Mary & Steve were closing in on I-10 by 6pm
Meanwhile, I was driving north of Separ, hoping to find a shady Juniper I could nap under & use as a base for a ride with the racers. I ran into Mike Dion. He was out in the desert filming the racers; he told me they were about 7 miles north of us and moving fast. They were moving faster than I’d anticipated- smelling the barn, no doubt. The wind was picking up and the sky turned black. The temperature dropped a bit as I hurried back to Separ.
I found a bit of shelter for the car at an abandoned gas station (I had the put the windows down for the 4-legged beast) and suited up for a ride… Banana- check. Car keys & wallet- check… hmm, better get a ziplock. Crackberry- uncheck, I stashed it under the seat. Rain shell- check.
I felt good leaving the parking lot in the big chainring with the wind at my back. Storms were closing from all around… but how cool it would be to ride some of the final leg with Mary & Steve!
I’d left the map in the car, figuring I’d studied it enough in the last few days that it would be simple run to the north. I’d surely intercept them in no time; maybe taunt them a bit with my unloaded bike & fresh legs. 😉 With the tailwind, I was maintaining 22mph. Long story short: that’s how I blew my turn. Totally went the wrong way (by about 8 miles) and missed the two riders coming through. Fortunately, it didn’t take me too long to figure it out and I was able to find them at the store in Separ, dining on ice cream and nachos.
Storms grew in all directions, but only a light sprinkle fell in Separ. The wind died down.
They left Separ around 8pm, not yet decided if they’d press all the way to the end or stop in Hachita, where there was reportedly a church parking lot that was relatively safe to stay at. They were riding on roads that are used frequently for drug smuggling and other illegal activities, according to Adventure Cycling and the Border Patrol.
The sun set, the moon rose. The sky was painted with clouds, and the air was cool & humid, with the thick scent of desert rain. Puddles dotted the road, toads & crickets sang. Mary & Steve maintained pace about 100 yards apart, seemingly enjoying their time on the lonely highway.
I drove alongside Steve for a bit- he talked about the beautiful night, the comfort of distant lightning, and the opportunity for decompression before jumping on a plane in a matter of hours. He also mentioned something about the “pop” sound an ill-fated toad made under his tire..
Mary didn’t have many words to share- she was clearly taken by the beauty of the evening & the gravity of the feat she was completing.
Mike & I stopped in Hachita, made a couple sandwiches & had a beer. A woman drove by- Noah’s girlfriend, Carly (sp?). The US Border Patrol was out in force. They radioed to one another to have the heads-up about the two racers & the vehicles. It was good to know we were “Friendlies!” By the end of the night they’d visited us about 8 times.
Mary & Steve stopped in & visited with us and decided to go for it, to ride all the way to the border. Mike shot some video. That meant we’d have about 4 hours to the finish, which in turn meant that it was time to alert Mary’s family to come out. I drove north to find a cell signal and put the word out. I also texted about 20 people, and Twitter’d.
We hurried south. Matt & Eric came in behind me on the road, as I was driving alongside Mary. She was tired, and filled with emotion. The moon was getting lower, bigger in the sky. The scent of the desert was joyous.
We stopped 10 miles north of Antelope Wells. More beer, and some leftover Canadian whiskey from the start. By this time Noah had finished. He and Carly joined us at the random pull-off. Nervous excitement- at least for my part- similar to what we felt at the start of the race. How can it be over? What will this mean? How will this change things?
When the racers came through Mike & I took off after them in the rental car. Mike rolled film from the passenger window, headlights illuminating the riders. Our windows were down- it was a quiet night, especially at 12 mph. Mary’s cadence was just a touch slow, as if she were riding one gear too high, but perfectly smooth… Metronome smooth. The reflective tape on her rims & shoes flashed in our headlights, while the LED blinker on her seatstay blasted a silent, surreal party as the desert plants drifted by. Time was moving slowly. We enjoyed the moment for a mile or so before moving on to the border & leaving the riders in peace. I was envious of the racers but vicariously satisfied.
We waited at the Antelope Wells border crossing. The signs looked familiar, as I’ve seen them in photos from races past. But the crossing was even more lonely than I’d expected. A handful of lightpoles glowed a familiar warm orange hue I’ve come to associate with the US government, since my days in the Air Force stationed in the New Mexico desert.
We played some music, had another beer, and waited for the Border Patrol to come visit us again. When they did, they pointed out several dots of lights moving around in the desert, beyond the border. They explained the lights came from “scouts” who are out, mostly on foot, watching the movements of the US Border Patrol. They also warned us about camping in the area; that the activity on the other side was drug related & they were well-armed. We thought about Jenn Hopkins, due in a couple hours after Mary & Steve.
I suited up for another ride. Mike set me up with a small hi-def video camera, with a night-vision function.
They came in together, moving fast. Once again, I’d underestimated their speed. Apparently, they’d decided to burn it all off at the end. I wound up & caught them, fumbling with the video zoom as they prepared for a sprint finish… that’s right; there was a sprint finish- my lips are sealed as to the outcome.
We fumbled around, looking for beer, cameras, and whiskey. The right words for the occasion escaped us. We were happy, proud, sad, and bewildered. Thankfully, Mary’s dad & her sister Cathy pulled up just in time for the end of the race. We proceeded to the podium…
We walked to the international boundary. We ducked under gates, around signs reading “Controlled Area Authorized Personnel Only” and the like. We snapped some photos, Mike shot video. Then, lights turned on, some alarms sounded. Turned out we’d broken some rules. The Border Patrol was there in a couple minutes.
Hugs, kisses, congratulations, and thank-you’s were exchanged. Mary’s dad & sister thoughtfully decided to wait up for Jenn and give her a ride north. We stuffed gear & bikes into cars and headed back in the direction of everyday life. Not sure when we’ll get there.