Tour Divide Days 19-21 : Frustration, Fires, and Hail

by Andy Amick on November 7, 2014

in Bikepacking, Tour Divide 2014

After spending the night in our dirty hotel, Brian, Ken, and I left Del Norte early on Day 19.  The next real town was 190 miles away in New Mexico.  With only very limited supplies in those next 190 miles, I made sure I got coffee that morning.  I was not leaving until lots of coffee was consumed.

The gas station was supposed to open at 5AM and we were at the door ready for it to open.  Unfortunately, they didn’t open until about 5:20AM so our early morning departure wasn’t quite as early as expected.  For me, a few minutes of waiting in order to get coffee was an ok trade-off.

Indiana Pass Tour Divide

Just outside of Del Norte is the climb up Indiana Pass, the highest point on the entire Tour Divide.  The climb hits you hard right from the start and doesn’t relent.  I was ready for a long grind to the top (15-20 miles).  What I was not ready for was the steepness of the climb.  When you’re climbing at 4 or 5mph on chunky gravel, it takes a lot of effort to stay on your line and not fall over each time you hit another rock.  Instead of wasting energy, I resigned myself to walking the steepest sections of the climb.  By this point in the ride, forward progress, not pride, was my only goal.

My plan for the remainder of the race was to put in long days with the idea of making up for lost time due to the weather and my sore body.  On the Tour Divide, that’s not the wisest move.  If you get behind from your plan, just let it go and look forward.  The minute you start trying to make up for something that happened a day, a week, or even several weeks ago, is the time when the Tour Divide will chew you up and spit you out.  I was setting myself to be extremely frustrated by “slower than hoped for” progress at the time when I needed to be focused on finishing.

Hours after leaving Del Norte (it must have been a three or four hour climb), I made it to the top.  The views were spectacular and it was another Colorado blue sky day.  It was time for a long downhill into Platoro.   Um, not gonna happen.  The “downhill” off of Indiana Pass involves several more miles of climbing.  Yes, you read that right.  The road would go down a little ways, but then climb back up for long stretches.  I was tired, getting cranky, and my ankle was already hurting like I had ridden 100 miles for the day.  Not a great place to be when the road is not being kind.


Eventually, the road did go downhill, and I was smiling again.  Before Platoro, there was another climb I had failed to see on the map.  Luckily, it was rideable for me and I got into a good groove on the climb.  In Platoro, it was time for lunch, actually a late lunch. The 30 mile ride from Del Norte over Indiana Pass had taken about six hours.  So much for making up time.

Platoro is a little “outpost” on a dirt road.  It’s not a town, but they do have lodging and two restaurants.  Of course, I had another hamburger – this time with tasty green chiles and a gigantic pile of french fries.  It was probably the best hamburger I had on the route.

Platoro Skyline Lodge

Leaving Platoro, the map looks like a slight downhill for 2o miles.  When looking at the map over lunch, I was a little giddy about such a long stretch of “easy riding”.  Another bad mistake on my part.  That downhill from Platoro to Horca was anything but fun.  The road was slightly down with a few big ups in for good measure.  The worst part was the road surface – deep, deep gravel and sections of extreme washboard.  It was horrible! There were sections where the gravel was so deep, it would have been tough riding a motorcycle through there.

I stopped about halfway down and got some drinks at a little campground.  I needed a break from the road.  I also needed get my mind back in a good place.  That didn’t really happen.  After more frustration, I arrived in Horca just in time for my GPS to die. Arrggggh!!!!!

Now I was really cranky.  It turns out that my GPS issue was nothing more than dead batteries.  I was running my GPS off of a dynamo hub so the batteries should not have been dead.  It must have been all of the times when I stopped for breaks and told the GPS to stay on that caused the batteries to drain.  Of course, the batteries had to go dead at the same time I was having a really hard time mentally.  When you’re down, the TD will keep on kicking you.

With the GPS issue fixed, some snacks, and a few encouraging words from my wife, I was feeling a little better.  I hung out at the store in Horca much longer than I should have trying to reset my head for the push into New Mexico.

The road out of Horca is on pavement.  That’s a plus.  The road out of Horca goes up La Manga pass which is super steep.  That’s not a plus.  I put my headphones on and cranked my “quit whining and get your butt moving” playlist which certainly helped me push up the climb.

Before the downhill off of La Manga, the route turns on a dirt road that soon leads into New Mexico.  New Mexico!!!  I had made it to the final state of the ride.

Tour Divide New Mexico sunset, Brazos Ridge

Riding up Brazos Ridge at sunset was a beautiful thing – an array of pinks, blues, and purples lighting up the sky.  I arrived at the top as darkness set in and was hoping for another downhill.  I should have learned to quit hoping for downhills.  I had completely misread the map again.  Brazos Ridge is called a ridge for a reason.  The route rolled along the ridge line for miles while my ankle reached it’s max limit for the day.  Any uphill longer than a few hundred yards meant that I was walking.

I wanted to get off of the ridge before camping to hopefully have a warmer area to sleep and also to get out of the wind on top.  I told myself that I could look for a camping spot once I got below 10,000 feet.  As soon as I saw 9999 feet on the GPS, I was scanning the sides of the road for a place that had a few trees and was mostly flat.

It was around 11PM when I setup camp and drifted off to sleep with the help of my Advil PM.  The day ended with 109 tough miles, short of my 135 mile goal.  Given the tough road conditions and my ankle problems, 109 miles was a good day.

rio san antonio, new mexico river

The next morning started off with a very chilly ride down the ridge towards Rio San Antonio where I was planning to refill with water.  It is marked on the map with a solid blue line indicating a flowing river.  Nope.  It was a stagnant pool with cows standing in and around it.  My water would have to last until Hopewell Lake, some 20 miles further down the road.

I managed to make it to Hopewell Lake after walking up sections of a road climb.  I was getting really good and walking my mountain bike on pavement.  The day was turning out to be quite hot, really the first time in the entire ride where heat could be an issue. After refilling my water and eating some lunch, it was time to ride again.

I actually don’t remember a lot about the section from Hopewell Lake to Canon Plaza.  My thoughts, mostly negative thoughts, must have taken over.  They were causing me to think about stopping the ride in Pie Town, only a few hundred miles from the finish.  I was getting so close to the finish, however, it felt like I would never get there.  At this point, every little setback was magnified simply because I knew there were only a handful of days left.  I was behind my target finish, my dad was going to be waiting for several days in a hotel before picking me up, and I was ready to be home with my family.

My saving grace for the day was riding into Canon Plaza and stopping at the roadside stand that was featured in ‘Ride The Divide‘.  It is still just like in the movie and the woman that runs it (I can’t remember her name) is just as nice as she is in the movie.  I sat inside the building, had a few snacks and chatted a bit.  We talked about a bug outside the building, the trash man as he drove by, our families, and the weather.  Very ordinary, but that’s exactly what I needed at that moment.

There is a long climb out of Canon Plaza towards El Rito.  Even though the scenery was becoming more desert-like, this section had a lot of pine trees and sand that took me back to my early cycling days growing up in South Carolina.  The scenery shifted back to sand, small bushes, and no shade on the other side of the climb, going into El Rito.

into el riot

In El Rito, I stopped at the tiny Mexican restaurant for a late lunch.  Oh boy, was it delicious!  Giant burrito, sopapillas, and coffee.  As I was chatting with the owner, he mentioned that a fire was burning along the route between Abiquiu and Cuba. Conveniently, there was a ranger station across the street.  I went over and checked with the rangers.  They confirmed a fire was burning on the route and that there were road closures.burrito and sopapillas, sopapilla lunch

My original plan was to camp up on the ridge between Abiquiu and Cuba.  With a fire burning up there, my new plan was simply to make it to Abiquiu and then reassess the situation.  The road from El Rito to Abuiquiu is paved and slightly downhill.  Even with the headwind I faced, I was cranking at a good pace.  I can’t imagine how fast that section would be with a tailwind.

In Abiquiu, I stopped at the gas station for food, water, and fire updates.  There was a sign on the door mentioning the road closures – the exact road the route followed.  I texted Matthew Lee about the closures.  He said there were other people up there currently riding the route and he wasn’t aware of any closures.

I may be crazy, but I was not keen on going into an active fire area.  Living in Colorado, I’ve seen how fires can take off with no warning and consume thousands and thousands of acres in no time.  The wind was gusting and I didn’t feel comfortable going up on the Polvadera Mesa outside of Abiquiu.


My friend Nic caught up to me in Abiquiu.  We had not seen each other since day 2 so it was great to meet up with him again.  Neither of us was keen on riding into the fire area so we decided to check into the Abiquiu Inn and figure out a plan for the next day.  The day ended at 5PM with only 83 miles covered, putting me further behind my planned finish date.

The final finish time was getting pushed out by the hour it seemed.  Stopping in Abiquiu did give Nic and I a chance to catch up on all we had been through in the last three weeks.  Plus, we would ride together until the finish pushing our limits on what we thought was possible.

At dinner that night, we ran into Kiwi Ken, Ontario Brian, and Andy Lawrence.  It was fun to catch up with them after not seeing them since before Platoro.  We were all happy to have a nice room to stay in that night before the final stretch before the finish.

The next day, the fire was not getting any bigger so we decided to take an easy cruise from Abiquiu to Cuba – a short 80 mile day before our final push to the finish.  Plus, it meant that we could get breakfast at the hotel.  I don’t mind having a big breakfast and coffee in the morning

As usual with the Tour Divide, it wasn’t a short ride and it wasn’t an easy cruise.

It was really hot and humid as we climbed up the mesa.  I don’t think I’ve ever gone through that much water in such a short distance.  I had gone through 2L of water in just a few miles.  The heat and humidity had me feeling really bad at the top of the climb.  After a rest break and some lunch, I was feeling better.

That is until the rain and hail started to fall.

It rained on us three separate times and hailed on us twice before we even got to the fire area.  Once there, police were blocking one of the roads, however, the full official route was still open.  We opted to take an acceptable detour that had been outlined by Matthew Lee.  I was choosing caution over the official route.  Because of that, I lost a half day in the fire area.

The reward for all of the struggles on the day was the incredibly fast and fun downhill into Cuba.  The turns were perfect for tucking into the aero bars and letting it fly at 45+ mph while trying to outrun another storm.  That’s what I call a downhill!

About Andy Amick
A little bit nutty in general, a lotta bit nutty about bikes. Each of his boys received a bike helmet for their first birthday and the three of them have been biking together ever since.

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