There’s a Place for Us Somewhere and for us climbers in wintertime it is on the Sandia Foothills Finger Climbs. Banked up against the Sandia Mountains above Tramway Blvd on the eastern edge of Albuquerque are a series of roads that follow the skirt of the mountain higher and higher. These roads east of Tramway end at the open space and wilderness areas encompassing the higher elevations. Riding this sequence of finger climbs provides the perfect bicycling hill climbing workout and is a great way to build power and resiliency in the legs, heart and lungs.
I met up with regulars from the New Mexico Touring Society bicycling club for their excursion of the foothills climbs. These folks know how to plan out a ride to garner the full rewards of bicycling. They set a steady tempo, took time to enjoy the views at the top of climbs and partake in conversations. They showed me the way and warned me of all the tricky descents, and taught me history while we rode. Thank you Eric and Dave for guiding me on this good ride! We started at Forest Road 333 (La Luz), then did the next climb over to the La Cueva picnic area, then the climb to the Tram base, working our way through the scenic Sandia Heights neighborhoods on sinuous back roads southward. Halfway through the workout you entertain thoughts of what’s for dinner and whether you are going to fall asleep on the couch or in bed afterwards, but there is just enough time to recover between climbs and regain your mojo to tackle the next one. There is a sense of honor that this workout should be done properly, and you know the climbs are not super long so you can muster up the gusto to take on the next one.
For my style of riding this workout is a game changer. Over the years I’ve developed a pretty good ability to hold a hard steady pace up long climbs. Mostly this is due to my proclivity for entertaining myself by going out on the bike and riding long mountain roads. In Reno where I began bicycling my favorites were Mt. Rose highway to Lake Tahoe, Geiger Grade to Virginia City, and Mt. Peavine , the beautiful easternmost extent of the Sierra Nevada marking Reno’s northwestern shoulder. In Flagstaff I rode Mt. Elden, Snowbowl Rd., and other climbs like Waterline Rd. on the backside of the majestic San Francisco Peaks. Long climbs are great for building a big aerobic engine, but they don’t truly develop the ability to attack or lift the pace repeatedly, or achieve absolute power. The shorter climbs are better for training this resiliency and ability to change tempo because they allow you to recover in between efforts and then attack the next hill with sometime close to peak power. On the long climbs you tend to just grind it out.
In Reno and Flagstaff if I wanted to do shorter climbs I’d have to do repeats of lesser roads. Repeats can be a bit of a mental bummer which is one reason I’ve never done them regularly. With the Foothills Finger Climbs you can get over 4,000′ of climbing without doing a single repeat. It is entertaining, invigorating, and fun! The air is very clean up at the mountain’s edge and the traffic is light. You get a million different views of the mountains and the city below, the far away western mesa, the blue dome of sky and vistas beyond. You don’t utilize any busy roads and can take the Tramway bike path for any segments that can’t be traversed utilizing calm neighborhood streets. You slip through quiet areas regaining your legs and breathe as you string together the wonderful sequence of finger climbs. This training route is an Albuquerque gem! Time flies by when you’re riding up there, in part because the ride has so many culminating peaks. The quick zooms down the descents are a bonus too, for their brevity ensures you won’t get extra cold, as can happen on big, long mountain descents. What a wonderful ride that stands out above and beyond anything I’ve ever done. I’m so glad I live here. Winter climbing fun!