The New-Mexico Off-Road Runner Write-Up
by: Odis Franklin
Mick is an experienced Bike packer and a Navy Veteran, John is retired Army serving in Vietnam and I am also Army from the Desert Storm era. Me and John are newbies at the bike packing thing, but are very experienced road bike riders. I trained for several months with my loaded Cannondale 29er hardtail leading up to the trip. It paid off big time as I was prepared to ride for several hours each day. me and John both have raced ultra-distance road races for a few years and were accustomed to long days in the saddle. We also did a weekender at the Caprock Canyons State park about a month before the trip as a shakedown.
Me, John and Mick, all Veterans decided several months ago to try the New Mexico Off-Road Runner. This is originally a 500-mile bike packing trip that goes through the back country between Santa Fe to Las Cruces traversing several mountain ranges. We did alter our route from the original somewhat and ended up with right around 400 miles and 9 days of riding.
I'll make separate posts for each day as I reflect on my notes, photos and videos taken during the trip.
NMORR Day -1 & 0
Usually day 0 is the day before, but since we had 2 travel days before I'll call it day -1 and day 0.
I picked Mick up at Lowes in Midland, Texas and after some adjusting, we got his bad ass fat bike and my 29er loaded in the back if my RAM 2500. Day -1 was our travel day from the Permian Basin to Las Cruces. John lives there and we are staging at his house and then driving to Santa Fe and riding back to his house. We had a fairly easy travel day to John's casa. When we arrived, we left our bikes and gear loaded in the truck and immediately began helping John get his bike packed for the trip while enjoying some local IPA from the Spotted Dog brewery in Las Cruces. John is a wonderful host and had a growler waiting on us. After getting his bike packed, we went to the Spotted Dog for a few more IPA's and some great food. On the way out, we stopped at the store for some Lagunitas IPA, but were too tired to drink and went to bed early after visiting with John's lovely wife Dianne.
Day 0 came quickly and we awoke to a beautiful morning in southern New Mexico with the mountains as a backdrop to the west of John's casa. His wife got up and cooked us a good breakfast to help get our calories up before our trip. John's son Joseph took us to Santa Fe to drop us off at the hotel for the trip. To say we were nervous was an understatement and when my truck drove off, we realized we were committed and the only way to Las Cruces was through the planned route on 80 lb. bicycles and ready or not, we were doing it. We went to a local cafe via Uber for dinner and when we arrived back to the hotel we fell fast asleep awaiting our adventure. Well maybe we didn't fall fast asleep wondering what lay ahead.
NMORR Day 1
The day finally arrived and we were eager to get started. I for one was finally over my nerves and once we finally found the trail head, it was time to ride. The terrain was a beautiful groomed hike/bike trail along the railroad tracks for 15 miles or so. We paused for lunch after a brief paved stent at a small cafe. We had trouble getting going after lunch as we were not all accustomed to unpacking and repacking things because we hadn't learned exactly where certain gear was on our bikes. Storms loomed and we were trying to get out on the road to get ahead of the storm. John was having issues with his Garmin and after getting him calmed down and getting him to agree to use my Garmin file we headed out.
We stayed on pavement for a long while and dropped into a deep valley that I knew we would have to climb out of and we got our first experience of Hike a Bike at that point to get out of that canyon. We made our way to the national forest road and after some discussion and cussing about what direction to go due to issues with John's Garmin Montana not working right. We got a section of riding neither me or John were comfortable with, rocky, muddy Jeep trails. Mick seemed right at home on this terrain as he is an old mountain biker.
Our plan was to get 40-45 miles and make camp on the edge of the national forest, but after 28 miles, 2000 foot of climbing and trouble finding our water source it was going to get dark soon so we decided to camp. We got to an old government water well with an old Jensen pumpjack on it reminiscent to one you might see pumping a small oil well in west Texas and made camp. It was a beautiful night and we had a nice camp fire and Mick provided a very nice cigar and we sit around the fire discussing the day over some Apple Pie moonshine.
Day 2 Struck all our Matches
We got up late, it was a very cold night and we all woke up in the night shivering and put on more clothes. I vowed to stay in the sleeping bag until it got warm but I heard the crackling of a fire and I got up to warm my bones. John followed soon and we drank a ton of coffee to warm our souls and talk about the day ahead, hoping for better roads. Me and Mick backtracked a few miles to the windmill from the day before and filtered water for the day ahead for us.
We headed out about 10:30 and found the terrain much more tolerable with some muddy areas, but much flatter and suited us West Texas boys riding style.
After 30ish miles of dirt, I remember seeing a rancher and was so happy as it was the first human we had seen in 2 days. Shortly after that we came to an intersection that was paved and we all fueled up on snacks as we prepared to push to Moriarity, which was another 40ish miles ahead.
We had a tailwind and some downhill and were flying down the road. We all felt like supermen and pushed too hard trying to make the saloon in town to get a cold draft and food before bed. We rolled into town all wore out from the long hard push and ended up eating at the local burger joint and went back to the hotel, showered and passed out.
We learned a valuable lesson on this day, not only can you strike all of your matches for the day on an 80 lb. bike, but you can strike them all for 2 days. (My friend Doug says you only have so many matches to strike on a bike ride and then you are done for the day or out of energy).
Day 3 Kind Strangers
We expected to get an early start on day 3 since we stayed in a hotel, but ended up leaving around 11 as we went to the dollar store for resupply and we ate large breakfast to get our calories up. While at the dollar store the cashier asked what we were doing and we told her how cold it was the night before on the trail. She found a bunch of hand warmers in her car and ran across the parking lot as we were leaving and gave them to us so we could stay warm. She was the first of many kind people we met on the trail.
We left out and immediately knew John was feeling ill. He said he needed to eat, so we pulled into Nachos and ate lunch. The night before, we had to make John eat as he rode too hard and was sick to his stomach. This lunch seemed to fix him right up and we headed out for the day ahead. We knew it was about time to think about water and camping and came to a little town where some cowboys pulled over and gave us some water, our second set of kind people. It was like God put angels on the trail to take care of us, and I believe he did.
We soon found our 3rd set of angels as it was almost dark, there was nowhere to camp as private property was all around. We came to a gate on top of a mountain and found a lady walking. We asked if she knew anywhere we could camp and explained our situation. She came back with her husband and little one and he said we could camp right there in his fence. We all felt safe and made camp and ate while visiting about or day and enjoyed a good night’s sleep after the 30-mile day we had.
Day 4 The Road that NEVER ENDS
After our short day on day 3, we had decided to leave at daylight and get some good miles in. We left our campsite and headed out to find a store and town a few miles down the road where we ate burritos and drank juice and coffee. As me and Mick looked at the route on his phone, it looked like we would have plenty of opportunity to fill water bottles throughout the day, so we opted to get a 6 pack of Happy Camper IPA and split it up between our metal water bottles for later that evening at camp. I had a bad feeling while filling the bottles, but would find out why later that day.
We rode out from the store with our bellies full and had a paved stint that lead to a state park entrance for a nice water refill. We filled bottles and then after leaving the park started an 8-mile-long climb up an 8100' pass, the first big climb of the ride. I felt great and rode most of the climb. When I got to what I thought was the top, I stopped to eat a bite and wait on the others and it was a short wait as Mick and John were within a few minutes of catching me. After finally reaching the top of the pass, Mick seemed excited for the downhill section while me and John became very aware that we were not comfortable on downhill dirt. The road was hard with a light peppering of gravel on it, making it slick. John walked most of it and I rode it very cautiously balancing a sliding back tire and squeezing it just enough to keep me slow. Finally, we hit some hard dirt and I let it go for a fairly fun ride. At the bottom me and Mick waited on John and had a snack enjoying the landscape.
We had a paved section next up with a big climb and a fabulous downhill, finally I was in my element. I won't lie, every time I hit pavement I got excited. The downhill section was fast, I was up to 44 before I knew it and left the guys in my dust as I had 2.25" tires on my Cannondale and they had little rolling resistance compared the fatter tire bikes my compadres were riding.
John had severe stomach issues on the paved flat section to town and we stopped several times. This road was long and flat with headwinds and 95-degree temps in which we all got sunburned. We were looking for a store to refill water and camp, but to our surprise it was non-existent. We were so tired, hot and about out of water at that point and all I could think about was the water we could have brought if we didn't bring beer. Me and Mick had used up about 4 water bottles between us hauling beer! We stopped at an intersection to get a game plan together and rest and luckily a work truck came by and gave us all of their water. We knew we'd be OK at that point and pushed on after thanking them. We made what was supposed to be the town of Bernardo, but it was also non-existent. After a 70-mile day and looking for a camp spot for an hour or so, we found the Kiva RV Park and they welcomed us with open arms. They had showers, food, water and a safe place to camp! We enjoyed our still cool beer, ate supper and fell fast asleep.
Day 5- The Ruins of Riley
On day 5 we awoke weary from the push the day before and bought eggs from the campground store and boiled them in our jet-boil for breakfast and slowly headed toward the next mountain range. We were headed toward Magdalena and hoping to make it all the way. It was a super sunny bright day that brought lots of wind, sand and heat. We were thinking of the unknown day ahead and wondering about water, even though we were not out. I stopped a passing rancher and asked for water if they had any to spare and they didn't and said "Don't drink any water between here and Magdalena, it's not any good". After they drove off, the thought of not having enough water weighed on our minds.
We rode around the mountain range finally and decided we couldn't make the town of Magdalena, and hoped for the national forest for a safe camp site. About mile 25 or so we started seeing a few houses and looked for water but when we saw the no trespassing signs we too head to their warning and stayed out. Finally, we got a cell signal and looked at Google maps and saw a town called Riley about a mile up the road and headed that direction. We found it and saw that it was an historic church site with a beautiful church and old adobe ruins. It had a nice covered gathering area that we decided to make camp under for the night to get out of the 50 MPH winds that had picked up. I found a river and we filtered water for drinking and cooking and after a large meal and picture taking opportunity, we slept well. I did sleep with a pistol that night, just in case.
Day 6 - Finally Made Magdalena
We awoke early in Riley not knowing if we were going to be greeted by people showing up at the church for a gathering. When we arrived the day before it looked as if someone had cleaned the place up like there was an event the next day, so we ate breakfast used the much-appreciated porta-potties, even though they were very old and in disarray, they did the job, (except JC who opted for the brush) and headed toward Magdalena.
We had some good climbs heading out of Riley and my Garmin quit. I tried and tried to get it to work, but it would not stay on. I was trying to record the entire trip as one ride so I wouldn't have to merge GPS files. I remembered somewhere a long time ago at an ultra-race that a Garmin will not record past a certain number of hours on one file and I had over 24 hours of riding and thought that may be the issue. I saved the file and started a new one and it fixed it!
The riding was easy, fast flat and a lot of downhill tailwind toward town (thank God). We rode and talked and enjoyed the ride thinking about food and a hotel bed for rest. We hit town about 11:30 and found a thrift store where I bought a brimmed camo hat to keep the sun off of my face as I was super sun burned. We went to the local cafe at the historic Magdalena hotel and ate until we thought we were going to pop. and then found a cheaper hotel around the corner. That day we drank some beers while doing laundry in the bathroom sink and had to great conversation. We re-supplied at the local dollar store and ended up at the saloon for a few beers and pizza. Jason, a local, gave us some tips for our ride the next day as he worked the area of Beartrap Canyon. He bought us a round of beer and said we were crazy. We went back and crashed out since we had already packed our bags for an early departure.
Day 7 - The Dreaded Beartrap Canyon
I had been dreading Beartrap Canyon the entire trip, mainly because JC had scouted our route earlier in the Jeep and kept talking about how hard tough it was. He talked all week about how tough the climb and descent was going to be. Well, he wasn't kidding. We all made a bet on how long it would take us to get to the top and we were all wrong. It took us 2 hours longer than I guessed and 1 hour longer than Mick guessed. We pushed and rode up that mountain and all of its switchbacks for 5 hours. It seemed like forever, but when you have and 80lb bike it makes it much more difficult. This may have been the hardest climb I have ever done on a bike. I'm not sure if it was the mental block I had before starting because of all of JC's talking it up or me being tired from all of the miles, or it really being a mother.
Me and JC found Mick waiting at the top for us well rested and we were so glad that was over. Not the part me and John dreaded, the downhill. We decided to take it easy not knowing how the roads would be, but actually they weren't bad. The roads were nice hard dirt roads with no loose gravel so it was a fast descent. I caught Mick and we rode down together taking pictures and enjoying the well-earned downhill.
I guess somewhere we didn't hear John say wait on him on the descent, since he walks the downhills we went ahead and he caught us taking pictures in the bottom of Beartrap. He was not happy to say the least. He was waiting on us at Beartrap Camp Ground for 30 minutes and gave up and came on. He wanted to show us some sights in Beartrap and was mad we didn't wait. Luckily, we were not to the part he wanted to show us and we got a tour of the beautiful canyon and then proceeded to climb out of the other side of the canyon to where our food cache was located and made camp at the top.
That night we made a campfire, cooked the beans JC had hid along with the water and sat around the fire while we finished off the Apple Pie moonshine I brought and smoked one last Deadwood Tobacco cigar. We had some great stories from JC and his time in Vietnam and laughed until we cried! We went to bed hoping for the town of Truth or Consequences or T or C for short and not knowing we were so close to finishing.
Day 8 - A day for EVERYTHING
As we ate breakfast looking toward the direction Winston was in and the direction we were heading, we say flat ground and maybe even what looked like promising downhill and it got our hopes up. Hoping for the best, we headed out into a headwind, but hoped it was only because we were at the top of a pass. We soon found out otherwise as we headed downhill, we had to pedal against at least a 20 MPH headwind that continued to get worse as time passed. We had 25 miles to the food cache JC had put out a few weeks earlier and we wondered at times if we would make it that far. The wind gradually made it up to what we guessed was about 50 MPH headwinds and we battled on. At one point I was blown off the road and couldn't get back on my bike because the wind kept blowing me off of it. After about 5 hours we made it to the cut-off for Winston and decided it wasn't worth going to the cache as it was into the headwind and we didn't want to waste any more time.
As we headed toward Winston, we slowly got a tailwind and man it was nice! It was well earned and deserved. We rolled into Winston to find the general store open and got some food to eat. Mick and JC got these huge chili dogs and I opted for BBQ sandwich and ice cream. While eating it started to rain and the store owner said there was a major storm headed our way. We didn't tarry long and at the top of the pass outside of Winston we were greeted by hail and maybe a little snow and freezing temps to go with the wet roads as we prepared for the downhill.
The downhill was a blast, we had a 40-mile descent into T or C and soon the cold wet weather changed to hot dry desert. As we cruised to T or C we were not even needing to pedal. JC and Mick had 1x drive trains while my older bike had a triple on the front with a 9-speed rear and I had a lot of top end compared to the beasts they were riding. My 2.25" tires also made for easy rolling on pavement. I was going 33 MPH without pedaling heading down this section. We rolled into a town and the speed limit was 35 and I was going close to 40, super nice!
When we got to T or C we had over 350 miles and a 70-mile day. We feasted on Mexican food and beer and reminisced about the trip because we were hoping to finish the ride the next evening as we were missing our families and were weary.
Day 9 - And Just Like That, It's Over
We rolled out of T or C early after loading up with calories for the hard push ahead at Denny's cafe before leaving town.
After some route discussion we opted for a great gravel road and fairly flat terrain with a 20 MPH headwind. 20 MPH was tolerable after the 50 MPH the day before and we pushed pretty hard. As we rode, the road got sandier and I had more trouble in the sand with my skinnier tires that the other 2 did. I also had issues with the rocky section for about 5 miles compared to the fat tire guys.
We finally hit the tracks headed to Rincon and I had been there before and recon rides in JC's Jeep and we went harder as we saw the phone tower at Rincon in the distance. The road got really sandy along the last 10 miles and I ended up falling once and pushing a lot, but we all made it to Rincon safe and sound. We planned on finishing at Hatch for a burger at Sparky's, but they were closed that day, so we opted to call it a Rincon and head to John's casa for Pizza and Beer his wife got us. We sat around John's table and enjoyed the food and company while talking about the adventure of a lifetime we had just accomplished.
What a ride!