The Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988


Cyclist in the Gila Wilderness

An exhausted cyclist rolls into Camp Thunderbird in the Gila Wilderness.

Keiko Ohnuma

The author saddles up for a second day of riding the Gila Inner Loop Super Tour.

Cycling the Gila


It sounded like the perfect weekend getaway, promising good food and company in the great outdoors for a pair of newcomers still short on funds and friends. The New Mexico Touring Society’s annual super tour offers seventy-eight miles of cycling through the Gila Wilderness, with an overnight at a rustic camp, all meals included, for $60 a head.

“C’mon, Bu, it’s perfect for us,” I whined.

Problem is, my husband doesn’t own a road bike. He’s a fat tire guy, favoring bumpy rides over dirt.

But love triumphed in this case, and I bullied my beloved into volunteering to be “sweep” for the group, the guy who drives his truck behind the last cyclist and picks up any dead bodies. “It’ll be fun,” he grimaced. Not to mention free.

At least he let me handle part of the five-hour drive to Silver City—until his knees buckled in the bench seat of his truck, pushed forward to accommodate my 4’11” frame. Greg stands 6’3”.

“Pull over. Pull over now.”

He decided to happily drive the rest of the way to Silver City and all the way back.

But the next morning, in the fresh mountain air of the Wal-Mart parking lot, he was as pumped as the fifty cyclists excitedly strapping on their helmets. He got his instructions from the tour leader, along with a bicycle pump, first-aid kit, and Costco bag of trail mix to fuel the journey.

As the cyclists departed, Greg enjoyed the parking lot scenery for one-and-a-half hours, and then started his slow cruise along the route.

And that, he recalls, is where things started to go wrong.

One of the cyclists was returning in the opposite direction. She had reached the top of the first hill and lost her friend Steve, and cycled all the way back to the start looking for him. That set him back, oh, an hour or so.

I didn’t see Greg until the lunch stop, about three hours later, when I was returning from part of an optional thirty-six-mile climb to the Gila Cliff Dwellings that is completed by only the most masochistic of iron legs.

“Mumble, damn, grrrr,” he said, comforting himself with a peanut butter sandwich. “And she’s doing the cliff dwellings!” he added, seeing his last prospect of an afternoon hike fade.

Poor Greg. Poor me. I had underestimated the effects of the ten years and twelve pounds since my century-riding days, and found the fifteen hilly miles to Camp Thunderbird grueling, worthy of catching a ride with Greg—if he were not now two-and-a-half hours behind me.

But obstinacy prevailed, and I limped in to camp and the instant amnesia of a table laid out with cold cuts, rolls, crudités, hot entrée, fruits, and a cooler packed with chilled microbrew, including Greg’s favorite, Sam Adams Pale Ale.

I dined; I drank; I exchanged with fellow cyclists the day’s travails. I took a hot shower and lugged our gear from the sag wagon to the couples’ cabin, then took a nice nap.

By late afternoon, Greg was still not back, and I wandered into the mess hall to take up my complaint with the nearest victims.

“And after that, she went to the cliff dwellings!” I fumed. One of my listeners turned out to be the very Steve whose disappearance had precipitated my personal catastrophe: a bucolic setting, the day’s reward, and no one to share it with.

“Oh, you’re Steve! Where the heck were you, anyway?”

Another beer and nap later, Steve found me and reported a puzzling development: The next-to-last rider had come in, and they had lost his friend, the Roving Rider.

“What do you mean, lost her?”

No one had seen her since the cliff dwellings, though the last riders and Greg had covered the entire distance to camp.

An hour later, at 5:45 p.m.—after eight-and-a-half hours sitting in his truck—Greg rolled in to Camp Thunderbird a few minutes behind his nemesis. She had ridden eighty-eight miles, some 7,600 feet of ascent—including a wrong turn uphill where everyone lost her.

“So you finally found her?” I asked him.

“Which time?” he glowered. Apparently the Roving Rider had beaten him to the cliff dwellings and decided to tour the grounds, forcing him to pay the entrance fee and try to catch up to her—only to lose her again an hour later.

I told him I had met her friend Steve and given him an earful.

“That’s her boyfriend, dummy!”

Oh well.

Greg gulped the last Sam Adams Pale Ale before the dinner bell.

The next day’s ride was just three hours for me, four for Greg. Then we got back in the truck to drive the five hours home.

A couple days later, I ventured to ask, as we tucked in for the night, if the trip hadn’t been just a little bit fun, with all the characters and mishaps and all.

“Too much driving,” Greg said, and pulled the covers over his head.

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