Whipping down the spine of a ridge so fast it makes your eyes water. Red soil juxtapositioned against white gypsum and green foliage with a backdrop of deep blue sky that takes your breath away. Bike cleats clip clapping on echoing rock that make you wonder how cavernous the ground right beneath the very spot you stand really is. Glistening water seeps from the underground springs with the stench of sulfur and runs down sandstone rock faces. Climbs so steep and punchy it takes everything you have and just the right body position to make it to the top. White Mesa mountain bike trails offer all this and a whole lot more.
Yes, white Mesa offers some of the best trails anywhere. The main loop is only 8 miles long, but you won’t be disappointed if doing only one lap, 2 laps, or taking a combination of offshoots that are nothing short of darn amazing. As if that were not enough in of itself, here are 7 life lessons you can learn from riding these trails.
LESSON 1: EVERYTHING FEELS EASIER WHEN YOU’RE WARMED UP
From the trailhead, White Mesa starts with a climb that will get your heart pumping. Right out of the gate, literally, you go up. Park the car and pass through the gate that enters the trail and climb. You may think it’s unfair to ask so much of you right off the bat, no chance to gradually warm up and prepare your body for the rigorous demands of a mountain bike ride. But that’s ok. This IS your warm up. Once you’re all warmed up, everything feels easier. Life is like that.
LESSON 2: MANY THINGS LOOK A LOT HARDER THAN THEY ACTUALLY ARE
When you start down the Dragon Back, life will seem all good and easy. It’s fun and rolling along. Then you see it. The trail ahead looks very narrow, falls off steeply on the left side and goes almost straight up on the right. At first sight it may seem like there is no way. There’s too much exposure, too much risk. That’s what I thought the very first time I rode it. Reflect on your life. Think of some of the hardest moments you’ve ever had. Yes, they were hard. In the moment they felt backbreaking. Looking back, almost always, we say it doesn’t seem as hard now as it did in the moment. Just stop and take a deep breath. Assess what you see. The left side really is not that bad at all. Sure it looks like a long way to the bottom but really it doesn’t drop off all that fast. It’s just a big hill, not a cliff. The trail is actually wider than it looks with lots of room, even for error. All you have to do is keep moving, even if it’s slow. Once you get through this section, guaranteed, you will look back and say, that was not as hard as it looked.
LESSON 3: MOMENTUM WILL CARRY YOU THROUGH A WHOLE LOT OF STUFF
After you pass through the seemingly exposed section of Dragon Back 1, you will encounter a series of seemingly technical sections. Rocky edges, short but steep ups, and deep swooping downs that look very technical. In life, we often get through some of the toughest times when we have a little momentum. In life we can accomplish great things when we figure out how to build momentum and the same is true in mountain biking. My philosophy and number 1 tip for new mountain bikers is always ride just BARELY beyond what you’re comfortable with. Not too far. It’s not cool to get hurt. But just BARELY means you will have more momentum than if being too cautious. Momentum will carry you through A LOT of stuff. Hesitation is the number 1 reason people crash. Build momentum and let it get you through tough times and through these sections. It will surprise you what you can actually get through.
LESSON 4: DON’T FEAR THE HARD STUFF
At the end of the Dragon Back, you will encounter the Saddle. This looks exactly like a saddle in the ridge where they bull dozed off part of the ridge to put a gas line through it. At the bottom of the saddle you look up and say, “How I am ever supposed to get up that?” Literally, it is a hike-a-bike that you could get the ropes out, strap on the harness and holler “Belay On”. Not only do you need to get yourself up there, you got to get your bike up there too. Once you do figure out how to get up there, you are now faced with a climb that makes you wonder if the law of gravity will let you pedal your bike up that darn thing. Life is hard. It does not differentiate based on your gender, race, beliefs, and socio-economic status. It does not care. It is hard for everyone. Think for a moment about all the growth that has come from conquering the hard stuff. Think of how climbing this will build your bike skills, your fitness and your confidence. You may have to get off and walk up part of it. That’s ok. There is no sign posted with rules along the trail that says you have to ride it. Honestly, back at the saddle, you can take an easier route. There is a series of switchbacks to the left that will take you around this monstrosity of a hill. But not only will you not become a better mountain biker, you will miss some of the best sections of trail and some of the best views from the highest point on the trail. Which brings us to the next life lesson.
LESSON 5: YOU CAN SEE EVERYTHING FROM THE TOP
At the top of this climb you will be on a very high ridge. Look around. You can see the round dome of Cabazon Peak to the West. You can see the redish-brown craggy cliffs of Red Mesa and the brilliant white cliffs of the gypsum mine to the North. You see the red-green contrast of the valley floor splashed across the transient basin to the East. All of it is covered by the bluest sky, it almost looks fake. I promise, you will wonder, standing on the top of this ridge, how in the world have you not known a view so beautiful could exist in the brown desert of New Mexico. When we are the top of the world, we see everything. It is hard to see everything from the bottom. This is never truer than when our attitude and perspective is on top of the world, even when everything else seems low. Gratitude, in my humble opinion, is the universal ingredient to feeling on top of the world. Aren’t you grateful you chose to not fear the hard stuff and climb this ridge?
LESSON 6: SOMETIMES YOU JUST GOTTA DO THINGS THAT ARE BEYOND WHAT YOU CAN DO
After you’re gratitude for committing to this climb subsides and you are ready to move on, you encounter some of the most fun but also intimidating downhill sections of the trail. Some ludicrous speeds, bottoming-out drops, and downhill grades that can have your booty getting a massage from your back tire, if you want. You don’t have to. There are ways down off this ridge that an expert would have a blast on or a relative beginner can handle with the right level of caution and confidence, depending on your personal comfort. If you lean more towards the latter, just remember lesson 3 and within your own personal limits of being just BARELY outside of that, try a few things you’re not completely sure you can make. Take your time, even try 2-3 times if you need to. What you most likely will find is a few places that look beyond what you can handle, but the act of trying will surprise you in what you can actually do. For example, about half way down there is a pretty steep roller, that when you first roll up on it, will seem like it’s almost straight down. But all you have to do is slow down just a bit, take a good stable position on your bike, push your hips back a little to stay centered even though the front wheel is pointed down, and you will roll right down and through it. If you can balance on a bike, you can roll down this section. And it will feel awesome and build your confidence like you would not believe.
LESSON 7: DON’T FORGET TO STOP AND LOOK AROUND
This one is simple. You can get so focused on just trying to ride the trail (which is a great trail) you miss everything else it has to offer. Life is meant to be enjoyed, not just a grind to get from the start to the finish. Take the time to explore the area. See the magnificent geological features. Enjoy the unique beauty. Take a selfie or two to show your friends and family this super amazing place you have discovered. By the way, White Mesa in the summer at sunrise is unforgettable.
So there you are. Seven Life Lessons Learned Riding Mountain Bike Trails at White Mesa in New Mexico. Actually, these 7 lessons come from just riding the first half of the 8 mile loop. Maybe there will be a part 2 with the rest of the ride and more tidbits of universal wisdom. Are there other lessons you can learn out there? Sure. Like the lesson I learned the day my shoe struck the nose of a rattlesnake with a pedal stroke. Or the time I got so ill half way through the ride I thought I was going to die but felt just fine by time we finished. Or the morning it was 19 degrees but we rode anyway. Every trail and every ride is a lesson if you’re willing to learn. Go ride White Mesa and learn a little bit about yourself. Or call us, we’ll take you.