Keep in mind by the start of this ride I was averaging about 3 to 4 hours of sleep per night for 15 days in a row. Also, keep in mind that by the start of this ride, I had already ridden over 2,400 miles over those same 15 days. Lastly, keep in mind that New Mexico was a concern for me even before the start of the race for fear of both peanut butter mud and running out of water. That leads us to the video below.
Let’s back up a bit … how did I get to a point where I was so happy to be standing in muddy water surrounded by frogs in the Gila National Forest? So this was actually days 16 and 17 of the Tour Divide, but it was one continuous ride with one short nap waiting out the rain on the porch of a Mormon Church (ranch), and three very short “naps” underneath “thicker” pine trees. I put “naps” in quotes because I only actually fell asleep for maybe 15-20 minutes the first time I stopped under a tree. I know I was asleep for this one because I remember being woken up by the sound of thunder. I did not fall asleep at all for the second or third “nap” and instead just simply needed a break from riding in the rain. Also, I put “thicker” in quotes because these were not “thick” pine trees at all – but some did have branches closer in to the trunk and looked less wet than the ground around it. But it was never dry.
I started the day about 20 hours before reaching the frogs in the Gila National Forest having left early in the morning from Grants, New Mexico. I had a good long stay at the hotel thanks in part to storms that were still going when I first woke up at 3AM, so I was able to sleep for another 1.5 hours to wake up by 4:30AM and out the door by 5:30AM. Knowing how long the stay I had been, I set my mind on riding all the way to Glenwood, which would be about 185 miles with the last 120 miles having no resupply at all. I got wet from the last bit of the storms and wet roads as I rolled out from the hotel, but I also noticed the temperature was quite a bit warmer than it had been. So I had to take off my rain gear since it wasn’t raining much and I didn’t want to sweat to death. Especially since there would be no stops at all for the first 65 miles to Pie Town … or the next 120 miles after Pie Town.
I was nervous about those first 65 miles as documented in the video above. I knew that there was a 40 mile section leading into Pie Town that would be all dirt. Given how much rain had fallen I was worried about peanut butter mud. It ended up being good riding through great paved roads in the El Malpais national monument. This was a cool area with arches and rock formations and a great paved road that was wet. I was also scanning the sides of the road looking at all the mud. Also there was one fairly deep flooded river crossing the road. There were a couple other smaller ones. This did not bode well for the 40 mile dirt road to Pie Town.
Eventually, I did make it to the turn. It was black, sandy gravel that was a bit deep to ride through but no mud. So I thought this is great – I can work with this. The road was a bit elevated and there was only a couple low spots with some bad peanut butter mud that you could ride around. One interesting encounter on this stretch was a small herd of llamas in the middle of the road. I wasn’t sure how aggressive they would be, but one of only two cars that passed me on that 40 mile stretch of road came up right as I neared them and made them move off the road. I got a good video (see below) of the llamas up close as I went by – they just stared at me curiously.
No rain at all along the 40 mile stretch of road but I could see lots of dark clouds and storms including a massive storm that formed behind me as I approached Pie Town. By the time I hit the state highway at Pie Town it had started to rain pretty good. I was only a quarter mile from the restaurant and wondering if I should put my rain gear on for the climb up the hill. I decided against it and went hard up the hill to the restaurant.
The Pie Town Ohana Cafe restaurant was really great. I had some New Mexico poutine and also got a burrito to go and also had their delicious specialty pie slice. I chatted with the waiter and the cooks and the dirt bike rider who had just finished up his tour divide ride on a dirtbike and was going to head west to Las Vegas from there instead of going all the way down to the end. I was hoping the storm would pass by the time I was done so I was pretty slow there at Pie Town and enjoyed my New Mexico poutine and specialty pie and ordered a breakfast burrito to go.
Unfortunately, it hadn’t stopped raining yet by the time I left so I had put on all my rain gear. Thankfully the storm was indeed almost over and I quickly rode out of the rain onto the next dirt road after stopping by the famous toaster house which is a free hostel for cyclists and hikers. There was nobody there. A mile or two later, it had stopped raining so I had to stop and take off my rain gear because it was getting hot – even with it still threatening rain and mostly cloudy.
I think what made those first few miles so stressful after leaving Pie Town was knowing I had 120 miles to Glenwood — the next place I could re-supply. I also knew that there wasn’t much shelter, but I didn’t realize that there was practically zero shelter over that same distance – especially the last 90 miles. I also didn’t realize at the time that it was going to be raining all night long.
At the moment, the road changed a bit with less gravel which made it easier to ride in places, but also had quite a few soft peanut butter spots. Most were avoidable, but some were not, and I was already picking up a layer of mud on the tires. It was difficult to find a clean path and I was stressed that I would be riding like this for the next 120 miles. In fact, I was so stressed it almost felt a bit like a panic attack with my chest getting tighter and so many negative thoughts flooding my mind as I rode through the muggy air with mosquitoes and flies.
Eventually, the dirt road intersected with more gravelly roads which eliminated the peanut butter mud possibilities for the most part but it was hard riding because of deep gravel. About 30 miles into the stretch I finally hit the national forest boundary. It started out with a very large climb that had the first section of peanut butter mud towards the top of the climb (surprisingly, you’d think this would be lower on the mountain), but I was rolling along and then watched in horror a sudden accumulation of mud on my tires with rocks flinging everywhere. I thought maybe I could ride it out but that whole entire stretch was far too long – maybe half a mile. There was no riding, there was no walking (on the road). So I got off the bike and immediately stepped down into mud so deep it covered both shoes and made me think I would never be able to clip into the bicycle again.
I could tell that there was no way to walk along the road so I made my way up the side of the hill and found the continental divide trail right there just off the main road. I had to stop because there was so much mud that I picked up scrambling the hill that the tires and wheels wouldn’t even turn anymore. I had a hard time getting the chain back onto the chainring because of all the mud completely covering the chain. After quite a bit of futzing around and spraying on a ton of bug spray to fend off all the mosquitoes, I was able to get the wheels moving and the chain back on even though there was still so much mud all over the drivetrain.
I started my hike-a-bike along the trail as it went right along side and slightly above the mud fest called a road. Eventually, the trail started to deviate off so I had to scramble back down to the road and then I realized that the road consistency had indeed changed and it was rideable. So I started riding again on the road, and that’s when I saw a northbounder coming the other way. She had stopped in the sun — unbelievably, there was actually a little bit of sun — and was eating. I said hello and she said hello and I mentioned about the peanut butter mud and she said in response there was more coming that she couldn’t even turn the wheels on her bicycle. I don’t know which section she was talking about or if it was because I was riding downhill after finally reaching the top that I had enough momentum to fling mud off before it really stuck. I warned her about the section I had just hike-a-biked and hopefully she was able to make it through without as much problems as I had.
I asked her if there was any shelter at the state highway I was about to cross, and she mentioned there were people from a Mormon church that gave her water. I asked about a hose, and apparently she had asked as well because she said they told her the hose was shut off. By the time I descended down off the mountain to the highway there was nobody at the church and everything was locked up. But the front building had a covered patio entrance that was very small, I decided to eat my burrito I had brought from Pie Town and wait out the approaching wall of rain (see pic below) and perhaps nap. As the rain really started to hit the patio, it became covered in ants escaping the rising water along side the patio. I could tell they were normal house ants so I didn’t worry too much about it even though they crawled all over me while I sat there and slept a bit.
Before I went to the patio to escape the rain above, I talked with two guys standing outside their pick-up truck hauling a cattle trailer, which was stopped at the intersection with the state highway and asked them about shelter. They pointed to the patio but also mentioned that there was a covered school bus stop that was no longer in use about 5 miles away. They also laughed in a “I’m-so-glad-I’m-not-you” kind of way at my predicament with 30 miles (off course) to the nearest town.
Eventually, maybe 30 to 45 minutes later, the rain had indeed moved on so I packed up and started to ride down this awful gravel road. That’s the trade-off in these areas — the worse the road, the less likely it is to have peanut butter mud because of all the gravel and rocks. But that doesn’t mean that it’s easy to ride. Definitely better than peanut butter mud, though.
There were actually a few houses through this stretch, including one that had water set out for GDMBR riders. I had carried 5L of water with me so there was no way I was going to get any more water as I was already so heavily loaded. I ended up with at least 2L of water that I had not drunk by the time I finally made it through the forest, so I’m glad I didn’t get more water to weigh me down even more.
As it started to get dark after sunset, I could see new storms up ahead including some with lightning. I paid close attention to the direction my route was heading and thankfully noticed that I was going to clear the first storm to one side. Little did I know how much more rain and storms we’re on the way behind this one. Still, at the time I started being a bit more optimistic that it wasn’t going to be so bad and started to realize that I could indeed make it through the forest. This was correct as I did indeed make it through the forest, but it was easily the hardest thing I have ever done on a bicycle.
The route used various forest service roads of varying qualities as it continued to climb. I started to get sleepy a couple hours after dark. And it had already started to rain again. I kept looking for any kind of shelter that I could possibly stop and sleep in for an hour or two, but the only thing I found was thicker trees that were providing a little bit of cover from the rain. And after another hour of searching I was too tired to keep riding so I knew I needed to take a nap. I found a particularly good tree and decided to sleep there for a bit.
The lightning is what woke me up. Also, I was cold just sitting there after working hard on the climb. So maybe only 15-20 minutes after stopping I got going again. As I continued to climb it started raining a bit harder. I continued to change roads every now and then, and I would see signs pointing to lookouts down side roads and would try and figure out how far away that might be and whether it was worth the risk of riding there and not finding any shelter so I just continued on the route as it continued to rain.
At some point in the next few miles, I encountered a really bad section of peanut butter mud. I had been riding ruts with puddles to avoid the sticky mud but eventually it became impossible to avoid and my wheels quickly stopped moving so I had to carry the now enormously heavy bike (i.e., +10 pounds?!) off to the side of the road through even thicker mud and use whatever I could find to attempt to clean the mud off. I found that there was some thicker grass and even a path that wasn’t too bad. I had to first clean the bike and my shoes and then I started to ride without clipping in since there was still an inch or two of mud on the bottom of my shoes. I walked and rode for what seemed like forever but may have only been 1-2 miles. Eventually, I could hear frogs. This was a good sign because that meant deeper water where I could clean my bike and my shoes. This brings us to the video at the start of this post.
After cleaning my self and the bike off in the frog puddle I had to make a 90° turn onto a different road which thankfully was gravel and that was the end of the peanut butter mud. But it was not the end of my problems, as it continued to rain harder and get colder and I got sleepier. I ended up stopping dazed under two more trees and after the second tree realized it was almost 4AM and the sun would be rising soon. This somewhat rejuvenated me although it was really cold and rainy by this point. I had a bit of a fight of hypothermia by this point so I decided under yet another tree to just hit it hard and started riding as hard as I could which helped some.
After sunrise, I continued to climb and could now see the lines better. It was still very difficult and my hands were somewhat frozen by this point. Eventually I made it to the very top and saw a campground with vault toilet. But I knew I had a dissent and that a 24 hour store would be available at the bottom. I was wrong about that. I have NO IDEA why I had denoted a store in Mogollon as a 24 hour store, because not only are they not 24 hour stores, they are only open on the weekend. Also I would discover as I started the descent that my front brake pads were completely gone. I almost crashed into a tree when I tried to break with my front brake only while drinking with my other hand. This meant that I had to take everything super slow with just the rear brake so that in case it gave out, too, I could somewhat safely bail off the bike at a slower speed.
I had spare brake pads, but my hands were frozen and it would have been impossible to change out the brake pads cold, shaking, and shivering in the rain. Eventually, I made it into Mogollon — the mountain town at the bottom of the long descent. I found the 24 hour store labeled on my map but it was closed up tight and only open on the weekends and most definitely not 24 hours. I don’t know how I got that so wrong when I was doing my research. Somewhat despondent after passing the closed store, I decided to turn around to try the door one more time and ended up crashing as I made the turn — one of two crashes the entire trip! The door was all blocked off so that I couldn’t even get to it without climbing over some chairs and a chain so I decided it wasn’t worth getting in trouble and that I could make it to Glenwood just 11 miles farther up the road.
What I didn’t know was that the store owner, herself, was at that moment driving towards me from the other side of the mountain, which I also had no clue was there – I thought it was going to be “all downhill” to Mogollon. So after climbing out of the deep canyon, I then started the descent down into Glenwood. That descent would have been awesome if I had a front brake but I had to do the paved descent using just the rear brake, so I had to use the same strategy of not getting too much speed in case the rear brake gave out, too. Thankfully, by this time it had finally stopped raining. This is when I saw a car approaching and slowing down and I decided to see what was going on and try to slow down with just my rear brake and ended up flying past the car with an open window because I simply could not stop. The lady hollered out and said she had stuff for me and was so thankful I had made it through the night.
I had no idea who this was, but was certainly thankful for the trail magic. I would find out that this was Cresta Terrell, owner of the Mogollon General Store and amazing trail angel. She was taking care of people as they came through Mogollon as they came off the treacherous Gila national forest adventure. This gave me a chance to warm up so I could change my front brake pads. It was awesome!
By this point in the day, it had gotten quite hot and sunny, which was welcome after being so wet and cold for so long. Even though the sun was out, there was quite a bit of peanut butter mud on this dirt road, but with high speed on the downhill to Glenwood, it didn’t stick to the tires as aggressively. I made it to the store in Glenwood and resupplied for my 68 mile ride to Silver city that ended up having a nice tailwind that helped alleviate some of the challenge of all the relentless climbing all the way up to the continental divide and then over one more canyon wall and then finally a 2 mile descent back down into Silver City.
I was looking for some real food and stumbled upon Blakes diner which is a New Mexico fast food burger chain, and it was amazing. I made my way to the Food Mart near my hotel, resupplied with all the food for the start of my final day of the race, and then went to the hotel to find out that I was on the fourth floor of the hotel without a working elevator. I reasoned that it would be quicker to pack up my bike after sleeping if I carried it up the four flights of stairs. So that is exactly what I did — what a crazy end to a crazy long 270 mile adventure through the Gila National Forest area of New Mexico. Only one more day to go to finish off my detailed recap of the Tour Divide, but I’m currently in Staunton, Virginia to see The Tempest with my daughter playing the role of Alonso. Afterwards, I will be biking the 650 miles back home to Alabama since there won’t be any room in the car for me! So that last day recap will come sometime later this week.
Also, I have so much more pictures from this day, and many of them are in the pickuta album linked at the end.
Pickuta photo album
See even more pics from the entire race along with the exact time/location where each was taken on the tracking website I created called pickuta.com. If you are on a phone or small screen web browser, click the “hamburger” triple bar icon in the upper left to slide out the photos and turn on/off the tracking markers: https://pickuta.com/album/258