The massive state of Texas shrinks in time and memory as I make my way forward through New Mexico towards the Rocky Mountains.
Just entering the state I notice an interesting change. Despite the occasional relief or geometric pattern appearing on the overpasses in Texas, there are few obvious signs that it was ever anything but The Lone Star State. In contrast, as soon as I enter New Mexico the native influences are evident everywhere, down to the Pueblo sun symbol on the license plate of every car. The landscape remains much the same, but its occupants have clearly come to a much less culturally imperialistic understanding.
This is made especially evident when I make it to Santa Fe, with no idea of whether to expect a city or a town. What I get is a Tattooine-like conceptual city unlike any I’ve seen in North America. Simple adobe constructions are improbably contrasted against the the gentrified city atmosphere – Starbucks; art galleries behind plate glass. This place is clean, expensive, and even the vagrants are classier than any I’ve run into yet. Well, maybe with the exception of the fellow wearing a coat made almost entirely of patches at the outer limits. It’s definitely got character and characters.
There is no denying it – Santa Fe is a beautiful looking place. I’m excited to have found this architectural outlier unexpectedly hidden on my path through the drylands. A wander through the city streets confirms that this is definitely an upper class joint. Art seems to be everywhere, with strong native influences, but I have trouble finding the pulse of the streets – graffiti and stickers are almost nonexistent. Is it respect for their iconoclastic city image that keeps the walls clean, or just zealous custodians erasing every “I was here” before it has a chance to echo?
I meet with Mr. B, another rider wired on insomnia and plans for adventure. The guy is straight up dying for adventure, and feeds off my journey happily. To give an idea of how crazy this guy is – “I can’t wait to crash my motorcycle so I can buy an adventure bike”. We go into town to do some shooting together, talk about life and adventures, and he introduces me to some of the best beer in New Mexico. Despite offering to show me his axe when we met, he doesn’t chop me into cubes whilst I slumber. Sometimes couchsurfing is weird. Sometimes it’s also wonderful though – I leave replenished with gifts, the most beautiful of which is a 77mm circular polarizer I couldn’t find on the used market before leaving. And of course a new friend, another mad vagabond lost on this sphere.
After a last sunrise tour of the colony I make my way back on the road, magnetically drawn to mountain peaks.
My GPS clearly thought I was having too easy a time of it, as it decided to mark a sandy dirt track as the “best” route towards Durango. Always game for a challenge, I discover to my chagrin that riding in sand is not like riding in dirt – but on the upside it hurts less when you fall. This is especially convenient for me when one of my panniers bounces off, the ensuing imbalance leading me to wrestle the bike a good twenty meters before being flung off into the scrub. I’m fine, and the pannier itself is in decent condition – seems the mounting bolts aren’t gripping the pannier racks after all the dents I’ve been adding. With my usual sophistication and panache, I grab a lump of rock and bash the buggered thing back into roughly cubelike form and bolt it back on. Success! I continue down the deserted tract of what the GPS insists is “highway”, the deepening sand making me glad I’ve got extra water strapped to the bike. Scratch that, had extra water, looks like it rattled off too. Finally I meet my match, a left turn into sand so deep it takes me fifteen minutes to go roughly 500 meters. Taking stock of my deserted surroundings and water reserves, I admit defeat – but promise the road to return and settle things. I find my water bottle on the way back to the freeway, but see no people, and decide bushwhacking it to Durango probably wouldn’t have been a very good idea.
I arrive just as the sun is setting. I meet Garrett, a kid who looks like he’s seen better days, looking for a meal. Fortune has smiled on me lately, and I’ve managed to stay well under budget, so I invite him to grab some Denny’s with me. Poor bastard got outta Chicago after seeing some tweaker blow her boyfriend’s brains out in his apartment, now he’s hiding from the law after having rolled his van – drunk driving charges; him and his best friend in stitches; his girlfriend’s back broken. He’s banned from the soup kitchen here after getting a skateboard to the face and having his weed stolen. He’s shy about accepting but I insist he order as much as he wants to eat – I learn from him that biscuits and gravy here is one of the cheapest ways to fill your belly – this will come in handy. I hope his luck has changed for the better; he seemed more a lost soul than a lost cause.
He tells me to go to McD’s for wireless, so I do. A cute girl is trying to break into this truck in the parking lot, so I bust out the tools and in no time she’s in. Hopefully it was hers.
Anyway next thing I know I’m at Durango’s sole Western themed bar – it’s karaoke night and I have some great talks with strangers while avoiding the stage (for everyone’s benefit). The slip of a girl I helped with the truck is talking about beating on this burly dude with a mace and on inquiry I discover these people regularly dress up in armour and bash each other violently with homemade weapons. They’re part of the Society for Creative Anachronism; I personally think they’ve taken nerdiness to a magnificent next level. I crash at my new friend’s place that night and enjoy oatmeal with her family the next day, rising with the sun as usual for an early departure.
My trajectory skirts the mountains to get me on the freeway. I know I’m rushing through some of the most beautiful parts of the world, but promise myself to slow down after reaching Boulder. If I don’t exercise some discipline I’ll find myself losing months exploring the peaks on the horizon.
My heart beats faster with anticipation as I close the distance toward that jagged skyline.