The Turquoise Trail

After a week of “living” in Santa Fe, I look forward to getting back on the bike. Enough snow has melted, so I don’t have to take the train to Albuquerque. As a parting gift, my plant-loving host John offers me “a nugget for the road.” I’ve never possessed marijuana before and don’t have any paraphernalia to enjoy it later, but I thank John for his hospitality and tuck the little plastic bag into my trailer. Maybe I can barter it for a beer down the road.

 Leaving Santa Fe on a bike trail

Leaving Santa Fe on a bike trail

The Turquoise Trail, formally known as New Mexico State Road 14, is a national scenic byway that lives up to its designation. The town of Madrid, 30 miles south of Santa Fe plaza, is my goal because I can’t make ABQ in one day on a Citi Bike.

Madrid (or Mad-drid — I never get a definitive answer) is a coal mining town turned creative enclave with handmade jewelry and art galore. Unique geology put Madrid on the map. It’s one of three places in the world where both hard and soft coal can be mined; some shafts went 2,500 feet deep. The SantaFe Railroad was a happy customer. The mines are quiet, but Madrid’s mineralogy lives on in the tap water, which is like sipping sulfur. I’ve never smelled so bad after a shower.

This boomtown was in the running to become the capital of New Mexico. Saloons and hotels proliferated. Fun and games in the Wild West included minor league baseball at the first ballpark west of the Mississippi to have lights. Impressive history for a wee dot on the map.

Madrid is a great place to spend a meal, or in my case, the night because it has the only lodging on the way to ABQ. Above Java Junction cafe sits a one-room B&B. This is the cleanest place I’ve stayed so far; however, sleeping above a coffee shop means that you wake up when they open — surprisingly early for a small town. I’m treated to the best chai tea latte of the trip along with a bacon breakfast burrito before pedaling off.

 Java Junction and B&B

Java Junction and B&B

Everyone who told me the ride from Santa Fe (7,200 feet) to Albuquerque (5,300 feet) is all downhill should come push my Citi Bike uphill. My thighs burn from long climbs leaving Madrid. I begin to regret that burrito.

The Turquoise Trail twists up and out of sight. New rule: if I can’t see the top of the hill, I’m walking. The air is thin and quiet as I step towards the sun. I think more about what I want to do after this is all done. Walking becomes a meditative exercise because it distracts my mind from the fact that this hill won’t end.

What goes up for three miles must come down, and payback is beautiful. I barrel downhill through the mountains on a crisp, sunny day with the road to myself and music at full blast. I’m smiling like a dog with its head out the window of a speeding car. Saliva pools at the corners of my mouth and flies off my face.

 Looking back north toward Madrid

Looking back north toward Madrid

No plans for tonight or whatever comes after I get to California, which is becoming a matter of when and not if. For now, I take each road one by one, living in the moment. I have nowhere to be but right here. I feel more free and at ease than ever before.