Sunday afternoon I took a ride through the gap known as Heartbreak Hill between the San Pedro Mountains and South Mountain. This is the route the Sandia Crest Road Race takes before tackling the climb up the Sandia Mountains. I’ve never done Heartbreak Hill outside of doing that race, so it was nice to take my time and look around. Here is my Heartbreak Hill Strava map and ride data from Sunday.
Heartbreak Hill is so steep my back tire slipped when I stood up out of the saddle to get some leverage. I was in my 39 x 28 gear breathing hard. Memories from the three races I’ve done up this rushed back to me. I’ve seen some amazing explosive efforts on this hill by local racing legends. Bicyclists with Ferrari engines! Those racing memories are inscribed so vividly because they are intense moments where you are so very alert and alive. Today I tried not to think about how hard it is to race up this heartbreaker, but instead stopped to take in the sights.
The East Mountain Area–the areas Immediately east of the Sandia and Manzano Mountains–offer an abundance of wonderful country road routes. Heartbreak takes you past some of the luxurious houses positioned for prominent views west of the Turquoise Trail (hwy 14) and on the sunny side of South Mountain, and also through the more remote areas east and Cedar Grove where working ranches with goats, cows, chickens, and horses make for a traditional rustic landscape. The East Mountain Area is still very wide open but the growth has brought significant changes. The population went from 23,000 to 33,000 from 1990 to 2000, and population continues to increase at a high rate.
Further east in the plains there is irrigated agriculture including pinto bean growing regions. Many people are struggling to make a living out here while others are showing extravagant lifestyles. There is a happy middle where folks are enjoying country living on the land and have found a way to keep a comfortable yet humble balance, with resources to pursue their ambitions and time to enjoy their communities. A sustainable abundance emphasizing quality, integrity, and focused considerate choices. People really work hard in this country to realize their dreams. The trick is to also be dreaming of the generations ahead. The long view.
Right now the mix of new development combined with laid back lifestyles and abundant open space make for great bicycling, and from the people I know who live here, awesome living. To keep the spacious ambiance undiminished, newcomers and visitors will have to keep adapting lifeways to keep the skies dark, roads uncongested, fossil water protected, and whole landscape integrity intact. The Paa-ko community golf course uses recycled water and reduced grass areas out of respect for the natural environment and limited water resources here, but does pipe in King Ranch ground water to supplement. Some other challenges to living out here include becoming more efficient with transportation planning, as any trip requires greater distance to reach city amenities. Living fire-wise in any forested area in the arid southwest takes tremendous attention with the variable climate and drought cycles, and forest types that have a history of cyclical fires. If we meet these challenges by innovating and investing in sustainable solutions, keeping reasonable expectations, embracing simplicity and are willing to compromise for the greater good, the East Mountains Area might even improve in ecological health and as human habitat.
A bicycle ride is a great low impact way to enjoy the natural amenities found here, the mountains, wooded knolls, rolling hills, and plains, and meet great people along the way. Heartbreak Hill is a very accessible ride from Albuquerque by bicycle via Tijeras Canyon that will take you through fantastic changes of scenery and geographical character. This is a special place to ride. The ride name is a misnomer. The clean air, huge skies, mountain ridgelines, and awesome landscape tapestry make your heart stronger and provide important perspective.