Mexico to Canada on Dirt - The Continental Divide Trail

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by bwanajames, Apr 18, 2017.

  1. orangebob

    orangebob n00b

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    I'm in !
    Having traveled large parts of Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and Canadians BC and Alberta, passing the CD many times, this Belgian is waiting for your brilliant story to come ...
    Relying on what I've been reading so far, this is very promising ... way to go ! Like the slightly sarcastic and self critisizing writing style ! Will read the Alaska story as well as soon as I have a couple of free hours to spend.
  2. bwanajames

    bwanajames Lone Wolf

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    Orangebob,

    A Belgian! Welcome to our digital campfire!

    Boarding a high-speed train in the UK, I was eager for my first trip through the eerily subterranean marvel known as the Chunnel. Once surfacing in France, I could truly appreciate the blinding speed. At 300 km/h (186 mph), cars on a parallel highway looked like they were standing still!

    Heading north to Amsterdam, we made a brief stop in Brussels. At that moment, the sage advice of a co-worker drifted back to me.

    “If you get a chance, stop in Belgium. They make the best beer. That’s where it all started!”

    Dashing for an ATM, I got a fist-full of Euros and searched for a pub. I didn’t have to go far. Requesting a local brew, I then asked the jovial bartender to kindly snap a photo.

    This was June 17, 2014 and World Cup fever was running high. Belgium had just defeated Algeria. As I hoisted a frosty Leffe, festive locals donned this passing American with local colors.

    Travel is one of the few things you buy that makes you rich.

    BJ

    DSC_8266_5x7_adj_Brussels,Belgium_1300resize.jpg


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  3. bwanajames

    bwanajames Lone Wolf

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    Trust your Instruments

    Twenty-eight miles later, I was back on dirt. Rolling down San Lucas Road passed El Derrame Canyon, I was delighted to be standing on the pegs. Open country sprinkled with pungent sage sprawled out before me.

    Before long, I found myself in the driveway of a lonely ranch. This can’t be right?

    Double-check the GPS. Zoom-in, zoom-in, zoom-in…

    Well, according to my fancy space-age device and a constellation of satellites mysteriously hovering above, I'm in the right place. Hmm… Pilots say “Trust your instruments…” So as long as the rancher doesn’t pepper my delicate derrière with birdshot, I guess I’ll keep going.

    Close enough to toss the Sunday paper on his doorstep, I continued down a literal cow trail. Hardly brimming with confidence, I encountered a lake in the road which was easily skirted.

    Crap. A gate.

    Where I come from, gates don’t come without padlocks. Ugghh…

    Sidestand down. Sprint over. Hey, no lock!

    San Lucas Road_Ranchers Front Yard.jpg


    San Lucas Road_Ranchers Front Yard2_Notes.jpg


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  4. bwanajames

    bwanajames Lone Wolf

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    The Quiet Places

    The arid landscape has a beauty all its own. With intricately carved, rust-colored plateaus supporting precariously perched house-sized boulders, the scene looked like something out of a grand western. At any moment, I expected the skyline to fill with mounted Indians glaring down at me.

    While imaginary enemies posed no threat; bruised skies where preparing to wage war.

    Outside of the occasional wooden corral, traces of civilization were nowhere to be found. My only company: a fleet-footed roadrunner and circling hawk. But the quiet places never fail to impress. Less man equals more god.

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  5. GB

    GB . Administrator

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    Please read the posted rules and take your political opinions to the basement. ZERO tolerance for political posts.. It just fuels a pissing match.. the crap has been punted.. back to the thread.. :lurk
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  6. bwanajames

    bwanajames Lone Wolf

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    Time to Camp

    Encountering a gate is rare, but each time my heart skips a beat. If locked, I wasn’t sure I had the fuel to backtrack.

    The only creek to be found, slithered through a severely eroded wash. Soft and deep, with 20-foot sheer walls, the trail dropped into this mini canyon, across the creek, then up the other side. Luck and momentum was with me – but just barely.

    With an eye on the storm, I tried to make time. But spotty rain made for an unpredictable road – trustworthy one minute, treacherous the next.

    Rounding a bend into a steep descent, first the rear end slides out, followed by the front. Sliding sideways towards the ditch, I oscillate the bars at a fever pitch to maintain delicate balance.

    Resigning myself to my fate, I thought: This is where I go down…

    I was not looking forward to picking up this keeled-over rhinoceros, but at the last instant found traction.

    Whew! Time to make camp…

    IMG_0652_crop_sig_1300resize.JPG

    Note: This is the dry part where I was able to stop. The ugly stuff is behind me.
  7. C5dad

    C5dad Adventurer

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    arizona
    Jim, another fantastic report of your adventures. NM is such an awesome place to ride. I am with you on this trip for Sure!
    bwanajames likes this.
  8. JoToPe

    JoToPe JoToPe

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    How far north did you ride until the mud wasn't as bad?


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
  9. bwanajames

    bwanajames Lone Wolf

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    The Enemy

    With the tent pitched, I took stock of the water supply: 1 quart. I just hope the road is rideable tomorrow.

    Along the CDT, it is sometimes possible to have commercial lodging waiting at day’s end. But regardless of your arrangements, it behooves one to have camping gear when Mother Nature throws you a curveball.

    Desert nights are an astronomer’s delight. In crisp air, far from city lights, densely packed stars burn with a fury. Despite being a seasoned citizen, a shooting star still elicits a child’s impulsive wish (dry roads…).

    Before leaving the interstate on day 1, a friendly, retired gentleman approached me at a gas stop. Sharing my plan, he confessed, “Man, I wouldn’t want to be sleeping out there with the coyotes…”

    It’s surprising what people fear. To the animal kingdom, we bipedal types are bad news. We stink, we’re noisy, and generally make a mess of things. One look and they head for the hills.

    Humans on the other hand…

    Example:

    My buddies & I had just finished a 10-day archery hunt on Kodiak Island, Alaska. We were chasing Sitka blacktail deer, but the big bears were a constant concern. Friends and relatives were certain we’d never live to tell the story.

    Back in civilization, we were all laughing and recounting the highlights as our shuttle van returned us to our hotel. On the way, the inattentive Filipino woman driver crossed the centerline nearly sideswiping an oncoming truck!

    (I have met the enemy and he is us…)

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  10. bwanajames

    bwanajames Lone Wolf

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    Road Test

    Morning light slicing through clean air gives sharp definition to the desert landscape. And there is love in the air. While rolling up my tent, a coy doe jackrabbit runs laps around camp with two amorous bucks in hot pursuit.

    Things dry out quickly in this country. By 9:00 a.m. I’m ready to test the slick road.

    I’m not sure how I managed it, but at one point my GPS told me I was on a red (difficult) route. However, my biggest concern was water. If all goes well, no problem. Otherwise, who knows? Feeling only slightly ridiculous, I collected water from a roadside puddle (a gift from the passing storm…). It doesn’t look pretty, but I can filter it later.

    I'm approximately 78 miles northeast of Grants. After hopping back onto dirt 20 hours ago, I've ridden 50 miles and have not seen a soul.

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  11. DuckWV

    DuckWV Been here awhile

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    I'm in for the ride. Great write up. And it is a lot of work.
    Just curious, have you geared your bike down, or are you running stock gearing?


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  12. bwanajames

    bwanajames Lone Wolf

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    Duck,

    Excellent question! The 1150GS is a fabulous bike. But given one request, it would be for lower gearing! Unfortunately, with a shaft drive there isn't a lot I can do. However, I understand the GSA series DOES have lower gearing!

    I'm due to pull the tranny anyway for its 40,000 mile spline lube, and on the lookout for a used GSA enduro gearbox.

    BJ
  13. DuckWV

    DuckWV Been here awhile

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    Location:
    Central WV
    Supposedly you can also switch out the final drive gearing. I have searched for used, but no luck yet. r850r is supposed to give the best drop in gearing.

    Anyway, not to hijack the thread. I am enjoying it.
  14. bwanajames

    bwanajames Lone Wolf

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    Colorful Colorado
    Do You Have Any Water?

    At noon, a white pick-up rolled by – the first vehicle in 63 miles. Then a southbound KLR. But without gear, it appears he’s just out for a day ride. Could I traverse the entire state of New Mexico without seeing another CDT rider?

    Ninety-one miles north of Grants lies yet another fork in the trail - a “green/easy” (paved) option down 85, or an unmarked “blue/standard” dirt road going north. I’m low on fuel, but the distance looks the same, so let’s try the more interesting route. (Bonehead logic. Low speed off-roading always consumes more fuel. Besides, where would you rather be stranded?).

    Seven miles in, it’s not bad, just soft dirt. With rain, this would be your worst nightmare. But it's a sunscreen day. With the GS obediently purring along, the soft dirt soon transforms to sand. Deep sand. And lots of it! I nearly lost it a dozen times.

    With a heavy/loaded bike, I’m reluctant to deflate the tires too much. However, dropping the TKC-80’s down to 22 psi made an enormous difference. But all this low speed grunting on a hot day is pegging the temp gauge. Finding a rare shady tree, I snack while giving the GS a break.

    Continuing on, I see a truck. Keen for insights into what lies ahead, I pull up beside him. Inside is an older Hispanic fellow out checking his cattle.

    “How much sand is ahead?” I ask.

    “About the same…” (bad)

    Then, abandoning all pride, I humbly ask, “Do you have any water?”

    He gives me the look of a father addressing a foolish child, leans over to grab something, then extends a dripping bottle of water straight from the ice chest. Heaven.

    “You know, you should really carry water…” he advises.

    “Yeah, I have been, but I’m almost out…” I gratefully respond.


    cuba Fork.jpg
    Note: I later encounter CDT bicyclists, who tell me their route is tougher. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. When I asked about this sand pit north of Grants, they replied, “Oh no… We take the highway. Otherwise we’d be walking our bikes the whole way…”
  15. bwanajames

    bwanajames Lone Wolf

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    Best Riding

    I made it to Cuba (their cigars have really gone downhill…) completing another leg of the CDT.

    Fifteen miles east of Cuba is the best riding yet. The Palomas Trail/ 70 is a pristine dirt road winding through the Santa Fe National Forest. No potholes, no washboard – an utter delight after the rigors of the desert. Lined with spruce, aspen and lush undergrowth, it is reminiscent of my Colorado home – with one notable exception. No one is here. In what should be the height of camping season, I ride passed a dozen beautiful campsites – all of them unoccupied.

    Perhaps this is the beauty of New Mexico.

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    CDTMap4 Notes_Abiquiu to Cuba, NM_resize1300.jpg
  16. bwanajames

    bwanajames Lone Wolf

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    Jo,

    With regard to the CDT, once I got to Cuba, the worst of the mud was behind me. However, in February, I rode from Colorado to California, passing through Chama and Farmington on highway 64. This of course is the extreme north end of the state. Every time I would pass a dirt road, it was a horribly rutted mess.

    Based on my limited experience, I've come to this conclusion: If you are in mountainous terrain, the dirt roads contain more rock, and therefore are more stable. But if you are in the lowlands - in any part of the state - and it rains, you'll be spending a lot of time in the ditch.

    The best strategy is to get up early and make miles before the storms make things interesting.

    BJ

    Cuba_Where the Mud Stopped.jpg
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  17. Gale B.T.

    Gale B.T. Long timer

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    We can only hope your food/eating experiences at Platoro and La Garita were as much enjoyable as we have always found. Being a CS rider, you just may have enjoyed these 2 places long before your CDT ride:)
    Great ride report, once at/near Summitville you will be at the 'height ' of your trip.
    g
  18. bwanajames

    bwanajames Lone Wolf

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    Monsoon Season

    Journal note: “Seven days on the trail and right at 2:00 p.m. everything goes to shit. Not one dry day. At this rate I won’t make it to Canada until Christmas…”

    Well into the trip, I encountered a CDT bicyclist who informed me that cyclists in the know, schedule New Mexico for October to avoid oppressive heat and monsoon rains. The lightbulb came on. Perhaps that’s why I’m not seeing other riders – I’m the only one foolish enough to attempt it in July.

    However, I really don’t see any way around it. Monsoon season in New Mexico runs from July 1st to September 30th. What are you going to do? Head north or south on either side of those dates and you’re almost guaranteed to encounter snow on the high passes.

    All we can do is take our chances with the notorious New Mexico mud. After all, desert roads dry quickly. Snow takes its own sweet time.

    monsoon season2.jpg
    (stock image)
  19. chudzikb

    chudzikb Been here awhile

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    If you took that picture, it is simply brilliant photography! And, no, I would not want to go any further, being a reasonably sane person.
  20. CalamariKid

    CalamariKid Been here awhile

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    Spring, TX
    Hey - if it were all sunshine and lolipops what kind of tale would that be? Bring on the gnarl!