Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Ghost towns

Day 17. After breakfast at the Kix 66 Cafe in Tucumcari and after one last group photo, we head east again toward the Texas state line. It's sad to leave the Blue Swallow Motel but Amarillo is calling. Everyone can feel the end of the ride is near. 

I haven't been writing much about the cycling challenges because they are scarce. Since Grants the wind has blown strongly from west to east. We've had plenty of help crossing New Mexico. 

Our first stop this morning was a ranch 14 miles east of Tucumcari.  The rancher started a folk art project involving shoes. All his fenceposts seem to have a shoe fastened on top. They're his old shoes and our best guess is they represent kicks on Route 66. We're here to help attach a new batch of shoes. It's a welcome respite from the rigorous work of harnessing a tailwind.
10 miles down the road we cluster once again around the van for cookies, bananas, and Gatorade. To the south along a low ridge wind turbines are visible. There was a huge one right in Tucumcari as well. Looking around at this flat land that goes on forever, you start to wonder - how do people live out here? What is the economy based on? The last few generations the economic mainstay has been cattle ranching, and of course traffic from the railroad and Route 66. As one Tucumcarian said yesterday, it just doesn't rain here. There's a drought going on but even so. Without rain it's tough to farm. I don't know much about wind power, but wind seems to be abundant here in eastern New Mexico. Lucky us!

According to a couple of cyclists who have done this route before, in 2009 the wind blew the other direction, in their faces. In that case today would have been an entirely different experience. To generate wind power, there's no need to be as lucky as we are, for the wind to blow in exactly the right direction. The turbine adjusts. 

As the morning spins on, it becomes clearer that the theme of today's ride is ghost towns. 4 of them: Cedar Hill (near the shoe ranch), San Jon, Glen Rio, Bard.

The road narrows from four lanes through San Jon to two. Then a car up ahead has the telltale plume of dust coming from its wheels. More dirt. Veronica is looking at her rear tire by the roadside. A moment later she rides up alongside and reports that her rear tire has a bulge in the tread. I can hear it thumping a rhythm as the wheel spins. My instinct is to get far away from that tire! A bulge like that is a terminal condition that can cause a blowout. She heads for the interstate, conveniently located just to our left. Her odds are better on pavement.

Lon warned us this morning that the condition of the dirt route is variable, depending on the year. Sometimes it has deep sand just like a beach. Sometimes it is completely rideable. We're going to find out... Hans, Vic, Thea, and I head east. I'm certain we will find sand and plenty of it. It's been a very dry year.  
The light-colored stuff is the old roadbed.
As we ride mile after mile, I get more cautious, waiting for the killer sand. Mile after mile requires strategy and watchfulness, but so far so good. Long miles of graded roadbed with some gravel. The cars that travel this road today go a long way to making it rideable on a bike. The tires clear sand and gravel in their wake. When the surface gets worse, I just switch left or right to the other tire track. 

Just after the ghost town of Bard a handmade sign says "Access to I-40 5 miles". Glen Rio, another ghost town, is on the other side. There's cattle ranches out here, but not that much traffic between the two these days. With my rear tire fishtailing around, it becomes more challenging to stay upright. Still doable, though. I can see the fishtail tracks of Hans, Vic, and Thea in the sand.

The van is waiting in old Glen Rio. Veronica has just pulled up, so we don't have to send the posse. Her tire lasted for all but the last 3 miles, when it picked up one of those friendly wires and went flat. She hitched a ride to the van and is busy putting on a different tire.

Some say Glen Rio is already in Texas. But it seems like we cross into Texas one half-mile down the road. The big difference is, it's flatter and there's no barbed wire to negotiate when crossing over from a frontage road.

At the state line. Route 66 on the right, I-40 on the left.
The wind is still our friend, pushing us quickly to the MidPoint Cafe. We have come 1139 miles since leaving Santa Monica. Time for lunch!

Gerd on a good day for the recumbent trike.
Replicas of the original midpoint signs.
Adrian, TX where the cafe is located, is a bit of a ghost town itself. The semis roar by happily on the interstate, destinations unknown.

The last 15 miles pass in less than an hour, bringing us to Vega. Vega is just a small farming crossroads, with Amarillo only 35 miles down the road. Of course we can already see the signs for the Big Texan on I-40. Did I really ride the miles today and yesterday? They feel like a gift. But anyway, we're almost there...


  1. Did you plan ahead of time to make the shoe stop? How neat. :)
    Oh, I remember Glenrio...we nearly got stuck there! And Adrian. I remember the Dynamite Museum there, and the ugly pie.

  2. Hi Rachel, the rancher approached Lon in the gallery in Tucumcari when we were there. That's the gallery of mural artist Doug Quarles. They just cooked up the idea then. One thing I really like about Route 66 is the collaborative setup of many of the art projects. Public art is pretty rare where I live, as are collaborative projects. It feels inviting. It also gives us the chance to see what other people contribute. I wonder if these qualities are a result of Route 66 being "abandoned". In areas where space is expensive and there's lots of competition for wealth, you don't see many collaborative or public projects.