For regular readers of my musing on this blog, you might remember my escapades of last summer – spending four months exploring the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail with my sweetie Scott and trying to work out a viable route for what could be the longest singletrack-based bikepacking route to date. If you want the longer version of the story, you can read about New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana.
Here’s the short version: The trail threw everything at us - hike-a-bike, long sections of road, amazing trail, huge views, days of nearly 100 miles, and days of sub-20 miles of forward progress. The wheels fell off the bus for me mid-Montana and I was reduced to limping to the finish of the trail, swearing that I wanted nothing ever to do with the CDT again.
When all was said and done last summer, we’d ridden 89% of the trail open to bikes, a number that we were pretty proud of, but there were a number of sections that we’d skipped, reluctantly, either due to fire closures or a lack of information about the trail. Or because we were really, really tired.
Just south of Pie Town, New Mexico (the most magical place on Earth), we’d skipped a 30-mile section of trail in favor of a more direct route to town, mostly because we were running severely low on food. We’d been beaten down by the trail the whole morning leading up to the junction, and we expected more of the same, so we took the easier, more known option, which is also the route more commonly used by thru-hikers.
Last week, we decided to go back and ride this trail so that we could fill in the gap in our knowledge of what was out there so that we could give an honest recommendation on the best bike route through the area.
Who am I kidding? We both just wanted pie in Pie Town and riding this section of trail was as good of an excuse as any to visit.
We loaded up with two days worth of food (Pie Town may have pie, but it doesn’t have any place to buy snacks) and left our van at the trailhead just off of Highway 12. We headed north on the trail; a section built just three years ago but rarely used by thru-hikers because of strange routing. We had little idea what to expect from it. I expected the worst.
Our running joke on the CDT last summer was to never judge a trail on its first mile. So many times we’d start down a trail with a beautiful first mile, generally one that dropped several hundred feet in elevation, only to watch it disintegrate into pile after pile of downed trees or a rubbly mess of rocks, but to only do so after it would have taken a monumental effort to turn around and retrace steps.
For the next 30 miles, aside from the occasional oversight by the trailbuilders where the trail shot straight up out of a drainage leading to a quality hike-a-bike, we rode our bikes for an amazingly high percentage of trail, given that it was, after all, the CDT, the trail that had reduced me to tears on more than one occasion last summer.
I kept waiting for the trail to bare its true teeth, and it never did. I love it when I set my expectations low and they get exceeded.
In the end, it only took us a mere seven hours to traverse the 30 miles of trail, which in my book, is pretty darn good. I expected to be racing darkness.
As it turns out, it was the screaming northeast wind that would hamper our progress to Pie Town that afternoon. We were more than happy to retire into the Toaster House, one of the famed houses open to all CDT hikers and riders and Great Divide Mountain Bike Route travelers. We shared it with another couple that were touring a section of the GDMBR. I would love to be a fly on the wall in the house to here all of the great trail stories that are shared around the table.
Morning and the opening of the Pie Town Café couldn’t come soon enough. The raison d’etra of the trip had been realized as the waitress put down a slice of New Mexican apple pie (apples pie with Hatch green chilies and pine nuts) in front of me. Expectations had been set, and expectations had been met.
We left town at the bright and early hour of just before noon and toodled our way south on the GDMBR. Compared to Day 1’s first 30 miles, we covered our first 30 miles of the day in just over two hours. It felt strange to be nearly back at the car after so little time with the memories of the much slower trail still fresh in our heads and paralleling our road just a mile away.
The novelty of such fast travel wore off and we were soon searching for a way to get back to the actual trail. A return to the car would mean a return to civilization and real life, and we were in no hurry. We cut back over to the CDT, willingly subjecting ourselves to a steep hike out of a ravine once back on the trail, and followed it for the ten miles back to our parking lot.
We had the expectation of ten miles of nearly all downhill trail that was beautifully built. It did not disappoint.
The loop ended up being a 90-mile blend of trails and roads, both slow and fast movement, food and remoteness, and with a place to stay indoors overnight, a nice lightweight overnighter. And you get pie from Pie Town. What can be better than that? I highly recommend people check it out.
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When Eszter Horani was in second grade, living in Tucson, Ariz., her dad bought the entire family Schwinn mountain bikes; she’s been riding ever since, dabbling in racing disciplines from road, to cross, to track and mountain biking. Most recently she’s loving adventurous long rides, bikepacking and exploring the world from two wheels. zenondirt.wordpress.com