JJ’s alarm went off on his phone, I rolled over and saw it was 5:30. If I was going to manage the ride to Silver City in a day I needed to head out early. Mons had hosted 40+ people the previous spring and only one person had ridden that distance in a day and they had come the other way meaning a lot less climbing considering Silver City is 3200 feet higher than Safford. It was 112 miles, the same distance as the bike leg of an Ironman. There were of course a couple of difference, this wouldn’t involve a 2.4 mile swim before and a full marathon after, but then an Ironman bike leg is usually done on a bike that’s 80+ lbs lighter, oh and the 7-8000 feet of climbing is more than all Ironman distance events I know of other than Silverman.
I wolfed down breakfast and finished packing my things away. JJ had chosen to snooze instead of get up at 5:30 and wasn’t planning to go as far as Silver City so I said my goodbyes. We exchanged contact information so we could see if our paths would cross again later down the road.
I left just after 6:15 and it was a little chilly. I was wrapped up quite well but had forgotten to put my warm gloves on. The sun hadn’t quite come up yet, but the sky was starting to lighten. It was the first time since the heat wave of Minnesota that I had been on the road early enough to see it and I was glad to be on the road so early.
As the sun came up, I turned off US-70 and the level of traffic dropped a little. US-191 was mainly travelled by trucks heading to the mines up near Clifton, but thankfully there weren’t many. The road rose gradually over about 20 miles and I crossed the first pass nicely on schedule. It was followed up by a descent for a few miles into the town of Three Way. As with most of the time I call places towns in the US, I use the term very loosely. It was made up of a small dilapidated petrol station, a store and a ranger station. However, they had water and that’s all I wanted.
I left US-191 and turned onto AZ-78, which had a lane in each direction. It was so quiet that it took 4 miles of gentle climbing for the first car to pass me. Just after that happened, my iPod ran out of battery. I was frustrated as I had plugged it into the mains the night before to charge it and either that hadn’t worked or its battery life has dropped rapidly. Since the washing incident back in Lincoln City where it had been put in the washing machine and dryer, the backlight hasn’t worked, and now the screen itself often won’t come on. The only way it’s still usable is that Apple recently added a spoken menu feature which means I can use it without looking. I’m definitely going to have to buy a new music player sooner rather than later.
Without the music, I rode along and the only sound was that of my pedals and the occasional car passing. Over the next 12 miles, the road went along at a nice grade until I got to the What Would Jesus Do Church. Mons had mentioned it as the last place to get water for a while, but I still had plenty left and so kept on going. I was only 6 miles from the top, but I could tell that it was where the real climb would begin. The road kicked up to 8-10% to the top of what may be called Black Jack Pass. I give it that name because I saw no sign to tell me I was at the top and the next thing I saw was Black Jack Campground.
After cresting, the road flattened out and then dropped to the border with New Mexico, my 25th state. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a proper sign welcoming me to the Land of Enchantment, just one telling me that the New Mexican Department of Transport would start maintaining the road. I guess it’s not a well travelled road, I think only 13 cars went past me during the 20 miles up to that point, but it’s a shame that they didn’t put a sign up when the state of Arizona did.
After crossing into New Mexico, the road started rolling, a light headwind began and I started to feel a little hunger and tiredness. Not much later and I pulled into Buckhorn, 75 miles into the ride, and sat at the one shop in town to eat the rest of the bread I’d been given by Harriet back in Phoenix. Other than a brief stop at Blackjack Campground and the border with New Mexico it was my first real stop of the day. I only stopped for about 20 minutes as I was starting to become sure that I’d get to Silver City, but was still very conscious of the limited amount of time I had left to get to Silver City before the sun came down.
With 15 miles to go, I started the final climb of the day which took me back across the Continental Divide. I’d been on the Pacific side since crossing up in Glacier National Park. A couple of miles before I got to the top, I met another cyclist. It was a guy on a road bike and while he could obviously go faster than me he slowed down to talk. He introduced himself as Chris and we spent the time climbing to the top talking. He asked me if I had a place to stay and gave me his phone number and address in case my plans with Ellen, my Warmshowers host, fell through. He took my picture at the top of by the Continental Divide sign and then we parted ways after I told him that I’d let him know when I got into town.
Rolling on from the top of the climb, I got my first glimpse of Silver City and the sun was setting. It was the first time I’d seen both the sunrise and sunset from the road. I dropped down the final mile into town and rolled up to Ellen’s place. I had been trying to contact her throughout the day as I was coming a day early, but my Kindle had been unable to get internet access. I knocked on the door and she was a little surprised to see me, but showed me to where I would be staying. She runs a B&B in Silver City called Adobe Agave and if she has space she lets Warmshowers members stay for free which I found amazing.
The long ride had taken it’s toll on my legs and while my ankle was feeling much better than it had been a couple of days earlier, my left calf was a bit sore. I guess the change in form from the soreness in my ankle had moved the stress of cycling. After a nice relaxing bath and a rub down with my sprinter stick, I felt better and crashed into bed, impressed with having been able to complete a ride which was not only the longest but also had the most elevation gain so far.
Starting the ride
Crossing into New Mexico
Ellen’s place in Silver City
Looking back at the climb