I woke up and sucked the last enjoyment of my air conditioned room from my hotel room before biking to the Silver City Post Office to mail some gear home, which meant I left Silver City properly around 9:20 am. The route today would be all-paved, some of the last major paved portions for the entire Great Divide Route. The highway here is an officially scenic one named the Trail of the Mountain Spirits. With it, I officially climbed into the Gila National Forest and crossed the Continental Divide at 7,000 feet. The beautiful scenery of the dry ponderosa pine-studded mesas and mountains reminded me greatly of Arizona.
But the heat today was still killer. Less so than the desert, but the elevation gain compounded temperature and exertion.
I stopped at Pinos Altos for a noted water stop to fill up my bottles north of Silver City and found a permanent RV park where a local let me fill my bottles from his sink. I then rode down and around shady, but hot, roadway through cliff-lined highway and then back up into ponderosa pine hills. I passed a hot shot forest crew out cutting trees and piling branches along one ridge before I stopped at a pullout with an overlook into the dry southwest forest mesas stretching out before me.
I descended down to an intersection where I stopped and considered my options. At first, I opted to take a side route up to Gila Cliffs National Monument. I couldn’t see the elevation profile but I noted from previous reading that it was substantial. After several miles of granny gear riding, I pulled off the road to sit under the shade of a ponderosa pine and pant from the heat. After sitting for about 40 minutes, I decided to forgo this optional side route and head back on the route proper to Lake Roberts. I had planned on getting my real food resupply here from the small general store for the duration of my Gila National Forest crossing. However, as I arrived, the general store’s posted hours were different than their website. It was closed today via a handwritten note and wouldn’t open until tomorrow. This forced a change in my plans. I couldn’t continue forward without food because my next resupply wasn’t for 3 - 4 more days. I looked ahead on my maps and noted that Mesa Campground was nearby.
My plan was now be to stay at Mesa Campground for the night, get up early and hit Lake Roberts General Store immediately when it opened the next morning, and finally bike as fast as possible to even higher elevation in the Gila NF in order to beat the heat. But for now, the front porch was vast and empty except for a bench next to an outlet. I sat down, weary from the heat, plugged my no-service cell phone in to charge, and sat. I don’t know what was going on with me, but I must have been on the edge of heat sickness. I sweated in the shade of the porch, not moving, staring into space for nearly 4 hours, completely lethargic and unresponsive to do anything else. I remember a van pulling up, a guy popping out, running up and seeing the “Closed” sign before he started cursing. Turning, he said, “I think you need this.” He handed me a small purple Crown Royale bag. I opened it as he pulled away and listlessly pulled out a small bundle of marijuana. I placed it back into the bag and left it next to the side of the bench.
Around 5 pm, still hot out, I mustered motivation, despite how awful I felt from the heat, to get on my bike and make my way to the campground to claim a spot. I switchbacked up the steep hill and came to Mesa Campground. It turned out to be a beautiful campground located high above Lake Roberts Reservoir. It had running and cold water so I walked over and began repeatedly dousing my head and neck in it to cool my core temps.
After setting up my bivy in the shade of a juniper, a couple walked by and talked to me. They said they saw someone else touring here last night, but that he seemed to be struggling hard. I could relate. They also said they had driven up to Gila Cliffs NM earlier and they had seen me cycling that way. They said the route was crazy hilly with lots of elevation and that it was a smart choice that I had turned around. The day began to cool finally as the sun slipped behind the tops of the surrounding peaks. I found myself nourished by the growing dark, feeling better, more clear headed, and refreshed from cold water on my warm body. I ate the dinner I had planned for tonight, my only food, and headed to bed early to get up early to get food at the store.