After Thursday’s bicycling tour with Andrew through twisty country north and west of Santa Fe, Friday morning I aimed straight up the mountains as high as I could go. It’s my bicycling Gospel. From our motel on Cerrillos Road I cycled Richards Ave to Marc Brandt Park to Siringo Rd and cut east across town past the high school, across the Rail Trail to Galisteo St. right down to my old friend E Alameda St. I’ve parked here next to the gentle and relaxing Santa Fe river corridor on past occasions to begin a bike ride up the mountain. The first time was the day before I raced the Tour of Los Alamos in 2011. I learned riding up to the Santa Fe ski basin is not the best way to take care of your body and prepare the day before a hard race! But on that occasion going exploring was the right thing to do. E Alameda connects all the concentrated goodness of downtown Santa Fe with the undulating foothills and protected mountain watershed. On my bike this morning I eased eastward straight down the middle of the road on the sharrow keeping clear of the door zone of parked cars. I turned left up the steep pitch of Gonzales Rd. which lifts you up to a little mesa ridge above Canada Ancha before dropping you down to 475, Hyde Park road. Turn right, keep pedalling and you end up at the Santa Fe Ski Basin at pavement’s end right around 10,300’. High!
What a way to find a small sense of yourself in this humungous world. Cycling mountains makes you humbler and stronger, by way of feeling weak from the effort and afraid of the big landscapes and ubiquitous mountain storms. At the end of a long road climb sometimes there is a glimpse of clarity and a magical moment of release from life’s strain. Suffering is cleansing. Doesn’t last more than a few seconds! I rode past the Santa Fe Institute, imagining all the creative sparks alighting there, following the pavement as it braided through valleys along mountain spring fed streams. The road has just a slight uphill pitch near the base of the mountain. Traffic is fast and thicker until you get past 10,000 Waves spa. The speed limit is 45mph at the bottom section but decreases to 30mph and maybe lower towards the steeper middle and top. Slower speeds are much more comfortable for bicycling and allows a universal reprieve from the sense we’ll somehow live a fuller life if we try to cram more into a shorter period of time. Slower makes time to take in more of the awesome landscape and weather, and to see and digest some of what is happening in the surrounding environment. I hear rocks breaking loose and sliding down the slopes from the hillsides enveloping the road, a testament to the heavy monsoon rains that are replenishing New Mexico’s watersheds and aquifers this summer. After a short decent to Little Tesuque Creek the climb begins in earnest and the transformative powers of changing elevation unrolls before me, pinyons change to ponderosa, aspens stands appear, and mixed conifers thicken up. A growing vertical dimension in the forest reaches for the sky.
At Hyde State Park the road gradient goes ballistic. I’m glad I have a 28 tooth cassette on the rear sprocket. The key to climbing steeper grades for most of us mortals is pedaling easier gears, maintaining the same power, and simply slowing down. Like my wife reminds me before races, “don’t blow up”! Because on steep pitches there is no time to get recovered if you overdue it and go into the red zone. Anticipate and shift down before the steeper slopes hit and keep spinning it so you don’t get bogged down with the weight lifter cadence, which can slow momentum and create a whole bunch of lactic acid accumulation in your legs muscles. Keep drinking fluids and taking in some nutrition. You’re spending a big bundle of energy and electrolyte cash when you’re climbing and need to keep replenishing. I felt good today, much better than the day before when I was coming off a rest day and a long car drive. I look forward to working out every day and spending time and energy bicycling. Of course every single time I get into the heart of a good workout, my brain reminds me “be careful what you ask for” because this hurts! Why are the hard moments in life also the good moments when we are getting somewhere? I concentrate on my breathing and swallow in the sweet scent of pine and wet forest floor. I pass campsites, see kids roving waist high exploring in tall flower strewn grasses, hear the sound of human voices punctuating the unbroken sound of the luminously gray forest. After a while the grade eases and I stand up out of the saddle to take some deep breathes and lengthen my back. Past the steepest part and much higher now I have views across the Rio Grande Valley to the Jemez Mountains and at one point I think I can see through the mountain folds south to Atalaya Mountain. It is unexpectedly beautiful up here this morning.
Near the top of the climb the clouds are intermingling with the Sangre De Cristo ridgelines, concealing the highest peaks. I am hoping the deluge waits until I have safely returned back down to where mortals belong. There are plenty of hikers out still judging by the cars parked at trailheads, and I’m sure if the weather turned bad quickly I could hitch a ride with a motorist back down the mountain. I feel safer being up here with the right balance of people. There are families taking pictures outside their cars at trailheads and of the surrounding wildflowers and mountains. There is something graceful the mountains lend to us, a sense of every day cares and concerns being swallowed in a grander majesty, a higher order that we indeed belong to. When I summit at the parking lot of the Ski Basin I stop next to a rushing creek, probably a tributary to the Rio En Medio, and listen to the sound of water washing down. With these round wheels beneath navigating the paved road I can flow down the mountain too! I tuck like a downhill skier into an aero position and gravity pulls me back to earth in an intense rush of speed. There are a few uphill pitches on the descent, more than most mountain climbs, that give you a chance to get blood flowing and warm back up from the chill of mountain winds. The downside is you don’t have much energy left at this point in the ride to pedal hard anymore. I stop to admire red, purple and white flowers and collect a few in my water bottle for my wife Mai, who is an Ikebana (Japanese floral) artist. Then I’m back to descending, completely centered in the moment. I can’t wait to do it again. And again. This song by Michael Hedges captures the stretched out, free, unbounded feeling I get cycling mountain crests.
I got lost on the way back to the hotel trying out some variations on Old Santa Fe Trail. Somehow I missed Siringo Road and ended up further south on Rodeo Road. My blood sugar was dropping–I hadn’t planned to ride this long–and my cell phone was jingling in my pocket. I ended up taking a right in the general direction I sensed the hotel was in but it ended in a dead end at the Genoveva Chavez Community Center and Park. There was a field trip there and I asked directions from a father who was with his kids. He steered me right towards the Santa Fe Place Mall and I took the shortcut he recommended on Zafarano Dr. past the Pet Smart to Cerrillos Road. The panic subsided, I could see the familiar landscape of the commercial strip on which our motel 6 was located. Food, shelter, cars, convenience, we are always straddling two or more worlds it seems. After we packed the car, Mai and I drove to Santa Fe University of Art and Design. We walked the campus grounds and my body felt restored as we moved with easy motions and felt a tactile closeness to the life, sculpture art, buildings and grounds. We drove to El Rancho de las Golondrinas via Airport Road, which has a suburbia strip mall feel. Once on foot exploring on the ranch we felt enlivened by the land and better grounded. Finally we toured La Cienega admiring the spring fed streams and horse pastures before returning to I-25 and zipping south then west towards home. These varying worlds become integrated through our experience. It’s all good in balance!
I had a great time exploring Santa Fe on two human powered wheels and via many other modes. The bicycle friendly locals and the historically deep cultures vested and practiced in sharing this land help create an awesome bike life in Santa Fe. Cycling is one of many languages spoken here and everyone makes an attempt to take it into consideration. The road to the ski basin is a line of connectivity allowing for the people in this town and the mountains to commune, and the road is open for individuals to explore in their own way. Enjoy.