Back to the CDT Highlands of New Mexico

Back to the CDT Highlands of New Mexico

It was about 9 years ago when I first threw a leg over a mountain bike. It was a battered Ellsworth that a friend let me borrow for a brief ride on some easy singletrack and mixed gravel. Up until then, I had only ridden road bikes in the mountains holding off trying mountain biking as my post-college funds were all but non-existent. What I did not know is that that ride and the friend who loaned me the bike would develop into an enduring friendship that brings us to today. 

Note: for those interested in doing this route for 2021, we bypassed the first 8 miles of the CDT and also the descent from Brazos Ridge to Lagunitas. Thru-hikers warned us of tons of downed trees. The remainder of the route, mixing Forest Roads and CDT was mostly clear of trees and completely free of snow.

We find ourselves crammed into 4Runner with a trailer full of loaded bikes in tow heading towards the Colorado border. Our group consisted of members of the ‘Crew’–a group of riding buddies that organically formed over the years. I first met Bob Vigil a decade ago when working on networking equipment and learned that he loved riding bikes and offered for Kim and I to tag along one day. Kim, on the other hand, had already discovered mountain bikes and was eager to get me onboard. 

Bob, who like the rest of the Crew, is old enough to be my father, had the patience and candor to help guide us in those early years. My second mountain bike ride we climbed Winsor together–slowly and cumbersome as it was.. At the time, the Crew was small, being led by Rob Romero who was tragically taken from us three years ago, and Bob who helped guide Kim and I in the early years. As time moved on, our riding got a lot better and despite no longer working together, Bob and I rode as a small cohort frequently. 

At the top of Cumbres Pass we look at the snow fields and mud and begin questioning our life decisions. Bob, as always, is optimistic and is assured we will be fine. Jason and Michael have a little more doubt in their eyes. 

Kim and I met Michael when I first started working at Barker Realty. He heard that some young punk joined the staff and also happened to be a mountain biker. He had been riding for 30 years and wanted to test my mettle so we went on a lunch ride from the office with Rob. We all hit it off and started riding together regularly. 

Before we officially started from the top of the pass, we double checked our gear. For Bob and Jason they both have totally new bikes and this would be their maiden voyage, while Michael fiddled with his new rack setup that would later haunt us. Jason is the reluctant enthusiast. He knew both Michael and Bob separately and after nearly 5 years of badgering, Michael finally got him to buy a new mountain bike. That was 6 years ago and he never looked back. 

This would be the first ‘big’ trip for Michael and Bob, while being his first ever bike tour for Jason. One of the positives to come out of the pandemic is we all had time to explore new activities and for the crew, bikepacking/touring was finally vetted. For all of us, the bikes were the vehicle that tied the group together and let us expand our collective options. Over the years it has grown from mountain biking to racing, from riding new areas like Sedona to last-minute group rides after a stressful work week. This year, the Crew found a new way to let bikes carry us to places we never have been. 

Our low snowpack enabled this ride for Memorial Day, when any other year this would be impassable due to snow. This early in the season also meant that folks pursuing the entirety of the CDT had already been on the trail for a month coming up from Southern New Mexico and awaiting the melting snow north of Chama and into Colorado. We ran into dozens of these thru-hikers who gave us helpful information on trail conditions. 

The first day was stunning: the weather held, road conditions were great, and despite the new gear it seemed everyone was dialed. We stopped frequently to take in the views as only Kim and I had spent time in this part of the state. The lush forest and roaring creeks made it feel like a lost Eden. 

Just like last year we decided on camping at the Rio San Antonio for some fishing and fresh water. By now, Jason was already hooked and his mind was racing with new possibilities knowing how the bike suddenly changed his backcountry options. Michael was finally decompressing from the insane pace of the real estate world, while Bob simply enjoyed the adventure. We tossed and turned that night and woke up to frost. 

Climbing out of the San Antonio Valley and back into the high country revealed green pastures and freshly leafed aspen stands. More thru-hikers kept coming, sharing their various stories and trail names. By now, Kim was putting on a climbing clinic, dragging the old men up the mountains. 

By the time we reached Hopewell Lake the skies turned dark and threatening, but our biggest challenge lay ahead. Michael’s rack inexplicably exploded during the first descent and he narrowly came out avoiding a catastrophic crash. We debated options, finally electing for him to head back to Hopewell and get a ride home. Too much to risk heading into Vallecitos. 

Our trimmed down Crew made quick time to the river with Jason and I eagerly wanting to set up camp and to pursue fish. During the past year our bikefishing trips became contagious and now Bob, who had no interest in fishing prior, has begun learning the triumphs and frustrations of floating a fly. We had a banner evening on the river, setting up camp, catching fish, and cooking some for our meal. 

Tired and happy, we left the river behind and slowly turned our pedals towards El Rito. The views slowly disappeared under the heavy weight of storm clouds when all hell broke loose at 10,500’. Our Crew huddled under a tree, laughing at our misfortune. Roads turned to mud turned to rivers. The long descent into El Rito sucked the last of our strength and the bikes strained under the friction from mud. In the sea of brown and tan, you could still see the white of teeth grinning until the end. 

Despite not being the ‘perfect’ first trip, our Crew burned another memory into our collective story. Over the years our riding has morphed and changed just like our careers, our interests, and even our partners. The one constant has been the freedom provided by our bikes and no matter what is going on in our individual lives, when we get together as a group and go for a ride it suddenly all makes sense again.

One Reply to “Back to the CDT Highlands of New Mexico”

  1. Read Kyle’s CDT post from Aug 2020 and put together a five day, truck supported MTB ride. Five of us just got back from the trip June 14-18. Marvelous. The views from the ridge lines are stunning, the trail is in excellent shape, the flowers, the huge meadows, etc. The drive arounds were adventures as well. We departed Cumbres, camped at Lagunitas, Hopewell, and the high point on CR 280 near Canjilion Mt.. Just wonderful. Thanks very much for the encouraging post last summer. The CDT is an incredible ride!