Despite leaving Pecos, there was no let up in the traffic. I figured as we got closer to the New Mexico border, surely this would lessen, as obviously all oil and gas stops at the dotted line that demarcates the two states of TX and NM? No chance. As Pecos is basically at the eastern edge of the Chihuahuan desert, this meant that not only the was the road busy but hot and dusty as well. The area is also home to a lot of bad drivers, including one idiot who pulled off an overtaking manoeuvre on (up) a blind hill, in an 18-wheeler, with a further muppet 10 feet from his rear wheel. I only know about this as he had the “courtesy” to give blast on his horn when he was about 50m behind me (with me having been running on the white line at the side of the road). All whilst Ryan Adams “Wrecking Ball” (Not Miley) was in my earphones. Would anyone have ever found out the connection if it had ended badly?
Today was just about getting the miles in. Plough up the road to Orla, take a left, run to the NM border. Stop. The only pleasant thing about the dust clouds and oil fires in the heat was an encounter with Chris, who ran the general store in Orla, a settlement which seems to be pretty much a crossroads with a gas pumping station, though I've learned that there's often other places nearby. Not that I could see of course, too much dust. He was amazed that I'd run here, having only seen a few crazy cyclists in the past and he loved the Forrest Gump connection. He lived in a Fleetwood Jamboree, just like us and he had a beard, just like me! He uses his air-con more, because he's not tight-fisted like us and said we'd be using ours more if we'd have come a month earlier. He's building a house in the area and I'd love to hear more of his story, but that requires time. We don't have time as we're heading to the mountains, as if it wasn't hard enough. The Guadalupe Mountains National Park and the highest peak in Texas are on the horizon. The last few miles saw some raindrops, though you could barely call it a shower and now we're at the side of a road which seems quiet, volume of traffic wise, though every passing truck and trailer sounds like a huge thunder clap, which will be fun for sleep. What I wouldn't give to see a proper thunderstorm.
Start: Jct Highway 285 and County Road 437. Finish: County Road 652, 4 miles west of Orla. 33.7 miles
Now if only I'd pushed on for a little bit more the night before. Before the sun had even risen, the already busy road where we'd slept seemed to become becalmed, with hardly any traffic and in no time at all the shadow of the Guadalupe Mountains appeared on the horizon. I had a feeling that my cover photo was of the Guadalupes and kept trying to get the shot that would replicate it, but I think more camera skills/kit were required! Since I've been here I've gotten pretty good at guesstimating distances when I see a distant point, even up to about 5 miles away as the open expanses often allow for this. This however, was a different ball game. I was in a privileged position as I knew roughly how far away these peaks were – over 30 miles by line of sight and I wasn't even running directly to them. You may think this soul destroying as you would run and run without any apparent distant change (I've certainly had this myself in the New York Marathon on 5th Avenue a couple of times), but the view was so profoundly impressive, it wasn't like that at all – it made the running better. This was also the chance I'd been waiting for to have a War on Drugs marathon. Ultimate road trip music. Perfection.
My eyes were also, of course, fixed on the near field, with a big amount of time spent removing grasshoppers from the carriageway. These were in the form of singles, mating pairs, those eating a recently squished brethren and even those mating with another grasshopper that was in the act of eating a squished one. Just leave him man, he's gone. Save yourself. This didn't really fit with my main objective of covering as many miles as quickly as possible to allow a lunch time finish, knowing that the threat of annoying the shin and saying hello to the creak again was ever present. Despite this, the gravitational pull of the mountains did the trick and the thought of being followed by the CIA after taking photos of an oversized load that happened to be part of some futuristic looking bomber helped as well. This blog is not being monitored, don't worry about commenting ;-). Not long after this I managed to cross a time zone on foot, which was a fairly surreal experience. Now I'm here...Now I'm there. I'm just a new man, cos' you made me live an hour again… The end point of the day was a tantalising 50m from the New Mexico border...but not yet. Not yet. Left not right.
The whole point of the rushed clocking off was to give Nads a bit of a break and allow us to drive to the Carlsbad Caverns to see the bat flight that evening. The gateway to the caverns was a place called Whites City which was a cool, but peculiar place. It seemed a bit like a Western resort with a gift shop selling all sorts of unusual trinkets, giant bear statues, alien paraphernalia, knives and more giant bear statues, helping my phobia of a Revenent like attack if we get to Montana no end. They also had a Zoltar machine (If any of you remember the Tom Hanks film Big), but I'm careful for what I wish for. I've seen the tricks he can play.
The road to the caverns was a long, winding affair up a mountain and we amused ourselves by sticking to the speed limit (having seen far too much roadkill) and annoying the queue of cars behind us. We couldn't get into the caverns unfortunately as they'd closed for the day, but that wasn't the plan anyway. We took a good seat in an amphitheatre built at the entrance to the caverns and listened to the ranger painfully trying to kill time as he wasn't even sure if the bats had left the previous night to go to their holidays to Mexico (I hope they don't catch the migrating Monarchs of Eldorado). After a huge flock of cave swallows had dived into the cave before the bats monopolised the airspace, it started. A few hundred, spiralling upwards and outwards, before thousands upon thousands streamed out, creating groupings like starling swarms disappearing into the distance as the local insect population beat a hasty exit. They estimated 300,000 came out and I'd have said more – they just didn't stop. Nature is insane. They have to eat about 25% of their body weight nightly just to get by and you'd think there wouldn't be enough insects in the world, but there you are! I seriously could go on about this all night, so I'll end it by saying – go and see it!
We headed back into “town” to find everything shut including the restaurant so we raided the freezer and cupboards for a gourmet feast of burritos, beans and Smash and I microwaved some three days leftovers, because I like to live dangerously.
Start: County Road 652, 4 miles west of Orla. Finish: Junction of 652 with Highway 62/180. 33.67 miles
As part of the Nads' day off so she doesn't kill me or go home programme, today was a short day too, which benefited me as our end point was the Guadalupe Mountains National Park RV camp at the base of Guadalupe peak, the highest mountain in all of Texas. The visitor centre itself was at 5695 feet above sea level and I started at . I was going to need a good push up that hill. Music is my usual kick up the bum and I was rummaging around for my headphones in the drawer of a million cables and bits in Jenny to no avail. Nads didn't know where they were either, which is a bad sign. This means 80%+ something is lost. Urg. I decided to go and look where we'd parked yesterday at the side of the road and they weren't there. However, they were 20m up the area of scrub, where they'd fallen off the spare wheel as we'd driven away. Nads bemoaned my (to her) never-ending stream of good luck. I called it logic, but I admit it was lucky they'd fallen off so quickly! One man I know who is even luckier is the legend that is Simon Lapish, inseparable mate since Uni, man-mountain, hairy of face and musical of soul. This was a fortunate reunion with the headphones as I planned to listen to a playlist he'd sent me a couple of weeks back, but like the War on Drugs yesterday (and a few more planned), I needed the right window. Incidentally the first tune was by War on Drugs, but it was overdubbed with the commentary of Mo Farah winning his second Olympic gold and it made me feel 12 (my lucky number) feet tall. As well as excellent musical choices, other nuggets included Chariots of Fire and You'll Never Walk Alone, recorded from the last Liverpool match I went too – so I was effectively singing to myself. By the time I was finishing my second listen, I'd eaten up 19 miles and got to the visitor centre as the final chorus of Wrecking Ball (Bruce this time, not Ryan Adams!) was fading out. Hill? What hill?
I had a quick look round the exhibits in the centre and held the door for a chap on the way in, a thick set chap who looked like he could have strolled from a scene in a Western that may have played out in Whites City. He wasn't from these parts. Noting my t-shirt from the Liverpool Rock and Roll Marathon (Am I allowed to mention I won that? Nah, I'll leave it.), he read it out: “Rock and Roll...Liverpool...are you from the UK?”. “I'm a Scouser” (Liverpool born and bred, for those not familiar). So was he. Used to live three miles from me. Leslie Phillips. A good Scouse name. He loved the area so much, he makes repeat trips. I headed back to tell Nads about my encounter: “Of course you did...” and we set off to find out why. We went on a 5 mile hike along the dry riverbed to a place called the Devil's Hall, scrambling over boulders, jumping off ledges, me monitoring every landing for ankle tweaks. The worst thing about busting an ankle here wouldn't have been the end of the run alone, but the fact that we couldn't even stick around to enjoy more of the trails here. As we returned back we surprised a doe and fawn and after they beat a slight retreat, we just watched each other for about five minutes, before they melted into the woods. It may have only been two, rather than 300,000, but it wasn't any less appreciated. Neither was the shower back in the RV, with water freshly replenished. First one in four days. Fragrant.
Start: Junction of 652 with Highway 62/180. Finish: Guadalupe Mountains Visitor centre. 22.75 miles
Total: 1182.36 miles