Stephanie Kyser




GET ROLLING



May 13–17

OUTSIDE BIKE & BREW FESTIVAL

Clinics, dirt jump jams, chocolate tours, films, group rides, bike expos, and a gear-and-beer expo are on tap for this second annual Outside magazine fest. outsidesantafe.com



LIFT-SERVED TRAILS

Seeking flow? These four ski areas offer summer lift service to access the downhill trails. Most areas offer bike and safety equipment rentals and sell lift tickets by the day or for the whole season.



Angel Fire Bike Park

(575) 377-4293 angelfirebikepark.com



Northside at Taos Ski Valley (575) 776-3233 ridenorthside.com



Pajarito Mountain Biking

(505) 662-5725

skipajarito.com



Sandia Peak

(505) 856-6419

sandiapeak.com



ORGANIZATIONS

Del Norte MtB Alliance

A cycling and trail advocacy group that hails out of the Taos Valley.

On Facebook



FooMTB

Working closely with the Sandía Ranger District, this group advocates for and actively enhances the trails in and around the greater Albuquerque area.

foomtb.org



New Mexico Endurance Series

These are unsupported ultra-endurance events for experienced back-country cyclists. Held all around the state, these events also challenge the cyclist’s navigational skills. nmes.wordpress.com



New Mexico Off-Road Series This points race series is offered to all levels of mountain bikers, from kids to the young at heart, beginners to pros. Awards, cash, prizes, year-end jerseys, and bragging rights are earned at these events, which run all around the state from March through October. nmors.org



Pedal Queens

This group of women and its supporters organize rides and meetings both on the road and off. They offer rides, events, training sessions, and skills clinics. pedalqueens.com;

on Facebook



Rim Rattlers

A mountain bike development and advocacy group out of Las Cruces, interested in working to improve trail conditions on the BLM lands in Doña Ana County. lcrimrattlers.org



Santa Fe Fat Tire Society

Group rides from beginner to advanced are held weekly, typically midweek after work. Monthly meetings are held to discuss trail building and maintenance, mountain bike events, and mountain bike advo- cacy. A summer kids’ program is also offered; times and dates TBA. santafefattiresociety.org



Tuff Riders/Los Alamos Singletrack Association Offers monthly meetings and group rides Tuesdays and Thursdays, on and near the Pajarito Plateau. tuffriders.losalamos.com



Zia Rides

This nonprofit organizes 8-, 10-, 12-, and 24-hour endurance races throughout New Mexico and features fun, family-friendly venues. ziarides.com



Other New Mexican cycling clubs and racing teams, both on-road and off-, may be found on nmcycling.org.




JUNE 14, 2014, GALLUP, 6 P.M.

76 MILES DOWN, 124 TO GO



The temperature dips slightly as dirt like tan talcum powder cakes thickly on my burning calves and thighs, sneaks under my contacts, clogs my lungs. I’m seven hours into a 24-hour race on a single-speed mountain bike. Sharp claws of doubt rake into my back, my neck, my legs.



What was I thinking?



The drive west on I-40 to Gallup had been tranquil: dirt, trains, volcanic rocks, a cow, hills, valleys, mesas. Billboards of nice people biking pleasantly with friends. As I traveled to the McGaffey Campground, just south of the city, I had looked forward to riding through rolling hills, enjoying the shade of a piñon forest. But this climb is brutal and relentless. Pedal, pedal, pedal. Pedal, pedal, pedal, cliiiiiiimb—and wait out the pain until a downhill presents some relief.



I should have expected such agony, this being the USA Cycling 24-Hour Mountain Bike National Championships, each 19-mile lap just piling on the hurt as I struggle to complete more laps than my competitors. If I can crank out at least 10 laps, there’s a good chance the title will be within reach. Two hundred miles. The pain spikes again as I think of the distance I have yet to travel.



A strange form distracts me from the cramping. For a split second, it looks like a baby bear, her ears pricked up, listening to my labored breathing. Are there bears around here? I look around for mama bear, but no, it’s just a stump. A bird calls out a gentle taps, and I’m reminded why I am here. I love this stuff, and I have a lot of unfinished business.



AUTUMN 1984, MISSISSIPPI

I stare at my tightly wrapped hand, the fingers protected by gauze and plaster. I’ve just had my sixth operation to repair the digits on my right hand, blighted by a birth defect, and the pain is an intense throbbing I’ve grown so used to. The metal pin holding my middle finger together protrudes grotesquely from the stained dressing. While eating custard and Jell-O, I ponder the swimming season just beginning and my head sinks dejectedly into my one good hand. I’ll be out for weeks—if I’m lucky. At 16, after thousands of hours following a painted black line on the bottom of the pool, my solid plans spin precariously in my dizzy head like a child’s toy top. I’ve wanted this so bad, and yet I know I won’t have the breakthrough season necessary to set the state records, get the college scholarship, qualify for the national team. I can’t even grip a pencil, drive a stick shift, or shake someone’s hand in greeting, let alone swim. The fall season will continue without me, and by the spring I’ll no longer rise at 5:30 a.m. to put in my two hours before school. I’ll drive home after classes instead of racing the clock with my teammates. My name will adorn no record books; no college swim coach will call with the good news.



GALLUP, 11:15 P.M.

114 MILES DOWN, 86 TO GO


Huddled in a blanket, I sip bad coffee. But it’s hot, black stuff, and I need it. My damaged right hand has begun to lose feeling. I spend a third of my time on the trail trying to shake some blood flow and feeling back into the digits. I have to glance at my hand to make sure the fingers still grip the handlebar. And I can’t brake with that hand. But the point is to go fast, right? I don’t need no stinking brakes, I tell myself—just steer and pedal and fly. The balance between aggressivity and caution constantly shifts as I ride, and I think of my mother and my own two young children and the crazy fact that I soar through the night with one light on my handlebars. But right now, rest. For just a little while. I am more than two hours ahead of my closest competition; the pain in my neck spikes like the stab of an ice pick. David Bell, my pit crew and sponsor from Mellow Velo, and I banter as though we’re in a bar.



“You look like crap. How about some tequila for your next lap?” David jokes while offering me the swill in his carved tiki-head cup.



“Offer it to the competition instead,” I suggest.



I force down water, electrolytes, scrambled eggs, bacon, and a bagel. But as it must, the conversation shifts to strategy as I make the decision to leave in 10 minutes. I’m tired, and I’ve got 90 more miles— thousands of strokes of the crank—ahead of me. The really tough riding has not yet begun. I turn to see my friend John, who arrives to guide me through some night laps. We begin to pedal, and he tells me stories about his life, his children, his work. Stories such as these remain with us, unshared with others, a cyclists’ bond unbroken, as we race by the camps of sleepy racers and families. The sound of a single encouraging cowbell reaches our ears. I will not sleep; I am here to win.



SPRING 1992, MASSACHUSETTS

I toss and turn in a HoJo hotel bed in a suburb near Boston. I’ve already met the international Olympic standard but need a faster pace to guarantee my spot in the Olympic Trials in New Orleans. The next morning, the Boston Athletic Club’s race director lines us on the mark for the 10K and asks what time the pace runner should take us through the first couple of miles, and we all say “78.” Seventy-eight seconds per quarter-mile will put us on a good pace to guarantee a spot in the Trials with the magical time of 33:25. Even the 1984 Olympic marathon champion, Joan Benoit Samuelson, wants 78s. Her sweaty shoulder touching mine, she says, “Good luck.”



The first lap rushes by fast. Too fast—a 68—and that ten-second monkey jumps on my back and screams in my ear and grabs at my legs and squeezes my breath for another 24 laps. I peak too early and come up short at the finish—just a step behind the former Olympic champion, but for naught. Neither of us has qualified under the humid Boston stadium lights. We go home cursing the rabbit and cursing ourselves for running someone else’s pace and race. As the spring winds down, my best time will fail to send me to New Orleans and on to Barcelona, and an injured Achilles will unceremoniously end my running career.



SPRING 2010, SANTA FE

As I sit in my law office in Santa Fe’s Lensic building, reading briefs and judicial orders, a thin pane of glass separates me from the fresh spring air. I can see it playing in the trees but can only smell stale, hazelnut-flavored coffee. My Achilles is well healed, but I’m two kids and 70 clients removed from my former athletic life. I’m bored. And stressed. Swapping stories of our former lives over lunch with a colleague, I see a tourist riding a bike through the Plaza. I hatch a plan to participate in the 24 Hours of Moab mountain bike team relay. Genius and stupidity wrestle with each other in my mind as Pamela reminds me that she doesn’t really ride bikes. Not being one who is stopped by logic or the fact that I don’t ride bikes either, I register a team and begin the bloody and bruising journey of mountain bike training. I’m equipped with no skills, a 12-year-old bike, and a set of strong legs.



Stephanie Kyser Workout



JUNE 15, GALLUP, 7:30 A.M.

174 MILES DOWN, 26 TO GO

As the forest’s dark mantle lightens in the dawn, the temperature drops into the upper thirties. John and I have covered 60 miles together, and I’m maintaining my lead. We’ve exhausted ourselves and all subjects: the genesis of mankind, fundamental equations of string theory, the most talented of the Beatles, who’s the hottest on Friends, even therapist-worthy topics that thankfully echoed harmlessly off the dusty cliffs.



We reach the last three miles after scorching down the Road to Burma, a two-mile luge with slight turns and high lips that launches unsuspecting cyclists off course into the rocky edges on the trail. As fast as we charge down, I am careful. With nearly 180 miles under my belt, I can take no major chances. Falling or flatting could suck up precious lead time. As we pick our way through the rocks and tree roots, my thoughts turn to the naysayers in my life. You know who they are, ’cause they’re in your life, too. Too dumb, too fat, too old, too inexperienced, too short. Shaking that off, I focus on the voice in my head. Sometimes that voice speaks loudly, sometimes meekly. This morning I hear a different voice that has grown up and grown wise with encouragement and strength. I really can do this. I have mastered this discomfort, and it has no control over me. As I think this, I am reminded of the repeated physical pain I endured as a child: the slicing into tender flesh, the shaving of bone and cutting of nerves. Again and again and again. Now I hear another voice of patience and pragmatism. I really can do this. I have mastered my environment and can trust my own pace and skills. I am powerful. And I am reminded of a young runner, blindly handing over her hard work to another, afraid to trust in her own training and judgment.



And that’s why I am here. In 21st-century New Mexico, I can still hear the call of the wild. Within its borders, opportunity abounds for so many seeking more than what their station in life has to offer.



I have never been comfortable within the four corners of my box—the place one finds oneself as a matter of birth, whether it be male, female, middle-aged, tall, wide, straight, poor, smart, artistic, married, childless, Southern, what have you. So I moved west, where I am struck hard by the never-ending expanse of land as I ride the state’s back highways and trails. Nobody lives here. Nobody for miles and miles as far as I can see. And I can see forever.



I see New Mexico as a place of opportunity because it is a spacious land of struggle. The mountain passes and high-desert altitude constrict the breath, the coyotes yip, the cacti stab. I ride on, and it’s the struggle that inspires me to reach beyond the borders of my box. It was in New Mexico that I gained the freedom to really live, in part because life here can’t be pinned down. Everyone adapts and changes as the struggle finds them. The coyote, the hawk, and the snake all find shelter in their different ways.



Only New Mexico would encourage a 46-year-old reformed Southern debutante, middle-class mother of two with crow’s-feet and a cesarean scar to attempt such a crazy feat. I am different here. I am not the coyote, nor the hawk, nor the snake, but I have adapted. And as I complete the last few miles of my journey on my bike and then accept my champion’s stars-and-stripes jersey, I breathe in the thin, dusty oxygen. The 30-year journey has brought me to the top of a podium in Gallup, with the red, white, and blue colors flying above the great Zia symbol of New Mexico. I know I am more than the anthem playing in the background, or what people see when they pass me in the grocery store. I am endurance defined. Down, at times, but never out. My spirit flies.



Stefanie Kyser resides in Santa Fe with her husband and two young daughters. She spends her days mothering, training in the sunshine, and enjoying not practicing law.