Back in October I was exchanging emails with Vermont Ryan about possible road trip ideas. I had such a great time riding his local stash back at Single Speed USA that we decided to pick a random place to meet up that had a lot of bars and trails we have never ridden before. Austin was on the short list of options and I decided to drive out there to meet him and make a solo road trip out of it. Plans were made, dates were set, and then life got busy and I forgot all about it. Usually my road trips are planned out pretty well, with the goal of optimizing fun and not wasting time worrying about things like where to camp or what trails to ride. This one was going to be a little different. About a week before I was supposed to start driving I came up with my plan. I would only ride trails that I have never seen before and I would go solely on the trail advice of DC readers. Seemed simple enough. Game on.
I hit the road a little bit later than I would have liked but I made it to Las Cruces, NM and set up camp somewhere in the desert. I woke up to find frost on my bivy and a frozen water bottle, but a beautifully clear day. Somebody had mentioned to me that there were trails worth riding here so I sniffed out the trail head and went for a really great ride. The Doña Ana trails were a brilliant spider web of trails through the wide open desert. I’ll definitely ride them again any time I pass by.
With the first ride of the trip in the books, it was time to mosey 50 miles down the road to El Paso. I was hoping to make it a two ride day but I ended up loitering with Chris and the Bicycle Co. crew so long that I ran out of daylight. Which was totally fine with me, since they led me to cheap beer and Mexican food at a place called the King’s X (oddly enough, not named after the band). Another cold night in the dirt found me sipping coffee on my friend’s ranch high above the rock climbing mecca of Hueco Tanks. There would be no rock climbing for me today, just a couple strong cups of coffee with a view and a quick spin on the east side of the Franklin Mountains.
Earlier in the week I was exchanging emails with a DC reader, Pecos Tim, and I had mentioned I was going to be driving through Texas looking to ride. He simply told me to make the detour south to Big Bend and check out the trails there. That fit perfectly into the nature of this road trip and without hesitation, Terlingua, TX was added to the plan. When I asked Tim for trail info he simply put me in touch Mike at Desert Sports. I liked the old school mountain biking feel of this already. One guy tells me to go talk to another guy who will be able to show me where the trails are. It is how every road trip used to be but I now I find it increasingly rare. In this day and age of having the internet in our pocket, ride centers with perfectly marked trails, and GPS coordinates available for just about every ride. A lot of the adventure has been evolved out of the mountain bike road trip. Such is the way of the world, and I ain’t complaining, but it sure is fun to get back to the basics.
A short (by west Texas standards) 300 mile drive found me pulling into Desert Sports just as the sun was setting and before introductions were even complete, I had an ice cold Lone Star beer in my hand. These are my kind of people.
They showed me a great place to camp for the next couple nights and ride plans were made for the following day. I was looking forward to having a meal that I didn’t have to cook on a camp stove so I wandered into the moonless night to the Starlight where I was treated to good food, strong drinks, and great music from a local personality named Pablo. I had been in town less than 4 hours and I already felt right at home. If the trails were half as good as the people down here, I was in for a real treat come morning.
Morning came with a pretty sizable hangover and slow start. I met up with Rick who was nice enough to show me around for the next couple days. I noticed two things about Rick right off the bat. First, he looked really fit and he was going to probably beat me into the ground. And second, every time he talked about the local trials he got this certain look in his eye. That look guys get when they talk about that really kinky ex-girlfriend they once had. This was gonna be a good day.
We started off with the mellow trails of the Lajitas race loops and I struggled to keep up as I expected, but the trails were so damn fun that it didn’t even matter. The views were enormous with bare rolling hills meeting craggy cliffs in every direction. And trails, endless miles of trails. I think my favorite trail side attraction from the first day was the old bread truck randomly stranded in the middle of the desert, complete with a metal sculpture of a goat attached to the top of it. I guess the mayor of Terlingua used to be a beer drinking goat. Go down there and get the story from a local, I couldn’t do it justice.
The second day found me riding with Rick again but with the addition of a few local ladies, who also proceeded to ride me into the ground. They decided to show me their favorite ride in Big Bend Ranch State Park and it did not disappoint. Perfect desert singletrack brought me to one breathtaking view after the next. I can’t think of many words to describe the scenery since my brain is stuck on one, big. The landscape is so incredibly vast that you just can’t help but be overwhelmed at times.
One of the coolest moments on this ride was when I realized that we were riding on a section of trail made entirely of quartz crystals. Probably explains why they call it the Crystal Trail…
The riding was superb and I know that I just barely scratched the surface of what this place has to offer. Looking at maps of the area, there is a seemingly endless possibility of bad ideas to be hatched there. I am going to try my hardest to get down there before summer and explore a little more. I really feel like I missed the memo on this area. How have I lived in the west for over a decade and not put tires to trail down there yet? Add it to your list of riding destinations and get down there sooner than later. Maybe even go check out the Chihuahuan Desert Bike Festival (but don’t call it a dirt fest) in February. Something tells me the folks at Desert Sports know how to throw one hell of a party.
Part 2 will find me in Austin, stay tuned.
Keep it dirty….