Kicking it up a notch

Today I got a chance to ride with my cycling instructor. Adam is not only a young guy almost half my age but he is also a local triathlete. When he said he wanted to go on a ride with me I knew I would probably be in for a world of hurt. However, he’s an incredibly motivating teacher and knew just to go fast enough to kick my butt without leaving me far behind. Also, he isn’t into the long distance rides I enjoy and what he was looking for was a chance to kick his own training up a bit.

I sent him a few proposed routes and we settled on the El Rito Loop ride. This is a 53 mile loop that starts with a climb towards El Rito, NM, gradually steepening at the half way point and then a nice downhill stretch for the remainder of the ride.  You can see the route and results recorded by my Strava app.

We started off in Hernandez, a town made famous by Ansel Adams who was driving this way one evening in 1941 and just had to stop and take a picture – which meant unloading the large wooden tripod and ladder from his station wagon, unloading his large format camera and, with his sons as assistants, setting up the temporary darkroom to load the film plates he used. I recall reading that he only had one or two plates left as it was the end of a day of shooting around the area.  Anyway, the resulting photo became one of his most famous, Moonrise Over Hernandez. It is worth clicking on the image to see the larger version. (Incidentally, Adams sold this print for $10 a piece back in the day. Expect to pay $50,000 to $120,000 today depending on the size of the print.)

Ansel Adams’ “Moonrise Over Hernandez”, 1941, New Mexico

From Hernandez we headed up US 84 to Abiquiú, home for many years to Georgia O’Keeffe. It was a thrill to pass through that region at bicycle speeds rather than at the 55 mph car speed I’ve done before. I could see why she founded her art community in the area.

Upon reaching Abiquiú we turned right onto NM 554 for the climb into El Rito and the hills to the east. El Rito is your typical rural, beautifully pastoral small town New Mexico. It also sits inside the Carson National Forest with a modern Ranger Station. We stopped briefly there to fill up our water bottles and then we hit the road again.

The steep climb began as soon as we left El Rito but it wasn’t as bad as I had assumed. Adam had been coaching me on drafting techniques and we messed with that on the faster downhill portions and I used my tried-and-true knuckle down and do it technique on the climbs.  We finished the major climbing about 27 miles into the ride, just as planned. By my watch it was much less than two hours into the ride, making this a much faster trip than my normal rides. Adam’s coaching was paying off.

NM 554 joins up with NM 111 for a turn to the south, briefly, before we merged onto US 285. At that point we had 20 miles left to pedal and I mentioned to Adam that I had always wanted to ride a 20 mile segment in an hour or less. He led the way with me following behind, drafting for at least 10 of those miles. The downhill nature of this road made it somewhat easy to maintain 22 mph for much of it despite a strengthening headwind. We past the mineral springs resort of Ojo Caliente along the way. It was a tempting place to stop (or I should have gone there for some post-ride recovery).

At the juncture of US 284 with US 84 we turned back to the north, towards our starting point. We had 12 minutes left to complete the last mile and a quarter. I told Adam we should sprint (I know he had been wanting to break away all during the ride) and I’d try to keep up. He got significantly farther ahead of me in no time at all but I did manage to finish the last 20 mile segment with just 45 seconds left to go in the hour.

Overall, we rode 53.3 miles with 2,356 feet of climbing in just under 3 hours. Average speed was 17.9 mph – my fastest time ever for such a long ride. It is amazing what proper coaching and motivation will do for you.

Finally, let me just say that before today I had doubts that drafting on a small frame vehicle had any real effect. Having experienced it in person, I’m blown away. I’m going to spend more time riding with groups to get used to this type of riding.

Huge thanks to Adam. I hope he enjoyed the ride as much as I did. I’m really loving this cycling thing.

As this was a training ride for me and not a pleasure ride as such, there are no photos. I will definitely be doing this ride again and I will stop and take more photos along the way. The scenery is among the best in northern New Mexico.


Amateur photographer, cyclist, and beer brewer in Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA.

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