Our Highest Heights

It has been a while since our last post. To our regular readers, sorry!  Do not be alarmed. We are doing well and have just been on a retreat for a few days in the New Mexico wilderness, out of range of the blogosphere. This retreat included crossing the Rockies – topping our highest point at 8,228ft over Emory Pass, zipping over the Continental Divide three times, climbing 10,000 ft and descending another thrilling 10,000 ft, and one day of relaxation at Gila Hot Springs.

Waking on Thursday at Caballo Lake State Park, nervous anticipation hung over the team as we discussed the day ahead.  We were starting our ride at just over 4,000 ft and Emory Pass, 35 miles away and 4,000 ft above us loomed large in our future.  We had talked about this, our highest point, in the early days of the trip and it had always seemed far away.  Today we would finally reach it.  We've certainly done a good bit of climbing so far but nothing seemed like it had prepared us for this - 10 miles of climbing at altitude.  Our mantras for the day became "rippling muscles" and "get in granny and grind" (which means shift into the lowest gear and get comfortable at a slow spin), and helped keep our spirits up.  We paused part way up at an old mining town for a snack and then leaned into the climb.  The view improved as we climbed and the air got noticeably thinner, each turn taking us higher into more alpine surroundings.  Around the last few turns we could see snow at the top!  Cresting the pass we could see all the way back to the valley where we'd started the day.  What a reward!  We all agreed that it really wasn't that bad - maybe we were better prepared than we thought.  

On the other hand, the altitude and the exertion must have taken a minor toll.  We all managed to space out at the top (hmm, low-blood sugar?) and miss each other near the vista when Chelsea turned and zoomed back down to pick up the van and run the sweep.  Somehow we took off at different times and chased each other down the other side, all thinking someone else was ahead.  Luckily after a few miles we reunited to regroup and refuel.

Emory Pass - you can see the road cuts of our route up

View of the valley from Emory Pass
We stayed that night in Hanover, NM with another couple we found on warmshowers.org, Pat and Dave.  They - and their farm-full of animals - were very entertaining and enjoyable.  They fed us a couple of very delicious meals (and unlimited popcorn) and kept us engaged in lively conversation during our time in their home.  Thanks so much Pat and Dave!

RASR with Pat and Dave

Pat's riding donkeys - smarter and easier than horses, who knew?

A couple of Pat's brood of Yorkies
We left Pat and Dave's revived and headed into the Gila National Forest.  A few quick morning miles took us over the Continental Divide for the first time at an unmarked and almost unnoticeable spot (see below).  Regardless we were thrilled to be on the Pacific side of the US!

Continental Divide crossing!
After a lovely rolling morning we hit another big climb, this one steeper than the climb to Emory Pass but slightly shorter, only six miles.  Using our mantras and our various individual climbing techniques we worked our way to the top and were again rewarded to an incredible view at Copperas vista out over the mountains to the north.  This time we were able to properly celebrate together at the top.

Gila National Forest

Chels and big rocks

Copperas vista

Climbing experts
RASR in the Gila
We dropped down into Gila Hot Springs (wee, wee!) and found the perfect campsite right next to the Gila River.  We set up our home for the next two nights and hit the hot springs to soothe our sore muscles.

Sweet descent


The neighbors
9 weeks into the trip with some of our hardest and longest days behind us we really needed a day at the spa.  That's just what we got in Gila Hot Springs.  First thing we hit Doc Campbell's General Store where the toilets fill with hot springs water and give your backside a little steam treatment.  Then we headed to Lightfeather hot spring, a short hike up the Gila River behind the visitor center.  The spring drains into three pools that have been created by previous visitors who rearrange the stones to adjust the temperature in the pools.  Direct in more spring water and the pools heat up, let in more river water to cool them back down.  Warning - the water coming out of the spring is 150 degrees!

A Gila local

Fording to the hot springs - keep the chips dry!

Lightfeather hot spring

Scalding spring water
After a good soak we headed to the Gila Cliff Dwellings to get a dose of the local history.  The Mogollan people farmed this now dry land around 1400 A.D. and lived high in the cliffs in natural caves.  Due to natural climate change the crop land slowly became too dry to farm and the dwellers disappeared - leaving behind pottery and stone walls as record of their existence.  This is the kind of history a structural engineer can get into!

Gila Cliff Dwellings

"Students, this is an obvious example of igneous and sedimentary contact"

Sunset on the rocks over our campsite
After our refreshing spa day off, Easter Sunday dawned a beautiful clear and chilly morning, the perfect weather for our grueling climb back out of the Gila Hot Spring valley the way we came in.  This climb, another 6 miles and 2,000 ft, proved to be the toughest because the steepest section was in the very first two miles with no time to warm up.  Luckily we emerged into a fast-warming sun and loosened up enough to grind to the top.  We took one last look back into the valley at the top before another fast descent leading us to another equally challenging climb.  At this point we take these climbs in stride, they have almost become routine.  Almost...

The afternoon took us through several old silver mining towns and back over the Continental Divide at a more noticeable spot.  Of course we had to stop and document the event.

As the day wore on our hard climbing work was finally rewarded.  We had about 35 miles to go to get to our desination - an RV Park in a bump in the road town called Buckhorn - after a stop at Wal-Mart in Silver City to restock some provisions.  After a quick climb out of Silver (and if you're counting, our last crossing of the Continental Divide) the rest was downhill and we flew, yipping and laughing, nearly that whole remaining 30 miles.  Those miles made all the climbing worthwhile!

Back on the Pacific side til the end!

In Buckhorn we enjoyed a lovely sunset and toasted to our accomplishments of the last few days and our 9 weeks of the trip so far.  We're in our final three weeks now, hitting our 11th state tomorrow, and have nearly 4,000 miles under our belts.  Here's to feeling good!

1 comment:

  1. congrats ladies!!! scenery looks beautiful! downhills look terrifying. :)
    miss you jw!!!