Day 24 – Shadow of the Rockies, Part 4

Logan, NM – Santa Fe, NM

380 miles

Last night, the most wicked windstorm you could ever image swept through Lake Ute State Park, tearing up everything in its path and uprooting 3 of my tent stakes that I had literally hammered into the ground.  The storm could have easily given both Dorothy and Toto post-traumatic stress disorder.  But I hunkered down in my tent which really isn’t all that brave because I figured that my fat ass was the only thing keeping it anchored to the ground.  The storm rattled on until about 4:00am.  I was finally able to get a little sleep, but when I awoke, I found a one-inch layer of fine sand covering the inside of my tent, sleeping bag, makeshift pillow, and…me.  Seriously, I looked The Mummy.

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It usually takes me 45 min – 1 hour to pack everything up and load it onto my bike.  Things took a bit longer this morning as I shook all the sand out of my tent and the rest of my gear.  It got everywhere.  When it comes to packing up, there’s a lot of shoving, pulling and pushing to get all my gear for 10 weeks to fit into the limited space I have.  Because of this, I usually put my heavy riding suit on at the end of this arduous process.  The little bonus I got this morning was finding a nest of brown moths that had sought refuge from the windstorm in my jacket and pants.  Of course, I didn’t see them until I was putting my pants on, and lo and behold, panicked insects started flying out of my crotch.  Needless to say, when my heart dropped back down to 120 beats per minute, I spent the next hour shaking my clothing out as if my life depended on it.  A rather auspicious start to my last day on The Shadow Of The Rockies Trail.

I headed out NW from Logan on mostly ranching roads which were hard packed dirt and easy (relatively) to ride on.  I did notice that I was steadily gaining altitude, which made sense as I inched closer to the Colorado border.  The scrub brush of the ranching plains slowly became more arid until soon I noticed small sand banks accumulating on the sides of the trail.

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This unnerved me.

The only obstacle I really had major difficulty with at BMW School was the sand pit.  It’s just plain hard to keep a 700-lb bike on track in fine sand.  It was too easy to drop the bike and even easier to get stuck while trying to get out.  I just kept telling myself that I only had 70 miles to go, and to keep my head high and power through.

Finally, I came around a sharp bend and the entire trail was buried in several feet of sand.  I immediately tried to get on the throttle but it was too late.  As soon as the front tire hit the sand, the bike slowed down dramatically.  The slower you are in the sand, the stronger the wobbles get.  Before I knew it, the front end had washed out and I was over the handlebars again.

I picked the bike up again (the only good part about sand is that is usually doesn’t cause damage to the bike when dropped) and tried to get it moving.  But the more throttle I gave, the deeper my rear tire sank into the sand.  I was SO close, and all I could do was pray to the Desert Gods to please not let my journey end here.  I ended up getting off the bike and throttled it while standing beside it, rocking it back and forth.  Finally, the bike leapt out of its rut allowing me to hop on and ride her to safety.

I surprised myself by speaking aloud, “thank you, thank you, thank you…” over and over again.  I don’t know who I was taking to, but it really just hit me how lucky I’ve been so far on the trail, despite a few crashes.  I guess the impact of ending this epic trail ride was beginning to hit me.

Shadow of the Rockies was an incredible adventure.  Really one of the greatest of my life.  Not because the roads were so epically tough or the navigation was so challenging.  Rather, it meant so much because I was alone and had to rely on myself to solve problems like gates, how to move a dropped bike, or making distance.  I’ll absolutely do this trail again, and would love to finish it all the way in Wyoming.

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But it will never be like the first time.  It will never have the same sense of discovery and wonder that it did when I saw all civilization drop away in the distance outside El Paso, and I realized it was just me, my bike and New Mexico.  Again, I say aloud, thank you.

But I wasn’t through woods yet.  After bearing through another bout of deep sand, I finally ended up back on country roads.  For most of the trip, I’ve heard locals complaining about the drought conditions.  In fact, throughout my entire trip, I haven’t felt a single raindrop yet (knock on wood).  But now, big storm clouds could be seen rolling into the Great Plains. I overheard a farmer at a gas station in Corona say they were expecting rain on Tuesday or Wednesday.  This is only Monday but it looked like rain was on early delivery.  The reason this sucked for me was these benign country roads of hard and loose-packed dirt could easily become massively treacherous if rain struck turning them into deep mud.  I’m still riding on dual sport tires that wouldn’t give me much traction in those conditions.

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So I leaned on the throttle a little harder.

And then, like I hit a wall, the temperature dropped almost 40 degrees.  I’m not kidding or exaggerating.   I started the day in the mid to high 90s and now my gauge read 57 degrees.  I knew all my complaining about the heat would turn ironic at some point, but I figured it would be near Vancouver not while still in New Mexico.  I still had all the cooling vents open in my riding suit which I quickly pulled over to close.  Nonetheless, I still found myself shivering from the high, chilled winds that kept pushing me left to right in the final miles of the trail.

Before I knew it, I was within 10 miles of the Colorado border.  When I crossed the state line, I was a little choked up.  For all lot of off road riders (most probably), this really wouldn’t have been that big a deal.  But it was for me.  I did it by myself, kept the bike together, stayed on track, and finished what I started.

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The word ‘adventure’ gets thrown around far too often in society now.  It’s used far too ubiquitously by marketing executives and travel companies.  I have only two qualifications to define something as an adventure.

  1. It contains an aspect of risk that legitimately concerns or scares you.
  2. You want to quit at some point.

The Shadow of the Rockies Trail had both for me, and that’s why it was my adventure that I’ll always treasure.

From Colorado, I dipped back into New Mexico on the pavement.   The easy monotony of highway traffic felt strangely welcoming as I headed west on Route 72.  I was originally going to head over to Utah and hit Moab and Monument National Park.  But I changed my mind and instead felt Santa Fe calling out to me.

I generally consider Santa Fe to be my third favorite city in America (behind New York and San Francisco).  But it might be my second favorite city in which to eat.  Vietnamese and Southwestern cuisine are my dream meals, and authentic versions of either are hard to come by.  I decided to steer Bumblebee towards Taos and then cut south to Santa Fe.  After a few gracious phone calls by my fantastic wife, I was able to get a room at 10,000 Waves – a magnificent spa right outside of town.  This day was going to end well.

But I didn’t even know how well.  As I passed Raton, NM, the cold front eased and I found myself riding in the glorious sweet zone of the high 70s.  The High Plains of New Mexico faded behind me, and in front, I could slowly see giants rising out of the horizon.  After travelling through the dusty flatlands and mesa deserts in the east, it was glorious to see the gargantuan Rocky Mountains in the distance.

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I travelled through the deliciously shady Cimerron Canyon, carving through the twisty mountain roads leading to Taos.  High granite walls of the mountain flanked me on either side as I passed fly fishermen wading into the stream that paralleled the road.  It was the most beautiful non-park drive I’d experienced thus far in the trip.

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Soon I hit Taos and it was time to head back south.  As I got closer to Santa Fe, I started seeing familiar places that I’ve visited in previous trips.  I only get to Santa Fe infrequently so I treasure the memories and special spots that I know there.  A smile crept across my face as I saw more of the architecture of the adobe style homes that people usually think of when they imagine the Southwest.  I had discovered a whole new side of New Mexico over the past week, but this was the New Mexico I know and love.

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I pulled into 10,000 Waves just an hour before sunset, allowing me to throw my gear into the room, change, and hit the communal hot tub while the sun sank below the tips of the San Juan Mountains.

I’m smiling as I write – this was a good day.

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