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New Mexico Backcountry Discovery Route: The Desert Crucible

Text: Bill Dragoo • Photography: Bill Dragoo, Michael Bielecki

The purest art of creating Damascus steel, that extraordinary blade with the wavy design seen in antique knives and swords from the Middle East, is lost to mankind. Speculation suggests multiple layers of metals were forged, folded, and welded together to form a single blade of exceptional quality. Certain aspects of adventure travel have a similar effect on men and women.

I am one of a dozen men from three countries on a tour of the New Mexico Backcountry Discovery Route (NMBDR). Our staggered formation is led by Scott Lee and Michael Bielecki of Colorado Motorcycle Adventures (CMA). David Gibson rides sweep. It is 106 degrees as we approach Cloudcroft, NM. Even my Klim Induction mesh jacket is stuffed into a pannier on my BMW R 1200 GS, leaving only a thin jersey for protection. I gaze ahead at the mountains, hoping for cooler temperatures higher up. It’s mid-June and the route has been open only a few weeks as snow lingers long in the passes. 

The Best of the NMBDR

The NMBDR is a 1,290-mile amalgamation of mountain vistas, rocky stream crossings, long, dark canyons, quaint villages, and desert sands. For us, it is also a means to an end. CMA hosts riders from around the world who want to explore a chunk of the American West within a calculated timeline. Few folks have the luxury of an open-ended schedule, and Scott and his team have consolidated the sweet spots into a six-day tour. What happens once a tour begins is the part we all hope for, yet secretly fear. What challenges will we encounter in the unknown expanse ahead? 

Hurry Up and Wait

Despite the most diligent planning, off-pavement travel by motorcycle can be risky. Things will happen that may not be covered in the brochure, and the real adventure is in how we deal with the unexpected, how men and women stand up to the test. We are faced with our first delay as we attempt to leave Cloudcroft an hour early to get ahead of the heat. A flat on Rich’s Husqvarna 701 proves fussy to fix. The pinched tube sets us back an hour.

After Cloudcroft, the sometimes-graded dirt road twists and turns like an anaconda with an attitude, plunging some 3,000 feet before climbing again over multiple passes, finally topping out near 9,000 feet about 20 miles past Ruidoso. Before lunch, Malcolm’s GSA pulls up lame. Michael deploys a well-stocked repair kit, plugs the rear tire, and we are back on the road in a jiffy. 

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the March/April 2017 back issue.