Zen On Dirt


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Day 19 – A trip to Abiquiu via new trails!

If there’s one word I’d use to describe Ghost Ranch, it would be: Quiet.

We’re here before busy season when they house 500 people a night, coming from all over to marvel at the rocks and visit the home of Georgia O’Keefe. But for now, it’s us, about two dozen people who showed up in a tour bus (and left sometime today) and about a dozen hikers.

Breakfast is a social affair. The long tables get filled and it almost becomes a competition to see who can eat the most. The hikers headed out that day seem to do well, as do the ones who came in too late to get dinner last night (or got lunch yesterday and opted to skip dinner).

I knew I was among friends when I leaned back and said, “I know I could fit more food in my belly, I just don’t know if I should. Or need to.”

Jefe, sitting next to me, stopped, fork halfway to his mouth, “I don’t understand that statement.”

We get an hour to eat and the buffet, and the clock is watched closely with final apples and oranges snagged for snacks during the day.

We had a tentative plan to relax for the day. We couldn’t think of a better way to spend a zero day and spent the morning writing post cards, sitting on the main front porch talking to various people as they came and went.

And then I got antsy. “Let’s ride to Abiquiu. Let’s hit up the trails by the dam and then take the river road! It’ll be like a bike riding lunch date!”

I’m still not sure how I convinced Scott that this was a good idea. We needed trail food, but we could have made do with hiker box leftovers and the gift shop on site. It also wouldn’t have been hard to hitch a ride to town.

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We rolled out just shy of noon. The 7 miles of highway seemed easy on unloaded bikes. Turning off, we quickly found the trail on the map that we’d picked up from the Abiquiu dam visitors center.

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When we picked it up, we were warned that they were intermediate trails.

“Are you intermediate riders?” the ranger had asked us.

“I think we’ll be okay.”

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The trails, in one word, were awesome. Clearly, a mountain biker had built them and they traversed the edge of the lake on chunky slickrock. We were a little surprised. So surprised, in fact, that we stopped at the visitors center again after riding the western edge of their 4-mile loop to complement them on their trail building.

We also learned that they’re a bunch of mountain bikers there (run by the Army Corp of Engineers) and that they’d just gotten a grant to hire a bunch of people to train to build trails on their land, and then to send them up to Ghost Ranch to build. The master plan was to build a trail connecting the 7 miles between the dam and Ghost Ranch. It would be the ultimate CDT bike connection.

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We took the meandering river road the 7 miles to Abiquiu for lunch and supplies. It’s a neat little store in the middle of nowhere and we had a lovely little date before loading the bikes up with 3 days worth of food, and starting back from where we came.

Riding the eastern edge of the singletrack loop was just frosting on the cake.

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We’ve spent the evening puttering around the property, checking out the different historical buildings and learning about the history of the ranch. We check out tomorrow, but are planning on visiting the two museums on the property and spending a little time in the Zen garden before leaving…because really, when are we ever going to come back here again?

This traveling without being in a rush thing…I could get used to it. In fact, I already have.

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CDT Day 18 – Having an “adventure”

I’m sitting here on the porch of the Ghost Ranch Retreat watching it rain and enjoying the highest speed internet that I’ve had access to since leaving Tucson and laughing. Laughing because we’ve gotten so ridiculously lucky with weather on this trip.

We just watched the entire San Pedro mountain range get swallowed by a giant wall of water. Visibility to the south is down to sub-5 miles. Had we been camping tonight, we’d be sitting under our tarp probably feeling not entirely too stoked on life. But right now, we’re currently fat, dumb, and happy, giggling at the thunder and lighting that’s surrounding us.

After today, I sort of feel like we deserve this luxury.

I woke up at 5, which is the time that the sky first starts to get lights around here. I always do this, but normally I roll back over and sleep until Scott wakes up, but I was starving. So I made enough noise to wake Scott up. “It’s 5:30!” he informed me.

“I know! But I’m hungry!”

We made oats swiped from the Super 8 in Grants for breakfast and were pedaling before 7, quite possibly a new record for us. Turns out, this would be good later on in the day.

It took us 40 minutes to rejoin our route after leaving it for the hot springs detour. Totally worth every pedal stroke, and the hour we spent futzing around trying to find the trail down.

From there it was a series of steep climbs and descents back onto the Tour Divide route.

“Fat bike track!” Scott was the first to see signs of Rick, but I was the first to see him packing up camp under a tree a half mile down the road. It’s been good fun leapfrogging, it’s always fun sharing trail stories with someone who gets bikes. Alas, I think that that may have been our last meeting as our routes diverge from here.

We left him to finish packing as we went to finish the climb.

The plan was to take a National Recreation Trail instead of the normal Tour Divide route. Why? Because we like to do things differently. The ranger in Cuba warned us of deadfall…but it couldn’t be worse than Dixie…right?

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The fact that we couldn’t find any sort of sign or trailhead for it should have been a dead giveaway, but we found the trail and started down. You could tell that in a life past, it had been beautifully constructed. We dumped out into a meadow where we were promptly chased by an angry cow and we rejoined the trail, following Canones Creek through more cow pastures.

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The trail was a beautiful black ribbon of dirt through dandelions and bright green grass. We were currently winning at life.

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Then the cows stopped. And the downed trees started. And when there weren’t downed trees, there were giant piles of rocks. And then there were some more trees. And some more rocks. A 100-foot rally was considered successful. Generally, 50 feet was the max. On again. Off again. Fight through some trees. On again. Fight some more. Continue for the next 4 miles of trail.

BUT – it followed a beautiful little stream down, was completely deserted (for obvious reasons), and had some sections of trail that I would definitely write home about. Unfortunately, they were only 25 feet long.

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And like all thing, even the most tedious trail must end. We found our way out of the drainage on a set of beautifully constructed switchbacks. Go figure.

From there, it was a race against the storm. Our early start paid off as we dropped 1,900 feet in 6 miles, looking back frequently to see our canyon getting hammered by rain.

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The plan was to go to Abiquiu (7 miles out of the way (one-way)) to get a Bode’s Burrito and food for the trek to Chama, and then head to Ghost Ranch. Feeling pretty worked from our little adventure, we opted to skip Abiquiu, but did stop at the Abiquiu Lake recreation area to learn that they had mountain bike trails there. We figured that if we couldn’t figure out a ride to Bode’s from Ghost Ranch the next day, we’d just ride unloaded bikes, ride some trail, and then go get groceries.

So we pedaled the 7 miles to Ghost Ranch, a stopover for most CDT hikers. We immediately found a group sitting in front of the main office.

“There’s ice cream for CDT hikers if you want some,” was one of the first greetings.

“Yes, please!”

There seem to be 6-8 thru hikers hanging out here, some taking off tomorrow, some who’d just arrived this morning. Sailor’s been living on a sailboat for 20 years and had to fly halfway across the world to start this hike. She and her partner were debating between touring the GDMBR on bikes or hiking the trail…they chose the hike.

Dinner was an all-you-can-eat affair. It was good to see that thru-hikers can shovel down amazing amounts of food too when they first get to town.

Ghost Ranch seems to be a neat little place. Surrounded by giant cliffs, it’s a retreat with limited (but fast) internet, no phone service, and no TV. There are nature walks, a Zen Garden, and all-you-can-eat breakfast and lunch options as well.

We’re laying over two nights here because we’re ahead of schedule to get to Chama and part of the stated reason for this trip is to spend time in cool places. Tomorrow will either be spent riding trails during a grocery run, or hanging out in the Zen garden and seeing if there are any short hikes that our tired legs can do.


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Day 17 – Hot springs!

I think it was semi-rad who once wrote that there were two types of people in this world: Hot springs people, and non-hot springs people. There were those who’d go to great lengths to seek out secluded pools and soak for hours, and those who didn’t really understand the big deal.

I, having never soaked in a natural hot spring pool, considered myself in the latter category, but was always curious about the fuss.

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So when Scott piped up on our last day in Grants – I think I’ve found a route from Cuba to Abiquiu that keeps us mostly off the Tour Divide route and takes us by a hot spring! – I said – C’mon, twist my arm a little further.

We had what some would call a lazy morning in Cuba. It was somewhere on the order of 7:30 when I finally rolled out of bed and we made our way over to the Cuban Cafe. We’d seen a picture of their breakfast burritos on the Facebook and knew it was a place we needed to visit.

The owner was super friendly and gave us a nice little spot to stow the bikes and we walked in, ready for a big meal. And Rick was there! Sitting at a back table, we invited ourselves over to eat with him. Well, it’s more like we just sat down across from him and said – Hi stranger! We traded war stories – Drizzle and mud for him, lack of trail for us.

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He looked tired. New Mexico is a hard state on the Divide route, and while it may be good to get it out of the way early, there’s a whole lot of learning to be done on the trail that’s easier to do when you’re not 100’s of miles between resupply points and water sources.

From breakfast, we headed to the BLM/Forest Service office across the street. We needed beta on our route to make sure all the roads we wanted to take were open to bikes, and Scott wanted to give the BLM an earful about keeping trails closed to mountain bikes. We succeeded with the first, with vague directions to the hot spring (look for a parking area and a break in the fence and then hike down) but failed at the second, as the BLM had moved the office to ABQ. (Except that if you call the ABQ BLM, they tell you that they have someone in Cuba. And then want to know if your question is about oil and gas.)

Then back to the room. Blog post. Email replies, A little bit of work. At 10:30, we went to go request a late check out. Sign the hiker log book. Pack up bikes. Decide we were hungry again.

It was only after lunch at the BBQ joint across the street that we finally hit the trail. We followed the TD route north, climbing 1,900 feet on pavement, burping up BBQ chicken and hamburgers and left the route on the other side of Senorita Pass. Scott had put together a beautiful route of dirt roads, some smooth, some rough, some really rough, but never, ever flat. It was a super cook traversal of the San Pedro range.

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Tire tracks. Bear tracks.

Once on 144, we started looking around for our parking pullout with the break in the fence. The one car we saw all day came by as we looked confusedly at another pullout that backed up to a cliff. We could see the river and structures by the spring below. “Do you know how to get to the hot springs?” they asked.

“We were going to ask you the same question!”

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They went looking one direction, we went the other, finally spotting the trail heading down a weakness in the cliff band. We stashed the bikes in the trees and headed down the 400 foot scramble. A quick march along an old dirt road, a climb up the other side, and there were the San Antonio hot springs. The couple in the car had beat us down, choosing to take a longer, but more straightforward route.

It was…beautiful? Soothing? The perfect place to watch the sun set?

The ideal hiking diversion from a bike route.

We soaked. We shared a beer (and by shared, Scott had a sip, declared – it tastes like beer – and let me finish the rest). We tested out all the different pools.

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I think I can say with a fair amount of certainty – I’m a hot springs person.

We scrambled back up to our bikes, just beating darkness and set up camp at the edge of the cliffband. I’d opted to haul 2+ pounds of leftover Mexican food from El Bruno last night, which made for a delightful dinner. What was a fiesta platter last night, was a giant ball of beans, rice, avodabo, chicken, ground beef, chile relleno, and cheese. Sometimes my insistence of not wasting food turns out just fantastic.

Tomorrow, Abiquiu and on to Ghost Ranch. Giddy-up!


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Day 16 – Skunked on singletrack, saved by a trail angel

I didn’t have the energy to write a blog post last night. It may have had to do with either a) getting baked by the sun all day b) a 10-mile time trial effort down 550 to get us to Cuba (the faster we go, the sooner this is over) or c) the giant margarita we had a El Bruno in Cuba.

I’m guessing it was a combination of the three.

The day started warm. There’s nothing better than waking up to a warm morning bikepacking. Not having to stay curled up in a sleeping bag while rolling up sleeping pads, not having to warm hands in pockets while cooking, being able to have a dance party to music coming from the iPad while packing up…yeah, warm mornings are good.

The day started with 9 miles of dirt road along the mesa. The perfect warm up to a day that we’d hoped would be mostly singletrack. The CTD does a lot of road, but unlike the GDMBR, the roads are rough, remote, and definitely require both hands on the bars.

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We soon hit trail, with a giant sign welcoming hikers, horsey people, AND mountain bikes! Win. The map had described the section as having trail through the wooded areas and cairns through the open sections. It turned out beautifully for us, swoopy, duffy trail in the trees, straight shots across the meadows.

And then the trail dropped. After spending the morning on the mesa, it was time to go into the lowlands. I was hoping for a smooth, fast loss of elevation…it was…not. I’d say, on average, 50% rideable, with a 30/70 split for Scott and I. A brake burner for sure. At least we lost the elevation quickly?

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It was fun, in a challenging sort of way.

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We filled up at the Ojo Frio spring. One tank had green water. One had a dead lizard. We went for the dead lizard water. Lunch was had under a tree – tortillas with guacamole, gouda, and salami. I knew it was worth hauling the weight!

We set out for the trail. No bikes. It was a wilderness study area – fair enough. We turned back onto the GDMBR route.

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Why this section isn’t included in the race route is beyond me (besides it being impassable when wet), it’s the most beautiful section out there! Crime against humanity!

We veered off our route to check a trail crossing. Still no bikes. Back onto the GDMBR and then onto a shortcut road that would get us to the trail. Next crossing – no sign! Win!

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We hopped on the trail, knowing that we’d be crossing the GDMBR again in a quarter mile. Upon spying the road, we saw a truck, hatch open, two women sitting on the tailgate with a cooler between them and a guy standing talking to them.

It was Mother Goose and Swan, and Bob was feeding them while waiting for his son who was also hiking the trail.

“Want some fresh water?”

“Yes! Ours have floaties!”

“How about a sandwich? I have beef brisket and chicken. French fries? Gatoraid?”

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Trail magic! Woohooo!

It was cool to meet Mother Goose. A legend of the hiking community, she’s yo-yo’d the Appalachian Trail, hiked the AT 5 times, the PCT twice, the Colorado Trail a couple of times, etc, but this was her first time out on the CDT.

They took off eventually and we filled our bladders with fresh water and ice. ICE! Did I mention it was hot out? We thanked Bob profusely and headed down the trail. Trail magic and trail to ride! Winning at life!

And then over the first hump, the sign we didn’t want to see. No bikes. Wha? No NCA, no wilderness study, just BLM land that they’d closed to bikes. Boo hiss.

And so, GDMBR it would be. Scott was wicked bummed because apparently the trail we were missing was beautiful. I didn’t know what I was missing, but got bored of the long straight roads. But it was ok. We were on bikes. Doing something cool.

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We checked each trail crossing, each was signed No Bikes. We resigned ourselves to the 10 mile pedal in on 550, complete with giant semi trucks and traffic. On the plus side, there was a big shoulder and I never felt that scared. I’ve ridden far sketchier roads in my life.

In town, we got a room at the Del Prado, the motel of choice of thru-hikers, The owner was excited to see us, letting us dig through the hiker box (oranges! apples! beer!), taking our picture, and putting us in the handicap accessible room so we’d have more space for bikes. There’s no door to the bathroom, but hey, we all make compromises.

Dinner was spicy. The margarita strong. The bed soft.

We may have gotten to town 24 hours before schedule and missed some cool trail, but hey, that’s all part of traveling, and Scott’s dead set on making a stink with the BLM over the trail closure.

The world needs more people like him.

Today – a route that involves a stop at some hot springs. Living the life of leisure.


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Day 15 – Mt Taylor push-a-bike

Day 15

It was good to get out of Grants. After four nights in our king-sized bed, it was time to move on. Anyhow, we were both pretty over sitting in front of computers. We did all of our morning chores – breakfast, pack up, ship package via front desk, do an idiot check on the room – and headed down the road.

The goal of the day was to get over Mt. Taylor, elevation 11,300 feet. Starting in Grants, at 6,500 feet, we had a ways to go up, but we’d gotten work from Hugo Mums, the Grants trail angel, that we’d probably be able to ride most of it.

The bikes were heavy. We were planning two nights out and three full days to get to Cuba and we’ve run out of food twice already this trip…so we pulled a typical overcompensation and were desperately trying to fit bits of food into nooks and crannies on the bike.

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It was a good thing that the trail went straight up (after a civilized few miles of pavement from town). It was rocky, rubbly, and gained 1,000 feet in under two miles. For better or worse, it was mostly ridable, so I burned far too many motivation matches getting up steep pitches.

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I paid for it later. The first day of touring is always hard, and we were stopped long enough to get out of the rhythm of riding every day. I hurt. I whined. I told Scott to go on ahead so I could wallow in my misery. I can be pretty melodramatic when I want to be.

Several eternities later, we hit the wide open face of Taylor. Just a few giant switchbacks to go. Scott, super-freak that he is with a 20 tooth chain ring, rode most of it. I took my bike for a walk.

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Sometimes I wonder why I drag my bike up places. The view made this one worth it. With clear skies and minimal wind, we spent a glorious chunk of time at the top looking back from where we’d come.

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Eventually, it was time to go down, which is always way better than going up. The trail did not disappoint, it was a glorious way to lose elevation.

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We happened upon American Canyon Spring to fill up on water. It was magic back there, newly sprouted emerald green grass, budding aspens, clean water coming straight from the ground. I would have slept there if it had been two hours later.

After figuring out our bearing leaving the spring, and going down the wrong road for a little bit, we started to reap the rewards for 6+ hours of climbing in the morning. While it was road, it sloped down gently and made for fast, easy miles. We needed them. I needed them.

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Some more chunky trail brought us down to the mesa where we’re camped on a cow trail. Everything around is a big lumpy, and the trail is perfectly flat. If I don’t make it through the night, my obituary will say: Ez did all sorts of cool and semi-dangerous things. It’s a shame she was trampled by a cow.

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It’s 9:21 and the sunset is still going. Wide open western views…wow. I get to sleep in the coolest places.


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Rainy day photo dump – Round 2

Before I get to the photos, for record keeping purposes:

Day 13 was spent hanging out in Grants. Grants isn’t nearly as terrifying as I remember it and we spent some time hanging out in the hot tub between bouts of work.

We did go to the post office, and got soaked by a passing storm. And we got dinner with Rick at Cafecito. Their bean and guac-stuffed sopapillas are pretty much divine.

Now, on to the more interesting stuff – photos!

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We left Silver City with the information that a small general store would be open at Lake Roberts, thus, we left with minimal trail food. Said store was closed…which caused a brief moment of panic until we found snacks at the mom and pop cabin rentals next door. $50 of snacks later, we were on our way into the Gila.

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Smoke seemed to be moving in each evening. Our boogers may have been black, but the smoke made for some amazing sunsets.

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We found a hiker the next morning. He was booking it up a steep hill and it actually took us a while to catch him. He was doing a 5-day circumnavigation of the Aldo Leopold Wilderness to our east. I love it when people put together creative routes. I do wonder what backpackers carry in those huge packs…

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The famed Beaverhead soda machine. Officially out of order for good. Tour Dividers beware.

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Leaving Beaverhead. When the scenery was still good and the wind hadn’t picked up…we were actually enjoying road touring for a little while. It’s good in small doses…but yeah, I can say with a fair amount of certainty that there are no Tour Divides, or other long road tours, in my future.

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We got on the trail the next morning. It was beautiful.

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Until we hit the burn area. Then it wasn’t so beautiful.

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Then it was beautiful again.

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And it kept on getting better. 2,000 feet straight down on narrow, fun trail. BIkepacking doesn’t get much better than this.

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A smokey sunset on top of Mangus Mountain. There were good things in the future…as in a belly full of food for the first time since Silver City.

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Pie Town! We tried every flavor during our stay except for blueberry. I had the NM apple and green chili flavor twice.

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The motley crew at the Toaster House.

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Funny shit. Literally.

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Spork’s stepmom had sent him some cookies in a care package. They had pretty much everything in them: M&M’s, chocolate chips, nuts, cranberries. We were lucky that he shared them and we were able to enjoy them after getting shut out from the Chain of Craters singletrack. (And Mom, if you want to send a care package, we’re doing a mail pickup in Chama. We like Trader Joe’s Gummy Tummies, Gummy Mangos, and Chile Mangos. 😉 And those chocolate hazelnut cookies they stock over the freezer section. )

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Rocks are cool. Lava is cool. Hiking diversions from a bike route are cool. Lava is not easy to walk on in bike shoes, even if they are hike-a-bike shoes.

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These lava tubes were created 10,000 years ago and stretch 17+ miles. The world is such an amazing place…I’ve got no words to describe it.

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I was just going to comment that we hadn’t seen any bear scat for a while when we came upon these. Two bears, heading in the opposite direction from us. Baby prints from the look of it.

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It’s been unsettled weather in Grants, and while we both know that we have the ability to push on and endure the elements, we haven’t really seen the need to, so we’ve been hanging out in a posh hotel room, working, soaking in the hot tub, and eating cheap Mexican food at El Cafecito.

But, we are going a bit stir crazy, so it’ll be good to get back on the trail sooner rather than later.


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Photo Dump: Round 1

I’ve officially decided that I take too many photos…it’s a little overwhelming to even go through them. It’s a rough problem to have…I know. But, photos aren’t going to do anyone any good just sitting on my memory card, so I’m proud to present: Things I saw from Lordsburg to Silver City. Part II coming in the future.

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Scott finally got a smartphone. Let’s all give him a round of applause for entering the 21st century. He rigged up a system that he can do a good amount of work with a mini keyboard and his phone. Officially presenting Trackleaders mobile programming headquarters in Lordsburg, NM.

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Roger Payne was the one to drive us to nearly the border. HIs family had been in the area since his grandfather and he had countless stories to tell. He pointed out various landmarks on our drive down, including his house with the red roof that we’d spot from various directions on our way back to, through, and after Lordsburg. Good people, and we’re unbelievably appreciative for the ride down.

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The “official” (whatever that means on this trail ruled by anarchy) start of the CDT is at Crazy Cook. Legend has it that a survey crew was down working on the border and two of the men complained about the food. The cook killed them. Apparently in cold blood if you read the inscription on the memorial.

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Less than a 100 feet from the memorial is the official start of the trail. It felt like an adventure just getting there. We had lunch by the border gate, that apparently used to be a fence but the border patrol got tired of repairing it every time it got cut down.

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These are goat-cow hybrids. They had cow bodies and goat heads, and were curious enough about us to trot along with us until we stopped to stare. We stared at them for a little while while Scott pondered the feasibility of breeding a goat with a cow. I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t amount to much. Big Hatchet mountains in the background.

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After climbing away from Lordsburg, our one water stop for the day was the Co-op windmill. Solar powered, the water was delicious. We stopped to eat my mango that I’d carried to and from the border for lunch. We were shaded from the sun and finally settling into a touring rhythm.

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It’s always good to see bikes acknowledged on the CDT. For much of the south, there were signs saying CDT: Hikers and equestrians. Turns out, it’t pretty good on a bike too!

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The big cross country section south of Lordsburg was awesome. We were fretting flat tires and lots of hike-a-bike. Neither materialized and the lack of trail led to feeling really out there.

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The Bike House in Silver City deserves a post of its own. That may or may not happen, but regardless, Ben was cooking 24 loaves of bread for a wedding in the afternoon. They smelled delicious and we were amazed that there are still places that open their doors to any passing cyclist and welcome them with open arms.

We’ve found loads of friendly people, a stark contrast to how I remember southern New Mexico the last time I came through the area. There’s also tons of delicious food…I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of New Mexico green chili.

Yeah touring!