Bicycling Brit
Big wheels, winter, and whiskey: bike-packing adventures in southwest New Mexico

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Big Wheels, Winter and Whiskey

Bike packing adventures in southwest New Mexico

by Martyn Peterson



It’s December in Southwest New Mexico, but it’s not yet winter. I grew up in England, where winter is a damp, cloudy dreary thing that begins in October and lasts through March. It forces people to hole up indoors and purchase light bulbs that re-create the sun’s rays.

bicycle 1
While the tire tracks look somewhat fresh, we were passed by only one motorized vehicle in two days of cycling.

Here in New Mexico, with some careful planning (and a little luck) you can get out and do things in December. Excellent things like hiking and bike riding. Or, more important, bike packing.

I work at Gila Hike and Bike, a bike shop in historic downtown Silver City. Back in late November, fellow mechanic Tsama began talking of an unusual yet completely viable plan to squeeze one last bike packing trip into 2014. After considering route options and checking weather forecasts, the plan was simple: On Dec. 10, we’d embark on an out-and-back overnighter up the North Star Road (forest route 150), from Highway 35 to the Beaverhead Work Station, along the Continental Divide.

Every year we see more cycling tourists traveling through Silver City, 60 miles north of I-10. Either moving east to west along Adventure Cycling’s ‘Southern Tier’ route, or north to south on the mighty ‘GDT’ (Great Divide Tour), these awe-inspiring anonymous super humans take a moment to rest and refuel in Silver City. Only too happy to chat and spread the joy, they ride off into the unknown with all they need strapped to their beloved bicycles, leaving you thinking to yourself, “One day I want to do that.”

After speaking those words far too often, last summer I decided to take my first bikepacking trip. Now after two excellent adventures I just want more. A father of two, it may be a few years before my trips elevate to ‘truly epic’ status. Ask me how I feel at the end of each day in the saddle however, and the early days of bike packing feel totally epic enough. Plus my kids love the pictures.



Chocolate and more

For this adventure, our five-person crew included Silver City’s only ‘GDT’ rookie Jamie Thompson, who runs ‘The Bike House’ offering free accommodation to anyone hiking or cycling through town. Gila Hike and Bike owner Chris Schlabach was coming out for his first Bike Packing experience along with local farmer and fellow first- timer Genevieve Morgan. With tires overly inflated and enough chocolate and whiskey to survive the night, we were on our way.

bicycling 2
During the search for a campsite, Gila Hike and Bike owner
Chris Schlabach and bike mechanic Tsama Parpin
stop to take in the sunset.

Southwest New Mexico is a rugged, beautiful place in December. Lowering temperatures and diminishing daylight hours result in a dormant landscape ready to survive another short yet intense winter. The North Star Road dissects the Gila and Aldo Leopold Wilderness areas, offering access through what felt not altogether lifeless, but motionless countryside. Each vista served to remind us that we were the only ones out there. Add a small helping of camaraderie to the peace and serenity, and the outcome was magical. After a while it became clear we were all keen on bearing down and completing our ride as well as we could.



Those who traveled before

As if we were powered by the belief of those who traveled the road before us, we were going to make it, because that’s what we set out to do. Indeed, when it came time to lie down and rest, nobody spoke of mileage or cold. We ate our chocolate, sipped the whiskey and continued to revel at the things we’d seen on day one.

After a clear calm night, a frost that nobody expected greeted us on day two. I’m not ashamed to say we lit a morale-boosting fire that helped dry out sleeping gear and warm the extremities. Anyone familiar with a backpacking java press will smile at this point and know we got our morning off to the right start.

bicycling 3

Silver City’s Jamie Thompson takes
a moment to warm the extremities.


Soak in the springs

Gaining a healthy respect for what had seemed to be mild descents the day before, we completed our round trip with enough time for a celebratory Imperial IPA and a much needed soak in the nearby hot springs.

We completed a total of 90 miles (45 each day) and climbed more than 10,000 vertical feet.

Free from injury and mechanicals, we survived feeling closer for the experience and raving about a trip in the spring. How many people would agree to a three-day bikepacking trip past Snow Lake and into the ghost town of Mogollon? Should we pay the Great Lady of Pie Town another visit? Is a Southwest Bikepacking Series even a possibility?

Only time will tell.

But if you’ve been thinking about getting out into Southwest New Mexico and bike-packing, swing by the shop and get comfortable. We’ve got a few reasons why you should.



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