What I thought was a nice quiet campground turned to pure chaos at dusk. I was enjoying my dinner (Mountain House freeze dried pasta primavera, if you’re wondering) and enjoying the sunset. All of the sudden the canaille of RVers descended on the campground from all angles jockeying for a spot. Diesel engines rapping, gravel crunching, suspensions groaning, wives hollering directions, husbands accusing – pure pandemonium. A reality show in the making. At around 9pm things quieted down, I thought. Then an hour later my new neighbors arrived in two giant diesel 4×4 trucks. One was towing an enormous motor home; the other a trailer mounted BBQ and an inflatable pontoon boat. They spent 30 minutes getting settled…before they cranked up a karaoke party complete with outdoor lighting. I listened to a couple of numbers while looking at the stars and contemplating the state of our country. Then I let my magic earplugs make it all disappear.
And, they worked. I had a surprisingly good sleep (although I confess to slamming the lid on the trash canister nearest my neighbors in the early morning). I felt rested enough to try to ride all the way to Silver City, which would be my most challenging ride to date.
The first twenty miles to the town of Hillsboro was flat desert. To the north the Black and Empire Mountains indicated that I was now in copper mining country. It was all immensely picturesque and I was reminded of a quote by Wallace Stegner about the special beauty of the west: “You have to get over the color green. You have to quit associating beauty with gardens and lawns. You have to get used to an inhuman scale.” He is so right.
I stopped in Hillsboro for lunch at the General Store Cafe. New Mexico is a lodestone for artists. Maybe it’s the wonderful angle of light here at dawn and dusk. This town is a good example. Although its population is perhaps a 100 citizens and its location 40 miles from any city of note, it has an art school, several art studios and an artist co-op.
Leaving Hillsboro, I began the long arduous climb through Percha Canyon, past Kingston and over Emory Pass (8,200 ft). The “big boys” will be riding part of this same route in a couple of weeks. As I pedaled, I made note of the many BLM and NFS sites to camp, if needed. Scrub oaks, large junipers and pines lined the road as I climbed toward the pass.
Although I paused occasionally to look at the view, for the most part I felt (and listened to it looped) numb. I just tried to keep focused on the white line and to hold the bike upright in the increasing headwinds.
At about 7,000 feet, I hit snow (New Mexico? In April?) and stopped to take a photo. As I did, a car pulled over next to me. The driver, Will, would have been a middle-aged pirate 200 years ago. With flowing grey hair, a long mustache and a bright purple silk headscarf, he fit the part perfectly. He introduced me to Susan and for the next twenty minutes we discussed my ride. Fortunately, Will is a cyclist from Silver City and was able to provide a realistic appraisal of what I was facing for the next 40 miles. We said our goodbyes and parted.
A few miles later I made the summit and saw Will and Susan parked there waiting. They were concerned that I would not be able to make it to Silver City tonight and offered food and whatever assistance I needed. Will gave me a paper with his phone number in case I ran into problems as well as specific information about the few remaining places where I could purchase fluids and camp.
We again parted and I pedaled on enjoying some wonderful descents, but enduring tortuous additional climbs that Will had described. At 65 miles, I pulled into the town of Mimbres and bought several additional quarts of water in case I was forced to camp.
As the sun started to set, I rode past the Santa Rita copper mine. Only a small portion is visible from the road, but the scale of even this is a challenge to absorb, let alone describe. At 1,500 ft deep and 1.5 miles across, Santa Rita is one of the largest open pit mines in the world.
Fifteen miles later, after a series of rolling hills, I descended into Silver City. I sent a text to Will and Susan to let them know I had made it and to say “thanks”.