Texas Hill Country
Plano, Texas, United States
Nov 26, 2019
Ville and I left Grants together, intending on making Cuba in two days. It looked like it was mostly one giant hill straight out of Grants, a giant downhill, and then all flat from there. We'd already heard there wasn't much water in between, so we figured we'd stop wherever we found some. There was an alternate route, entirely paved, the exact same distance. It's mostly intended for when it's raining, because the normal route can get muddy. Even though the paved one was much flatter, we decided to take the normal one.
We both handled the hill well, and I managed to beat Ville to the top. He got way ahead of me on the downhill, though. I'm still not confident enough to take them quickly. The hill was full of excellent scenery, a beautiful, well-behaved environment, including the first aspen trees on the route, still four days from Colorado. Even during the climb, I was glad to have come this way.
Once the hill bottomed out, we were in the most rugged desert of the route. Rocks and sand, that's it. No vegetation whatsoever. Ville remained well ahead of me. I kept losing control in the sand and wiped out twice.
The profile map made this section look flat, but nothing could be farther than the truth. The road constantly went down steeply into an arroyo, crossed over some rocks in the bottom, and steeply climbed back out. Repeat. For dozens of miles. In between, sand. Momentum was not in our vocabulary.
At one point, I saw a truck parked in the middle of nowhere, with no one and nothing around it. A while later, I met a middle-aged couple on bikes. The truck was theirs. They informed me that the spring ahead might have water, but it would be bad. A much better water source would be the stream running over the road 40 miles ahead. I had enough to make it.
I finally caught Ville mid-afternoon. Neither one of us was doing well, and the heat was getting to him. As he pointed out, even if we found water now, then what? Hanging out here in the desert all afternoon would suck. We adopted a brutally simple strategy: Push forward.
In late afternoon, I found a water tank for cattle. It was so filthy I decided not to drink from it, even with my filter.
40 miles after seeing the couple, we crossed a river. It was down below us, under a bridge. There were puddles, rather than a continuous stream, maybe an inch deep. It would be a challenge to even walk down there. Ville was behind me, so I waited. He never showed. By now, we were beginning to see mobile homes, most of which looked abandoned, and the occasional car. Ville I think had started to adopt a new strategy of asking for water and a place to camp. I continued to push forward.
At about 7:00 PM, I made it to a paved highway that led to Cuba. I might make it before dark! Mostly flat, slight uphill trend, light tailwind. Even with 160 km behind me, I held a solid pace. Only 30 km to go...
Fortune smiled upon me, for I found an unopened 24 oz bottle of water in the grass on the side of the highway. I greedily quaffed it. I'm not proud.
Just before dark, I arrived in Cuba. OK, now what? I had nowhere to stay, and I was out of water (and possibly running a little low on the inside). I needed a safe place to stay and access to water. On the way into town, there was a ranger station. No one there. I found the police station and fire department. No one there.
I found a church doing a Wednesday night service. Bingo! I stopped in for the end of service and talked to the minister, Elijah. The church was a kind I hadn't heard of before, Potter's Church. The idea is we're clay in the hands of God, to be molded by Him.
Elijah didn't bat an eye at my strange attire nor my filthiness. He works at the post office and frequently sees Continental Divide hikers in there, mailing supplies to themselves. He graciously offered the floor and ceiling of the church. I ate a lot and went right to sleep. I wondered what Ville wound up doing.
Coming out of Cuba meant a huge climb, but on pavement. As soon as I got to the top and made the turnoff into the woods, it was like being in a different country. Yesterday I had seen virtually no vegetation and no water whatsoever in some of the most rugged terrain I can recall. Today was nothing but pine and aspen, with the occasional bright mountain meadow, frequently punctuated with crystal-clear babbling brooks.
The road itself was perfect, as far as unpaved roads go. Firm hardpack, with the tiniest layer of gravel on top. No washboard. There were oodles of informal campsites along the road. Had I known, and had I found water the day before, I would have camped here today. I hope Ville did.
There was one last hill to climb, and there, the road went from perfect to terrible. All over the place, rocks, ranging from the size of oranges to cantaloupes. Some of them were firmly embedded in the terrain, essentially huge bumps. Others were loose. That's even worse.
I finally crested the hill, ready for an easy 20 miles into Abiquiu, all downhill.
The road got even worse. Since I have no experience on a mountain bike, I was tentative, riding the brakes the whole way. The rocks were bad enough, but my greater nemesis was the frequent patches of deep sand. I'd had plans to count the number of times I crashed on this ride, but today, I gave up. I couldn't even keep track of the number of crashes on this one hill. My best guess is 10-12.
On a road tour, 20 miles of downhill would take one hour, maximum. This took more than three. The only positive? By the time I reached the bottom, I think I'd learned some tricks and bad already gotten better. I was falling over less, anyway.
The road bottomed out and improved about 12 km from Abiquiu. 8 km out, I saw something and hit the brakes. In a hairpin turn, enclosed by canyon walls, was a picnic area with two tables and a beautiful clear creek right down the middle. I had no plans as to where to stay in Abiquiu. It was already 7:00 PM.
I rinsed my bike clothes out in the creek, then rolled out my sleeping bag on top of the picnic table, no tent. It was a perfect clear night. Not a single car went by. I would've never found a better free arrangement in town.
from Great Divide