Charged with forest service maps, local hiking and biking trail maps, and an iPhone, our plan was for five days of riding dirt roads and singletrack. Even before leaving town, we consult the iPhone. Stop and go navigation was to become a pattern, and a series of forest fires and floods over the past decade would erase much of the valuable information from our maps. More images from my trip with Lael, Cass and Joe, here is another installment of riding with friends.
Leaving town on a rail-trail is easy. Eventually, we find our way onto dirt roads and BLM property and encounter a spectacular rocky descent from atop a mesa. So far, so good.
Navigation is easy when you can see where you are going. This vantage offered a map view of the area.
Several transport stages require riding on pavement. Working together to reach the Jemez Mountains and USFS lands by dark, a brisk paceline forms.
A map view of the Jemez area indicates concentric ridges and canyons around the Valles Caldera, at the center of the Jemez Mountains. In the morning, we climb a ridge on FR 289 into the trees. The views from atop this ridge are our first signs of the dramatic effect of forest fires over the past decade. This fire burned last June, and was followed by a biblical flood event. Fire followed by water is a toxic potion in arid climates.
In search of water, we venture down a gated 4×4 track. Followed by a fun descent, we hack our way through shoulder high vegetation. The map indicates a trail, but we only find the obvious signs of erasure– fires and flood, and the thick regeneration of understory vegetation. In five days, we encounter only five surface water sources. Luckily, several opportunities to fill our bottles from municipal sources ease the strain.
In lieu of a trail, a sandy creek bed will do. It’s handy to be riding a Pugsley in times like these, although a lightweight bike and soft 29 x 2.4″ tires will also do the job.
Our eventual escape from this isolated drainage requires some pushing Technically, it was my suggestion to find water that led us to this point. Later, it would be Cass’ enthusiasm for singletrack that would have us hauling our bikes over logs. For now, push. Joe says any day with more that 50% riding is a success. This day was to be a success, as we are soon back on the road.
In search of secondary forest roads, we dead-end at an abandoned gravel pit. Return.
Riding out, the boys consider this “road” rideable.
Lael has a good head, and considers a mellow hike instead.
We encounter a local resident and trail-builder who verifies that all local singletrack trails have been destroyed by fire and flood. He suggests some alternate routes near Los Alamos, and offers a roof for the night, just as the sun takes a dive.
We awake at the edge of Cochiti Canyon. Torched and flooded, the canyon has seen the end of days, but is finding some footing after a year and a half. A light frost has fallen on the mountain tops– beautiful.
Joe is riding a custom, packable Rob English 29er travel bike. The rear triangle can be removed for easy packing, but there are no delicate hinges and it is a fully functional mountain bike. It is equipped with a White Brothers carbon fork and a Shimano Alfine 8-speed internal gear hub. Cass rides his road-worn Surly Ogre.
In Canada, cattleguards are called Texas gates.
The grassy plains of the Valles Caldera Preserve, at the center of the Jemez. Hiding somewhere are a herd of elk.
Doubletrack above Los Alamos. We connect with local singletrack recovered from devastation by local trail crews.
Dressed in black, Joe is perfectly camouflaged amongst torched trees.
Lost and found– Cass consults the map.
Cass and Joe have been cycletouring for years, and have probably ridden enough to encircle the Earth several times. There is no shortage of stories with these guys, such as that one time in Egypt, or riding a tandem in Kyrgyzstan, or the millions of delectable calories consumed. Cass and Joe, talking and riding:
Near Los Alamos, we break for some friendly competition. Joe suggests a proper pull-up, while Cass advocates for the underarm method.
The eerie, empty streets of Los Alamos are home to national laboratories responsible for developing weapons, including the historic Manhattan Project and the atomic bomb. The town feels like the combination of a large public university and a Soviet facility. Signs proclaim, “Take two minutes for safety!”. Safety and solidarity, comrades!
The Bikini Atoll is an island chain in the Pacific which was the site of 23 atomic detonations in the 40′s and 50′s. It continues to be unsafe for human habitation, and is the name of a street in Los Alamos.
Loaded up with food and a carton of wine, we climb up past the ski area above Los Alamos in the final light of day.
Los Alamos below. The subject of tomorrow’s ride is seen in the distance on the other side of the valley.
Camping in an alpine meadow, we commune around food and wine. Cass and Joe commune inside a shared Megamid tarp, telling touring stories into the night.
The next morning, we climb the Pipeline Trail to a huge singletrack descent. The forest fires have reduced the organic content of the soil. The resulting rocky “kitty litter” soil is hazardous on off-camber trails. There are a few white-knuckle moments on the ride down, especially on well-worn Surly Larry tires. It may be time for some new rubber. Nearing the end of my “fat year”, it’s almost time for a new bike.
Joe’s Revelate handlebar bag has recently been replaced after much use, and the new design features convenient mesh side pockets which he stuffs with fruit. As advertised, those are Avid single-digit levers. Joe is an expert lightweight bikepacker, and keeps his bike as tidy as a Japanese cycletourist.
Resupply. Despite the signage, this is actually a grocery store. Four tired and dusty dirt touring bikes take respite from riding. We are all effectively riding 29″ wheels, although mine are 26×4.0″. On the right, Lael’s bike is the only one without a framebag. With camping gear and clothing, her loaded bike weighs a mere 45 lbs. The bike was sourced from parts on Craigslist in the Denver area and cost less than $700– not bad for a real mountain bike. Although she arrived with lots of cycling experience this fall, she did not consider herself a mountain biker. Commuting on a Surly Pugsley this winter developed sharp reactions on the bike, and previous dirt touring experience in the US, France and Mexico on her Surly LHT engrained a love for off-pavement travel. After almost two months of riding singletrack, she can no longer hide the fact that she is a real mountain biker.
These two never run out of things to talk about– Rohloff vs. derailleurs, remote Peruvian routes, popular superhero films, and home-made beer can stoves. Ride up to the Nambe Reservoir for the night. The next day, we expect to ride up the Rio Nambe Trail. Expectations, like rules, are meant to be broken.
After coffee, a breakfast of broken expectations.
And unexpected encounters. This little bear is limping, and quickly backs down from Joe’s stern demeanor.
As we near town, evidence of trail use grows despite continued damage. Still, very few people pass this way, especially on bikes.
All at once, we are back on the road and on our way back to town. By 5PM we have spent most of the day pushing our bikes, lost. Descending on dirt at the day’s end, we include a little singletrack descent back to town. Found.
As Lael and I begin looking for a place to hang our hats this winter, I look forward to more riding with friends. Cass will be a short train ride away, and we’ve both got plans for some new go-fast allroad touring bikes. As snow begins to fall in the mountains, we will escape to the south and to lower elevations. With a lightweight load and some svelte new machines, Pie Town, NM will only be a day or two away.
Capable of both paved and unpaved surfaces, I’m designing my ideal “road” bike around a VO Campeur frame. At the center of the build will be a versatile, voluminous tire and a large framebag.
Note: Velo Orange has recently announced a significant drop in their frame price; the Campeur, Polyvalent, and Rando frames are now available for $500. A healthy Campeur build kit is available for $650, and for the first time a complete bike is offered for $1600.