The enchanted circle can be an intimidating bike ride for two reasons. First, it is challenging. It’s an 84 mile ride with a total of over 5,700 feet (1.75 km) of climbing. There are also a lot of sections where the road has no shoulder. A road with significant traffic and no shoulder can feel quite dangerous on a bicycle. Maybe I’m spoiled by typically riding in Colorado, with roads that are typically more bike friendly. According to the League of American Cyclists, Colorado ranks as the 7th most bike friendly state in the country, while New Mexico ranks 44th.
Like this bike ride, life has tons of opportunities that are both risky and potentially rewarding. A lot of people lose out on so much that life has to offer because they avoid endeavors that cary significant risk. For me, the Enchanted Circle bike ride became a microcosm for how we are meant to approach these important opportunities. I would not let the apparent challenge and the apparent danger stop me from doing the ride. However, it is good to be mindful and smart about the risks we take. With any potentially risky endeavor, there are actions one can take to minimize the downside. For me on the Enchanted Circle, it meant trying to face as little traffic as possible on the most potentially dangerous part, U.S. highway 64. So, I started the ride early, around 9 A.M., and rode the circle in the counter-clockwise direction, starting east out of Taos on 64.
As I’d hoped, there was very little traffic. There were even times where I completely forgot I was on a U.S. highway. The highway kind of took on the feeling of an empty country road, which was fantastic.
The 18 mile moderate climb from Taos to Palo Flechado Pass wound through the Carson National Forest. I truly felt enchanted, right from the start of the ride. Around each curve was a new sight to behold: Trees just starting to change colors for the upcoming fall. Birds flying through the air. Horses grazing on open land. New mountain peaks appearing on the horizon.
I could not help but smile for most of this segment. The climb is not even steep enough to cause too much exhaustion.
After this climb came a quick 700 foot (210m) descent into Angel Fire, home to one of several major New Mexico ski resorts along the Enchanted Circle.
Due to smoke from wildfires in California and Oregon, I was unable to see Angel Fire ski resort from the road. However, I would later get the gist, as one of the locals I would speak with in Eagles Nest would describe this resort as “a ski resort without apres”. It sounded like an interesting family oriented experience.
The next stretch of road, from Angel Fire to Eagles Nest, was perhaps the most comforting, being flat and having the widest shoulders of the entire loop.
I grabbed some food in Eagles Nest, interacted with some of the locals and then turned onto highway 38 for the next segment.
Highway 38 is a mixed bag. There is no shoulder, but traffic is pretty light. Of the cars I did encounter, this is where I felt the most scared. On a few occasions, I was frightened by being passed at high speeds by vehicles that did not move too far over.
The climb starts gradually, passing by a ghost town called Elizabethtown. A woman I had talked to in Eagles Nest told me this town was so easy to miss I would “miss it if I blinked… while riding uphill”.
Then comes the most challenging ascent of the ride, to the top of Bobcat Pass, the ride’s highest point.
This part turned out to be quite steep. I had received some encouragement regarding this bike ride at the Eagles Nest Cafe. One patron even let me have one of her onion rings. However, when I told people I was doing this ride, I also did hear “I’m exhausted just thinking about you riding up Bobcat Pass”, as well as “If my son were to tell me he wants to do this ride, I’d urge him not to.”
I took the downhill at 35 miles per hour (56 km/hr).
And quickly arrived in the town of Red River.
Red River, home to yet another ski resort, felt like your quintessential touristy mountain town. It felt reminiscent of Lincoln, New Hampshire, a town I rode through several years ago, also while on my bicycle tackling challenging mountain passes.
Continuing west on highway 38 was a beautiful descent from Red River into Questa.
Like the initial climb out of Taos, this descent was not quite as steep, winding through the forest, and by some other unique natural features over the course of 12 miles.
The final 20 miles of the ride follows highway 522 back towards Taos. While this section has some rolling hills, it stays in the valley to the west of the Southern Sangre de Cristo mountain range. On this part of the ride, I saw the mountains from a whole different, and more broad, vantage point.
The rolling hills on this last part of the ride are not nearly as big as the major passes I’d rode up earlier. However, having already rode 70 miles and pedaled up Bobcat Pass, they were enough to exhaust me.
Like many of my previous exhausting bike rides, I ended the day physically exhausted but spiritually rested. It also came with another form of spiritual satisfaction, having properly persevered despite some less than ideal conditions. The manner in which I approached this ride allowed me to enjoy the upside of the experience (the satisfaction of the ride, the scenery, the interactions with the locals, etc.), while being smart enough to minimize the downside (the risk of riding in high traffic with no shoulder).