The end for now

Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime. Teach a man to cycle and he will realize fishing is stupid and boring.

Desmond Tutu.

Well, thats it folks, the bike is all packed up and I’m back to work in Dublin on Monday morning.  So for now this blog ends – maybe if I do come back to finish the route I’ll revive it.  I had hoped to do the entire route from Banff to Antelope Wells , but I always knew it would be a stretch in the time I had available – I’m no athlete and while the record is just over 17 days by Matthew Lee even a pace of about one third of his is probably beyond me.  It would have also helped if I hadn’t been constantly side-tracked by all the interesting things to see and do along the route.  But I’m happy enough with having completed something like 1,900 miles of the 2,700 mile route, plus the few hundred miles of road riding I did in southern Colorado and New Mexico.  In a few weeks I will come back and tidy this blog up and add some thoughts in the hope it will be some use to anyone thinking of doing the Divide route in the future, it was certainly useful for me to look through other peoples blogs to get an idea of what was ahead of me.  But thats a task for those long winter evenings ahead. 

Many thanks to everyone who has shown an interest at looking at the blog, any suggestions for the next trip are always welcome!  Special thanks to those who gave advice and help along they way, including Rocket Scott, Cass, Eric, the Bionic Dude, various riders I met on the way, and the staff of some great bike shops including the Glacier Cyclery, the Outdoorsman in Butte, Orange Peel in Steamboat Springs and Scot in Absolute Bikes in Salida.

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A diversion to Flagstaff

Enough of this cycling around everywhere, for a couple of days I hired a car to visit Flagstaff, Arizona, to do a little hanging out and mountain biking with Cass of the whileoutriding blog.  Santa Fe and Flagstaff look close on a map of the USA but its  something like a 380 miles drive each way!  Still, it was fun to drive through the amazing landscapes west of Albuquerque and into Arizona.  From Flagstaff we drove up to an area called Snowbowl and spent a few hours riding the trails there.  Its like being a proper mountain biker for a while, driving to a carpark and cycling around in circles, none of this silly attempting to cross continents type business.  But it was still fun, and the landscapes there are amazing, a mix of grassland, pine and aspen making for a wonderful mix of settings for the trails.  I’d have taken more photos of the area, but I was too busy trying to keep up and not fall off. 

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Some Pueblo homes in Santa Fe


The architecture in Santa Fe really is very distinctive and attractive.  Thanks to the adoption of a far sighted Historic Zoning Ordinance (sorry to talk about planning) in 1957, all buildings in Santa Fe must follow the Pueblo Revival Style of architecture.  While this style is based on the traditional architecture of New Mexico, it really is quite contrived and of more recent origin than most people assume.  It does get a bit much sometimes when you see carparks, drive in car washes, and even ATM shelters built in the style, but when you go into the heart of the older parts of the city, away from the more touristy areas, the result is both architecturally coherent and very attractive.  Most tourists stay in the city center, but the loveliest houses are in the older suburbs off the Old Santa Fe Trail.  It was a nice way to spend a Saturday morning, riding around what were old farm tracks trying to guess which are the genuine old houses, and which are new.

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Salida to Santa Fe – down the Rio Grande

From the border with Colorado, the road was straight down south to Tres Peidras, a tiny dying crossroads town.  The sole grocery store had closed down in 2004, judging by the faded Kerry/Edwards poster in the window. 

From here I had a decision – either continue straight down and maybe camp in the Carson National Forest, or go left to the town of Taos, a slightly longer route, but one that looked more interesting.  The strong south westerly wind I’d been fighting the last three hours made my mind up for me – Taos is largely downhill and the wind would be at my back.

On the way down I had a pleasant surprise about 15 miles from Taos.  There were some wierd looking structures half buried in the desert.  A closer look showed them to be Earthships, a type of building I’ve been fascinated by since I read about them in old copies of Omni magazine back when I was in hospital getting my appendix out when I was 15.  I’d forgotten they were in New Mexico.  They are low energy use buildings made using recycled materials, started out by 1970’s hippy types, but gradually becoming a little more mainstream.  Outside Taos there is a demonstration building and an entire suburb developed using the technology. 

A few miles on from the Earthships, I had another surprise,  I didn’t expect to find the Rio Grande to be flowing along a dizzyingly deep canyon.

From there it was a few miles to Taos, a very touristy little town full of art galleries. 

Next morning was the final leg, 70 miles or so to Santa Fe. After a stretch of open desert, the road descended down into the Rio Grande Canyon.

The sheltered valley holds a surprising number of willow trees, all showing the fall colours. 


After 50 miles I got to the first big town, Espanola.  Not the prettiest place, I thought it might be a good place to stop if I couldn’t make it to Santa Fe, but one look persuaded me to ride on.  Just a few miles out the bike started behaving oddly, and I realized I had a slow puncture, the first puncture for the entire trip.  I decided it would be easier to just keep pumping it for the next few miles rather than fix it.  Not a good move!  As I got closer to Santa Fe, the climb got steeper and steeper – I didn’t realize until later than Santa Fe is more than 2,000 feet higher than Espanola, it was a long, tough climb.  A lady stopped her car when I was busy pumping up my rear tyre for the tenth time or so and offered advice.  She told me the best places for cheap accommodation were on the opposite side of Santa Fe, that my route in didn’t have any motels.  Useful advice as it was getting dark!

 On the way up to my final destination, I passed the intriguing Camel Rock.

After a seemingly endless climb, I finally got to the edge of Santa Fe at about 7pm, in the pitch dark.  I made my way through the town and past the city center, when my rear tyre finally gave out.  I looked at it, pondering whether I should fix the puncture in the dark, or just walk on what might be several miles to the nearest motel.  I looked up, and right in front of me was the Santa Fe Motel and Inn.  And it proved to be not just the nicest motel I’ve stayed in so far, but also maybe the best value.  So I finished my 2,000 mile or so trip with a 50 yard walk and a flat tyre!

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Dale Ball Trail, Santa Fe

Ok, I’ve been unfaithful again, another bike in my bedroom.  This time its a Rocky Mountain Element, rented from Mellow Velo cycles.  Friday evening and this morning I’ve been using it to explore the Dale Ball Trail, which starts just about 2 miles from the center of Santa Fe.  Its a really wonderful trail, looping up over the hills and through the outer suburbs on a mix of rock, dirt, and red earth.  The weather has been perfect too, one of the warmest late Octobers on record I’m told, great for early morning or early evening rides.

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Salida to Santa Fe – into New Mexico

I really enjoyed Salida, but it was time to move on.  All the riding from this point on would be on pavement, so I pumped up my tyres as hard as I could, braced myself for traffic, and set off.  A cyclist I met in Salida suggested I stay in a hot springs just 30 miles or so, over the Poncho Pass, the one big obstacle between Salida and New Mexico. 

The road out from Salida was mostly a gentle incline, with the last of the Fall leaves blowing over the road.  I passed what I think was someones animal graveyard – at least I hope thats what it is!

The road grew steeper, up and over the 2,000 foot Poncha Pass.  It was bitterly cold.  At just over 1,000 foot up there was a turn off to the Marshall Pass.  This is where I would turn if I was to continue on the Great Divide trail.  The track here leads to the monster Marshall Pass, another 3,000 foot up, now under a thin layer of snow, with the even bigger Indiana pass beyond it.  For a moment, I was tempted to take that track and keep going.  Funny how a few days rest makes me forget all the hardships of the trail.  Its hard not to feel like I’m just giving up, when I take the ‘easy’ paved Poncho Pass instead.  Maybe one day I’ll come back and complete the route, but not for this year.

I got to the pass at midday.  It was bitterly cold up there, but no snow as I’d feared.  I set off on a long descent down to the wide open valley.

The San Luis valley is wide, arid and desolate, with few towns or ranches, just wide open spaces hemmed in to the east and west by some of the highest mountains in Colorado.

After just 35 miles or so, I found the hot springs i’d been recommended, called Joyful Journey Hot Springs.  The name, and the fact that they hire out teepees and yurts, made it pretty clear this was new age territory.  I went for the cheapest option, the teepee (I was happily oblivious at the time that the site had a population of Bull Snakes).  The lithium rich springs are great for easing tired legs, I had nothing much else to do for the rest of the day but soak and take some photographs.

It was a beautiful night with a bright full moon.  Perfect for trying out how good the low light sensor is on my camera. 

I was woken up about 3am by what seemed like someone shining a bright light into my face.  It was, in fact, the moon shining through the teepee smokehole.

The next day I set off, with 50 miles of very little between the springs and the next town, Alamosa.

Well, there was a tiny village (except they don’t call them villages here) which proudly boasted its own zoning plan.

Moffat consists of about 6 buildings over half a mile, so I guess it needs its zoning.  I stopped for coffee at the nice little art gallery and cafe that is its only shop.  The lady said the area is overwhelmed with applications for large scale solar plants, including solar towers and concentrated solar power plants.  Apparently the San Luis Valley is one of the sunniest spots in the US.  I just happened to catch it on a cloudy, gloomy day.

It also has lots of UFO’s, apparently.

A few miles on, I found that the lady in Moffat wasn’t exaggerating.  Right by the road was a massive array of photovoltaics.

I made it to Alamosa by about 3pm.  It seemed a nice town, but I decided to take a chunk off my trip by going for the next town, Antonito, just under 30 miles south.  I would have made it easily except that a strong wind blew up slowing me down to a crawl.  I made it after nightfall to find a very run down place, a former mining and railroad town, now fallen on hard times.  The one motel was closed because, I found out later, of a bed bug infestation.  Luckily, the tiny Steam Train Hotel was open.  Its a lovely place, lovingly restored as an old style hotel.  The owner is a retired carpenter, hoping to profit by the association with Indiana Jones (some of the original movie was shot around here), and the restored narrow guage steam train (The Cumbres & Toltec Line) that runs from here into New Mexico in the summer.

I was due to set off the next morning, but as i stepped out for breakfast, I was nearly blown over by a huge gust of wind.  I found myself helping the owner take down his flags which were threatening to achieve lift off in the high winds.  There was a major storm brewing, with 50 mph gusts and snow and sleet predicted for the day.  I didn’t have much choice but to wait it out in the hotel.

So, a day late, I set off.  There was a very strong and bitterly cold wind, but it was from the south west, and I was going south at first, then going south-east, so it was just about cyclable.  After about 10 miles, I hit the border with New Mexico.

Some borders are dramatic, you really feel you are crossing over into to a new land.  Crossing the Divide from Alberta to British Columbia was a little like that, and the border crossing into the USA, from the timberlands of the Elk Valley immediately into the wide open spaces of the Big Sky State was a perfect transition.  From Montana to Idaho was incredibly dramatic – one moment in a pine clad canyon, the next in a classic open wheat growing landscape with seemingly endless vistas.  But this crossing was a bit mundane, just a sign in the featureless desert where someone back in history drew an apparently random line on a map.

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Santa Fe – the end of the road

If Salida was the end of the trail for me then I think Santa Fe is the end of the road. I just arrived in here after an exhausting day of riding – I didn’t realise Santa Fe was on such a high plateau! I finally made it with, unbelievably, my first puncture of the trip within 50 metres of the end. Or to be precise, after realizing my tyre was flat I looked up and saw a motel – and it turns out to be a very nice place near the center of Santa Fe. It was 7.30 in the evening and dark, so I haven’t seen much of the city yet, but I can already report that the local Pale Ale is very good indeed.

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And the wind blows…..

Overheard at lunch in the only restaurant in Antonito, Colorado:

Customer, while holding up something between his fingers: “waitress….”

Waitress: “Whats that?”

Customer: “Well, I was hoping you’d tell me. It’s hard, and it was in my meatloaf”.

Waitress, after looking closely: “Oh, that’s only grease”.

She walked off, and that was that.


My progress to Santa Fe is slower than expected! After two days riding, I’ve been all day in the tiny town of Antonito, about 120 miles south of Salida, and just short of the border with New Mexico. I arrived last night and was all set to leave early this morning when a huge gale hit, literally blowing tumbleweed down the Main Street. I belatedly checked the weather forecast and saw that a huge storm is over the whole region – winds with gusts up to 50 mph expected, along with sleet and snow. So I decided that it wasn’t the best day for a 60 mile ride to a camping place in a National Forest some 50 miles south.

And so far it has been a very wild and stormy day, with one ferocious blast of sleet at lunchtime. And this area supposedly has the highest percentage of sunshine in the US! I thought it would be much warmer this far south of the Colorado mountains, but its actually cold and getting colder. But while tomorrow is supposed to be very windy, the storm has mostly passed, and sunshine is predicted for later in the week.

So while there is little or nothing to do in this town (even the library is only open Thursday to Saturday), I’m staying in a nice place, a tiny accommodation only hotel dating from 1911 which seems to be run more as a hobby than a going concern by the owner. Unfortunately, the only place for dinner tonight and breakfast tomorrow is the place with grease balls in the meatloaf…..

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Salida after dark

Yes, I was a little bored after dinner and so I thought I’d do a photo essay of Salida after dark.  I was really just playing around with my new camera (Sony NEX-3) to see how good its low light ability is (I didn’t use any flash, and most pictures are taken right up against a shop window). The interesting thing about taking photographs here is that it brings home just how few shops in the town actually sell anything useful.  But most are very pretty.

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(New) Mexico or bust

The weather has been lovely up to now in Salida, but every morning I can see the snowline on the mountains creeping lower.  So any faint chance of my setting off on the Divide Trail again has faded with the temperature.  Anyway, its been apparent for some time I would not be able to make the border.  To get to Antelope Wells (the final point of the Divide Trail, on the border with Mexico) is at least 20 days riding at my pace – New Mexico is a very big State!  And at most I have about 10 days left.  Plus there are some monster passes to get over before hitting the high plains.  So if I’m to complete the whole ride, it won’t be this year.

I’ve been pondering whether its worth making a dash for the border by road, just for the sake of completing a ride completely across the country.  Its approximately 550 miles from here to El Paso, the closest border town where I can reasonably get a train or flight back to the East Coast in time for my return flight.  I’ve been warned that its quite a dull ride – many miles across featureless desert.

So I’ve decided for now to postpone that decision and I’ll set off by road to Santa Fe, which I’ve been told is the nicest city in New Mexico, with great architecture and a good biking scene (I’m getting a little addicted to hiring full suspension bikes and trying them out on local trails – the riding here in Salida is amazing, even without being able to get up on the more famous high altitude trails).

So, weather permitting (the forecast for tomorrow isn’t good), I’ll set off for Santa Fe, about 220 miles (3-4 days ride) south of here.  When I get there I’ll decide whether to stay or to shoot for El Paso.


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