Riding the Rio Grande, Day Five: Crashing and Floating

Last fall, Field & Stream Online Editor Nate Matthews and his father, Bruce, spent 15 days fishing the Rio Grande … Continued

Last fall, Field & Stream Online Editor Nate Matthews and his father, Bruce, spent 15 days fishing the Rio Grande River from its headwaters in Colorado to its mouth at the Gulf of Mexico. These excerpts from their journals tell the story of their 2500-mile motorcycle ride along the historic river. Photographer Tim Romano documented the excursion. You can see more photos from Day Five of this expedition (and find new journal updates as they are posted) by clicking here.

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BM: 9/28, 6:30 AM
Today we broke camp and re-organized our gear for the first half of the float Nate’s got planned for us (that’s a map of the day’s float in the photo above)_. Up early and moving fast so we can get to the put-in in time to do some fishing. It’s apparently a pretty long ride to get reach it. Tried to get all the stuff in the truck within five minutes — Tim filmed the loading._

_But … the Toyota won’t start. Battery’s fully discharged. Somehow in all the data dumping, camera charging, etc., we must have run out of juice.

So, Nate’s off on the bike looking for help. Tim’s calling Triple A. And our schedule is a little screwed.

_Video Clip: Loading the Truck

**
NM: 12:30 PM**
Finally on the road. Right now we’re filling up at a gas station in Espanola (home of “The Best Frito Pie in New Mexico,” says one billboard). It’s already past noon, and we’re running late. We’ve got at least an hour-and-a-half to go before we reach the put-in for our float down a stretch of the Rio Grande that flows through Whiterock Canyon, where we were supposed to meet Greg at 10:30. He volunteered to help us shuttle our vehicles to the pull-out on the other side of Cochiti Reservoir, a huge favor that’s saving us at least six hours of riding. I hate to keep him waiting. But it took me over an hour to flag down a jump this morning after Tim’s camera gear drained the truck battery. Only thing we can do is push on as fast as Dad can ride.

I wish we’d had more time for photos during the ride down here. There’s just so much to see, and I worry that I’ve packed too much into the itinerary for us to capture the best of it for the magazine. Tim’s feeling the pressure the most. “Shooting this trip is tough,” he says. “We’re moving so fast it feels kind of frantic. It’s just brrd-d-d-d-d-d, rapid fire, then stamp on the gas.” It doesn’t help him that he’s trying to get video clips as well. I’m hoping things will slow down for him a little once we get on the water.

Helmet Cam: Crossing the John Dunne Bridge

**

BM: 7:30 PM**
_Evening now, and we’re camped part way down our float through the canyon. We think maybe on Los Alamos land – probably illegal to stop here. But, there are other signs of campsites. Cows use it. And there’s a humongous set of bear tracks – fresh – in the mud.

We saw our first rattler this afternoon. I was retrieving a lure for Nate that he’d hung on a brush pile by the bank. Kind of reached up to get it and I started to feel like maybe not a good idea, and right then Nate said “rattler!” It was coiled about six feet from him. Sleepy, likely cold, but very dangerous looking. Like, “what kind of fool would ever want to mess with me?”

We had a fairly long ride this morning from Cebolla Mesa, including a section of highway across the river from Taos where there were literally hundreds of tarantulas crossing the highway. I tried not to run over any but some couldn’t be helped.

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There were red pepper stands everywhere. Nate and I stopped at one. “$10 for a foot-long string of them” said the vendor. No place to put that many, of course. Nate asked how much for one, and the guy said nothing and gave us a couple for free. I gave him a couple of bucks anyway.

Nate cut them up and put them in the quesadillas he cooked this evening. Some good!
_

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_I wiped out again today, just as we reached the launch site for our float. Sand and my motorcycle don’t mix. I’d already made it through a bunch of sand pits on this really crappy road down to the put-in, but the last one ate me, not 20 yards from the river. Two bad knees now. They hurt. The left from all the issues on yesterday’s hike, the right from the crash. But, I’m in one piece. So is the bike.

The river was pretty much unfishable on the float. Coffee brown, full of silt. Maybe three inches of visibility. Greg said it’s all coming from the Chama River, a tributary that enters upstream. We’d say it was blown out at home. Seems blown out here. We haven’t caught anything.

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Ran some fun rapids, and first thing in the morning we have a challenging one. We’re camped now just above it. When we got out to scout it earlier we realized we’d have to unload the boat before attempting it, and since we were beat already, decided that we’d simply wait to hit it until the morning, when we’re fresh and rested. If Nate and I can keep river left we should be fine. Ship a little water, is all._

Video Clip: Scouting Ancho Falls

**
NM: 8:30 PM**
Dad scraped up his leg pretty good when he crashed in the sand, and I think he tweaked his back, too. He was pinned under the bike for a few seconds, as long as it took for me and Tim to sprint over to him. I’m glad he was wearing his riding pants – could have gotten a nasty burn otherwise. Still, he’s pretty battered right now. Says he’s thinking about surgery on his right knee when he gets home. I’ve also noticed how his hands are cramping up from pulling the clutch all day. It’s making him ride the bike more tentatively, and I think that may be part of the reason he crashed. You have to know how to trust your motorcycle when you’re riding in sand.

I’m glad we stopped where we did. He hasn’t complained a bit on this trip, but I know he needs the rest. We’ll hit the rapid in the morning. Hope we don’t wrap the boat on that big rock in the middle.

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You can see more photos from Day Five of this expedition (and find new journal updates as they are posted) by clicking here.