I might as well be biking naked I’m that cold. My host John doesn’t live far from the train station, but the mountain chill penetrates my thin layers and my teeth won’t stop chattering. Like most homes in Santa Fe’s historic district, an adobe-style wall screens John’s from the road. I arrive just before his stated bedtime of 9 o’clock.
Who turns off the lights that early? Based on his sleep schedule, curt emails and lack of photo on his warmshowers.org profile, I’m expecting to meet a crotchety grandpa. Instead, John is a down-to-earth crunchy guy in his late 20s. He’s a civil engineer and backs what I’m doing as “totally rad.” He loves that I’m “a regular dude on a bike share” and not dressed like a warrior in Spandex.
“People see that fancy gear and don’t think it’s a person underneath. It’s like a soldier with armor on… doesn't look human,” he says, explaining this can lead to “bike lash” from drivers who don’t want to share the road with costumed creatures on two wheels.
My ragtag threads are neither high performance nor insulated for November at 7,200 feet. Welcome to the highest state capital in America and one of the oldest settlements in the nation, founded before the Mayflower Pilgrims arrived.
John gives me his puffy jacket so I can run down the block to have dinner at La Choza before it closes. This delightful Mexican restaurant, painted in bright colors with wobbly furniture, has an apple walnut cinnamon pie a la mode drenched in fudge so decadent that it wipes out every negative memory of New Mexico. It lures me back tomorrow when I skip lunch to focus on dessert.
In the morning John goes to work and I lounge around the house. Toilet reading is The Whole Seed Catalog, but when I put it down to reach for the toilet paper, I panic. There is none. It’s getting tiring to plan for contingencies each time I enter a new bathroom, not to mention the quirks of working the shower. (My biggest fail: unable to activate the showerhead, I bathed from the tub faucet one handful of water at a time.)
The sun-splashed dining room is a sanctuary for succulents, mostly aloe, jade and cacti. I thumb through Weeds of the West that catalogues everything from innocuous Agavaceae (Great Plains yucca) to Zygophyllaceae aka puncturevine, a thorn in many a cyclist’s tire.
I previously fretted about puncturevine — also called goathead, tackweed and Texas sandbur. It grows at the edges of roads and pastures. Seeds develop inside a bur so sharp it kills bike tubes and wounds livestock. Uprooting this pest isn’t enough. Seeds lay dormant for up to five years, making it hard to eradicate. Blame southern Europe; it came from over there.
The book is full of weeds that look ugly and dead, but it makes me realize the desolate landscape I’ve been bitching about is in fact thriving in its own secret way.
I mosey into the kitchen, snooping around for a snack. Know this about me: I will judge you based on the quality of your cereals, crackers and cookies. Growing up, I knew only Cheerios that have the texture and taste of dry sand. Getting my mother to switch to Honey Nut Cheerios was perhaps my greatest childhood triumph. Cocoa Krispies was a pipe dream, and I’ve been passively searching for sugar cereal ever since.
On the counter, baby herbs stretch for the window. Glass jars house seeds and spices. Recipes for garam masala, chai and cherry pie are taped inside the cupboard. Where’s the good stuff? Who is this health nut?
John texts me that he’s cooking us a vegan dinner, and I’m tasked with shopping for sesame seeds, cilantro and Rowdy Mermaid kombucha at Whole Foods. Yes, folks, I’m back in civilization. Good-bye gas station cheese stick and pretzel dinners. Life is whole again.
In Santa Fe I get a little too comfortable. I do things I would on a weekend at home: play league kickball, attend yoga class, hike in the woods (with John’s co-workers) and watch The Walking Dead after a dinner party. I even go to a late-night movie with old friends — Max and Tyler are in town! (Refresher: we met in OKC, slept in TX and biked to NM together.) We then try our luck playing pool at Cowgirl, a rowdy bar where it’s easy to score in more ways than one. (An unshowered Doug — the hard-nosed Harvard cyclist — made out quite well here when he rolled through town.)
It’s easy to enjoy Santa Fe. Tourists flock here for good food, art and vibes. I stare at Georgia O’Keeffe canvases. Treat John to dinner at The Shed, which won a James Beard Foundation award. Spoon up the best huevos rancheros for brunch at Tia Sophia’s. Consume nachos loaded with guacamole and tongue-tickling jalapeños. Wash it down with local dark beer or margaritas con sal.
Food has color and flavor here, but the amount of baked and refried beans I’m putting down is gut-busting. I buy my own roll of toilet paper. Santa Fe marks the beginning a slippery slope: I’m eating like an athlete (animal?), but not working out like one. I won’t notice this until I get back to New York and my pants don’t fit.
When bone-chilling cold and five inches of snow blanket the city, I don’t care. I cozy up to the fire inside the landmark hotel La Fonda on the Plaza. Nobody knows I’m not a paying guest. I sit for hours and write by the crackling flames. I could stay in Santa Fe till spring.
Countri Bike is locked in John’s garage. I get around on two feet. I want more of this and less of the long road ahead. It’s hard to get motivated, but I must press on. Albuquerque awaits and the Turquoise Trail will take me there.