2023 DangerBird: A Time for Riding and Connecting
For Christina Grande, this year’s DangerBird event in New Mexico was as much about reconnecting with family as it was about riding. Find her recap from the 2023 DangerBird paired with a lovely set of photos from Nathan and Eric Burnside here…
I had a great time participating in the DangerBird group ride this year. I toured the Monumental Loop route in 2019 with my husband, Dusty Eroh. At that time, it was a slightly longer route compared to the current version. I heard about the DangerBird event after our tour, which sounded like a lot of fun. Dusty and I rode that version of the Monumental Loop in six days.
Earlier this summer, I decided to sign up for the DangerBird as a goal and something to look forward to in the fall months. I live in Anchorage, Alaska, and it’s always a treat to be able to make a trip outside the state to somewhere warmer before we dive into the cold and dark winter months. Very last minute, I invited my mom, Anna Grande, to join me on the New Mexico trip. I had a few days of chilling in Las Cruces before the event. It turned out to be such a great mother-daughter trip with a big ride in the middle!
My mom lives in the Bay Area. We met at the Seattle airport and then we both flew to El Paso together. We rented a minivan and rented a place in Las Cruces. DangerBird organizer Matt Mason sent a few emails to all the participants with a list of events that were shaking out before the ride. The whole event felt very welcoming. One of those events my mom and I attended was the bikepacking summit at Klein Park, where he’d invited speakers to talk about what’s happening in and around Las Cruces. That’s where I saw some friends from Alaska doing the ride. I ran into a great friend from Washington D.C. and met new friends. Although we all live in different places, we all share a passion for bikes, traveling, community, uplifting one another, and more. It was great to have my mom there too. Although she doesn’t ride bikes, I’m very appreciative how welcoming this bike family has been to my own family.
The other amazing thing about doing this ride in this part of the country is that it was across the border from where my mom was born and raised in Ojinaga, in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua. We have relatives I have never met who live in El Paso and Juarez. The night before the ride, my mom and I actually hosted a dinner for my cousin, Ramon, who lives in El Paso. As I was getting ready for my ride, my mom was making plans with Ramon to visit more family in Juarez the same day of the DangerBird.
We were both planning to do something fun and exciting, and we both felt a little nervous in our own ways. The heat was going to be a challenge for me, and riding in the dark for a long period of time in the desert felt a little uncomfortable. I ride a lot in the dark in the winter months in Alaska, but there’s a lot of snow and that makes everything seem much brighter. For my mom, she had a big day driving to El Paso to meet up with her cousins, and then they were going to drive across the border to visit with her other cousin, Rosio, in Juarez. My mom told me to be safe. I told her the same thing and that we’d keep in touch throughout the day.
During my ride, I was thinking about her a lot. I was hoping she was having a great day. She had health complications a few years ago that were pretty serious. A miracle happened, and I cherish every second I have with her. I wanted to ride this route a little faster than six days so I could spend more quality time with her.
I started the ride with a chill pace. I was a bit squirly the first time we hit some sand, so I finally let air out of my tires, and that was an improvement. I found a groove and my pace. I met other riders out there for a bit. I saw my friends Teal and Ben from Alaska. This was Teal’s second big bikepacking trip, and she did great! About 30 miles in, I ended up meeting Hannah Bingham from Steamboat, Colorado. We follow each on Instagram, and we actually met on several zoom calls a few years ago. It was so great to meet her in person. Hannah and her husband, Brad own Bingham Built bikes. She is a super fast rider and very steady. She’s also a really strong climber, and her cadence was smooth. I wanted to ride with her, but I wasn’t sure I can keep that pace. We ended up riding all day together and hiked up the pass.
We rode into the night and popped out at the Blue Moon Bar and Grill in the outskirts of Las Cruces. We were pumped to get a burger, but the kitchen was closed. It was a Saturday night, and the bar was super packed. We went a little wild ourselves and ordered three pitchers of water! It was funny to be there after being in the middle of nowhere. Luckily, the little store inside the bar was open, so we just had more snacks for dinner like a muffin and chips, and I bought this super salty pickle. I couldn’t finish it, so I packed it to go. I’d also been trying to keep tabs on my mom to see if she got back to our rental okay. I called her, and she told me how great her day was in Juarez with family and that she was all good back in Las Cruces. She was supposed to leave Las Cruces for San Francisco on Sunday, but she made plans to stay an extra day to wait for me.
Hannah and I thought a good night’s rest would be nice since the next part we had to ride was the techy singletrack in the Doña Ana Mountains. We slept for about seven hours at a state campground. By the time we got to the Doña Anas, we had a beautiful sunrise. I started to feel the heat on my skin. I continued to lather up with sunscreen and chapstick. This was one of my favorite parts of the route.
Hannah and I got back to Las Cruces in the late morning on Sunday, and we chowed down some delicious breakfast burritos from The Bean. My mom met us there, and we all caught up. She was telling us about her trip, and we were telling her about our ride. The route is so cool because you go through Las Cruces and then continue on the other loop. For us, we were heading into the southern loop counter-clockwise. We started back again at noon and continued to ride. Hannah’s husband Brad was volunteering at the second aid station. There were two aid stations at the DangerBird with water, electrolytes, snacks, and sunscreen, which was such a bonus! Water capacity was another big concern. I rode with about four liters of water on my bike. Hannah stayed at the second rest stop a little longer, and I felt pretty good to continue on with the ride. I thought I was making a good pace to maybe finish super late on Sunday or really early Monday morning.
The sun was setting, and I was alone. I got to the town of Anthony and knew it was going to be a dark end to the ride. It was pitch dark riding along the Rio Grande. I was on the phone with Dusty and then my mom. It’s nice to chat with someone on those long stretches. No hills, just flat gravel, so it’s easy to have a conversation. My mom told me more about her day in Juarez. Her cousin took my mom to her childhood neighborhood. She sent me photos of her old house, her old school, and this beautiful mural of a young woman. Dusty was giving me updates from our house. We have been doing some big house projects this summer, and it was a race to finish before snowfall. Then I started to climb up toward the final singletrack push before the finish.
Dang, it was hella dark! Even with an eTrex and my Garmin Edge computer, it was tough to see the start of the singletrack, but I found it, and from that point on, it was really easy to navigate. I heard a bunch of random songs on my playlist. The one that pops out was “Monday Morning” by Fleetwood Mac. It was so funny to listen to that while riding with just a few feet of depth perception. I saw deer, many rabbits crossing the trailm and one cow on the side of the trail. I rode into a Hillside subdivision and thought that was my way back to town, but the route had me going back into more trails.
One of my lights was losing battery and dimming out. I had two lights on me. One on my helmet and one on my handlebars. I was fine with at least one of them. There were awesome, sweet, fun, flowy descents, then some chunky stuff closer to the university. I felt so happy to see the city lights. I called my mom and said I’m okay and should be at the Plaza, (where we started the route) around 1 a.m. She said she was going to be there. I said no way! But guess what? When I rode into the plaza at 1 a.m., I saw my mom waiting in her pajamas. It was the coolest finish of any of the bike event I have participated in.
My mom and I ate a big breakfast at Andele the next morning. She loved that place. Great flavors and nice staff. We saw our friend Leah Fantle at the end of her ride after brakasfat and gave her a big hug. We drove back to El Paso to catch our flight back home. On our drive south, I checked in with friends along the route. Turns out Ben and Teal were right off the highway in Anthony, and we stopped to say hi. They had that last singletrack push before their big finish. Then Dusty had us go to Lowe’s to pick up a part for our house project he couldn’t get in Anchorage. When I got to the airport after, Hannah messaged me saying she’d finished her ride. I was really pumped for her! My mom and I flew back to Seattle, where we went our separate ways back home.
The ride was great, the family time was spectacular, and the ability to blend the two was magical. Thank you everyone in Las Cruces and the DangerBird crew for making space to make this all happen!
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