Monday, April 29, 2013

Four-and-a-half miles to the pint (your ppg may vary!)

Those two stickers say it all: This blog post is about BEER! It was time for Albuquerque Beer Week, and with a place in the Nob Hill area to stay there was no good reason not to make the 5 1/2-hour drive west. My good friend Jerred had bestowed upon me his no-longer-used Van Dessel Country Road Bob fixed gear bike (which I modified into a single-speed), and somehow I managed to pack the Bob into the passenger seat of the Miata so that I would have two-wheeled transportation while in Albuquerque.
Yes, that's a bike in the passenger seat—arriving at Liz's pretty house in ABQ
After I had rolled into town on Thursday afternoon, Liz and I started the weekend's festivities with tapas and classical guitar at Casa de Benavides; we were joined by Chad, who used to be our IT guy in the English Department. For dinner, it was superior pizza at Il Vicino's around the corner from Liz's place.
A black IPA at the IVB Cantina

On Friday, I first met up with Lee and FeFi, who are temporarily living in NM as their house in Dallas is still under reconstruction after some major flooding damage last August. Later that night, the four of us would have a Greek dinner at Yanni's. What a treat to see four buddies on one trip! But the real reason for coming to Albuquerque was Beer Week, and so I took Bob out for a first spin on Friday afternoon, taking me to three breweries in about 20 miles—somehow managing to not being able to locate a fourth, Nexus. I'm not exactly sure how many pints I had, but the ppm in the title is conservative.
The second number is the alcohol content, and the third indicates hoppiness (IBUs)
Have a close look at the beer menu in the above picture, taken at La Cumbre. For Beer Week, five of Albuquerque’s finest breweries (Marble, La Cumbre, Nexus, Il Vicino's, and Rio Chama) had collaborated in creating an out-of-this world IPA, the 505-13.  Hoppiness is generally expressed in IBUs (International Bittering Units), and some IPAs will hit 80, or 90, or even 100. When I saw that the 505-13’s IBUs were simply listed as “stupid” I knew that I had found what I had come looking for. The balance of this beer equaled that of my all-time favorite, Russian River’s Pliny the Elder, if it didn’t even surpass it. The 505-13 is simply in a category of its own.
The Bob at IVB's Cantina
On Saturday, Liz accompanied me on a similar beer run on her little townie. I made a point to not only introduce her to the 505-13 (“creating a monster,” as she later said, not believing herself that she could love a non-Guinness beer as much as she did this IPA) but also new breweries for her as well as myself. I had never been to Nexus, and Bosque Brewing Company had opened just a few months ago. We rode 22 easy (well, for me) miles and visited a fair number of breweries.
Liz has finally found the love of her life: 505-13. Too bad it won't last...
Albuquerque’s beer scene is on par with that of better-known places on the West and East coasts. It is now home to more than 10 microbreweries, and for the most part they produce outstanding beers. Why can’t Lubbock support something similar? The places that we went to (except Bosque, which is maybe still too new and a bit too far on the north side of town) were packed, even at mid-afternoon. The crowds are superbly diverse, ethnically as well as socially. No loud talk, just a mutual enjoyment of craft beers and decent bar food. Some come on bicycles, others on skateboards, many drive, and some show off their custom creations. This particular machine must have cost many, many tens of thousands of dollars to pimp out like that. It deserves more than just one photo.

Just don't drive through muddy puddles...
The most beautiful steerer/bar I have ever seen
Turquoise inlays with real bullets; the hand grenade is not visible
Revolver-themed gas cap with Zia symbol on the tank

A man can’t drink beer all the time (well, I might but I didn’t want to put it to the test), so on Saturday morning I accompanied Liz to her yoga class. Earlier this year, she had gone to a retreat in Mexico with her local teacher, and she wanted me to at least give yoga a try. Well, let me tell you: I had fun stretching my hamstrings and hearing the groaning around me (I was the only guy), but all the moves that involved my buggered-up right shoulder were pure hell. I don’t think that yoga is written in capital letters in my future; only when it came to the final slowing down of one’s thoughts and breathing I felt in my element: I almost fell asleep. I’ve always been the master of the four-minute power nap.

I felt much more in tune with the world on Sunday morning when I took my single-speed Bob out for a circumnavigation of the city, on the Las Montañas trail up to the foothills, then on Tramway down to Fourth Street and back through the downtown area up to Nob Hill. The lack of wind, the bicycle infrastructure, the pretty houses—it all made for the perfect morning. So how does one top that? Well, one throws on a regular shirt and hops back on the bike and heads down the hill to First Street and Marble Ave, to catch the bluegrass festival!
Some danced ...
... and some made music

The place was packed with people and dogs (BTW, Beer Week offered a seminar for canines and their keepers on how to behave properly in a brew setting!), the music was infectious, and the beer kept flowing. I can’t think of a better way to end such a perfect mini vacation than that. I can’t wait for next year’s Beer Week and the 505-14.
Perfection lies in the hops
Thanks for indulging my weakness.


Saturday, April 20, 2013

Racing in the desert, close to the caverns

Arid landscaping around the Fairfield Inn, Carlsbad, NM
Just a week ago I was in the relatively lush rolling hills of Solavaca near Glen Rose and Cleburne, and now I am in the land of cacti, creosote, and ocotillo. Welcome to Carlsbad, NM, home of the eponymous caverns, and also home of the Carlsbad Caverns Cycling Classic, a two-day omnium that this year has attracted a little more than 100 riders from NM and TX—or about the same as last week's high school mountain bike race. Road racing is different from its dirt-based brother: Here we have to have lots of officials to monitor what's happening on the road, and we actually see the whole race from the vantage point of cars and in the case of moto refs, motorcycles.
Old-school moto ref Bill Bennett and I go back many events
My being here in Carlsbad is due to having met Pamala Thullen, the USAC regional representative for NM, at last year's Collegiate National Mountain Bike Championships in Angel Fire. Half a year later, she is my Chief, and I love every minute of being an Indian. It turns out that I am the closest official for this race as the drive from Albuquerque (where practically all the commissaires live) is close to 300 miles one-way, and I covered just 175.
As even Tecumseh used to say: A good-looking Chief is half the battle won!
We're done with the first day: No crashes, not protests, clean racing, and beautiful weather. OK, we could have done without the Lubbock-like gale-force wind that started kicking in around noon, but that's life in these parts. The fields were small ( I followed the Women's Cat 4 field, numbering six riders, three of whom were blown off in the first climb after just a few miles, so I watched the three leaders for the rest of the 2-hour race; later I got to watch the somewhat more-populated and -animated Men's Cat 4 race), the volunteer support stellar, and the ten-odd other officials a total pleasure to work and interact with.

The three remaining contestants in the Cat. 4 Women's field crest the final ascent
There was a enough time to look around, and since the race finished close to Carlsbad's Living Desert Museum there was ample opportunity to look at the dry stuff:
Cacti ...
... cholla ...
... creosote ...
... ocotillo ...
... and weird rabbits riding on turtles!
And so it's been another fine weekend doing something that I truly enjoy, with nice people. Actually, it's not a past thing yet since it is just Saturday night and we still have Sunday's races ahead of us. After our dinner at the Trinity (it may say fine dining on the menu, but it is Carlsbad, after all) I've returned to my room to finish off this blog post and get some good sleep. Tomorrow, we'll be on the course and at the finish line again.
No fancy banners as the wind almost flipped over the trailer
Thanks for reading.


Saturday, April 13, 2013

In the Land of Dinosaurs

If you think that officiating the occasional high school mountain bike race is a humdrum affair, you may want to rethink: When was the last time you saw a ferocious Tyrannosaurus Rex by the side of the road? Ha, just what I thought: You haven't! But I did, today, just a bit east of Solavaca Ranch, the venue for race #3 of the Texas High School Mountain Bike League.
More than 100 life-sized dinosaurs on display ...
As it turns out, Dinosaur Valley State Park, just outside of Glen Rose, has spawned the appearance of a whole slew of ancillary businesses, among them Dinosaur World (open daily!!!!) and the Creation Evidence Museum right next door, about which Wikipedia currently has the following to say:
The Creation Evidence Museum, originally Creation Evidences Museum, is a creationist museum in Glen Rose in Somervell County in central Texas, USA. Founded in 1984 by Carl Baugh for the purpose of researching and displaying exhibits that support creationism, it portrays the Earth as six thousand years old and humans coexisting with dinosaurs, disputing the scientific consensus that the Earth is approximately 4.5 billion years old and dinosaurs became extinct 65.5 million years before human beings arose.
You gotta love kooks! Generally I don't provide links since they will lead you astray, off my page, but in this case the hocus pocus won out.

Anyhow, it was a pleasant 6-hour drive from Lubbock, where just on Wednesday we experienced another return of Old Man Winter. My mint took a beating, and there were a reported 200 traffic accidents in our fair city. Twenty-four hours later we were back to Speedo weather.
My backyard, on Wednesday morning, April 10, 2013
But today, I was able to drop the roof on the trusty old Miata and enjoy gorgeous countryside in perfect spring weather. The bluebonnets were thick and plentiful between Sweetwater and Abilene, only to really gather steam on the way to Eastland. Gorgeous. Equally heart-warming were those bucolic scenes of calves and kids frolicking alongside their mothers in pasture after pasture. It was a beautiful drive.
Outside of Desdemona, TX

A few miles the other side of Stephenville I spotted a few Longhorns at a certified ranch. They are beautiful animals, if you forget about the fact that they really are just cows with long horns. Why they have such interesting hides, I do not know—I suppose I could just Google it. I'm sure it has something to do with Noah's Ark and the fact that the Earth is all of 6,000 years old, mas o menos.
That Lonhorn needs to get some meat on its bones!

Another emaciated (effects of the lingering drought?) Longhorn in the background
It wasn't all just wildlife—I spotted at least one throw-back to the past, when I drove through Stephenville. Anybody remember these?
It was Robert Shaw who sang Piggly Wiggly (Got Groceries on my Shelves)
Eventually, I made it to Solavaca, another new venue for me. The 4-mile course that we will be using for the race tomorrow is in part reminiscent of the old X-Bar course in Eldorado (I sure miss the annual trip to see the Meador family) wit all its rocky looseness. And the wide, sweeping turns in the meadows on the backside also reminded me of X-Bar, but this time of the area that I always compared to riding through an African safari landscape.
When cows don't eat enough ...
Quite likely we will break another attendance record tomorrow as this race is close to the metroplex and we may have more day-of registrants than usual. We'll see; I know I will enjoy myself.


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Gator Heads and Bull Horns

No gators here ...
If you think that this is an unlikely headline for an Easter trip to the Land Of Enchantment you obviously have never been on I-40 between Santa Rosa and Albuquerque, New Mexico. The  hundreds of billboards along the interstate are a constant source of entertainment, or an assault on the natural beauty of the land. The "Gator Heads and Bull Horns" can be found either at Clines Corners ("Well worth waiting for!") or one of the various truck stops/tourist traps along the way. Kachina Dolls and Hillbilly Figurines, Minnetonka Moccasins and Live Rattlesnakes, Breakfast All Day and Peanut Butter Brittle, Black Hills Gold and Suncatchers—dude, it's a veritable cornucopia of tinnef that's meant to pull your dollars out of your pockets. But probably the best billboard of all times was the one that Martha photographed a few years back along that stretch: "Eat here—get gas!" Priceless!
Entering the Jemez Valley from the South
But my trip out west was not meant to be an eduction in pathetic marketing practices on Lamar boards but rather a quick weekend visit with my friend Liz who had moved to Albuquerque sometime last fall. I hadn't seen her in a while (or her new adobe-style digs on Nob Hill) and there is always the lure of Albuquerque's brewpubs and restaurants. Couple that with a low Saturday night rate in the wonderful Hilton Santa Fe (government price of $83 with a $30 breakfast included—and then the upgrade to the $500 casita came through on top of that!) plus a superb weather forecast, and  voila, there's your Easter trip.
Soda Dam Falls, close to the village of Jemez Springs
In Liz's Prius we took off on Saturday morning to drive via the gorgeous Jemez mountains to Santa Fe. Along the way we stopped numerous times for pics; the springlike weather brought out the New Mexican colors in ways that are hard to describe. No wonder this part of the world has attracted so many artists. I have been visiting this area pretty much since arriving on these shores in 1977, and I am still struck by its beauty. Our plan was to do some hiking, and we decided on the 5-mile trek up to McCauley Warm Springs and back. It's an easy and enjoyable hike that ends up at the warm pond of the springs. With a whole bunch of people around we first had our picnic (cheese, salami, grapes, baguette, and a bottle of Torrontes) before a 7-minute window opened up that allowed us to quickly skinny dip in the luke-warm, tad pole-populated water before another batch of hikers, kids in tow, appeared. Oh well, so much for clean adult fun.
Tad poles take care of the exfoliating duties at McCauley Warm Springs
We hiked back, through the dry forest that is anything but healthy: Bark beetles have done quite a bit of damage, the continuing drought doesn't help any, and recent forest fires have done their part to stress the area's flora. But it still is beautiful, and things will rebound, one way or the other. When the volcano exploded many years ago hurling huge basalt blocks for miles, the trees probably took their beating, too.
I'm glad I wasn't around when this baby flew through the air, and landed!
Saturday night Liz introduced me to one of her favorite restaurants, the Pink Adobe in Santa Fe. Nothing like authentic and well-prepared New Mexican food, which of course is always chile based. Add a nightcap of Marble's IPA, overlooking the square, and you've got the perfect day.
Sans mots
After our scrumptious breakfast (lots of red and green chile, again) we headed back toward Albuquerque, this time on the backside (east) of the Sandias. We stopped over in the old mining town of Cerrillos and learned a bit of the history of the town that almost became the state capital. Easter morning in Cerillos is pretty relaxed, let me tell you.
Cerillos, on the Turquoise Trail
All the food and drink calories had to be burned off somehow, so we drove half-way up to the crest of the Sandias, parked the Prius, and went for another hike. After about 2 miles of climbing we made it up to the crest trail and were rewarded with the amazing view that one has of Albuquerque and the land to the west.
A few remnants of snow reminded us that it was, indeed, March
Upon my friend Scott's recommendation we made a final pit-stop at the Greenside Cafe in Cedar Crest for more beer (Liz enjoyed a Marble Oatmeal Stout while I opted for La Cumbre's Elevated IPA) and a huge order of nachos. Perfect.
The Greenside Cafe has quite a selection of fine local brews on tap
Yesterday morning Liz had to go back to the mines, to once again slave away at the VA, while I got into the Miata and drove the 5 1/2 hours back to Lubbock. What a fine Easter weekend!