After months of preparation and with the completion of my winter Project Bike conversion, The USS Sweet Escape III, I was ready to tackle my first tour.  It wasn’t hard to decide where to go.  Staring me in the face for several years now,  just outside my window lies the great Sandia Mountain.  The MapMyRide estimate said approximately 75 miles with only 6 being the gravel, downhill stretch from the Sandia Peak Ski Area to the little village of Placitas.  A simple overnighter would fit just right.

Saturday morning, of course it took longer than I expected to get out the door.  Final charge of the cell phone, the camera, the cycle computer, my Kindle, and the GPS were necessary.  Stuffing the delicate down sleeping bag and jacket into the last open pannier.  A few posed final pictures in the driveway… and I was off!


A little after 8, had me rolling down the driveway/private road only to experience the most wobbly goblin steering I’d ever experienced.  Almost like it had a life of its own, the oscillation amplified itself until it was clear that both hands at the outer reaches of my Nashbar trekking bars would be necessary.  I wasn’t going to turn back though.  Afterall, it was my FIRST TOUR and nothing much cold stop me!

I rolled south along Loma Larga looking for a pace that would last me all day, up and over the mountain.  Cyclist after cyclist crossed my path with an obvious sustained gawk.  In my own experience and even with all the road miles I put on my road bike, I’ve only crossed paths with touring cyclists twice!  I just smiled, waved, and carried on.


At 58 degrees, and without a trace of wind, the weather was perfect.  I travelled out through the south end of Corrales and east crossing the mighty Rio Grande river.  Many, many cyclist passed me.  Some slowing to say hello, some not.  As my legs warmed up to cruising speed on North Gualdelupe Road, I decided to give a couple of ignoring, spandex clad, road cyclists a run for their money.  A few pumps of the pedals and I was easily tracking them, ultimately satisfied with the surprised looks on their faces when we rolled upon the north 4th Street stop sign at the same time.


I rounded the corner and started my first slow, ever increasing climb… up Tramway hill just in time to cross paths with my cycling club.  RIO came barreling down Roy road in an impressive group of about 20.  Shortly thereafter, a very nice trailing road cyclist dropped off the back end of her paceline to chat, “Where ya headed?” she said.  “Up there”, as I pointed to the top of the 10,678 foot mountain in front of us.  “Oh.  I just road up there yesterday.  And today, they are calling *this* (nodding toward the 4 mile stretch of Tramway hill) a recovery ride!”  she said as we laughed.


More cyclists passed me and I slowly crept upward, carefully measuring my power output in anticipation for a long day.  I overheard two guys headed downhill just before the top of the climb, “Wow, Check out the cool color of his panniers. They’re HUGE. Yeah, He’s REALLY travellin’ dude!”

Not long after, I arrived at the well known, three-way-stop, leading to the Sandia Peak Tramway, it’s cables angled perfectly in reflection of the morning sun.

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Albuquerque has recently declared that “ghost bikes” are considered descansos and therefore subject to protection.  We can only hope that in addition to memorializing, there can be a higher level of awareness for the rest of us cyclists out there.


I shifted gears as usual and increased my speed for the several miles of gradual downhill on south bound Tramway.  John, a seasoned road cyclist clad in all black and riding an all-black carbon fiber road bike rolled up from behind, “Hey, you got a sandwich in there… and maybe a Coke?”.  I laughed and quickly responded, “Sure!  Or would ya like a green chile cheeseburger?  Lemme just get the grill out and set ‘er up!”  We chatted about touring and randoneering for the remainder of the Tramway segment and he left me with a piece of advice for my journey onto the mountain, “Just keep ‘em spinnin’ and you’ll get there just fine.”

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Old 66, the highway before Interstate 40 remains a favorite of weekend road bikers and motorcyclist travelling into the Sandia Mountains and anything east of ABQ.  Not sure why they’re called rollers, but I did my best to plow up one and then down the next as I climbed the several hundred feet elevation into the village of Tijeras for my well deserved lunch break at the local Subway.  I was feeling pretty good and only slightly behind on my water.  A bottle an hour is necessary and I was already a full bottle behind.  I scarfed down my usual Turkey sandwich, and returned to the pedals.

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I had ridden these roads countless times before knowing that each subsequent segment of 6 miles grew in intensity and altitude.  Over the next six miles, I finally relaxed and the required pace revealed itself to me.  A notch above a spinning of the pedals, and well below labored breathing made the climb into Cedar Crest surprisingly easy.  I rolled into the gas station adjacent to the local Lazy Lizzard brew pub way ahead of my perceived schedule and energy level.   This would be my last chance at water and supplies so I made sure to gulp down the remaining water in my bottles before topping them off once again.

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The Sandia’s are contained within the Cibola National Forest and it didn’t take long to see that last winter’s snowpack left the forest rich with green.  Remnants of the previous day’s downpour could be seen along the freshly rinsed road shoulder lined with grass matted in a single direction from the runoff broken by a scattering of new deer tracks all around.  Very few cyclists in this stretch, but they could be plainly heard huffing and puffing from well behind me as we all climbed together toward the Sandia Peak Ski Area, where I had decided to stop for a beer.

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As the 8000 foot marker approaches, I pass Tree Springs trailhead parking lot and two girls holding half full water bottles call out to me, “Hi!  Is Doc Long down that road?”.  Bewildered and interested in the outcome of this predicament, I say, “Yeah, it’s about 4 miles back down the road”.  “4 miles?!?"… Really??”  “Yep, right at about 4 miles.  Did you come up the trail?”, I ask.  “Yes” one says as she looks to the other hoping that a helicopter will appear out of the sky before trudging off down the road.  I raise my left foot to click back in and they slowly turn downhill for the next couple of hours.


My anticipation of a frostly reward vanished as I rounded the final climb into the locked entry gate of the ski area.  So I took a little break at Balsam Glade and watched the downhillers load their bikes into waiting trucks for the ride to the top of the mountain.  I wanted to ask outloud, “Hey, do those bikes go uphill too?”, but I had better things to do.

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The ride down through Las Huertas Canyon was spectacular! Six miles of incredible scenery had me stopping to take plenty of pictures. Traffic was light and the previous day’s rainfall was keeping the dust to a minimum. It was exciting to cross paths with so many smiling faces and seemed that no matter what mode of transportation, we were all enjoying the day. Las Huertas picnic ground was a highlight of my day with small winding paved roads and several little bridges crossing a freshly cascading stream that ran throughout the entire picnic area.

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The overcast and darkening sky started to create a sense of urgency to find a little out of the way place to put my tent for the night. It wasn’t until I had exited Las Huertas Canyon that I found a place in the foothills off the north end of the Sandias. Only a half mile off the highway and several hundred yards away from the dirt road, a more or less secluded spot came into view, but not before my brand new left front pannier had been punctured by a thin cactus needle.


Setting up the tent didn’t take too long and less than an hour later, I was under cover waiting for the skies to open up….and they didn’t. The heavy dark storm clouds to my south seemed to be bombarding the north Albuquerque area while my tent only had a breezy scattering of raindrops.  Not long after, all was calm.


I enjoyed setting things up and exploring the explosion of equipment throughout the tent as I looked for my dinner, stove, fuel and lighter. My little Primus stove worked spectacularly and sealed up nicely with the little washer I ordered from England. I warmed and ate my two tin-foil wrapped burritos and followed them with pop-tarts for dessert. As the energy returned to my body, I snapped photo after photo of the quickly evolving sunset over Bernalillo.

I slept well and much more comfortable than I thought I would be on the Big Anges air mattress that I had just purchased.

My do-it-yourself coffee/sugar/pipecleaner “coffee bag” steeped just fine while I scrambled to repack the bike before a short ride down to Bernalillo for Mother’s Day breakfast with mom.


My original plan was to head futher west and take Highway 528 home, but with a 20 mph tailwind blowing, I didn’t mind the extra miles.  Highway 314 was a breeze!  Effortless pedalling on smooth, new pavement and 45 minutes later, I crossed the Rio Grande once again.


Back north into Corrales for a couple miles of headwind and soon, I was home!


Here’s a compilation of the various videos on this trip.