17 March 2008

Across the Mountains

I'd been worried about getting through the mountains the whole time I was planning this trip; some of the passes don't open until May or June in the best of times, and even the better/lower passes can easily be hit with a heavy snowfall in March. In fact, March is apparently Colorado's most snowy month. Before leaving DC, I was able to find web cams showing live conditions at some of the passes. For instance, here is Monarch Pass in Colorado, the highest pass along Route 50: Monarch Pass Web Cam. When I looked at it before leaving DC, it didn't look very inviting--the whole road was covered in snow, with large snowbanks on the sides.

As I approached Dodge City a front of snowstorms was blowing into the mountains, pretty much all the way from Arizona to Canada, and I decided that it would be a Really Bad Idea to try to make it through Colorado. Flagstaff AZ was the next logical choice, but there were also snowstorms predicted to hit there...

Not many options left...I could head all the way south to Las Cruces NM and then west to Tucson, or I could try to get through the mountains a bit further north, from Socorro NM to Magdalena NM to Springerville AZ to Globe AZ, and finally to Phoenix AZ. I decided to make a decision at Carrizozo NM, where I could ask the locals about the road to Springerville.

Route 54 from Tucumcari to Carrizozo is a nice ride with no traffic, although the wind was kicking up pretty good. While filling up in Carrizozo, I bought some maps and bumped into one of the few bikers I'd met so far on the trip, who had just come from Socorro, and had done the Springerville route the day before--road conditions were fine, he said, but it was "pretty windy". The wind didn't seem that bad...this guy was an old timer, so you wouldn't think a little wind would bother him, but he was on a Harley, so who knows? I immediately dismissed the wind from my mind, since I'd just come through the same wind from Tucumcari, and it wasn't anything special.

So, after having some coffee and stale cinnamon rolls, about 11:00 I decided against the wimpy southern route and left Route 54, setting off to the west to Springerville.

Immediately after leaving Carrizozo, I noticed that the wind had picked up a little bit...or rather, alot. It was much windier than the road from Tucumcari, and was blowing hard and steady, whipping tumbleweed across the road like rockets. OK, I guess the old-timer was right...The road was flat and straight, however, so the wind didn't present much of a problem, and I figured it would die down around Socorro when I entered the protective shelter of the mountains.

The road starts climbing in Socorro as it heads into the mountains, but it was the weirdest mountain road I've ever been on--long, straight, and up and up and up. Few curves, or ups-and-downs, just up up up. And windy. Windier, in fact than down below, and the higher I went, the windier it got.

Past Magdalena, the road seemed to reach a vast, high plateau, the location of the Very Large Array radio telescope site. The wind on this long, straight stretch of road--maybe 40 or 50 miles--was absolutely brutal, forcing me to lean into the wind and blowing me off to the right when it gusted really heavy. Had only seen one other bike since leaving Carrizozo, and I figured everyone else had taken the wind forecast into account... Finally approached the VLA site, which is pretty cool looking, and considered stopping for a quick tour or a photo, but the wind was blowing so hard I was actually afraid it would blow me over if I stopped, so I kept on going.

By this time, I was kind of exhausted from fighting the wind, and decided to pull over in the next town, a little burg called Datil. I eagerly pulled in front of a little cafe situated to block the wind, dismounted the bike, and walked up to the cafe. Closed! There basically wasn't anything else in Datil, so I pulled out some left-over fried chicken from yesterday (day before yesterday?) and had a great lunch. Here's the scene:
After the tasty lunch I was ready to hit the road again. Luckily, the road got more curvy here, and the mountains blocked the wind a fair bit. The ride became more pleasant!

Rode through Pietown and Quemado, pulled into Springerville AZ maybe 3 o'clock or so, filled up with gas...what's this....snowflakes? Indeed, it was starting to snow in Springerville. The snow was very light, and not sticking, so I decided to proceed--hopefully it would blow over. Within a couple miles it stopped altogether--great! But in a few more miles it started again, and much heavier--visibility down to quarter mile or so. Then it stopped. Then it started again. You get the idea. Finally I made it to Show Low, where a lull in the snow reigned. There were lots of motels and restaurants in Show Low, so I thought about staying in Show Low, but I hated to stop so early...and only another 90 miles to Globe, which I had penciled in as my destination...push on!

No sooner had I left Show Low city limits when it started to snow again, harder than ever. This time it didn't stop, and the road became much more twisty as it entered some mountains. The snow wasn't sticking, but the roads were wet, hopefully not with slush, which would be bad. Thought about turning around after 10 miles, after 20 miles, but ended up pushing on, with snow or freezing rain almost the whole way. I finally made it to Globe with plenty of light left, and rode around a bit looking for the best place to stay. As far as I could tell, there was only one restaurant in town that served beer (Irene's Mexican joint), so I decided to stay right across the street in a hotel chain.

The ride would have been fantastic if I hadn't been so worried about the road being slick, but as it was I was pretty worn out and ready to get off the bike. I'd made it through the mountains! Only another 90 miles to Phoenix!

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