The Long, Windy Way Around

Day 33: Cuba to Grants, 118 miles, 4,229 feet

Continuing my ambitious itinerary to make it to Grants today, I had two options:

  1. Take the main, unpaved route for 107 miles to the USFS Coal Mine Campground where I could meet Anna and the kids in the car. This route was completely unpaved and had the potential to be impassable in the mud from last night’s heavy rainstorm, making it difficult to complete in one day.
  2. Take the “Chaco Detour” entirely on the paved road, a distance of 119 miles to Grant (ACA maps were incorrect saying 112), and getting a little farther towards Antelope Wells.

After much internal deliberation, I decided with the road option to reduce the risk of not making it out in time with the mud, and hopefully being a little easier on my body. With memories of the bike-arresting mud in the mountains north in New Mexico, I felt the road option would present fewer variables.

Unfortunately, the variable I hadn’t considered was the wind, which presented itself strongly soon into the ride, with 15-20 hour head and side winds for around 100 miles of the 118 mile day. Privileged to have spent so much time on dirt roads on the GDMBR, I had also forgot how boring road riding is in comparison, making the wind/monotony challenge of the day something that took all of mental energy.

Most of the Chaco Alternate looks like this.

I headed west from Cuba, following pleasant but fairly nondescript landscape most of the way. The day presented one option for purchasing food at a Navajo convenience store/laundromat at ACA mile 46 near Pueblo Pintado (this is not really a town). I microwaved some prepackaged hamburgers to supplement my packed PB&J sandwiches, ate some junk food for variety and pressed on, still with significant distance before sunset.

“Grants 16” is much more welcome than “Grants 122”

The rest of the day was mentally and physically draining, and a constant conversation with myself as to whether I would make it in before dark. Around mile 85 the landscape became more interesting and hilly with rock formations, mountains and cliffs nearby. I welcomed the hills as a break from the monotony and windy. Around 100 miles in, there was a section that heading slightly SSE, also a minor but welcome break from the wind. When I hit Milan on Rt. 66, it was smooth sailing east to just before Grants, where we met at the KOA, just south of Interstate 40.

The Grants KOA is a wonderful place, offering cookies at check-in, fast wifi, and the best shower of the trip. Exhausted, I sat down in the shower at full heat, letting it relax me to the point where I lost track of time and think I almost passed out. Then on to dinner and rehydrating, thankful to be done the longest distance of the trip (so far), and still wondering if that mud would have been worse than the wind (or if I would have been fighting both of them together). I was sad to have missed the unpaved section, but mostly just thankful that I was in Grants.

Just when you think you’ve arrived, a super long train comes and blocks the road in from of you.

Over dinner, our son Silas threw the InReach device onto the picnic table, prompting a message at boot up, “Your device has been damaged. You will not be able to send messages.” The InReach’s tracking and messaging functions became inoperable at this point, prompting friends and family to wonder if we were alright as we were also out of mobile phone coverage over the remainder of the trip. InReach users (which there are many on the GDMBR), be sure to protect your device well, either in a case or with extra care. I had expected this critical piece of safety equipment to be more robust honestly. Upon returning home, I found out Garmin will replace it with a refurbished device for $150 over a two week process. Thankfully I didn’t have any emergencies requiring it for the remainder of the trip.

Threat to electronics: moody toddler wanting attention.

*Note that the ACA distance from Cuba to Grants is incorrect. It should be 122 miles to the center of Grants, not 112. We stopped a few miles early at the KOA.