Tierra del Encanto Parte Uno
I'm a May baby from many, many, moons ago. Each May I request a trip to the mountain bike mecca of Moab, Utah, to barter in shells, coral, sage, sterling silver and turquoise. I opted for something different this year – the Santa Fe Century. It would require a journey to the Land of Enchantment – New Mexico. Actually, this ride has been on my radar for a while. This would be the event's 30th anniversary as well. It'd be a hoot! I'm very fond of New Mexico. I even married some Snowcatcher girl who grew up there. Following is our adventure.
The ride was on a Sunday, giving us an easy 6-hour, 400-mile drive on Saturday. About 170 miles into the drive we were treated to morning sun sharing its warmth with the Spanish Peaks. Their Native American name is Wahatoya (Breasts of the World), according to summitpost.org. East Spanish Peak (left) touches the sky at 12,683 feet. West Spanish Peak pierces the sky at 13,626 feet. Modern windmills take advantage of local winds.
Our next stop was for petrol, several miles inside northern New Mexico, in the small rail town of Raton. We arrived about 15 minutes prior the Run for the Wall. The latter is a motorcycle "healing" rally for all veterans, POW and MIA. The motorcyclists were doing a northerly route and will ultimately reach the Vietnam Wall Memorial in Washington DC. Their website is http://www.rftw.org/. About 400 motorcycles stopped in Raton for fuel, a ride break and camaraderie with locals, some of whom supplied free gas to the motorcyclists.
Undulating swells of wide open ranch country make up the high plains grasslands of northeast New Mexico. Yes, very rural parts of our country can still be found.
A deluge gave us a wet eye just south of Las Vegas, New Mexico.
As we approached the final little pass before the drop into Santa Fe, it was obvious we were not far below the line of new snow. However, ride day was supposed to be warmer and dryer. Time would tell.
After an evening of checking-into our room and gathering our ride packets, we awoke to a clear sky and 40 enchanting Fahrenheit's ghosting around. We arrived at Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center, our starting point, around 6.
As a creeping sun slowly flowed over and down western ramparts of the Sangre de Cristo (Blood of Christ) Mountains, riders began finding positions in the start area. The 1,325 century and Gran Fondo riders were scheduled to begin at 7. The 1,166 half-century and Medio Fondo riders would begin an hour behind. There was a 20-mile route as well.
Gran Fondo and Medio Fondo is a Euro-sounding way of providing an officially timed ride. In short, a timed "race;" you have an electronic chip and go as fast as you can for 100 miles (Gran) or 50 miles (Medio). I registered for the Gran Fondo. Early in the ride, I realized I didn't have the legs to continue my pace to the finish. I must still have a lot of winter fat! Hence, I tuned it down, enjoying the ride and water/food stops. Perhaps, I'll try the Gran Fondo again next year.
As miniature, radio controlled drones buzzed overhead, riders began a 10, 9, 8..., countdown. Off we went. The start was neutral, following a police escort for the first 10 miles. The fun part was that the neutral start, designed to get a lot of people through town safely, was averaging over 25 miles per hour. It was on!
After 26 miles of rolling, high desert, piñon-juniper landscape, Madrid, the first water and food aid station, popped up behind a hill. The township is an old company coal town where some residents live in train cars. It was interesting to see electrical services mounted on boxcars. There's also an artist population. In fact, much of New Mexico, especially the Santa Fe area, abounds with artisans. Painter Georgia O'keeffe was a longtime resident of Santa Fe.
Looky, looky, I only had 79 miles to go.
Madrid sits about halfway up the longest sustained climb of the ride. After crossing Stagecoach Pass, it's a quick downhill to Golden, an extinct gold mining town. The route turns south at Golden and the next water stop, Heartbreak Hill, comes into view at 39 miles. This aid stop is a psyche-yourself-up stop, before tackling a short wall. The aid stops are nice. Water, fig newtons and bananas are always welcomed ride food, especially fig newtons. Normal food is a nice change, or compliment, to the energy food I carry. As a side note, if you were to continue southwest from Golden for another 20 miles, you would run into the eastern flank of the Sandia Mountains. Albuquerque, New Mexico, is directly over on the west side of the narrow but dramatic range.
Heartbreak Hill is tough – pure and simple. The grade is consistent 16% for about a 1/2 mile. It was a painful, out-of-the-saddle, leg-burning grunt. Some riders zigzagged, while some walked. I thought of doing either of the latter, but managed to coax my legs on — barely. The road cut in the top center of the above photo is upper Heartbreak Hill. At this point, I was still 66 miles from the finish.
The next 25 miles through farmland and pasture of the Estancia Valley was flat and fast. I thought I was going to nail a good time, despite loitering at the stops. Then the route swung north and Eolus showed up. The following 19 miles through rolling grazeland and desert was into a stiff headwind. 82.4 miles into the ride, I wheeled into the small town of Galisteo. Supposedly, there was an indigenous pueblo here at one time. At this point, I joined in with the folks riding the half-century. There only was 25 miles to go, c'mon legs!
From Galisteo, the riding was undulating desert to Highway 285, where we turned north and tackled a 7-mile ascent to the Eldorado water stop. (Yes, Eldorado is named after the fabled City of Gold.) I was only 10 miles from the finish and had plenty of water so I continued on to the finish at the Medical Center.
After scraping off salt precipitate and wet-toweling a bit, I visited the staging area to take some photos and have a beer drawn from the Santa Fe Brewery beer wagon, one of many craft beer breweries in the area. It wasn't long before Snowcatcher hooked back up with me. It's a great ride and I'd like to do it again.
Following are stats from the Santa Fe Century website:
2650 registered riders
45% Century riders
5% Gran Fondo century riders
42% Half-century riders
2% Medio Fondo half-century riders
6% 20-mile riders
Age 7, youngest rider
Age 87, oldest rider
Age 54, median
Quickest Gran Fondo male 4:24:31
Quickest Gran Fondo female 5:12:28
My speedo ride time was 6:30:40 (moving on bike), not including breaks.
Riders represented 35 states
Top 5 participating states were New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, Arizona and California
International riders were from Canada, Australia, Germany and the United Kingdom