Miles Today: 98
Miles to Date: 10,681
States to Date: 27
The spirits of New Mexico must be unhappy that I plan to spend only one night in their beautiful state on this leg of my journey. They blew down on me the whole way from Portal to Columbus. Fortunately I planned for delays on this marathon cycling day, and needed every bit of daylight to arrive at my destination.
Despite my desire to leave my host ET’s at 7:00 a.m.; his coffee was too hot, his oatmeal too delicious, and our conversation too rich to sprint out of there. Still, I was on the gravel road pedaling away from his place by 7:30 and reached pavement by 8:00. After ten miles of traveling west, south, east and then north, I could still see ET’s house with his triple flags flying only a mile away as the crow flies before I finally turned east onto NM Route 9.
The next 88 miles was terrific bike riding, although not speedy. The grades were gentle, the landscape elegant, the traffic non-existent. Twenty-five miles in I stopped in Animas for the only services on the route. I devoured a burrito and refilled my water. My sixth trek over the Continental Divide was the easiest yet – it is just a rise in the middle of a valley.
My desire to reach Columbus before nightfall was thwarted by the wind pushing against me and long, steady climbs. But adverse New Mexico winds are not nearly so damning as their ruthless cousins in the Dakotas. Even as it slowed my progress, this wind was playful, dancing from different directions, creating cool undercurrents, slacking off occasionally so I could savor the Land of Enchantment. I was always behind my target speed, but never enough to give up and sag a ride.
Past Hermanosa, pumping like crazy, the landscape took a fantastic, almost delirious turn. The distant mountains display very different forms. There are ancient, weathered volcanic cones, the rounded shapes of old mountain clusters, and jagged, new ranges. Geologic eons surrounded me. The dry desert I was passing through is but a phase in a landscape that was once a tropical rain forest, once the domain of dinosaurs, once a simmering volcanic cauldron.
Fortunately, there’s a steady eight-mile descent into Columbus. I kept a steady stroke and arrived at my motel in dusk, though still easily visible to local traffic. When the delightful motel owner handed me my receipt she said, “My goodness, you’re cold.” Only then did I realize my skin was frigid. Racing against the sun descending behind me, I never suited back up in my fleece and gloves.