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Extra Helpings

Dessert and desert are two tricky words. You don’t want to offer someone a sandy swath of land after dinner, nor do you want to toil through dunes of ice cream. Ok, honestly, I do, but that’s beside the point- these are two easy words to mix up.

The way I remember it is that Dessert, with its extra helping of “s,” is the one you always want more of. Desert is more parched. It’s good to keep ‘em straight, although if you find yourself in New Mexico for the holidays, you’ll definitely get hearty portions of both.

Last week I went back to the Southwest for the first time post-bike. The high desert has always been a winter and spring training ground for me, so the trip was not without a little nostalgia. The tableaux of pinion and adobe, the quality of the light and the smell of the air, even the unique pale color of the sky in the morning-all those little deserty things tended to hit me when I least expected them to, and it was with some dismay that I caught my brain more and more often in bike mode.

The thought of riding has made me consistently nauseous since May, but somehow waking up last week felt pointless without a training plan. Raucous quiche breakfasts and holiday baked goods felt wrong when desert mornings (in my mind) have always been reserved for black coffee, oatmeal, and the quiet that comes before a six hour ride. My hands suddenly didn’t know what to do without a bike to maintain; my legs twitched a lot.

But what I found beneath my inner antsy was exactly what I’d been missing as a racer. Like a speedboat skimming the surface of every place I visited, when I was training I didn’t tend to find a lot of depth; all surfaces feel the same under your tires if you go fast enough. Yet finally, with a little time to actually look around, as well as some actual Southwest residents to show me the ropes, I got a chance to taste a few new layers of desert.

We started off the week with a bike tour on the banks of the “mighty” Rio Grand, though it was like no ride I’ve done in the last year. Wearing grins, sneakers and nothing resembling spandex or helmets, we ripped through bermed, rabbitty trails and ducked low hanging branches, spraying each other with dirt and leaves, v-brakes squealing. It was the almost-forgotten feeling of riding for the sake of riding, now with the added bonus of a deep-fried turkey feast afterwards.

Oh, you’ve never seen a turkey deep-fried? It takes two beers to heat the oil and three beers to cook the bird- a measure of time I rather like. Especially because we happened to be drinking homemade wine.

The next day was a departure from the horizontal world with a chimney scramble up Cabezon Peak. Named in spanish after the word “head”, the “peak” is actually a gigantic volcanic plug, which is what happens when magma cools in the neck of an volcano. When the sides of the volcano erode away, we’re left with these basalt formations, perfect for clambering around on. 

And of course, no departure from bikeland would be complete without a trip to the gun club. 

I was amazed at how profoundly I was affected by holding a weapon like this. Sure there was the basic thrill of making a really loud noise, but then there was the stunning accuracy and the realization that I was firing something designed specifically to poke holes in other people. I wasn’t about to pass up the chance to pull the trigger a few times, but other than that I felt instinctively wary of these machines; I prefer ones with two wheels and parts that don’t explode. I’d probably make a terrible soldier.

I might be beginning to miss the quiet mornings and black coffee, but I’ve seen that life post bike has a lot of richness and love if you keep your arms and eyeballs open. Last thanksgiving was spent mostly trying to stay lean in my off-season. Not only was it kind of bland and anxious, it was a losing battle. This thanksgiving I got to meet some folks who taught me about fried turkeys, assault rifles and volcanic plugs. I got to ride a bike and eat plenty of dessert in the desert, because it’s all on-season from here.

Amazing what a year can do, eh?

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