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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Taos, NM - View from the back of a bike: Easy riding

Virginia Clark


Smitty Clark looks down into the “horseshoe turn” on State Road 68 south of Taos. Photo by Tina Larkin
"Your wife called to say you can buy a motorcycle," — sign on a Santa Fe motorcycle dealership door.

This wry joke aimed at apron-strung males actually speaks volumes about the biker culture.

In a word, however, it shouts "Fear!" — the typical woman's fear and loathing of the devil's spawn that motorcycles surely are. I was one of those women some four years ago.

Absolutely certain that only death and dismemberment would come from riding a motorcycle, for 20 years of marriage, my nonverbal hysteria was absolute.

Knowing what torture every moment his riding would be for me, my husband Smitty graciously declined the call of the open road.

Then one Memorial Day weekend in 2007, sitting at the old blinking light intersection, a weird feeling rose in me as 50 or 60 motorcycles roared north to join the rally in Red River.

Amid the noise and the gleam, a crazy joy struck me and suddenly, to paraphrase Anaïs Nin, the pain of holding the world safe, tight in my fist was finally more painful than the fear of letting go. But I wouldn't ride on the back of that devil's plaything for a full year.

It was bad enough Smitty might be hurt, but both us? Unthinkable. In the second summer, though, with a little coaxing, one fine Saturday morning I agreed to a spin around the "Fat Boy Loop" that bicyclists take in Arroyo Seco as a preride tune-up.

The following morning I just up and asked, "Where are we going today?" Mildly, or maybe wildly amused, Smitty just smiled and said, "Breakfast in town?"

No turning back Since then there's been no turning back, we're a "two-up" family (meaning one rider, one passenger). I wax philosophical about fear now. I see I can't live in fear, so fear must be faced — literally.

I'd be stone rigid if I didn't release the fear that comes up on a ride, so I've learned to let it go. Got to, or go crazy.

Typical newbie amazements that make motorcycle riding so rare are the waves of temperature changes and sweet smells, like riding through rainbows of sensation, all absent riding in cars.

Oh, and the shopping. The regalia of the bikers' world is remarkable. Each pin, string, strap, vest, patch, hair tie, tac, braid, hat, helmet or what-have-you is a specific statement of who the biker says he or she is.

And "creating" your look is an honorable endeavor, something you build over time, taking almost as much courage as getting on those two-wheeled horrors in the first place.

Plus, it's a hoot and everyone is genuine and humble about their leather, lace and chrome addictions. Last spring, on the last day of the 2010 Red River Memorial Day rally, I scored the hottest leather jacket for more than half-off.

That totally kick-started my fashion passion.

"Hold out for leather chaps," one girlfriend quips whenever she hears of our latest adventure.

Frankly, I'm holding out for my own ride, a red V-Star Classic honey-hand-me-down, to see if one-up really is as good as skiing.

See you on the road.


There are lots of day trips with Taos as the hub, lots of little 50- and 100-milers that leave you feeling you've had a week's vacation instead of just a day.

Here are a few trips to help you get a feel for our high-desert and mountain riding.

Now, there are roads and then there are motorcycle roads. In the past couple years, roads seem to get better and better in Northern New Mexico.

Staying on top of these things is one of the reasons bikers are such a sociable bunch — we need each other because we are vulnerable and our future is literally in front of us on the road. Any courtesy you extend to a rider is greatly appreciated, bar none.

These trips are just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many more.

Enchanted Circle

The obvious first trip is the Enchanted Circle.

Almost 100 miles round-trip, north from U.S. 64 to State Road 522 through Arroyo Hondo, and Questa, to State Road 38 through Red River and Eagle Nest, then back on U.S. 64 past Angel Fire, up the twisty Colfax Canyon and down through Taos Canyon back to the town of Taos.

This is a scenic and curvy ride with a few open-throttle straight highway shots (not my favorite thing, but necessary evils to get to the curvy stuff).

Motorcycle roadside amenities offer fuel and eateries (from hole-in-the-wall dives to resort restaurants to fast food) as well as historical points of interest and the world-class museums of Taos.

High Road

This ride is a blast with winding mountain canyons and broad alpine meadows and the Santuario de Chimayó at the midpoint.

Head south from Taos and turn east on State Road 518, through Talpa, over U.S. Hill and down into Peñasco, turn right at the Rock Wall on State Road 75 and follow it through Vadito and Picuris and then turn left on State Road 75 toward Las Trampas, Truchas and Chimayó.

The highway along the mountain crest has just been finished and is in prime shape, with very little traffic to spoil your views.

Pick a spot, any spot to explore and recreate, this is a great ride. Return via State Road 68 through Española to Taos or go back the way you came.

Your choice. Your ride.

Ojo Caliente

Though not the most curvaceous of rides, the call of the famous Ojo Caliente Hot Springs is one reason for this trip through sagebrush mesas.

Head west over the Gorge Bridge on U.S. 64, take the first left after the Gorge rest area onto the Carson Rim Road and stay left.

Follow the Carson highway to State Road 285. After a nice soak in Ojo, head south on 285 to the San Juan Pueblo/Ohkay Owingeh- Española turn-off.

The ride through Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo crosses the river and heads into State Road 68. Go north on SR 68 and ride along the Río Grande, stopping along the river to watch boaters or just cool your heels before heading back to Taos.

Nationally known Sugar's Barbecue is just midway between Española and Dixon, a great place for lunch that's easy-off and easy back on to the highway.