The Las Cruces Men's Retreat - A collaborative write up from Odis Franklin and Mick Sudano
Mick: Ambition stepped up to reality in the January 2020 Trail Warrior Project ride in Las Cruces, NM. We originally had 5 or 6 people signed up to attend not including myself and Odis Franklin. It was looking like it would be a full trip. The plan was to host an “Introductory” ride of about 10 miles out and back with an overnighter. Most of the entrants were roadies with little experience in backcountry cycling. We would host a bikepacking clinic and have some fun for the weekend. The week leading up to the event, a couple of people canceled due to scheduling conflicts and the seasonal cold/flu that was working its way around the area which I myself had only kicked days before. We had an idea to change the Men’s retreat to an “everyone retreat” in hopes of filling up the vacancies again. We did, but almost everyone else ended up throwing it in as the days ticked down. We were almost ready to reschedule the event entirely. We called the last registered rider on the roster, Jeff from San Antonio, to gauge his readiness and verify his attendance. He assured us he was ready to go and looking forward to the trip. Odis and I had a last-minute idea to alter the route since all 3 of us that would be attending had bikepacking experience. Instead of our 10-mile out and back, we opted to ride the northern half of the Monumental Loop route from Las Cruces to Hatch and back through the mountains. This alternate option was around 150 miles total. We read the route guides and checked with Jeff. He was down so we went ahead with the new ambitious 50-mile per day plan.
Odis: On January 17, the Trail Warrior Project had it's first men's retreat in Las Cruces, NM. John Carter was going to host it, but with his passing, his wife insisted we have it at their house anyway. We had several riders back out and ended up with only one lone rider attending. Jeff, from San Antonio, an Air Force Veteran was well equipped for the task at hand. he had done several bikepacking trips, so we decided to tackle the Northern portion of the Monumental Loop from Bikepacking.com.
Mick: We started out strong, making consistent progress through what is mostly singletrack right upfront. We rode local trails out of Las Cruces, intersected with a couple of residential subdivisions, and left the city on more single track - less worn and more elusive to follow. Due to the serpentine nature of the route, we kept noticing how we had ridden most of the day but looking back to where we came from it appeared we hadn’t gone far. We could still see “A-Mountain” near where we had started in the not so distant horizon.
Odis: The route was listed in difficulty a 9/10 and we found out soon the reason why. After leaving Las Cruces, we rode on some jeep roads that were sandy and rocky as well as some creek beds. We soon found ourselves riding on rocky singletrack, which was either up or down, nothing was flat until we hit a nice segment in the Dona Ana Trail System. We made our way down toward I25 and found some great gravel roads that lead us to the tiny town of Radium Springs where we camped for the night at a state park. We had a great campfire and camp food while reminiscing about our day.
Mick: While setting up camp at the state park, the camper in the next site over approached us. An older man who introduced himself as “Rick from New Hampshire” appeared to be staying in his converted Chevy Van. He kindly offered us the use of his extra firewood and a beer. We accepted without much push-back and when he returned minutes later he handed us each a coin. He explained he had a bag of foreign coins and he was giving them out to other travelers he met. Each was from a different country. He sat and enjoyed a beer with us while we set up camp. Shortly after, the camp host stopped by and offered us his bottle of lighter fluid explaining it was difficult to get fires going in the morning. After he left we commented again on the overall helpful people we have consistently encountered on trips in New Mexico.
Odis: The next day we headed toward Hatch and found the road that was never-ending! It was a great gravel ride, but the road went on forever! We did intersect the New Mexico Off Runner Route that we did back in May at Rincon before making our way to Hatch.
Mick: The straight stretch of long gravel roads seemed to never end. I have only done mountain biking in an exploration kind of pace so sitting and grinding for miles always seems to get to me. We passed a Border Patrol checkpoint but we were on the dirt road behind it so no need to stop. The closer we got to Hatch, the sandier the route was. At one point we were all riding a nice downgrade around 20 mph then came to an abrupt halt when our tires sank into deep sand. We hiked for a bit towards the railroad tracks. After a few more miles we came into Hatch from the Southeast. Due to the name of the town, I expected to see fields of Hatch Chilies but instead, we were surprised to see acres of pecan orchards. We hit the pavement and worked our way towards town.
Some of you who have not had the opportunity to go bikepacking yet would be surprised at the slow pace. If you’re a roadie or gravel rider you’re likely used to a 15 mph+ average. When you are carrying tents, cookware, sleeping bags, extra water, and other gear, it closer to 6 to 9 mph average. The weight and balance definitely take a toll on your body.
As we headed north toward the last stretch Odis and Jeff went up and over a paved bridge and started down the other side. I was in the back and stopped at the top with a feeling of cold sweats and general shakiness. It seemed like no matter how much I told my legs to go, they refused to put out more than 10%. I thought I probably just needed to eat and knew we would shortly get that chance in Hatch. 1 week before the ride I had strep and the nasty cold that had been working through our town. I didn’t have any symptoms left but was now concerned I had bitten off too much too soon.
Odis: In Hatch, we had the best Green Chile Burger ever! (Anything you eat while bikepacking is the best thing you've ever eaten). But these were off the hook! We then decided, due to time restraints, that we better head back towards Las Cruces, we made it back to John's house in time to have Pizza and relax around the campfire while talking about our adventures.
Mick: The Green Chile Burger in Hatch was greasy, salty, dripping with fat and flavor, and easily the best burger I have ever had. After resting there for a bit we looked at our pace, the route remaining ahead and the number of days we had left on our trip. At the current pace, we simply would not finish the entire route in time. We talked about going for it and just taking an extra day to get back. We didn’t really have the option to do that with other obligations on our schedules. I was also thinking about how I was feeling. If we pushed on up into the mountains for the return trip, there would be no bailout points until we were almost through. I was afraid of getting up into the route then feeling worse and getting sick with no options at that point. That didn’t sound wise either. We ended up deciding to head back to Las Cruces on the pavement with a more direct route.
Odis: Dianne Carter was the most gracious host ever and we had many great stories we told about John Carter! We celebrated his life all weekend with great stories and talking about how we missed him!
Mick: This will go back on my list as a future ride to go back and complete. It turned out to still be a great adventure. As Jeff said, we ended up riding more country and seeing more areas than the original plan included so it was a win in the end. We got to meet Jeff and continue to do what we intended with the Trail Warrior Project. We had the opportunity to share this experience with other veterans and have fun exploring by bike.