Shuttling the Land of Enchantment, Part 1: The Winsor Trail

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Work frequently takes me from my home in Colorado Springs to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Fortunately, the trip is done as easily by driving as by flying, which means I can generally bring a bike. Not only can I get in a ride in the Albuquerque foothills after work each evening, I can generally take a short detour along the way and hit a nice ride around Santa Fe. Despite all these trips, however, a couple bucket list trails have eluded me. That’s because they require a shuttle, something I can’t generally arrange on a weekday when passing through. So, Miniskibum and I concocted a plan to remedy that this past Labor Day Weekend: spend this weekend in Santa Fe with my wife—she could shuttle us in the morning, we do our ride while she plays tourist, and we all spend the evening together. Sounds like a win-win scenario to me.

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The first of the two shuttle rides, the Winsor Trail, sits in the mountains east of Santa Fe. The uppermost reaches of the Winsor Trail lie in the Pecos Wilderness area and are, thusly, off limits to cycles. But fear not, what remains of the Winsor Trail, open to all non-motorized users, is most stellar, or so I’d heard. After a long, windy drive up from Santa Fe, we arrived at the base of the Santa Fe Ski Area and I informed Miniskibum that the ride begins here, to which he queried, “Why would we start our shuttle ride at the base of the ski area?” I explained that, while we may be starting at the base of the ski area, we were a full 3,000 verts above Santa Fe. In fact, from this point, the Winsor Trail drops over 3,000 vertical feet in under 10 miles! Now that’s something worth shuttling, isn’t it?

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The Winsor bike route can be easily divided into three distinct zones with an optional preamble, each having its own character, but all combining to form a complete and yet wonderfully-varied ride. The optional preamble is the 1.1-mile stretch between the base of the ski area and the point where the Winsor Trail intersects the highway, which also happens to be the entrance to the Norski trailhead (an access point for a small cross-country skiing loop which circumnavigates the adjacent knob).

There are two things which become apparent in this stretch. First is the dense, dark, and cool forest which stands in stark contrast to the high desert and scrubby pinion forests which surround Santa Fe–so close if measured in a straight line, but 3,000 feet below and worlds away in character. The second is that, by starting at this point rather than at the Norski trailhead, there’s some tough little climbs interspersed with the descending. If you’re okay using your pedals more than your brakes for a while, start at the base of the downhill ski area, but if you’re looking for a pure downhill romp, opt for the Norski trailhead.

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The uppermost section after the Norski trailhead was, in my opinion, the best the trail had to offer, although all of it was exceptional. For Miniskibum and I, though, the upper section was prime because it was the gnarliest. Like the rest of the trail, it dropped altitude quickly, but in this case a little more quickly, and all the while throwing roots, rocks, and the most delightful turns at the rider. Nothing here is death-defying, but it all commands the rider’s attention, especially if ridden at the speed the trail invites. Upon bursting out onto Forest Road 102, we briefly paused before picking up the trail on the other side and Miniskibum said, a bit prematurely, that this may be his new favorite trail. Despite the early nature of the statement, I could certainly see his point.

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After crossing FR 102, there’s a bit more of this mildly-gnarly but highly-entertaining singletrack before the trail widens, often to doubletrack width. The joy of this section lies in the angle of the trail: it’s just steep enough that you can really fly without having to work at it, but not so steep that you have to cramp your hands riding the brakes. This section is also more easily ridden uphill, and those not wishing to shuttle will out-and-back this section. Alternatively, one could make a more moderate loop out of it by taking the Chamisa and Borrego trails, each of which connects with the Winsor Trail at one end and paved road at the other end.

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Although still dropping altitude rapidly, the bottom section demands a speed reduction as the trail gets narrow again and suddenly very twisty. In addition, this section throws a lot of creek crossings at you, most of which will get your feet wet. This is actually quite welcome as, by this time, it’s both later in the day than when you started and you’ve bled off much of the altitude you started with, having long since departed the cool alpine in which you began and replaced it with the much warmer edge-of-desert pinion and juniper forest.

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The trail finally emerges on the edge of the village of Teseque, a few miles north of Santa Fe. This is a good place to leave your shuttle vehicle. In our case, knowing the lower end of the trail was a little hard to find, and not wanting to impose on Mom to wait for us we simply chose to ride that last five miles to our lodging in Santa Fe. Unfortunately, while the Winsor Trail was easy to navigate, the streets of Teseque were not, and tacked on a few miles of downhill pavement before we realized our error. Consequently, we ended up with a good 12 miles of pavement, including one major climb on blacktop on a busy highway in the midday sun before we could complete the journey; this was, no doubt, the negative karma we earned from being shuttle monkeys in the first place!

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Upon arrival at our “casita,” and upon telling my wife what an exceptional ride we’d had, she offered to shuttle us up for another run! Had we not done the big pavement detour, I may have taken her up on that offer—just think how much fun the ride would be now that we knew the lay of the land! But I also knew I didn’t want to do another blacktop shuffle and I certainly didn’t want her aimlessly wandering the streets of Teseque wondering just where we might emerge. So I instead accompanied her to the art fair in the Santa Fe Plaza. Like I said in the beginning—this day would definitely be a win-win affair!

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