Sunday, August 06, 2006

Saturday, May 20 – Day 1 – outside Columbus, NM

It’s about 100 degrees out here. Dry heat, but the next person who says, “yeah, but it’s a dry heat” will be pummelled into submission. The locals don’t say crap like that. They say, “pretty hot out there for riding a bike.” And it is.

We (that would be me and my homey Tim, who is going to tear this up with me) dropped off the rental car in El Paso at 11:00 central, 10:00 mountain – right on time. We had to go in and assure the attendant that yes, in fact, this was the car we picked up in Minneapolis less than 24 hours ago, and no, the 1700 miles we had put on it are not a mistake.

We have Lewis Black to thank for getting us here. Tim has a bunch of standup on his iPod for driving at night. He’s right – there’s nothing quite like standup and strong coffee for getting you through 400 miles of Texas at 3 AM. All the way from Fort Worth to somewhere out in the middle of the desert that good fellow was screeching at me about the sad state of affairs in America. It was a high price to pay for staying awake, but better than the alternative.

So anyway – the trip. We dropped off the car at 10 AM and were loaded up and good to go by 11. By that time it was over 90 and full sun. I drank 3 waterbottles just getting the 10 miles to the other side of town.

El Paso is a junk town. Like other towns we drove through in TX, it reminds me of Gatlinburg, TN – so many signs you can barely see the buildings, cars everywhere, noise, dirt, pollution, the works. Broken glass was everywhere. And the people were rude – honking and yelling even though there was nowhere to get out of the way. (This is in direct contrast to NM, where everyone has been ridiculously friendly.)
So, we got to the other side of town by noon or so. By that time the sun was beating down hard enough that it felt like a hot iron on my back. We stopped at a Village Inn (Perkins for southerners) and loaded up on eggs and such.

We got back out around 2:30, loaded up a ton of water (about 3 gallons apiece) and headed out. There wasn’t really a plan except that we figured we’d get as far as we could, then camp. Columbus was still 75 miles away – too far for one day. We ended up riding for another hour or so, then stopping in a cemetery for an hour or two, just waiting for the sun to get a little lower. We tried it again at that point and managed to keep going until about the time the sun went down.

Once we got out of El Paso all there was was a straight, flat road through the desert. There wasn’t much traffic – just the occasional Yukon bombing through at 85 mph. But everyone gave us plenty of room.

We started looking for a campsite about half an hour before the sun went down. Ordinarily, we’d just wander 100 yards back in the brush somewhere, but here there were good barb-wire fences on both sides. But, every once in awhile there would be a side road with a cattle guard. We found one of those on the north (away from the border) side of the road, went down 50 yards so we were out of view of the highway, and camped in a sandy spot. The campsite probably fell into the “you have any better ideas” category. The site itself was OK, but we were only about 5 miles from the border and had nothing to do with our food but put it in Tim’s food bag and leave it in the sand.

I got myself rehydrated and ate a bit more. Despite being dog-tired I didn’t get to sleep right away. The desert has its own set of noises – coyotes, birds, and little things that skitter around on the ground. Then add the border – a helicopter and a truck rooting around on the other side of the highway. (The truck eventually came out onto the highway on the other (south) side of the same gravel road we were camped next to, but they didn’t stop to hassle us.) Then, add a ridiculous snore and the occasional car flying by 50 yards away. It took me awhile.

Day 1 stats:

40 miles
5 hours
500 feet of climbing (all in El Paso)
2 gallons water/Gatorade

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