Bicyclists out “doing dirt”
Abundant adventures in mountain biking
As agreed via e-mail, I arrived promptly at 9:00 a.m with two other mountain bikers at the designated spot off National Forest Road 604 in the Jemez mountains. A handmade sign fastened to the cattle pens instructed us to honk twice, which we did.
Several minutes later, Mountain Bike Hall of Famer Tom Mayer walked out of the woods, clad only in shorts and an old leather hat, looking fit at fifty-five years old. One of my riding partners had happened upon Mayer’s Web site last month while surfing for information about another ride. The Web site offers free guided mountain-bike tours in locations throughout the area, as well as providing maps, levels of difficulty, descriptions, and instructions.
Mayer started exploring backcountry trails on bicycles around Durango back in 1963, before the advent of mountain bikes, and soon began experimenting with lower gears and dreaming of fatter tires. He now builds adapters that allow smaller chain rings on standard crank sets for lower gears.
Since retiring from Sandia National Laboratories early last year, Mayer devotes most of his free time to his chosen sport. He is putting the finishing touches on Volume One of an extensive mountain-biking guidebook called Abundant Adventures, which covers in great detail the maze of trails whose surface we scratched that morning.
We followed Mayer back to his van, parked inconspicuously off the road, where he fetched his bike and printed out a map of the day’s eighteen-mile ride. One of the beauties of the electronic book is that you have to carry only a few pages rather than the whole volume, not to mention the fact that the guide can be easily updated through Mayer’s Web site. Each ride is illustrated with dozens of photographs that provide a virtual tour.
At the trailhead, Mayer reminded us of several hazards, such as branches in the face, sticks in the spokes, and barbed-wire fences that should in no case be ridden into. After a prayer giving thanks for our fine opportunity on that beautiful morning, Mayer led the way on Jumping Mule Trail, so named because of the shape of its outline on paper.
Along the way we saw wild turkeys, deer, and elk, as well as several sets of bear tracks. We traversed a tremendous variety of forest terrain—up and down canyons and through groves of aspen turning fall colors.
Everybody except Mayer crashed at least once, usually on gnarly downhills or trying to emulate our guide’s log-jumping techniques and his ninety-degree front-tire pivots. Mayer has been “doing dirt” for forty years. The trails, former logging roads, and game pathways were sometimes invisible to the untrained eye. Subtle waypoints were often visible only to our guide. Mayer explained that most of the routes detailed in his book are much easier to follow, as long as your bike is equipped with an odometer accurate to a hundredth of a mile. GPS route-finding skills come in handy, though. Mayer plans to eventually provide the technology to transfer maps to a Palm Pilot computer that would include a GPS interface.
Mayer takes a personal, almost obsessive interest in the forest. He stops along the way to remove newly fallen deadfall from some trails, while avoiding other trails that are better left unused.
“The forest should be shared by many different uses, including hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, motorcycling, hunting, ranching, logging, and even ATVs and four-wheelers, as long as people respect the land and don’t abuse it,” he said. The Forest Service is now taking steps to limit ATVs to established roads because of a tremendous upsurge in their use and the damage that they do.
After assessing our skill level, Mayer took us on a final four-mile loop that tested our abilities and endurance and left me a bit sore in the saddle. The tour, including several stops along the way, took about five hours.
Back at the van, Mayer printed out labels for early CD copies of his book. A cold front moved in and it was raining when we left him alone in the woods. He didn’t seem to mind.
Riders of all skill levels are encouraged to visit Mayer’s Web site at abundantadventures.com to find out about the tours and more about the book.