Day Forty-Seven

Magdalena, NM to Quemado, NM

Remember my decision to ride short days in the mountains? Sometimes the best laid plans...

I started the day with a stop at the Outlaw's Outpost, a grocery/video store, where I bought water, Coke and Gatorade for the ride to Datil. Outside of Magdalena, US 60 continued to climb. Soon I was at 7,000 feet. As I crested a hill, an unusual sight lay before me. There was a big white dish, one of the 27 radio telescopes that comprise the Very Large Array (V.L.A.). I read about the V.L.A. many years ago, but this was the first time I got to see it. The V.L.A. is situated on a high, flat area known as the Plains of San Augustin. There were two difficulties in cycling across these plains. First, they were very windy, since there was little to disrupt the path of the winds. Second, they were so large and flat, I could see so far that it seemed to take forever to get anywhere. I first spotted the V.L.A. from at least ten miles away. That meant that it took me about an hour to finally get there from the time I saw it.

I went to the V.L.A. visitor center and did a brief walking tour. It was really interesting, especially all the things that were considered in its construction. For example, the signals are sent from each telescope to a central computer via supercooled tubes (-400 degrees Fahrenheit)--if the tubes weren't cooled, then interference would corrupt the faintest data. The telescopes are painted white because otherwise the heat of the sun would deform them. The V.L.A. can be reconfigured four ways based on whether experiments require higher resolution or greater sensitivity. For the best resolution, the telescopes can be clustered close together, within 2000 feet. To pick up the faintest signals from the far reaches of the universe, the telescopes can be spread out across 13 miles. The telescopes are moved at walking speed on dual railroad tracks. By using these 27 relatively small radio telescopes and a lot of computer processing, astronomers are able to achieve results equivalent to one huge 17-mile dish, but with much greater flexibility. Thanks to computer advances, the V.L.A. is now more than 1,000 times more powerful than it was when it was first used 20 years ago.

Around 3:00 I got back to US 60 headed toward Datil. I had only 15 miles to go, but the winds on the high plains had picked up quite a bit in the afternoon. Near the town, I saw two friendly young women on the shoulder of the highway, one running and the other riding along with her on a mountain bike. Finally, I went around a bend and into Datil. It was 4:30 and I had ridden about 45 miles. It wasn't a long day, but it had been a full one and I was looking forward to checking into the Eagle Guest Ranch motel and eating in its adjacent restaurant. I had read several accounts of the motel/restaurant/gas station/general store online, and it sounded like an interesting place. However, as I came up the hill toward the roadside complex, it looked disturbingly desolate. In fact, although this place was described as " the hub of Datil," there was not a soul there. Uh-oh. There was another place in town, a B& B called Buzzard's Roost. Despite the big, fresh looking  " Lodging" sign out front, it did not appear to be open either.

A bit desperate, I went to the only place in town with signs of life, the Good Earth Realty office. The door was open, so I went inside. " Excuse me, I'm sorry to bother you, but I was looking for a place to spend the night here in town..." The friendly man  explained to me that the Eagle Guest Ranch was closed on Sundays and that he didn't know how to contact the owners. Yes, the motel was closed on Sundays. I had never heard of such a thing. Sometimes B& B's are closed for a day or two during the week, but I thought motels were pretty much always open. He added that the owner of the B& B had closed her place about a year earlier and moved away. My " easy" day had become a " Phone first" commercial.

" There are some places to camp. Do you have a tent?" he asked. I said that I didn't. " What about a sleeping bag? I'd think you would  carry one of those." I didn't have that, either. " I'd at least have an emergency blanket or something," he said. I had one of those, but I didn't exactly relish the idea of spending the night wrapped in it if I could avoid it.

The man asked where I was from, and he said he was from Wisconsin. " Do you know where Rockford is?" he asked. Well, of course I did. " How about Durand?" Yeah, I'd been through Durand. His eyes lit up. " Well, I used to live in Brodhead." I'd been there, too--on a bicycle in fact, as part of the Blackhawk Bicycle & Ski Club's State Line 60 ride from Roscoe, IL to Brodhead and back. He was a little excited--I'm sure it wasn't often that he met someone in New Mexico who had visited his hometown.

He confirmed that my only options were to go to back to Magdalena, about 35 miles, or to continue 42 miles to Quemado. I had intended to ride there tomorrow after staying in Datil tonight, but now my plans had to change. I headed back out to my bike, looked down at my water bottles and decided it would be prudent to refill my bottles if I could. As I turned to go back inside, the man came to the door. " Do you need any water or anything?" he asked. He invited me inside to fill up my bottles, and he offered me some donuts, too. Seeing how the only store in town was closed, this helped immensely. I might have had enough supplies to make it to Quemado, but it would have been close enough that I would have worried about it, and at this point I had enough other things to worry about. When I went back to my bike, he came out again, this time with granola bars and yogurt. He was very generous, and I was grateful.

With three hours of daylight remaining, I set out to do tomorrow's ride today. It wouldn't be easy--the continental divide lay ahead, and in all likelihood I could not cover the distance by nightfall--but at least the distance was within my abilities. I'm not sure what I would have done if the next motel had been twice as far. The hardest part was the mental side of it. I had been thinking about winding down at the end of the day--getting a room, eating dinner, writing my journal, etc. in Datil. Now I had to psyche myself up and get back on the road instead. I thought about my decision not to bring camping gear. I decided that even if I had started out with it, I probably would have sent it home by this point because I wouldn't have used it. There wasn't much point in considering it further. Ultimately, had I called ahead from Magdalena to make a reservation (or rather, to  find out that I couldn't make a reservation), I wouldn't have had this problem. I didn't call because I figured that the place wouldn't be full on a Sunday night, especially outside of hunting season. There was certainly no reason to think they would be closed for the day. Well, there was nothing I could do now but ride.

US 60 west of Datil was a good highway, smoothly paved  with wide shoulders. About half an hour down the road, I stopped and ate my yogurt. The flavor  was caramel crème brulee, and it was fantastic, just what I needed. A few miles later, I saw a bunch of wild turkey heading into the woods by the side of the road. Too bad they were into thick brush before I could stop to take a picture. After another half hour of riding, I reached the continental divide at  7,800 feet above sea level. Imposing gray clouds filled the sky. It didn't rain a drop, but it made for some fantastic photos. A few miles later, I reached Pie Town. I first read about this place  at least a decade ago, and I was really looking forward to eating a slice of pie in Pie Town at one of its  two cafes. I even imagined having the waitress snap a photo of me smiling as I held  a forkful of cherry pie up to my mouth. Alas, although one cafe was open (in fact, the parking lot was full) on Sunday evening, I had no time to stop. I had two more hours to ride and only one hour of light, so I had to make the most of it.

Already under some pressure, I was disappointed to see that the pavement west of Pie Town  was rougher and less consistent than it had been between Datil and Pie Town. It was going to be harder to see rocks and debris, and I would have to try to carefully " read" the pavement in the fading twilight. By 7:30, the sun was down on the horizon. I stopped to improve my visibility to drivers. I turned on my tail light, put on my reflective jacket and changed the lens of my sunglasses from shaded to clear. Far off to the west, a line of gray clouds flickered occasionally--lightning. That was just about the last thing I needed, aside from mechanical trouble. When I came over a rise and was hit by a blast of cold air, I thought for sure that the storm would soon be upon me.  As I rode through the tiny town of Omega twenty minutes later, several dogs barked, but none chased me. Soon I couldn't see the details of the pavement anymore.  I had to dig out my headlight for the first time since I had used it in the early hours of the first day of my trip. Then I had used it for visibility, but now I needed it to see. The batteries were dead. No problem, I had spares. In the dark, I managed to pry out three of the batteries with my fingers, but the fourth wouldn't budge. Desperate, I grabbed it with my teeth. It finally came out, and I put in the fresh batteries. I was nervous because I had never used this headlight in the total darkness that now surrounded me (as opposed to the city with its street lamps). Fortunately, it worked very well. Now all I had to do was pedal the last few miles to Quemado. Traffic had dwindled to next to nothing, so at least I didn't have to worry about my own visibility.

When I finally arrived in Quemado, it looked like nothing in town was open. There were a few dimly lit motels, and after riding past my three options, I chose the Alegre Motel. The festive multi-colored Christmas lights on the railings must have attracted me.  A sign on the door said to only ring the bell after hours to rent a room, not to ask questions about where to find a gas station. The motel clerk confirmed that nothing was open, so I wouldn't be eating dinner. I bought a can of Coke from the vending machine for only 50 cents, half the price of the can I bought in Bingham a few days earlier. After I wheeled my bike into my room, I looked at my watch. It was 9:02.  The Alegre Motel had satellite TV but no telephones in the rooms. I drank my Coke, washed up a little and went to sleep within the hour.

Totals for the day: 90.30 miles in 8:13:35 for a 10.9 mph average.

Click here to see today's photos.

Copyright © 2002-2013 David Johnsen. All rights reserved.