Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Matthew Lee wins Tour Divide 2009

Matthew Lee is the greatest cyclist you've never heard of.

My story today with the Tour Divide...
It was a surreal time out in the desert.

I slept in the car while waiting for Matthew at Separ. At 4:00 AM Matthew is banging on the window of the car yelling, "You can't sleep here!". At 4:30 he heads off towards Hatchita. I drove the dirt frontage road to Hwy 146, then headed south down to Hatchita. I had an hour or so to pass so I took several pics of things in the desert.

At 6:30 Matthew shows up in Hatchita, wakes up the store owner (who is living in a beat-up travel trailer next to the store) to buy some food.

He heads out of Hatchita at 7:00 for the last 45 miles of pavement to the border/finish line. While milling around on Hwy 81, looking for good places to to take pics from, a U.S. Border Patrol vehicle turns around and starts following me. My car looks suspicious. It is a white rental from with Texas plates and covered with mud from driving on the Georgetown road yesterday. I pull over and stop and the Border Patrol agent stops. He spends some time in the car radioing in information. Finally he approaches the car. I make sure that my hands are where he can see them and I ask if its okay if I can stand up (my door was open). He says okay, and I immediately explain I am with the bicyclist. He asks if I am from Canada too. I say no, Silver City, but I am helping him out, taking photos, trying to get an angle on a story. The special agent relaxes and explains that it was dangerous out where we were and that we should be careful. After we exchanged pleasantries, he gets back in his truck and heads back the direction he was heading in the first place. I wait for Matthew to get some pics.

I drive farther down the road, wait again for another 45 minutes to an hour to get more pics. No harassment from law enforcement now.

I drive into the Antelope Wells US Port of Entry and one officer immediately comes over to me with his hand on this wand. I quickly explain what I am doing and ask if its okay to take photos. I get permission as long as I don't photograph the US Customs building. So I got this pic as he rolled in.They have really ramped up and militarized the border. Now there is a huge barrier fence, the US Customs are heavily armed and very curt and short (they warmed up to us after Matthew arrived explaining the whole thing).

Matthew arrives to the border. I get a few pics. We go to the "podium" to get a few more pics. Soon Matthew is just milling around getting chummy with the customs agents (one was still very cold and all business...the other two relaxed a bit).

Note: Just over the hill, about 40 air miles away, is the 1970's-built copper smelter town of Playas, NM. This town was sold to the Dept. of Homeland Security for training purposes. Part of this training are F-16s!

If you got to the Tour Divide website and listen to Matthew's audio, you'll hear the F-16 scream over. I was outside when it came over...less than 100 ft over head...less than 200 ft from the international border. It had vapor trails being generated by its wingtips, missiles (it was fully armed) and a white cone-shaped shockwave coming off the afterburner. It was loud! Of course my camera was in my pocket at the moment.

The F-16 flew out a ways...probably to the border where New Mexico's border with Mexico turns due north. The jet pulled a vertical turn and comes back over Antelope Wells. This time I have have camera ready and aimed. The pilot, again about 100 ft off the ground banks side-to-side, left to right, saluting the Customs agents as he blasted past.

A few minutes later the F-16 came back again just under supersonic. We did not hear it until it was nearly passed us.

We packed the car with Matthew's bike and drove up to Lordsburg for lunch.

Now Matthew is passed out on the living room floor, feet elevated on a chair. He pedaled for 29 hours from NM Hwy 12 crossing to Antelope Wells.

Matthew Lee is the greatest cyclist you've never heard of.


jim said...

Nice recap of the Tour Divide. Thats pretty wild how the border agent told you about the danger factor out in those parts. I guess you may have to contend with drug as well as people smugglers and I assume those folks dont play nice.

Mimbres Man said...

Thinking about it, I was driving the car in a suspicious way. Heading south from Hatchita, I was driving about 45 mph just enjoying the morning in the desert. I saw rabbits, javelina, and some deer. Also the Border Patrol truck, north-bound, passed me. I did the western New Mexico two-finger from the steering wheel salute when he passed. I got within 5 miles of the border scouted that road sign for good photo angles (where I took some pics of Matthew back in 2005), then decided to head back north to intercept him. I had an idea where I wanted to take some pics from. When I was driving north, now I was driving at 55 mph and that's when I saw the Border Patrol guy heading south, and he turned around because, that strange, dirty rental car, was going the other direction at a higher rate of speed. The Border Patrol officer was doing his job and I think that's okay.

Bruce's Bike Blog said...

Hey there Mimbres Man!

Border Patrol and Customs Agents seem to be the same in Arizona as well--Cheers! Bruce