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Back to Marvelous Dirt Road Mountain Biking

Going back to mountain biking on dirt roads -- rather than single-track trails -- is a straightforward opportunity to think independently of the System, and to reap rewards. Surely, this is easy to preach and hard to practice.

If you limit yourself to areas with networks of single-track trails, you will tend to pin yourself down in more touristy areas. The more uncrowded areas, with the best dispersed camping, have no single track trails, but they have many regular ol' dirt forest roads. 

New Mexico is under-rated as a place to mountain bike on dirt forest roads. The best feature is the balance between scenery and rideable topography. Look at this photo:

The cliff is pretty high and steep, and therefore fun to look at. But imagine there were a road along the top of the cliff. It would be challenging enough, but at the same time, not too steep. Those are the magic words for enjoying mountain biking, "not too steep."

The land was cooperating with me. Have you spent a little too much time alone if you start to anthropomorphize topography? At any rate Coffee Girl and I headed up a dirt road to a mountain peak because I was trusting the land. The climbing started immediately from the van. Uh-oh.

But the dirt road wasn't too rocky. There was enough dirt for some interesting footprints to show. I never realized how human the footprints of a bear are! I stopped and studied them, but it was impossible to photograph them. Should I snap little missy onto her leash? Remember her chasing the black bear on the Uncompahgre Plateau last autumn?

There are plenty of black bears in New Mexico, but I decided to leave her off-leash, and hoped that the tinkling bells on my bike scared off the bears. Soon we saw the big square butts of elk, and she chased them -- for about 4 seconds. Doesn't gravity mean anything to animals like that?

As usual I forgot to bring my GPS gadget. There is an advantage: instead of an uninteresting number, progress up the mountain is marked off in stages that seem subjectively interesting: unzipping the vest halfway, and then all the way; unclipping the left shoe as the road got steeper, and then the right shoe, as well; and suddenly the ponderosa pines giving way to the yukky subalpine spruce and fir that I don't even care to learn the names of. (But these things look so uninteresting on the page.)

There is a strange contrast between the mountain biker's keen awareness of the world around him and his self-absorption with the straining of his body. These two behaviors seem like the opposite of each other, and yet they don't cancel each other out.

What's this? A perfect campsite near the top, at least for a primitive camper. But was I near the top? I was going to turn around there, but then saw the forest fire watch tower on the top, not so many minutes away. It really is fun to whip out the first decent monocular of my life and check things out.

We finally humped it, and were rewarded with a view of the Plains of San Agustin, to the east. Surely it is one of the most unique areas in the Southwest.

To the west was the mighty little metropolis of Reserve, NM.

The descent was pure dessert, as it usually is, when mountain biking. One can get addicted to throwing everything you have into a monotonic climb, and then getting your payoff on the descent. It is a pleasure you don't get when you get sucked into single-track riding. (Nor do you get it on hikes.)

But the brakes didn't turn cherry red, nor did I feel like I was going to break my neck. Not too steep.


Jackpineseed said…
I agree with you in general that singletrack trails can get crowded and it can be hard to find good camps nearby. I guess I was using independent thinking as a way of beating the system last week when I was at the 'Big M' (a popular trail in Michigan). I had it all to myself cause it was early in the morning and early in the season. Had a great dispersed camp on the Manistee N.F. about 5 miles away as well. I too like to ride and explore on dirt forest roads as a way to experience an area and get some exercise. I just can't resist seeking out the best new IMBA designed trails though. They have such good 'flow' built into them. I literally go into phycological 'flow' mode on a good one. I think it's all about finding the balance that works for you.
Steve said…
great post ... I'm glad you decided to go all the way to the top. I'll remember what you said about the single-track riding compared to a forest dirt road.
Ahh yes, the Manistee. I remember it from my days as a bicycle tour leader with Michigan Bicycle Touring.

I agree that single tracks are nice when you can find them. I was only preaching against automatically thinking that you need official trails.
Originally I was a "roadie", so riding dirt roads on a mountain bike lets me get back into pure aerobic mode, which is fun. Technical aspects of mountain biking are fun, but they do tend to detract from my aerobic fitness.
Kim said…
Gorgeous view! Looks like an amazing trip, thanks for the share!