July 17
Day Twenty Nine – Horca to Hopewell Lake – 71 miles – 2,184 miles total

Alan and I woke to a very cold and damp morning, but it was dry at least. The good news was that my calf was feeling OK. A bag of ice from the camp host certainly helped the healing the evening before.

We ate breakfast, packed and got back onto the trail, wondering if we were going to a) make it to El Rito and b) ever see Marco again.

The trail took us further down the valley, alongside the Conejos (Rabbits) River towards Horca. It was really cold and I couldn’t find my warm gloves, meaning that my fingers were absolutely frozen by the time we arrived at the local store, where the sun had finally reached. We’d heard that we shouldn’t rely on the store in Horca; it is run by an old woman who apparently has quite a flexible approach to opening hours. As we were looking for a nice hot cup of coffee, the store was closed!

The sun was now out and my hands began to warm up as we started the climb up to La Manga pass. Getting to the top entailed climbing for about six miles along the paved road. The first section was pretty steep and I wasn’t sure that I would make it all the way, but it soon eased off a bit and became easy enough to climb.

I was first to the top and had a chance to take a rest with a view over a wide basin in the morning sunlight – a really good start to the day; our last in Colorado.

When Alan caught me up, we set off down a nice steady hill before taking a turn off the pavement and onto a gravel road, crossing the narrow gauge tracks of the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic railway. We passed over into New Mexico and after the obligatory photos at the border sign, we started back up hill again.

Almost immediately, the track condition deteriorated and our progress slowed dramatically. The next ten miles or so seemed to take us for ever and after a short steep section of unrideable stony ground (even Marco had to push up it, we found out later) we took a lunch break looking out over the Cruces Basin Wilderness.

The trail improved for a while, but soon became rough again and we both began to feel very tired. We had made it back up to around 11,000 feet too, which certainly made things feel tougher. We knew by now that there was no chance of making it to El Rito that day and that maybe meant that we wouldn’t be seeing Marco again. By now, we were heading slightly downhill, but it really didn’t feel like it and every small section of uphill was testing us. The other problem was that we were now heading into the hottest part of the day and typically, we had very little shade to protect us from the heat of the sun.

We took a short break under the shade of a tree just as soon as we could and as we were setting off again, a car pulled up alongside us and a couple got out. The guy immediately opened up the boot and got out a huge container of water and filled our bottles for us. We chatted away for a while and it turned out that he had just ridden the Colorado Trail and thought that we’d appreciate some extra drinks. He wasn’t wrong! We had enough water for the day, but having some extra was a great help. They had also seen Marco earlier in the day and confirmed that we wouldn’t be catching him up today!

Another short (but slow) climb was followed by a nice downhill section which took us to another highway. Alan was just about ready to quit for the day, and even though I was feeling tired, I thought it would be better for us to get up the next hill to the campground.

It seemed like a role-reversal of sorts; normally it was me that wanted to stop early and Marco would convince me to carry on for a while. Alan agrreed that it made sense to keep going and so we started to make our way up the hill.

It was a real slog; we were both really tired after all the climbing the day before and those five miles seemed to take forever. To make things worse, there were quite a few cars and RVs racing past us up the hill and I started to worry that the campsite would be full for the weekend – that wouldn’t have gone down well, I’m sure!

Finally, we made it to the top of the hill and into the campsite where we could relax in the last bit of sun of the day. It had been a gruelling day, and we were both pretty dead on our feet.

I ate loads that evening, wolfing down two dried meals as well as some left over sandwiches from lunch time. It didn’t take long for me to fall asleep that night either – it had been a tough few days.

July 18
Day Thirty – Hopewell Lake to Polvadera Mesa – 81 miles – 2,265 miles total

Day Thirty started with some more climbing; but within less than a mile, we were riding downhill again for a mile or two before starting up to the top of Burned Mountain. Just a mile or so later and we were over the top and heading downhill again. Some undulating track followed before a steep downhill section took us back onto the tarmac just outside the settlement of Canon Plaza.

The road continued on down to Vallecitos, where we met and chatted with some locals before heading off the road again, chased by what seemed like hundreds of local dogs. Like many other small settlements, it seemed that the dogs outnumbered the people by about five to one!

As the day got warmer, we climbed up through some more forest before beginning the downhill section into El Rito. We’d hoped to make it here the day before and somehow, El Rito had been given some kind of mystical quality in our minds. In reality, it was a tiny place with a little local store and one restaurant. Unfortunately, the restaurant was closed, as the owners were out of town at a family wedding – just our luck!

We filled up on drinks and had some snacks before hitting the road towards the next town on our route, Abiquiu. It was downhill all the way but of course it wasn’t as simple as it could have been as the wind had started to blow. Naturally, we had to ride directly into it.

It was amazing though – we had really arrived in New Mexico and the scenery was more incredible than I thought it would be. The road took us through a huge expanse of land. The sky was bigger than we’d seen since Montana and the horizon was peppered with giant rocky outcrops. The heat was tempered only by the warm wind that blew into our faces as we rode the 18 miles into Abiquiu.

We found refuge from the sun in the local store and cafe, where we both ate our way through a couple of freshly made sandwiches and lots of drinks. Whilst we were sat there, we chatted away with a couple of the other customers who had also completed the ride in the past. They shared tales from the trail and once again, I heard horror stories from New Mexico; countless punctures or inpenetrable mud tracks seem to be the clearest memories for everyone that has ridden the trail.

We got news from Marco in the store too. He had been there earlier in the day and left a message that he would see us in Cuba, another 80 miles away. We filled up on supplies for the coming couple of days before walking out of the cool store, out into the heat of the day.

We’d packed the bikes up and I was just getting on, when I noticed that my front tyre was completely flat. I couldn’t believe it! I’d obviously run over something on the road and the tyre had been deflating all the time we’d been inside.

We got that fixed and then set off into some of the hardest sections of the route, although we didn’t really realise how tough it was going to be.

The trail quickly became pretty rough and heavily washboarded. Climbing over the bumpy surface was doubly hard. Not only did we have to get up the hills, but each groove of the surface was like another hill to be climbed.

On and on we climbed before reaching a huge plain, with giant mountains ahead of us. Also ahead was a giant thunderstorm, complete with very black clouds and an occasional fork of lightning to boot. At least the plain was flat for a while!

We took a right turn and headed straight towards the mountains and the storm, apprehensive about both. The climb started out quite gently but that didn’t last long as the path became rougher and rougher. Huge slabs of lava rock were interspersed with fine volcanic sand sections, making progress very uncomfortable and very slow indeed.

Thankfully, the storm seemed to have passed us by and we didn’t even get wet. The sun was getting lower and lower in the sky and it seemed to be moving towards the horizon quicker than we were getting towards our chosen camp spot for the night, somewhere in the Polvadera Mesa.

It continued to get darker and darker and by the time we reached the mile mark where our map told us there was a good campsite, the light was almost completely gone. It wasn’t obvious where this great camping spot was, so we found a decent clearing in the forest and hastily got the tents up before making and eating tortillas by torchlight.

By now, we’d realised that water was going to be a little bit of a problem. We hadn’t crossed any water since we’d left Abiquiu and due to the heat and the climbing, we’d drunk quite a bit that afternoon. We were so concerned that when we were woken by some rain in the night, we both got out of our tents to put our water bottles out to try and catch some of the rain water in them!

July 19
Day Thirty One – Polvadera Mesa to Just Past Cuba – 68 miles – 2,333 miles total

It was a very rough night indeed; the wind howled all night and the rain started and stopped over and over again, but didn’t amount to much. I felt more tired when I got up than I had done when I crawled into my sleeping bag the night before. It was dark; the alarm had been set half an hour earlier than usual and so it was only just about light by the time we set off along the forest track.

The surface was pretty good to start with, as we continued to climb, but that soon came to an end and we were back to rough trails, making progress predictably, and frustratingly, slow. Finally, we reached the high point, but only after a long section of steep and unrideable tracks had made us both get off and push.

Over the top, the surface improved a little and our pace returned to something like normal for a while before we started on a very steep, very rocky descent. Alan’s superior biking skills meant that he soon caught and overtook me on the technical section and arrived at the abandoned car first; somebody had driven in to this point and had either got stuck in the mud or just run out of gas, leaving their car sideways across the track.

We stopped at a couple of cattle tanks to see if there was any water in them, but had no luck. Oour supplies were running down and we were starting to get a bit concerned.

The trail took us on into a large, open park and as we rode through, I spotted a lake up ahead and so we stopped and filtered some water to fill up our bottles. By now the heat was starting to rise and my energy was starting to run out. Another long steady climb didn’t help much either and so as soon as we found a creek with running water, we stopped for a rest and some lunch. I made up the tortillas, whilst Alan went to the creek and filled up our bottles with good clean water (the lake water hadn’t been the best!).

After a good rest, we set off on a track that zig-zagged along the side of the mountain and took us through some hippy camps on towards the highway. A big storm threatened to soak us, but passed us by as it moved along the valley – another lucky escape!

We made it to the highway after a good fast downhill section and after a short climb, it was downhill all the way into the town of Cuba. We dropped over 2,000ft in about six or seven miles and the heat at the lower altitude was incredible.

We rode through the town, looking for a bite to eat when I spotted Marco’s bike and trailer outside the local grocery store – the team was re-united! We all ate some spicy Mexican food and drank gallons of fresh lemonade and caught up on tales from the trail over the past few days. It was great to see Marco again and pleasing to learn that he had found the past few days very hard too. In fact, I think that he’d had a tougher time than us – the severity of the conditions had been a big shock to him too.

We spent some time in the supermarket, stocking up on supplies before trying to get a pizza to go. The pizza place was closed though and so we had to make do with Subway. We parted company with Alan here; he was heading off to explore some more of New Mexico, but we hoped to meet up again in Grants in a couple of days time.

Our trailers were heavier than they’d ever been before as we set off towards the desert; loaded down with food and lots and lots of water. The past couple of days had taught us that having enough water was going to be a huge challenge.

With our heavy loads, we rode into the wind along the highway for about ten miles, before taking a turn onto the gravel road that would take us through the desert towards Grants. We stopped and made camp soon after the turn, enjoying a large subway sandwich in the warm orange light of the sunset.