Adventure Cycling is (almost) Never a Mistake

vertical profileAdventure cycling is when you get on your mountain bike with way too much gear and try riding over mountains on dirt roads, or trails if you are really nuts.

The Adventure Cycling people in the US have created an adventure trail that runs from Banff to Mexico that follows the continental divide. This spring one of us Pedal Pushers and her sister decided to try a section from Lordsburg, New Mexico north to Santa Fe. Experienced outdoorspeople, we made every mistake in the book. But, we had a great adventure.

We rode the right machines for the job: a 29er and a 650b – both with front suspension and a million gears. We packed them into bike boxes and put them on the plane. When we got to Tucson, we switched to Greyhound. That was our first mistake. The bus we were on to Lordsburg did not have room for the bikes. But, the helpful Greyhound guy said he would put them on the next bus. Three days later, we received our bikes, which had somehow gone to El Paso and then to Phoenix instead of Lordsburg. They covered more miles without us.

Finally we got going. We took the shuttle up to Silver City. We had planned to spend the next three days in the Gila National Forest following the divide, so we bought propane for the stove, food and filled up with water. We also had a tiny tent, sleeping bags, pots and some clothes.

After the first day, we realized we were not moving as quickly as a planned. That was our second mistake. Somehow those 50 miles per day we had planned turned into 25 miles. Maybe it was the 4,000 foot climb and the altitude being over 8,000 feet on average. Or, it could have been the 35 degree heat. Or, the extreme grades.

At camp that first night we realized there was no way we had enough food for the six days it would take us to cross the forest to the next store. So, we strolled over to the two other campers in the site and asked them for food. They were very accommodating and gave us an apple, two bananas, some mountain mix, and two Cliff bars. Their generosity gave us hope. Then we decided to make dinner and tried the stove. Unfortunately, we discovered that our stove head took only Primus style canisters of butane.

That was our third mistake.

breakfast on the divideUndaunted, we lit a fire and cooked over it – even though there was an extreme fire warning rating since the forest had not seen rain for over six months. The weird thing about America, is that having a fire while camping is one of their civil rights. Sated, we turned in around seven o’clock and did not rise for twelve hours.

It was two degrees when we exited the tent. Two hours later it was 28 degrees. By three in the afternoon, while we pushed our overly burdened bikes up a ten percent grade, the thermometer read 40 degrees. Just after I had flipped over my handle bars coming down the same grade, a truck stopped to ask if we were okay. Blood dripping down my arm and thigh, I said, “Sure we are fine, thanks a lot for stopping.” The truck drove on. When I caught up to it, my sister had stopped it to ask for food and gas. They gave us some packages of instant grits, a can of beans and some dried potatoes – just add water. With this new haul, we had hope we could make it out.

The next couple of days, though extreme in terms of heat and terrain were uneventful – unless you count the wind, or the threat of getting caught in a forest fire. We had water because some firefighters in a convoy gave us some.

Then we got lost.

Of course, when you are lost you don’t know. For part of one night and until the next day, we cycled south, undoing almost all of the Northness we had gained. One clue was that the GPS kept saying that we were over 8,500 feet, but the elevation maps insisted we should not be over 7,000 feet. We were sitting on a log watching some Elk grazing while we ate peanut butter from the jar when it dawned on us. We were lost. We started laughing in that hysteric way. Then a truck drove by and asked if we were okay.

I said, “Sure we are fine.” My sister quickly intervened and asked for a map of the area. The guy in the truck gave us an NTS map which showed every road, trail and contour in the area. Awesome! It showed we would be in the forest for another five days if we wanted to reach our destination. We had a half a jar of peanut butter, one cliff bar, a can of tuna and some ramen noodles. Not awesome.

We took a route down off the divide to the nearest town for supplies. That took two days.

We lost our bikes, didn’t have enough food, had no stove and got lost. I didn’t even mention that I ran over my new cell phone. It was a most excellent cycling adventure. We’ll be going again next year. Anyone want to come?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *