Leaving Espejo Beach the next day I found myself restless, I was looking forward to getting to Phantom Ranch in two days. In my heart, Phantom Ranch was a way for me to go home, a way for me to leave this trip and I was set on hiking out. I wanted to go home, I didn’t want to be in the Grand anymore and for those who know me well, the fact I wanted out of Grand Canyon meant I was not in a good place. I can’t remember a time ever on any trip when I truly wanted to leave the Grand, but, I did then. I didn’t like or enjoy the big group dynamic, or the production each day of packing up and setting up camp. I did not fit in, I did not connect with anyone. I was so very different than everyone. I missed simplicity and peace in the backcountry and that was not being found on this trip. As we made our way down the River, I started remembering all of the trips, summits and routes I had done out there.
We passed Tanner, which was the start of my very first packrafting trip not even a year prior. There in Tanner Rapid, I had flipped my boat, which was completely expected seeing as I had never been in a packraft before and that was the first rapid I had ever run. I remembered being terrified and intimidated by the force of the water. Passing Tanner and continuing down the River helped me work through that fear. I knew that I was more capable now and that the water and I were developing a pretty amazing relationship. I knew that the water’s power would always scare me, but, I was starting to let some of that fear go. My trip from Tanner to New Hance last year had sparked a new love for me and there I was on a full Grand Canyon river trip and despite all of the wonderful feelings, I still felt like I wanted to go home. It is hard to be out there with a group of strangers who you feel are so different than you, it is hard to put your idea of what a trip is supposed to be aside and adapt to a group dynamic that you feel is not good, not right. I was homesick and also walking through my grief, which of course did not help with feeling lonely. I felt stuck in a group that I did not connect with and it was a pretty overwhelming feeling.
Once we arrived at Rattlesnake, where we were camping, I hiked up towards Tabernacle, I had to get some breathing room. I had to just be there, in my favorite place, without anyone else, without all of the stuff at camp. I needed the Grand and me to have some time together. The ridge up to Tabernacle is awesome, slightly exposed, views every which way it is hard to chose where to look and what to take in. But, I needed that!! I needed the Canyon to overwhelm me with it’s beauty and peace, it’s magic. So I hiked until I wanted to just sit and watch the Grand. Watch the River turn, watch the birds play in the sky, and be still among it’s grandeur. There was no influence from the outside world, the music blaring from camp was not able to be heard, the quietness and peace was wonderful. Me and the Canyon and that was it, just the way I like it. Nothing else was needed, nothing. Time stood still and for those moments I was able to in a way recharge. I cried when my mind drifted to Martha and all that she was missing, all that we were missing without her here. I smiled when I imagined her sitting next to me and then laughed when I thought about Martha ever doing an adventure like this. Yeah right, Martha, she would have never ever done that, but, for some reason, I felt her there next to me, like a good friend, sitting there with me in total silence, soaking up the moment. Then, I cried again when I realized I had to go back to camp and was again reminded Martha was gone. I wiped the tears from my face and headed back to camp. To be continued….
I laid awake all night, my mind spinning with thoughts, ideas, worries and anxieties- sleep deprivation is a pretty consistent reality in my life. I often spend nights laying awake, pondering, reflecting, planning things or struggling with my own thoughts. This reality makes daily life a challenge and it wears on me, especially, during the times in my life where I am out adventuring and consistently pushing myself physically and mentally for extended periods of time. It never matters how tired I am, most nights my brain refuses to turn off, despite anything I try or have tried, it is in the late hours of the night, the hours where the world sleeps and becomes quiet, that my creativity and inspiration comes alive. In the dark of night, my tired thoughts create my best writing. My best photographic ideas. My greatest adventure ideas. Under the stars, quiet, and with everything else at rest, my creativity lives. It is both a gift and curse. I have learned to live with it and to stop trying to fight it. It is just how I am. Who I am. The morning light came through my tent and it was time to get up and start the new day.
Day 4 on the Colorado River had begun. After breakfast, a group of us hiked up to the Nankoweap granaries. These amazing sites were once used as storage for foods such as corn and pumpkin seeds for the ancestral Puebloan people; about eleven hundred years ago it was a thriving agriculture community. Can you believe that? These historic people once stood there and looked out at the very River I was paddling, the very place I loved more than any other place on earth. They saw the River and the Canyon in its purest state, in its best state. Not like it was now, controlled by government and overrun with people. Overrun with the modern world. Long ago among those very cliffs; people, families and communities lived an extraordinarily difficult and wondrous life. Their stories still hung around there. Their struggles still surround that area and their artistic talent for building dwellings and such lives on forever. Sitting there looking down at the River is a special experience, you can feel the time lost and imagine time to come. Imagine your wildest dreams, for, the Grand Canyon is the keeper of all dreams.
After about an hour it was time to hike back to the beach and go down River. I could have stayed there forever, but, the River was calling. I got into my packraft and paddled away from Nanko. I was struggling with fatigue and grief all day. I was finally allowing my body to feel the pain associated with losing my sister. I was leaning into it for the first time. I was no longer pushing it away. This was the day I began the true journey through my grief and everything it encompassed. I was finally allowing myself to physically feel it. It was worse than anytime I can remember of being sick. But, it was my journey and I couldn’t exactly blurt it out to everyone. It didn’t matter how physically sick it made me feel, I had to walk through it or at least start the walk. And, there at the bottom of the Grand Canyon is where I would stop being scared of my grief and instead, no matter how painful it was, I would start to welcome it. Throughout the day, I ran Kwanguant rapid, 60 mile rapid and Lava Camp rapid and I stayed in my boat all day; I was proud of that. The eddies were terrible the entire day, they were exhausting. We finally ended our day at Espejo, a camp that sat below Espejo Butte, which was a fun and memorable climb for me. I remember climbing Espejo Butte in early 2019, as my partner and I made our way back to the Rim a rainbow shot across the rock, it was one of the most magical moments I have ever had in the Grand. I was happy to camp there, knowing that memory hung above me at camp. To be continued…
I was very reluctant to take up my friend, Steve’s invitation for a packrafting trip in the Grand this past month. In fact, I tried almost everything to get out of it. I have an incredibly deep rooted fear of water. I hate it. I have had so many scary moments in water-being swept down stream in a cold Sierra Creek losing my trekking poles during my PCT thru hike, falling out of a raft on the Arkansas River in Colorado during a training class over a decade ago, and being always afraid of what was beneath me in the ocean and other bodies of water that I had been in during family vacations and such.
I was up the entire night before our trip was supposed to start, I didn’t sleep at all. This is a very common thing for me, I don’t sleep. I am too anxious to sleep and it does not matter how exhausted I am. I texted Steve around 6 am that morning and told him I couldn’t go into the Grand being sleep deprived, being anxious and all kinds of stressed like I had been for months leading up to that trip. He told me it was okay if I didn’t go and that he would be Flagstaff in a few hours if I changed my mind. I hadn’t even gotten my groceries for the trip, I needed to take Zoroaster to the dog sitter. I was a mess, I was exhausted, my eyes burned from the fatigue and my brain was all over the place. But, something inside of me forced me to run to the grocery store, take Zoroaster to the sitters and go on that trip. Steve and Kieran arrived at my house around 10 am and I loaded up my gear, not knowing that this very trip would change my life. We drove the two hours to Lipan Point on the South Rim, I met all of the other guys that were coming along (Dave, Donald, and Brian) They were all very nice and that made it easier to focus on rest of the day. We loaded the lose gear into our packs, we talked for a bit and within an hour or so we were all headed down the Tanner Trail. I could feel my body wanting to shut down, fall over, I was tired. So tired. My pack was extremely heavy, way heavier than I am used to carrying in the Grand. The Tanner Trail is beautiful, open views of the Canyon, rocky trail sections, jagged buttes, and views of many of the summits I have stood on top of. Each mile I felt more tired, more, wasted. By the time we reached the final mile or so I began to hallucinate, my footing was clumsy and my entire body was done. We arrived down on the beach before sunset which allowed for us to get our tents up and setup camp for the night before it was dark. I ate and made some small talk with the guys, but, I found myself tucked into my sleeping bag early. I was proud of myself for overcoming being sleep deprived and for going on the trip. I have unfortunately learned how to push myself physically and mentally when I am sleep deprived because that’s just how it is, I don’t sleep, but, I always desire these big adventures and physical challenges, so I have had to learn how to endure the torture of sleep deprivation and how to put it aside and get what I need to done. The stars that night were epic, they were like diamonds in the sky incased in canyon walls with the relaxing sound of the River echoing throughout the beach. It was paradise. It was perfect. It was everything I loved. I fell asleep and was able to get a few hours of solid sleep. In the morning it was cold, we waited until the sun warmed up the beach and then got ready to head out. The guys decided to put in at Tanner Rapids (River mile 69) to begin our trip. I had never been in a packraft before and I was fearful beyond my normal level of fear when I am doing dangerous things in the Grand. I am no stranger to dangerous activities(scrambling in the Grand, climbing, hiking off trail, etc), but, adding water to the picture made me feel so much more scared of the Grand, the place I so love. I felt so intimidated. I was so damn scared. I asked all the guys whether or not I should attempt to run Tanner Rapids, most said no way or sure, you’ll be fine. I hiked over to see the rapids and get the down low on how to nagivate them- come into the tongue and then paddle left I was told. I kept anxiously asking the guys what I should do and finally I made my decision. I was going in. I was going to paddle Tanner Rapids with absolutely no experience and extreme terror.
I suited up, we got all the rafts ready. Steve went down to be ready to play safety and I went with the other guys to put our rafts in. I got in my packraft and started paddling, my fear began to increase, my anxiety was raging. After a few minutes we all headed towards the tongue of the Rapids, I remember looking back at Brian and asking if I could get out. I was terrified. There was no turning back. I could hear the Rapids screaming in front of me. I was told to follow Kieran and I did. I paddled up and over a few big Rapids, clenching my paddle for dear life. I was so scared, but it was so exhilarating, so exciting, then all of a sudden another rapid hit the side of my packraft and I went overboard in the Colorado River, swimming, being bashed into rocks and bouncing up and down in the water. I was terrified, but, I did what I was told to, I held onto my paddle and did not let it go. I saw my boat float away and after a few minutes when I could finally see the Canyon walls around me and I knew that I wasn’t going to drown, I actually became amazed at how beautiful the view was from the River. How even though I was terrified, I felt a sort of peace I had never felt before in the Canyon. You probably wouldn’t have thought that was what I was experiencing because of all the little girl, horror movie screaming that I was doing 🙂 I handed my paddle to Kieran when he paddled near me and attempted to crawl in his boat. But, Donald came by and I grabbed his tow strap on his boat and I was towed to the shore on the North side. I remember getting out of the water and just releasing everything and every emotion I had from that swim. I was cold. I was terrified, but strangely calm at the same time. Donald left me there on the shore and went to get my packraft so he could tow me back to Tanner Beach where everyone else was. When I was finally alone sitting there on the rocks and looking at the beauty around me, I started to cry, I wanted to call my parents. I remembered why I hated water and how powerful it was. How scared it made me. Donald came back and towed me across to Tanner Beach and then we all took a break. After about 30 minutes, we packed up our rafts and headed towards Unkar. The water for the rest of the day wasn’t crazy like Tanner Rapids, there was some “riffles” but I stayed in my boat and enjoyed the views. I felt so humbled, so small- I was a speck in the Colorado River at the bottom of the most Grand place on earth. Everywhere I looked there was wonder, beauty, magic. I could see summits that I had climbed from a different view, I remembered all of the moments that I had spent in the Canyon, moments that encompassed every emotion and challenge, moments now gone that are only etched in my heart. I had a smile the entire day. I was like a little girl on Christmas morning, it was overwhelming. It was a completely different perspective of the Grand. A perspective I fell in love with that very day. I was hooked. I was stoked. I was terrified as hell, but at the same time, I was so intrigued and happy. I knew then, that packrafting was in my life to stay. We arrived at Unkar and set up camp, we hiked up to see the ruins and as we made our way back to camp the sunset turned gold, the glow on the Canyon walls was magnificent. The views couldn’t have been more magical. We ate dinner, laughed, talked about life, ate more food, and prepared for a cold rainy night. The sky turned dark, the stars faded away, the temps dropped and it eventually started to rain. I slept alright that night- between the pidder patter of rain and the sound of the River it was a beautiful concert of sound. In the morning, we were all slow to get going, the sun seemed as though it would never come out. It was freaking cold. We could see the snow on the rim and then it started to snow on us 🙂 Yay, snow on a River trip 🙂 It didn’t last too long and though it didn’t really ever warm up, we had to get going. We had to paddle to Hance, our destination for the night. We got into our boats and head down the River. The wind found us and began to challenge us and make every single paddle harder. I was just worried about falling out again and not knowing what was ahead on the River. I became better at paddling that day, I started to find my groove. I was so cold though and so was everyone else. The wind made the cold worse, but, the views, oh my goodness, the views. Not even the coldest day could take away the amazement of that place. I was mostly smiles and a little bit of shivering. We decided to pull over and warm up at 75 mile canyon. We needed to warm up and eat something and assess the rest of the day because of the cold weather. We pulled our boats onto shore, we left our gear tied to the boats and found a nice break spot to eat and put warm clothes on. We then decided to not paddle the Rapids there and instead portage our boats down River.
After an hour or so we began to find the motivation to portage our boats down the beach and then we headed back to our boats to start the tiring process. My boat was gone!!! GONE! NOT THERE! I asked Brian if he knew where my boat was, he said that he thought Steve had carried it down the beach for me. So I started hiking down the beach and ran into Steve. I asked him if he had portaged my boat down the beach, he said no he hadn’t. My loaded boat was officially missing. We all kinda freaked out and ran up and down the beach thinking maybe it got stuck in the rocks somewhere. I felt terrible, I had lost the boat Steve let me use. We were all looking for it when Donald noticed it was up River tipped upside down. The wind had taken my fully loaded boat and blown it up River. Thank goodness I had strapped my life vest to my pack on the boat. Donald kindly paddled up River to recover my boat, everything was perfectly attached to it still, just all wet. When my damn boat finally came back we all portaged our gear and boats down River. We were all exhausted and cold and stressed from the events. But, without events such as that, the adventure isn’t complete. We then hiked up 75 mile and enjoyed the twists and turns of the walls and the beauty that trapped us down in there. Everywhere you looked you could climb or explore, you could get lost within its slots and live down there forever, if you wanted to 🙂 After our hike, it was time to get back into our cold wet boats, at least we had all of our boats now 🙂 it was around 2 more miles of paddling before we reached Hance beach. The water was calm and the wind came in and out. The sun began to set above Hance Beach lighting up the summits of the towering temples with the last of the daylight. The day was coming to an end, we filtered water, we dried everything out, we ate, we laughed, we talked about future goals and Grand dreams. We talked about how we were dreading the 6.5 mile hike up to the Rim with our heavy packs. We talked about our trip, about the memories we had created in only a few days, memories with strangers, who were now friends. We talked about what a wonderful life it is to be lost in the Grand, to be able to adventure and live life to the fullest. We ate more food and then all headed to bed. The wind echoed for awhile on the beach, the cool air and the Canyon vibes put me to sleep. What a day it had been.
In the morning, we packed up pretty early and got ready for the hike out-4,000 plus feet of climbing in 6.5 miles with ridiculously heavy packs. The going was slow up the New Hance, we all had a rough go getting to the top. The hike isn’t usually hard, but with the added weight of packrafting gear it made it more challenging. I brought 5 liters of water and was out around mile 4. We stopped around 1.5-2 miles from the top and feasted on the rest of our food. It was like a Thanksgiving dinner- tortillas, avocado, apple, candy, bell pepper, hummus and pretzels, gum, chocolate, peanut butter- that gave us all a little bit of a boost. I took a million breaks along the way up, always being impressed with where I was, what I could see. Even though I had seen it many times before on that very same trail, it never get old, the shadows, the colors, the feeling is new each and every time I see it because I am different each and every time I see it, different because of my experiences in the Grand, because every experience in that magical place changes me, inspires me, makes me see the world and life differently. It is a true blessing. It is all the magic I have ever needed in my life. It is all of my dreams and all of my aspirations. It is my heaven. It is the greatest gift I have in this world. As we got closer to the Rim the trail became snow and the warmth of the day faded off. I was pretty wiped when Donald and I got to the top. Steve was there waiting for us. Steve and Donald went to get the other car which was at Lipan Point and I waited for Kieran, Dave and Brian to finish the hike. I sat there alone on the rim next to the road on my pack, looking at the yardsale of gear around me, thinking about what I had just done, what I had overcome, the fears that I faced dead on, what I had learned and what I had almost missed out on because I was nervous and scared. I was so proud of myself for making the trip, handling a terrifying experience with grace and pushing through it. For learning something totally new and scary for me. And then, my mind and my heart filled up with ideas for future trips, of what raft I would buy, of when I could be back on the River. I started to miss the River, I started to miss the views and perspective of being on the River. Then, my hunger and fatigue kicked in and I became really cold. I changed out of my wet sweaty clothes and put warm clothes on. A few minutes later I heard Kieran cheering as they arrived at the top. Kieran, Dave and Brian were out and everyone was safe, that’s always the main goal of any trip. We ate pizza outside of the Park and then headed home, filled with inspiration for adventure, new friendships and a handful of great memories. This trip was a big deal for me, I cannot tell you how many opportunities I have refused because of my anxiety, because of my worries. I have kept myself from many things because of my struggles with anxiety and I am so glad I did not do that this time. Another wonderfully, crazy and perfect adventure in the books.
Turning onto CR 189 and heading onto Abiquiu Grant Lands was a bit nerve wrecking for me. I chose to follow the standard route despite my anxieties and worries about my safety. I rode through a neighborhood where I counted 4 red trucks. I was worried one of those trucks belonged to rhe guy that had been known to harass bikers- hold them up and rob them. I felt very alone, I felt very vulnerable. I questioned my decision to take the standard route over and over as I rode. I was scared. As I pedaled across Abiquiu Creek and rode up to a steep ridge which opened to amazing views I continued to feel scared and worried and unsure of the hours ahead. I reached a plateau about 5 miles in and enjoyed the beautiful views, the juniper trees and piñon. It reminded me of home in Arizona. I still was struggling to wrangle in my anxiety and focus on the riding. Every so often, I would turn around and check to see if there were any vehicles coming up behind me or any vehicle parked on the side roads or in the trees off the route. I turned off of CR 189 and onto FR 27. A few miles later I entered into Santa Fe National Forest, as I made more miles away from that neighborhood I started to feel a tad more safe, but, I still felt vulnerable. I kept praying I would run into other campers at the end of the day so I would not be alone that night. Around 10 miles into the day, I saw a truck and they stopped and talked to me, they were out hunting, it was opening day for the season. That made me so happy because I knew there were others out there, the likelihood of that guy bothering me was starting to become less of a concern. I entered into a canyon, the road was in decent shape and I began to descend for awhile. The riding was enjoyable and the weather was perfect. FR 27 started to get very rough, very uneven, very rocky and very hard to ride- I was beginning the climb up to the top of Polverda Mesa. The slick rock made riding difficult, but, it was nice to be in the tall trees of the forest- it was quiet and beautiful and though the miles were hard to ride, it seemed to go by fast. I continued to climb the volcanic road towards the sky. 12.5 miles after beginning the steep climb, I finally reached the top.
I noticed a group of hunters camped off to my right. I walked right up to them and asked the first guy I saw if I could camp with them for the night? They didn’t even hesitate as they welcomed me into their camp and showed me where I could pitch my tent. The guys then left on their ATV to scout for their hunt the next morning. I setup my tent and went out for a short hike. I felt relieved that I was at the top and that I had stayed safe and was going to be safe all night long. I could feel my anxiety simmer down and my entire being seemed to shift into a calm place. The sky lit up with magnificent colors, the day was coming to an end. I crawled into my tent after cooking some food; right as it became dark, the guys returned to camp and offered me a hamburger and some drinks. I bundled up and joined them around the fire. The night air was cold. The guys built a fire, it was a welcomed addition to the evening. To me, fire is like primitive tv, it is mesmerizing and for some reason they always provide good vibes and good times. We ate, exchanged stories and embraced each others company for the night. They talked about their lives in New Mexico and how Covid was impacting their towns. We talked about my trip on the Divide and where I was from. They were externally generous and told me to take whatever I needed or wanted out of the cooler in the morning before I left camp. We stayed up for a few hours and then called it a night. Around 4 am the next morning the guys left camp, they were determined to get an elk. I was not getting up that early. I laid in my warm sleeping bag until about 7 am and then started my day. It is never fun to pack up in the early morning when it is freezing cold, but, it is part of the journey and the bitter cold against your body reminds you that you are alive. To Cuba, NM I go!!
Hitching back to the route from Tres Piedras was difficult, the traffic was almost non exsistent, at least in the direction I needed to go. After an hour and a half I got a ride in the back of a pickup truck, with no bed gate. I had to hold my bike so tight and keep us both from falling out of the back of the truck as the driver drove way too fast for the turns on that road. I was pretty scared to be honest. When I got back to the route, I put my panniers back on my bike and started the 5 mile climb up the paved highway 64 to Hopewell Lake. I was still feeling tired, my body was still exhausted and I was only planning to ride to Canon Plaza, 24 miles away. My riding was sluggish, I was still fading mentally and psychically. FR 91 was in alright condition, the terrain was pretty nice, there were a few climbs up to Burned Mountain and then again to the top a saddle that stood above ranches and wetlands. I loved riding through the tall trees that day. It was so quiet out there, no one else was out there, but me and my bike. Most days on the Divide were like that, but there was generally some vehicle traffic at some point and that day the road belonged to just me and my bike. After only 10 miles of riding I was beginning to feel the fatique worsen. My pernicious anemia and Crohns were giving me trouble as they often do and coupled with the fact that I was riding the Divide and pushing myself day after day for weeks now, my body was admittedly protesting. I rode into Canon Plaza and went to the store Joe and his wife have setup for bikers, I bought a few snacks and talked to Joe for a while. Joe kindly offered to let me stay at his house he was fixing up across from the store. I happily accepted his offer and ended my day on the bike early. As I was writing outside on the patio of the house a dog named Duke came to greet me. He was a skiddish shepard mix, but, sweet as could be. He hungout with me for a while as I wrote and then went on his way.
I struggled to sleep that night. I did not sleep at all in fact. I laid awake all night. You would think I could fall asleep so easy and fast because I was exhausted, but, I have always had trouble with sleep. Even when my body is beyond tired in every single way, there are nights when I cannot turn my mind off and I cannot sleep. It is like torture. Absolute torture. I have grown used to it over the years, but, it makes my days harder, especially when I am out on a big adventure like riding the Divide. The lack of sleep messes with my focus, emotions, appetite, endurance- everything- it throws yet another challenge into the mix for me. I have tried a lot of different things over the years to help with this struggle, but, I have yet to find anything that has worked long term. So, I have no other choice than to accept it as a part of who I am and learn to live with it, just as I do with having Crohns, Pernicous Anemia, anxiety and depression and POTS. All I can do is embrace those struggles and decide to not let them stop me from what I want to do.
As the daylight crept through the windows I knew I was going to have to pack up and start riding. I was headed for Abiquiu, 38 miles away. I left early as I was already awake, I wanted to see Joe again but I was not going to go over and wake him up. The morning air was cold, my eyes burned from staying up all night, my head was all over the place. I was supposed to have been in Abiquiu days ago, I just wasn’t riding as fast as planned because my body was just too tired. The riding out of town wasn’t too bad. The route took me across Rio Vallectios and then it turned onto FR 44 which was rougher riding than the nice gravel and pavement I had just been on. The road climbed up to a remote high point and then continued downhill for a bit. Then it went back up hill, eventually leading me onto Highway 554. I rode into El Rito and stopped at the little store there to get a soda and take a break. I was 18 miles from Abiquiu at that point and it was all pavement from there JAfter I was finished with my soda, I got back onto my bike and headed South on 554. The views were so beautiful riding into Abiquiu, the distant mesas and desert landscape did not disappoint. I was so happy to finally be in Abiquiu, a few days before when I was really struggling I did not think I would ever get there. I went straight to the Inn and got a room and ate a huge lunch.
I was slow to pack up the morning after I entered into New Mexico. It was freezing out. My body was now in trouble. I was really struggling just to get ready that day. Everything seemed so hard. The day started with lots of rocky climbs. I struggled with each mile. FR 87 was rough and I was in no position to be riding that day. A few hours into the day, I called my parents crying- I was exhausted beyond exhaustion. My body was rejecting the physical aspect of the riding. My mom got online to look at maps trying to find a way for me to get off so I could quit. Honestly, I was at that point. My body was giving up on me, it didn’t care about my goals. I could hear my parents concern and worry. They know all too well that I often push myself past my limit and that my health issues cause me a great deal of stress and pain and my body is impacted by all of that. I just kept telling them that I wasn’t going to quit. That of course did not make my mom happy, but, I couldn’t quit. I had to keep going. I tried to reassure them as much as I could, but I think I was really just trying to reassure myself. I hung up and got back on my bike. There was a nice ROCKY descent after my phone call and it gave me some relief from the climbing. That was short lived though. I then began to push my bike up a half mile of some ridiculous terrain filled with sharp rocks and lose gravel. You absolutely couldn’t ride that section. Ugh! Right before the top of the climb I fell to the ground. I was crying like a baby. I was done. Mentally and physically I was done. Little did I know 100 yards away was an amazing view on top of Brazos Ridge looking down into Cruces Basin Wilderness. When I finally got to the top, the view was rewardingly peaceful and pretty epic.
I took a long break up there and then continued on FR 87. I was still struggling a lot. I was fighting each mile. I was fighting myself and I was fading. I always always carry extra food- usually one or two days extra- but I just couldn’t stop eating. I couldn’t get satiated. I was going through all of my extra food and I knew I was going to run out. I wasn’t riding as fast as I had planned and my tummy just couldn’t stop feeling hungry. It’s a terrible feeling to be eating through your extra days of food and knowing you will soon run out. On top of that my Crohn’s was flaring up and I was weak.
Riding down from Brazos Ridge was pretty fun and soon enough the road became smoother. I kept riding on FR 87, it went up and then down some and then back up, but the road was in good shape and the riding was pretty easy. Eventually, I started heading down through the aspen trees towards the Rio San Antonio. I could feel the sun get more intense as I approached the bottom of the descent and I wanted to find a place to camp, but, I knew I had to keep riding and so I did. I crossed the Rio San Antonio and turned off of FR 87 and onto FR 133. A couple miles later I met a guy driving back from a bike ride. I asked him what the closest town was, he told me about Tres Piedras and offered to take me there for some real food and a night of good rest.
Logistically, though getting back to the route from that point would have been too hard, so I decided to continue another 11 miles or so and try and hitch into Tres Piedras from highway 64. I really needed food and I needed some real rest, but I couldn’t put myself in a situation where returning to the route would be difficult. I kept riding, as I rode I felt so lonely, so tired, so defeated. When I got to Cisneros Park I could see the mountains of Colorado and that only made me feel more lonely. I missed my friends. I missed connecting to people and laughing and missed having days where I wasn’t on my bike. I followed FR 133 passed a dry Beehive Spring and began descending into Little Tusas Creek. The cows seemed to be amused by me, they were very vocal as I rode by. A short time later I got to highway 64, walked to the other side of the road and stuck my thumb out. I was going into Tres Piedras for the night. I had ridden only 44 miles that day, but for my body it felt like 100. The traffic was slow on highway 64 and the day was quickly ending. I didn’t want to be on the side of a highway when it got dark. A few cars went by and then the same guy I had met earlier that day pulled over. Unfortunately, my bike tires were too big to fit on his rack, but him and his friends flagged down a truck and I finally told got a ride into town. They dropped me off at the only restaurant in town. I ran in and found out they were closed, I was bummed. I secured a room for the night there at the motel and I bought a handful of goodies they had at the bar. The lady who runs the place stopped me before I left and asked me what I wanted to eat. She knew about bikers on the divide and she stayed late to cook me some food. She also told me to come back in the morning for breakfast. After a nice full dinner, I went to my room to unwind and eat all the goodies I had bought. I sat on the bed and ate for almost an hour and a half straight. It was like I was garbage disposal, I just kept shoving food in my mouth. I was able to really relax and get some good warm sleep and that made a giant difference. I slept in, I didn’t rush back on my bike in the morning. I stayed for breakfast and bought more snacks to take with me. I left around 11 and started to hitch back to where I had gotten off the route the night before. It was amazing how one night with lots and I mean lots of food completely turned me around. It was just what I needed.
I took a day off at Danielle and Trenton’s house outside of Del Norte in South Park. It was a perfect day off, pizza by the creek with their doggies, easy errands, good company and good conversation. The following day, they drove me back into Del Norte where I had gotten off the route. And, the bike mechanic from Salida had texted me that my maps had finally arrived and his mother in law drove out to Del Norte that morning to bring me my new maps. Absolute wonderfully kind people. I was still incredibly tired and decided to just ride 12 miles to a local cabin that hosted bikers. I was anticipating the long hard climb to the summit of Indian Pass, 11,910 feet and decided an easy quick day of riding would set me up for the next day to tackle the big climb. The cabin was very neat, kind of like an artsy Jeremiah Johnson cabin, very unique and cozy and set in the low mountains of the Rio Grande National Forest. I did not sleep well, but, I got enough sleep 🙂
In the morning, I left the cabin prepared to handle the next 12 miles of climbing to reach the Pass. In true Elizabeth style, I walked my bike a lot of the way up. I even called my mom during the climb at one point and had a good conversation with her. Once I neared the top of the Pass the views were beautiful but the sky was hazy and the views were impacted by that. I rode from the Pass down into Summerville and then began to climb yet again. The views were great and the riding wasn’t too bad. I then climbed up to Elwood Pass and the views just kept getting better. I passed by a few lakes and kept riding with the intention of getting into Platoro for the night. I passed Stunner Campground and kept riding focusing on the final climb and final Pass for the day, Stunner Pass. That climb was so pretty. So many colors, so many rocks, lovely Colorado. At the top of the Pass I bundled up a bit, it was starting to get cold. I was ready for some nice downhill riding as the day had been filled with over 5,000 feet of climbing already and I did not want to face any other climbs that day. I rode into Platoro about an hour before dark, the store owners showed me the Great Diivde Cabin and set me up inside for the night. He later brought me some watermelon, cheese and a sausage, I sat on the deck of the cabin and ate my dinner. It was so peaceful there. I had lived in Colorado for 15 years and never even knew about that place or the surrounding areas. It is definitely a special part of Colorado and I plan on visiting it to adventure more one day. I slept very well that night, though my body was sore, so sore. I tried to stretch before bed and again in the morning, but I was beyond that being enough to help. My body was beginning to break down. I was beginning to feel my body breaking down. I was not recovering like I should. My health issues were getting the best of me.
In the morning I again received a generous home cooked meal from the owners of the store. It was delicious and filled me up enough to begin my day. The first part of the day took me along the Conejos River, it was like a scene from a cowboy movie, so much wild land out there. So much to explore. It was mostly flat terrain and easy riding. When I got into Horca, I stopped for a few Amish pies at the store in town and then turned up on Los Caminos Antiguos Scenic Byway to climb to the top of La Mangas Pass. I stopped at a few viewpoints along the way to take in the views and take some pictures. The climb was pretty easy for the most part and only lasted 7 miles. I headed down from the pass absorbing the joy of the downhill riding. I left the highway and turned onto FR 117 which was a nice road with easy riding. Three miles later I left the Rio Grande National Forest and entered into the Carson National Forest/NEW MEXICO!!!! The final state of the Great Divide, getting that far was a huge moment for me. I couldn’t believe that I had actually done it. I was aware I still had hundreds of miles to ride to the Mexican Border, but, that moment, that moment when I knew I was finally in New Mexico brought me to tears. I felt so proud of myself. I was so excited. I rode about another mile or so and camped near a few other people who were out with their RV. One of the guys at camp had Kentucky Fried Chicken and offered me a few pieces along with some water. I was loving New Mexico 🙂 I set up my tent in a cluster of trees near their RV and prepared for the cold night ahead. I was still struggling with my body, it was fighting itself and it was breaking down. I was not feeling rested at all after days off or sleep, I was tired, I was slow, I was hungry. I couldn’t give my body the recovery time it demanded. I kept pushing myself in all ways possible and my body was now rejecting all of the pushing. I was in trouble physically and I felt it. My entire body felt it, but, I was in NEW MEXICO and nothing was going to keep me from getting to the Mexican Border. To be continued…..
I thought about staying in Sargents and waiting out the wind for a day or so, but, ultimately, I decided to keep riding. Although, I do enjoy days off and usually take more than most riders because of my health issues, I also feel restless when I am not moving. The morning air was cold, the wind had died down a bit and the 12 miles of payment along highway 50 was enjoyable. I turned off highway 50 onto a nice wide gravel road after 12 or so miles and rode through remote BLM lands. The climbing was steep in some places and not so bad in others. I was still learning how to efficiently climb on my bike and how to sustain myself during a climb. Climbs were still hard for me and when I felt like getting off my bike and walking it, I did. It was only me, the road and my bike. I had no one to impress or record to break and why not, why shouldn’t get off my bike and take it all in. It is hard to take it all in while riding a bike- you are focused solely on the road ahead, you cannot feel the earth beneath you, you can’t see all angles around you, it is a different feeling and a different pace.
For me, I will take a mixture of both, in doing so, I created some of the most wonderful and perfect days along the Divide. After a handful of miles of climbing, I descended into a basin that was surrounded by distant mountains and lonely sky. The road began to descend more steeply as it was twisting and turning. I loved the ride down, it was quite bumpy in places, but, the feeling of racing down an empty road is pretty awesome, it feeds your inner child in ways that you cannot explain.
I took a turn on highway 114 then onto county rd NN14 towards Cochetopa Pass. I entered Gunnison National Forest and began the climb towards the Pass, this climb seemed to never end for some reason, I would think I was at the top, then there was more climbing to do. When I did get to the top of the Pass, I was feeling tired and the temperature was dropping. I knew that no matter where I camped it was going to be a very cold night. I rode two miles downhill and made camp at Luders Creek, it was freezing, the shadows of the day coming to an end were lingering in the trees. It wasn’t even dark yet and the temperature was too cold for being outside of my tent. I was in my tent early and I was glad that I had bought a sleeping bag liner for extra warmth. However, I did not stay warm at all that night, I was up all night. I did not sleep at all.
Since I had not slept, I was ready to move and get going, thinking it would warm me up a bit and I knew as the day went on that it would warm up. Packing my bike up was hard, my body was so cold, it felt stiff and my fingers burned. I finally got my bike packed up and headed out of camp. I rode down into a red rock canyon filled with piñon and juniper- it reminded me of home, of the desert beauty in Arizona. 9 miles from camp I once again turned onto highway 114 and rode the pavement until I turned onto FR 41G toward Canero Pass and La Garita. After I had been riding that road for awhile I entered into Rio Grande National Forest and started climbing through tall aspens. I summited Canero Pass after 25 miles and decided I was going to ride all the way into Del Norte that day, another 38 miles away. I rode down the pass and into an area of hoodoos and boulders, the road became quite bumpy, but, I was in a good mood and enjoying the day. It did warm up after a few hours, but, not very much. The riding was pretty moderate and easy going until I reached about 18 miles from Del Norte, at that point the road turned into terrible washboards, so bad, I thought it would rip my bike apart. I was running low on water and walking my bike across the really bad washboards when I flagged down a driver and asked them if they had any extra water. The driver got out of his truck and filled my bottle, we began talking and a few minutes later his friends pulled up behind him and walked over to us. They introduced themselves, John, Danielle, and Trenton- Danielle and Trenton invited me to stay at their home when I got to Del Norte. I was so surprised by their kindness and generosity and made a plan to call them when I got into town. They were out for a bike ride so we exchanged contact information and parted ways.
I left CO rd 38A- washboard land- and turned towards La Garita Natural Arch, the road was very rocky and sandy, but the landscape was unbelievable. I then turned onto FR 665 a very primitive narrow road that was insanely fun to ride, rollers, narrow road, it was like being on a race track in the sand. The riding was awesome and I wanted it to last forever. That was truly one of my favorite sections on the Divide. It was so so so much fun 🙂 so much fun. The distant desert buttes, jagged rock formations and mountains made that section perfectly wonderful. I accidentally missed the turn off the road into a drainage and got lost for a good while. Eventually, I found the correct turn and continued up towards a gap. The view was beautiful, from there I rode down into a wash with very sharp pointy rocks and lots of sand. I was beginning to wear out, I knew I hadn’t eaten or drank enough that day and I was now paying the price with extreme fatigue, a bad headache and soreness everywhere. I reached a decent gravel road that had a million turns in it. Right, left, right, left, this road went on forever and all you could see in the distance was more of that damn road. I crossed the Rio Grande River and then got to highway 112, turned right and arrived in Del Norte. I headed straight to Subway. I ate a foot long sandwich and then texted Danielle and Trenton. John picked me up and we drove over to their house for dinner, my second dinner 🙂 Their house was amazing, I had my own wing of their house. I couldn’t believe these strangers were so kind to me. Trenton cooked us all a delicious steak dinner and we stayed up and chatted about the state of the world, my trip, their lives, and instantly we became friends. To be continued…
Leaving Salida, the terrain was easy leading into Poncha Sprigs, though the wind made it much harder, each pedal stroke I was fighting the wind. I was beginning to lose it mentally yet again with the wind. I do not think there is anyone on this earth that hates wind as much as I do. I stopped at a gas station in Poncha Springs for a soda and began to remember the hellish days of wind when I thru hiked the PCT. I remembered other thru hikers and I laughing about how insane the wind was and referring to it as the, “devil,” just so we could try and bring some humor into how bad it was out there in the desert of CA. I missed those days and those friends of mine. I longed for days back on the trail. On the Divide, I felt lonely, I felt sad and scattered inside. I wasn’t a biker. I was out of my element and I was alone. After about 20 minutes I knew I had to keep making miles.
I got back in the saddle and headed uphill on highway 285 towards Poncha Pass. It was not long before I got off my bike and started walking it, the wind was making riding impossible and it was more efficient for me to walk my bike. After 5 or so miles of walking my bike uphill on the side of the highway I made a turn onto County Road 200 which would be the beginning of my climb towards the summit of Marshall Pass. Little did I know that the Wind Gods were plotting against me 🙂 It was a pretty steady climb for 16 miles. The road was not in bad shape, the riding was easy in some places and then the wind would pick up and I was off my bike, pushing it. I refused to fight the wind anymore. If I couldn’t pedal efficiently, I would walk my bike. I have no shame in walking my bike, some riders apparently do and some have even given me slack about walking my bike. For me, I enjoy walking, it gives me a chance to connect to the earth, to slow down, to see things I would not see while riding. Though nothing is enjoyable in the wind. I met a few people along my climb up towards Marshall Pass. I was lovingly jumped on by a beautiful chocolate lab at one point and then a few miles later offered a ham sandwich and water by a couple from Mexico. I stopped and chatted with them for awhile, they too commented on the wind and were trying to get out of it. We shared adventure stories and laughs, it was a very nice distraction from the wind.
I continued to walk my bike up as the road got more rocky and the wind began to pick up. If I didn’t know any better I would think that the wind was doing it on purpose 🙂 About a mile from the summit, the wind began to get extremely bad, dangerous in fact. It was ripping trees out and trees were falling on the road. When I got to the summit of Marshall Pass 10,842 feet, I wanted to hangout a bit and enjoy the views, but, the wind was so bad and I thought riding down would be helpful in getting rid of the wind. It was absolutely beautiful on the way down- the aspens, the colors, the smells, it was all so overwhelming beautiful. But the wind just kept getting worse, trees kept falling around me; I kept pedaling to try and reach Sargents for the night. I did not feel safe setting up camp with trees falling over. I needed to be out of the wind for the night. Mentally, I needed to be out of the wind. I arrived into Sargents, threw my bike down and went right into the store/restaurant. I simply could not be outside anymore for the day. I was lucky they had an open cabin and I was thrilled to be inside. A good dinner, a shower and a few phone calls to the people I love made my night.