Los Perros Locos de Pecos: A Farewell Ride
What’s your excuse for getting a group of friends together and enjoying a couple of nights out bikepacking? A birthday? The longest day of the year? Or a friend leaving town? Back in the Land of Enchantment, Cass heads out with his New Mexican compadres for a farewell ride amongst the piñons, junipers, red dirt… and sunset dust.
It’s midnight and I’m still running through my checklist. Denatured alcohol. Check. 2 x breakfasts. Grab en route to the bike shop. Charge head torch. Happening right now. Tent stakes. Must find… The list goes on. It’s time to call it quits and set the alarm for 6:00 AM.
Of course, sunrise comes and goes. When I leap out of bed, I see the tyres on my Pugsley – the 4.3″ colossuses – that I frantically pumped up the night before have failed to seal. The bike is sitting there, dejected, in a pool of its own rubber. Little wonder. It’s been sitting under a tarp, beneath what I affectionately call the Bike Shack (two palettes supporting a corrugated roof, pressed up against the wall of our trailer) since the winter, which means it’s been subject to the vagaries of the New Mexican summer.
I do have an excuse, at least. I’ve only recently returned from the UK, which is why I’m more disorganised than normal. But that’s okay. I have a backup plan. My Big Fat Dummy is at the ready, fresh from hauling my son Sage to school during the week. Sure, it’s not what I’d intended to ride, given that everyone else will be on their bikepacking steeds… bikes that are likely better suited to the route that Rusty has weaved together. It’s one incorporates both a 3,000-foot standalone climb and a number of loose, steep and chunky singletrack chutes, including some of the best backcountry descents in the area. And I just know that I’m bound to get loaded with extra beers! But it’s ready and raring to go, with only a quick reshuffle of gear before I’m ready too.
Still, I’m an hour behind now (“Rubber on the road no later than noon”), so I text the others and tell them I’ll play catchup on the Rail Trail, the traffic-free dirt road that feeds cyclists out of the city, past the community of Eldorado, and up towards Rowe Mesa.
Which I do, before too long, taking advantage of an inevitably slow group dynamic to catch them. We pedal on en masse into National Forest, first hopping on local trails, then sinking our teeth into a paved climb, before enjoying a gravel stint onto the mesa. We’re racing golden hour for all we’re worth and there’s no better time to be on our bikes – especially when it comes to experiencing the best of New Mexican light! The mesa-top meandering two-tracks I so adore are both chunky in places and packed smooth in others. Best of all, they leave cinematic dust trails that catch the last beams of sunshine clipping the horizon. Classic Knight Rider.
It’s almost dark when we make it but we’re there. Our first night is spent in an especially idyllic camp spot 20 miles out of town, flanked by toweringly giant, lichen-speckled boulders, ink-black caves, and a fallen tree that provides the perfect fuel for a fire, especially welcome now the temperatures are dropping.
We gather around a blazing fire and I’m reminded of the reason for this ride, aside from general camaraderie. Owen Conley (favourite food: pancakes, favourite pastime: challenging the current socio-economic power structure) is leaving the Broken Spoke, my local bike shop, after a decade of working there. I met Owen when I first began spending time in Santa Fe and we’ve shared many a desert ride, foosball game, and campout. In fact, Owen’s been a valued member of the bike community for far longer than I’ve known him. One of the most helpful guys in the business, he’s picked up Best Bike Shop Employee from Santa Fe Bike and Brew awards. And in case you think he’s all about selling bikes, he’s also worked for the last 13 years at Santa Fe’s bike co-op, Chainbreaker, first as a volunteer organizer and then as chair on the board of directors.
The shop he works at, Broken Spoke, has dovetailed the ride with Trevor from Surly, so it’s little wonder almost everyone here is on ECRs or Karate Monkeys or Krampi or Trolls, all shod with suitably plump tyres – just a couple of outliers are riding a Jones and a Moné. It’s big tyres all round: the Land of Enchantment could also be known as Plus Country. And we’re over 10 strong, not counting the canine in the ranks. Jet’s brought Smedley along, either stowed in a purpose-designed backpack, or running free beside us. The distance? Some 65 rugged miles, technically an overnighter that we’ve elongated into two campouts, in the interests of relaxed vibes and our different paces.
Fast or slow, hurried or leisurely, I enjoy riding with others, because with an open mind I know I can learn something from everyone. Watching Paul mountain bike is always a masterful lesson in dancing a bike over rocks and tail-whipping even a laden ECR through singletrack; perhaps it’s no surprise that he runs a basket up front and just a pair of Crocs under the saddle. Rusty reminds me of the value of packing fresh food; I enviously watch him loading his tacos up with cheese and veggies, heating them to perfection over the fire. In a group ride, inevitably someone’s brought along gear I’m unfamiliar with or not had a chance to try. Mehedi is back from his overseas bike travels and his stove – the BioLite CampStove 2 – is especially intriguing. Not only does it burn biomass but it charges a phone – as much as 30% during a typical dinner. He’s had it three years now and it’s been used all over Latin America during the trip we shared with his partner. His peanut butter, date and oat treats are a good reminder of how easy it is to go package-free when it comes to trail snacks.
And being the consummate gear nerd, I love seeing different attitudes to bike travel and interpretations of bikepacking, so often translated into very distinct setups. Yeshe’s Moné El Continente is simple, tightly packed, and set up singlespeed; his homemade coke can cooker resonates with this minimalism. Short trips are also great chances to try a different approach, or better still, borrow someone else’s gear. On this ride, Broken Spoke owner Mike is running a basketpacking setup – even if his verdict is ultimately a resounding fail. Then there’s the customisation and the stickers. I love that each bike is a very much a reflection of its owner.
Morning comes and goes. We get off to a late start, each of us brewing our coffees to taste – instant, freshly ground, filtered, or just cowboy style. Then we settle into a fast roll across the mesa, chicaning through piñon all the way into the village of Pecos, where barking dogs greet us and old cars, hoods agape in open surgery, fill the yards. A detour to a nearby gas station serving tamales and burritos fills our bellies and replenishes our beer supplies, and allows us top up on water. Then, we’re back in the forest as we start on the climb to Glorietta Baldy Lookout. It’s the crux of the ride and a big challenge for many, so we peel off three-quarters of the way up to camp on the edge of a perfect meadow. Somehow, it’s already that time of day again – we can’t claim too many miles on the clock, but that’s okay, because that’s never what this ride was about.
Our last morning is gloriously warm so again we linger around camp. When we roll out for a final day in the saddle, the road is steep and rocky in places. It throws down one especially punishing grade at the end that has us all off our bikes and pushing.
Then, the big reveal. Far-reaching views from a break in the trees at the top and for those that dare, rickety Glorietta Baldy Lookout – a now-defunct tower built in 1940 – with panoramic views all the way across Rowe Mesa, from whence we’ve come.
As for the descent, it’s one of the best in the local land: steep and loose singletrack that’s very much backcountry in flavour. With a 3,000-foot climb in our back pockets, it’s long, too, almost unending in the right state of mind. Negotiating it on the Big Fat Dummy required a certain brute finesse (and a few clipped corners). “Following you through the steep and loose was both impressive and entertaining!” came a message from Owen the next day. When it spit us out onto a forest road again, we all know that more awaits: another rough bout of white-knuckled singletrack that feeds us into St. John’s Arroyo, for the final swoopy trail stint into town.
The ride’s taken us longer than planned, and everyone has places to be, so farewells are brief but heartfelt; none more so than with Owen. Let’s do it again, and we will, I know, because we have a growing bikepacking community to be proud of. As for me, I make it in time to pick up Sage from his after school art class and add him to the cargo for the ride home. I probably stink of campfires and pine needles, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Good trip?” he asks from the back of the bike, his legs straddling my gear like a horseback rider.
“Yep. Starry nights and great trails. And happy times with friends,” comes my reply.
Interested in planning your own short trip? Check out our growing list of Bikepacking Overnighters, as we gather and map overnighters from all over the world. Share your own local ride, help us grow this resource, and make bikepacking more inclusive. If you’re looking at introducing others to bike campouts, find advice – and see some of the same protagonists from this trip – in our post on Building A Bikepacking Community.