Bicycling 70 Miles Up the Rocky Mountains for a Piece of Pie… The 10,000 Mile Bike Trek

1 Cherry Pie at Pie Town

And how far will a long distance bicyclist go for a piece of pie? Quite a ways if you throw in the whole pie. Check out the little hearts in the crust. They were a special touch from the Pie Lady of Pie Town.

 

May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, and dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds. – Edward Abbey

 

The Rocky Mountains were waiting for me. I wasn’t particularly concerned. By this point in my journey, I had learned that the way to get through the day was to get up, climb on my bike, and start peddling. Life was pretty simple.

I am not as familiar with the Rocky Mountains as I am with the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. But I have driven back and forth back across their 3000-mile spine several times. More importantly, I have sampled their beauty on foot in Canada, Montana, Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico.

My first ever backpack trip was near Lake Louise in Banff National Park. It was 1969. I had read Colin Fletcher’s “The Complete Walker” to learn about backpacking and then stopped by REI in Seattle (when it was REI’s first and only store) to buy my equipment. It was early in the season and I remember lying awake at night in my tent with the rain pouring down while I listened to large rocks and minor avalanches tumbling off the surrounding cliffs and wondered just what it was that had made me think backpacking would be fun. Later, I backpacked into the more remote Canadian Rocky’s with a geologist from the University of Arizona in search of some of the world’s oldest rocks. It was my job to help carry out the samples. Lucky me.

Once, while backpacking in Montana’s Glacier National Park, I was treated to listening to Peggy sing numerous repeats of “99 bottles of beer on the wall” at the top of her lungs. We were hiking through brush and kept finding massive piles of steaming grizzly poop.

I backpacked by myself following “crooked, winding, lonesome and dangerous” trails in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming and the Gila Wilderness of New Mexico. In the Wind River’s, a not-dangerous marmot nibbled on my shoe— with my foot in it. At first I was amused, but his sharp, chisel-like teeth led me to shoo him back to eating flowers. Slightly more dangerous, a cow elk played tag with me in the Gila Wilderness. That game ended with her charging and sliding to a stop five-feet away. Elks are big animals, even from a distance. Up close, this girl looked and sounded like a steam locomotive.

With the exception of Peggy singing to the bears, which was yet to come, I thought of these Rocky Mountain experiences as I checked out my map during my layover day in Springerville.  I would be following New Mexico 60 for most of the trip across the mountains, which was a road I had never travelled. I didn’t know what to expect in terms of a climb but it was easy to see that services were few and far between— nothing new there.

I also noted that the distance to the top was further than I thought, closer to 70 miles than 50. Whether steep or not, the climb would be long. The good news: A small community named Pie Town was located on the Continental Divide. A town with that name would have pie to sell, right? Visions of a large slice of hot apple pie with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream made me drool like a Pavlovian dog.

2 Looking east toward the Rocky's from Springerville, AZ

The view from my campground in Springerville, looking eastward toward the Rockies. The mountains didn’t look as steep as the towering giants further to the north.

The time came to climb on my bike, as it inevitably did, and I was out at 6:00 AM. I grabbed breakfast in Springerville. Pickings looked slim along the way. My day unfolded with three surprises. First, the climb was not difficult. There were even a few decent downhills. I am not, however, a fan of downhills when I am climbing a pass. Lost elevation has to be regained! I think there is a basic law of physics involved.

3 Climbing up the Rocky's on US 60 on the west side

As expected, there were ups as I climbed toward the Continental divide.

5 Highway 60 in New Mexico

But there were also downs as I made my way toward the distant mountains and Pie Town.

I replenished my water in the small town of Quemado and passed by a couple of wide spots in the road that may have had booming businesses once, but that was ancient history. Beyond that, there was nothing, nada.  I began to hallucinate pie. I would eat two pieces of apple pie with ice cream and then switch to cherry pie with ice cream. Maybe there would even be the prize of all prizes: coconut cream pie, no ice cream required. I had loved that as a youth. I worked as a janitor cleaning the Episcopal Church in Placerville on Saturdays when I was 12. They paid me four dollars. Afterwards I would make a beeline to the Golden Chain Restaurant for a cup of coffee and a piece of coconut cream pie. It cost me a buck, one-fourth of my weekly salary. Talk about an addiction…

My second surprise came as a rude shock. The pie shop in Pie Town was out of business. The owner had retired. There would be no apple, cherry, or coconut cream pie for Curt. I whined loudly at the pie gods and was met with silence. There was nothing to do but climb on my bike and start down the mountain. But there is more to this story.

Several years later I passed though Pie Town again and an open sign pulled me into the Pie-O-Neer Restaurant. I was greeted by its delightful owner, Kathy Knapp. Kathy and her mom, Mary, had driven through the town in the mid-90s and her mom had found it a travesty that a town with the name of Pie Town had no pies to sell. So Kathy, an advertising executive from Dallas, had purchased the restaurant and she and her mom had gone into business. I told my tale of woe to Kathy. As I left, she presented me with a piece of coconut cream pie in a to-go box, for free. “This is for when you biked through and didn’t get any pie,” Kathy told me. Had I not already been married to Peggy, I might have fallen in love.

Peggy and I stopped by again in April as we retraced my bike route. Kathy was as bubbly as ever. Her restaurant is now famous and Kathy is something of a celebrity. Numerous newspaper articles, Sunset Magazine, national TV news, and an award-winning documentary have featured the Pie-O-Neer Pie Shop. People drive for hundreds of miles to sample the delicious pastry. Kathy and her business partner, Stanley King, posed for a photo and then Kathy insisted on coming out and having her photo taken with us and the van. As for pie, Peggy and I ate more than we should have. There will be no more said on the subject.

6 Pie-O-Neer Pies in Pietown New Mexico

Good news, the pie shop was open.

7 The pie bar at pie town

What a find: 12 different types of pie! All cut up and ready to eat. But how to choose? That was the question.

8 Kathy Knapp and Stan at Pie Town

Kathy Knapp, the Pie Lady, and her business partner, Stan King. Stan’s T-shirt showed a bit of geekiness with its ‘piece of pie symbols.’

Geeks and Pie Town

A note from the QueLab of Albuquerque, a gathering place for geeks, displayed even more geekiness.

10 Restroom sign at Pie Town

At least this message in the restroom was plain and simple.

11 Kathy Knapp the Pie Lady

Peggy, Kathy and I standing behind Quivera the Van. I am holding onto Blue, the bike I travelled 10,000 miles on.

But back to bicycling. What a romp! I had forty plus miles of downhill in front of me. I bicycled past a museum featuring windmills, through Ponderosa Pine forests, and by massive rocks with strange faces. I hardly touched my brakes. A cool wind caressed my face.  All too soon I left the forests behind and returned to the high plains desert. Then something magical happened, I came on my third surprise: A collection of huge radio telescopes scattered across the Plains of San Augustin and pointed toward the sky. A thought buried in the nether regions of my brain came skipping to the surface: VLA, the Very Large Array. Naturally, I had read about them; the huge telescopes enabled scientists to explore the universe using radio waves, unlocking secrets withheld from optical telescopes. But I didn’t have a clue that they were located on my route. I looked on in wonder, wanting to see more.

12 Windmill

Windmills are a common sight in the arid west. A windmill museum sits next to the Pie-O-Neer restaurant.

13 Off the summit on New Mexico Highway 60

Downhill for 40 plus miles— a bicyclist’s dream.

Ponderosa pines on New Mexico Highway 70

I bicycled through Ponderosa Pine forests…

15 Rock Face on New Mexico Highway 60

And past massive rocks. I never have any trouble spotting faces in rocks. Is it because I have an active imagination, or am I just weird? No, don’t answer that. BTW, this guy looked friendly.

VLA telescopes in late afternoon

Imagine coming on these in a high plains desert and not having a clue what they were. I’d start thinking aliens.

Dusk was approaching, however, and I needed a home for the night. I told the VLA I would be back and biked on. A few more miles brought me to a small camping area. As I was unpacking my tent, I was struck by another thought. Aided by a great downhill, I had biked over 100 miles and crossed the Rocky Mountains, all in one day! It was my first ever 100-mile day.

Highway 60 in New Mexico near the VLA

As I biked toward camp, the setting sun turned the grass a golden color.

NEXT POST: A blog special on the Very Large Array. Peggy and I were lucky to arrive at the VLA when the facility was hosting its annual open house. A scientist took us on a tour that allowed us to see the giant telescopes and the massive amount of computer power that allows astronomers and astrophysicists from around the world to study the universe back to the very beginning of time.

38 comments on “Bicycling 70 Miles Up the Rocky Mountains for a Piece of Pie… The 10,000 Mile Bike Trek

  1. That is a mighty pie ,Curt. Glad the pie shop got restored. It reminds me of Cameron’s Corner. A very isolated part of Australia.http://outbacknsw.com.au/cameron-corner.html
    Right now my brother is stuck there with a broken fan-belt on his VW Campervan. No internet and no phone coverage.
    He has been there for a few days already, hoping for a fan belt to be flown in together with provision for the only pub and shop. There is just nothing there. In fact a lot of nothing. It is called the never never country.
    (He was told to carry a spare fan-belt.)

    • Looked at the map, Gerard. Australia may win on the isolation part. Your poor brother. I’d be quite worried about the pub running out of provisions. No beer? That would be insult to injury for sure. As for spare parts, I carried a lot with me on the bike. 🙂 –Curt

    • Pie adventure… I like the sound of that. 🙂 As for the bear poop, it always adds a bit of a thrill to back country trips in grizzly country. Fortunately, my bear encounters have all ended well. Glad you are enjoying my bike ride. –Curt

  2. I’m with Peggy singing to the bears. At full volume! Those pies look to die for. Yum. Reminded me of when I was a teenager my mum decided to have a pie party. She invited about 50 people I think, and then using the labour of her 4 daughters, and the ovens of the neighbours on either side and across the road proceeded to make about 100 pies, both sweet and savoury, a mix of hot and cold. Every pie had a little flag in it saying what it was, and people helped themselves. My mum was a brilliant cook. The party was a roaring success.
    Alison

    • Delightful idea, a pie party, Alison. But 100… woohoo! Were there any leftovers? Did you get to appreciate the fruit (pies) of your labor? When Peggy and I got married (it was number two time for both of us) we went to a specialty cake shop and ordered about 15 different ones. Not a crumb was left at the end of the reception. 🙂 –Curt

  3. Lost elevation has to be regained! Lol, what goes down must climb back up! 🙂

    @Imagine coming on these in a high plains desert and not having a clue what they were. I’d start thinking aliens, it looks like a scene from that movie, Transcendence.

    Those pies … enough said. I’m going to hallucinate!

    • I haven’t seen Transcendence, Timi. I’ll have to check it out. The up and down is the story of a bicyclist’s life. 🙂 As for the pies, I am still dreaming about them. –Curt

  4. You certainly deserve every slice of pie you pout for, CM, after such a workout. I’m glad you got to enjoy the Pie-O-Neer’s. And I must say, this is quite a chapter in Peggy’s book, all this traveling. Must sure beat dealing with school politics!

  5. First, let’s get this straight. There is no such thing as “eating too much pie.” There may be needing to rest for a while, or being overcome by sugar for a brief while, but too much pie? Oxymoronic. I wish I could introduce you to the friend I visited this past weekend. Her coconut cream is unparalleled. She bakes pies as easily as I make a piece of toast. If it exists, she’s made it.

    Now, of course, I want pie. One of the great shortcomings of this area where I live is an absence of homemade pie. What they call “homemade” often involves soggy crust or artificial whipped topping. Neither’s acceptable.

    I laughed at “nada.” I was in Nada, Texas recently, and very nearly stopped to take a photo of the sign. The next time I go through, I will stop. Believe me — there’s not much more to take photos of, except they were celebrating flag day with a great deal of gusto.

    • Oh how I long for that coconut cream pie your friend makes, Linda. If I ever make it to your town, you will have to introduce me. (Peggy makes great apple pie, but she doesn’t like coconut.) As for Nada, that’s the kind of town William Least Heat Moon would drive 500 miles out of his way to see. I make it to Texas in my next blog. Have you ever driven across on highway 380? –Curt

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