Sunday, May 8, 2016

Trans Mountain Update

 Can't believe it's almost been three years since I've posted on this blog!

Sorry for the long absence. Will try to add some new rides from time to time. The first update I want to post is about Trans Mountain Drive -- long a favorite climb of many cyclists but currently our options are impeded by current construction. Trans Mountain is part of Loop 375.

 The construction zone is due to work to add a new entrance to Tom Mays Park (formally known as the Tom Mays Unit of Franklin Mountains State Park), which would allow eastbound motorists to enter the park without crossing in front of westbound drivers (I think it's going to be an underpass).

 The zone begins just below the park entrance and continues for a couple of miles. There is a no-bicycles sign at the beginning of the zone. I found out about this a few months ago when I rode into the construction zone (did not see the sign) and had no way out for the next mile or so. There were two eastbound lanes blocked by cement barriers on each side, so there was no shoulder for a cyclist to move onto. Fortunately it was a Sunday morning with little traffic, so I escaped unscathed. I believe the same situation exists on the westbound lanes.

So the bad news is there is no way to ride across Trans Mountain. The good news is:

 1) The east side of Trans Mountain is unaffected. You can climb up the east side (starting from US 54) to the summit and then pull into one of three parking area on the other side of the road to take a break, then ride back down the east side. Both sides of this route have ample shoulders or bike lanes.

2) On the west side, you can still ride all the way up to Tom Mays, and then you can continue two more miles each way on the paved state park road, which is a fun roller-coaster ride with more elevation gain.

Before I explain further, I need to describe the highway situation. There is a main elevated Loop 375 highway which is off-limits to cyclists that runs about 3 miles going east from I-10. There are also frontage roads, where cyclists are permitted to ride. There are also jogging/walking/cycling paths on both the north and south sides of the highway/frontage roads where cyclists can also ride. The path on the south side goes from I-10 to just past Paseo Del Norte. The path on the north side goes from I-10 to the Tom Mays entrance. The paths are perfectly fine for climbing, since most of us are going a max of 10 mph if that much and it's no problem to avoid runners, walkers and the various debris, including lots of rock and gravel. The paths are not that safe for descent unless you want to ride your brakes.

 Here are your options:

 -- Take the jogging/walking/cycling path that begins at I-10 on the south side of Loop 375 (Trans Mountain) and at Paseo Del Norte cross the eastbound frontage road, go through the underpass, cross the westbound frontage road and resume climbing on an identical jogging/walking/cycling path that will take you to the Tom Mays entrance.

-- You can also access the path on the north side of Loop 375 (Trans Mountain) by crossing earlier at the Resler or Plexxar underpasses. -- You also can ride on the eastbound frontage road if you prefer -- traffic is pretty light -- before you cross over.

-- Paseo Del Norte is the last underpass where you can cross. If you forget to cross over, then you will have to portage your bike over the median when you hit the construction zone and you will have to cross with considerably more traffic since now you will be on the main highway (not the frontage road).

On the way back down, I recommend you take the main road (which has a marked bike lane) until it splits off between the elevated Loop 375 highway and the frontage road. Follow the bike lane onto the frontage road, which will take you back to I-10 (or Resler or Northwestern, if you're returning that way).

 I rode this on May 6 and 7 to check it out. Coming out of Tom Mays, there was a portion of the westbound (downhill) main road that was blocked off, but totally clear for cyclists to ride (it is also accessible to motorists coming out of Tom Mays). This eventually merges back into the main highway for a bit before the turnoff onto the frontage road. So at that point you want to stay in the bike lane to avoid the high-speed traffic bearing down on you.

 Side notes:

 -- The park rangers always let road cyclists ride through the entrance gate without paying fees. They know you are just making the loop.

 -- Tom Mays road has three speed bumps. Make a note of them as you ride up so you slow down for them on the way back

 -- There are restrooms at the upper end of Tom Mays road

Here are the mileage distances you might want to know

 0.0 I-10 Frontage Road (Desert Blvd North). Elevation: 3898 feet

 0.4 Northwestern 0.96 N. Resler Dr. (between Resler and end of Frontage Roads are two new underpasses — Plexxar and Paseo Del Norte — sorry, I don’t have the mileage for them)

1.94 Frontage Road ends. Construction zone starts about 3/4 mile further up

 3.38 Entrance to Tom Mays Unit

 5.42 End of paved roadway at Tom Mays. Elevation: 5011 feet.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

West Side Hills

My riding buddy Olac is a climbing fanatic. Nearly every Sunday he rides a loop of the West Side's steepest hills. The actual course varies, so the attached map is just to give a general idea of the highlights. We start at The Bagel Shop at 965 N. Resler across from Franklin High School. We head up Redd to High Ridge, ride to Redd Rd then right on Dakota Ridge. From there we go up and down the various "Ridge" roads of the newer West Side subdivisions. You can go exploring on your own and decide how much suffering you're willing to impose on your legs. To give yourself a sense of accomplishment, see how many times you can ride uphill until you reach a dead end where the desert or a gated community begins. The goal is to work your way eventually to Belvidere. From there you can choose your poison: Los Cerritos or Pinehurst will take you to Thunderbird. Thunderbird is thrilling downhill where cyclists easily break the 30 mph posted speed limit. Instead of turning left at Shadow Mountain, you can cut through the parking lot of the apartment complex on your left and ride a brief section of sidewalk to get to Silver Springs. Silver Springs is a long climb that turns into Stanton. Ride to the end of Stanton then head downhill on Festival. If you're a glutton for punishment, you can loop back up to Stanton on Buckley. Head down Festival again to Mesa (refuel at the gas station/convenience store if needed) then turn right and go to Mesa Hills. This is a grueling climb back to Stanton. Olac decided it wasn't bad enough, so he cuts over on Lawndale to Irondale. The first part of Irondale is one of the steepest climbs in El Paso. If you're like me, you'll be zig-zagging left and ride just to stay on your bike. Get back on Stanton and return on Silver Springs. Again, you can choose any route you want. On this map I chose returning via Thunderbird, Singing Hills, Belvidere, Via Descanso, etc. It really doesn't matter. There are countless hills to choose from. It's pretty easy to climb anywhere from 1500 to 3000 feet on a 25-mile ride, depending on how many hills you choose. With Transmountain under construction, this is the best overall climbing workout you can get in El Paso. Sunday morning is a great time to do this -- traffic is light.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Chamizal Loop

Here’s a 40-mile ride that takes you around much of Central, Northeast and Eastside El Paso, with a healthy mix of climbing, speed and city touring.

This was an El Paso Bicycle Club ride that started at the Chamizal National Memorial -- until we found out that the parking lot was off-limits that day, so we actually started in the Bowie High School parking lot just across the street.

The first stage of the ride involves a lot of climbing. Head through Central El Paso via Paisano/Cotton/Yandell (there are several options here) to Brown, which is a steep road up the leading edge of the Franklin Mountains that connects you to Scenic Drive. Scenic Drive offers a great rest stop at the top, looking out over El Paso and Juarez.

Stay on Scenic and at the east end you turn left on Alabama, which will provide plenty of rollers as it runs along the east slope of the Franklins, turning into Magnetic before ending at Hondo Pass. The convenience store there is a good refueling point before the steep descent to U.S. 54. This also begins the “speed” section of the ride, with long uninterrupted stretches of highway.

You’ll go north on the Gateway to Woodrow Bean Transmountain Road and turn right. Just before Dyer, get on the on-ramp (from the left lane) to Loop 375.

Loop 375 curves to the southeast. It’s pretty much a freeway, but has a wide (but debris-filled) bike lane. Exit at Spur 601 (Liberty Expressway; signs also indicate this as the El Paso Int’l Airport exit) and turn right, then left on Global Reach. At Montana, Global Reach turns into Yarbrough. This begins the city tour of the ride, running through Eastside and Lower Valley/South Central neighborhoods.

You can stay on Yarbrough all the way to North Loop; or shave a little distance off the ride by cutting through via Montwood/Viscount/Hawkins/Tony Lama and zigzag through an industrial park to get to North Loop. North Loop connects to Delta at a 3-way stoplight. Then there’s another tricky intersection ahead -- watch the signs carefully -- it’s easy to get on Paisano or Alameda by mistake.

Assuming you manage to stay on Delta, you will get back to San Marcial just east of Downtown to return to your starting point.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

El Paso to Hatch

This is what might be called an ultra-distance ride. Just as the marathon is the signature distance event for runners, the century (100-mile) ride is the signature distance ride for cyclists. And just as there are runners who push the envelope with ultra-marathon events of 50 to 100 miles, there are cyclists who routinely go far beyond 100 miles.

The organized form of this kind of riding is the brevet, also known as randonneuring. The shortest brevet ride is 200K (125 miles) with longer rides of 300K, 400K, 600K and the granddaddy of them all, the 1200K Paris-Brest-Paris Brevet, held every four years and which dates back, in various formats, to 1891.

Enough about that – I just wanted to give you some background to understand why I rode such an insane distance in the middle of summer. It happens that I know some brevet fans, and two of them – Margaret O’Kelley and Bob Lynn – invited me to join them on their favorite training ride: a 150-mile ride from the northwest edge of El Paso to Hatch, NM and back.

A map of our route is embedded below. I won’t go over too many of the route details but will highlight some and also our stopping points. Stopping points are crucial on a ride like this – there are stretches of up to 20 miles without easy access to water.

Also – I don’t recommend doing this alone, and definitely do not recommend it for anyone who has not done some distance riding. I ride 100-200 miles a week, and in the past have ridden many centuries, including two official brevets of 200K. I had not done a century for almost two years, so I wanted to get in a distance ride – hence my invitation from Margaret and Bob to join them. I thought I might just tag along for 100 to 110 miles of their ride, but felt good enough after 55 miles to keep going. As it turned out, I did OK and kept up with my friends for the duration – although I was fighting an overheated body at times.

We started at Crazy Cat Cyclery at 5:15 a.m. (Margaret and Bob had headlights and we all had taillights – I have a headlight but left it behind on this ride since it would be light within a few miles).

We took the I-10 frontage roads all the way to Berino, NM, crossed over to NM 478 and then made our way to Mesilla via Mesilla Park. Our traditional stop — The Bean in Mesilla — wasn’t open yet so we rode up to a nearby McDonalds for breakfast. Back to Mesilla, then took NM 292 to Roadrunner and eventually got on NM 185, which took us all the way into Hatch (with a stop at Fort Selden to refill water bottles).

NM 185 is the old U.S. 85 – one of the byways of Southern New Mexico. It runs along the Rio Grande, skirts the Robledo Mountains and passes through chile fields. There are quite a few rolling sections between Radium Springs (where Fort Selden is) and Hatch. In general, this is a pretty flat ride.

We got to Hatch just after 10:30 and had an early lunch at Sparky’s – a great eatery full of nostalgia collectibles. The green chile cheeseburger was fantastic. They also let us refill our water bottles with ice.

From Hatch, we took a slightly different route on NM 154, paralleling the railroad tracks and the river, and NM 140 before reconnecting on NM 185.

At Radium Springs, we opted for a beer and water break at the Blue Moon Bar. This bar has been around for years, is particularly popular among motorcyclists, and is the only stop between Hatch and Las Cruces where you can get a cold beverage (Fort Selden just has water and their water fountain was out of order, so all we could get there was lukewarm tap water).

There is one other unofficial place to get water and even a soda – the border patrol checkpoint between Hatch and Fort Selden, which has a Coke machine for employees and if you’re nice to them, for thirsty bicyclists.

When we got back to Mesilla, we took a break at Shorty’s convenience store. By this time, the 100-degree heat was really taking its toll. We bought a gallon of cold water for our water bottles and used about half of it just to splash on ourselves. We also got some Gatorade.

From Mesilla, we took NM 28 all the way back to Canutillo.

We were fighting a headwind much of the way back as well, so we made an extra stop at La Mesa for more water and ice.

The whole ride took about 13 hours. Our actual distance was a little over 150 miles, since all of us had ridden to the start from our homes.

This was the longest ride of my life (I had done one of about 135 miles a few years ago) and to be honest, I was pretty happy to survive the ride and to manage to keep up with my friends (they told me I was the first person they had invited along who actually completed the whole 150 miles!).

Nevertheless… I am still not a convert to the ways of the brevet. I like the challenge of an extra-long ride – but not that often!!! But at least a century ride won’t seem quite so bad!

Here’s the map of the ride:

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Ditches to Mesilla

My ambition for a while has been to ride the ditches to Mesilla, and today was the day. The general plan was to ride the main westside Mesilla Valley ditch to the Mesilla Dam and return via the main eastside ditch. All the major canals in this area have reasonably good truck paths running alongside them. The dirt paths get sandy in spots, but generally are easy to ride with a mountain bike.

I parked my truck at Gallegos Park on Bosque Road in Canutillo and started riding on the canal that runs north-south on the west side of the park. This is known as the Canutillo Canal. I followed it north and west. This becomes the La Union East Canal and it follows Westside Road. Westside Road (at least the paved part) ends at Washington Street in Anthony, but the canal keeps going north. About a mile or so later is the junction of the La Union East and West Canals (the La Union West will take you southwest through the valley). I kept going north. Just past Berino Road the canal -- I think at this point it is known as the West Side Canal -- crosses NM 28 and continues north on the west edge of the valley. One fascinating point of interest was an old "Drain Check Structure" that has a marker stating that "EBID (Elephant Butte Irrigation District) has preserved this site for its historic value." The purpose of the structure, the marker adds, was to slow down the water going through the canal.

The canal is blocked by a gate and no trespassing signs where the Stahmann Farms pecan orchards begin. Too bad -- this is the most scenic part of the canal. You get a great view of the "Black Mesa" just ahead to the northwest -- it's the edge of the volcanic field that continues west along the mesa. It got the name "Black Mesa" because of the volcanic rock.

At that point I decided not to press my luck by going around the fence, and doubled back on the canal to the first road going east. I hooked up to NM 28 and took the paved road to Mesilla and lunch at The Bean.

Then I headed west on Calle del Norte to pick up the river levee road as far as the Mesilla Diversion Dam. This is the main dam that diverts water from the Rio Grande into the West Side and East Side canals. The West Side canal (the much bigger of the two) is the one that also delivers water to the El Paso Upper Valley.

Today was the first day water was running in the Rio Grande, having been released a few days earlier from Elephant Butte and Caballo dams. But none of the water was being put into the canals just yet. Along my ride, however, several farms were pumping water from the ground to irrigate their crops.

I goofed at this point and took a smaller canal instead of the East Side Canal. The smaller canal followed the river then curved east. At Hwy 28 I turned north for about a mile to pick up the East Side Canal at Snow Road.

On Snow Road and a few other places along this ride, I "cheated" and rode on the pavement instead of the canal path. The canal follows Snow Road to NM 478, then continues running south along East Side Road, paralleling 478 most of the way. Eventually it runs along Three Saints Road until it hits O'Hara Road. At some point before I got to Three Saints, I biked through a pecan orchard that had a fenced entrance -- but the entrance gates were wide open and there were no "No Trespassing" signs, so I kept on going. Even if those gates were closed I probably would have just gone around them.

Just before Washington Street in Anthony, the canal ends, flowing back into the Rio Grande. I followed the levee road for about a mile and then picked up the paved River Trail that runs along the east side of the river for 2.5 miles until it hits Vinton Road (the River Trail then picks up again on the west side of the river and continues 10 more miles, ending just north of Country Club Road). I turned west on Vinton Road past the river, turned right on Bosque and returned to Gallegos Park.

Total distance for this ride was about 65 miles. It took me a little over 7 hours, including various stops and lunch along the way. On the way up, my only rest stop was at the Stahmann Farms store on NM 28. On the way back, I was getting a bit tired and dehydrated, so I stopped at a convenience store in Mesquite (about 1/4 mile west of the canal where it crosses Mesquite Road) and stopped again at Anthony Country Club (about 1/2 mile west of where the canal crosses O'Hara Road).

I'm glad I did this ride just to become more familiar with these routes. I would love to do this again, but in shorter segments. I only average 9-12 mph on the dirt paths. It's also a lot more fun to ride when the ditches are running with water -- which should begin in a week or two.

If you're interested in exploring the irrigation system between El Paso and Mesilla, make sure you have good thorn protection (slimed tubes, good tires, spare tubes, etc) and plenty of water and snacks. There are no convenience stores along the ditches! It also helps if you are familiar with the major roads crossing the canals, so you know where you can detour to get to a rest stop.

The payoff is riding without worrying about cars or trucks, seeing the cotton and chile fields and pecan orchards up close, and just exploring parts of the region you can't see any other way.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Mountain Biking El Paso

Lately I've been expanding my horizons, bicycling-wise, and trying out some of the Franklin Mountain trails on a used mountain bike I bought late last year.

I'm not going to go into particular trails in this post. The Borderland Mountain Bike Association has lots of information at

I just want to post a few words of warning to fellow roadies, especially middle-aged ones like me, who aspire to go off-road.

The mountain trails around here are not for the faint of heart. I've been venturing out from where Redd Road ends, just past Helen of Troy, following the old jeep paths and single-track trails uphill toward Transmountain Road.

One of the trails ends with what is called "Ten Minutes of Hell," maybe 1,000 yards of pure, vicious rock surrounded by cactus that steeply ascends to a bluff next to Transmountain Road. In my case it was more like 15 or 20 minutes of hell since I had to walk quite a bit.

At least when I went out on my own, I tended to ride slow. The other day I asked a friend to show me some of his favorite trails. Of course they included TMOH. Just after we turned back to go downhill a further north on another trail, I fell and landed precariously atop a lechuguilla and prickly pear cactus. Fortunately I avoided catastophe and was able to pick out most of the cactus spines without much pain.

This kind of bicycling is a whole other sport. Road bicycling, except at a competitive level, actually doesn't require a lot of coordination. You sit on the bike and pedal. Mountain biking on trails like these requires a lot of coordination, great balance and reflexes, constant focus on the trail ahead, and tolerance for pain. While occasionally I will max out my heart rate on the road bike, I found myself consistently running out of juice climbing the steep sections of rocky road.

I'm not sure I will ever convert to mountain biking, but I hope to make it an occasional part of my cycling diet. If nothing else, it keeps me humble about road biking. Riding 20+ mph on the road is nothing compared to 5 mph on a rocky uphill trail.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Santa Teresa Time Trial

Every once in a while you need to work on speed. One way is interval training -- occasional blasts of speed during a ride. We did this a few times this year on the Tuesday night Beginner Intermediate Group (BIG) rides. We would ride on some low-traffic rides as a group and every so often go at maximum speed for 45-60 seconds.

Another way is to talk your friends into a time trial event. We did this on an El Paso Bicycle Club ride last Saturday. The ride offered two time trials -- a 2 1/2 mile climbing segment and a 10K flat segment.

We rode up to the intersection of Artcraft and McNutt Road (Artcraft actually is called something else at that point -- I think it's Pete Domenici Hwy. McNutt is also known as NM 273). There's an area just west of the intersection where we regrouped. Riders were sent off one by one at 30 second intervals for the 2 mile climb, with the finish line another 1/2 mile away. Most of us did this in 9-11 minutes.

Then we rode south on Artcraft (Pete Domenici) to Columbus Road (it's 2 1/2 miles south of the intersection with Airport Road. About 1/2 mile or so west on Columbus there's a start line marked on the roadway. The road also has 2.5K, 5K and 10K markings. We did another time trial to the 10K line, using the same procedure. It took most of us between just under 16 minutes to just under 18 minutes on this very flat course with very little traffic.

Afterwards, we rode back to Pete Domenici Hwy and rode to the border crossing to get a few more miles in.

For an unofficial time trial like this, the easiest way is to just let each rider keep track of his or her own time. If you get a volunteer with a car, you can have that person synchronize a stopwatch (most cell phones and iPods have that feature) with a volunteer at the start line. The volunteer in the car can drive ahead to the finish line and record when people finish. This also has the advantage that the car can carry any extra gear (water bottles, saddle bags, clothing) that riders want to dump to lighten their load on the time trial.

Doing something like this every so often helps monitor how you're doing as far as speed and encourages you to keep doing intervals occasionally on other rides.

The map below just shows the two time trial segments.