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The High Life

October 11, 2010

Life has been nice since the last installment of the Burning Flame was published. Colleen finally put in her resignation at work the last week in September. We both knew it was only a matter of time since it was really wearing down on her and the call of a new direction was beckoning. I had just wrapped up a large chunk of contract architecture work and was ready for a break too, so we decided to skip town and head out for the mountains of New Mexico-Cloudcroft and Ruidoso to be exact. It was this same time last year that I was laid off and we did our big trip to Colorado. It is not only a time to relax, enjoy the sights and sounds of new places, take in the cool fall weather, and and be inspired to move to some place more enjoyable than sea level with 1 million people and congested roadways, but a chance to get some hard core training in! Rocky Hill is now less than 2 weeks away. The altitude, combined with the mountain terrain provide ample opportunity to get some fantastic exercise in. Here is a brief recap.

Days 1-2 Abilene/Travel

There just happened to be a TMBRA cross country race in Abilene this weekend, and Abilene just happened to be on the way to Cloudcroft, so I reckoned I would kick start the training effort by dusting off the racing legs for my first XC race in over a year. There was a little internal debate whether or not to go Pro/Cat 1 or fall back to the Cat 1 age group since it had been a while. I don’t like taking the easy way out, though, so racing with the big dogs it was. To make it a little more interesting, I would race singlespeed. Proud Mary was setup with one gear in preparation for Rocky Hill (Cat is out of the bag, I will be racing SS again this year). For the most part, it was a good singlespeed course. There were only a few spots wide open enough to gear out, and only a few short climbs that hurt but were all doable. I felt my 34×18 gearing was just right. The start sucked with one gear since it was a long flat jeep road intended to split the group. That didn’t happen though as all 11 racers hit the singletrack in one group. I was 10th and just happy to have been there after spinning 160 rpm for a mile. From there it was classic Caveman cat and mouse moving up the ranks. By the end of lap 1 I was sitting in 4th, 20 seconds back on 3rd. I didn’t see 5th behind me, but i felt he wasn’t too far back. No matter, trying to catch 3rd (Payson McElveen) would be my focus. For the first part of the 2nd lap, it worked pretty well. I got within 10 seconds maybe, but then just gradually fell back as the gear-less effort on the climbs took its toll. That kid was just floating up the climbs! Through the feed zone into the final lap, he was 30 seconds up again. The focus was now just holding onto 4th, which I was able to do comfortably by a minute. 4th-on a SS, not too shabby. Really surprised myself, and a few other folks. It would be nice motivation to carry into the mountains and out to Smithville in a few weeks.


Photo by Ingotimaging


I got my check, we packed up, ate lunch/dinner at the Abilene Cracker Barrel, and then hit the road for Cloudcroft, NM. Come midnight, we were exhausted and in an eerie, damp Lincoln National Forest just a few mile from town. We found a make do campsite on the side of a forest road and setup camp for the night, not sure if we had chosen a safe spot and whether any bears would come and eat us.

Day 3 Cloudcroft

Yay! The bears didn’t eat us! We awoke to sunshine, fresh mountain air, and great vistas of the Lincoln national forest beyond. Cloudcroft ( elevation 8,960 ft) was a quick drive away where some huge green chile stuffed Omelets at Big Daddy’s diner had our names on them. A quick stop at the Ranger station and we decided to do the 8 1/2 mile Trestle loop hike.

Following the vigorous 4 hour hike, we briefly dropped down to 4,000 feet to visit the space musuem in Alamogordo and then go play at White Sands National Monument.

Back up Highway 82 and we veered onto another forest road to find our campground for the night. Colleen was again worried about wildlife messing with us, and I did hear something quite large gallop by our tent in the middle of the night (probably just a deer), but by morning everyone (and dog) was safe, ready to start the exciting new day.

Day 4 Rim Trail/ Ruidoso

After bacon and eggs, we didn’t waste much time making our way to the Rim Trail trailhead. This trail is considered one of the top 10 mountain bike trails in the country. It is 31 miles out and back and somewhat follows the edge of the Sacremento mountains overlooking the Tularoosa basin 5,000 feet below (the location of Alamogordo and White Sands) The terrain isn’t very technical, but the elevation change is grueling. I had with me my trusty singlespeed, with the lowest gearing I had, 34×21. I’m a masher and like a tall gear, so this felt fine at first. At about 3 miles and 1200 vertical feet of ascent in we hit a Forest road. Colleen was spent at this point and decided to turnaround and work on homework in town while I went out for some more. Having read and heard so much about this trail I wanted to ride as much of it as possible. 60 miles in Texas on a singlespeed would be tiring but do-able. About another 3 miles down this killer New Mexico trail and I was destroyed. The lungs were seared and the legs felt like deadweights dangling below me. I maybe could have made it another 3 miles out, but at this point I had 6 miles to go back so I turned around and made for town.  Never had I wanted gears so bad in my entire life, but sometimes you have to rung whatya brung.

After making it back to the village and changing clothes, I was starving. Sometimes, the only thing to satisfy such a hunger is big ass burger, so we found a cafe in town that had exactly what I was looking for, The Mountain Man Mongrel Burger. Behold:

The waitress had to do a double take, and then when she hollered out the order to the chef, the other waitress too did a double take, before the cook himself had to ask if he had heard the old lady correctly. I was impressed by the mighty burger, but not intimidated in the least. Far greater accomplishments had I achieved. The ice cream might not have been Blue Bell, but you better believe it was still delicious!

Following this lovely lunch, we drove up to Ruidoso and began scoping out stuff to do and place to stay for the night. Having endured the highway and the elements for the past 4 days, we opted for a warm shower and cozy bed in a cute little cabin along the Rio Ruidoso for the night.

Day 5 Ruidoso

After visiting the Ranger station in town we got some info on where to ride and camp while in town. The first ride would be Perk Canyon, supposedly a local favorite. it was fun, but just turned out to be a moderate climb up a canyon that dead ends at a logging closure and then descends back to the bottom. The legs still felt heavy from the day before, and I still only had one gear, so even though the ride was short, it was still a good workout.I had actually brought parts with me to setup the bike with 9 gears, but didn’t have a long enough shifter cable to make it work on this ride.

Afterwards, Colleen did some homework at a coffee shop while I went to visit Cody Thurston at Ruidoso Outdoor Adventures, a friend of a friend I had been referred to. I was able to get the parts I needed to fix the 1×9 setup and talk about where to ride and camp. He even agreed to ride with me in the morning on one of his favorite trails! We setup camp at Cedar Creek on the edge of town, cooked a nice pork chop dinner with Caveman salad and hit the hay.

Day 6 Ruidoso

We awoke to some chilly temps in the high 30’s  but the weather was no match for our zero degree double mummy sleeping bag nor my wool jersey and warmers! Colleen and Ladybird hung with Cody and me for the Cedar Creek trail before we crossed the highway and rode what they call the Spaghetti bowl. I had working gears for this ride and they made a huge difference. Climbs didn’t hurt nearly as bad and I could maintain the pace for longer. When we hit the end of the singletrack, we turned around and rode everything backwards. Just as fun! I thanked Cody for showing me the trail and the Parham family was back on the road to the mountains north of town. We drove up to the Skyline campground at 9000 ft and decided to make camp about 300 yards and 200 feet up from the parking area. Lugging all the gear up the hill was a pain in the butt, but the view was worth it.

After camp was setup, we took a brief hike up to the Monjeau lookout tower, built int 1936 by the CCC.

We had some daylight left so we hiked a portion of the Crest tail, a 22 mile foot trail that connects all the peaks of the range in this area. While the trail doesn’t crest any of the major peaks, it offers a way to get to them as well as spectacular views as far as the eye can see. On our way back to camp, a huge doe jumped out in front of us. Startled, it took off leaping down a steep mountain canyon. Ladybird wasn’t far behind. It was a sight to behold watching that crazy dog take off full speed after that deer. She didn’t catch it, of course, but it made the hike that much more interesting. As we got close to the trailhead a rainbow appeared and added a nice touch to the end of a long hike.

Following some Cowboy fajitas and a bottle of mead, the gentle mountain breeze carried us to sleep.

Day 7 Ruidoso/Bonito Lake

On today’s agenda was to ride the Kraut/Littleton Canyon loop near gorgeous Bonito Lake a little further north of town. Kraut canyon started out as nice jeep road then turned to tree clogged single track and finally hike a bike right before the top. We weren’t even sure we were on the right trail until reaching the top and seeing a little trail marker for it. I guess the trail just doesn’t get much use. The trail at the top was in good shape and was lots of fun. Soon, we were heading back down Littleton canyon and this had to be the highlight of the trip. The descent down was a steady grade with lots of berms and turns thrown in for a stupid fun roller coaster effect. It eventually turned into jeep road, but this just meant you could push the bike faster! Getting up to about 35-40 mph was a huge adrenaline rush. Too bad we ran out of trail eventually! Oh well. We got back in the car and travelled on down the road until hitting Forest Road 108, a backcountry jeep trail that would take us up to our hike for the day, and possibly a campsite for our last night in the mountains. At 8700 ft, we again set out on the Crest trail and took a right on to the Nogal peak trail shortly thereafter. This is where the real fun began. This is was the loosest and steepest hike I’ve ever done. We went from about 8800 ft to 9957 ft in 1.1 miles. The view was totally worth it though.

We didn’t find any campsites up in the area, so we cruised on down Forest road 400 until finding a cozy spot under some apple trees and next to a small creek. Spit cooked chicken on a stick with Caveman salad and Lonestar beer was the chef’s special that evening before dozing off to the trickle of the creek.
Days 8-9 Terrell

We ran out of water for breakfast so some boiled mountain water made a killer brew of coffee Saturday morning as we began the long drive to Terrell, TX. Sunday was my mom’s birthday and I told her we would pass through on our way back home. A late arrival that night barely left time for hugs as we crashed in the guest room. We enjoyed a nice breakfast, a trip to the picture show, and a late lunch at the hometown favorite, El Nogalito before heading back to Austin Sunday night.

What another awesome adventure in the books. Stay tuned for more adventures to come!

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