Day 23: Taos to Chamas NM, 95 miles with about a mile of climbing
Actually I only did 62 of those miles and 4900 feet of climbing on my bicycle. This was not a good day for bicycling this route and I was unable to complete it. Fortunately, a good guy gave me a ride to Chamas, else I'd still be (barely) cranking along on my way here.
The day started out well with a great breakfast at the Laughing Horse Inn - I'll stay there again if I get back to Taos - and went well for roughly the first forty miles, but then the monsoon season thing got me big time. I have resolved not to do long rides in the Rockies at this time of the year: the chances of getting caught by a thunderstorm are simply too great and the consequences of getting caught are too dire. To be fair, they were only a ride aborted by exhaustion today, but it could have been a lot worse.
Wheeler Peak, from just north of Taos
Riding out of Taos wasn't much fun with too much traffic and bad shoulders, but things improved when, about five miles out of town, the main road splits into
three roads. 64 still didn't have much, if any, shoulder, but the traffic was light and riding was good. The Rio Grande Gorge bridge, seven miles later, is spectacular, and there are actual restrooms with running water at the rest stop there. All other 'rest stops' I've seen in New Mexico have just had picnic tables and trash cans - nothing else.
The land is quite barren, just miles and miles of sagebrush, but there are a bunch of neat solar homes a few miles past the gorge. US 64 turns north after the gorge, which was nice since I had a south wind, and is flat for about six miles. Then it turns northwest and climbs steadily for a few miles. Finally it settles down to rolling hills with an overall climb to Tres Piedras which is 30 miles from Taos. Tres Piedras isn't much - neither is the land between Taos and Tres Piedras - but there is a diner (a real diner!) and a convenience store/gas station. I enjoyed my lunch at the diner and picked up some gatorade at the store. I had already purchased bagels at a supermarket in Taos.
One of the Piedras
After Tres Piedras, US 64 climbs into the mountains. It is fifty miles with no services between Tres Piedras and Tierra Amarilla, a small town which does have a café/bar and a service station. From my maps, it looked like there were three passes in that fifty miles and I guessed that the passes were 9,000 feet or so. I was wrong on both counts. There was an initial, and easy, climb over a ridge to the next valley, then there was a long stretch with repeated climbs and descents into valleys. It was very pretty, but there was a headwind and there were threatening clouds ahead.
The Next Valley
The threat turned to reality about eight miles from Tres Piedras when big drops of rain started falling and lighting crashed nearby. The rain came and went for a few miles, but, just as I stopped for a snack before the climb up to Hopewell Lake, the rain became steady and the storm intense. I didn't get my snack, but I did don my rain gear and crank on up the hill. I though the hill would be pretty short, but it actually was a four mile climb of about 2000 feet during which I was rained and hailed upon and had the pleasure (?) of some intense nearby lightening. That climb in the storm wiped me out, in part because I didn't get a chance to eat and in part because riding in a storm is both cold (50F) and stressful. Another problem was that I wasn't expecting such a long climb and, when I finally did get to the 'top' I discovered that US 64 stayed at 9,300 to 10,000 feet for quite a while. Most of that while had headwinds and all of it was cold and damp. I simply couldn't recover from the big climb in the storm, and it became increasingly difficult to climb at all. There were lots of climbs - US 64 reminded me of the Blue Ridge Parkway as it followed the ridge line west. Finally, on one 10% grade section, I simply couldn't ride it. I walked. After that I was able to ride the 5% or so grades, but I was really pushing myself. Near what proved to be the top of the last climb, I stopped at a great overlook because it was easier that riding the last hundred feet to the top. In fact I could barely ride at all.
Looking back, after the storm from a high valley - the white stuff is snow
While I was at the overlook, a SUV pulled in and a guy got out. We talked a bit about the spectacular view of Brazos Box and then he offered me a ride into Chamas. He turned out to be a nurse who lives in Farmington and works in Taos (a 200+ mile commute which he make every few weeks) and he said I looked exhausted. I certainly was! With that ride I got here at 6:30 PM. Without it I don't know if I would have made it at all.
I'm in an overpriced 'Lodge' - this is a tourist town and it is Friday night - and I had a good dinner half a mile down the road. My stuff is washed (where needed) and spread out to dry. The Arkel panniers leaked a bit, but not badly considering what I rode through, and the Ortlieb panniers stayed dry as expected. Actually the bike and the stuff on it fared considerably better than I did.
Tomorrow I'm heading for Farmington or, more likely, Bloomfield which should have motels and is just 100 miles away. I had considered going up into Colorado, but my new friend pointed out that that meant riding over Wolf Creek Pass. I'm not up to that! Besides, I have my new resolution to stay out of the mountains as much as possible. I didn't like getting caught in that storm when I had nowhere to go and nothing to look forward too except fourty miles of exhausted, and exhausting, riding. I'll still have to deal with a long stretch with no services, but at least it will be at a lower altitude where the chance of a storm is much less.