52.5 Miles; Kilbourne Hole to Las Cruces, NM
At 1 in the morning, I wake up to the rustling of the tarp fabric. I ignore it and will myself back to sleep. But then, sometime soon, it starts making a noise again. I wake up and realize a strong wind is hitting our shelter on the broadside. I nuzzle Janna lightly and ask her if she thinks the test will be okay in our exposed and salient location. She says yes and drifts back to sleep.
The wind continues to build, occasionally bursting with such power as that the fabric ripples and echoes with noise that wakes me up. A wind storm has decidedly built during the night. The patter of rain starts and I ask Janna if we should pack up and move the shelter in the dark. She says she feels confident it will be okay. I shove earplugs in deeply and go back to sleep. Around 6 am, I wake up as the wind is in full force. Janna is awake and looks exhausted; she admits she hasn't slept for a while to the noise of the tarp shaking and whipping in the wind.
"Damn, the front must have arrived early in the night. I hope the road doesn't decompose to peanut butter mud," I say out loud. I unzip the Triplex and poke my head out of the flapping doors. A larger squall of rain is barreling towards us in the distance and wind directly in my face is intense! "Holy shit, it's gotta be a constant 30 mph!" I exclaim.
"Do you want to leave right now or wait?" Janna asks me.
"I want to lay in the warmth of my quilt and tent until the rain passes. Let's wait at least 15 minutes," I respond.
Not 10 seconds later, a 40 - 45 mph gust slams the Triplex, rips all the stakes from the ground, and sends my trekking pole support inwards where it hits my arm. "SHIT!" I yell. Janna's trekking pole is holding but I'm laying prostrate trying to prevent the strong gusts from flipping us and our shelter end over end. All my cycling gear that had been stored safely under the vestibule is now in the full brunt of the wind. I imagine my helmet and clothing bags flying off the side of the peninsula some 50 feet down to the next shelf of rock and land. We have to get out of here NOW.
As my spread body is holding down my side of the tarp in the wind, I tell Janna to exit on her end and attempt to find a place nearby with some sort of wind-block. She climbs out and the other trekking pole goes as the shelter completely flattens on me and snaps intensely in the wind. Janna comes over and tells me that she found a small bunch of yucca nearby that provides a foot or two of wind blocking. I climb out of the tarp barefoot and drag the shelter with all sleeping gear wildly whipping in the wind behind the yuccas. I run back out into the full gale upon us. Dark squall clouds roil overhead as a curtain of speeds across the open crater in front of us towards us. Somehow, my bike gear has barely budged in the wind and nothing has scattered. I quickly grab my shoes and put them on as well as my rain jacket as raindrops arrive seconds later.
I turn and stare towards the sun rising in the distance as an explosion of red/orange/pink splinters the sky's storm rolls with color. I snap a single picture as the yuccas begin to shake and spread in the wind. The rain starts falling in earnest, but the morning is probably in the 40 -50s, so not as cold as it could be. While the curtain of rain passes over, I sift through the collapsed shelter fabric to pull out my sleeping gear and try to get it them put away before they get too wet. The rain passes followed by some dry with another curtain of rain threatening in our direction in the distance. We quickly pack up the rest of our gear, relieved that nothing has vanished in the crazy storm gusts. We stagger up, bracing against our bikes in the wind and make our way back from the peninsula of land jutting into the crater back to the large expanse of creosote which blocks the wind simply well.
We jump on the bikes and head down the dirt road that meets back up with the main county road. The road seems appears sunken below an earthline of silt and so trades wind for sand as the primary difficulty. We weave through a land of sand and bush getting ever closer to the Potrillo Mountains which rise as prominent cinder cones amid the volcanic-scape. We dodge the next curtain of rain and intersect with a second county road that leads southward in a giant loop sandwiched between the US/Mexican border and the Potrillos. Apparently, the older version of the route took this additional loop; it was removed in the current route guide because of miles of crazy deep sand. We turn where the road converge and find the source of the flickering light from the night before - a Border Patrol Emergency Station. It's a large white tower powered by solar with a dual-language guide, graphics of humans suffering from heat, and a large red button to be pressed in survival situations. We are only a few miles from the border, so this station sits for immigrant use when crossing the desert. After having skipped breakfast to escape the exposure, we sit below the tower and eat what breakfast we have remaining.
Fed and better organized, we pack up and start out across the vast grass and creosote land. We pass by the Aden Lava Flow Wilderness and the Aden Crater Wilderness, the former made of black flows of volcanic rock and cinder that have solidified into rolls of land now studded with barrel cactus and grass. The double track alternates between comfortable smooth and chunky with large black rocks. Every time we pass a fence-line for cattle, prominent signs listing Border Patrol sector titles and 911 directions adorn the barbed rails. We have a good tail wind, the sky is wicked blue with drafts of clouds whisking at stratus level along with a moon still visible. It's gorgeous.
The miles pass easily until about noon when we leave the sandy double track and join a main country dirt road that parallels the massive El Paso Railroad line from some 15 miles. The route proper takes the county road west until it meets a road that properly crosses the road. However, the route guide indicates that, "if we look hard enough, we should find a gate in the fence where we can quickly cross the massive group of tracks." The guide also warns that high use of these rails, the dangers of trains, and to use solid judgment. With the prospect of shaving off nearly 15 miles of unnecessary riding, we turn east instead to investigate a "gate" in the massive string of barbed wire and wooden fence that parallels the track endlessly in either direction, obviously to keep free ranging cattle off the tracks.
Down the tracks a hundred yards or so, I find a "gate" in the fence that consists of a series of long cactus skeleton rods strong with barbed wire in a cowboy gate. I can see distinct, but old bike tire tracks in the sand on the other side. Cautiously, I let the cowboy gate of barbed wire and wood fall to the ground walk up to the tracks to investigate. A massive train is coming down the tracks so I scamper back down and rehook the gate. Straight from El Paso, a long train dragging endless cars filled with cattle head westward for what must be a future slaughterhouse. Janna and I lounge on the county road out of sight. As soon as the last car passes some 10-15 minutes later, I quickly unhitch the cowboy fence and we start sprinting across the tracks. As we get to them, I look left and see that a second train is on its way. I yell at Janna to run as the train is nearing and we need to get the fuck out of there. The tracks rise deeply and catch our wheels as we drag our loaded bikes. I hoist the bike up on my shoulder in pure adrenaline and run down the other side into a field of catclaw with no trail. Janna struggles close behind and I shred my calves to pieces as I spring with my bike through the large-thorned plants.
As I reach the barbed wire fence on the other side, I realize I don't see a cowboy gate to exit. I swivel my head back and forth and think for a moment that we're going to have to jump the barbed wire fence with our bikes somehow. Then, I look down and see bike tire tracks meandering towards a 90 degree angle in the fence outline. I sprint over and see a metal stake holding up another cowboy gate just out of the way. I unhitch it, shove my bike through, Janna shoves her bike through, and the second train comes right away. We quickly jump on our bikes and sprint off down the county road at full adrenaline-kicking speed, attempting to get away from the rails as quick as possible.
This last main hurdle of our ride complete, we laugh and enjoy a smooth, wide, white-dust, graded dirt road that spirits us straight towards the Organ Mountains rising once again on the horizon. I feel absolutely victorious. We stop to eat snacks on the wide and flat plains of creosote. I can see roll clouds arriving in the distance, crashing in over Las Cruces as the cold front and the winter rains make their first appearance there. The road eventually careens down a gentle grade that then picks up speed delivering us easily to the Rio Grande once again. Jumping onto the levee system for one last time, we make our way northwest towards downtown proper. A massive headwind is picking up as the system moves in, bringing us to a crawl. As we enter the city limits and leave the last of pecan groves behind, the route takes us onto a spur paved multiuse path that parallels with the Rio. With no farms to remove water in this section, the surface moisture returns as well as lush zones of cottonwood and tamarisk. The birds abound. The juxtaposition of light from behind and dark storm clouds roiling ahead is awesome, even inviting a rainbow to burst forth in the contrast of light and shadow.
A few more miles of levees and canal riding later we arrive back in downtown Las Cruces where started our ride 5 days prior. A large Christmas Tree has now been erected in the center of the plaza. We take photos of our end and back our way back to the Inn where our car is parked. We make our way to our AirBnb for the evening, finishing the day with some excellent chili rellenos at a local restaurant. We sleep hard that night after last night's wind. When we wake in the morning, it is 35 degrees and pouring down rain in torrential sheets that last the day. I revel in the fact that we finished our ride in the perfect weather window.