Day 17 – Did you say windy?

Windy on Route 187

The wind started to pick up as I biked south along Route 187. Dust from dry fields would be picked up and blown across the road.

9 April 2011. I’m sitting in the Hatch Public Library, out of the wind as I await my rescue.

I left early this morning from Kingston, as planned. It was still dark, so I had my headlight and rear flasher on, plus my flashlight easily accessible should I need to identify some mystery animal along the road. I must, say, it was pretty amazing bicycling all alone down Route 152 from Kingston to Hillsboro. Not a car passed me for the first ten or twelve miles.

At dawn in Hillsboro

I left Kingston before daybreak this morning, hoping to beat the strong wind that was forecast for the afternoon. I took this shot as sunrise approached near Hillsboro.

I took a few photos of the lightening sky, but didn’t actually see the sun rise, as I was down in the valley at Hillsboro at that point, and by the time I climbed out on the eastern end of town, the sun was fully up—the period of dawn is brief in desert country!

With another 2,000 feet of elevation drop and a tailwind, I made great time between Kingston and the Caballo Reservoir, where I picked up Route 187, heading south. I didn’t check the time, but I must have covered that 27 miles in about an hour-and-a-half—even with a few stops for photo ops.

Rising out of Hillsboro

As I biked out of the valley east of Hillsboro, the sun rose and illuminated the hills behind me. That was the only climbing for the day--though I had to deal with far worse later.

Route 152 nearing Caballo Reservoir

Route 152 as I neared Caballo Reservoir. It was a beautiful stretch of road here, with almost no traffic--and just a gentle tailwind.

By the time I reached the Caballo Reservoir, probably around 8 am, the wind shifted and picked up in intensity. I was now bucking a moderate headwind. When I stopped for a second breakfast in Arrey at a little before 9 am, I was fighting a 10-20 mph steady wind with stronger gusts. By the time I finished my breakfast of huevos rancheros and got back on the road, it was slightly after 10 am. I had lingered too long.

The wind had picked up by this time. I really had to work to maintain even eight or nine miles per hour. By Derry (five miles past Arrey), I think the steady wind must have been at least 30 mph with gusts over 50 mph. Some gusts would actually push me into the traveled lane and almost knock me over, despite my iron grip on the handlebars! Dust was whipping across the road and stinging my legs as I struggled on. I didn’t pull out my camera to document the worst of it, for fear of damaging it. I was aiming for Hatch and the motel there—having by this time given up on getting all the way to Las Cruces–still 50 miles away.

Dust in the air

What started out as a fairly clear day--with a few white clouds--was dramatically different by late morning. The mountains disappeared behind the veil of rising dust.

Finally, in Garfield (about seven or eight miles from Hatch), I realized it was just too dangerous to keep biking. There wasn’t a real shoulder and, although traffic was light, I worried that drivers wouldn’t be able to see me with such low visibility, or that I’d get blown into the traveled lane as a vehicle was passing me.

So I dismounted in Garfield and tried to catch a ride to Hatch with my bike. No luck initially, until Raul Mendez drove past in a small sedan going the other way, then turned around and rolled down his window. I explained that I was hoping to find a pick-up truck that could give me a lift into Hatch. He offered to go get his truck, at his sister’s house nearby and did so; I waited at a shuttered gas station, mostly out of the wind.


I walked my bike for a while along here, trying to get a ride to Hatch--where I could get a motel room.

Really nice guy. He was a farmer, but there’s no water, so he can’t grow his chilis, tomatoes, and beans. It’s a sad story. There hasn’t been enough rainfall and snow in the last year, and his family can’t afford to drill a well for water, so they’re just out of luck. The lack of rain has really hurt the entire Hatch area—the chili capital of New Mexico. It’s unclear what’s going to happen.

The other bad news he shared with me on the drive to Hatch was that the only motel in town has gone under. He dropped me in the center of town (be that as it may), where I hoped I might run into one of those strangers I keep hearing about who jump at the opportunity to offer lodging to bicyclists. After maybe forty minutes of trying to be conspicuous and in need of help (but getting whipped by the wind and dust), I found the number for the Hatch Public Library and called to see if they were open; I figured that a librarian might have some suggestions.

To my surprise they were open, and I biked the seven or eight blocks here—carefully! The librarian found information about a bed & breakfast a few miles south of town—but when I called they didn’t pick up their phone. I called my WarmShowers host for tonight to let him know that I most likely wouldn’t make it down there tonight. Well, lo and behold, Lee Herman offered to come get me! After some discussion, I agreed to his above-and-beyond offer.

He should be here in a few minutes, though the library closes at 2 pm, so I might have to wait a few minutes outside if she closes up. (It’s a nice library, but nobody’s here except me and the librarian.)

Lee shared some other news over the phone: the state has closed Route 26 from Deming to Hatch and another highway because of blowing dust. I’m used to “white-out” conditions in New England snowstorms. I’m not sure that they call this. But it’s a pretty freaky experience.

The librarian, who said she had things to finish up and would stay until he got here, just noted that it’s gotten even worse outside. They’re used to wind around here, but this is apparently pretty unusual. When I look out the window, the visibility is horrible; the sky is a grayish white—kind of an eerie look. It’s not quite Grapes of Wrath, but that’s what comes to mind: the Great Dust Bowl….

Heading toward Las Cruces

I took this photo through Lee's windshield on our drive to Las Cruces. It felt good to be inside a vehicle and protected from the wind--though also deflating to be driving part of my route!

Later in the evening:

I’m at Lee’s house, along with another biker who has been here four or five days—having battled through strong winds in Texas on his way west. He’s been working at the local bike shop to earn money for the next leg of his trip—an approach he’s used coming across country. We’re back from dinner at a Mexican restaurant (I was glad to buy Lee’s dinner), and I’m needing to figure out my plans.

When I talked with Jerelyn earlier, she asked if I was disappointed that I’d gotten a ride from Hatch and, thus, did not bike that distance. I said no, but I guess I do have some disappointment. The need to be rescued is deflating. I certainly feel that I made the right decision by accepting Lee’s offer—after all, safety comes first. But I have a sense of failure in my effort to be mostly self-contained and self-propelled in my travels.

The National Weather Service wind alert for the area is in force until midnight. I’ll see how things look in the morning.

Total biking distance today: 43 miles, less than half of what I had hoped for.