We made it, after the 11 hour flight to LA, then the transfer to El Paso, we nervously unpacked the bikes and checked them for damage. We had the afternoon to build them up and get some last minute supplies, and with everything in order we got an early night in preparation for what lay ahead.
Most people get a lift to start (or finish) the ride at Antelope Wells on the Mexican border, but we had decided to just ride from El Paso, and join up with the route somewhere near Hachita. Growing up in the UK I’m used to people moaning about our lack of Dutch style cycling infrastructure, but I’m afraid to say El Paso is not just lacking a few bike lanes, but they completely disregard cyclists and pedestrians as valid forms of transport, with it being impossible to traverse the City without ending up on roads bigger than most UK motorways at some point. We had tried to plan a safer route to exit the city through residential areas before we left, which worked to an extent, but we were forced onto several six lane monsters to make our escape. I’m not sure if it’s because we were such a novelty, but I must say that despite the roads, pretty much all the drivers we encountered were very safe, passing wide, giving us time to make turnings, and we didn’t get a single beep (honk?)! I would go as far to say they were more courteous than what we’re used to back home, and after 25 miles we passed over the Rio Grande, and rolled out into New Mexico and the desert. We had packed with caution, and my bike was loaded up with nine liters of water, and one of petrol, plus everything else we expected to need in two months. I don’t know the overall weight, but I do know I could barely lift it!
I’d checked Google streetview before we left, so roughly knew what we were letting ourselves in for, but somehow I’d miscalculated the distance from El Paso, to the next services of any kind at Columbus. I anticipated a hot, but fairly easy 40 miles, all on tarmac, to ease us into the route. Unfortunately the distance was more like 60 miles, on top of the 25 to get out of the city, but that 60 was on one long, dead straight road, with no shelter, shops, cafes, nothing. The psychology of riding a perfectly straight road soon got to us, we found it much more difficult to judge distances, and despite managing 12-15mph for most of it, we were struggling after about 20 miles. It was hot, really hot, which we had obviously expected, but with absolutely no shelter there was no point stopping to rest and it quickly became a drag. I was just dreaming about a cold shower when rather unexpectedly our prayers were answered and one of the most intense thunderstorms I’ve experienced came from no where! We quickly pulled out our jackets and huddled on the dirt, trying to shield our bare skin from the hail stones, and within minutes we were 3 inches deep in water. This might not sound like fun, but after 10 minutes it passed over and I felt totally refreshed, the experience broke up the monotony of the desert, and my heat induced headache had gone.
Another 20 miles or so later the heat was returning, but worse than that, we now had a strong head wind that reduced our speed to less than 10mph. We started to be able to pick out the buildings of Columbus up ahead, but those last few miles were some of the hardest we’ve ever ridden. We found a Motel, where everyone already knew we had ridden from El Paso as several people had driven past us earlier ‘why would you do that?’ the lady at desk remarked.
Venturing out to find some well earned food we found the only restaurant in the town closed, but the amazing lady in the shop next door offered to drive across an international border when her shift finished, pick us up some genuine Mexican Tacos, and drop them at the motel! What an amazing act of kindness that has allowed me to go to sleep having had a proper meal rather than another energy bar!