Day 51 – We run out of options and camp in the desert

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Monday, July 2, 1984
Albuquerque to somewhere in Isleta Indian Reservation, NM
54 miles
Locator map

I’m reprinting the day-to-day journal entries of a cross-country bike tour my friend and I took in 1984. More about the TransAmerica Tour 1984

Rain showers sweep across our route

Bis’s Journal

When things are going well, I tend to leave things too much to chance … at least until I’m brought up short by lack of planning and bad decisions.

That’s why Bruce and I spent the night in our sleeping bags on a dry wash under the stars next to a railroad trestle. Except for the occasional freight train, the only sound was a soft breeze and the startling yelps of coyotes.

We left the motel late this morning and stopped by Old Town Albuquerque to shop. We looked at jewelry and learned the differences between the Zuni, Hopi, and Navajo styles. We had a lunch of tortillas and beer — a true meal of champions, and picked up some odds and ends at a K-Mart before finally getting underway at 2 p.m.

What we were thinking? Nothing. If I had bothered to really look at the map, I’d see that after Los Lunas we’d be heading onto Route 6, which passed through 32 miles of empty space in the Isleta Indian Reservation to the next town, which might or might not have any services.

Heading west from Los Lunas on Route 6, we crested a ridge and saw a flat expanse before us stretching all the way to some mountains on the horizon. A thunderstorm pushed up from the south with lightning strikes, and our route passed right along the leading edge.

Not anxious to ride into a thunderstorm, we waited a while and determined it wasn’t moving. As we pedaled into the Rio Puerco river valley some large raindrops pelted us but we stayed mostly dry. The wind buffeted us, no matter which direction we travelled. And I picked up a thorn, which led to a time-consuming tire repair.

We slowly came to the realization that it was getting late and we were nowhere. No houses. No motels. No campgrounds. We pressed on. Trains passed more frequently on the Santa Fe railroad tracks than cars passed on the road. About the only traffic was an old pickup truck that four guys were pushing because it had run out of gas.

It got dark. Although we could see lights twinkle ahead — it might be I-40 — we chose to stay right there. There’s no thick vegetation, cornfields, or much of anything to hide behind out here. We walked across the sand to a fence, lifted our bikes over, and walked a little further to a train trestle where we stowed our bikes underneath. We laid out our sleeping bags nearby and tried to sleep.

We could hear coyotes yelping to one side, and then in another direction. They never got real close, but they were around. Then the trains would rumble through, the headlamp of the locomotive rotating like a wild eye. As the night wore on, an approaching train would wake me up, but I’d be asleep before the caboose passed.

Headline: July 2, 1984
Golfer Arnold Palmer loses to Miller Barber
in the US Senior Open at the Oak Hill Country Club….

Bruce’s Journal

We spent the morning in Old Town Plaza of Albuquerque, a nice shopping area where I bought Marie some turquoise earrings and a silver necklace with purple shells in the shape of birds. I also bought a Doug West poster for the apartment and we didn’t get out of town until 2 p.m. It was easily more than 90 degrees.

We made our first leg, a 20-mile jaunt to Las Lunas, in decent time. But then, heading west on Route 6, we encountered a lightning storm which delayed us, and then a gusting wind from the south that was so strong it could run you off the road if you weren’t paying attention.

We needed to go 35 miles on that stretch before hitting I-40, and then another 14 miles to the nearest town, Laguna. And at that point it was about 5 p.m.

Train passing in twilight

We got to within five miles of the interstate by 8:45 and called it a day. We stowed our bikes under a small railroad bridge and camped on the other side of the tracks. We had to duck while getting there whenever cars passed so we couldn’t be seen. We didn’t want to take any chances. People had warned us to camp off the road.

We were literally in the middle of nowhere, with no services for miles. Had something unfortunate happened to us out there, we might not have been discovered for a long time, except by the vultures. It was fascinating, but kind of eerie. It could have been a Carlos Castaneda kind of experience, or just as easily a Charlie Manson kind.

By the time we got all our gear squared away, it was too dark to fool with the stove, so we ate peanut butter and honey sandwiches, fruit cocktail and cookies. We had to conserve our water, which made us all the more thirsty.

We were on reservation land, and we slept under the stars without the tent. It was fun, although it had been a long, strenuous day. We were awakened several times in the night by trains, and once by coyotes howling. At least we thought they were coyotes.


Day 52 — Bicycling through reservation lands

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