Not About Bikes: 2023 Bikepacking Summit and DangerBird Ride

With its mixed-surface riding through four distinct sections of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument that surrounds Las Cruces, New Mexico, the Monumental Loop has plenty of spice—and not just from the chile you’ll find in Hatch. Every fall, the Loop’s organizers extend an open invitation for cyclo-tourists to come experience the 250-mile desert figure eight as part of the Dangerbird group ride event. This year’s rolling extravaganza was a coupled with the Bikepacking Summit, which Daniel Zaid attended and reports on below… 

“DangerBird happens on bikes but that’s not what it’s about. Our focus has always been on getting folks together to connect with each other and the land. People readily show more compassion, patience, and support for those in need during the DangerBird and we hope that carries over into your daily life. It’s certainly harder to do when we’re surrounded by systems that discourage it, but nature is there as a reminder.” -Matt Mason

I’ve had the Monumental Loop on my radar for a while. I was born in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, and I spent many of my vacations in Las Cruces, visiting my cousins when we were kids. This year, my partner Karla and I found out that our friend, Alex, from Santa Fe was attending the Monumental Loop’s annual weekend group ride known as the DangerBird, and our timing was just right to make it there ourselves.

For context’s sake, the Monumental Loop is a 400-kilometer/250-mile bikepacking route that creates a figure eight, with Las Cruces as the central hub. Designed to showcase all that the four quadrants of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument has to offer, the paired loops take riders around six mountain ranges, lava flows, and through the world’s most famous chile town, Hatch. Folks come out to ride the route year-round (though, the smart ones stick to late winter and fall), but every October the Loop’s creators host the DangerBird group ride event. This year, on the day before the roll-out, there was a Maker’s Market in the morning and the New Mexico Bikepacking Summit in the afternoon, a gathering with a series of talks and a chance for participants to see each other face’s before they geared up to wander into the desert.

The Maker’s Market was in a space provided by Outdoor Adventures, a bike and gear shop in town that’s always ready to help any “Looper”s who roll through. I had the chance to talk for a bit with the faces behind Doom Bars and Buckhorn Bags, and it made me happy to see that the New Mexico community supports their local makers, as I saw plenty of Moné Bikes and Send It Safely swag around.

In the afternoon, we rode to a park that would serve as the Summit’s venue, and Karla and I nervously went over the script for our talk as people rolled in. The master of ceremonies was Angelica Rubio, a member of the a New Mexico House of Representatives and a member of the Monumental Loop board of directors. First up on stage were Eloisa Torres and Jerod Foster, along with three of the students who are part of their program to get young folks into mountain biking and bikepacking. The students shared their experience taking classes where they get credits for outdoor activities combined with assignments like documenting their experience and creating media, and they went over the physical and mental benefits of being outside. After them, it was our turn. Karla and I tried our best to explain our experience riding bikes in Mexico and the USA, and also discussed a few border topics—or, at least I think we did, I don’t remember much because I was so nervous!

After the talks, there was a riders briefing with emphasis on Leave No Trace principles. Bandanas and DangerBread were given out, and then it was time to go and ready the bikes; I stayed up the latest feeling extra pressure over last minute gear decisions after seeing that everyone else’s setups looked lighter than mine. In the morning Las Cruces’ donut and coffee shops filled up with bikes full of bags then we headed for the plaza in Mesilla, where I actually rode by my cousins’ former house. At 9 AM, the Mesilla Plaza turned into a parade as we rode around the block for a neutralized start, then we got the flag. We took a series of bike paths following Matt Mason, one of the creators of and advocate for the Monumental Loop.

Because of its figure 8 nature, the route consists of the north and the south loops. And each one has its own reputation: the north being rocky and with more elevation gain culminating at a blown-up pass called White Gap, while the south is generally much more sandy and flat, but with a non-trival 10+ mile section of singletrack. To prevent a big mass of starving cyclists rolling into stores and restaurants all at the same time, half of the participants were sent to start the south loop and the other half the north loop. We headed for the north, and I rode with a group at the front until we hit dirt and I said I was gonna stop to let some air out of the tires, but in reality I needed air into my lungs.

I stopped after a climb to wait for Karla while I took pictures of strangers. After some time I saw a group at the top of the climb and they were cheering for someone, who I assumed was from their crew, but then Karla showed up. We started riding with the three of them and it didn’t take too long to find out we were riding at a similar pace and had similar expectations as to daily distances, so we realized we had found our crew. At the hottest time of the day we found shade under a yucca, the only one fluffy enough to cover the five of us. We didn’t see anybody pass by for over an hour, so we started thinking we were the last, not that it mattered much.

We all had our minds set on reaching the aid station, at 60 km/40 mi. At the start of the last climb before making it there we came across Roc, whom we met in Santa Fe as he was picking his bike up from Sincere Cycles. We tackled the climb, reached the aid station a little after 5 PM, and decided to spend the night there. A windy night made for some interrupted sleep, those inside tents had the ceiling flattened against their faces, and the tent-less ones had sand thrown on theirs. I found out my sleeping pad wouldn’t hold air for more than thirty minutes, so I spent the night switching to the side that hurt the least.

Our morning of the second day was spent negotiating White Gap, a segment infamous for its “baby heads,” a term I found hilarious and can’t wait to use in Spanish one day. We spent most of the stretch over White Gap walking. After reaching the top the rocks continued on the downhill, and I think we all fell at least once save for Michael who was rolling like nothing on his gravel bike with 2.1’s. Despite the difficulty, White Gap was a beautiful place to be in.

We made it to the pavement and got into train mode to reach Hatch, where we were all chasing the image of a big meal. The burrito place was closed so we had to wait in line at the burger joint, which ended up paying off because two guys with a standing bass and a guitar were rocking hard. After filling our bellies and water containers we headed for the next stretch with our day ending on a very long climb under a beautiful sunset. My second night sleeping on the ground wasn’t as bad as the previous one, so maybe I’ll just get used to it which would make my setup lighter.

The next morning we rode on the only roads I considered to be gravel-bike friendly, which didn’t last too long as we entered a canyon that had very Baja Divide vibes: dried arroyo crossings and lots of sand. We caught up with a group of four who were having a break under a tree and had plans to do the whole route in six days. Eventually we reached the store at Radium Springs and seeing the time it was, our group decided to cut the route short and head straight for Las Cruces, as we all had different commitments to go back to.

Once in town, we said our goodbyes after promising to come back the next year for the south loop, although I might come back any time for what I missed of the north, which includes a singletrack section I had been excited for. Thanks to all the people who make this event possible—it’s clear that there’s a lot of effort put into the DangerBird and keeping the route available in general, and I’m sure there’s even more work that goes on behind the scenes. All of it lets riders like us come out just to enjoy it.