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Tuesday, February 1, 2022

The Great Divide - Legacy Lemonade Stand

A duck walked up to a lemonade stand
And he said to the man, running the stand
"Hey! (bum bum bum) Got any grapes?"
The man said "No, we just sell lemonade
But it's cold, and it's fresh, and it's all home-made
Can I get you a glass?"

The Duck Song, Bryant Oden (2009)

It's a day as remote as most on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. Along the way, however, I somehow meet interesting people all day long. Each left a lasting impression, but the hardest hitting one for me is a mom telling the story of her enterprising young daughter who created a lemonade stand for the ages.

My lesson. Always stop at a lemonade stand. You never know the journey that kid is starting.

Sylvia and Joe at the Summer Store in Canon Plaza, New Mexico.

Leaving the friendly confines of USFS Hopewell Lake Campground, I bounce along the Continental Divide on USFS Low Standard Road 91B in the Tusas Mountains of northern New Mexico. I realize that I've pedaled over 90 miles on back roads since the last commercial re-supply at the Gold Pan General Store in Platoro. My food and water supplies are OK, but the bright sunshine promises a hot afternoon before reaching the town of Abiquiu, still almost 60 miles away. This 150 mile remote stretch could certainly ensnare the unprepared or unwary.

Movement ahead catches my eye. It's a solitary hiker, without so much as a small pack or water bottle. He does, however, carry a hiking staff and a ready smile. It's Jose, out for an early morning walk through the forest "to clear my mind." He says he brought his sister and her children up into the mountains for a couple of days to re-connect and re-set, away from negative influences in the big city. One teenaged nephew is particularly challenged, and challenging, to Jose. So, we talk about family and faith. And find much common ground despite very different backgrounds. What a blessing.

Too soon, Jose and I return to our separate journeys, though I won't soon forget him.

Jose is out for a walk "to clear my mind."

The road is not as rough and rocky as yesterday, and descends more than it climbs, but it's still barely built and barely maintained. It's a wonder that it was built at all. There's essentially no development of any kind back here. Not even much logging or ranching.

The ACA maps says there is a town ahead called Canon Plaza, with a convenience store. Dropping from the forest into a meadow, I see an assortment of houses scattered about, but not what I'd call a town. And I see no convenience store at all.

The dry forests of northern New Mexico along USFS Low Standard Road 91B.

Just off the road I spot a simple white shed with an open door and a sign "Summer Store." Another sign says "Please Honk," apparently to get the attention of someone living in the house a ways up the driveway. But I don't have to ring my little bell. By the time I stop to dismount, a man greets me with a big smile and hearty hello.

It's Joe, who is soon joined by his wife Sylvia, the owners/operators of this "convenience store." I step inside to find cold drinks, ice cream, and an assortment of all kinds of food and other supplies for Great Divide bikepackers. This is amazing.

Joe welcomes me to their "convenience store" in the "town" of Canon Plaza.

Sylvia first makes sure that I'm OK and then describes the assortment of items neatly displayed on the shelves. I start with a cold Coke and an ice cream bar, sit down inside in the shade, and ask her about this place. She smiles, taking time to joyfully tell a story she's clearly, and happily, told many times before.

About 20 years ago, Sylvia's grade school aged son and daughter noticed cyclists riding by their house during the summer. So, they set up a card table and chairs under a tree to offer water and snacks to them. It's their version of a classic, All-American lemonade stand, but positioned about 100 miles from Platoro to the north and almost 50 miles to Abiquiu to the south. Although they certainly do not command a high traffic location, they didn't have much competition, either.

Some years later, lightening struck that tree, forcing Joe to remove it. So, Joe and Sylvia built this shed right by the road for their kids to safely operate their increasingly well-known lemonade stand. So well-known, in fact, that it appears as a "convenience store" icon on the ACA Great Divide map.

Sylvia then proudly points out rows of books on the upper shelves inside the shed. Her daughter read all those books over many summers while waiting for Great Divide cyclists. All that reading paid off. Now, she's in medical school studying to be a doctor. Years after she stopped returning home for the summer, her parents continue to operate this store to honor her and to serve our community. Wow.

Thank you, Sylvia and Joe.

No water to be found in that creek bed.

I take some time at the Canon Plaza convenience store, but eventually pedal down the road. As I bump along a dry creek through a forested valley, a series of unique rock outcroppings jut skyward. Equally unusual, I spot a truck about to pull out of the first dispersed campsite I've passed in a long time. So, I stop to ask. They are rock climbers from Albuquerque, wrapping up a weekend of climbing those rocks and focused on getting home. I wave goodbye, grateful to be able to continue my adventure without work worries.

Dropping into the well-worn village of El Rito, I spot a solitary commercial establishment that appears to be open, the El Farolito Restaurant. The surrounding buildings all look pretty rough, but I could use a break from the sun. So, I grab a water bottle in some shade and take another look at that restaurant from across the street. To my surprise, a steady stream of people enter and leave carrying styrofoam take-out. Every few minutes, another car or truck brings more customers. That's good enough for me.

I'm no food critic, but the meal is fantastic. I eat an entire "Farolito Special," a mammoth plate of enchilada, relleno, taco, rice, beans, green chili, and two sophapillas with honey. Amazingly, the entire restaurant is operated by just one man, named Dominic - the owner/cook/waiter/host/phone order taker/cashier/dish washer/everything else. And all around friendly guy. I highly recommend Dominic's restaurant, unless you don't like to eat.

Dominic's El Farolito Restaurant in El Rito, New Mexico.
(photo by El Farolito Restaurant)

Eventually, I waddle out of El Farolito Restaurant for the easy 16 paved mile warm down to Abiquiu. There I stop at Bode's, a big gas station/convenience store, to top off supplies. I'll return in the morning on my ride out of town, as several locals at the store rave of Bode's breakfast burritos. Then I ride a mile off route to the Retreat On The River, a cyclist only hostel-like haven for Great Divide cyclists.

I call ahead to get directions from Goldie, the proprietor, but it's not hard to find. She graciously shows me to the shower/bathroom, the separate building housing a full kitchen, a nice collection of individual units with beds, and plenty of space to pitch a tent. The crowning touch is a covered deck with lounge chairs overlooking the Rio Chama. It's a very quiet, peaceful place. 

Surprisingly, I find Jessica preparing dinner in the kitchen. Jessica is a solo South Bound Great Divide cyclist from Omaha, Nebraska, where she and her boyfriend operate a bicycle shop called Ponderosa Cyclery + Tour. She is a strong cyclist who often rides well into the night and passed me several days ago at the Gold Pan General Store in Platoro. Jessica said she lost some time the day before by banging up herself and her bike in a crash. She was OK, but had to straighten a bent aluminum rim with a couple of hand tools before fixing the flat tire. Atta girl, Jessica! Love the spirit of those out here taking on the Great Divide solo and self-supported.

Just when Goldie poses for a picture, a double rainbow appears above her.
It seems appropriate.

All this occurs within a single day of riding my bicycle on exceptionally remote back roads. In addition to the lasting memories of encounters with interesting people, I'm reminded to always stop at a lemonade stand. You never know if it will be tomorrow's convenience store, and maybe even the start of someone's journey to a higher calling.

The Duck Song, Parts 1-3, A Forest Fire Film (2009)

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