“It’s all downhill from here…” they said. The New Mexico portion of the route actually ended up being some of the hilliest days and most remote. Many days were spent meandering through pines and desert brush without interaction with any other beings. The folks I did encounter had no lack of interesting facts and knowledge about the places they lived and I’m certainly glad I got to interact with a select few along the last 600+ miles.
Canon Plaza, NM
Sylvia was waiting as our little group came barreling down the gravel road that spits you out directly in front of her snack shed in Canon Plaza, NM. She was restocking some items as we arrived and waved us in. The shed was child’s dream, full of all of the most delightful sugary snacks one could ever want.
“My kids actually started the summer store when they were 8 and 10, and they’re now 34 and 36. My husband and I run it now. We met in 1976 in Dallas but he was from here and we moved back. We’re open pretty much everyday except for Saturday when we close for church and those days we hope people stop by in the evenings. We’re open for bikers, loggers, campers, hikers, really anyone who just needs a snack or water. Canon Plaza is a special place. My wisdom for you – enjoy every single day no matter who you’re with or where you are.”
After one of the rockiest and hilliest days of the entire route, we descended into Cuba, NM and headed straight for the Cuban Lodge – a place that came recommended by a fellow Divide cyclist. At first Flora greeted us and scared us by saying she was sold out. Then she started laughing and told us she was only messing with us. Oh, Flora.
“I was born and raised here in Cuba, but I left when I married my husband because he was in the mining business. We moved all over but eventually came back here and opened this hotel probably, eh, 20 years ago? I just love helping people and a lot of hikers and bikers come through here and I do what I can for them. I even have a bag of epsom salt for when hikers come through with bad feet. This one guy had such bad feet that I told him to go next door to the Dollar General and get some tweezers so I could help him take off his toenails.”
Pie Town, NM
Basically the moment one enters New Mexico on the Great Divide, Pie Town is on the mind. Notorious for, you guessed it, their pies, it serves as a classic refuel stop for hikers and bikers alike. Getting there is no walk in the park for either adventurer. We came 70 miles from Grants, leaving early to beat the heat. At noon we arrived at the restaurant, sat down on some hay bales alongside Mr. Pie (the restaurant cat), and didn’t get up for almost 3 hours. 6 pies later, our group was full, and on our way out I decided to try to find the Pie Queen.
“They call me Pie Patty, or Patty Pie. I used to just make Pies for fun back when I lived in Albuquerque. We moved here about a year and a half ago, and now I make pies everyday with 2 other ladies. I love it here, it’s a wonderful place to live. The lady who owns this place took it over about a year ago because the couple who originally owned it were going to retire. There was about to be no more pie in Pie Town, but she wouldn’t dare let that happen.”
Silver City, NM
Silver City is the last large city on the Great Divide before you reach the Mexico border and it has got a ton of character. Home to the infamous Tour of the Gila ( an internationally known road cycling stage race), it provided a place to kick back and relax for a morning before heading off to the small town of Hachita. In the morning, I had breakfast at Jumping Cactus and met Miguel.
“I came down here to hike in the Gila in the late 70’s and sort of pegged this place for retirement. My wife and I moved here from North Vancouver about 6 years ago. I was a secondary school teacher there for 18 years and 9 before that in Hawaii. Before that, I worked as an orientation leader for Prescott College and I got to go hiking in the Gila for weeks at a time searching for places to take students. It’s so beautiful in there. I used to whitewater kayak and rock climb in British Columbia, but those were in my younger days. Now as a retiree down here, the highlights of my days are meeting up with friends to hike and hang downtown, or weed whacking and other fix-it-up chores around the house. I get 8 hours of sleep now too, that’s really nice.”
People ask my motivation behind doing a trip like this and it really is centered around humanity and seeing this country up close and personal. Before this trip, I had never visited Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, or New Mexico, and now I can say I’ve pedaled my way through all of those territories.
While the physical beauty of these places is breathtaking, they will first be remembered by the humans. Humans that pedaled alongside me and humans from every town, tiny and large, that we passed through who shared a little of their life’s journey with me. Golly, I love people and pedaling across the country really showed me the good in this world.
Thanks for reading “The Locals”!