19 June 2006
Leaving el paso, by bike, heading north!! By the time I’d gone into town to post stuff home (including heavy but crucial spanner for replacing pedals) and faffed with panniers and gear, it was almost exactly 12 noon. The ever-helpful holiday inn express receptionist took a photo – white skin, white shirt! – and I rode rocky round the hotel car-park thinking, oh my!
Can I really do this? Felt unnervingly heavy and wobbly behind. Plucked up my courage and headed out into the lunchtime el paso traffic. And yes, it was like riding into an oven. The road out of town was uphill and infested with traffic lights ensuring as many wobbly hill-starts as possible. Wasn’t at all sure I could make it the two miles to the bike shop let alone another 50 or so that day. Don’t even think about anchorage. At crazy cat’ bike shop I used their foot pump and skulked inside pretending I might buy something until the air-con got my temperature down to something functional. Then headed off for real.
The outskirts of el paso turn into heavily irrigated farmland. Pecan orchards, a polo pitch (!), a field of alpacas, clipped out like bizarre, long-legged poodles. Beautiful horses, lots of them, quarter horses, thoroughbreds and a few arabs. When the rio grande comes close to the road you can see hundreds and hundreds of swallows hunting above the coffee-coloured water. Gradually farmland gives way to more deserty country. Huge vistas of dun-coloured hills and ridges scattered with almost green scrub.
Those first few days, the heat was intense. I have cycled in heat before and relished it but either this was hotter ( I think it was around 110 leaving el paso) or I’m losing my tolerance (getting older? Surely not!) Occasionally I crossed the road to stand in the shadow of a tree or a truck for a couple of minutes. When you stop, you can really hear the bird-song. Once a couple of squirrels watched me from a hole in a house-wall. Camping in national parks, Elephant butte’ and truth or consequences. The campsites are designed for rvs and so pitching the tent on rock-solid ground has been interesting, especially when it’s windy. It stays hot until well into the night. The down sleeping bag has stayed in its stuff sac, and I use ear-plugs so I can ignore the flapping fly-sheet half-tethered to rocks and panniers. The mornings are beautiful tho &squot;yes, even I have been inspired to get up at 6am&squot; bird-song, rabbits among the cactus, huge blue sky and cool cool air.
I had to keep the mileage up for the first week, in order to be in alburquerque for thurs pm to meet with the mayor on Friday morning. Leaving truth and consequences I cycled into a head-wind on an up and downy road. Struggling to make 7mph. Aaagh! Came to the first section where I had no choice but to join the interstate. Revelation! The interstate irons out the ups and downs, a benefit lost on its car traffic but much appreciated by cyclists. (I later learned that the interstates were built in this way so that fighter planes could land on them during the cold war). On this stretch, I came close to having to flag down passing trucks for water (I’m carrying 3 bottles as standard and then on long stretches an extra couple of litres bungied to the panniers). Arrived at a rest stop just in time and was handed ice (first) then water and a doughnut by a family traveling to las vegas. The friendliness and generosity of people I’ve met so far has been just lovely. This was also the rest stop where I saw an RV towing a Hummer.