If you’re just coming in, feel free to have seat on the right. Time travel is a familiar face around here. When I’m now qualifying time using temperature, the only true measurement left is distance — the geographic space travelled. Revealing the cold fact that time travel can’t be real because time isn’t real. Time is now playing the part of prison bitch to Fahrenheit, Celsius and Kelvin. Especially Kelvin. So yeah, time is fucked We’re talking about space travel. And the mission is to gain as much distance and elevation as winter will allow. Thus, I am a space traveler. An astronaut. A pilot. Captain of the one horsepower machine that is me. Miles and feet. Or feet and miles. Whatever the king would want. Regardless, today is weighing in as what might be the hardest day of bicycling I’ve ever bicycled. The switchbacks up to an Imperial 8,228 feet look cold blooded. What I’mma do about my legs?!
With a scientific shit ton of climbing, it’s looking like heavy cardio engagement for most of the day. Not much air to spare for yapping. So Damon and I get our debates out over coffee in this toasty 70° motel room. Complex stuff that Damon is mega passionate about: innovation, finance, and cryptocurrency are his babes right now. He’s so ready for the reign of the baby boomers to be over; can’t understand why use the penny but not the block chain. Talking about what happens to Americans if we lose the power of the purse worldwide – our world currency status. He says guns won’t matter. Money matters. Innovation and ideas matter. He’s clearly got a total Elon Musk man crush. That’s cool. I’m into it, though I’m also thinking about the climb ahead, psyching myself up in between two morning poops followed by a shower.
We’re on the road, navigating a few rolling hills before dropping down to the Mimbres river, then climbing to 7,000 feet in a few miles. The ol’ up down, up down. way down way up. This is all before the big enchilada of a mountain pass. It is a hard appetizer to swallow. I’m playing the mind game where I tell myself to try and save my lowest gear for the final 3-4 miles, knowing that the wind and incline await on those switchbacks. I’ll need something extra when the the probable headwind tries to drop me from three to zero miles per hour, so I keep pushing it now to stay on my second chainring. I don’t know that I believe that I’m going to be able to so that. This climb is not easy and it’s the first of two. It is absolutely beautiful though and I’m going slow enough to witness it all. Stunning scenes of red rocks on one side. White snow on the other wide. Green trees throughout and a blue sky above. I yell out to the beauty, wanted to confirm it’s beauty officially to the galaxy. My senses are overloading with sight, sound and smell.
With about seven miles to the top, I’m absolutely trying as hard as I can but I am gassed. My legs are burning and I’ve been going 3-5 mph since second breakfast. This is beautiful. Intensely beautiful. Indescribably beautiful. I notice that when I hear the whir of traffic approaching, it’s actually the gust of wind or the occasional rush of water. My mind makes it seem like traffic. There’s absolutely no traffic. But over and over I mistake wind and water for vehicles. My brain is all sort of scrambled. Suddenly, I’m overwhelmed by the scent of pine. It heroically take over like an Apollo mission helmed by Tom Hanks. It’s the strongest smell I’ve smelled in months. The air is so clean up here and I’m using every ounce of it, in my nose and out my mouth. Long, deep breathes in succession. Theres a cleansing aspect to all of this. But not some artificially scented floor cleaner; an unspeakable feeling that my mind, body and soul are being completely cleansed and replenished. My 160 bpm heart rate would agree. I really can’t figure the words out, but between the exhaustive cardio, the massive elevation and the aesthetic assault on all of my senses, I’m riding high as can be. Au naturale. Exercise is my stimulant, the environment is my hallucinogenic. Kubrick level visuals are provided by Mother Nature; she is still undefeated.
3 miles to the top and the road signs let me know we’re in switchback land. The winds are easily a sustained 20 miles per hour up here, threatening to whip me right down 11,001 foot high Hillsboro Peak. This is precisely what I’ve been saving that granny first gear for. I hit a total u turn and shift down as the wind shifts to my side, then – smack – on my face; the pedaling is grueling as I repeat the process again and again. Still climbing and now above 8,000 feet, I’m turtling along at 2 mph as my front wheel wobbles side to side in the wind… then my mind takes over – like HAL taking over Discovery One on its way to Jupiter. Neurons fire, brain chemical release, blocking out the pain and fatigue — and after a 30 minute battle that feels like hours — I conquer these switchbacks and am finally at the pass. Celebration, bitches!!!
Resting the steel steed against a sign, I walk the 500 feet up the side trial to the vista point. Vista is Spanish for view. The view, while spectacular, is nothing compared to the indescribable feeling I’m feeling right now. Well, they certainly go hand in hand. Words are futile. Photos can’t capture it. This is a feeling I can only acquire on these tours. It’s why I do it. It’s worth the planning and the pedaling and the pain.
I want to share this indescribable feeling and Damon exhaustingly rolls up just as I was started to wonder if he was having issues. We sit at the top for quite a bit. The wind is cold up here but we’re taking it in. This is the physical highest point on the route, so in essence, it’s all downhill from here…
Not that these downhills are easy. Heavy winds and switchbacks downhill provide quite the challenge as well, my breaks needed a little adjustment and I realize that just a bit too late. Struggling to stay under 25 and out of the oncoming lane in these sharp blind turns, I’m definitely a candidate for death by rode-his-bike-off-a-mountain. Six million ways to die, choose one. I finally put my foot down. Literally. That and some pull-off gravel allow me to come to a stop at one of turns. I make the brake adjustment and eventually the switchbacks become only winding downhills. Now I can gain speed. Right into this little town called Hillsboro. There is no cell service (yes!) but there’s a town park where we can camp. It has water and bathrooms. It also has fellow travelers who are car camping. And. Dogs! Multiple canine lovables. Also a local with some horses next door. I chat with them all, especially the dogs. I catch two of their names: Chubs and Pharaoh. I get all the humans names. Dave. Lindsey. Court. Parker. Parker gives me a beer. It’s good and the first of this tour so it goes down quickly. He gives me another. We talk lots of stuff. And eventually covid. It’s always an interesting talk. A few of us have had it. Lindsey and I are both double dosed with the vaccine. She’s a physician from New York who saw the worst of it almost a year ago. I can relate and then joke that we could even actually hug if we wanted to; that it’s up to us to start making up the post pandemic rules. Stranger hugs used to be so much fun back in the day. Maybe one day they can once more be a bit thing, but not yet. They chat a bit more but I’m starting to fade after that whole mountain pass ride thing. I bid them adieu.
A true, indisputably rare moment, today will not be a day I forget. Damon neither. For our entire lives. This is not some everyday shit and I feel more alive than I have felt in a long time. Actually living. I pop the penthouse up and climb in for a serious snooze as the stars begin to twinkle.