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


  1. Alex, as I wrote on the last day’s entry: What do you do for a living, that you have this much time off to “live the dream?” You ended this days post with questions, so I figured I would ask again. Just courious, and I must confess, I am jealous. At least I will ride next year — God willing – right? :) — from IL to wherever the Air Force sends me. AZ on NM are on my list along with MT and CO. Only been to AZ before (not the other states on this list). Love your story. I am sad to see it end as well.

  2. Hi Jay! At the moment, I’m a freelance web programmer/system administrator. In short, I don’t really have a full-time job, which is why I have the time to take such long trips. It requires a lot of planning (both financially and professionally), but is completely worth it.

    Thanks for your time in the Air Force; With two of my own brothers in the Navy, I know how hard it is to get time off from for a big ride. If you find yourself riding through Colorado next year, let me know! I’d love to roll some miles with you!

  3. I enjoyed your pictures & story,I too will be buying a ural after reading yours,I was put off by all bad press urals was getting,ie:valves,rings as well as the carbs,screwing up,your story was well written,loved killer in the hack,ural should pay you to do more trips,please keep me up to date on any & all your trips.

  4. I have a few questions after having read the entirety of your Great Divide escapade. Did you make any modifications to the interior of the side car for Lola? Any way to beef up the suspension for the more rugged terrain you faced? After having made the trek, what modifications would you now make if you were to do it again? Thank you for that excellent read. I hope to hear back from you soon and look forward to reading about your future motorcycle hijinks.

  5. Alex. I have enjoyed your blog alot. Please contact me via e-mail as i have a new Ural and have a few questions about your mapping equiptment. Also I would love for you to consider me and Lucy (Boston) to go with you on next years Pony Express Ride.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.