Cool event. Really cool people. Really interesting country. Really gusty wind.
Kind of a misnomer though, it was 123 miles.
This is the first New Mexico Endurance Series event I've done, but not the first I've wanted to do. As expected, it was really a cool ride.
We started from the Turtle Mountain Brewery parking lot a few minutes after 7 AM before the sun came up, with the thermometer sitting at around 35° fahrenheit. Yep, chilly. Still and clear, but chilly for sure.
We rolled west out of Rio Rancho on pavement for 30 or 40 minutes, then turned north on one of those good old fashioned western gas-line/ranch roads. You know the kind--straight as a line, horizon to horizon. The kind we love to suffer on. This one is known as the Encino Road. As the riders strung out, we made for the NGCS (Natural Gas Compressor Station) roughtly 20 miles out there in the high desert north of ABQ.
At the NGCS there were the stems of two cherry-stem loops. To the east was the White Mesa trails loop. The start of the singletrack was about 8 miles east on dirt road (this one has curves!)
The White Mesa singletrack was quite a treat. It's really unusual and beautiful. I did not have my camera, since I'd packed my pack with every bit of food, water, clothing, and et cetera that I would need for the whole day. The organizers set up a drop bag support system, and there was plenty of cached water I could have poached, but I'm getting ready for the Rim Ride Moab, so I was kit testing. The camera did not make the cut.
Anyhoo, here's a picture of White Mesa I poached from my co-worker, Jennie:
Photo courtesy of John Evaskovich
It was a blast. Or at least I think it was. So much more riding happened after I left White Mesa, it seems kind of like a distant memory.
On the way back to NGCS I happened to notice that a little breeze had come up. You know the kind, where you're shifting down as you go downhill to keep from being blown backwards? It was rockin', and by the time I got back to the Junction I was thinking maybe I should just bag the other loop and head back to town. For the life of me I could not think of what I would do with the rest of my afternoon. It was only 1 o'clock, so I said WTF, and headed north on the Encino Road to circle Cabezon Peak.
Farther out onto the horizon on straight-line gas road. Much of this was passing through the stark, khaki-colored, peaceful-in-it's-simplicity desert terrain so typical of this part of the world. The high desert. The llano. Nothing to obscure the horizon, where there are mesas or more llano to be seen. And nothing to block the wind.
Oh baby was she blowin' now. At 11 o'clock when I was working my way back west from White Mesa, it was windy. But by early afternoon it was windy.
About 7 miles north of the NGCS I turned west onto the Ridge Road and started a mild, winding climb into the wind. A few miles up and I met with the junction that was the start of the loop.
Cabezon Peak looked really far away. Really far to the north. Hmmm, I guess this is a big loop? I looked at my watch. About 2 PM. Well, you never know 'til you know. No better time to find out how far it is than right now. Heck, I have lights.
So off I went, with a song in my heart and a taste of wind howling in my ears. The Ridge Road went north and west, and it was fun with lots of downhill bits and swerves. And the wind, which by now was coming out of the southwest, was more or less at my back. Of course, good cyclists know that having a tailwind on the way out doesn't necessarily mean you'll have one on the way back.
Then it was down and down and down off the ridge, until I crossed the Rio Puerco. After that it was time to turn south. That was when I came to be at one with the wind. We fought each other bravely, but I think the wind had a bit of an advantage.
Oddly, that bit of grinding into the wind found me in a strangely good mood. I'm at a loss to explain it. Perhaps it was the Red Bull I chugged as I started the loop? It took some time, and it took its toll; and I'd be lying if I didn't say I was thrilled to turn east at 2 thirds of the loop and start heading back to the junction with Ridge Road, but it was OK. I shook my fist at Cabezon Peak a few times, but not in a bad, mean way.
Then, as if I was waking from a dream, I found myself back at the straight, straight Encino Road. Time to go back. Back to the Turtle Mountain Brewery, where I will order a hamburger. Back to where my truck and it's cargo, tPOD II are parked. "How far is it?", I think to myself. Far, I'm guessing. I have a queue sheet somewhere, buried in my pack, but I don't really want to know the specifics, actually. Really no choice but to ride it. Doesn't really matter how far, just matters that I get started and keep going until I'm there.
So off I go. Feeling pretty good to the NGCS, which I remember was a bit over 7 miles. The wind is now crossing, which is a friggin' blessing. Seems like it's shifted from southwest to west. Which is very good for my tired bones. If it had been a full-on headwind, I might still be out there; with ravens plucking my eyeballs and tongue out of my head.
As I'm riding past the NGCS I recall the long, long stretch on the way out from town where I was in the big ring for like half an hour. Hmmm. Maybe that's not so good. Turns out it's not. The climbing was not very steep, but I had so little fire left in my belly--I started to really suffer. My food strategy had been working great so far. But now, 10 hours out, I started feeling crappy.
I broke the cardinal rule, trying something new on a big ride day. But I had brought lots of backup stuff, so I figured it would be safe. The new thing was mixing Rice Protein in with my HEED. It had been great, really, but now I was starting to feel dehydrated, and I was having trouble continuing to eat. After a couple years of doing this crap, I've finally learned to pay close attention when my nourishment starts to suffer when there are still hours of riding before I'm done and home.
I slowed down but didn't stop, drank sips of water every few minutes, gradually slipped in some Hammer Gel, and eventually started feeling better. About the time I staggered up to the top of the climb, I was able to start drinking my protein solution again. Then as I got some glimpses of Rio Rancho below me. I finally started feeling a little happy again.
When I was able to start using my big ring--then I got quite a bit happier. Before I knew it, I was back at the pavement of Southern Boulevard. Then I was big-ringing it, downhill and downwind on pavement, only stopping for stoplights. Just before 7 PM I walked into Turtle Mountain Brewery, found event honcho Lenny sitting behind a tasty-looking pizza with a clipboard next to him. I watched him check off my name and write down the time, then I went back to tPOD II, put on clothing with zero rubber content, and returned to order my hamburger.
Another one for the record books.