Santa Rosa to Tucumcari
I came out of yesterday with a brand-new plan. I’d forgotten till then how rotten it makes me feel to get off the bike for more than ten minutes and then try to ride again. Something in one’s physiology changes during rest; your body decides it’s time to stop working and start recovering, I suppose. So today’s plan was to shoot for Tucumcari before lunch.
There was some skepticism about this plan, arising primarily from the fact that this leg would be 84 miles. The good news is that a stretch of about five miles of gravel road was inserted into the first third of the route, making it difficult to meet the pony anywhere shy of the 30-mile mark. No water stops, faster progress. The BAD news is that a stretch of about five miles of gravel road was inserted into the first third of the route! It made for some slow going, to be sure…especially once we hit the mud.
Summer thunderstorms are not unheard of in eastern New Mexico, but the gully-washer that came through last night was something special. Just ask Evan; he remained back in Albuquerque long enough to see the flash floods that plagued that town. The same system gave a thorough soaking to a few spots on the ranch road that Evan followed me down today. The first one took me by surprise, as the ground had started to dry out on top. When I felt the tires sink in, I felt my stomach sink farther. Muddy clay and pea gravel coated the tires and rims, then accumulated in the brake housings of both wheels. I had an unpleasant flashback to an hour of misery that visited me during an adventure race in the Arkansas delta, when the mud became thick enough to halt the progress of a durable and tenacious mountain bike. I wasn’t on a mountain bike today; all I could do was stop, remove a critical mass of the concrete-in-progress, and hope this would be the last of the mud. It wasn’t.
The second soft spot came just past a cattle guard (the third of six we would cross in this stretch). But I spotted this one in time to dismount and engage in a little “hike-a-bike.” It just so happened that this occurred at the peak of rush hour on the ranch. The guy driving the truck we met must have thought I was loco, carrying on my shoulder a vehicle clearly built for carrying ME-- with a companion following in a perfectly good SUV! The cattle I passed on the ranch seemed less amused. Most bolted when they saw me, whether on the bike or off. This came as a considerable disappointment; I was hoping to solicit a few hoofprints on the petition. There are more cattle than people in this region of the country, making them an important constituency for our Congressional audience. My dream of extending the meaning of the term “polled hereford” was not to be realized today, however.
The road dried out thereafter, and we came to a fairly long downhill. If you’ve never ridden 27 mph on a road bike on gravel, let me tell you: it’s quite a trip! We encountered pavement, or a rough facsimile thereof, at the bottom of this grade; not a moment too soon. A few miles of solid asphalt were eaten up quickly as I hurried to meet The Pony (once again piloted ably by Kyle) and replenish my water bottle; it had been emptied on the front brake housing in an attempt to dislodge the petra-pea soup that was hardening mere millimeters from my tire. We cleaned out considerably more mud at the 30-mile stop, and progress was steady as we arced north/northeast toward the Conchas Dam. The lake it forms must be a popular recreation spot for Tucumcarians, because the car traffic picked up considerably after we passed the dam and turned east for the last 30 miles into town. Several motorists gave demonstratively vigorous waves as they passed, and I wondered if they were “in the know”; folks who had seen our press and were lending encouragement to our mission, perhaps. I wished for a bumper sticker that read “Honk if you hate Alzheimer’s disease!”, but then I realized I didn’t have a bumper. There were a few annoying climbs on this stretch, however, so my butt was out of the saddle often enough that it might have made a good spot for signage.
One more water stop at The Pony, and then it was just nine more miles into “The Lookout Place.” We made it to the hotel just a shade past noon. And in New Mexico in August, I’ll take all the shade I can get.
-Steven Barger, Ph.D., is a Professor in the Departments of Geriatrics, Neurobiology & Developmental Sciences, and Internal Medicine at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) in Little Rock. He is also a Research Health Scientist in the Geriatric Research Education and Clinical Center at the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System.