The night sky is hazy in New Mexico. I turn from I 64 to Highway 550 and head for Madrid, New Mexico… that’s MAD drid, not Ma DRID.
It is getting late and as much as I love to drive, driving late night in unfamiliar, rural territory, yet again, wasn’t my plan. Of course I got side tracked.
Like a gnat in the breeze with only 6 hours to go on my journey to Madrid, I saw the sign from above. ‘Skyline Drive’ and could not keep myself from taking it on.
New Mexico can wait
I knew this would add up to 4 hours to my drive, but give me an exciting road to conquer and there’s no stopping me.
I rode the Lincoln Aviator hard on Skyline Drive. Abusing it as if it were a 4 wheel drive, and not a glorified Ford Explorer, with a big engine, wearing a fancy dress.
A great many of the roads in the yet rather ‘Wild West’ are, well… still quite wild.
I knew nothing of Skyline Drive before I was unceremoniously drawn into the flame by that sign. It turns out to to be a perfect example of what is left of rustic American roads.
Snaking through, up and down rugged canyons. Alternating from lush green forests to the ragged and rustic arid deserts that dot so much of the American countryside. It is difficult not to imagine a young pioneer’s first experience of America. Long before it was colonized to utter prostration.
The rough side of Skyline Drive (where I started) is 28 miles of course, winding, scenic roadway that is more like an incredibly rocky and treacherous path in spots with huge holes.
The claims of it being well maintained are naught.
After driving it I read it is not suitable for non 4WD vehicles. Apparently no one told my SUV that!
The drive wiggles, dips and climbs along the top of the Wasatch Plateau, peaking at just under 11,000 feet.
The views are spectacular.
With tree filled mountains, flower filled meadows, raucous streams and tranquil lakes. Skyline Drive in Utah is one of the highest elevation roads in America and simply stunning.
Admittedly, driving up and descending this extremely rugged terrain, on partially gravelled, winding roads is not for what my Lincoln Aviator was built. But the vehicle handled being forced into submission like a champ.
Her already worn tires, not so much.
According to Dangerous Roads Skyline Drive
” It ranks among the highest elevation roads in America. This dirt road (also known as FR150) provides access to forested mountains, alpine meadows and numerous lakes streams and camping areas.
Although many sections are suitable for passenger cars, high clearance 4 wheel drive vehicles are required for tougher parts.” (Unless you’re a driving maniac in a Lincoln Aviator)
Highway 550 / New Mexico
Cruising Highway 550 late at night is like playing Russian Roulette with a blindfold on.
Unlighted, on a starless night makes it look a bit like a video game. Add to that a full blood moon, drawing the deer to the brink of migration insanity and the edge of the roadway.
Swirling around blind corners in the dark of night is ‘steering wheel gripping’ enough. The threat of deer prancing out onto the roadway, adds to the spine tingling effect. Especially with so little light.
At first I thought it must be me. Maybe the window isn’t clean, my glasses need a wipe. I’m bleary from exhaustion? Perhaps my night vision had become weak suddenly?
Then I realised that oncoming traffic had their high beams blazing too. Some turned them off as they neared out of courtesy, others not. Even the truckers.
High beams screaming across the median offers even greater charm to the hilarity of this steep, windy drive at night. Made a mental note to do it in the day. Likely a great piece of roadway … when you can see.
There I was. The drunks, the truckers and I, hurtling along the black void of this high speed roadway, bargaining with our lives at each turn.
After eating up over 2000 miles of roadway in only a few days, I was once more driving into the wee hours of the night.
But I was almost there.
Then it happened.
“Warning extremely low tire pressure!”
No warning of trouble coming, just the threat of doomsday at hand.
Damn, only 26 miles from Madrid, New Mexico.
This is the point that I must pause and mention that I knew there was a nail in the tire and a slow leak before leaving Portland 2000 miles ago. Apparently, I decided to deal with it as it occurred and then completely pushed it to the back of my mind.
Think about what I’ve told you. What I’ve done with and where I’ve been with that car.
Yeah, I’m an idiot. You agree. It’s ok.
Flat tire in New Mexico
I drive the car 9 miles to the first gas station in 100 miles. Thankful this New Mexico town was so close at hand at my time of need. Not allowing myself to think about if this had happened earlier on my desolate highway 550 drive. I’d of been communing with the deer.
I hop out of the the car to have a look… and it’s bad. The nail near the sidewalk is hissing air.
Can’t drive another mile level bad.
I’m fucking tired. I know I should call roadside assistance (I have 3) but it’s now only 17 miles to my destination and I’m an idiot.
With much due hesitation I purchase a can of Fixaflat. I know in my heart of hearts this is bound to go badly. Yet I persevere, as idiots so often do.
It seems to hold, so I drive off, fingers crossed. Knowing full well at this point that I’m an idiot.
It’s about 1:10AM now and I’ve been driving nearly 14 hours straight with just a few short breaks.
Interstate 25 is pretty mild compared to 550. More traffic and towns. I’ll make it. I know I’ll make it.
A little voice in the back of my head that is never wrong, said, “You know you won’t”
Oh Google Maps!You’re such a trickster.
Google Maps decided to once again fuck with me. It tends to only do this in the middle of the night. It turns me onto some crazy side road (A54?) to get to 14 and my ultimate destination, Madrid.
Google maps has done this to me before. But that’s for another story.
Desolate, dark, rocky and craggy. The unpaved, unlit farm road had huge holes and was graveled with the same large sharp rocks as Skyline Drive.
It starts out slightly paved, but as I drive out it gets more and more rough.
I’m already 3 miles in. I know that tire seal shit isn’t going to hold. But I hope.
From what little I could see in the pitch black, the road was flanked by endless scrubby plants, rock and sand.
Like every inch of land in New Mexico, it was fenced.
It’s 1:36am now and I know I’m totally fucked.
“Warning extremely low tire pressure!”
“Hello? This is roadside assistance! Are you in a safe location?”