It's 5 a.m., the sun is up and a cool breeze blows from the Rockies, carrying smells of sweet alfalfa from nearby fields.

Rudy Sarmiento rolls out of bed and heads for the shower. His next stop is the kitchen for a cup of coffee -- "lots of coffee." He'll need it, because before today is over, he'll have driven more than 400 miles to a spot 12 miles west of Santa Rosa, N.M., to stand in line Sunday for 15 minutes and sing three songs.

Sarmiento and an estimated 10,000 other Colorado residents are participating in Hands Across America, a 4,124-mile human chain from New York to California, in an effort to raise money to help relieve hunger and homelessness in America.

They also are trying to relieve some of the worries of western organizers of the event who are still skeptical that long stretches of highway will be filled.

While New Mexico's population is almost twice that of the District of Columbia, its inhabitants are spread out over an area 2,000 times that of the District.

The distance from Albuquerque to the western border of Texas is the approximate distance from the District to New York. According to the 1980 census, only 45,000 people live in that area between Alburquerque and Texas, while 7 million live in New York City alone.

Denise Makley, spokeswoman for the New Mexico office for Hands Across America, said that places like Thoreau and Gallup will be close calls.

"We've lined-up some interesting people and events along the route," she said, "but we really won't know for sure if the gaps will be filled until Sunday."

More than 150 members of a motorcycle club will join the line, as well as 40 hot air balloons -- aloft. During a stop in Albuquerque, Amtrak train attendant Steve Schweitzer plans to coax passengers out of the train and into the line.

Members of dozens of Indian tribes will link hands from the Arizona border to Gallup, but they will need a lot of help. The tribes will only fill 16 of the 373 miles of Interstate 40 that cross New Mexico.

Denver Nuggets basketball star Alex English will stand in line in Grants. Despite his long arms, he will only make a dent in the distance organizers hope to fill.

Some people who can't be there sent reasonable facsimiles to "stand" in line for them.

A Boulder, Colo., woman made a mannequin and pinned her name to its shirt. Two Longmont, Colo., women made life-size silhouettes of themselves. School children from Chappaqua, N.Y., created a paper doll chain 1,377 feet long.

The Hands Across America projects hopes to raise $50 million, much of it from people who have paid $10 for the privilege of standing in the line, which forms at 3 p.m., stretching from the Battery in New York City to Long Beach, Calif.

Besides space, water is another major problem.

"A coordinator in New Mexico told one of our local organizers last night that they've got porta-pots for us and they're planning a street dance in Santa Rosa tonight, but that they have no water for us tomorrow," Sarmiento said.

"We're going to contact the local fire department when we get there and see if they can provide some water," he added.

Thirty hours before they had to be in line at Mile Marker 257 in New Mexico, Sarmiento and his wife, Virginia, were standing beside their camper in the parking lot of a Loveland dog race track, waiting to meet a convoy of 400 strangers.

Doing this makes him feel good, Sarmiento said, like that Memorial Day weekend two years ago when he turned a $20 bet at this same track into a $1,637 win. "And that felt great."