The frontage road kept the Interstate in sight, though wandering in some hills. Up and down like a roller coaster. In a car one might even float a bit on the crests, the frequency tuned for 60 mph mayhem.
The frontage road crossed back onto the eastern side of I-25. Now I was back in the fertile areas of the Rio Grande. Lots of nice farms coming into Los Lunas. Soon I was even in Belen. My cycling ‘career’ had begun here at the age of 14. In the 1970s, cycling was becoming a bit of a rage here in the USA. Finally, North America had finally heard of the Tour de France (70 years after it’s inception). Like the start of the running craze, hiking’s birth and the new Earth Day ethos, cycling was on the scene and challenging the V-8 engine. A new cycling concept, called the ‘Century Ride” (100 miles), was propelling the public into fitness training and commuting on bikes. One Saturday evening my father and I were watching the 10 o’clock news on TV (yeah, only 3 channels back then) and the sports commentator was doing his segment on this century ride tomorrow called The Tour of the Rio Grande Valley. Several possible loops, 25 miles, 50 miles, 75 miles and even 100 miles were possible. “Come on down to the University of New Mexico by 7am to register and pedal one of your choice.” I had no interest in any of that, in spite of having just trading in my heavy Schwinn Continental for a lightweight French bike just two weeks earlier. Besides, I didn’t even know how to fix the european style tubular tires, the casing being sewn together with the tube inside and the whole thing glued onto the rims. I didn’t even have a spare tire. Off to bed I went at 10:30pm not even dreaming about cycling.
At 6am my father dragged me out of bed and after a quick bowl of cereal took me down to the University to register. He said for me to just ride what I could and he’d pick me up somewhere along the way. His plan was to have a long breakfast at a downtown cafe, and read the newspaper, picking me up later. Well, he was a news junkie, so that probably meant he’d come after reading the Albuquerque Journal, the New York Times and the Washington Post!!
So off I pedaled, joining the mass of several hundred cyclists (who had most likely trained at least one day, unlike me). In tennis shoes, Levi blue jeans, one water bottle, no helmet and no spare tire I pedaled south along the Rio Grande valley. Well, the hours went by, I was having fun and just kept following other cyclists, I had no clue to which distance loop I was on or how far I was going. I just kept pedaling until my dad was going to pick me up.
My father finished his usual mega news reading session (thank God CNN hadn’t been invented yet) and he started driving his jeep on the 25 mile loop to find me. No luck, so he proudly thought I’d be on the 50 mile loop. I wasn’t there either. Worriedly, he sped up, and drove the 75 mile loop. Where was that kid?! 100 mile loop, impossible! Dad found me still pedaling along nearly 80 miles into the 100 mile loop. I was tired and running on empty as the aid stations didn’t really have much beyond oranges, apples and water. Dad drove to a convenience store to get me a few food items and I kept pedaling. My crotch was raw from wearing cotton underwear and ill-fitting blue jeans, and even the bottom of my feet hurt from the pedal pressure on the soft midsoles of my running shoes. In seven hours and 10 minutes I tiredly climbed the last grade to UNM. I was beat, but I was also hooked!
That crazy introduction to cycling gave this teenager a focus and purpose. For the next several years I would train before dawn, ride after school and barely hang onto the adult dominated peloton on Sunday group rides. I soon began to race, and as my body matured and grew stronger, I did better and better. Even as a junior racer (16 years), I broke the New Mexico State Hill Climb Championship time record for Senior Men. I made cycling friends and even got my first job as a teenager at a bike shop. Then I had a major growth spurt and everything fell apart as I struggled with severe knee pain. I had to stop cycling for several years, which broke my heart. I watched from the sidelines as my close friend and training partner win the USA National Road Championships and also become an Olympian. I forgot cycling, and like a first love, that ache will always be fresh.
Today I powered across the Rio Grande for the final time, I driving my pedals downward, round and round, quickly climbing up Gibson Avenue. Now I was a late-50’s man. My cycling racing career had been cut short during those Albuquerque times, but dammit, I was feeling fit now. Steadily I climbed towards Tramway Blvd. Now I was on Central Avenue in heavy Saturday shopping traffic. I had a goal, my in-laws by noon. I pushed hard, but all the traffic lights worked against me. Ten minutes after noon I reached my in-laws. A nice 90 mile day, the last day, capped off with a good climb from the river valley below and I was done.
In two nice tours I had ridden 758 miles from northern Colorado to the Mexican border. Tours which had given me good early season training goals to motivate me during the cold winter days. I had visited with family and friends, even done a wedding. Cycling hours filled with good reminiscing about youthful times growing up in the Southwest. Now I was done. It felt good, but not totally complete. Somehow I still needed to connect my Alaska ride to Colorado...that’s 3,400 miles in the middle to work on next. Back to the saddle for me!