NEW MEXICO BDR: PART 1
BY: OLIVIER DE VAULX
Introduction to New-Mexico
Landlocked between Arizona and Texas, the state of New Mexico doesn’t make the headlines very often. Yet, it’s exactly what ADV riders are looking for: a quiet state with plenty of wilderness to enjoy, and just a handful of people to meet every day. Going there with an adventure bike to randomly explore any trail that appears under your wheels would be possible, but with so many remote places where gas stations are more scarce than oasis in the desert, you have to plan carefully. Luckily for us out-of-state riders, the guys at RideBDR took care of everything.
Their 6th Backcountry Discovery Route wanders through the most remote places of New Mexico and logs every fueling opportunity on the way, as well as lodging and food. On top of that useful source of information, just knowing that these guys somehow validated the route on their big GS1200 makes the ride look more doable. No wonder why, within their 10 years of existence, the BDRs have become the backbone of the American ADV culture and almost a mandatory item on any serious rider’s bucket list.
Planning for the trip
Still, thinking about doing the New Mexico BDR and finding the perfect timing to do it are two different things. The first logical assumption would be that it’s best to do it during summer when days are longer. But it also means that temperatures can be extreme and that late afternoon storms due to the heat may transform any trail into a muddy skating rink. Fall and spring would probably be best in terms of precipitation, but probably still too hot. We then decided to try the ride just before winter, in mid-November.
Days are definitely shorter, mornings and nights would be cold, but the temperatures would be overall easier to handle. More importantly, there is little risk of a tropical storm in November! Using the interactive map on the BDR website, we could see that the snow coverage over the state was almost non-existent, except for a few summits near the border of Mexico. Downloading the GPS track directly from the website, where you can express your gratitude with an optional donation, was easy. Once the file uploaded in the Trail Tech Voyager Pro, there wasn’t much more to do than the ritual packing of bags and gear in the pickup truck.
High-plateau of New-Mexico
After hours of dull driving on the highway, starting the two Triumph Tiger 900s the next morning felt like a deliverance. With the gravel road gaining elevation as the sun was rising, we could let our mind drift away and put ourselves in adventure mode. Standing on the footpegs, feeling the big tires slide a bit on the loose gravel, we warmed up quickly and we soon found ourselves on the high plateau of the Guadalupe Mountains, a few thousand feet above the Crow Flats Valley. Some cattle here and there, not at all scared by the mention of Tiger on the fairing of our big bikes, were the only visible sign of life.
The three-cylinder engines growling smoothly, the gear box locked in 6th gear thanks to the abundant torque, it was not long before we reached the most amazing vista point we could have dreamed of. Despite a slight haze due to the strong wind, the visibility from the edge of the rim was astonishing and we could see mountains dozens of miles away. It was a perfect spot for a snack, but not for a nap. The 278 miles of section 1 were too much for one short winter day, and we still had to make it to Cloudcroft. With the gas station shown on the map (in the oddly-named town of Weed) being closed, we had to detour to Mayhill. Once the Tigers were fed with premium gas and the Mosko Moto bags refilled with candy bars, the last leg of this first but already memorable day could begin.
Deer and chalets
If the gravel road through the Lincoln National Forest made the riding somehow tricky, with no real technical difficulties but still a need for constant focus, the pace was high enough that we could actually make it to town just before sunset. A big relief, since the vision of deer and elk wandering in the fields bordering the road was frightening enough to dissuade us to ride by night. It’s funny how the sight of wildlife can go from exciting to threatening depending on the kind of vehicle you’re using and the hour of the day. In Cloudcroft, we found a mountain community that could have been directly imported from Colorado. Cowboy hats, wooden cabins, chimneys with firewood in local restaurants, it felt welcoming warm and authentic.
In this atmosphere out of time, it didn’t seem too much of a betrayal to opt for large pizzas instead of more authentic Mexican food. Besides, with outside temperatures around 27°F now that the night had fallen, we needed the carbs! Having set up for the night in a bed and breakfast where we spent the evening chatting with guests from all over the world, we felt at home already. We could have stayed here for a couple days, especially after having discovered an amazing bakery with great croissants, but there were so many more places to discover. Looking at the map, we decided to take a small arrangement with the original track of the BDR, going back down in the valley for a quick ride in White Sands NP.
Riding on the moon
To reach the park from the mountains, we had to leave the quiet town of Cloudcroft on a narrow canyon road lit by the early rays of the sun, and then merge into the traffic at Alamogordo and on the touristy highway 70. The temperatures were just above freezing, but our multi-layer Moskomoto gear kept us warm, helped by the heated grips and seats of the Tigers. Who said that comfort was forbidden during a motorcycle adventure? As soon as we entered the park, we were rewarded with an unexpected censorial experience. The white sand, made with small crystals of gypsum, was dazzling. The relief disappeared and it was almost hard to see the side of the sandy road, except for the shade on the side of the dunes.
The surface felt slippery, and we kept riding at a slow pace, trying to resist the urge to park the bikes and run in the immaculate white powder. Alas, we were not that strong mentally though, and it didn’t take long before we did our first step on the moon-like surface. The Alpinestars tech 7 soles were stamping perfect prints in the sand, completing the analogy with the moon landing. The park being famous already, we didn’t plant an Upshift flag on top of the dunes, but the idea crossed our minds. After this childish escape, it was time to go back to a more serious kind of riding. A bit of highway to make up the time lost, using the cruise control and enjoying the comfortable seats of the British bikes, we finally got ready to ride our first miles of true New Mexico desert.
But since New Mexico is a land of surprises, our most expected desert riding experience was delayed by a full hour. Indeed, crossing the little town of Carrizozo and looking for the gas station, we found a hidden gem that we couldn’t pass by without stopping. In this city of 900 inhabitants is the biggest photographic gallery of the state! And there are good reasons why, explained Warren Malkerson, the owner of the place. It looks like far away from the glamour of the big cities, the New Mexicans really found the time to enhance their craft and to express their love for their state and the natural wonders it conceals. Their pictures were just amazing, and we walked in awe through the aisle of the exhibition, envisioning in a revealing shortcut all the magic of the “land of enchantment”. For those who look for more than a ride but also for a deeper understanding of the states traveled, stopping at places like the Tularosa Basin Photo Gallery might be just what they need. Still, the show had to go on, and we finally took off in direction of the desert, just a few miles away.
A first taste of desert riding
On our Butter map, this section was described as a fun double track. We had great expectations and were not disappointed, as we encountered a deep patch of silt right away. On this smooth and treacherous powder-like surface, the front wheel just dived, then started to steer away from the chosen line, while the rear end lifted up and started to go his own way. We both did the same rodeo, laughing about it afterward mostly to forget the chilling sensation of almost falling.
No shame though, it was the perfect trap and we still made it through! After all those miles almost falling asleep on pavement, it was a brutal wake-up call. More cautious now, we kept going with all our senses in alert, our eyes scanning the trail ahead. Dirt and silt alternated, and we had no choice but to keep a huge distance in between the bikes because of the opaque clouds of dust raised by our Tigers. At times, the trail was winding toward the nearby mountains, and we would keep a flowy pace through the corners, our Shinko and Dunlop tires sliding in every exit on the light gravel. The rare Joshua trees and the occasional patches of lava stones gave a very specific atmosphere to this section, with many places reminding us of Africa.
Other moments were spent rushing through long straight lines, enjoying the stability of the 900’s three-cylinder motorcycles at high speed. Man, was it good to be in these wide-open spaces! The forests of the first day were nice, but the feeling of freedom was greatly improved in these vast plains. Arriving before the sun even settled down at Truth or Consequences, a town named after a TV show, we stopped at a vista point above the dam. Staring at the lake as the impressive wall turns orange with the sunset light, we added this spectacular scenery to the incredible diverse list of landscapes we witnessed during these two first days. As soon as the sun disappeared, we went downhill to downtown and stopped at the first Mexican restaurant. Chips, salsa, and burritos were all we needed, as we started to plan for the second part of the trip, from here to Grants. To be continued in Upshift Issue 68.