If I had known it would be the last day of riding I would have tried to enjoy it more. The 120 paved miles between Cuba, NM and Grants, NM marked the end of section five of the GDMBR, with just one last push to the border in front of me. Cursing my luck, I fought viciously against the gusting headwinds to keep control of my bike. I stopped only briefly to ponder the beauty that I was mentally hurtling past. I pulled my thin buff (neck gaiter) over my mouth, nose, and ears, fashioning a seal by tucking the fabric under my eyeglasses. The lack of peripheral vision was both physical and metaphorical. Looking back on the above photo, I see stillness that I don't remember, peace that I can only find in retrospect. After emerging barely victorious on the other side of a dust storm, dodging tumbleweeds, my resolve disintegrated as I vowed to hitch a ride the last 40 miles into Grants.
Emerging from the dust a white Nissan Frontier pulled onto the shoulder, a clear image of my defeat. Donning my N95 mask, I loaded my bike into the back and hopped in the cab. Leroy, an affable, middle-aged road engineer ferried me into the rest of the way.
I'd been riding on-and-off with two 30 year-olds, Andrew and Marcus, who were trying to complete just the New Mexico portion of the route. They were about 10 miles ahead of me. Leroy and I stopped to offer them a ride but they refused. They were showing more gumption than I had, in the moment. They insisted that they were going to camp that night and finish the remaining miles in the morning. Knowing that a 40-degree wintery mix storm was supposed to start at three or four AM, I didn't think their plan was airtight, but there was nothing more I could do to help them. Not conditions I would want to ride.
Sitting in my hotel room in Grants, showered and with a huge pizza on the way, I wished my traveling companions all the best. The room was profoundly quiet, I think my ears were fatigued from a day of intense wind. It felt quite similar to when I had dodged another weather-related bullet back in Lincoln, MT, nearly two months ago. Around 9:00, in near food-comatose and with a few episodes of Schitt's Creek watched, I received a call from Marcus. "We're coming in tonight", a garbled, tired voice exclaimed, to which I responded, "I'll be up for you guys - there's an extra bed in the room". I was mighty impressed when, at midnight, Marcus and Andrew knocked on the door, more haggard and windburned than I could even imagine, but I was mighty impressed with their perseverance.
The next days passed with quite literally nothing happening. Enthusiasm was low, plummeting every time we looked out the hotel room window at a snow-covered wasteland. We watched movies and ate junk food, hoping that our luck might change, but postponing any real planning, partially to let the weather subside, mostly to avoid reality.
The illusion couldn't sustain itself forever. After two days of lethargy, options to move forward were proposed: ride on the road 250 miles to Silver Springs, or wait for an unknown amount of time for the snow to melt and the surface beneath (a notoriously sticky-when-wet Adobe clay) to dry. I wasn't fond of either option, and neither were the other chaps. We made the decision to pull the plug, but it wasn't without pain. Make no mistake, I've got unfinished business in New Mexico, but better to come back another time on my terms. I booked a 6AM Greyhound to Albuquerque and a flight back to Bozeman (to pick up my car) for the day following. I bid the lads farewell as they were whisked off by Andrew's girlfriend, who had driven from her house in Moab, Utah. I slept well that night, trying not to let myself be too disappointed by the poor ending. It's certainly cliché, but that was one hell of a ride.