I spent another gorgeous Southwest summer Saturday morning chasing wheels on the Flagstaff community group ride, following some of the smoothest riders around. There are people in the group that move over the pedals of the bike as fluidly as waves rocking through the ocean, as supple as a heart beating in the night. The monsoon was even kind today, holding off the showers until later on in the afternoon. Flagstaff is such a great place for biking, and an interesting contrast to Santa Fe, where I rode on Thursday and Friday before returning home to Flagstaff late last night. Santa Fe is about 7,000’ above sea level, the same elevation as Flagstaff. Both are dark sky cities, filled by day with luminous light, are on the mountain’s edge, and have stunningly clean air. Both places are arid and have big temperature contrasts between day and night. Flagstaff gets more snow and is situated in a Ponderosa pine ecosystem, whereas Santa Fe is slightly drier in the winter, and is more open high desert and foothills. Piñon pine’s beautiful scent permeates the air in Santa Fe, saturated from generous summer rains. Santa Fe has a master bike plan. Fortunato, my friend from Los Alamos, NM who won the Mt. Evan’s hill climb this year in gigantic fashion soloing the entire race, introduced me to a Santa Fe local, Andrew, who graciously took me riding on Thursday morning.
The bundle of city roads in Santa Fe were built way before cars arrived on the scene. The streets sound like this.
They are narrow and intimate, with living spaces pushed right up against the curbsides. Santa Fe has done a remarkable thing, accomplishing a high level of bike-ability without adding a whole lot of dedicated infrastructure. The sharrow lane marking is everywhere in Santa Fe, and motorists are stupendously adept at negotiating lane positioning with walkers and bicyclists. It is great! Motorists are watchful and careful at every intersection, and seriously wait to pass you until it is safe to do so. They don’t just barge on by hoping for the best. The speeds are lower too so all traffic is more easily synchronized to the beat of human leg speed. I love the sharrow lane markings and share the road signs that let road users know that bicycles do have a place in the road and the city has room for all kinds of travelers. Even when we were not bicycling at our elegant best, drivers were forgiving and ever yielding. Very human like! It is an active style of driving and an engaging one that makes for closer connections between people through eye contact, hand signals, and facial communication such as nods and smiles. We depend on one another to make it work. All made possible by lower speeds and patience with a treatment of the road as a place for an engaged journey, not just a place to pass on through and waste your time in. The road in New Mexico is a place to be. A place to see people. A space that fits into the landscape. I love the good attitude ubiquitous on Santa Fe roads! Great job Santa Fe.
Andrew and I slipped north out of downtown on Bishops Lodge road towards Tesuque. The trees and earth scented landscape snug right up against the sinuous road that dives in and out of washes and over rolling hills. This country has a relaxed lived in character like an old rocking chair. In Tesuque wealth is not on ostentatious display but country houses are tasteful, humble and half way hidden, flowing with the undulating desert scape along the bright foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, which rise way up high to the east. Everything fits in. We veered northeast towards Chupadero and the terrain transitioned to a rugged badlands with shrubs, small trees and grasses holding fast to the crumbling ridges and swift arroyos. What a long way from the city one can feel in Santa Fe without having gone far at all. We returned on a frontage road past the Santa Fe Opera along US 84-285 and veered right on Tano Rd into piñon highlands northwest of the city with spacious lots and houses tucked away off the road in a wide open rangy country speckled with cholla cactus. We headed back to town on Camino De Los Montoyas past the La Terra trails system access points, which looked every one of them intriguing and uncrowded. And we navigated back through town and Andrew dropped me off on the campus of St. John’s College in the foothills underneath Atalaya Mountain. Each section of town and country is so distinct and varied, imbued with an incredible presence of time and place, a meeting up of the landscape and the gentle way human adobe habitat is tucked up underneath the glistening mountains, situated cozily and warmed by the earth soaked in sunshine. And the scent of piñon pine is everywhere, wet pitch smacking in the late afternoon glow of sun in summer, and fire smoke drifting up slowly from the stacks of wood stoves in the winter. Bikes fit here.
From Flagstaff to Santa Fe and back, I am the: Michael Hedges Java Man