I awoke early in the morning to beat the heat with the rising day. Jeffrey was up when I got up and filled me in with updates on the whereabouts of the Tour Divide racers from Dot Watchers. He cooked me a massive breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast which I downed given my sparse appetite from the night before from the combination of heat and headache. As he saw me off, he took a photo for his own archives of riders who pass through. With that, I was off along the pavement heading to my first unpaved sections of the route.
The air was temperate in the morning and I sailed along easily. Flowering yuccas lined the highway and the flat basins stretched across the Chihuahua landscape. I was pedaling hard to make it as far north and concurrently higher in elevation as I could as the day’s temperatures equally rose. I saw more pronghorn herds running across the desert on both my right and left, and I found a tarantula crossing the road. I also hit my first Continental Divide crossing at 4,520 feet - inconspicuous from the seemingly horizontal land and noted only by a marked sign.
I reached Separ after turning onto my first unpaved surface, a dirt road that ran parallel to the highway and train tracks. At 10 am, I went into the Continental Divide Trading Post to get some cold Gatorade and ice cream to relent the rising heat. Everyone was super nice to me and wanted to make sure I was well hydrated before I firmly left this last outpost and headed onto dirt roads across a large swath of desert ahead.
Leaving, the route passed under the highway and train tracks and abruptly ended in a beige unpaved road that stretched into the distance as far as I could see. I was felt exhilarated to be on dirt proper and away from pavement. Equally, it felt intimidating to be crossing the desert as the noon hour approached and no shade was in sight. I kept a positive attitude, but as soon as temps began reaching and then crossing 100 degrees F, I began looking for a place to sit and pant in the shade for a few hours until the midday heat lessened. I continued biking towards distant desert hill peaks when some cottonwood trees came into view. I saw it was Thorn Ranch. Now, feeling overheated, I took the risk of politely walking into the ranch/homesteads to ask for the chance to merely sit in the shade. Farm dogs came running out to me. The woman from the door I knocked at knew a little English and indicated that it was okay for me to sit in the shade.
I grabbed my sit pad and sat down, grateful for some protection from exposure. An hour later, an entire crew of cowboys pulled in on horses and in trucks. They came up, started handing me cold beers and Mexican cokes and invited me to sit with them. It turns out this was a roundup day for the cattle. The family and friends here lived in Mexico but had this property over in New Mexico that they tended. This was like the one time of year they get together to do this cattle drive; normally, the ranch is quiet and relatively empty. They invited me to stay, relax, and eat. With that, the whole family/friends got together and made a huge cookout with chips, beer, Mexican cokes, carne asada grilled on the spot from a freshly slaughtered cow, homemade tortillas, potatoes, guacamole, homemade salsa, frijoles, etc. Then, they passed around bag after bag of chocolates. Their kindness was incredible and I told them how much I appreciated being invited into this moment with them. They, equally, kept shoving more and more food and drinks at me until I was bursting. I helped to clean up and we all sat round enjoying the afternoon now cooling in after a cloudburst of heat. They equally seemed amazed I was biking this route that they seemed relatively unaware of that passed by their property. They wanted photos with me (see below) and we sat around talking about life.
Around 4:30 pm, I decided to get a move on, wanting to cross more of the desert and get onto some public land for camping. It was still HOT, hovering near 100. But beautiful yuccas lined the route, some flowering still. The wind had really picked up at this point. It was blowing hard and low to the ground in that horizontal fashion that staggers walking. On a bike, it meant crosswinds. However, this wind was hot and dry, not relieving; kind of a like a blow-dryer in the oven. The water began sucking from me as evening wore on. I got to a cattle tank, only to find it dry. The land across the dirt track was public. I walked my bike several hundred feet down a hill and saddled up behind a few knee-high yucca with a relatively flat spot providing a windblock and viewblock from the road. It was an extraordinarily remote spot. With the moon rising and the land turning red from the sun’s angle, I marveled at being alone in this large spread of Chihuahua Desert. The full moon rose, the sun receded, and I settled into a warm night inside my bivy.