Day 19 – Pie Town, NM to Silver City, NM

Blue morning crept in through the balcony windows of the toaster house as I woke early.  The creaks and groans of an old house warming in the sun seeming so foreign after so many days in a tent.

While strolling around the property with my morning coffee, I noticed some movement from a small shed.  I discovered this little guy, who let out a soft, muffled meow when I passed.  While I’m not really a cat person, I do have a strong affinity for anything small and fuzzy.

The poor little guy was so weak, he could barely stand;  Shaking from side to side in tremors.  Zina and I tried to give our new little buddy some water or food, but he wouldn’t even open his mouth.

We were about to attempt to call the animal shelter in town, when Nita rolled into the driveway.  I replaced the clutch throwout bearing and slider with a spare I had packed.  I had packed along a spare in my box-o-parts, and had been having intermittent issues with clutch engagement yesterday through the desert.

Nita took kitty in the towel and looked him over while I swapped bearings. She said there are a lot of feral cats in the area, and the mother probably was killed, or abandoned one of the litter.

“A couple more days, and the poor guy would probably have dried up” Nita exclaimed.  After some time in the sun, kitty was starting to squirm around a bit more, and take in his surroundings.  Despite having shat in the towel we wrapped him in, he’s still a pretty cute guy.

As the first dog accompanied motorcyclists to stay at the house, Nita wanted to get a group photo of us outside her house.  While Simon takes great photos, Lola always manages to look away at the last moment.  Thank you again Nita, for your generosity, and what you do for those travelling the CDT.

We all idled over to the Good Pie Cafe;  The second stellar pie shop in the town named for pies.  Good Pie is open in the morning, while Pie-o-neer opens later.  Pie availability in town from morning until the evening;  This town rates pretty high on Alex’s list of retirement locations.

Unfortunately, Good Pie Cafe was closed, as the owner was preparing for a special town dinner being hosted there that evening.  I despaired.  I hadn’t planned on eating lunch, wishing instead to fill up to the brim with pie.  No problem;  Nita brought out a fresh pie she had baked, and Wayne boiled up some coffee.

I immediately, unabashedly tore into my favorite food-group with a fork while Nita told stories and tales of raising her family in the town.  She painted a great picture of the town and its people for us;  More in the “Pros” column for a retirement town.  I was surprised to learn that winters are exceptionally harsh here.

We met Rain, the wife of the owner of the Good Pie cafe.  A friend of hers in town was looking for a barn cat.  After looking him over, she declared that she could nurse him back to health, and he’d live out the rest of his days in a barn eating mice.  All in all, not a bad life for a kitty.

We got under way shortly after 11:00am, our latest start yet. Mexico wasn’t that far away, and the reality of the end started to creep into my head.

On our way out of town, we checked out the VLBA (Very Long Baseline Array).

Its a bunch of science-ey stuff, wherein they basically collect a bunch of radio signals.  If some other planet in the universe gets miffed at us and decides to send us a message (“Hold fast, we are coming to break our laser-guns off in your ass”), these things will pick it up.

We also passed the Windmill museum.  Windmills aren’t really my thing, but Barry (windmill) who made the “Windmill MK-III” airbox I’m using seems to have a thing for them.  In fact, the mounting bracket for my air cleaner is actually a piece of an old windmill.   Barry, this photo is for you.

The roads out of pie town are a wondrous way to start the day.  Hard-packed, well maintained through grazing lands, with plenty of foliage to keep things interesting.  The Ural easily holds 50 mph while soaking up the shallow bumps with ease.

Long sight lines through the turns kept speeds up.  Lola and I gently lean into the turns as if synchronized.

The ruins of previous towns and communities here are much different from those seen in Montana, Colorado and Wyoming.  New Mexicans built with stone, in a fashion very similar to Mexico (who would have thought it?).  Through experience, we know there is no shortage of rocks in New Mexico;  It only makes sense they would build out of rocks.

The road leads us through a heavily forested area, where we pass through large thickets of trees, and occasional fenced grazing lands.  The road is still silky smooth, the loose surface allowing us to let the rear wheels ‘hang-out’ a little on the sharper bends.  Life… is pretty damn good.

Once we were through the forested area, things opened up considerably.  Clear blue skies illuminate the surprisingly green landscape for as far as the eye can see.  A substantial change to the brown and white desert we spent most of yesterday in.

The roads are still perfect.  Just the right amount of gravel and hard-pack for really enjoyable cruising.  Somehow unseen residual moisture is still holding the dust down.  No need to worry about air filters today.

At the intersection with highway 32 we regroup.  While plotting our next gas stop, we discover a tactical error in our navigation.  In our exuberance to get on the road earlier, we overlooked the gas stop in Quemado.  Its a 20 mile ride there and back on pavement from Pie Town to top off, and you WILL need gas (unless you are on something with a Exxon-valdez sized gas tank).

Maps came out, and we plotted a route-around to the town of Reserve, NM for gas. A quick 18 mile ride on pavement.  Just outside of town, the Ural started to pop, stumble and loose power.  I instinctively reached down and flipped the reserve.  After chuckling to myself, I turned to Lola and spoke aloud in the tone you use when telling a bad joke.  “We just hit reserve, in reserve!”  I couldn’t see her eyes rolling behind the Doggles.

Rolling into the gas station, a grey off-leash cattle dog came up to greet us.  My kind of town.  I unclipped Lola and let her jump out to sniff butts.  In general, Lola is a far better dog off leash than she is on-leash.  Simon is awesome in all situations, so Zina keeps him tethered.

Wayne comes out after paying for the gas with a grin, shaking his head subtly. “You gotta check out the lady running the store, she’s got some interesting ideas about the world”, he says to me in a low and quiet voice. When I go into pay, I pick up a few Clif bars to re-stock the snack department in my tank bag.

“GMO death-bars!” the aforementioned lady-of-the-store shouts. “Huh?” I reply, slightly taken aback. “Those have GMO in them!” she retorts loudly. “Very bad for you!”. I look at my purchase (two clif bars and a pack of cigarettes) puzzled, and wonder how the Clif bars are the worst of it. “Genetically Modified Organisms” she clarifies, “They cause cancer!”. This kind of talk isn’t at all foreign in small towns, but what made this lady exceptional, is her mannerisms while she talked. Every time she made a point, she raised her hat off her head (with both hands) about 6-8 inches, several times before finally resting it back on her head.

Ella’s cafe right next door offered up some shaded outdoor seating, and we took at that as a cosmic sign to sit down for lunch.  While we waiting for our food, we pulled out the maps and looked for a re-route back to the planned tracks.  We all hate going over the same road twice for any reason and felt comfortable in our detouring skills.

The re-route (red track) outside of reserve rolls through some much more diverse national forest terrain than the original route (purple).  Rather than spending 40 miles round-trip to get gas in Quemado, I recommend this re-route.

We turned off on the re-route, which started as a nicely groomed, hard-pack road, with good views.  Ferocious washboard chattered our teeth around some corners providing the only difficulty.

As we rode into the forest, the road changed to semi-deep gravel.  Lots of hooping and hollering was going on as we wound through the mountain.  My worry about the seeping main seal vanished as I wound the throttle to the stop.  Lola braced herself, ears in “low-drag” mode.  Riding in deeper gravel on the Ural with the knobbiest is a bit like riding on velcro, that is to say there is a loose reaction to steering and throttle inputs with plenty of grip available.

Through the forest, a long straight line to the horizon.  I spurred the Ural on, faster and faster.  55…60…65.  The small boxer roared on as the speedometer needle wagged its white index finger wildly in a “no-no-no” gesture.  Grinning and ignoring the mechanical warning, I coaxed the rig up to around 70mph.  We haven’t had many straight bits on this trip so far, and it was nice to wick it up (if only for a moment).

I stopped at the intersection with the original route and waited Wayne and Zina to catch up.  What’s a load of fun on the Ural (snow, gravel) is typically not so much fun on two wheels, especially tail-heavy ones.  The terrain didn’t slow them down much though, and they pulled in minutes after Lola and I.

As soon as we stopped, these very curious mules walked up to the edge of their fence to check us out.  I’m an equal opportunity animal lover, so I went over to introduce myself and deliver some pets.  Lola keeps a respectful distance of animals much larger than herself, and was happy to observe from a few feet behind me.

Very friendly bunch, good looking steeds.  The Ural and the mule share many traits.  Sturdy, stubborn, independent and tough, outlasting race horses on the long haul.

Simon was less comfortable around the mules, and when Zina reached out to pet one, he let loose with verbal fury.  This caused some confusion among the critters, as the mules tried to understand what was making the noise, and Lola tried to figure out what the mules had done to insult Simon.  Lola put herself between Simon and the larger guys.  “Lets keep it cool guys, c’mon.  Everybody chill out!  Tell that bitch to be cool!”

The sage Phaedrus once surmised that people see things in two ways. A “Classic” understand, and a “Romantic” understanding. Classical people finding beauty in logic and understanding of an object’s underlying form, while romantics see things for exactly what they are.

To me the Ural is a beautiful mix of both. Industrial looking groups line the cycle hiding nothing, showing any observer the parts responsible for making things move. Alongside it, clean, clear curves of the fenders and the sidecar give a simple beauty in shapes. I have spent many a morning with a cup of coffee in my garage chair, tracing over these details.

Puffy, almost painted clouds lined the sky as we rode back onto the main route.  Beautiful un-trafficked roads and open grazing lands make today’s riding blue ribbon.  New Mexico;  home to the best, and worst roads of the entire trip.

The landscape we found ourselves in, was completely different from anything we had seen on the trip this far.  Lush green expansive canyons of rolling hills, dotted with clumps of pine trees in ares.  Shadows of clouds playing hide and seek against the rock formations, while roadside wildflowers zipped by in blurs of white and yellow.

The road necked down, and then widened up at least half-a-dozen times.  From a narrow two-track complete with grass-grown centerline, to a wide graded road.  Drier areas often came with a thin layer of sand, which didn’t cause anyone any trouble.  There are moments when you feel like you are riding through a painters mind.  The beauty almost feels faked, but its out there.  Waiting for you to ride through it and touch it.

Around a bend, we rode into this canyon-esqe rock formations in the middle of nowhere.  With maybe 1/3rd of a mile separating the cliffs, it was a wide mouth.  On both sides, sheared rock faces faced each other in a line jutting high into the sky.

I can’t even get the tops of the rocks and Lola in the picture frame.  Several natural chimneys in the rock in multiple areas looked like a climbers dream, and Wayne and I talked to Zina (a former mountaineering rock climber) about the skill level required.

I scampered to the top of one of the rocks, and decided it’d be a good place to idly chew on a “GMO” Clif bar while looking through this landscape.  I wondered how many indians, trappers, pioneers and settlers had set up camp against the safety of these rock walls and chimneys.

After granola and introspection, we pushed on into the Gila National Forest through more absolutely beautiful gravel roads.

A quick video of some of the lovely gravel section.  Quite dusty, but an absolute joy to ride on the Ural.  The whole road to ourselves, we glided along the loose marbles with the impunity of a T-72 tank.  Gravel spraying and tinkling off the thick soviet steel.

I like twisty roads as much as the next motorcyclist, ut after 10 miles of sharp curves like this it was getting re-freaking-diculous.  Sharp 1st or 2nd gear bends that end in another bend.  Slow speed maneuvering on the Ural requires a lot of handlebar force, and after an hour of it you feel like you’ve been rowing a boat all day.

On and on it went. I was really hoping to find a fucking straight bit so I could shake out my now numbing arms.  Turns out lifting 24 oz beers after hockey games isn’t a really good arm workout. Who knew?

Endless turns or not, its some really beautiful country though. I’m continually surprised by the amount of color in these forests this far south, in July.

We hit a really bumpy, rocky section in there too.  It looked like the crushed leftovers of a massive rock slide or washout at some point.  Still, it was nowhere near as violent as the first one we encountered outside Chama, and it was downhill.  When ‘ol gravity is working to your advantage, things are usually a little easier on aging motors, dogs and humans.

We take a break in a lay-by off the road after the really rocky stuff, and over 30 miles of endless curving roads.  There is a subtle undercurrent of feeling amongst us all that the trip is coming to an end.  The urgency to push on and make miles is gone, replaced instead by the desire to soak up the last few days as much as possible.  I dunk my head into a nearby creek to wash the dust off my face, the cold water refreshing on my sun-baked face.

More pictures of baby cows for Kait.  This one isn’t such a baby, and is developing nicely into a fine array of cheeses, steaks and burgers.

The road abruptly changes into something more akin to a paved road, and the signs point to a larger volume of traffic.  In the background a stripped mountainside lets us know we’ve reached the outskirts of Silver City.

The gods build mountains, and hide small treasures into them.  Man spends lifetimes trying to find these small treasures and in the process relocates the mountain.  Oddly colored striations of minerals in the “processed” mountain are stacked on the relocated mountain.  It looks… strange.

We had hoped to find somewhere to camp outside Silver City, but nothing looked really appealing (or accessible).  We ducked back into the Gila N.F through another access road.  We rode right through the middle of Fort Baynard.

It’s a most peculiar place.  Some of the larger buildings are still in use, while the majority of the officer quarters, and troop housing slowly decays.  Since most places were simply left as they stood, many areas reminded me of Chernobyl footage I’d seen after the event.  I’m not a superstitious man, but I did find the whole area a bit unsettling.

Past Fort Baynard, we found an area where it was clear that the “outdoorsy” folks of Silver City come to camp.  The natural undergrowth in the forest was gone;  Too many boots and tires through this area for anything to grow.  Surprisingly for a Friday, there was nobody among us.

Looking from a distance, I thought we had some neighbors, until Zina went over to check it out.  Just some ripped up tent and cover left in the woods.  The tent looked in good shape, save for some rips and tears.  Almost like someone got mad at it, and had a go with a machete.  Weird.

We cooked the last of our backup meals over our stoves, and sat around talking. Our last night’s camp together on the trip. I settled into a bit of a melancholy as the evening drew closer. I felt like asking “Why stop now? Lets just ride through Mexico to Baja!”. I’ve really gotten to know Wayne and Zina over this trip, and we travel quite well together as a group. Between Wayne’s questions and bad-but-gut-busting hilarious jokes, and Zina’s comedic deadpan one-liners there had been a lot of good times on this trip.

When we all retreated to our tents, I gently shook my fist at the sky before falling asleep. Why do we all need jobs? When did living like a gypsy become so unpopular, and why? More questions to meditate on our way to the border tomorrow.

Days Mileage: 208 miles
Total Mileage: 3,512 miles

Day 18 – Cuba, NM to Pie Town, NM

I’m jolted awake in grey morning light when something hits me in the face.  As focus and comprehension start to set in, I get hit in the face again, in a rapid staccato. As I recoil my head and look over, paws are flying through the air as if running through an imaginary meadow.  Lola’s having puppy dreams again, and letting out occasional muffled barks.  Welcome to life traveling with a dog.

It’s surprisingly chilly in the morning, and I find myself yet again in my sleeping bag with my skivvies on.  Why do I keep doing this?  Several minutes pass before I work up the determination to leave the down warmth for the morning air.

The stove went on, water was boiled, and coffee distributed.  A 10-foot walk from the camp to this rock, we got a beautiful view of the sun rising over the valleys below.  Visibility?  Endless.

These canyons certainly give irish canyon in Colorado a run for its money.

Camp packed up, fluids and spark plugs checked; Down the short gravel forest road onto highway 126 into Cuba.

Culinary options in Cuba at 8:00am on a Friday were few.  Floppy gas-station pastries, or a McDonalds breakfast.  We settled on McMuffins after gassing up.

Lola watches me go in to place my order, hoping in earnest I bring back a hash brown for her. (I did, and she got some of it).

While I was waiting for my breakfast, Wayne struck up some conversation with a Jeep enthusiast.  While I forget his name, he gave us some great info on the roads, and what to expect.  With the exception of some major sandy washouts and a few rocky areas, he used the word “super-highway” quite often.

Lucky, lucky, lucky is all I could think to myself.  Somehow, even with blue skies and a steadily climbing sun, the temperatures are still very enjoyable.  This is New Mexico, in mid-July.  I expected the kind of melt-your-face-off temperatures that would reduce Lola and I into puddles of sweat and drool.

After our short stint on the pavement, we turned into BLM lands. Things are really starting to feel like the desert.

Good hard-packed roads, smoother than asphalt for most of this stretch, lead to much head-swiveling.

Lush green areas in the desert mean trouble.  You might look at this and think about roosting through it in 2WD with a rebel yell.  Don’t.  You will get stuck, and your compatriots will curse your name over campfires for years to come.

Scout for a route around.  Usually its as simple as going around the bright green area.

Notice how all the truck tracks go around it too?  Don’t be a hero.

Zina and Wayne make it no problem.  The Ural handles the bypass without issue, though I am left picking bits of sagebrush out of the sidecar undercarriage.  Everything sure smells nice now though.

There is natural erosion, vehicle and shod erosion, and then there is cattle erosion.  Its real nice of them to all walk right in the middle though, and leave the sides smooth for us.

Over time, the roads speak to you;  Or rather you finally comprehend what they’ve been trying to tell you all along.  A wide wash on either side of the road will almost certainly cross the road at some point.  Hitting this at 40mph would probably send you right into a Yucca tree.

The road also gives you a good show, changing colors and textures as wheels roll.

Wind and water sculpted rocks abound here, reminding me of the rivers and arroyos that transform the earth each season.  Like gaps on piston rings, or wear on valve guides;  Everything in this world is in a state of change, all the time.

The rains from a few days ago here are still keeping the dust down.  Its not often we can ride this close together without chewing spoonfuls of each others dirt.

The road curves on, the wheels roll and the Ural hums.  Blue skies on my motorcycle through the desert with my best friend.  It doesn’t get much better than this.

Even the dotted thickets of sagebrush start to fade as we push further southwest…

… and the dust returns with a vengeance.  We stretch out pretty far from each other to save our lungs and air filters.

What the desert lacks in greenery, it repays in rocky diversity.  Seems around every corner you pass a thousand year old element-carved statue.

How many other travelers laid their eyes on these formations?  How many people used them as landmarks while traveling through this open country for weeks on end?

If you want to be reminded how small and insignificant you are in this world, spend some time in the desert.

We followed our track off the “main” county road, onto this secondary road which winds through a lot of ranching property.

Complete with loose rocks, and some deeper deposits of sand in areas, conditions got a bit more exacting.

Sun transforms the impassable mud into rock-hard road hazards.  While it may look soft, Lola and I can assure you it is not.

Stopping to check the engine oil, I’m transfixed by my surroundings.  While we are not so far away from civilization (50-60 miles), I felt complete isolation.  When the engine dipstick informed me that I hadn’t lost any oil since yesterday, I felt better about our location.  Hiking out of here would be a long, sweaty endeavor.

The Ural continually exceeds my expectations.  While I’m quite aware its inadequacies, I’ve been surprised at how well you can ride it in across a wide variety of surfaces without trouble.  Once you take speed out of the equation, it just keeps on chugging up and over just about anything.

This road crosses many arroyos, and as a result has different characteristics at each one.  Some are rocky, sandy and washed out, with sharp edges you have to descend into, and then out of.

Entering more civilized areas, means we had to start doing the gate-rodeo.  I ride up and open the gate for Wayne and Zina to ride through.  I ride off, and they close it behind us.

Ranch budgets are communicated by the gate and latching devices.  Some well-worn bailing wire and a fishing hook?  Scraping by.  A fancy, painted and hinged ordeal complete with an actual latch?  Folks must be rolling.

The only shade for miles, I grabbed a large handful of brake, and ducked in with Lola to cool down and take a snack break.

Our bovine friends clearly come here for social hour, as fossilized cow pies littered the shaded area.  Didn’t bother us any, as we sat right down in it for a ‘trail-lunch’ of smuggled super-8 cinnamon rolls, and cliff bars.

The direct sunlight had slowly-steam cooked me inside my riding jacket, while only broiling Lola.  Still sore from yesterdays rough ride, I thought long and hard about laying down on top of those cow pies for a siesta.  Lola as usual, was way ahead of me.

Ultimately, my wanderlust trumped our desire to nap.  The thought of waking up with a face full of fecal matter didn’t make the choice too difficult.

This culvert had been recently replaced.  The pile of bent, twisted and broken culverts in the background tells the story here.  Weather re-shapes this land with every season, giving no quarter to man-made roads or drainage systems.

One bad rain storm through here could really throw a wrench in our plans.  Copious rainfall means not only impassable road conditions, but washed out roads and arroyos, and the danger of flash flooding.  Its beautiful here, and yet subtly very dangerous. (I think the danger enhances the beauty).  Riding into an angry storm cloud while traveling here isn’t heroic.  It’s stupid.

Some well built haciendas lay baking in the sun.  Many of these lay in “No Trespassing” ranch areas, which essentially mean you can use the road, but not wander around.  If you decide to go poke around in there, don’t be surprised if a rancher sticks a shotgun in your face. Respect their property.

The seldom-maintained access roads gave way to beautiful gravel.  As we passed through our last ranch gate, Wayne gave me a big thumbs up, and I let off a fist pump.  Higher speeds mean more air-conditioning for everyone.

Gravel to pavement, and back to gravel as we cross into Cibola National Forest.  I stopped to fill-up from my last jerry can while Zina and Wayne rolled on.

Climbing 4,000 feet into the mountains cooled things off considerably.  Hard-packed gravel winding through the forest made all the hard work in the desert this morning worthwhile.

“It’s a goddamn christmas miracle!” I shouted to Lola over the wind noise.  Wide and fast gravel, without back-breaking washboards?  Unheard of.

Lola stands alert for squirrels starting their kamikaze runs across the road, barking loudly while they gather courage at the side of the road.

I stop again to check the engine oil.  I lost a bit through the desert, but only around 1/4 of a quart.  Despite the tears of oil slicking down the side of the bell housing from the timing plug, the clutch is still gripping great and everything is working fine.

We caught up with Zina and Wayne at the end of the nice gravel, and followed them into Grants on the asphalt.

I would have loved to visit Grants during its peak in the 1980′s along US-66.  I really do feel I missed out on a significant Route-66 experience.  America’s most popular highway, transformed into a set of bleak, mindless interstates bypassing entire townships for the sake of efficiency.  The real history of the road, lay rusting and crumbling all along the original route.

Gassed up and ready for more, we headed south out of Grants on highway 117.  The road sits at the bottom of some really extraordinary rock formations.

These are The Narrows, just south of Grants, New Mexico.  Nestled in there is a natural arch and some really impressive views.  After 30 minutes through here, I vowed to return one day with Kait, both dogs and the truck for some camping and hiking.

Lola wasn’t interested in any sights, and curled up for a nap.  The 30 mile jaunt on smooth pavement offered her some quality sleep without bouncing around chaotically, like an unsecured refrigerator in a pickup truck.

Where are we headed?  Pie Town, my own personal Mecca.  Growing up, my mom always made pies for my dad’s birthday, and the rest of us got birthday cakes.  Now, I have nothing against cake, but pie has always been the highest form of dessert in my eyes.  Ever since my mom presented me with the option of pie for my birthday, it has been so.

For my birthday, Kait bakes me a pie for every week of October.  Where others may grow tired of pie over time (or continued consumption), I do not.  I even find delight in the mushy, undercooked diner pies you find in lighted glass coolers.  To this day, I’ve never had a truly bad slice of pie.

Turning off onto the access road to pie-town, I wound the throttle to the stop and pointed forward confidently, like a Colonel in a cavalry charge.  Look to the north, fair Pie-Town;  For a bottomless stomach rides a camouflaged horse on the winds of the Ural mountains forthwith, to devour and digest all that makes your town holy. 

Fifty-five miles per hour in a plume of dust and rattles, we bore down with great intensity for our destination.  The time was 4:00pm, and the last open pie shop in town, closed at 5:00pm.

The hour is late, and I spurred the Ural along the road at highway speeds.  I rested my hand on the right-hand cylinder to feel if it was overheating.  It took only 5 seconds to cook through my thin ranch gloves, informing me that temperatures were right on the edge.

The Pie-o-Neer cafe.  At long last, we had arrived at the epicenter of good pie in the southwest.

Still open, with only two pies left after the day, I immediately ordered two large slices of both and a coffee from Megan.

While hopeful dogs look on, I started devouring my slices of oat-pecan and green-chili-chocolate pie in-between slurps of hot coffee.  The exuberant owner (Kathy) came out, taking photos of all of us and asking about our story.  In terms of GDR/CDT friendly towns, I do believe this is the best we had encountered so far.

We made sure to make appropriate entries into our guest book while enjoying the pie.  I inquired about a known hostel-house that GDR/CDT hikers and bicyclists stay at when in town.  Megan grinned and gave us directions to the house, adding that while there was no hot water for showers, the next door RV park offered showers.

This house is human trust and generosity at its greatest.  Dedicated for trail weary travelers, nearly every hiker or biker spends anywhere from a night to a week here, preparing for the next leg of the journey.

“Nita” owns the house, and raised her whole family here, before buying property further outside of town.  Rather than sell the house, she kept it, and opens it for everyone.  It runs on a donation basis (food or currency), the only request being that you write an entry in the guest log.

Its a wonderful house, filled with trinkets left by travelers on their way north or south.  Each room opens up like a novel, and the walls read like pages;  Stories and tales of those who’ve come before us.

Oh and what’s this?  A fresh baked pie?  For us?  This is now officially the best town ever.

We settled in quite quickly, and made a communal grab-bag meal.

Some soup over rice, ramen noodles, a microwave pizza (from the freezer out back) and my FIRST beer of the entire trip. Its been awhile since I’ve had a Rolling Rock.

For all those beer snobs out there; Beer gets better with mileage, not age. The cold and frothy lager made a nice punctuation mark on a beautiful day of motorcycling with friends, new and old.

Days Mileage: 198 miles
Total Mileage: 3,304 miles

Day 17 – Chama, NM to Cuba, NM

Waking up in the green glow of my tent, I had two immediate thoughts:

Number one; We are in New Mexico. Land of enchantment, missile ranges, and reputed horrible trails. Everyone from hikers to bicyclists carried a slightly exhausted look in their eyes while describing their experiences in this state.

Number two; “Gimme Shelter” is on repeat in my head, and I cannot turn it off. I would have much preferred something a little less foreboding; Maybe “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley. Rolling Stones it was though, no matter how hard I tried to change the channel.

The campground has great sun in the morning, and our dew-misted gear dried fairly quickly. Coffee went on, and we got busy packing up. Our GPS tracks for today have a number of exclamation points with progressive descriptions like “Steep Hill”, “Rocky Steep Hill” and “Rugged 4WD Steep Really Rocky”.  The lack of detail about the degree of rocky or steep, I found very disconcerting.

Packed up before Zina and Wayne again!  Zina audibly captions this photo while she takes it.  “The most annoying thing we see every morning”.  Was it Biggie-Smalls who said “Mo’ camping gear, mo’ problems”?  I can’t remember.

Checking into the bathroom to lose some digested weight, I found an interesting arrangement of furniture. Zina took the above shot in the women’s bathroom, which was identical to the mens. Some sort of waiting/fainting couch with ominous-looking stains and a desk chair?

I’m not a germaphobe, but I’d bet you a bottle of penicillin this couch has seen some skin, and probably some bodily fluids. Herpes lasts forever, which is why I remained standing while waiting for an open stall.

Not one of us is ever happy about having to do the “down and back”.  It seems a wasteful exercise, experiencing the same bit of road twice.  I didn’t mind it this morning though;  Coming over the pass last night in an lethargic, autopilot state didn’t leave me with any memories of this view.  Its gorgeous.

The Cumbres and Toltec scenic railroad operates out of Chama, and crosses the highway here. Construction crews were re-doing the railroad-to-road integration with a bunch of gravel.

Its a good excuse to give Lola a biscuit. I started walking over to the side of the road to dispose of the mornings coffee, only to stop myself and remember where I was.  This is civilization.  You don’t just get off your bike and take a piss in front of traffic and construction workers.  Only 17 days on the road, and I’d already lost my east-coast sensibilities.

There was to be no slow build-up to the rocky sections today.  Turning off Highway 17 onto our dirt tracks with “Gimmie Shelter” still playing in my head, Lola and I started to roll over some stones. Lots of stones.

I power my GPS from the accessory plug in the sidecar, and it had recently blown a fuse.  I suspected some wiring or ground might have come loose, so I replaced the fuse and went off battery power for a bit.

So far the road is just a really badly maintained cobblestone street.  A growing number of loose stones are strewn in the road though.  I hit a big one and heard a loud metallic *TWANG* ring out under the engine.  Bingo.  That skid plate just paid for itself.

Paul McCartney once said, “Things are getting better all the time”. He may be right, but not for us, and not today. The rocks grew bigger, the hills steeper, and my mood more apprehensive.

Right at this moment, I wished I had not researched this trip so obsessively.  When you run into a unknown section of rough trail or road, the hope that the nice portion comes back can keep you going all day long. Instead, I knew this was only going to get worse, which takes hope right out of the picture.

While the soft, weak, fleshy units atop the Ural had misgivings about the deteriorating terrain, the Ural itself didn’t seem to have any problems so far.  Some of the steeper terrain was strictly a first gear job, but it handled the rocky climbs easily.

The washes and the ruts started getting deeper, and more challenging to navigate through. The Duro 307′s are holding good grip up some of the loose rock and sand sections.  If I was still running the stock exhaust, I would have had to re-attach the mufflers at least twice here.

The trail conditions occasionally cleared up for a stretch, giving me hope for a morning of smooth sweeping bends and good speed…

… Only to lock up all three wheels, eyes as big as dinner plates with a dumb look on my face as I skidded to a stop just before these shock-busting suicide ruts.  Yikes.

Throw in some loose cylinder-head sized rocks, a dash more erosion and presto!  Now we have a party.  Shaken, not stirred seems to be be an appropriate description of our experience on the trails so far this morning.

This hill got the best of us. A couple sharp-turns before this section robbed the Ural of precious momentum. I revved and slipped the clutch trying to coax the rig forward. The wheels spit rocks all over the place before stalling.

I eased out of the way as Wayne and Zina went zipping by me, making it look effortless. I tried to get things going again, running alongside as I had done in Wyoming. But this didn’t work so well with the large rocks. The Ural bounced around so much, I realized continuing this way would surely end with the whole rig running me over.

I pulled the timing plug from the right side of the engine to let the clutch cool down. Wisps of acrid clutch smoke rose from the hole. What’s more, the back-side of the timing plug was wet with oil. Uh-oh.

I waited 10-15 minutes for the clutch and engine to cool down a bit. While waiting, I decided that the slow and cautious route wasn’t going to work for this climb. Kicking Lola out of the sidecar, I started the engine and clicked it into gear.

Revving the motor and slipping the clutch, I gritted my teeth and coaxed the stubborn steel mule up the rocky slope.  Once I was in the middle of the range, I pinned the throttle, stood up slightly from the saddle, and held on for the ride.

Lola barked and ran after me while the sidecar bucked and banged around, jumping in the air as the wheel hammered over boulders. Despite her desperate cries for me to wait up, the sidecar would have catapulted her into the woods if she was on board.

When I made it to the top and parked, I had the distinct impression that I had just been mugged. Stiffly dismounting the Ural, I checked it over for any obvious damage. Lola came running up shortly after, very confused as to why the sidecar left without her in it.  A biscuit combined with some butt scratches, and all was forgiven.

I checked my engine and transmission oil at the top and found no discernible loss. Chalking the oiled timing plug up to a seep at high RPM’s, we sat back to enjoy this view.  Still and quiet, the only noise coming from the Ural in steady metallic plinking as the engine cooled.

Everything is relative.  Earlier today, this was not a welcome sight.  After climbing up the boulder field, this feels pretty good.

Thankfully, things transitioned into the smooth, fast gravel I had been dreaming of while we bounced around this morning.  As we left the forest, the terrain opened up for us.

Some of my favorite moments on this trip are as simple as riding to the top of a hill, and realizing where you are. I spent a good five minutes here munching on a Clif bar, reflecting on how far we had come from the busy, wet forests of Montana.

Wide, open land with no fences! Of all the national forests we’d passed through, Carson N.F. in New Mexico gave us mostly fenceless views.

The mild bouldering we did this morning took its toll though.  The fundamental need for sleep and rest had overpowered Lola’s pee-on-everything instinct.  I was worried we might have overdone it, until she jumped up and pranced around for a treat.

Blurry? You try taking a still photo while in a bouncy house.

Large clumps of sharp lava shelves spanning the width of the road kept us from really cruising in comfort.

All day, the trail had teased us with nice sections of hard-packed smooth road.  You’d get on a bit, and think “Here we go!”, and wind it on with a smile.  Mere minutes later, we are back in 2nd gear, getting knocked around by rocks, ruts or potholes.

More evidence of how badly the roads handle any moisture.  Anyone unlucky enough to find themselves here in a downpour, is likely going to stay here for awhile.

But when the roads are good, they are good.  Today has been a very bipolar experience.  One moment we’re being rolled down an endless flight of rocky stairs, and the next soaking up views at 40mph with broad grins.

“Lunch in Vallecitos!” Wayne exclaimed as we took off from the pavement.  I had visions of tamales and tacos, washed down with a bottle of sugar-cane Coca-Cola.  I secretly hoped we could find a real hole-in-the-wall Taqueria that serves tongue tacos.  Salivation town, population me.

The bulb of culinary anticipation dimmed a bit when we entered the main drag.  If the one gas station in this town can’t make a living here, the chances of a quality taco shop holding on, seemed remote.

Passing the last broken down, likely vacant home on the road, my hopes and dreams of a taco lunch evaporated. We stopped outside Vallecitos for a break. I stiffly dismounted the Ural, and collapsed in a heap against a pine tree. Lunch would have to be a collection of granola bars.

My enthusiasm for riding the Ural through another extensive rock garden was nonexistent. Lola laid down next to me, and promptly fell asleep while still in a steady pant.

The worst of the rocky terrain is still ahead of us.  Opinions from everyone we asked did not paint a pleasant picture of this particular portion of the trails.  Sensing my despair, Zina and Wayne offered an out.  If I wasn’t feeling up to it, why not just bypass the entire section on pavement?

I agreed immediately.  Instead of hitting pavement the whole way though, we’d find a route through as much dirt as we could.  Out came the maps and the laptop.

I repeatedly asked Wayne and Zina if they wouldn’t regret riding that portion of the trail. After all, they handled far worse on the TAT, on a daily basis. Each time I asked them, they said they’d rather bypass it.

I knew deep down, both Wayne and Zina would have been perfectly happy to go rally up some rocks. I’m eternally grateful they were willing to accommodate Lola and I.

Wayne and I built a route off the Gazetteer maps, and created a track right there in the middle of the woods.  After transferring the route to everyone’s GPS units (it sure helps that we all use the same 60CSx), it was time to hit it.

The original route is in magenta, while the route we came up with is in red.  Our tracks are based off BigDog’s GDR tracks, which use the cyclists tracks wherever possible.  Where it was not possible, he created his own routes through.

Needless to say, BigDog was not riding with his dog, or on a Ural when he created this track.  If he was, he might have chosen a different route.

We hit the pavement to Abiquiu, to get gas and provisions.  The lower elevations, and the burning sun turned the mesa into a toaster oven.  Guess who’s the hot-pockets in this equation?

Signs of our transition into a desert landscape cropped up everywhere.  Crusty brown earth and randomly placed Yuccas dotted the view eroded, red rocky cliffs.

The Frosty Cow just inside Abiquiu is a required stop for folks on the Great Divide.  Quite literally a shaded lactose oasis in the desert.  By now, the ice-cream stop was a standing order for every day.

Simon got some nice licks of Zina’s coffee flavored ice-cream to power him through the rest of the day.  The eldest of our group, I’m continually amazed how much energy he has every time he jumps out of his backpack.  I suspected she was slipping some coffee into his food in the morning to keep him chipper.

Per our re-route, we took the pavement out of Abiquiu on US-84, before turning on the highway 96.

On the subject of oases, the blue-green water of the Abiquiu dam sure gives off that vibe in this desert scenery.

Nice curves and bright red canyons made the highway detour much more tolerable.  Just an hour without having my spinal column jackhammered over rocks and ruts has done wondrous things for my spirits.

After 17 miles of pavement, we started the dirt portion of the bypass Wayne and I created.  Some of these forest service roads can be a real grab-bag of conditions, and  I was elated to find ourselves on fast gravel once again.  No sign of shock-busting potholes, or teeth rattling rocks means good speed and relaxation.

The roads had completely flipped my attitude, cruising along with a huge smile on my face. Gravel bounced off the metal fenders in a crescendo as we throttled up around corners.  These are the roads the Ural is built for, and I could sense the harmony of machine and terrain.  

We came across this very unique rock, in the middle of this open, forested meadow.  Quite a strange sight, given the lack of rocks in this area.  A nice little surprise in the middle of the forest.

Plenty of bovine friends here with us, munching away at the meadows.  Most paid us no attention as we zoomed by.

“If mom doesn’t’ care about the camouflaged streak that just zipped by, I guess I don’t need to either”.  Its usually the wee-toddy cows that loose their mind when we go by, and try to bust through a fence, or make sudden direction changes.  The bigger bovines know better.

While the rocky, rugged trail would have definitely been a more challenging route, I found our re-route to be the most fun.  Short of the few pavement sections, this was the best dirt road we had been on all day.  Without a tangled mess of rocks and roots to ride over, the Ural just hummed effortlessly through the forest.

Lola was doing better too, though her weary eyes spoke the truth.  “Hey dude.  We’ve been at this for awhile.  When can I poop and go to sleep for 12-14 hours?”.  Soon little girl.  Soon.

Stopping at a pay-to-camp area in the national forest, we pulled out maps to evaluate our options for sleeping. While bears are not very prevalent in these parts, after the dogs discovered some scrap bones from previous campers in this area, we chose to press on and find somewhere less…. used.

While stopped, I checked the oil levels in the Ural. I was more than a little alarmed to find the engine oil was down by about 1/2 a quart. A freshly oiled patch of grime smeared on the “shelf” under the transmission confirmed my fears. The rear main seal, isn’t seeping.  Its leaking.

It was my turn to find a campsite, and after a quick study of the topographical features on my GPS, I followed some two-track up a steep hill to an idyllic setting for our first wild camp in New Mexico.

Situated at 9,000 feet, right on the edge of a ridge a small stand of trees shaded us slightly from the setting sun, while still letting plenty through to brighten our campsite.

And beyond that stand of trees, a profound view of the land we’d be riding in tomorrow.  “I bet we can see all the way into Grants!” I exclaimed to Wayne.  The tone in his response permeated doubts that our line of sight was that far.

Zina whipped up a dinner of chicken-a-la-king over rice, with some slowly-defrosted vegetables we picked up in Abiquiu earlier on.  More delicious healthy eating on the trail.

We spent the remainder of fading light watching the sun slowly disappear over the horizon from atop our high perch.

I tried to bring Lola to the edge of the cliff for a nice Kodak moment together. She was having none of it and trotted back to the campsite in indignation. No treats or promise of more sidecar rides could get her anywhere near the ledge.

As a small puppy, she got stuck in a storm drain (both her front legs fell through the gaps in the grate). Ever since that moment, cliffs, ledges, cattle guards and storm drains are just a few of the things she wants nothing to do with. Riding in a sidecar all day long at 45mph eating june-bugs? No problem.

The last colors of the clouded sunset slowly faded to an even dark blue, and we turned in for the night. A long day for Lola and I, stockpiled with highs and lows. I still wrestled with the choice to bypass the rough-n-rocky section outside Abiquiu.

In my heart, I know we could have gotten the Ural through the rocky bits, and I know it would have made for some impressive photos and stories. I simply wasn’t willing to risk dog or machine to make it happen. The bypass offered up the scenery and fun, without the struggle.

Easy way out? For sure. I’m not sponsored by Ural, and there is no truck at a campsite 30 miles away to come collect us in the event things go pear-shaped out here. The point of this trip is to have fun, and after a morning on the rough stuff, the bypass route offered up plenty of fun.

Days Mileage: 180 miles
Total Mileage: 3,106 miles