Bicycle Chronicles Part 2: There’s Snow in Them Hills

Posted by Marlinee on Aug 12, 2010 in Travels |

In my opinion, bicycle trips are great vacations. You are outside in the fresh air, getting exercise, and at least in my case, moving slowly enough to enjoy the scenery. That’s why I’ve taken a number of cycling vacations. This particular one was to New Mexico.

Not so strangely, New Mexico has a lot of similarities to Mexico. There is the bit that is dry and desert-like, and substantial areas of mountainous wilderness. It was May, and when we started out from Santa Fe it was pretty warm and clothing requirements were minimal. The first two legs of the journey brought us to Taos. It was pretty clear on this trek that Taos is uphill from Santa Fe, and indeed it is in the foothills of the Sangre de Christo mountain range at 6,950 feet.

If you know anything about weather, it tends to get colder as you gain elevation. And weather in the mountains can be rather unpredictable. The next day was a leisurely ride up the mountain to about 12000 feet. We awoke to sleet. However, we paid to go cycling and cycling we would go. We put on as many layers as we had and set off in the sleet and after about 5 miles my fingers were frozen to the handlebars and I raided my pannier for socks as makeshift mitts. We continued grinding up the mountain for another 5 miles or so before the sleet changed to wet snow. The pavement was still pretty dry so aside from snow in the face, the cycling was reasonably okay. Further up the mountain the snow turned to a blizzard, but I was determined to make it up to the summit and surely the support van would be able to rescue us at that point. We did make it to the top, managed to take a photo in front of the elevation sign with frozen fingers, and settled in at the side of the road to wait for the van, still in the middle of a blizzard.

More hardy souls from the group joined us eventually, and eventually the van arrived as well. The tour leaders couldn’t believe we had been idiotic enough to bike to the top, but then they realized we were from Canada. They fastened the bikes onto the roof, stowed other gear in the trailer, and loaded us in the van. The van, as it turned out, was not quite equipped for winter weather and the trailer was a definite liability in this area. After several near death experiences of almost sliding off the mountain, we pleaded to get out of the van and wait for other transportation. Although the tour leaders weren’t too keen on this, after evaluating the magnitude of liability if they managed to get us all killed versus merely have us suffer from hypothermia, they decided to let us off at the side of the road.

Our group decided our best bet, rather than wait for a winterized ride to come back to get us, was to hitchhike. We looked so miserable that we were able to flag down a truck. This being New Mexico, it was a delivery truck carrying chillis (as in hot peppers). We hopped into the back (which did not have windows) and sat on boxes of cans of chillis, hopeful that we weren’t being abducted by a homicidal maniac with a fetish for cyclists, and equally concerned that the chilli truck was up to the winter weather. It is probably a good thing we could not see out a window.

We made it safely down the mountain to the town of Red River where we were staying the night. It looked like something out of a wild west movie, complete with a saloon on the main street (with saloon doors), decorated with many species of dead animals. And as you can imagine, the saloon was the first place we headed.

The next day was bright and clear, but still cold. I donned my semi-dry foul weather gear and semi-dry sock mittens for the ride down into the valley below. Going down hill, although laughably easy compared to the ride up, generated quite a bit of wind chill, which is where I discovered that wet mittens are worse that no mittens at all.

We eventually made it back to the desert at Santa Fe and into blazing hot sun. It was rather surreal compared to the winter weather just a few days before. But we ended the trip with many tales to tell and a vow to always pack mittens and hats for any trip, even if it seems ridiculous.

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