Of all the crazy days, this was the craziest where nothing crazy happened. That’s because on my three-month on-the-road anniversary, I ride a trip-high 63.7 miles across state lines, time zones, and on the interstate into New Mexico. That’s ambitious on a Citi Bike. Crazy, many would say.
I wake up on the floor with laundry room sleepover buddies Max and Tyler. It feels earlier than it really is. It’s so toasty inside that we might have overslept. I crack open the door and the cold air slaps me awake.
It’s almost 9:15. We did oversleep. I dump stuff into my trailer, but they have to pack their panniers more carefully. I want to get an early start when the winds are calm, but they patshke. This Yiddish word — meaning to inefficiently mess around — is my dad’s favorite utterance of frustration on family trips.
Did we have company last night? Garbage all over the floor. Chair knocked over. Bathroom a swamp. Not wanting to jeopardize this safe haven for future cyclists, I take extra effort to straighten up and wipe down.
Adrian is a quiet town any time or day, but on Sunday morning we’re the only thing moving. Even the wind is sleeping in. We don’t roll out until 10:30 AM. I'm anxious. We have a long day ahead.
Then the boys want to stop at a gas station mart on the outskirts of Adrian by the interstate. They need coffee. I don’t drink coffee. They need snacks. I already have snacks. This is wasting more time. Just in case I was tempted to buy hot food to take the edge off a cold morning, what’s under the heat lamps is so disgusting that I’d rather go hungry than worry how my body would react were I to inject it with meat pastries. Or how drivers on I-40 would react to seeing pants around my ankles popping a squat. With no trees to hide behind, out here visibility stretches for miles.
A full layer of clouds conceals the typical blue Texas sky. Wasn’t this supposed to be the seventh sunniest area in America? Today I get my first taste of winter with lows in the 30s. I won’t complain so long as the wind stays home.
A few miles after the convenience store, Route 66 dead ends. We merge onto the interstate and my stomach tightens as I watch vehicles zoom west. We are about to dunk ourselves into that current. Tyler leads, Max is in the middle, and I’m the caboose. As a trio I feel the drive to move forward and the confidence that I’ll be OK.
The shoulder of I-40 is wide and clear, but the terrain is unknown. Google Maps doesn’t show elevation for driving directions and it won’t let me do bike directions onto I-40, even though it’s legal for a bike to be on the interstate shoulder (unless otherwise posted).
A conversation with locals yesterday at lunch in Vega pops into my mind: “I sure wouldn’t want to ride a bicycle through Cap Rock.”
What was that guy talking about? It sounded like some kind of canyon, maybe. And canyons have elevation changes, right? Newton’s Third Law of Motion states that whatever goes down must come up.
Jeffrey’s First Rule of the Road is that it comes up with a vengeance. The thought of pushing a loaded bike uphill on the shoulder of the interstate is terrifying. At least when I pedal I am on wheels like the cars.
Fear of what’s ahead mixes with determination from my inner explorer. Screw you, Newton. You sat under a tree and an apple fell on your head. I’m biking on I-40 to New Mexico. You contributed to the scientific revolution. I am riding a revolution and taking a Citi Bike to where it’s never been before. These are the conversations I have with myself with to get through conditions like these.
My Newtonian rant works because for once the landscape tilts in my favor. The interstate is mostly downhill. I’m loving it. I’m amazed that once again I’m on the interstate and grateful for the pull of gravity.
Max and Tyler turn into black dots way out ahead. I’m unable to keep up like I did when leaving Oklahoma City and can’t understand why.
The feeling of strength in numbers returns for a moment when they stop to regroup and I catch up. Ahead, road construction closes the left lane, forcing all vehicles into the right lane next to the shoulder where I am.
I’m just glad the trucks draped in yellow “oversized load” banners are heading east. They carry components of wind turbines that I’ve seen so many of in Texas. Up close, a single blade looks earth-piercing enormous.
I take comfort that I’m as visible as I can be. The red flashing light on my seat pole is on don't-hit-me! burst mode. I have a neon reflective vest over my neon wind jacket, which is trapping moisture. I’m cool on the outside and wet on the inside. My shirt is soggy. My pants are slippery. My feet are cold.
I’m pedaling my heart out and actually enjoy this eight-mile interstate ride (probably because it tracks downhill). I’m part of interstate commerce!
The landscape shifts from boring Texas plains to shrubby trees and exposed rocks. We turn a corner and eroded plateaus rise in the distance. A new phase of the trip is about to begin. Good-bye Texas panhandle and hello New Mexico... the Southwest! I got here on a bicycle?
I’m scanning the horizon for an official sign that I’ve made it. Not only will I enter a new state, but Route 66 resumes right after the border, meaning this interstate phase almost over. Across the cloudy sky I see the yellow sign above the road like a finish line banner.
Entering New Mexico and Mountain Time is my most significant border crossing yet. New Mexico, with its Georgia O’Keeffe dreamscapes, spicy food, and native art, sounds more exotic than Texas or Oklahoma or West Virginia. I’m so excited to have come this far, yet much more of the day remains.
As a welcome bonus, we gain an hour of ride time provided we can finish before the sun sets, now an hour earlier at 5 PM. The boys and I chill in the visitor’s center eating provisions, which for me includes an apple, peanut butter, and chocolate crackers. I haven’t eaten a hot meal since the burger in Vega that was yesterday’s lunch. The visitor’s center at the state line doesn’t have anything to eat besides vending machines. The nearest dot on the map, Glenrio, is a ghost town. Had we more time I would have loved to pedal through that.
My shirt is soaked in sweat, so the rest stop allows me to dry off. I meet a French-speaking woman from Quebec on her way to wintering in Yuma, Arizona in her RV.
Back on the interstate, we take the next exit for frontage roads that will lead us to Tucumcari, which is still another 40 miles away with only one little town in between. To me that’s an entire day right there.
Once again, the boys jump out ahead and I can’t keep pace. The only vehicle that passes for the first 10 miles is the woman in the RV, sure enough with Quebec license plates. Take me with you, to Quebec or Arizona!
The interstate is in view, but Route 66 is empty. I happen upon the boys again in San Jon, 17 miles after the visitor’s center. They’re coming the opposite way and say the frontage road ahead leads nowhere. That’s strange because Google Maps tells me to keep going that way. Fortunately, they have Adventure Cycling maps and get us back on track. Once again they race out ahead, becoming smaller and smaller on the horizon. I won’t see them the rest of the day.
My mental and physical energy is flagging in the wilderness. My last jolt comes from some peanut M&Ms I devour by the roadside. A young couple in a pickup truck, perplexed to see that I'm on a bicycle, slows down to see if I’m OK.
The sky is turning pretty colors, but the darkest color of all is approaching. The business strip of Tucumcari is glowing with motel signs and fast food restaurants. Darkness is falling hard. I'm within two miles of my motel when it fully hits. I'm running on fumes. My legs are about to fall off. I can't do this anymore.
I start crying. I don’t have the moisture to produce tears, but I am whimpering into wind. Then I see my historic destination lit ahead and I am saved.