Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Thinking South By Southwest

I saw some race report yesterday that got me thinking. It made me kind of sad, actually. It was a race report for the El Paso Puzzler. You should take a moment to read it here. It was written by the winner, Evan Plews. Evan does a great job reminding me of every gnarly facet of the Franklin Mountain State Park. I won't say you'll get the same feelings I do by reading it, because that area is close to my heart now, and I've ridden it several times since about 2007.

I've included a few images from my last trip there. The El Paso area is in the desert. The Chihuahuan Desert is the largest desert in North America, but ironically, it isn't the type of desert most folks think of when they conjure up desert images in their minds. Most folks think of the iconic Saguaro of the Sonoran Desert, or the great Joshua Trees of the Mojave Desert. The Chihuahuan Desert has no icon, not that I know of. It is just a rocky, spiky, dry area that presents a unique challenge to any mountain biker. While it isn't necessarily typical of the Chihuahuan area itself, Franklin Mountain has one main feature you need to come to terms with.

Rocks. And lots, and lots of them.

Most of the time you can know you are on the trail in the Franklin Mountain State Park because you are not in the brush and cactus. There really is no other good way to see the trail in many places. And as you can see from my images, the trail is essentially loose, busted up rock of various sizes. Imagine riding on rubble, and you will have some modicum of understanding the trials and tribulations of riding in El Paso's surrounding mountains.

If you read Evan Plew's report, he gives you a description of coming off Mundy's Gap into a mile long rubble field. Yep. I get it. Rocks. It's what's for dinner in the Franklin Mountains.

What these rocks do is they resist your wheels passage, they slip out from under you wheels, knocking you off-line, and robbing you of precious momentum, and they can, (as Evan describes), bust up your equipment. It is a very tough place on rider and bike.

One other thing: It is a dry, dry, dry place! If you ever get down south, by southwest, to the El Paso area, you'd better bring lots of water with you to do any riding. The combination of the tough, unforgiving trails, and dry climate mean you will be going through a lot of moisture, and you will need to be able to replace it on your ride. It is remote, and even though it may seem that you are not far from El Paso, there isn't a good, direct route to water without doing a ton of work to get to it. Just so I know I warned ya!

So why ride there at all? Well, it is hard, but I am learning that it takes a different way of riding to get the most enjoyment out of what you put in. I think it is more of a "rock crawler" mentality. You won't be ripping along, feeling the flow for a half mile, or even a quarter mile here. (There is some amount of "flow", but that is even different there.) No- It is more of a measured pace sort of mentality, I think, that garners the most enjoyment out there. That and stopping to enjoy the scenery once in awhile is highly recommended.

I am sad, as I said in the beginning, because I will miss going to Texas this year due to a conflict with my wife's work. Sad because I love my family down there, of course, but I also love riding in that Chihuahuan Desert. Check it out sometime if you can. It is tough and challenging, but really rewarding in the end.

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