Conclusion 2022 Recap – Day 4: September 13, 2022 - Las Vegas to Belen, New Mexico
Published: Mon, 10/31/22
Conclusion 2022 Recap Day 4
Day 4: September 13, 2022 Las Vegas to Belen, New Mexico
October 31, 2022
On this day, I punched three big tickets on my bucket list. I rode right down to the Pecos River that C.K. forded with “Lizzie,” I rode through Santa Fe and parked at the corner of the historic Plaza for “show and tell” with passersby (which got a lot of attention) and, to round out this day, I then rode the old dirt road
leading to the top of La Bajada Hill.
Las Vegas, New Mexico, to the Pecos River: Even though the interstate (I-25) was always next to me, I rode on frontage roads for about 25 miles from Las Vegas to San Jose, a tiny village on the Pecos River. This village was originally a Spanish mission named San Jose dal Vado, the end of which means “the ford” or “the crossing.” Before bridges were common,
“fords” were often used to cross rivers at shallow places, but they could be become impassable during periods of “swollen” rivers (ever present for C.K. during the very wet year of 1919). Today, there is an old bridge across the Pecos River near the location C.K. crossed in 1919, but it was not built until 1921. The 1918 Automobile Blue Book contends there was an iron bridge across the Pecos River east of San Jose, but it had apparently been washed out by the time C.K. came through or he surely
would have taken it. The ford crossing of the Pecos River into San Jose was one of two fords in the area that were part of the original Santa Fe Trail. Here is how C.K. set the scene for his crossing:
“The sound of rushing waters reached my ears. Sure enough, the road ended abruptly, like a cliff, and continued in like fashion on the opposite side. Between, and several feet below, swirled the River Pecos.It was still swollen with rain from the mountains, although it had evidently been much higher recently.
“To the left, a detour had somehow been dug at an angle of about 20 degrees to the water’s edge. In the opposite bank a similar detour had been dug, but at an angle of about 30 degrees. Evidently several cars had already passed through the river that
way. But a car is not a motor-cycle.”
The road down to the western side of the Pecos River (San Miguel County Road B41D) is one you may quickly deduce is a dead end because it starts off only as a side road through a very small community (San Jose), then quickly degenerates to dirt and grass until there is no more road. The river is reached! It was here that C.K. boldly raced westbound into the river until Lizzie’s engine
stopped... almost completely submerged in waist-deep water in the middle of a swirling river:
“I put in the bottom gear and charged down the greasy slope into the river. There was a tremendous hiss, and a cloud of steam went heavenwards. The engine stopped long before I reached the middle, and the smooth nature of the loose rocks that formed the river-bed was treacherous for two wheels. There was nothing for it when
the engine stopped but to dismount quickly and push. When I reached the middle, the water was up to my waist, and it took most of my strength to keep the machine upright and hold it against the force of the river, which swirled around the cylinders and washed up against the tank. I managed to avoid being washed away, however, thanks to the great weight of the machine, and got her to the opposite bank.”
Visualizing the peril of this particular episode in C.K.’s travels will surely
put a shiver down any motorcyclist’s back.
The river was almost silent when my team and I arrived on the beautiful and sunny day of September 13, 2022. We all dismounted and explored the area, even braving a foot-crossing of the barricaded bridge. The tranquil location was so private and isolated that I could not hear any traffic noise from the interstate less than a quarter mile away. I tried to envision C.K., a slim man standing
less than 5’-8” tall, pushing 400-pound Lizzie some hundred feet across and through this river, and then up the “greasy” hill to where I was standing. This was one of several surreal moments on the journey when I felt like C.K. was with right there with me sharing his story.
On our way to Santa
Fe, we stopped for gas in the village of Pecos. It was there we met the Mayor, Telesfor “Ted” Benavidez, who happened to be driving by when he sighted a highly unusual 1919 motorcycle gassing up. While marveling at the Red One, Mayor Benavidez graciously gave us a few minutes of his time and we enjoyed a brief chat. Mayor Benavidez was certainly a wealth of information and it was great to learn a more about this area. Thank you Mr. Mayor!
Arriving to Santa Fe: On maps today, NM-300 (the road parallel to I-25 approaching Santa Fe), is identified as “Old Las Vegas Highway.” But as I-25 bends west, the road continues towards old Santa Fe, becoming “Old Pecos Trail.” Back in 1919, however, it was identified on a AAA map as the “Santa Fe Trail.” I rode this route all the way into the center of old Santa
Fe, stopping at the Plaza to “static display” the Red One and mingle with curious onlookers (and there were plenty).
Having taken in Santa Fe during our continuation
“tour” with the broken Red One in 2019, we didn’t see much point in wandering around just three years later. But, worthy of note, our stop at the Plaza this year was only one block from where C.K. stayed in 1919. The Montezuma Hotel, which still stands today, is at the intersection of Water Street and Don Gaspar Avenue.
Heading out to La Bajada Hill: It was only about 15 miles from our lunch spot to where the dirt road begins leading out to the once famous passage known as La Bajada Hill. We had about 10 miles of road to ride out of the city before we would reach Paso Real, the road that – today – passes north of
the Santa Fe Regional Airport, before reaching the road out to La Bajada Hill.
The Spill: Just before reaching Paso Real, I had my first and only spill on the Continuation trip. Lloyd, who was riding directly behind me, saw it all. Andy was directly behind Lloyd and also saw it all. While I got up and mentally prepared myself for jabs and ribbing, Lloyd declared it was a non-event, referring
to it as a “walk-off,” in motorcyclist parlance. We had been riding on pavement that had turned to dirt and, to make things more interesting, we came upon a sweeping left descending turn through a sandy wash. I wasn’t going much faster than a jogging speed, but my front wheel ended up in the deep sand near the road’s edge and I was forced to lay the bike down. I got up and was brushing sand off my clothes when I heard Lloyd comment that his boots were literally sinking into the sand as he was
picking up the Red One.
This is where I got the best look at who my team really was. Rather than being critical and causing me to feel worse than I already did, the atmosphere was instead... well... celebratory. It seemed I was in the midst of a motorcycle “rite of passage” ceremony.
Falling down is just a part of motorcycle riding, but hopefully infrequently. After all, C.K. wrote he was thrown off 142 times before he stopped counting! I counted my blessings all around me. Andy and Glen gave me “high fives” for
“surviving” my sandy spill, and Lloyd had quickly minimized it as a “walk off.” They might not have thought much of that episode, but it had a big impact on me. Rather than being a setback, I instead headed out to the big event for the day (La Bajada Hill) with much greater riding confidence and admiration and respect for my team. I already felt that I had the right people with me. This event only affirmed my opinion.
La Bajada Hill: I had previously driven the road out to the escarpment of La Bajada Hill in 2019 when we hauled the Red One out there in Willie’s truck for what was later dubbed “the money shot” photo of this entire adventure.
About the road down La Bajada Hill, C.K. wrote,
“No less than thirty-two acute hairpin bends conducted the trail down the precipitous slope. The gradient in places was terrific. At the bottom was a
Need I really say more?
I knew the
ride out to La Bajada Hill would be the most challenging off-road riding to this point. Lloyd and Andy had previously ridden this road, so we pre-briefed the conditions I would be facing. I told my team that I would stop if I ever became uncomfortable... or they TOLD me to stop. With these principles agreed upon before heading out, the ride seemed more enjoyable to me, particularly because Lloyd and Andy both understood I was not going to engage in unnecessary risk.
it almost all the way, riding seven miles over rugged terrain, but I had to stop a half-mile before the top of La Bajada Hill. There were just too many large rocks and ruts in what had become a barely-two-track road. Lloyd and Andy pressed on to the
top, the “money shot” location from 2019. I never lost sight of them and was in radio contact using our intercoms.
I was disappointed in a way, but was satisfied with the experience and ever-grateful for the real-time “on the job training” and encouragement from Lloyd about how to safely ride this kind of terrain. As crazy as it was to take a hundred-year-old street bike out into treacherous terrain like this, I feel like I acquitted
myself sufficiently, even if my two off-road experts were terrified at the time watching it all unfold. They were aware of perils that weren’t on my mind, like how large the rocks in the road would become in that final half-mile and that falling down amongst these rocks would be very bad for both me and the Red One. They were also aware that the road’s edge was lined with a particular kind of cactus that would send anyone coming in contact with it straight to the hospital. Now that I’ve had a
chance to reflect, I think that I better understand the gravity of Lloyd’s and Andy’s closely-held concerns.
On the trail back to Paso Real, the Red One started running very rough again. I could not get it to run above idle, so I limped along for the last mile until we got to Paso Real where Willie was waiting with the trailer. We did a cursory examination as to the cause (mainly,
to see if it was a recurrence of the sparkplug wire issue we encountered on the first day). But we could find no obvious problems.
Belen: At a gas station north of Isleta, we felt that we had addressed the engine problem, so I set off heading riding south. I did not have permission to ride through Isleta Pueblo Proper (riding C.K.’s exact route), so I planned a reasonable compromise, a road that circumnavigated the pueblo to the north. Unfortunately, I didn’t get even that far. The engine began acting up again about a mile after I left the gas station and we could not repair it on the side of the road. Once in
Belen, we did a top-to-bottom examination and found the problem was a kinked fuel line restricting fuel flow. Willie surmised that, when addressing a fuel leak several days before, the fuel line we had inserted was a bit too long and now, after several hundred miles of operation, had doubled over itself causing this kink.
We were supremely confident this
resolved the problem, but just to make sure, I rode around the hotel a couple times, putting the Red One through its paces – up and down the gears – for verification (just like any respectable hotel parking lot motorcycle mechanic would do). Thankfully, I was never summoned to hotel management! We treated ourselves to a well-deserved meal at the obviously popular establishment across the street: Penny’s Diner. The Belen High School girls volleyball team and their families were pouring in to
celebrate a big win. High times indeed! The food and service were great, and we had lots of exciting company to share our day’s end.
The next day would see us ride west out of Socorro, NM to Holbrook, AZ. Another day with many sights to see on the open desert.