In Santa Fe (New Mexico) a friend told us that it is important for her to start a new year with a special activity. It doesn’t matter which activity as long as it is something she enjoys and/or wishes for that year. On 1st of January we did a day trip on our bikes with an old friend and a new friend. Cycling is important to us. Friends are important to us.
On 30th of December one of my oldest and best friends Arnold flew from the Netherlands to New Mexico and joined us for three weeks. We cycled with him from Santa Fe (New Mexico) to El Paso (Texas).
I know Arnold since almost 15 years. We met during our studies at the students cycling club in Utrecht. He is still cycling a lot, especially on the road bike. Winter in the Netherlands is not so much fun. It is gray, rainy and there is hardly any sun. Arnold is working a lot and it seemed a good idea to him to escape this somberness for a couple of weeks. I promised him to help him organise everything. He needed to book his flight, buy camping gear and a bike. Taking a bike on the airplane is possible of course. We have already done that many times before. But it is annoying to take the bike apart, pack it in a huge box, transport that box to the Airport and check it in. Reverse that process when you arrive at your destination. Instead we decided to buy a second hand bike in Santa Fe. Peter and I planned to arrive two weeks earlier in Santa Fe than Arnold. We searched the web and went to different bike shops. Finally we found an almost new Raleigh for $120 which we trusted to be strong enough to master the 350 miles (500 km) to El Paso. Arnold was satisfied with our choice and we had no problems with the bike except one flat tire and a broken screw on the rack which we easily replaced.
Though we have a lot of encounters with different people and make new friends on the road it is special to spend time with an old friend. We didn’t only talk about the past and common friends but created new common experiences and memories.
Arnold is used to work in an office 60 hours a week. Of course cycle touring is something totally different. Pitching your tent everyday, cold nights, strong winds, being able to buy food only every couple of days, wearing the same clothes without washing them for several days/weeks and not having a shower everyday is something you have to get used to. But Arnold is healthy and strong and he enjoys those little challenges. I don’t have a picture of how dirty Arnold was after seven days on the road and in the tent, but I have one of Ben and Esmé 🙂
It is only sand but it sticks to your skin from all the sweat and sunscreen. Furthermore the sand is all over: in your tent, sleeping bag, pockets, pants and socks. Especially if the wind is blowing very strongly, which happened several times on that route. It is also a challenge to cook and eat without sand blowing into your food.
The highlight of our three weeks together with Arnold were definitely the white sand dunes composed of gypsum crystals in White Sands National Monument, New Mexico.
Beforehand we knew that it is possible to backcountry camp in the dunes. We arrived around 4 pm at the visitor center where we had to get a permit. Then we cycled another 6 miles (10 km) to the parking lot where we left our bikes. We walked for 1 mile (1.5 km) to our camping spot. When we started walking and carrying our panniers (we walked back and forth because we couldn’t carry all the panniers in one time) it got dark already. There was a lot of wind on that day and the sand was flying through the air. The kids were wearing sunglasses to keep the sand out of their eyes. As soon as you enter the dunes it is like a moon landscape and difficult to orientate in the dark. There were little signs that reflected the light of our headlights, that was how we knew where to go. We stayed together and Peter and I were in a good mood. The kids are always doing great when we are in difficult situations. Arnold was ok but it was definitely not his happiest moment. He must have been worried about finding our campsite. I trust Peter. He is a very good navigator and guide and he would let me know if we were in danger. After getting lost two or three times we found our campsite.
Due to the wind it was difficult to pitch the tent. The sand was so soft that the tent pegs kept coming out all the time. With a lot of effort Arnold and I were able to pitch our two tents. Work that normally takes us 15 minutes took us about one hour. That evening was hard, but we were rewarded the next day by beautiful weather and stunning scenery.
We easily made it to El Paso on time.
We had a great time with our friend but it was hard to say goodbye for me. It meant a lot to me that Arnold joined us. Now he knows how my daily life looks like, how great and how hard it can be.
Arnold flew back to the Netherlands and we continued into Texas.
We crossed the Chihuahuan Desert. Our tires are a little bit old already and five out of seven tires had punctures due to thorns and thin metal wires. Our record were five punctures on two different tires in one day.
For the last two weeks we stayed with friends in Victoria, Texas. We organized new tires, shoes, clothes and rain gear. From experience we know that it is difficult to find good outdoor clothes and equipment in Mexico. Our friends pamper us and the children with good food, movies, games, a visit to the zoo and a lot more. I think, that we gained several kilos of weight in the last couple of weeks. This spoiling will probably be the last one in a long time. The USA is definitely the most generous country we have visited so far.