A Muddy, Mucky Day

Day 30: Elk Creek Campground to Hopewell Lake Campground (64 miles)

We woke up a bit later than usual—on account of the shade trees and rushing stream at the campground (and, perhaps, the previous day’s climbing)—but still got off to a reasonable 9:00am start. While we weren’t going to have any single climbs as long as the climb to Indiana Pass, we knew we had a relatively hard day with considerable up and down ahead of us. The ACA maps and GDMBR guidebook also made it sound like the road quality would be less than stellar.

The day began under sun and a bright, clear sky with a 1,500ft climb on a paved road to La Manga Pass, an excellent warm up to start the day.

On the other side of the pass, we soon turned of the paved road onto a dirt road, crossed the Cumbres and Toltec light gauge railroad—a 64-mile high-altitude light gauge tourist rail that runs, largely, along the Colorado/New Mexico border—and entered New Mexico (and the Carson National Forest).

Narrow-gauge railway along CO/NM border.
Entering Carson National Forest in New Mexico

The road was rockier than many of the dirt roads we’d ridden in Colorado, and as we slowly climbed thunderheads built ominously around us.

Soon the road quality deteriorated further, and we passed a sign warning against vehicle travel in wet conditions. We hurried along as we heard thunder in the distance, trying to make miles before the rain hit. Not far ahead, the rain caught us; we found shelter in a spruce grove and pulled on our rain gear—for the the first time in the trip, I felt the weather was wet enough to pull out my waterproof booties.

As the rain slowed, we decided to continue on. Soon we reached an uphill section filled with large, loose rocks that we found impossible to ride; so we pushed our bikes up the hill a half a mile to the Cruces Basin Lookout. From there we pedaled slowly along the wet, muddy road, passing along sections of the trail that had been caked in hail—the hail, incidentally, provided much more traction than the thick, sticky mud we were encountering.

Hail-coated forest floor

Ahead on a steep downhill we ran into deep mud, and Dave quickly wiped out. (Thankfully, we were riding slowly, and thankfully I was riding behind him and was able to avoid the same fate.) He quickly popped back up, we picked our way along slowly, half walking half biking. Soon we were riding in the grass alongside the trail to avoid the mud; but when trees encroached, we were back on the road in the mud; further along the road, Dave sunk deep into a particularly treacherous (but nearly invisible) pit of muck and went down again; I tried to plow through, but soon my back wheel stopped rotating entirely. I tried putting a foot down and pushing forward, but I just slipped. What a mess. It was now 2:30pm and we’d yet to cover 30 miles; easily the slowest we’d traveled yet on the trip.

A completely clogged back wheel

We stopped to collect ourselves and consider our options. There seemed to be a rough trail on our maps that led to a paved road a number of miles away, but we’d couldn’t be sure of the road quality; we decided to push ahead (literally pushing our bikes). Not far along, on a higher section of road, the surface improved, so we tried to ride. I could not longer shift out of my middle front ring, so I ground my way up hills; Dave periodically lost his chain. We figured we were carrying 10 extra pounds in mud each.

Occasionally, we encountered a bad muddy section, which we’d plow through; but lucky for us we eventually came to an improved gravel surface, and we began to make better time. The terrain opened and we descended, before climbing again through pastureland—by this point our drivetrains were making all kinds of odd noises. After climbing another mini pass, we saw a sign for the paved highway four miles away. We thought we were in luck but ended up slipping and sliding most of the rest of the way through a muddy, mucky mess. A truck towing an RV along the way didn’t seem to be having much better luck than us.

Almost there!

Finally, we reached the highway. A five mile climb and we reached the Hopewell Lake Campground around 6:00pm, exhausted but happy to have arrived.

Checking our drivetrains before the final, paved (thankfully!) ascent