Blog: Two steps forward and one step back

El Rito Great Divide

usa train santa feSanta Barbara – Santa Fe – 65Km (Total 4570km cycled)

Highlights : Train ride, great warmshowers hosts, Wiggos Gold in the Olympics, New Mexico green chilli, brilliant emergency staff.

Day 199-201 – July 25-27 : Train ride

We left Santa Barbara on the train towards Los Angeles, where we had a few hours layover before heading towards Santa Fe in New Mexico, from where we would pick up the Continental Divide trail.

walk of fameWe spent some of the time walking on the Walk of Fame along the not-so-glamorous-in-actual-fact Hollywood Boulevard before going back to the train station. This mingling with thousands of tourists gives us both the shivers, but we decided to endure it given that we’ll probably never find ourselves in Hollywood again.

The train journey was easy, with plenty of space and even a glass-roofed viewing carriage from where we stared out at expanses of desert: a scenery which is entirely unfamiliar to us. It took 18 hours to go from LA to Santa Fe.

In Santa Fe or rather Lamy, which is the nearest station, we still had 18 miles to ride into town. We had been warned that there would be a little hill we needed to get up and over before we could enjoy a long downhill. The landscape looked like the pampas we saw in South America and had the rolling hills before the real mountains starts.

We both could feel that our legs and lungs were tired but were sure that it was the long train ride, lack of good sleep and that we hadn’t eaten much for a while.

When I looked at the GPS to see how high we were I asked Peli what she thought our elevation would be. About 500 metres, she guessed? You should have seen her face when I told her that we were just 50 metres below the height of her beloved Tourmalet at 2115 metres. That explained our high heart rate and weak legs!

Harry’s Roadside cafe - Santa FeOur warmshowers host had told us in advance about Harry’s Roadside cafe and, as luck would have it, we were tucking into our delicious food as the queue outside grew longer and longer.

We arrived at our host’s lovely place and chatted until late. A rest day and shopping were booked for the following day and we got to see some of the astonishing Olympic opening ceremony from London. We had mixed emotions: while it was good to see our old home again, we didn’t have any desire to actually be there!

Day 202 – July 28 : Wiggo won again \o/

Saturday morning was planned to be an early start but the Olympic time trial slowed our early departure, but it was worth the wait to see Wiggo win. So, along with the mad dogs, rode out in the heat of the day.

Riding north from Santa Fe was not one of the best routes we’ve taken, but hey, we knew that we would have plenty of riding on very quiet trails ahead of us. In Espanola we found a dodgy-looking RV campground with good showers and lakeside camping amongst the ants.

Day 203-219 – July 29 – August 5 : Can’t breathe!

Riding out of Santa FeThe next day we got up very early (indeed!) for us and set off to ride to towards El Rito to the north, where we would hit the Great Divide route itself. But, with ten or so miles to go, it all went a bit Pete Tong. And, if you’re not familiar with Cockney rhyming slang, that means wrong. Really rather badly wrong.

Peli’s asthma didn’t like the altitude – 2200metres, the heat – 33-38c, humidity – very dry, and the pollen – sagebrush in particular. She tried to control it with her inhaler and we slowly made our way into El Rito. In this tiny town we had some fantastic food in a little Mexican cafe called El Farolito, and were told there that we could try to camp in the grounds of the local college.

So, off we popped to the little park outside North New Mexico College Campus and sat in the shade while staking the place out for some stealth camping. We hoped no one would spot us before dark and banish us from the grounds.

At this point Peli’s asthma was behaving and she felt OK after food and water and a good afternoon’s rest. Neither of us had been drinking enough in the dry heat so we were rather weak and tired. Later that afternoon we decided it would probably be best to ask the staff if it would be OK to camp in the park, since no one on the campus appeared to be ready to leave. In the end, we needn’t have worried: I tracked down Melissa, a member of staff, and was told it would be fine to camp free of charge in the grounds, that we could use the showers and bathrooms, and that dinner would served at six if we fancied joining.

We pitched our tent up in a corner of the park, had showers and prepared for early bedtime. We were nice and prepared for a very early start and a long day. But, Peli’s asthma had other ideas. We’d just crawled into bed when her breathing became difficult again, and try as she might, she couldn’t get it under control.

Thus began a long, hard night: a call to 911, a trip in an ambulance, a drip, strong drugs and a hospital visit. At Espanola hospital we learned that Santa Fe area had at least three plants with an unusually high pollen count and that the altitude and the dry air in and around Santa Fe would dehydrate you double fast. Having been discharged from ER in the early hours we spent the rest of the night in a motel, picked up medications for Peli and headed back to our tent and bikes in El Rito – a trip made easy by the free buses in the area. Espanola was not a town we liked to hang around in for too long – the medic on the ambulance and our warmshowers hosts told us it is best left alone.

We returned, rather battered and tired, to the college and thanked every on at the campus for their help the night before. In this sleepy little place, pretty much everyone knew about our ‘incident’ by the time we came back. We had a lazy afternoon and a good meal at the campus canteen (where we were told to fill our plates and come back for more if needed) before we hit the sack. Unfortunately, our bed for the night would later become the north domitory TV room, since our tent was surrounded by grass and sagebrush, giving Peli her second bad night of breathing – though thankfully not as serious as the first.

The next morning we decided to give up on our attempt to ride the Great Divide. It was not a difficult decision, though of course we were both bitterly disappointed. Peli’s breathing was worrying us both, and we needed to get her properly checked out, and quickly. To continue would have been the height of foolishness.

A return to Santa Fe seemed the most sensible plan of action. We’d be closer to larger hospitals, at a lower altitude, and hopefully away from the worst of the pollen. We have really been so lucky with our warmshowers hosts and their helpfulness in coming to our rescue. Dennis and Patty came to pick us up, phoned around to help us track down a decent doctor and to top it all, they fed us a wonderful meal. It sounds corny, but we cannot thank them enough.

However, in Santa Fe Peli continued to struggle. We had two trips to the Urgent Care Unit where we got seen by a very good doctor who listened carefully to Peli’s problem and talked through the options before giving her nebulisers and corticosteroids.

We figured out that we needed to get away from the desert, pollen, heat and down from the high altitude. Dennis drove us to Albuquerque to yet another warmshowers host, Patrick, who happened to be an ER nurse and was only half a miles away from a hospital. As we drove down the hill Peli’s breathing started to ease a bit, so we knew that we were on the right track.

In Albuquerque we talked the options through with Patrick. Peli was much better inside in the air-conditioned house but as soon she walked outside she struggled to breathe. The medication she’s on is making her feel pretty rubbish, so, whatever happens, we know we won’t be doing won’t be much cycling for a while.

You’ll see that the past couple of weeks have been rather a shock to the system. Our dream of tackling the Great Divide will have to wait until another day. In the meantime, we have learned to properly appreciate the UK’s National Health Service. Having financial papers thrust in front of your face to sign while struggling to breathe in an ambulance has been an experience we hope never to repeat. In the UK we do not know we are born!

Reluctantly, we have rented a car and will spend ten days on our very first All American Road Trip, back to the safe haven of Portland. We plan to head for Wyoming, Idaho, Montana and Oregon and – Peli’s breathing permitting – visit some of the famous National Parks along the way.

Once in Portland we will rest, hopefully get to see an asthma specialist, and do a mini cycle tour before we head to New Zealand to avoid the cold winter of the northern hemisphere.

So, onwards and backwards!

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