Zen On Dirt

Day 10 – No singletrack, but lava tubes!

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Day 10

It was sad to leave Pie Town…but we were out of cash, and the Good Pie Cafe doesn’t take plastic.

We ate the left over pancakes for breakfast with some jam that we scrounged from the fridge and some cookie flavored nut butter. Marmot came out of her room wide-eyed, “Where’d you get the pancakes!?”

“Help yourself!”

Donuts and pancakes for breakfast…breakfast of champions. Tootsie claimed that she’d never eaten such a sugar and carb-ladden breakfast. This is her first thru-hike…I told her to get used to it.

We set out soon after Kipper, passing him less than 2 miles down the road. The CDT and Tour Divide share 27 miles of road north of Pie Town. With a nearly gale force tailwind, the bike was definitely the correct answer. We flew along, hitting 30+ mph on some of the downhill stretches.

26 miles and not much time later, we came upon two figures in the distance: The Professor and Sunset! They’d left nearly 24 hours earlier.

“Did you two start early this morning?” Sunset asked.


“Yep.” I didn’t have the heart to tell him that we’d slept until 7:15 and didn’t leave town until after 8:30. Sunset is one hike away from completing a double Triple Crown – meaning he’s hiked the AT and PCT twice, and the CDT once already. He’s done it in the past 12 years, and didn’t start hiking until he was 55. Bonkers.

Hikers are special. Far tougher than we’ll ever be. They would shortly turn right, and we’d continue to the pavement and take a left, off of the Tour Divide route, but onto the ACA GDMBR.

The plan was to ride the singletrack paralleling the Chain of Craters Byway, bailing on roads when the trail turned to junk. We were getting ready to head down the trail when a BLM truck pulled up.

Tim came out to talk to us, informing us that the road was actually the Wilderness boundary, and the trail 50 feet off the road was in the Wilderness. He pulled out a map and showed us a new Wilderness Study area farther up the road and said they were managing it like real Wilderness, meaning no bikes. But, he said, the trails not in either of those spots, we could ride. He told us about new tread they were putting down, but lamented that the Ley CDT route, that most people followed, didn’t include this section, so they were having a hard time keeping it not overgrown.

We thanked him and started down the road, headed for our 2 miles of trail, bumming. Not a mile later, he pulled back up next to us. “I was wrong,” he admitted. “The entire trail is in a National Conservation Area, so you can’t ride any of it.” He seemed genuinely bummed to be telling us the news. Dirt roads it would be for us. Bummer.

We knew that we’d run into situations like this. Flexibility. We always knew that the key to this trip would be flexibility.


If it wasn’t for the tailwind pushing us along effortlessly, the sting of a day on roads may have been worse.

Instead of bumming about the situation, we decided to detour off the road and check out the Big Tubes area, a series of lava tubes stretching 18 miles underground. With less than a mile of hiking over some lava, we got to two spots where the tunnel ceiling had collapsed, giving a glimpse into the vast darkness.


We ended up climbing down into the second one, feeling the cold air rush up from deep within the earth. It was wicked neat. Not real. The perfect little afternoon activity to use up a little bit of the time that we’d saved by riding the road instead of the trail. It was actually probably better than trying to ride a trail that wasn’t finished yet. When life gives you limes…make margaritas.

All bike tours should have some hiking diversions, there’s a big world out there to explore.

Back on the road, we were soon back on the highway heading down to the El Malpais Visitor’s Center to get water. We sat there debating the options – Go back west and take the ACA route down Zuni Canyon, head east and rejoin the Ley CDT route at Bonita Canyon, or take a gamble on a Ley alternate route that took off from across the Visitor’s Center and cut the corner to Bonita.

We gambled, and we won. The abandoned two track made its way gently up a deserted canyon among the trees. It was the perfect alternative to the wide county roads that we’d been riding all day.

We’re now camped a mile from Bonita. In the morning, we’ll descend down, catch the CDT route and head down the bottom of Zuni Canyon into Grants. Then we’ll pick up our bounce box, find ourselves a hotel with wi-fi, shop for a giant bag of fruits and veggies, and hole up until the storm passes.

At least that’s my plan.


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