassed on) seemed very nice.

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Yeah, I went over this…

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I made it to another paved road, Route 247, but I was pretty spent at this point. The map wanted me to continue right, but I could see that the small town of Corona was 30 miles on the left. I needed water and I hadn’t eaten much all day. In these situations, I go for the known value, as opposed to risking the unknown.

I’m in Corona now, and despite a promising name, there’s not much here. I stopped at the local gas station / deli and filled myself up with Gatorade and water. I asked the kind woman at the counter if there were any motels or restaurants nearby. She informed me that the nearest of either were about 50 miles away.

I asked about camping and she said nobody would mind if I pitched a tent on their local town park. I feel a little shady and vulnerable, but I think it will all be good.

I came looking for adventure, and today I got mine super sized. I’m a little full now.

WHAT I LEARNED / DISCOVERED TODAY: When a road is closed, leave it closed. I’m pushing it already by going off road solo. Today had some strong elements of stupidity that I’m not proud of. I’m also going to do my best to stay off private property (although it’s a little hard to know the difference between public and private in this neck of the woods). I just got insanely lucky that the ranch owner happened to drive by. Otherwise, I’d still be there. Lastly, BMW School saved my life today. Despite laying the bike down twice, I rode well and kept my cool.

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