stories • happenings • adventures

Bekka Mongeau
December 13, 2022

Valles Caldera Bikepack: Take the Shortcut

Posted by in Ambassadors


written by Adam Andres Pawlikiewicz Mesa, with photos by Adam Andres Pawlikiewicz Mesa & Leonardo Brasil


After a long year of training for our own respective ultra endurance events, Leo and I decided that the best way to recover would be to venture out on a casual 2-3 day bikepack before winter arrived. In typical fashion, we drummed up a few route ideas the day before starting. We dreamed of riding through cool, alpine desert temps in Utah, however, Pacha Mama had other plans for us. Due to weather storms quickly approaching across the Southwest, we planned a last minute trip down south to the Valles Caldera in New Mexico instead, an area where both of us had yet to explore. 


Within the folds of the Jimenez mountains, lies New Mexico’s own supervolcano that back in 2016 opened year round for bicycle access. Primitive dirt roads, high pastures, wildlife abound, and even a hot spring awaited us…a plan that seemed all too good to be true. Alas, with our bikes fully loaded and a wide grin on my face, we ventured down to the quaint town of Los Alamos, the perfect location to begin our exploration of the Caldera. 

After negotiating for a place to park the car for the next few days, we began riding out of town only to discover that we needed a portable pump and extra water bottle if we hoped the mission to be a success. After a quick pit stop at the only bike shop in town, we began slowly inching our way up to the local Pajarito Ski Mountain. There, we resupplied on water and got our first taste of the cool, alpine air of the Caldera, something that would later bring us a lot of anxiety. 

With the majority of climbing finished for the day, we entered the National Preserve with high spirits only to find hundreds of downed trees on the path that lay ahead. Through a mix of hike-a-biking, route navigation, and riding, our trip was quickly beginning to resemble the likes of a cyclocross event, rather than a “casual” bikepack like I had hoped for. With a healthy dose of optimism, however, we pressed onward reaching the edge of Caldera just before sunset. After some scouting we found a perfect dispersed spot to camp for the evening. With temperatures quickly dropping to freezing, we opted to huddle in my two-person, four-season tent together for the night. Within minutes of eating dinner in our sleeping bags, the two of us were sound asleep.  

The following morning we awoke to the sun peaking through our tent and a gorgeous view of the valley that we rode in from the day before. With frost lining our bikepacking bags, we decided to breakfast consciously inside the comfort of our warm sleeping bags. We set an ambitious goal for the day, to traverse through the majority of the Caldera to catch up on lost time. With our bikes fully loaded and bellies beckoning already for second breakfast, we descended back to the entrance of the Caldera. 

Upon entering, we heard news from the rangers that by this afternoon it was expected to begin snowing. It seemed as though the weather we were hoping to avoid in Utah and Colorado had followed us down here. Leo, however, using his magic Wahoo skills quickly drummed up a few alternate routes we could take if the forecast turned out to be true. My stubbornness was still dreaming of a hot soak in the San Antonio Springs and thought that maybe a little snow wouldn’t hurt anyone. After all, isn’t the goal of every bikepack to run into some kind of adversity?

We continued on with relative ease until reaching our first “shortcut” that looked to be promising. A short hike-a-bike off route looked to take us directly to the other side of a hill that rejoined the route on the other side. Being no stranger to navigating off-route, my smile grew as we pushed our bikes uphill only to find dense forest and no sight of a path on the other side. Our “shortcut” turned out to just be an unnecessary detour. With a temporary sense of defeat, we descended back down the way we came and continued onward with our original route. 

As we crested the next high point with temps significantly dropping, we reached a fork in the road. One led us back to the closest town and the other ventured further into the Caldera. Due to the clay-like surface of the Caldera that would easily turn into mud when wet and the weather forecast quickly proving to be true, we opted to take yet another “shortcut” back to the closest town where a cup of warm noodles awaited us. 

Inside of Amanda’s Country Store we discussed our options and hatched a new plan to ride back to Los Alamos by that evening. Since “shortcuts” seemed to be the theme of today’s riding, we discovered an adjacent dirt road that followed the paved route back to town. With our bellies now properly full, we hunkered down and began putting in the miles to get back to my car by nightfall. 

After a series of nightmarish hike-a-bikes, it seemed like a higher power out there was rewarding us for consistently choosing “shortcuts.” We stubbornly pressed onward taking in the sweeping, 360-degree views of the Caldera. To the tune of elk’s bugling we took our final descent towards the exit of the Preserve just in time for sunset. Ahead of us was a long climb up on tarmac, something that the two of us rejoiced in knowing that we’d actually be able to ride up this hill. A few hours later we were descending back to Los Alamos, just in time before the last Mexican restaurant had closed.

Adventure seemed to have found us yet again.

Follow along with more of Leo & Adam’s adventures!