Monday, August 3, 2015


I'm writing from a Starbucks in downtown El Paso. My train should have departed by now, but it has been delayed until at least 7:30. I've spent the last 24 hours or so with Brian, a new friend that I met north of El Rito over a week ago. He picked me up in Antelope Wells yesterday and helped me box my bike up. He gave me free housing and showed me around El Paso and took me to good Mexican and BBQ places. Without his generosity, I would have paid a lot for a shuttle to come get me or biked for two days from Antelope Wells to El Paso, so I'm very grateful for his time and hospitality.

Before I got to the border, I had to get to Hachita, about 80 miles from Silver City. It was a pretty easy ride, past the Tyrone Mine, through desert and ranches, paralleling the interstate and down the highway. The only hiccups were the cross winds the last 8 miles and the fact I left my debit card at breakfast on Saturday morning. I stopped for for snacks and drinks for the day and realized it wasn't with me. When I went back to the restaurant, my card wasn't there. The owner of the place, who had sat and talked to me for a few minutes, had gotten in the car and was heading down the highway to try to find me.

In Hahita, I found Jeff Sharp, Southern Terminus coordinator and trail angel. I was expecting a cot to sleep on and some water and they fed me sandwiches, BBQ, chips, cookies, Fanta and PBRs. There was also a dance going on in Hachita that night that they took me to. Apparently, years ago, Hachita was the place to be for these monthly dances. People would drive hours to party and dance in Hachita. Jeff has been a huge part of both the Great Divide and CDT, shuttling hikers and bikers and helping people out when needed. He installed a water pipe in town for riders to refill-- there wasn't one before. He's working on making a place for people to camp. He and Toni knew all the questions to ask and we had great conversation. He was even there for the finish of this year's Tour Divide Race, which was one exciting finale where three people went under the record time.

The scene at the ball was great. I definitely stood out: I was the only one not wearing denim or cowboy boots. Most guys had cowboy hats. And there I was in my khaki shorts and Tevas. Oh, and I was the only Asian in the Hachita Community Center.

But everyone was friendly. I talked to a rancher named Ed who said the band playing was the same band that he and his wife danced to in college over 40 years ago. They were excellent dancers and were having a wonderful time. It was fun to see the older crowd enjoy themselves as they two stepped the night away. I went home well before the festivities ended, but it was a honor to see the small community rally and enjoy themselves.

I describe yesterday, my finishing day, like I describe the last day of school each year: Bittersweet. You're excited for a break and change, but you're going to miss the daily routine of doing something that you love. I woke up in the morning and had trouble wrapping my head around the fact that I was actually going to finish this ride. I was glad to be going home, but I wasn't ready to be done. It's a difficult feeling to express.

It was 46.7 miles from Jeff's house to Antelope Wells. After being fed a hot breakfast and coffee, I felt great for about 30 of them. Then I was wearing down. Getting tired. Brian passed me on the road and said Hi and that he'd see me at the border. The mileage signs counted down to Antelope Wells. When I passed the '10', I knew I was really close and I was slightly re-energized. Then it was 9-8, etc. At 4 miles to go, the miles just seemed to click by. You could see the border station by then and every pedal stroke got you closer.

Brian greeted me just before the border station. I told him I was going to riding into Mexico really quick. Rode past the new US Customs station that looked nice and fancy and even had a solar panel system outside. The Mexican station looked like a dingy ranch house. The first guy to talk to me didn't speak English, so he went and got someone who could. I told them I just wanted to ride to the fence and back. They said fine, but I'd still have to stop at customs. At customs, they asked if I had drugs and opened my bags and looked in. I said I just wanted to ride to the fence and turn around and they could watch. They searched me anyway and after being satisfied I wasn't some narco, they let me go. The nice paved road immediately became dirt in Mexico. I rode less than 1/4 mile and turned around. Waved at all the Mexican border patrol agents. Talked to a young one, who looked like he was about 15 and was in fatigues and carrying a machine gun. He was very shy about his English, I was embarrassed about my lack of Spanish but we tried to carry a conversation. I think he just wanted to see the bike up close.

Coming back into the United States, one agent took my passport card and the other was checking out my bike. He said a bike like Hulk was exactly what he wanted. He loved the big tires. We joked for a minute or two, I got my card back and they let me go.

In the irony of ironies, as I was riding back to the "Antelope Wells" sign to get my photo taken, I got a puncture. My front tire was leaking. Right at the finish. I deemed that appropriate, like God's signal that it was time for my ride to come to an end. Be content where you are. No new ideas. At least for now...

Took photos of me, Hulk and Baron. As that was happening, three guys on Kawasaki motorbikes arrived. They had started in Roosville, MT and come down to Antelope Wells. They were finishing mostly the same ride that I did. Except they had gas power. And it only took them eight days. They were fun group. They had some bike issues and were tired, so were going to buy a cheap pickup and load the bikes on them, drive to Iowa and then maybe resell the truck.

But the special thing is that we all got to share in our journeys. The elation of completing something you set out to accomplish. The somber feeling we had because we were no longer on the journey.


1 comment:

Don Witsell said...

Nice going Heang. That's such a great adventure you went on. I am proud of you and impressed for getting it done. I really enjoyed your writing too.