I wake up in Roswell and attempt to put my shirt on. It’s stiff from 12 days of absorbed sweat. It’s finally time to retire it to my dirty clothes garbage bag. I put on my second smelliest shirt and the rest of my gear.
I filled up last night so I head north out of Roswell at 7 a.m. and then cut west on Hwy 247, a Butler Motorcycle Maps recommendation. This part of New Mexico is mostly flat with not a lot to look at and then the wind starts. It’s not as gusty as yesterday, which is nice, but it’s loud and draining.
I’m climbing higher and the temperature is falling. By the time I stop for gas in Corona, NM it’s 48°, 20° cooler than when I started two hours ago. Anything under 50° on my bike at home is too cold, with no wind protection, I get chilled to the bone. Behind the large front fairing on the Street Glide, though, I’m comfortable.
I wander around the mini mart with no intention of buying anything to stretch out and check the map. Once I have my next few turns memorized, I hop back on the bike. I got plenty of sleep last night and am not hungry, but riding right into the wind on Hwy 54 toward Vaughn is putting me in a bad mood. It’s loud and is taking my attention off looking for deer as I pass nonstop advisory signs instructing me to do so. The landscape is boring and I can’t make the turn I want in Duran because there’s construction so I have to take a long way. Into more wind. This sucks.
I get to Vaughn and turn west onto Hwy 285 and the wind seems to get even worse. It always seems like I’m riding right into it even though I’m changing direction. I must have ridden through an ancient burial ground and am now cursed.
As I make my turn north on Hwy 3, I realize I haven’t stopped as much as I usually do because there’s been little to see. This is likely influencing my shitty mood. I pass a horse farm and decide to stop to take a picture. It’s a bad one, but before I start the bike back up I pause and think. Yes, the wind isn’t great and neither is the scenery. No, you can’t do anything about them. But you can change how you’re letting them affect you. You’ve let it ruin the past three hours. Don’t let it ruin the next three. Stop being a baby.
The pep talk helps, but so does the improving scenery and curvier roads as I plow onward. By the time I get to Villanueva, a tiny town of 300 people, I’m happy. The temperature is higher, red rock cliffs line the road, the wind is manageable, and the sun is shining. The speed limit is also lower so I can adjust in my seat and rest my eyes from deer watching duty.
I debate going to Villanueva State Park but decide to press on. A mile up the road, I get flagged down by a guy in a car that asks if this is the way to I-25 toward Las Vegas, NM (not Nevada). I have to take my gloves and helmet off so he can hear me say, “I’m not from around here, but that’s where I’m going too so if it’s not we’ll be lost together.” He doesn’t seem to appreciate my answer as he curses the lack of signs and throws loose gravel behind him pulling in front of me.
The winding road passes over the Pecos River multiple times, a river I first encountered three days and almost 1,000 miles ago. It starts in Pecos, NM, a few miles from here, and empties into the Rio Grande near Del Rio. So by accident, I see the beginning and end of one of America’s famous rivers. From Wikipedia, “‘West of the Pecos’ was a reference to the rugged desolation of the Wild West. The Texas storekeeper, bartender, and judge, Roy Bean was often described as ‘The Only Law West of the Pecos’“. Roy died in 1903 so I guess I can do whatever I want now.
I’m still following the man that asked me for directions and lucky for his sanity we see signs for I-25 and go our separate ways. The last 50-mile ride into Santa Fe put memories of the windy, bland morning far behind and remind me why I love motorcycling. At over 7,000 ft, Santa Fe is the highest major city in America but somehow Denver gets all the credit. The snow capped mountain views slowly turn red and then green as I pan down, the smell of pine trees on either side of the road fill my nose, the chill of the mountain air is refreshing.
I read the more senses involved in a memory the longer it lasts. Making lasting memories and experiencing new things also slows your perception of time. Think back to when you were a young kid. Everything was new and vacations seemed to last forever. As you grow older, more things are familiar and your brain tries to help you out by going into autopilot mode. Think about your commute to work. You know every turn, every stop sign and street light, every bump in the road. How many times have you arrived to realize you spaced out most of the drive? Your brain, your subconscious takes over and “time flies”.
Completely exposed to the elements on a motorcycle, all your senses are triggering. These roads and sights are new to me, so I’m in a perfect position to make strong memories and slow life down. You don’t have to motorcycle across America to get the same benefit. Take a different route to work tomorrow or take the long way home. Go to a new restaurant this weekend or find a park and stroll through it. You might not like it or maybe you will, but I bet it’s more memorable than a mindless routine.
My first stop in Santa Fe is Meow Wolf, “an explorable, immersive art installation filled with technology, and fantastic environments to inspire visitors of all ages. A unique combination of children’s museum, art gallery, jungle gym, and fantasy novel.” My friend Brad told me about it a few days ago in New Orleans. I pull up to a large building with crazy art sculptures in the parking lot and grab some tacos from the food truck out front. I eat them in two bites each, enter the building, and make my way to the ticket counter. Ticket in hand, a man guides me to a door. After stepping through, I see an actual two-story house in front of me. There are other people already in the house and wandering around out front. I open the mailbox and find postcards inside. There’s a mystery you can solve if you have the time or you can just wander around. I enter the house and start combing the rooms, looking for clues. In one of the rooms, there’s a code you try to break. Duh, I’m doing that. Breaking it gives you the URL of a website only accessible from a computer in another room. The website has videos from members of the family that once lived in this house and clues as to what happened here. I’ll stop there to not give too much away, but here are a few pictures.
Ok, a couple more things. In one area, you can play the bones of a prehistoric creature like a drum. In another, there are laser lights extending from floor to ceiling and you can pluck them like guitar strings as your finger breaks the beam. I’m amazed and laughing alongside children and other adults. It’s so cool. I spend over two hours crawling, climbing, exclaiming “No way!”, and investigating. I didn’t solve the mystery, I’m told it takes quite a while, but I leave wishing there were more things like this in the world.
On my way out, I head down a long hallway to use the bathroom and pass goofy little drawings on the walls. I stop and look at every single one.
My next stop is my friend Brian’s place near downtown Santa Fe. He leaves work to let me in and gives me a few recommendations to check out while he’s finishing up his workday. I take a shower, change, and walk downtown. I’m told this is “the picture to take” in Santa Fe, so I play along:
Nearby, I wander into Loretto Chapel. When constructed in 1872, the architect died before building stairs up to the choir. So the nuns of the church prayed to St. Francis for nine days and a man showed up saying he’d build them some. He used primitive tools, built them without an apparent center support, and his identity is still unknown. Some believe St. Francis himself built the stairs. I don’t know about all that, but they’re impressive nonetheless.
From there, I head down Old Canyon Road in the historic part of Santa Fe. Over 100 art galleries line the steet. I haven’t bought a single knickknack on this trip and I’m not about to start now, so I window shop and start back downtown. Brian texts that he’s off work so I head to a bar overlooking the Santa Fe Plaza and wait. Once he arrives, we have a beer before heading to The Railyard neighborhood to meet up with his girlfriend Ariel for dinner.
New Mexican food is a lot like Mexican but smothered in either red or green chiles. You can also get both, called Christmas. I’m not sure why you’d do anything other than that. Brian doesn’t have any social media so it’s great catching up with him after our orders are placed. He recently rolled his truck on I-25 after hitting black ice. I had no idea. Somehow, he escaped with only minor bruises. He also hiked the 500-mile Colorado Trail from Durango, CO to Denver by himself. That is so much more badass than my trip so we talk about it for the next hour. Every four or five days you pass through a small town or village to take a shower, sleep in a bed, and resupply. He says the most important thing he learned over his month in the Colorado wilderness is that you’ll figure it out. No matter how dire the situation, if you keep pushing and trying, you’ll find a way. He went late in the year, the temperatures dipped lower than expected, and he spent sleepless nights with chattering teeth high atop the Rocky Mountains. It quickly put my whining about the wind earlier today in perspective. I’m lucky to have inspiring friends.
Ariel works at Ten Thousand Waves Spa and Resort and can get us a free private spa tonight. That sounds amazing. We run back to their place to change and make our way into the mountains above Santa Fe. There’s snow on the ground as we park and make our way into the main building to get robes. We make our way to the spa as Ariel explains the owner is a master woodworker and he and his team built everything wooden at the resort.
Our spa is beautiful. There’s a dusting of snow on the pine trees surrounding us, we have a large irregularly shaped hot tub with a small chilling pool and sauna. After a few trips between the chilling pool and hot tub, Brian and I step into the sauna. It’s a good temperature, not scorching hot like the one in New Orleans days ago. We breathe the humid air, continue our conversation, and step out when we need a cool down.
There’s a restaurant and hotel rooms at the resort so we take a quick tour after collecting our things and then make our way to the car. This is exactly what my body needed after 12 days on a motorcycle. Rain and snow are in the forecast tomorrow, but I’m relaxed. I’ll figure it out. We wind our way down the mountain and back to their place where I fall asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow.