An exhausted cyclist rolls into Camp Thunderbird
in the Gila Wilderness.
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
“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
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!”
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.
The best tent camping in New Mexico
The Best in Tent Camping New Mexico, by Monte R. Parr
(May 2008, $14.95, Menasha Ridge Press), offers a way for car
campers to get out into the solitude and beauty of the wilderness
without having to deal with noisy campgrounds, RVs, and concrete
slabs. A detailed and thorough overview of the more discreet campgrounds
of New Mexico, Parr’s book shows us that it is easy to escape
what camping has become and rediscover the serenity that can only
come by getting away from it all. In this book, campers will find
specific descriptions of each campsite, directions, information
about utilities, restrictions, fees, as well as addresses for
park service. This is a good read for anyone who wishes to find
a quiet and beautiful place in New Mexico to camp, hike, and play.
Seasoned camper Monte R. Parr traveled throughout the state and
selected fifty of the best sites suited to tent camping that will
appeal to the first-timer as well as the car-camping veteran.
The book includes all the information campers need to find the
perfect camp site, including:
• Driving directions and GPS coordinates for all fifty
• Ratings for beauty, privacy, noise, security, spaciousness,
and cleanliness for all fifty featured campgrounds.
• A camping equipment checklist ensuring campers don’t
leave home without any important gear.
• A range of suggestions for outdoor recreation and nearby
attractions, and useful sidebars with information on facilities,
parking, pets, and fees.
The Best in Tent Camping New Mexico may be purchased
at bookstores, outdoor specialty shops, on the web at www.menasharidge.com,
or by calling (888) 60-HIKES.