This is the eighth of a series of ten posts about my recent trip to Mountain Bike the Continental Divide between Banff, Canada to Antelope Wells, New Mexico. Further information about the expedition can be found at www.bikingthegreatdivide.com
Day 28: Improvised
Camp in Gila National
Forest – Rocky Canyon Campground (75
I slept through my alarm for the first time on the whole trip and was surprised to wake up at 06.00. I sat under my tree and made my breakfast. Bruce cycled past and we chatted for a bit – it turned out he had camped about 5 miles down the road.
I was slow to get moving from my improvised campsite under a tree and eventually got away at about 07.30h. The
tracks were of typical New Mexico
Water was pretty sparse on this section of the trail and we thought that
we would be able to get some from windmills. But during my whole time in New Mexico I only ever
saw a coupe of working windmills. In fact apart from the torrential rain storms
– this was a very dry state.
The day got hotter and hotter and I was starting to get low on water. 40 mile into the route I came to the Beverhead Work Centre, where I new water might be available. Bruce has also just arrived and had found a hose by one of the offices. We filled our water bottles and drank and drank and drank. Strangely there was also a coke machine outside the office and we unpacked out bags to find as many quarters as we could so we could get some cold juice!
Bruce headed off and I rested for another ten minutes before following him down the track. It started raining heavily and the tracks quickly became muddy. My back break had completely gone and I was now reliant on what was left of my front break which was down to the metal of my break pads (not a great noise!).
Progress was slow and I caught Bruce on one of the hills before the
decent to Wall Lake. We were both struggling with the
wet and sandy tracks. Initially, I had hoped I might get to Silver City today but because of the poor progress that I was making this seemed unlikely.
I just decided to try and get as far as I could.
Things started to quite literally ‘hot up’ after Wall Lake as I cycled right into a forest fire. The track was still fairly safe but the
air was very smoky and the forest to the west was smouldering away. If it had been
windy I would have been a very different story as the fire would have quickly
gained strength and flames.
Eventually I seemed to cycle through the fire and I reached Upper and Lower Black Canyon Campgrounds. There was a stream here and I filtered water, filling up all my bottles (10 litres worth). This was one of the best decisions that I made during the whole trip (you will find out why in a minute!).
Bruce passed me as I was filtering. I told him my plan to reach Rocky Canyon Campground (10 miles up-hill) by that evening. It was 7pm and it was going to be a real struggle to get there before it got dark.
I headed up the track I was determined not to stop for the first two miles and the main steep section. I passed Bruce who was having problems with his knee, ‘I’ll see you at the campsite I said.’ ‘I might not make it tonight,’ he said, ‘but good luck.’
After another six miles I reached the top of the climb – It was downhill from here to the campsite. A 4by4 (the first one I had seen all day) was coming in the other direction and stopped. I chatted to the ranch owner for while and he gave me more water and for one of the first times in my life I turned down the offer of a beer.
Before setting off on the downhill. I put my headtorch on. It was getting dark and although I didn’t need it yet I thought I might need to turn it on during the decent.
The track was awful, loose and wet. I was going to be pleased to get to the campsite and I was thinking to myself, ‘I actually going to make this. I’m actually going to get to Mexico in 30 days.’
Then everything changed
I was negotiating a steep section. The next thing I remember was thinking, ‘I’m going to crash’. I saw stars as my head hit the ground…
…I got up and walked the three or four steps back to my bike. I turned my head torch on to examine my bike. I was sore all over, my head hurt, blood running down my arm and leg, ripped clothing down my left side. The adrenaline was pumping I got back on my bike and free wheeled the mile to the camp site.
I was a state. I just sat a bench. I was hoping that Bruce might catch up with me and offer some advice, tell me what to do or just look after me. But he didn’t catch up with me that night. I was in a daze - after a while I took my cycle helmet off. It was cracked right through in three places – thank goodness I was wearing it. Had I knocked myself out? I couldn’t really remember the crash? Not a good thing when your by yourself in the middle of nowhere.
There was no water at Rocky Canyon Campground. But I used some of my spare water to wash my arm. Things did not look good. I bandaged it the best I could and tired to remove my cycling clothing. It was stuck to me – my whole left side was in pieces and I shouted out as I peeled off my shirt and shorts. I didn’t feel like eating, but I new I had to – everything was a struggle and I tried to prepare some food and set up my bivi.
Time slipped away and it was midnight before I got to lie down. I thought it was all over – there was no way I would be in a fit state to make the last 175 miles. It was going to be a struggle to make the next settlement. I had come so far and I honestly thought it was game over. I didn’t even know if I would be able to get back on my bike the next morning.
Sleep was near impossible I couldn’t lie on my left side because of my elbow and I couldn’t lay on my right side because of right knee and leg. Everything hurt and I was worried about my head.
Eventually I drifted off…
Day 29: Rocky
Canyon Campground – Silver City (46 miles)
It had been an awful nights sleep (if you can call it sleep). A combination of a battered left elbow and a battered right knee had made it almost impossible to get comfortable in my sleeping bag.
The next challenge was trying to get up – everything hurt and I shouted
loudly as I tried to pull my sleeping bag off my knee where the blood had fused
it nicely to during the night. I was feeling sorry for myself, my elbow was not
looking good and my elbow hurt like crazy – I dared not take off the dressing
which was a bloody mess and I decided to wait until I got to Silver City or at least the next town.
Breakfast and packing up was a slow process that took about two hours.
Then I got onto the bike and started the 2 mile climb to the top of the
Continental Divide for the 30th time since leaving Banff.
I had no idea if I would be able to cycle and I had prepared myself for the worst. Actually it was easier to cycle than to walk. I had to grip the left handle bar very loosely and at times I just rode using my right arm. Any vibrations were incredibly painful on my left arm and elbow. My right leg was sore, but it only seemed like surface damage – if I ignored it and got into a rhythm I could actually make good progress.
I eventually reached the top of the divide. Things weren’t great, but if I could cycle 2 miles I could cycle a 175 more – I had come too far to back down and give up now. Things just might take a little more time.
From the divide I thought it would be flat and downhill until Mimbress but the rain from the day before had turned the track into an un-navigable mud bath. Again I got back into the mode of taking the trailer off pushing it for a bit and going back for the bike. With my sore leg this seemed to take forever. After repeating the process several times the track got better and I got back on the bike headed downhill towards Mimbress and the village store in what was now blistering heat.
I must have looked a state as I walked into the store. The first thing
the lady behind the desk said to me was, ‘are you all right?’. She offered to
look at my elbow and even said I could use the shower if I wanted to. I
declined on both saying that I was going to get myself sorted out when I got to
Silver City or I was in danger of never getting
there! She smiled and gave me a free cup of coffee. This was another great example
of how kind people were to me during my time away.
The next 35 miles were hard, hot and slow but I eventually made it to Silver City and booked into a motel. I hadn’t realised quite how bad I looked the first
thing the motel receptionist said to me was, ‘can I get you a doctor!,’ I
replied, ‘no just a room, please.’ The motel manager came out as I was
re-telling my tail, ‘give him a discount,’ she said.
After I got cleaned up I was feeling a lot better and headed into the town to the bike shop. My request was simple. I just needed the bike to get me 125 miles. But for this I would need a new chain and at least one working break. I had a good laugh with the boys from the shop as they removed what was left of my break pads.
We laughed even more when Mark Beaumont’s mum, Una,
rang the shop while I was there. I’ve spoken to Una on the phone a number of
times and she was booking Mark’s bike into the shop for a service when Mark
arrived in Silver City as part of his Cycling America’s Tour.
It’s a small world and Mark and I laughed as we exchanged a few tweets that
After a couple of hours my bike was fixed and running better than it had done for the past two weeks. I pushed it back up the hill to the motel (I just couldn’t face getting back on it!).
I had arranged a shuttle from the Mexican border for 12noon. But because I wasn’t sure how fast I would be able to go I managed to change the pick up time to 14.00h. As it would happen I wouldn’t actually get to the border until 16.00h. My plan was to start cycling at 03.00h and just go for it.
Day 30: Silver City to Antelope Wells (122 miles)
My alarm went off. This was it, my last day.
Make it or not this would be my last day on the bike if I was to stand
any hope of getting back to Phoenix and home in time for work on Tuesday morning.
It was also the first day in the last month that I would be riding
without a BOB Trailer. As I would be being shuttled back to Silver City at the end of the day I decided to leave the BOB in my motel room and attempt
the final push as light weight as possible. The only things that I carried were
a few bike spares, some food, my waterproof jacket and lots of water. I also
strapped additional water bottles to the frame of my bike (thank goodness I
I had 125 miles to cycle and I was out the motel door at 03.30 – I couldn’t eat anything before I left and I felt incredibly sore from the crash a couple of day previously. My body was in need of a rest but it still had one day left to go. The first few rotations of the legs were agony but I gradually got into it.
Much of the route was on the pavement today apart from a 30 mile stretch
down the Separ Desert Road.
At 04.30 it started raining heavily – I couldn’t believe it. The rain could make
the Separ road impassable, which would mean a 30 mile push or a 65 mile
diversion. It was still raining heavily when I reached the start of the Separ Road – I
decided to risk it. The first few miles were hard in the wet but the rain
stopped as the sun came up. The sun quickly dried the road and I started to
make fast progress (with the exception of a couple of sand traps) towards the
settlement of Separ.
At Separ I turned East into a strong headwind – again I couldn’t believe
it – it was as if the route wanted to make me give up. First with the rain and
then with the wind I was barely making 8mph on the flat as I struggled along
the gravel. I caught up with Bruce on this section who was as tired as me and
we rode together for a few miles.
Turning South towards Hachita the wind turned with me and although the road improved to tarmac I was still only just making 12 mph.
There was a small shop at Hachita where I bought some juice and re-filled my water bottles. It was getting very hot and I still had nearly 50 miles to go. I was exhausted and really suffering from my knee and elbow. I couldn’t grip my left handlebar properly as the vibrations were so painful. I actually considered trying to get a lift 20 miles down the road to help me – but apart from the store keeper the town was deserted.
As I progressed south along the road towards the border it got hotter and hotter and I got slower and slower. At 13.30h I heard a car pull up behind me and friendly voice shouted, ‘are you Ollie,’ It was Mike. If Mike had offered to pick me up I think I would have said yes. But instead he said, ‘I’ll see you at the end – take your time’ then he sped off.
There were 17 miles to go – it was the longest 17 miles of my life into the wind in the boiling hot. At 10 miles to go I got off my bike and pushed for a mile. Then I ate all my food, drank the rest of my water and put my head down and just tried to keep my legs moving.
I reached the border at 15.57. Mike was there smiling with an outstretched hand as we took some photos and then wasted no time in getting back to Silver City. As we drove back up the road towards Hachita we passed Bruce who was still peddling towards the end – at 55 I hope I am at least half as active as Bruce!
Back in Silver City Mike took me to buy some Fat Tire Beers and then dropped me back off in my motel. The hotel staff greeted me at the door and I celebrated for 20 minutes drinking ice cold beer in the hotel reception with a complete group of strangers who for some reason had become gripped with my story. I headed back to my room but didn’t even make it to the shower before I fell asleep and I slept for 12 long hours.
I had made it to the end and achieved a 12 month old dream.
In my next post I’ll talk more about the logistics of the route, advice and possible route variations.