Today was a wonderful day of bicycling. Little did I think it would be when I woke up...everything I had was frozen. I had forgotten a really basic key to not getting dehydrated when winter camping. While the H2O is still liquid, put it in a pot that can be heated with your stove! My couple plastic water bottles were bricks of ice that could not be thawed.
After a warming morning fire, I starting really slowly up the mountain road - because it was steep, I was tired, and I was fearful something would break and my frozen hands would unable to fix it. The desert sun is everything to warmth - when I got to the top of Emory Pass at 10 AM I felt like a new man with the relatively balmy 20 degree temps, abundant sunshine, and no wind.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, it really is remarkable how different a flavor a bike trip can take on with simple turns in the road. I think this is more the case on a bike than in a car because on a bike you can hear and see everything for such much longer...everything is in slow motion. This route through the Gila National Forest could not have been any more indirect getting eastward. But it was immensely quieter and more scenic that being pulled into the slipstream of endless long haul trucks on I-10. For 60 miles of pedaling today, I had essentially empty roads.
I had wanted a fix of trees - having been over the scrub bushes of the desert for a while and knowing 500 more miles of scrub awaited me in Texas. It still fascinates me how the altitude changes the mix of vegetation. On the highest hills of the Gila National Forest, beautiful Ponderosa pines with their russet bark grow on the north facing slopes where there is just enough moisture to keep them happy. Indeed, this is the first true forest I've seen all trip. I couldn't help contrast the longitudinal breadth of the forest in the desert southwest with places farther north. I pedaled across 1000 miles of Canada before it felt too dry for trees; this far south, trees like the Ponderosa just cling to the slopes with the greatest precipitation, and those are few and far between, even in the high-altitude Gilas.
Today felt 'southwest.' After dropping off of Emory Pass I made my way to the Rio Grande River valley. I stopped in Hillsboro and the general store there, a place where authentic cowboys eat. One guy looked like he walked right off the movie set, but Hillsboro is no place for show biz and he had dirt on his hands. Great place to eat, the store is. Plenty of wall art. I guess in some years, there's enough snow for snowshoeing. Hard to believe. I haven't seen even a cloud for two days.
Farther down valley I ran into field after field of chiles. How many of them can the planet eat? Chiles were everywhere. Even on the road shoulder. Even made into wreaths. Suddenly the road signs announcing entry into New Mexico made sense.
A while later I crossed the Rio Grande River for the first of several times over the course of the afternoon. Hard to believe that this is the same river where I had caught the lovely Rio Grande strain of cutthroat a couple years earlier...and much farther upstream.
The wildlife was as varied as the terrain today. In the forested mountains, stellars jays, chickadees, and juncos. In the desert valley, kestrels, merlins, field hawks, roadrunners, ravens, mule deer, and coyotes. And since the Rio Grande had a little bit of water (in spots), it was only fitting that I saw the ubiquitous great blue heron, my first of the trip.