My dad started teaching my siblings and I to ride when I was six years old on a little XR 70. With a lot of coaxing and a few trips to Utah to ride the slickrock, I discovered that I liked dirt biking. I got my road licence so I could ride with my dad more, especially when I heard him mention this trail he’d heard of that could take you from Canada to Mexico on backroads—the Continental Divide Trail. Almost five years after that first conversation, here we were, on the trail at last.
Our starting point was Vancouver Island. We rode from the California Coast along the Mexican border to the Continental Divide off-road route that would take us back to Canada.
Best day ever
Our most eventful day began when we left our Campsite near Grants, New Mexico. Thus far, the weather had been hot and dry. We’d ridden through some beautiful desert country and stopped at sights such as the Gila National reserve’s impressive cliff dwellings and El Malpais giant lava tubes.
For their trip across the Continental Divide Trail, Marita rode a Yamaha WR250R with a 4 gallon tank while Graham rode a Suzuki DRZ400 with a 3.2 gallon tank. — Photo courtesy Graham Lindenbach
That day was one of the most beautiful, isolated and awe-inspiring rides of this trip. We started our morning by summiting Mt. Taylor to the 11,036-foot La Mosca lookout. As the frigid wind whipped around me and threatened to knock our bikes over, I couldn’t help but stare at the panorama of sparsely vegetated land that spread out at every angle around me. Despite its dry and desolate appearance, this high desert was bursting with life and colour when we got up close. As we descended the other side of the mountain, the chill left, but the sky remained grey and foreboding. We made our first turn onto a seemingly insignificant dirt road—it was really just two ruts that wound off into the desert. We sped off, dipping into arroyos and drawing closer to the distant hills. Not too far along, I saw a building in the distance. When we got nearer, I realized it was an old corral building made completely of stones that were perfectly placed atop one another. The setting reminded me of something out of the Old West that had now been forgotten and left to the coyotes.
Our bikes made a little dust on the hardened adobe-like roads as we rode fast across the winding, flat country that was dotted with ancient cinder cones. We passed through gates into ranch lands without ever seeing a soul. Along the way, we noticed weathered writing on a large rock near the road. Some dated back to the 1800s. I tried to imagine what the country would have looked like to the early settlers. Aside from the few metal cattle guards and the road itself, nothing much had changed here. From time to time, we noticed the tracks of a bicycle picking its way through the ruts or a dirtbike skidding around unforeseen corners and we wondered when or if we would catch up to a fellow traveller on this remote section of the Continental Divide.
As we neared the hills, the road began to climb, winding between huge sandstone boulders only to drop down again into the washed-out canyon of an arroyo. Clouds grew darker and we could see the misty patches of distant rainfall. I looked down at my GPS and shook my head. We’d already gone 100-some-odd miles and were only halfway. I couldn’t believe the network of dirt roads in this state. It seemed you could get almost anywhere on a backroad if you knew which road to take. I was jolted out of my musings by a gust of wind. I looked at the sky and it was almost black in some places ahead and starting to get cold. We dipped into yet another arroyo and as we came out the other side the rain and wind seemed to hit all at once. My dad and I didn’t need to use our helmet radios to communicate—we both turned and headed back into the relative shelter of the arroyo. Working fast, my dad pulled out a sill tarp and we parked our bikes close, wrapping the tarp over the handlebars and back bags to create a small shelter for us in the middle. Seconds later, it started to pour and we stood under our dripping tarp grateful for its meager protection against the elements.
We met a lot of people on our Continental Divide adventure. Their curious stares prompted conversations and sometimes shared meals, if we were lucky. — Photo courtesy Graham Lindenbach
I laughed to myself at the situation. A few weeks ago, I had graduated from university and now, here I was standing under a tarp with my dad in the middle of the New Mexico desert in a rainstorm. Thunder clapped overhead and the deluge slowed, moving off to pour on the road we’d already travelled. Quickly, we stowed the tarp, put on some layers and started off again. The rain had been fast and furious but fortunately hadn’t done too much damage to the road, keeping the dust down without making it into a soupy mess.
I called my dad back for a missed turn that I’d noticed on the GPS, but after 10 minutes, the already faint road petered out completely into a wash. We turned back onto the main road and suddenly I saw a flash of purple and yellow amidst the sage and browns of the surrounding scenery. Drawing closer, I saw a few tents and there were many people milling about. I thought it was a big campout, but as it turns out it was a group of ‘trail angels’ who came out to that spot every year to provide food and rest for the thru-hikers on the Divide trail. Where our trip would take three weeks to complete, most hikers slotted six months to complete the route. I was excited to meet them and we chatted about our unique challenges on the trail and bonded over our common goal. As we were about to leave, we mentioned that we hadn’t seen many others travelling on motorbikes on the trail. Surprised, they replied that three bikes had passed not long before we arrived. And so the race began. We were going to catch those bikes.
Catch me if you can
We hopped on our bikes and rode off down the lonely road. The rain clouds seemed to have stayed behind us. Even though it was still cool, I wasn’t too worried about getting caught in another downpour. I’m not sure why it seemed so important to catch these other riders, but there was a sense of urgency in our pursuit. Not long after we left the hikers, we stopped to talk to an elderly gentleman cycling the Divide. He was an eccentric character with a custom hat-brimmed helmet that looked homemade but practical. As we shared pleasantries about our journeys, I noticed three dots down the road that grew smaller and smaller with every second. It was the other riders. Soon they disappeared over the horizon and I resigned myself to the fact that we probably wouldn’t catch them again. Starting off again, we followed the winding road. My GPS noted an intersection in our route, a short highway section that would take us into Cuba, New Mexico, and end our day’s 230 mile ride. I relayed this information to my dad over our headsets as we approached the highway. Lo and behold, there they were: the three riders we’d been chasing. They looked shocked as they noticed us approach and even more shocked when I took off my helmet. We were all smiles as we chatted with them and prepared to ride into town. After gassing up, we all met at Presciliano’s Restaurant to share stories and authentic Mexican food.
Trips like these test your limits but they also create the perfect atmosphere for unlikely friendships. We camped with our new friends that night and rode with them the next day before exchanging numbers and parting ways. Who would have thought that an author, an architect and a US Airforce pilot from all corners of North America would end riding together with a father-daughter duo in the middle of the New Mexico desert? I suppose anything is possible on the Continental Divide Trail.
I love talking to people about our trip. We always drew shocked gasps and shaking heads when I mentioned our route, especially when they heard I was travelling with my dad. But I wouldn’t have had it any other way. — Photo courtesy Graham Lindenbach