P1030576.JPGMEXICO!

I was up before dawn yesterday for the final, 35-mile leg of our 2,600-mile Great Divide Ride, but then, Mary tells me impatience has always been my strongest suit. As I rode out of Deming toward the Las Polamas border crossing, the sun was illuminating from behind the jagged Florida Mountain Range. The air was calm and cool. New Mexico Highway 11 was surprisingly busy but to my great relief the traffic petered out after the first ten miles.

Mexican influence was everywhere apparent: in the adobe architecture, in the color of house paint (pink, orange, purple,) in the wording of signs (“Llantas en venta,” “We Buy Escrap Metal.” A lone hot-air balloon hung in the western sky – an escapee from the Albuquerque Balloon Festival?

As I was nearing one of the last homes on the Deming outskirts, a well muscled pit bull spied me from across the highway. Rather than coming immediately after me, this dog, like a well trained school boy, looked both ways and waited for traffic to clear. Likely, he was a veteran of many bicycle pursuits. Once the traffic passed he launched himself with ballistic speed on a trajectory that might well have intersected my lower extremities had not the intervening traffic given me a good headstart.

New Mexico 11 from Deming to Las Palomas is arrow-straight and flat with a comfortably wide shoulder so conditions were ideal. Only the wind had to cooperate and it did for the first ten miles. My speed was averaging about thirteen MPH, which is good for a mountain bike. For the second ten miles, a headwind slowed me down a bit. Mary was driving the U-Haul to retrieve me once I reached the border. She stopped every five miles to give me encouragement.

But what was going through my head? Before we set out on this ride, I had often perused the maps wondering what the different landmark towns along the way would be like; what I would be experiencing when I passed through them. I especially wondered what the final ride to the border would be like. Would it be emotion-wrought? Would I be exhausted? Exhultant? Now that I found myself actually riding the final miles I realized that I was quite matter-of-fact about the whole thing. Bicycle riding had become so ingrained in my daily routine over the last two months that it felt like just another day at school or a day on the job.

Well, perhaps there was a trace of excitement in me for those final miles. The wind had shifted again as I passed the Border Patrol checkpoint at about mile twenty-five, this time in my favor. When I rode through the town of Columbus, just four miles from the border, I merely waved to Mary as I sped by at twenty MPH. The pavement was a bit rough in town so I was jumping pot holes like a teenage boy and weaving my way through menacing gravel on the road’s shoulder – going airborne when necessary.

Mary parked the U-Haul in a Dollar Store parking lot about two hundred yards from the border crossing and we took our bikes as close as we dared venture since we didn’t have passports. I wanted to ask a Border Patrol agent to snap our picture but Mary got all uptight about going any closer as if we were talking about entering North Korea or something so I propped the camera on a street light’s base and put it on the ten second timer. And that was it. Two thousand six hundred miles of back roads, over two hundred thousand feet of climbing, nearly two months of following the arc of the Rocky Mountains down the spine of the United States had come to a close.

Our other big bike trips had ended conveniently in small towns where we were able to turn our bikes over to someone to have them packaged and shipped home. We either took the train (The Northern Tier) or rented a car (The Southern Tier) and made our way home. No muss, no fuss. But the Great Divide Mountain Bike Ride ends either at Antelope Wells which is a mere border crossing in the desert or at Columbus/Las Palomas which is a very small town where very few services are available. We now had to figure out a way to get ourselves and our gear home. That is a story that is still unfolding.

My thoughts on the experience? It was definitely the most challenging of all the rides we have done – both physically and mentally. We saw some spectacular scenery and we did it at the right time of year. Our weather was near perfect until the final week. It’s a ride that requires mental and physical discipline and for that reason I think the drop-out rate is pretty high. I think a lot of people find they have bit off more than they can chew. The fact that we saw a lot of other riders during the early stages and very few riders once we reached Colorado is evidence of that.

One thing I can guarantee is that it’s a great way to lose some weight. Mary lost a net total of about ten pounds and looks great as a result. I think she probably lost closer to fifteen pounds of fat and gained about five pounds of muscle. I lost fifteen pounds which I could scarcely afford since I had a rather slight build to begin with. This despite the fact that we ate six or seven times a day and downed Cliff Bars and Snickers every hour or so. A fair comparison of the amount of exertion involved is to imagine going to a gym and riding an exer-cycle for eight hours every day for two months. One’s calorie intake is hard-pressed to keep up.

Mary swears she’ll never do another long-distance ride again. But that’s what she said after we completed our first ride, The Northern Tier, in 2006. I’m working on her and I think I’ve noticed a chink in her armor. Michiel and Margo told us about a great ride from Amsterdam to Rome on paved bike paths that passes by castles, chateaux, and alpine meadows. Mary’s ears perked up at that.

P1030577-0.JPGSVELTE MARY

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