Winter snows capped the Rockies and memories of last year’s bike tour to New Mexico were still strong, nearly twelve months later. It had been a great ride, albeit under stormy skies and hampered by my cycling partner’s illness. The driving force for that ride had been to attend an old friend’s daughter’s wedding in New Mexico. Logistics and the wedding location had meant a southern end point at Albuquerque (458 miles). A few more cycling days would have allowed me to push then all the way to the Mexican border at El Paso, TX. Now a year later I wanted to complete that southern leg of my ride.
Commitments this year meant an early May ride and a shortened preparation timeline. It seems like the specter of early or late season weather is a common element of my bike tours. I was sure hoping this would not mean a tough ride. This desert Southwest ride could be too warm, too cold and/or windy in early May. Having lived and cycled in NM for years, I dreaded the thought of sideways winds whipping up tumbleweeds and sandblasting grit in my eyes and gears. One Tour of the Rio Grande Valley century ride (100 miles) I had planned on finishing in close to four hours, but took nearly seven under horrific sandstorm winds. With this memory still vivid after 40 years, I packed four water bottles for long days in the saddle and three spare tubes for the inevitable goathead thorns. In a way, I dreaded this desert homecoming.
Usually one just flies from home to the start of one’s trip. However, it seemed one logical way might be to take the Greyhound Bus from Denver to El Paso, squeezing in an overnight with friends in Albuquerque southward. For only $70 fare and $20 bike box fee it was a deal compared with $173 airfare and $150 oversize bike fee charged American Airlines. By reversing my ride to be from El Paso to ABQ, I could be picked up by my wife at her parents at the ride’s conclusion in ABQ. Thus she would visit them and I could mix a family and cycling vacation. With this plan in place, I would leave at 6am in Denver, arriving ABQ 5PM. Then continuing at 5AM the next morning, I would arrive El Paso 9:50AM. It seemed like a pretty straight forward plan.
After leaving the frankly dismal and depressing Denver bus station (lots of homeless people crashing out there), the bus quickly made it’s way south on I-25. After a short Colorado Springs stop, I soon began a conversation with an 70-ish passenger from Poland. An interesting fellow, who was globe trotting in his senior years. His wife did not like to fly, but that wasn’t stopping him. He was on a three week bus tour here, his second trip now to the USA. As a civil engineer he had worked in Libya for two years, Saudi Arabia for a year and Finland for a year. His personal travels had taken him to the summit of Kilimanjaro, Cape Town, Australia, Asia and all over Europe. We had many places traveled in common, marveling we had both even been to Nordkapp, Norway, too. The time and miles flew by, and soon we arrived in ABQ. Marek planned to spend a day in ABQ, so I gave him advice on the sights to see and we parted ways.
After an enjoyable evening with friends and fitful rest in ABQ, I was soon rolling again southwards to El Paso. The bus ride from ABQ to El Paso is pretty boring on I-25; sage and cactus covered sandy plains, and seemingly waterless hills and mountains in the simmering distance. “Well, some rides you do to fill a blank spot on a map and calendar” I thought to myself. I hoped my journey by bike may find some new vistas (maybe only internal ones) along the banks of the Rio Grande river as it paralleled the highway. While in the 1500s, the Spanish conquistadors arduously trekked ‘al Norte’ along the Rio Grande, in hot heavy armor, I instead would be zipping along in lycra from air-conditioned motel to air-conditioned motel.