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Naomi  The Biking Life

 by: Naomi Bloom  9/1/2003

Dave And Pete's Excellent Adventure

Dave Ziegler and Pete Letchworth have been solid fixtures in Western Wheelers Bicycle Club for years. Both serve on the club executive board. And both ride mega miles every year.

Photo by Dave Ziegler

For these two guys a long day of stiff climbing is a fun way to invest their personal time. And both have been retired for lo these many years. That's why I thought they'd both be excellent candidates for my now- and-then series on fellow bicyclists over the age of 60.

In his younger days, Dave toured in France prior to his wedding. Now retired and a widower, this 69-year-old rediscovered cycling several years ago when he pulled his old Motobecane out of the garage and discovered that not only did it still work, but so did his body's ability to pedal it. Since then he's done one to two ambitious tours every year, from Sierra to the Sea to explorations in New Zealand, Hawaii, the Pacific Northwest and Europe.

Pete was strictly a runner from about age 35 until he started sustaining a few injuries around his 50th year. Knees ankles and finally a hamstring pull convinced him to start cycling riding with friend. Eventually he found himself strictly a cyclist after Joining WW in the early 90s. Now 64, his touring resume is a little less daunting than Dave's. Still he does Sierra to the Sea nearly every year and is a veteran of Adventure Cycling's Cycle Montana.

Both are pretty competitive. "I always enjoy passing the younger people," says Pete, who believes in pushing himself "no matter what." In spite of that competitiveness, Pete and Dave are good buddies who enjoy tackling those stiff climbs together.

Excellent Bicycle Adventures

Dave and Pete's excellent adventure this summer was actually a tour sponsored by the Bicycle Adventure Club.

BAC tours are really great, Dave told me. I have to agree that they all sound wonderful -- stateside rides to places of historical significance alongside natural and man-made scenic beauty. And European tours tracing the routes of my fondest cycling fantasies.

But just try to sign up less than a year in advance and you'll be out of luck. "That's just about my only beef about BAC," Dave said. "The good rides fill up far too quickly."

But in this case Dave had an inside track. Back in 1996 he'd met fellow BAC member Don Coffin in Hawaii on a tour of the "Big Island." Last year Don emailed Dave that he himself would be leading a tour in New Mexico called "Anasazi to Atoms." If Dave wanted to do it, Don told him, he'd better sign up right away.

Photo by Dave Ziegler

Dave passed the word on to Pete. And they both signed up.

Atoms, Anasazi and Ascents

The tour started and finished at White Rock, NM, about 10 miles outside Los Alamos and made a circle through high mesas and passes of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. High (and we do mean high) points included the Anasazi ruins at Bandelier National Monument, the Los Alamos National Laboratory, the scenic Cumbres & Toltec narrow gauge railway, contemporary Indian Pueblos, Spanish mountain villages, and the tourist haven of Taos.

Most of the route was at or over 7,000 feet, with several passes above 10,000 feet. Still, both Pete and Dave were a little disappointed that the climbs weren't harder. "The grades were fairly easy," Dave told me, around the 5 percent to 7 per cent range. We're used to steeper stuff around here."

"We did a total of 30,000 feet of climbing in 525 miles over seven days," Pete added. "Sierra to the Sea was harder than this trip but the altitude made up for it."

Not everyone did every inch of climbing, however. Leader Don Coffin, at 74 the oldest rider on the tour, opted to ride in his daughter-in-law's sag vehicle over those 10,000-foot passes.

But everyone enjoyed the sites, sights and scenery. Typical high desert, is how Dave described it. "Really pretty country," was Pete's take. "We were up really high. Some spots it seemed like you could see all the way to China."

It didn't hurt that the group encountered precious little rain. "We worried about it more than experienced it," said Dave. Most mornings were clear, with clouds coming up later in the day, then thunderstorms in the afternoon. Although the storms threatened the riders, they rarely even came close. Only one threat landed a thunderbolt near that day's summit, encouraging a slightly faster than normal descent.

The group started out by doing loop rides out of White Rock for two days. "Above Los Alamos are these big mesas over 7,000 feet," said Pete. "The area was formed by a gargantuan volcanic explosion about a million years ago. We went up to check out the original caldera, a big hole in the ground about the size of San Jose. It was really impressive."

Another day ride took them to the Bradbury Science Museum at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

For the Anasazi part of the tour, Don guided them to four different ancient Indian ruins, where they saw petroglyphs and explored pueblos and caves. On occasion they left the bikes with the sag and hiked in on the original trails blazed by the early native Americans. Unfortunately for Dave, he found himself fixing a broken derailleur while everyone else hiked around the ruins at Bandelier National Monument.

After tackling a couple of those 10,000-foot passes, the tour wandered over the border into Colorado to take a gander at the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railway. "Too bad the train wasn't running on the day we arrived," said Dave, "but we did stay overnight in the Narrow Gauge Railway Inn."

Photos by Dave Ziegler

Only then did the guys get to explore what most entices me to do a New Mexico tour: the Enchanted Circle Loop. Along the way they stopped at the Angel Fire Vietnam Veterans Memorial ("a two-pass day," according to Dave). Another 10,000-foot climb took them to an overnight stay at the Red River Ski Resort.

Then it was a mostly downhill ride to Taos and a layover day. "I could have done without Taos," Pete told me. "It's a big tourist trap with too much traffic for my taste."

The ride essentially ended in Chimayo, the "Lourdes of America", with only a flat 27 miles back to White Rock. "It was a long, hard ride into Chimayo," said Pete. "A monstrous descent, about 4000 feet, after a lot of climbing."

So although the rest of the group toured the Santuario de Chimayo the next morning, Pete and Dave jumped on their bikes and hauled back to White Rock. That way Pete could drop Dave off at the airport in Albuquerque and start driving home himself before sunset.

Dave felt that Don had done an outstanding job organizing the tour (typical, we agreed, for BAC leaders in general). The overnight stays were in comfortable lodgings and the support was outstanding. A fellow named Richard sagged the group in a motor home with a trailer carrying the riders' luggage. And Don's son and daughter-in-law drove a chase car that carried non-climbers (like Don himself) over the highest passes.

Another perk for both Dave and Pete: They were delighted to be riding alongside Jo Vlastaris, a Western Wheeler who'd moved to New York last year. "Jo's not anywhere near 60," Dave chuckled. And she proved to the two "old fogeys" that she is still in top shape by beating them over every pass.

Summing up their excellent adventure, Dave Ziegler commented: "Nice people, good ride, decent weather. We both had a wonderful time."

Naomi can be reached at naomibloom@earthlink.net

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