Albuquerque, New Mexico
Bonnie O. Nuttall
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Julie's Annual New Mexico Ride
I arrived early at White Sands National Monument for the ride but there were already lots of bikers picnicking, preparing bikes, comparing stories of past rides. A definite sense of excitement in the air. The Monument is in the desert of southern New Mexico, surrounded by mountains on all sides. Imagine thousands of acres of white gypsum sand dunes open to bikes only after dark on a full moon! From the visitors center, we get only a hint of what lies beyond, "out there", tall white dunes, and lots of vegetation, creosote, mesquite, ocotillo, salt bush, grasses.
We have to wait until all cars leave the monument before we can begin.
The full moon begins to come up in the east and the excitement in the air rises to an audible roar. Who traveled the farthest to get here, which clubs attended, whose been on the most of these rides, what to wear, and taping the little plastic tubes of green chemical light to everyone's seat stays.
As darkness descends, the dunes begin to glow with an eerie white light. By 7:30 weıre all as antsy as we can get.
All the cars have left.
The full moon is up, and the dunes glowing with moonfire. There must be at least 75 impatient riders here on every type of bike imaginable, mountain bikes, racers, tandems, recumbents, bikes pulling trailers, some with kids in them, others filled with coolers (filled with moonshine and moon pies Iım sure, ha ha ha). Grandparents, children, riders decorated with portable Christmas lights, flashing earrings, faces painted. Think Burning Man in its early phase, instead of at the Black Rock desert we're scorching (or noodling) across white sands in the middle of a different desert. Being my first time I didnıt know what to expect.
Finally, "You may now start" and we were off, with a good howling at the moon (This bat was doing most of the howling). The riders gently dispersed down the paved road into the dunes as if wanting to absorb every sensation the evening would offer. No one was in a hurry, we had 3 hours to complete a 16 mile round trip ride on mostly flat terrain, plenty of time to make the round trip, but not nearly enough time to let it all sink in. The soft green lights attached to all our bikes, weaved and bobbed in and out of sight as we rode between the dunes like a glowing snake. Some riders giggled and laughed, while others were stone cold silent as if wanting to disappear into the night or not to intrude on the scene. The only sounds were of lungs breathing the purest desert air, legs pumping a rhythm on the pedals.
I was oh, so aware of the black sky, the millions of stars, and the glowing white dunes reflecting the rays of the full moon. Further into the dunes the vegetation disappeared, overtaken by the sand, causing the land to become completely white. Then the paved road ended and became packed white sand, and even it turned white. With such a contrast between the completely white glowing land and the black sky, I felt as if I had been transported to another planet, or at the very least, into the heart of Alaska! The road was plowed through the dunes, some 10 to 15 feet high; in some places the dunes formed 3-foot drifts along the road as if the snow had just been plowed through. The drifts gave way to a huge open area that looked like a frozen lake and I expected to see ice skaters somewhere. But no, just dark shadows of bicyclists with funny green lights. I knew I must be in the Yukon in winter, but yet I wasnıt cold amongst all this snow.
My tried and true friend, my mountain bike, was silent beneath me, allowing me to focus on the night sky. In fact, as I looked up, there went a shooting star! How much better could this ride get?! I was so aware, I had no choice, of the glorious place my bike had brought me, and of all the exceptional places my bike has taken me over the years. Itıs like Mario Cippolini said recently, " If you are able to love the bike as it deserves, it will reward you with deep emotions you can not get any where else." (this may not be an exact quote but itıs very close). I had been transported into another world, a totally new and unexpected experience that I can never duplicate and have never experienced before. And all thanks to my bike and the White Sands National Monument.
The ride was over before I knew what hit me. I saw the lights of the visitor's center coming into view and was shocked back to reality. Bummer.
But once back in the parking lot, I ate chips and salsa with new riding buddies and promised myself to make every one of these rides I can in the future. This ride is a rare one to be sure. The monument only opens at night twice a year for this ride and reservations are required (only a limited number of riders are allowed in).
White Sands National Monument has a web page that lists the rides at www.nps.gov/whsa. This is one ride that ranks with the best of the best.