Thursday, June 4, 2009
Day 1 - I finally got my bags and was able to depart Tucson by 3:30 p.m. (about 7 hours after the guys left)
Catching up was a comparatively boring superhighway trip most of the way - - leaving cell phone messages back and forth as to the gang’s current location. I ended up in the Chihuahuan desert (which covers most of Southern New Mexico) and camped at 3,500 feet on a plateau. There were beautiful vistas in all directions. I found a place for my tent among razor sharp rocks. It concerns me to be riding my motorcycle across this open country, I would think there is a great risk of the tires being slashed (not just punctured).
It was a beautiful moonlit night with all the wonderful sounds of the dessert. I think my tent placement interrupted the natural processes of the food chain - - there was scratching under my tent (something obviously small). Outside the tent at a fair distance was a great hooting of an owl, not the kind loud hooting we get in the wilds of Cleveland Heights but a quiet muted hoot. If Harvey Webster (the Natural History Museum) had been here he would have been able to identify it. There was also a periodic hissing noise from something that must have been interested in the scratching beneath my tent. But in all, it was a restful night and in the morning I caught up with the guys in Silver City, New Mexico.
We had breakfast in Silver City, a boom and bust town created by the Gold Rush of 1870, and through history drew a potpourri of anti-social characters including Henry McCarty, a.k.a. William Bonney, a.k.a. Billie the Kid. Before his killing spree (the count of which only included non-Mexicans), he waited tables and washed dishes at the Star Hotel and was first arrested and jailed at the age of 15 for holding up a Chinese laundry. We asked the waitress about Billie the Kid – she new nothing about him and thought it was somewhere else in New Mexico or Texas.
Although this is tough, desolate country there are huge mines all around undergoing reclamation projects where tariff mines are being converted back into gradual slopes (obviously at huge expense – but it’s great for nature).
Between Silver City and Pie Town (named after an eatery that bragged it had the best pies) our route crosses the Continental Divide 7 times - a lot of up hill and down hill – demanding terrain and hairpin switchbacks – slippery for motorcycles. The roads varied from sandy, gravely and rutty. I ended up falling twice – once while I was taking pictures I got my bike into a nearly one foot deep trough and ended up spilling. Fortunately, there was very little damage to both the bike and me. This experience is teaching me about the dichotomy as one ages between will and skill. The will is to be audacious, challenge yourself and push hard; the skill is your ability to do just that. It is ideal when the skill and the will are at approximately the same level but I am sensing there is a change and I am adjusting my actions accordingly.
In the mountains there is more vegetation but it is still desert with the deep ruts showing previous torrents of water. The mountain areas clearly receive more rainfall and moisture from the ever present clouds. In the mountains the elevation reaches 7,000 feet and it was welcome refreshment from riding in the desert in black leathers.
During the day we drove about 225 miles on dirt roads. Much of the ride was spent on the range so we need to be aware of the cattle. We saw a number of pronghorns, elk, mule deer and were chased by a number of territorial farm dogs - with no casualties on either side.
We have some small gasoline tanks in our group and had a bit of trouble getting gas later in the day. In New Mexico they have a number of unattended gas stations – just put in your credit card and go.
We camped about 30 miles south of Pie Town in a cow pasture beside a stream. For some reason I was not expecting the desert nights to be this cold and was unprepared for the below freezing night. We’ll be driving through Steamboat along the way where I will pick up a liner for my sleeping bag.
We each prepared our meal separately – I had some Chinese noodle soup combined with a can of Campbell’s clam chowder – an ideal meal with all the basic food groups. We have a marvelous camp fire, smoked some cigars, and were reminiscing about the day. At breakfast, Joe gave me some of his coffee and it appeared there was a small cowpie in the grounds – this is why people that like beef, also like Joe’s coffee better than Starbuck’s.
This 3rd morning we arose at 8:00 a.m. and even though I did not get much sleep, I feel very rested and relaxed. The moon was shining brightly all night and an old sailor might say that I have experienced a personality change from the shining of the moon – moonstruck.
We took off road on dirt roads through a beautiful wooded area where two elk stared at me as if waiting for me to arrive – then ran out in front of me. These animals are far dumber than our own whitetail deer.
We will stop tonight in Grants (a hotel if we can find one). From there we will hook up with the Thornton’s north of Sante Fe (Abiquiu) where we will camp. Jonathan is cooking chickens on a spit – it will be a blast.