A New Mexico Century ... in Two Days
What would you do if the editor-in-chief of a local paper emailed you with the question: “Are you riding the century this Sunday?” Oh, and you’ve hardly ridden more than 15 miles at a stretch during the last few months. And, it’s Friday, two days before the ride.
This was my first contact with Mr. Lee James. I had sent him a bundle of ideas, sample clips, and a resume earlier in the week. Maybe I’m jumping the gun thinking he wants a story. Maybe he’s just looking for a riding buddy. But it quickly got me thinking about what’s possible off the couch. The first time I rode 100 miles was this same event, but that was twelve years ago, and I trained for ten weeks, following Bicycling magazine’s schedule. It had me in the saddle six days a week.
But, I take the bait and reply to the editor: “Yes, I’m planning to do the century. What do you have in mind?”
He wants 350 words for $35 and two photos at $25 each. Not my normal rate of pay and I haven’t shot since I owned a fully manual Nikon FM2. But it’s the closest thing I’ve gotten to an assignment as a bicycle reporter … dream job!
I’m tired of my usual gigs. This past week I wrote three articles, all due the same day. What do you get when you cross a geocacher, a disc golfer, and a fitness instructor? I don’t know, but it’s a peek into my crazy-cluttered mind during those hours before deadline. It’s not that I haven’t had fun with my writing ... but riding AND writing?
So I pull up the south Santa Fe County map, wanting to find out how to break the route in half. It’s my only chance. And my always-enthusiastic-as-long-as-I-do-the-planning cycling partner looks down from the ladder where she’s painting the bathroom ceiling. She nods, “Sure … Tomorrow, huh?” All I need is a reservation at the hostel in Cedar Crest, and then a quick trip to the grocery store.
The hostel manager seems confused when I tell him I assume he’s full because of the century ride. “Nope, we have plenty of space.”
“You need my credit card or phone number?”
“No, you seem like a nice enough person. You’ve never done anything to anyone, right?”
So, the weekend turns into a bike overnight, just like that.
“You don’t look bright-eyed and bushy-tailed,” she says at 5:30 a.m. I didn’t sleep much. It was like all the excitement of a big tour without the 42-hour train ride ... but I knew I’d sleep well the next night -- I mean tonight.
We made our way out of town, stopping off at Rob and Charlie’s Bicycle Shop. The manager gives us quizzical look. “Yeah, we’re starting the century right now.” Yep, on Saturday.
We enjoy the tailwind of all tailwinds leaving the city limits, then see the first century sign at the junction of Cerrillos: “Bicycles ahead, drive and ride safely, share the road.”
Then the prison and its buffalo, white buffalo even, and tumbleweed the size of our bicycles. A forest green Subaru goes by with bikes on top, probably on their way to pick up registration packets. We don’t have numbers pinned to our jerseys, because we don't have numbers.
Wind brings clouds. We’ve been dodging gray -- grayer still as Judy changes a flat and I stretch out my hip. Now it’s spitting, just a bit, like the obnoxious kid that sat behind me in third grade.
Blue house on the left at the outskirts of Madrid, a hint of the color around the corner in this old-mining-town-turned-artist town. We settle in at Java Junction under an umbrella. Bagels and strawberries, plus banana bread, purchased inside. We didn’t need it, but I like to buy something anytime I take up space at a buisness.
I remember the 5-mile climb out of Madrid, so I know we’ve reached the top of Stagecoach Pass. But you might not. There’s no sign to reward you, but the downhill is no less sweet.
Find shade in Golden, the concrete steps are all we need. We didn’t even go in the store (circa 1810). I take pictures of the glass bottle house across the street.
Just beyond, at the junction of Highway 344, we pay homage to Heartbreak Hill, a mile grind on the century route that’s 15.2 percent at its steepest. Tomorrow, colorful jersey-clad riders will click along the pavement pushing their expensive race-y bikes because their lowest gear isn’t low enough for this baby. We do a little dance, happy our route continues south to the hostel in Cedar Crest.
The last miles are hard -- aren’t they always? Judy is cursing a new saddle. It starts to rain 2.5 miles from the hostel, so we pull into a convenience store and meet a cowboy with his quarterhorse Rick. This retired vet tells stories of Rick’s kinfolk and how they starred in the movie Hildago. The fellow running the bar next door hollers that he wants the horse off the sidewalk.
A sign with a donkey on it marks “home” for the night. Judy notices the junk around the property and estimates a hundred old cars and trucks in the yard, some sunk up to their tire wells. Funny thing about today is that Judy and I both had thoughts, which we kept to ourselves, that maybe we don’t have the bug for touring any more. It’d been a hard day.
Settled in bed beside a big picture window, I watch the two-days-before-full moon rising over the mountains, and do paperwork: Hostel $3, banana bread $2, another $2 for beer, bottled water $1.39, dinner $8 -- gas $0. Doing the century in two days instead of one? Priceless! We are asleep by 8:30 p.m.
I ruin breakfast, the gruel more grueling than usual because I mess up the ratio. The coffee experiment with the new MugMate doesn’t go much better, but powdered chai mix sprinkled in helps. We’ve been up since 5:40 a.m., and roll off at 7:00. Sorry to whine!
We take Frost Road, following it east into the sun as the church crowd heads west. The morning is quiet and still. I feel like we’re riding through a bird sanctuary. The crisp coolness has us stopping three times in 7 miles to strip down -- first jacket, then vest, then tights. Finally in tanks tops. Judy and I both dedicate ourselves to touring anew.
We rejoin the century route at 8:15 a.m. Three emergency vehicles pull into the dirt lot where we'd plopped down for a second banana. They get word through their radios that the first cyclists are cresting Heartbreak Hill. The front rider, of some 2,700 total, speeds by making the turn onto NM 472.
We get motivated and head toward Stanley on the stretch I call the Road of Hawks. We only see two this morning, but a lovely ride with little wind and lots of no-handed riding.
At the locked-up Edgewood Fire Department, we fill up water bottles at the red pump behind the building. I catch my first rider for an interview and feel like a real bike reporter. Number 2001 is cycling the wrong direction on a Cannondale, and she stops in the gravel drive. “I like doing my own thing,” says Beverly Walters, a 57-year-old from Golden, Colorado. She comes down with a group every year because they love Santa Fe. This is only her third weekend on the bike this season. “We’re still skiing at home,” she says. So, she’s riding 40 miles out of Stanley and back, while husband and company roll off from the start/finish on the designated course.
Official century food stop. Of course, we don't have the official yellow wrist bands.
I take pictures of the food-stop bounty and run into the first familiar faces of the day -- Janine and Steve on their sleek black tandem. Interviewing them is easy. Janine used to be an editor at Outside magazine and gives good quotes. “It’s just such fun to ride with this many people,” she says from the stoker seat of the Calfee. “On any given day if you can do 25, you can probably do 50 during the century; and if 50, you can probably do 100.”
On the long stretch of rolling hills to Galisteo, three riders whiz past in a tight draft. Then we hear the crash. We cycle by the gathering crowd and I almost don’t stop. “Why would they need us?” Then I remember we’re carrying a large first-aid kit. We save the day, using up almost all the supplies in the red zippered bag.
At the rest stop in Galisteo we chat with some Pedal Queens, the local women’s club whose members are known for having lots of energy and always wearing pink. Judy overhears a rider say, “Okay, 23 miles left, uphill and into the wind.”
And that it was!