The Zia Sun Symbol symbol originated with the Native Americans of Zia [pronounce it "tSEE-ah"] Pueblo (Indian village) in ancient times. The symbol has a sacred meaning to the Zia. Four is a sacred number that symbolizes the Circle of Life: four winds, four seasons, four directions, and four sacred obligations. The circle binds the four elements of four together. - ziapueblo.org
We never quite know what to expect on these trips as our cryptic preparation typically goes something like this: Find some place potentially interesting, pull up Google Earth, choose a starting point, set out with a vague idea of which direction to head towards and pray for the best.
Usually things turn out well. At the very worst you may find yourself backtracking, hike-a-biking or pushing your bike over miles of relentless sand or mud.
We've done quite a few photoshoots out and around Zia Pueblo/San Ysidro/White Mesa (like so many places down here deep in the southwest there are no shortage of names for any given stretch of terrain.) so both Lindsay and I were quite familiar with the area and what to expect.
Not the case for Holly who is completely new to gravel biking, and aside from commuting, biking offroad as a whole.
Our original intention of riding out here was pretty simple: Have some fun, get some sun and refill our stockpile of imagery for social media.
But it became much more than that.
I tend to be a bit shy and keep to myself. Often on these types of rides loaded down with camera gear, I feel as though I'm more of a fly on the wall than the owner of a bike brand, hanging back, jumping off the bike quick to snap a photo, jumping back on and racing to catch back up.
I've ridden a bit and done some photoshoots with Lindsay, which when placed into photographer mode knowing the particular riding and personality characteristics of your subject definitely makes your job a little easier.
But throw someone completely new and essentially a beginner to the sport into the mix and there is, or should be, a bit of a learning curve both for the person behind the lens and the person riding the bike.
Skirting the Zia Pueblo boundary, the gravel road off of HWY 550 past the White Mesa mountain bike trails is a great warm up. Undulating, fast and wide open it's a great section to get your legs and spirit warmed up. Granted, had we been in full-on gravel grinder mode our path would have continued along said undulating gravel road and continued on as long as we were willing to riding.
But that's not how we roll.
In a nutshell, gravel bikes are just modified, old school mountain bikes, and when mountain biking is a big part of your pedigree you tend to look at things differently than the typical gravel rider.
Fortunately, our new guest was down for the challenge and took it straight on and never stop smiling.
Our vaguely planned route was to skirt the west side of White Mesa to explore some old ranching ruins and then depending on the amount of gunfire we thought we might encounter either explore some canyons further to the west or opt to climb to the top of the Mesa from the backside and traverse south along the ridge back to the main gravel road.
The shooters forced our hand and after a brief bit of exploring and some warm beer, we found ourselves in the granny gear climbing pitch after pitch.
What makes this area so appealing, aside from all the amazing gravel and technical singletrack, is the landscape color palate and erosion that has created some truly awe inspiring geography.
Approaching the first pitch the desert turns from beige to white to red and browns and greys. With each color change the gravel road turns to narrow single and double track as the pitches get steeper and more technical.
If you're not a fan of steep and extended climbs then this ride may not be your jam.
Don't be fooled by the epic views. There's still plenty of climbing left.
So getting back to how rad this little trip really was. Both Lindsay and I have taught beginners and realize how frustrating that can be sometimes both for teacher and student. But what is truly amazing to witness is someone who shows up with just the basics and completely throws down the entire ride as though they had been riding for years.
Thus was the case with Holly.
As we continued our journey upwards the pitches continued to get steeper and more technical but also littered with super steep, loose and technical descents.
I think deep down both Lindsay and I were expecting our guest to jump off and walk, but when she rolled up, watched the line - there was no hesitation. Not only is that a cool thing to witness but it just makes for some amazing vibes (and images) throughout the ride.
And then shit gets steep...
What goes up, eventually goes down...
Holly and Lindsay in full dropper post mode.
Back up we go.
Truth and Consequences
Sometimes when you try Black Diamond mountain biking lines you end up with Black Diamond mountain biking consequences.
Lindsay showing off some battle damage.
So about this ride...
I'm not a numbers guy. We don't track mileage, post ride times to STRAVA or set out to capture KOM/QOM's. I think the photos tell the story of how beautiful this area is to ride so there is no need to try and brag about that with words here.
What was supposed to be a warm day trip on bikes out in the desert turned out to be so much more as we watched in awe as a new person to our sport showed up and threw down.
you just can't discount how cool that is to watch.