Blog54-Pietown and enchanted skies

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Caught in the frozen sunlight of an early morning in New Mexico.

You are joining the Jeremiah Watt travel blog as he cycles round the surface of Gods creation on his Round the World (RTW) bicycle tour. I cannot take credit for this being a solo tour, my son Pine Watt joined me for the first 4 most arduous months. Then our Russian friend Vladimir Kolchetkov and his wife Gaia encouraged us abundantly, as did many fans, family and friends thru prayer. My older brother joined me now on 2 separate occassions, first for a stretch thru Italy and France, then for a second stretch from House NM which lies along the Texas stateline out thru the enchanted state of New Mexico. Jeremiah, on his RTW steed Shirley Surly, and my brother took to the icy air and roads of eastern New Mexico leaving thru a window between winter storms. Pietown was calling me after 37 or more years, and surely we could find that enchanted cloud cover that New Mexico is known for if only we rode west.

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The remains of yet another RTW cyclist along an obscure New Mexico road.

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Left to right, Nita of Toaster House, Oscar and Jeremiah in Pie Town.

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A passionate Christian fellow who really understood the meaning of Christs Blessings.

Armed with a huge bag of oatmeal cookies made by Niels daughter, Kendra. We pointed our loaded Surly Long Haul Trucker touring cycles to the west off what is locally known as the cap, and headed for Santa Rosa for the day. Atop the cap, the skies were lead grey, and heavy with pending snow and ice. But dropping approx. 700 feet off the rocky rim of the canyon lead us into a warm micro-climate where winter layers of clothing were soon being shed. Down thru rim rock country with its red sand and waving yellow grass we passed over the miles and ridges that harbor the tiny town of Santa Rosa which lies on I-40 to the east of Tucumcari NM. Arriving somewhat pooped because the last 20 miles or so had a stiff headwind challenging our every pedal stroke. The scarlet and crimson skies of sunset had left us before the twinkling lights of town greeted us, leaving little opportunity to find a good place to set up our tents. Yes, we opted for a room and a restaurant meal this night.

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The following morning would see Niel up early, followed by Jeremiah in a far less eager fashion savoring the warm bed instead of the Brroks saddle which awaited him. But leave we did, in good time and headed south now towards Vaughn NM. the road climbs slightly out of town across a Rio Negra river and hits a series of high grass strewn plateaus. Each of which have to be climbed to be enjoyed, then plunge down again to conquer the next which waits in turn. The  wind was howling out of the west, hitting us more or less on a diagonal at about 2o,clock position. Once again in typical plains fashion, Gaia or mother nature, would be there trying with all her might to defeat us from attaining Vaughn by days end. With all that said, we pretty much rode that piece of road like a time-trial course, arriving at almost noon in Vaughn. The aire was thick with ice crystals, my mustache hung with icy stalagtites, a testimony to pending winter conditions. The visibility was down to a mere 100-150 yards and we worried more about being hit riding than freezing to death. We found an open gas station at Vaughn, and for 2 hours I stood outside with a handmade sign reading “FREE GAS”……..teeth chattering, knees knocking, I waited patiently for someone to offer a ride so we could get ahead of the storm…..and I buy them gas for a ride. After all that time we had no ride, and 2 people offered me money to buy gas. Once again, we opted to get a room as the weather predictions were for worsening weather thru the night.

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Left Vaughn a little late, we allowed the ice to melt off the road and the sky to turn blue. It was like a skating rink till about 8.30 that morning. We headed west again on Hwy60, with a slight breeze in our face and very cool air. At times it hurt around the sinuses and cheek bones, but a warming New Mexico sun soon prevailed and by Encino those layers were getting peeled off. The sky was studded with puffy cloud, azure color as a surround. The countryside turned into rolling grass covered hills, golden in the afternoon sun. Windmills and cattle have been added as ornamentation. We had found it!  Thee ubiquitous land of enchantment so often mentioned in novels, captured on canvas, in the iambic pentameter of poetry. We rolled out from under cold grey skies and into a postcard scene welcoming our enjoyment and exploration. Spent the night camped alongside a fence line, enjoyed a crystal clear sky inwhich God had hung a brilliant full moon that bathed the sleeping hills in a silvery nightcoat.

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The following mornings dialogue was one of comparing aches, pains and constant laments about that danged wind getting to us, blowing my mustache back over my eyes making it hard to see. Brother Niel, spent his time playing “eye spy something red” and would compare that new found brilliant red to his now very sore posterior. In general, we were caught in a “bitching fest”!! God, he sure has a away of drawing light to those moments when we are riding thankless instead of spirit filled and spirit lead………what the heck is that moving junk pile out on the horizon brother? Not sure, guess we will figure it out when we get closer…………..looks wierd though. Sure enough as we drew closer to the roaming junkpile, a car pulled alongside it and SOMETHING was passed thru the car window.  WE TWO BITCHERS, were about too get soundly spanked for our total lack of faith in whom we Pray too. The car it turns out, just passed a bag of food over to a MAN who pedaled the roaming junk pile. Yes, a Christian fellow, not pushing his belief, simply extolling the blessings he has expirienced thru riding by faith. How each day, cold, wet, miserable, overly hot or overly difficult, had in its own way a blessing to be observed and thankfull for, something we two had clearly lost sight of.  He explained his Christian stand with simple language, not the academic elequence of one trained in the semenary…….rather it was the vernacular used by a simple man who simply believed by faith and a witness too how God pours out his blessings to those who seek him daily. We knew then that we had been shown face to face, the faithfull versus those whose faith required seeing mountains move to be satisfied with its being. Our messenger lifted his arms to heaven, spoke these words in earnest ” I am yours Father, I surrender unto you”, lowered his arms and rode on his way too the east. We rode west, not mindfull of traffic nor wind, nor even the sprawling countryside, each of us was reflecting on our own walk with Christ and our failings in having that strength of FAITH. Forgive us Father, we will try harder tomorrow.

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Mountaiair, was our stop for an early lunch. Conversation began immediatly, we found a seat next to the long established Mountainair senate meeting. They being a local historian, a truck driver, a retired gardner and a mechanic who ten years ago dropped his wrenches for a lounge chair and the front porch. Thomas, the most vocal of the gathered congress, moved over to better hear the conversation as Niel and I ate our breakfast. About that time, a well dressed cowboy with starched jeans and a leather jacket steps into the cafe……turning to face me where I sat……it was like an old west movie, as he walked the hardwood floor I was moving slowly towards my sawed off shotgun under the table as Niel moved deftly for the colt strapped to his hip……time ticked like a slow moving train……the stranger squared up facing our table and opened his coat at the waist reveling a silver trophy buckle……”Is your name Jeremiah Watt” he asked. In a throat chocked with fear, I answered in a high squeeky voice…… “yes”……..and waited for the proverbial “crap to hit the rotary oscillator”. Instead, a broad smile spread across his face and he stuck his hand out to say hello, and told us the folks at Cool Horse over in Canyon had told him that we would be coming thru that way. Scott, joined our table and added to the conversation over our last cup of coffee before we would head on west. Abo pass was waiti g for us and we departed, leaving new freinds behind and a really nice little town…..Mountainair.

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Climb, pedal, climb, and breath……that occupied our mind for the next 15 or so miles as we made our way past the Abo Ruins, and on towards the pass taking its name from those same ancient ruins. Topping out at nearly 7000 feet, we could see the valley below us spread like a table cloth at a banquet. For miles across the Rio Grande river valley to the sno capped mountains that shore up its western flank. We allowed our bikes to gather and gain whatever speed they wanted since it was a clean and simple downhill run for several miles. Exiting the protection of the hills and trees allowed us to now feel the strength of the wind blowing thru the river valley, it was substancial at times and at others soft and muted. The sun bore down and began the slow frying process that is a a part of New Mexico sunshine. By the time we reached our turn to the south towards Socorro, we were pooped and wondering where we would camp…….no trees to speak of…….limited river access due to fences………we would be forced to ride interstate down to Socorro, yuk. We talked for a while in the shade of the overpass, and discussed just how much further we wanted to ride and what we would tolerate for a camp site. Okay, planning is done, lets get pedaling and see what we find. Up we go, around the curve of the onramp to the Interstate, maybe 500 yards from our planning stop……..and there is a blue campground sign……..GOD provided! Dont be fooled folks, since the very first day of this trip, I have not stayed in a camp ground because there was simply not one around at the end of the day…….GOD, just slapped one down RIGHT at the place we would need one. We pulled in, pitched our tents, washed clothes and had a simple meal and conversatkon till it was time to turn in for the night.

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Jim-Bob had been having a flat tire battle for the last 2 weeks. Always on a hind, and always in the same place! Try as I may, searching thru my tire and liner each time, I could not find the cause……frustrating as all get out. We began this morning ride to Socorro in sort of a dual fashion. Since we both actually had a flat. After that, we sprinted to Socorro, Jeremiah arrived with a flat as well as left with a flat. We had 2 goals in mind for our stop in Socorro, fix the flat and find the cause, and Shirley Surly had developed a serious clunk in the crNk arms as they revolved around, meaning that it needed tightening with special tools or replacing. An Electric Horse, and its happy go lucky 68 year old owner, made every effort to solve both. The constant flats we found were caused by 2 small staples poking thru on the inside wall of my much loved Schwalbe tires. The sloppy crank however was not to be fixed so easily. At least. not in Socorro.

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We left the central New Mexico town of Socorro about 2 hours after we arrived, headed up hill to the west on State Highway 60. As soon as you cross the Rio Grande River whichsplits the state down the middle, you are headed up hill all the way to the Continental Divide over near the states western edge. We had our work cut out for us, and knew full well it would be a leg burner for the rest of the day. We campedthatnight behind an old stone wall in an abandoned gas station that sat at the foot of an imposing mountain. Protected from the wind, we enjoyed a colorful display of Gods work on the western sunset, conversation revolved around family, dreams and aspirations and how sore Uncle Niels butt was. He knew at this point that he was in trouble.

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Early the nextmorning, the guy with the sorest butt rolled out and kicked started the day. With gloved hands and covered heads, we began our approach to Magdalena NM. Once the largest cattle shipping yard along the southern rail line, and now a dusty,quiet little retirement town. We arrived in Magdalena with huge spread between just 2 riders. Jeremiah found the local hangout cafe, and waited for older brother to heard his bike and sore posterior into the town square some 35 minutes later……but make it he did. Breakfast was vreat at the M&M Cafe which sits at the southeast corner of the old Magdalena Inn. We sat with a local writer Steve Modio and his wife, who had also been over to Mongolia twice while working on a book about Khazack eaglers. A chello player Joel Becktell, who lived local but played with orchestras all over the world. While the meal was superb, it was the conversation with the group that will always make it memorable. Reluctantly we had to roll out and make our way to Datil, our next town along a sparcely populated ribbon of ashphalt. Only 29 miles separates us from this task, and it would prove the undoing of my worthy partner. Just one too many hills, and just 5 miles an hour too much wind it seemed. It would take us 6 hours to cover that distance…….every drop of gatorade was poured down to ease the posterior pain…….every cookie was eaten in an effort to forget that which lies ahead……more road, morehills and yes more pain as your reward. Datil, would be the final resting place for my traveling companion, my brother had had enough, he would be going home from here.

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We spent that night with noted New Mexico race horse breeder and trainer, former world ranked bull rider, a short guy with a giant size appetite for life at 76, Mr. Dick Wellborn. The following morning, jeremiah and his bicycle Shirley Surly would depart further west with tear rimmed eyes, while brother Niel would take one of Dicks pickups and head for Socorro and rendevous with his daugbter Kendra. Jim-Bob pedalled west into taller pine trees and rolling mesa type cou try. Next stop is Pie Town. This post mentions Pie Town in its title and for thjs reason. Some 36 years ago, 6 young fellas were attending saddle mKing school in Amarillo Texas, Jeremiah Watt, Bill Watt, Darby Adams, Troy West, Danny West and lastly Don Bartrum of Apache Creek NM. It was Don who first planted those seeds of curiosity with regard to Pie Town and thier famous PIES. Now, all these years later, the onlything that kept me pedaling towards that spot on the map was those famous PIES. All the way around the world, I have been craving a simple piece of pie and with no luck, I would solve that here. First however, I had to conquer the Continental Divide, then on into my destination for lunch. An outdoor museum of antique windmills had me pulled over to take some pictures…….all of this lies at the east side of a very tiny town…….as I am shooting a lady drives up and introduces herselfas the official Pie Town greeter…….my name is Nita, and I run the Toaster House (famous to hikers around the world, quite literally, donations are accepted to support it) the house is open to all who hike road or trails in the area. “Are you here for pie today” she asks? Yes, indeed I am…….well, follow me then and she zips off over the horizon to a small cafe. Nita, and I, as well as a Mexican National name Oscar, sat and had dinner. Excellent hanburgeres cooked up by Harley riding chef Tim. We then had 3 pieces of shared pie, blackberry, blueberry, and NewMexico Apple which has green chilies in it. All were excellent, I assure you.

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Jeremiah left Pie Town, satisfied that after all these many years, Pie Town was indeed just as Don Bartrum had described……..”jist a tiny place that makes darn good pies in a place you would not expect”. Quimado, my next stop, some 30 miles distant. The spanish name means “burnt”, and the names origins are derived from a tiny settlement that the Indians burned to the ground back in the late 1880,s. Rebuilt, some 3 miles further west, and as lone local told me, its closer to a fire hydrant now as well. Jeremiah and his Surly would arrive in Quimado at about 4.15 to the ringing of his phone, somewhat of a shocker. I had no signal since back in Mountainair. Answered the phone, caught snippets of conversation, and just hung up since none of it made sense. Had supper at Largo Cafe, looked around town and bedded down. I knew I was in a little trouble with my bike, the cranks were much sloppier and chain jump was becoming an issue.

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The following morning, a beautiful blue sky would greet me, coffee at the Largo along with eggs and bacon. Then hit the cranks for Springerville Arizona, about 47 miles away. Big rolling hills, covered in grass and sandy soil, sparce pinion pine tree cover is sprinkled here and there. The hills are bigger thru this section, mesas are taller, the sun is warmer. I ride into Springerville about 1.15 or so, find my local bike repair man Jay at The Sweat Shop, and have him do the much needed repairs to my steed Shirley Surly.

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About Jeremiah Watt-saddlemaker

Jeremiah is a saddle maker, a silversmith. He runs a small company manufacturing bits and spurs as well as the manufacture of saddle hardware. An avid cyclist, especially the loaded solo tour type cycling.
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