Tuesday, March 06, 2012
I ♥ New Mexico: Silver City to the Very Large Array
February 17, 2012
As much as I try and savour each and every moment, it’s inevitable that over this long journey, individual sights, sounds and experiences are sometimes lost in the blur of daily motion and change. They queue up in days so jam packed with stimuli it can be hard to retain all the details. Memories clump together. The brain buffer’s full.
But then, generally when I least expect it, I stumble across a nook of the world that really stands out. Something seems to resonate. Perhaps it’s a sense of connection, a deeper appreciation of the lanscape. The people I meet. Shared interests and ideas. Or maybe it’s just the right time, when I’m looking to pause, rest and lay down some roots, as short term as they may be.
Silver City, set at the foot of the vast, unspoilt, impregnable wilderness of the Gila in southern New Mexico, feels like such a place. When I was last travelling through – as part of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route in 2009 – I managed to while away almost a week here, and it was with a definite reluctance that I continued on my way.
In fact, I’d barely arrived in Silver before I was pointed towards the residence known in local circles as the Bike House. Which is exactly what it was: a house crammed with all manner of bicycles. Leant against gates. Scratching wall paint. Hanging from rafters. Old and new, fancy and plain. All well used.
Of course, the Bike House was made up of a rich tapestry of other occupants too; a tide of people to-ing and fro-ing through unlocked doors, a larger-than-life collection of giant puppets, raucus chickens, as well as various other animals that came and went as they pleased… Its owner, Jamie, is well known for scooping up nomadic, long distance tourers and offering them a place to rest and recharge in his eclectic, rabbit’s warren of a houseshare. Coupled with a mellow downtown, all-year riding potential and an earthy, unpretentious New Mexican hipness, the whole Silver City experience earned it a spot amongst my favourite spots of the South West, and a highlight of the Great Divide.
So I was pleased that our long drive back back to Santa Fe from Big Bend State Park Ranch offered the chance to spend another night in the esoteric Bike House. True to its reputation, bikes were still sprawled out across the yard with well-practised abandon; old mtbs, a singlespeed 29er, an Extracycle, rusty Schwinns, a BMX or two… The door was still unlocked and the place as much as a shambles as I so warmly recalled. As we stood in the doorway and surveyed the scene, a cocophonic thump shook the house. Overhead, marching band practise was in full swing, with children and adults alike squeezed in amongst gaudy paper mache figurines. It was the genuine Bike House Experience.
It didn’t take more than a birthday ride around the sweet trails of Little Walnut and Gomez Peak to remind myself why I had felt such a connection here and what had brought me back. And although I didn’t have time to linger as long this time, I’d soon hatched a plan to abandon the car, and relive some of the Gila Wilderness…
Silver City is surrounded by prime riding, even in the midst of winter. I stripped down the Ogre of its bikepacking gear and set off with Nancy to explore the singletrack around Little Walnut. This was followed up with a ride around Boston Hill with tireless Jamie, and a dirt and gravel road outing with Andrew, Chris and Martin. There is little to beat local rides with enthusiastic bikers, and as a visitor, I always feel honoured to be invited into the fold to share these experiences.
My bed in the Bike (and Giant Puppet) House.
Gila Hike and Bike is surely one of my favourite bike shops, with its laid back, down to earth vibe. A demo Pugsley fatbike was available for a spin, which fit Nancy perfectly. I've always hankered after an 'Omniterra'. I just need to live in the kind of terrain that warrants one... Or maybe everywhere does...
My father's love of Westerns and frontier history must have rubbed off, for I find myself fascinated by Silver City and the surrounding area. Its past abounds with colourful characters. Like Lottie Deno - short for dinero, the Spanish for money - who owned a gambling hall in nearby Georgetown. Said to be well educated and impeccably dressed, she earned a fortune gambling in the rough, cash-flush pioneer towns of New Mexico. Billy the Kid's stepfather also had a restaurant there, and his early midsadventures are part of local legend.
The classic New Mexican backyard, complete with discarded junk, reinvented school bus and sawn-off trailer.
Turning off onto FR150 for some sublime riding through the Gila, designated a protected wilderness area as early as 1924. It was early in the season to be riding at this high altitude, so I flagged down a weatherbeaten pickup truck to check road conditions ahead. The pony-tailed old timer who pulled over had clearly been enjoying a few beers after a hot afternoon's wood chopping. Lifting his dusty wraparound shades to reveal bloodshot eyes, he enthused about the Gila, suggesting a few good camping spots. 'Listen to the spirits, that's what I always too', he said, chuckling a thick, husky smoker's laugh.
Camping out in Geronimo's stomping ground, amongst skeletal cottonwoods. My soundtrack was the warbly call of coyotes, and a dozen wild horses snuffled their way over in the night, gathering inquisitively as I cooked up my dinner. Just that day before I'd seen a group of wild, snorting havelinas. Or rather smelt them first - they're also known as skunk pigs, for good reason.
Tree trunk, elephant hoof, or simply a good spot to lean a bike...
Chilly! That night, my water bottles froze solid, even inside the tarp. The downside of the palatial Megalite is that it's size doesn't encourage trapped air to stay warm. I sat and toasted myself in the first rays of sunlight, as they slipped across the plains towards the tent.
Technically, it's a little early in the season for this ride... A storm the month before had closed off a portion of the road to all but the hardiest vehicles, though a bicycle could still slither its way through.
I took an impressive tumble on this particularly icy stretch, bike and body sliding some ways down the hill with little grace but thankfully few bruises.
Once beyond Beaverhead Works station, conditions dried out once more. From this point, I detoured off the Great Divide Route, heading north east towards Albuquerque through Railroad Canyon.
Although I planned to tackled this 150 mile dirt road ride in a couple of days, I carried extra provisions and layers as I was unsure as to where I might end up. With my laptop on board too, it was a good chance to try out the Ogre with a set of borrowed panniers, and see how it handled with a more traditional touring setup.
Country Road 163. Or to put it more romantically, a ribbon of dirt, disappearing into the quintessential, soft haze of the New Mexican horizon.
Chicaning amongst ponderosa pines.
A forlorn post box marks a dirt track to who knows where...
The plains of San Angustin. Luckily, a tailwind helped propel along 60 miles of dirt road.
This herd of antellope ran alongside me for some time. A curious group, they slowed down and ambled around when I stopped down to take a photo, running with me once more when I started to ride again. Despite moments of loneliness and hardship on solo rides, it's during these fleeting moments that the penny really drops: these experiences are exactly why I'm here.
Happy to be on the road, loping across the desert.
Conditions were mainly good, with a few rough stretches of washboard and sand to contend with. 29er wheels seem to help with both of these, and I didn't begrudge the lack of suspension on my bike.
There are many wonderful names in this part of the world, harking back to mining days and the pioneer towns of yesteryear.
My destination was the equally wondrous Very Large Array. And very large it was. Built from 1975-1980, the VLA is a radio astronomy observatory that's been probing the deeper reaches of space for the last thirty years. The centre is at almost 7000ft in altitude and set in an empty patch of high desert far, far from any sizeable settlement.
It's made up of a collection of 27 enormous antennas. I stood in awe as the dishes all begun to rotate in unison, in a slow, elegant ballet, pointing up inquisitively into the sky. A series of railway tracks form a Y shape - each arm reaching 13 miles into the desert - that allows them to be positioned in various configurations. An accompanying film explained how the centre has been instrumental in our understanding of black holes, pointing out that our own galaxy lies within a whole sea of other galaxies. Amplified by the solitude of the empty, windswept plains of San Angustin, and it's enough to make you feel pretty small...
The free self-guided tour allows you to wander right up to one of the dishes. The stats: 25 metres in diameter and 209 metric tonnes in weight. If they look familiar, it might be because the VLA's been used in the movie Contact, with Jodie Foster.
Is there anyone out there? After sunset, I pushed on to Datil, clocking almost a 100 miles that day - far more than I'd usually accrue on dirt roads. With a storm scheduled to barrel in the following morning, I pitched my tent for the night, before hitching hiking north the next day. Thanks kindly to Art and Phyllis for breakfast and the ride!
Gila Hike and Bike – most excellent bikes, and most excellent service.
Very Large Array – be wide-eyed like Jodie Foster.
This article was written by a cyclist riding the Contenental Divide Trail in my part of New Mexico. I am placing the article here to show all what the area I live in looks like and to show people that it is possible to ride a bike just about anywhere you can imagine going. I hope you enjoyed this as much as I did.
Sunday, February 19, 2012
The duathlon took place on the 18th. I left for Las Cruces on Friday and it was not a great start. It was snowing in Silver and had been for 11 hours. The snow was not sticking but I sure was hoping that the weather would improve as I went South.
Outside of Las Cruces the air was calm, pretty cool and dry! These pictures show the Organ Mountains and they were being assaulted by the storm blowing through.
I stayed in the dorm with my daughter. It was a zoo and the room mates were definitely loud but I guess college students will be college students. We went to Olive Garden for dinner, a favorite of Raelyn. I enjoy the never-ending salad and the steak medallions and pasta alfredo with spinach I had was good too. We went to the mall and walked just long enough for my hips to start hurting. (x-rayed last week, Tuesday appt. to see what the problem is). We then drove to Caliche's where she had a small sandbox with a gummy worm and I chose a chocolate milkshake.
A couple of red box movies later we were back to the room and stretched out watching movies with the volume turned up to eathshattering so we could hear the movies over the rap music and partying. The room mates decided to go out and I was thrilled. Unfortunately they returned at three and were less than quiet. I arose at five and made all the noise I possibly could while dressing and gathering my gear. Raelyn, bless her, slept through all of it.
I arrived at the base on White Sands at 6am, got through check in and proceeded to rack my bike and head to the warmth of the gym. It was quite nippy outside...enough so that my knees felt like going on strike. I picked up my packet and upon reading, I almost started bawling. The 2 mile run was changed to a 7K...or 4 miles! I almost panicked. If you have never suffered through being ahead in a race and then slowly watching everyone pass you by, or if you have ever been dead last and upon getting to the bike, not a soul is in sight, then you have not experienced two of my least favorite happenings, both of which are a normal part of my racing experiences. The last time a competed in this race I was definitely last off the run (I can't run), and made a huge effort on the bike to catch up and eventually win. However the last time was a 2 mile run.
The individual Athena that was first off the run was 11 minutes and 14 seconds ahead of me. I jumped on my bike and I had a blistering bike time. The ride was an out and back. Out is downhill mostly and there was a headwind. Back is slightly up hill and at least the wind had ceased to blow much. I passed several people and saw a couple of coyotes up close...like 10 feet away and waiting to cross the road. Beautiful!
I came around the final corner still closing on the leader. The last little part of the bike to the finish is a little steeper hill then the rest of the rise in the race. I got within about 15 feet before the eventual winner crossed the line. I am not making any excuses, I just needed another 200 yards and I would have won. I made up 11 minutes and 7 seconds of the lead...just could not quite make up those last 7 seconds! Oh well, being the first loser (second place) is better than never having got off the couch! Besides, the season is just starting and perhaps the hip problem won't be something to drastic...at least I am hoping.
I have a new phone with a new camera and it is a tough camera because it took this picture of me and did not break. The last picture shows the Organ Mountains on the opposite side of Las Cruces and the skim of snow that made for a brisk morning run (walk) and bike ride.
Here's hoping that your weekend was as fun and productive as mine. Keep up the good work!
Monday, January 23, 2012
I was determined not to gain weight over the holidays. I have not lost any weight in several months, like 9 months!
Begging, pleading, and exercising has not really helped.
But recently I have really started cycling hard. Every morning at the gym, I lift, cycle and run and suddenly, along with a tweak or two in the diet...
Yes, you guessed it! I have lost 11 pounds since the 23 of December to the 23 of January!
I am tickled pink! Follow me, I dare you to! LOL
Wednesday, January 18, 2012
Yes, I purposely skipped any swimming pictures because I have gone months now without swimming. The college pool has been closed since May of last year and the city pool has been closed since August and won't open until the very end of May or the first of June.
Since I have been unable to swim I really started hitting the weights and I have seen some definite results. My biceps have increased by an inch and my chest has increased by 4 inches, (NOT that part of my chest)! I have not really lost any weight until these last three weeks.
I have basically quit worrying about "how" my body looks and I spend a great deal of time relishing "how" my clothes fit instead. Several things I have learned, one being that the more I cycle the larger my thighs get. My legs might look like a linebacker's, but I am happy with them. I have come to accept that I can't run but I have increased greatly the time and the distance that I can race-walk, and I am happy with that. I still have good days and bad days with my knees but if something hurts a little I don't automatically panic, and I am happy with that!
Fox Field, pictured above is my running area and my gym for my P.E. classes I teach. It certainly has NOT been an easy year at school. I no longer have the drive to be a teacher. In fact I drag myself out of bed to go to my job everyday. I hate it! Yes, education is broke in a lot of ways. Yes, some things can be fixed. My biggest complaint is that students never have to accept responsibility for their actions! Parents cover for them pushing all the blame onto teachers. Students don't want to be at school, don't want to learn, and seem to take the "make me" attitude overboard!
I now need three classes to apply to go to school to be an Orthopaedic Physician Assistant! I have spent all my free time taking classes, observing and working with a physical therapist and next week I start a shadowing program at an Orthopaedic office with a group of outstanding doctors. My motto (or one of them) is: If you don't like something, change it! Currently I am working on it.
I truly live breathe and eat cycling. My massage therapist is a retired professional cyclist. She has started riding again. For her 60th birthday we did the Desert Springs Physical Therapy Gila Monster Challenge. It was the first time this race had happened and it includes one of the toughest stages of the Tour of the Gila. We had a blast. I completed the Tour de Safford as well, and might have been in the top three had I not had a flat in the first three miles. I am looking forward to several cycling events this year, the first being the Santa Fe Century in a couple of months. I also plan on doing the citizen part of the Tour of the Gila. I might get a triathlon of two done once the city pool opens.
This summer? Cycling, classes, shadowing--not necessarily in that order, are all in order. I average at least 300 cardio minutes a day currently and I plan on keeping this a constant. I have lost seven pounds in the last three week. I feel great, I am told I look great (please don't ask me if I agree), and then just for my personality--I AM GREAT! Just ask me--at least that is the attitude I try to adopt. I know it is not always so! LOL
Real Cowboys Show No Fear--I am trying to adopt the same attitude in the midst of a major career change!
Thursday, December 22, 2011
This week has been a whirlwind of activity. I got to bake some with my daughter, we went to Las Cruces and I got new glasses, we wrapped presents, and we went to visit my mother in the Alzheimers ward.
Seeing my mom was not as stressful as it often is. She was having a good day and actually cracked some jokes. I only bawled once and my daughter managed not to get upset at all. My mom thinks she owns the place and works there as well. She believes she brings people to the place because they got something out of the air that makes them a little "nutty". Alzheimers just sucks! Mom opened her gifts, lots of new clothes and we treked back home just before the snow started in earnest.
The weather has been somewhat unsettled with blizzards in half the state and rain/snow mixes elsewhere. The following are some pictures of neat clouds, a little snow, some sun, I love New Mexico. If you don't like the weather, cross the street or wait five minutes cuz it will change. Enjoy the pictures and may each and everyone of you have a wonderful holiday season.
Spanky will play football inside regardless of the weather outside!
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