Day 77 (night) & 78 (2016-11-11 & 2016-11-12): I meet an amazing crew of people in Albuquerque and kind of don’t want to leave.
I roll into the driveway, shake hands with Nick, and watch him pull a big 29’er wheel out of the bed of his truck. Then a titanium Salsa Mariachi. We’re going to be friends. He ushers me in, gives me the quick tour of his very modest home, and hands me a bike map of the city. He points out some spots and our current locations and we start talking more about bikepacking. The next thing I know I am back on my bike with Nick and friend Terry, on my way to yoga. Why not?
I have never done a yoga class before and only slightly dabbled on my own time. Yoga helps me stretch out after the long ride but I definitely do not cool down. I am challenged in new ways and for the first few minutes I find myself battling exhaustion. I could lay down and pass out immediately. I begin to calm down and find the movements and poses moderately difficult while the slow, deep breathing is almost impossible. My breathing is so short and shallow. It improves with time but is still poor. I need to work on this! My favorite pose is some ‘pigeon’ pose that stretches my hamstrings and hips like nothing I have done before. I think yoga is in my future.
Afterwards I meet Lucy, another friend, and we stop on the way home to pick her boyfriend Peter up from his house. As we ride through the streets of Albuquerque, a little bike gang, I miss riding in Seattle with my friends! Back at Nick’s I shower and come out to a vegetarian sweet potato burritos. I greedily stuff my face and put thoughts on paper for a few minutes before more guests arrive. Soon the house is filled with folks, music blasting, keg flowing, and I quickly quit trying to learn names. Nick, Terry, Peter, Lucy, Gavin, Jake, Ben, Bennett…there are so many people here!
Out back I join a small group of guys circled around a stump with nails protruding from it, one nail per person. We play “Stump” a drinking game in which you must toss a hammer in the air for one full rotation, catch it, and immediately attempt to hit one of the other players’ nails further into the stump. Safe game, right? We argue gleefully over eliminations and a generous amount of “courtesy taps” ensure no one has too much of an edge over the other players.
Inside the small living room has become a dance floor with some of the furniture pulled into the tiny hallway. Suddenly Peter enters with a bottle of olive oil, dousing the floor and washing it around with his shoes. This is an olive oil party, and we dance a sloppy, slippery dance on the slick floor. I go on for a while until I can barely stand for lack of energy. I slip into Nick’s room which he has graciously offered as a rest area since the living room, where I am to sleep, is taken over. With the intention of a short respite I kick off my oil-covered adventure sandals, lay down, and put my feet up. The next thing I know I awake, house quiet, living room empty. Back to bed.
In the morning I wake to a titanium 29’er floating above my feet and fill my rumbling stomach with yogurt and banana. Someone arrives, or perhaps never left, and he, Nick, and I enjoy scrambled eggs added to the burrito filling from last night. I help Nick clean up the house and, as he retires to study, I lay down to relax and quickly pass out in the morning sun. I wake up a couple of hours later, and work on fixing up Gimiliy, an old aluminum Cannondale MTB Nick is letting me borrow for today. Soon Peter, Lucy, Ben, and Arial arrive and we hop in the cars for a short trip out to the North Foothills, where we shred.
What fun! We head away from the parking lot on a slowly ascending trail that is mostly smooth, with a few rocky spots. After a while we hit major rocks where everyone dismounts to haul our bikes over. We continue climbing for a bit longer, then do a few long, flowing descents where I am able to catch air on all the little rainwater diverting humps in the trail. Eventually we hit a technical section with twisting, rocky climbs. I am stopped more than once by huge rocks, at least 2-3 feet tall, that completely cover the trail and stop all but the most experienced riders. The final decent is terrifying – very rocky but flowing descent where I go far too fast for conditions, especially given my sketchy bike. I cut a corner off the trail simply because I feel safer braving the bigger rocks than slowing enough to make the turn. I catch big air off a huge, smooth rock and finish of on a fast, flowing singletrack back to the car. SWEET!
We go out for dinner at La Cumbre, a local bar with a membership deal that lets you upgrade the standard pint glass to a giant mug, at no cost! The TFK food truck outside serves up scrumptious BBQ, and I order the Portabello sandwich with potato salad. We hang out and chat for a while, eventually moving to a bar/coffee shop combo where I snap a selfie with the group. So many new friends!
Honestly, if I could stay I would. It’s about the people, the friendships, the conversations. The feeling of family, blood or otherwise. But I must press on. And I remind myself that I have had this feeling before – Santa Cruz, Long Beach, Flagstaff…but for each time I want to stop and bask in the companionship and complacency, forging ahead always rewards me with a new point of connection. If I would have stopped in Flagstaff I never would have met Nick. Or Pete, Ben, Lucy, Bennett, Gordon, Ariel, Julia, Jake, or the many other amazing people who took me into their group and made me feel welcome beyond belief. So tomorrow I continue on, with a heavy heart but a warmed soul. America may be difficult right now but I am seeing some of the best it has to offer.
As I am discovering more and more every day, nothing is more important than family, friends, and loved ones. Sure, I am searching for the next great place, but what will it be without friends? As much as I loved Flagstaff for it’s mountains, small size, and great biking I felt unmoved by Albuquerque’s sprawling urban and suburban mess. Yet in just 36 hours I have had the time if my life! I did organized yoga for the first time, discovered an olive oil party, mountain biked some rad single track, enjoyed many local brews and BBQ, and discussed everything from politics to medical procedures all while surrounded by a loving, accepting group of people I could see myself spending years with. So yeah, it is all about the people. Perhaps I sacrifice my “favorite” place but pick somewhere I enjoy filled with people I love. Not much of a sacrifice.