The descent from McDonald Observatory marked a turning point. After camping near the summit, a 500 meter plunge brought me through the Davis Mountains with a tail wind and perfect weather. I nearly forgot the weeks of suffering that had preceded it. Nearly. Reaching I-10 the route turned westward, now accompanied by the ever present smell of creosote.
Texas and I had developed an understanding if not a friendship. I understand she is capricious and apathetic. She understands that I'm not one to give up easily. Before crossing the border Texas even provided me with an education in the finer points of cactus spines. Pun intended.
"That truly is the Wild West out there."
I'd gotten within spitting distance of Mexico, south of El Paso, when the local Sheriff pulled his truck up along side me to chat. He gestured in the direction of the mountains.
"Mexico is right there, there is no fence, and our borders are not secure."
I'd heard this before, of course. I considered telling him I'd been camping along the border for three weeks now but thought better of it. There is a thin line between confidence and arrogance. Besides, he wasn't wrong.
After leaving El Paso with a completely rebuilt rear wheel I crossed the endless pecan groves into Las Cruces, NM. It took 22 days but I had finally escaped the Lone Star State. I suppressed the desire to shout obscenities back across the border and simply pedaled on. Surely the coming days would offer ample fodder for poetic optimism on this blog.
They had to.
Alas, in what I feared was a harbinger of things to come, New Mexico greeted me with a 90 km/h direct head wind for 110 km on day two. It was, in the words of a local, exceptionally bad, even by New Mexico standards. I came to learn that New Mexico has a windy season and I'd unwittingly chosen it's peak to bicycle across it.
So much for route research.
After weeks of battling wind, crossing Emory Pass was downright enjoyable at 2,507 meters. After all, it blocked the wind. The transition from low desert to alpine forest was refreshing as the sunrise. Tendrils of snow clung desperately to sunless crevices and the view from the summit was worth every pedal stroke. The blistering descent into Mimbras, NM left me chilled to the bone.
Two days later saw another perfect descent from Silver City into Arizona proper. Turning northwest at Lordsburg I took full advantage of a 32 km/h tailwind. Pedaling with minimal effort for hours, my mind drifted as I watched dust devils coalesce and dissipate across the expansive desert valley.
I dared hope the windy season, or perhaps my geographic proximity to it, might be winding down.
On day 29 I was treated again to driving headwinds in the 40 km/h range. Eleven hours pedaling into it very nearly broke my spirit. I was in a dark place indeed, sheltering myself from the wretched wind, when an Apache couple approached me on the San Carlos Reservation.
"This is for good luck on your journey."
She produced a miniature woven basket with tin embellishments and handed it to me.
"It's called a burden basket. My people used to weave them for carrying food and children."
We proceeded to have a conversation about my journey, the reservation, and the Apache people. They felt it important to demonstrate, in her words, that "Not all Apache are bad people". I said it had never crossed my mind that they were and I meant it. These people must deal with a level of daily prejudice that I can scarcely imagine.
That small act of kindness erased all the hardships of the day. I pedaled the remaining distance into Globe, AZ with a smile on my face.
Burden basket, indeed.
Two days remain to Phoenix, AZ for a much needed rest and some exploration with a dear friend. I'm eager to see more of the Arizona desert that I so adore.
Somewhere in the Cleveland National Forest of California I will pick up the Sierra Cascades route and begin the second leg of my journey. Northward bound through Joshua Tree, Yosemite, Lake Tahoe and beyond. Burden basket in hand.