I fit more into one day recently than I probably have into most weeks. Tuesday night, I was running out of fuel and made the right decision to pull off the highway and wait for the closed gas station to open in the morning. I just so happened to be at Bosque del Apache, a bird sanctuary; coincidentally, it was recommend to me as a good photographic opportunity by my die-hard bird safari godfather in Montrose.
So it seemed the universe had aligned for me. I hadn’t run out of gas somewhere, stranded on the side of the highway, instead I had ended up where I should have been in the first place. I pulled off the road and parked in between the bird sanctuary access road, a railroad, and a pond with what sounded like hundreds of birds having a party. Thats what earplugs are for.
I was pretty keen to get up at the crack of dawn and see how many birds where actually out there, and what they looked like, or what made this place so special. I set my alarm for 6:00, 1 hour before sunrise in Las Vegas. Before I knew it, I awoke cold in my van, even before my alarm went off. I excitedly replied to a couple emails, brewed some tea and tried to stay busy until the sun rose about an hour and a half later. As the first hints of orange and pink blended with the dark blue sky, cars whizzed by headed for the end of the road. Since I was nearly out of gas, I didn’t chance driving any further away from the gas station, so I stayed put and tried to act as much like a bird watcher as possible.
There were a few birds sitting around in the water making some noise, and some buzzing about in the sky but for the most part it was a calm Wednesday morning. A train or two roared down the tracks. I thought this would stir some excitement in the birds, but it didn’t. Finally, as the sun crested the horizon and its golden rays cast across the hills in the West, the birds grew louder and began to take flight. It wasn’t really as spectacular as I had hoped, but kinda neat. I took a couple shots of some boring geese landing in the water and some shots of the hills all lit up by the early sunshine, and then I got back on the road.
After filling up in San Antonio, NM, I headed South to Silver City. Fun fact: my Granny was born in Silver City and her family lived there for a while. I turned west on hwy 152 and started winding my way up towards the Gila National Forest. Stopping at an old bridge for breakfast, I played around with the wireless feature on my camera. Testing its range, I positioned it pointed toward the bridge and I daringly crawled along the trestles. Continuing down the road I noticed that there were very few other people on the hwy. It was now almost noon. Just past the small town of Hillsboro, I ignored a sign stating that the road was closed ahead. Yea right, you cant just close a highway. Around the next corner the road was gated shut. I had now driven about 40 miles from I-25 and would have to return and go to Silver City the long way, from the South.
I contemplated just not going at all. The guy I was supposed to stay with in SC hadn’t replied to my emails, and I’d had a crummy day biking the day before. But I didn’t really have anything else to do, so I carried on. I drove past 10s of red chilli stands, old mining towns, massive solar panels, and endless barren landscape. When I got to Bayard, I told myself I would have a nap; the heat was getting to me. I made a tortilla sandwich (butter and almond butter) and ate a couple pieces of celery. This little bit of food got me all fired up and I drove the rest of the way to Silver City no problem.
I expected a frontier mining town. When I passed every fast food chain and a Walmart, my dreams were crushed a little. But I followed the signs to the historic district, where the buildings had more character and the roads had more potholes. I guessed which house my Granny grew up in, but only had the foggy memory of my mom saying “the building is now a real estate firm” to rely on. After doing a lap through town I thought I should try to get a hold of this Jamie guy that has a “bike house” in SC, where travelling cyclists can crash. I knew nothing more about the guy except that he is a friend of Cass’. I walked in to one of two bike stores, conveniently positioned next door to each other, and asked if Jamie works there. The reply was that he doesn’t but he was just in a while ago and they would try to help me locate him.
I talked to Martin at the shop about local trails and met some fellow Canadians down from Prince George. Martin suggested I ride Little Cherry Creek, for something similar to BC riding. It was on hwy 15 towards Gila National Forest and some hot springs that I wanted to check out anyway (I would have gone through there if that other hwy wasn’t closed). From a switchback on the highway you could either ride up the trail in reverse, or pedal up the highway a few miles and then up some dirt roads to the trail head. Martin said he would pedal up the highway because the elevation gain was a lot quicker. The telephone rang. It was Jamie and he wanted to speak to me. He gave me directions to the bike house, and I said thank you to the guys and took off.
The bike house looked pretty normal from the outside, if normal is about 20 bikes chained to the fence all around the yard. The door was open so I walked in and met Jamie. We small talked for a minute then Jamie showed me where I would be staying the night, in the puppet room. We walked through several rooms to get there and then climbed a ladder up to what must be a recent addition to the building. It felt like an art studio for the guy who makes The Arcade Fire’s stage costumes. There were massive paper mache faces and animals everywhere. Jamie pointed to a stuffy loft near the ceiling for me and I just about refused him on the spot until I remembered how cold I was that morning in my van.
It was decided that I would do Cherry Creek on my own and return the following day to do a ride in town with Jamie. He also suggested I ride up the trail in reverse, “There’s a couple sections I haven’t cleaned, you should give it a shot.” Jamie seemed like an animal and I had no intention of trying to beat his best or whatever the challenge was. I would ride up the road.
I set off from the bottom of the trail at 3:40, pedalling up the highway, knowing that I had about a 2.5 hour ride ahead of me, according to Martin. I stuffed my shirt into my pack and strapped my helmet and pads onto my back too. I put on a favourite Dragonette playlist and I was zooming. After half an hour I was at the Signal Peak turn off, where I could take the signal peak road or the signal peak trail. I tried the trail for about 50 yards and then 180’d for the smoother more gradual road.
The road winded on for ever and ever. I climbed into a burnt section that I remember Martin saying something about how they had seeded it and the grass took really well. No shit, there was now neon green waist high grass everywhere among only a few remaining burnt pine trunks. The contrast of the black trunks and green grass was photo worthy, so I stopped for a couple selfies. I came to a gate across the road telling me that the road was closed for fire hazard. Concluding there was nothing left to burn, I ducked under that one and carried on. There was no signage or mile markers and I was just hoping I would see the trailhead when I got there.
What seemed like forever later, I reached Signal Peak, and climbed up the fire tower lookout to see what I could see. It looked like a nice long ride down. But I wasn’t in the right spot. The only trail down from here was the Signal Peak trail that I had started up earlier and is only 2.5 miles long back to the hwy, another 4 or so miles above my van. I had passed the trailhead somewhere. I recalled a shotgun blasted plastic thing that resembled a trailmarker just a bit back down the road, and returned to find it.
There was no indication that this was the right trail but there seemed to have been a bit of traffic, as shown by the trampled grass. I stayed on this trail as well as I could although the thigh-high grass and hidden stumps and rocks made it difficult. Eventually anything resembling a trail vanished. I continued in the direction I assumed was right. I got to the top of the mountain where I thought the trail started but it was just grass and trees and no trail anywhere. Following a fence line, I was sure I would get to the trailhead. The brush became too thick and the ground too uneven to push my bike so I lifted it onto my shoulder and continued. Doing so, I noticed the sun beginning to drop on the horizon. I told myself if I didn’t find the trail soon I would double back and ride the signal peak trail down.
That was what I had to do. I scrambled back, following the fence line and then just freestyling in the direction I thought I came from. Eventually I got back on the “trail” and up to the road. Then it was just a short push back to the tower and the trailhead for Signal Peak. When I got there I didn’t even stop to put my seat down, pulling the qr lever and slamming it to the frame while riding. The sun was now red on the horizon and I had 2.5 miles of who-knows-what kind of trail ahead of me. The trail turned out to be a blast and I helmet cammed the entire ride, even when the sun had dropped completely and there was very little light left. My ascent was 2.5hrs and the descent less than half an hour; good thing I don’t Strava. When I hit the road I pedalled flat out back to the van.
It was another couple hours up the hwy to the hot springs and I had zero energy. I contemplated just camping there for the night., but somehow I rallied and pulled in to the hot springs around 8. I jumped in the 105dF water and looked up at the stars thinking about my eventful day as the cuts on my limbs stung clean in the water. I made dinner, had another soak, took some photos and wrote this bit. All in a day’s work.
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