Saturday, April 26, 2008

Paul's deep dark secret.

One night as my wife was heading out the door for some sanity shopping as I put the kids down to bed she announced I had a package sitting on the front step. Could it be my super secret bicycle weapon? Yes, I would need to get the kids to sleep first before getting started. Soon they were asleep and under the cover of darkness I stole to the garage to begin my dark labors. The patient was my roadbike. I hung her up by the ropes I use to work on her. I removed the back wheel and deftly removed the rear cassette. Making sure that no one was looking I installed something every roadie would look at with shock and horror.

If you have read my last few entries you will remember one particular hill that made me bow in abject humiliation. The hill that made me do the walk of shame and battered my thirsty soul. Since then I had been thinking of things I could do for vengeance. Losing weight was an option but not a complete solution (I am down about 10 pounds since my last brevet but I am still in the big guy class and not the puny little but fast climber class). No, we would need to attack this problem from two fronts, and so with the performance bike website up I found my deep dark secret and purchased it. A part that looked so innocent, yet, used in the wrong place could make road cyclists everywhere gasp in horror. Yes, on the backside of my bike, attached to the rear hub, was a Mountain Bike Cassette. It has an 11 tooth high gear, which is the same as your average road cassette, but the low gear is 32 teeth of hill eating fury! At first the idea seemed preposterous but having looked at Sheldon Brown's website I did see that people out there do offer cassettes with lower gears than your average road cassette, and a few posts on mentioned that it might be possible to even go as high as 32 teeth on the rear with a 105 long cage derailleur(apparently Shimano's specs are very conservative). Let me tell you it is possible, albeit a bit uncouth in the fashion sensitive world of the road cyclist.

My first impressions are that the gears are a little farther apart but if I switch around between the big chainring and the middle one I can find the sweet spot usually. Using Sheldon Brown's gear calculator I only have 2 gears that kind of overlap which is better than your average road cassette on a triple. Best thing of all is the chain no longer skips (the old cassette was really old). So, I have been commuting on this thing and it has been good, but the whole purpose for this cassette is to allow me to tackle 10% + grades without driving the heartrate above 82% percent or so, so I don't go anaerobic. So, Friday morning an opportunity to take a hilly ride occured.

I would warm up on the long 4% grade up the front side of Usery Pass. I laughed at it's insolence. I smirked as I road the whole way up in my middle chainring with my heartrate in the lower end of my aerobic zone and me with the freedom to push it more without having to worry about shifting down. After the long descent down the backside I would then make my way over to a hill known as King Kong that used to be the coup d'etat of El Tour de Phoenix before they changed the route to go up the backside of usery pass which is a longer hill, but only a 4% grade over 4 miles. Kong is much shorter, yes much shorter, but it has a half mile section of 10% grade. Yes, fair readers, 10% grade, that type of hill which spanked me on the climb out of Winkelman and made me ride back to the car with my tale between my legs. I wondered how much of a help this new cassette would be when faced with such a foe. I arrived at the bottom of the hill and looked up the long and steep climb up to the Central Arizona Project canal high above me where the sump under the Salt River pushes the water up the inside of the mountain to emerge in the canal at the top. I would climb over 260 feet in the next mile and most of that would be in a steep half mile section of 10% grade.

Well, fair readers, I am pleased to say as I shifted down, down, down into that Franken Granny gear, my heartrate slowly began to rise. I climbed on, we were pushing to the middle of the aerobic range, and still it climbed. Around the middle I heard my heartrate alarm go off, but the heartrate seemed to peak at a beat or two over the conservative value I had assigned the alarm to. I was still climbing at a sustainable heartrate. That means, with this gear, I could climb 10% grades over a fairly long distance without going anaerobic and burning out. After topping out I found that I still had energy where I usually was gasping for breath and then relied on the downhill to get me home. I pedaled stongly forward and quickly sped home in time trial mode delighted at having so much energy at the end of this ride where before I had been weak. So, next time I see that hill behind Winkelman, he will not be so lucky. I shall stare him in the face and say- "Hallo...My name is Indigo Montoya, you made me walk, prepare to die!".

Sunday, April 20, 2008

A day in the life of......

Here is where it all begins ( at least since D'Net broke her leg and I have had to strart driving part way). This is the Gilbert park and ride. From here it is a quick jaunt through scenic downtown Gilbert down to the consolidated canal.

Ah, the beautiful bank of the consolidated canal. I don't know if this shortens my route or not but it sure is more quiet.

More consolidated canal. I take a lot of pictures of this 2 miles of my commute because it is actually maybe a little pretty.
Auugh! Town Manager-Hey mayor, I know how we can really tick those roadie bicyclists off, lets build a bike path to the middle of nowhere and then force them to ride on the dirt with their pretty little racing tires!

Thenk Yuh, Thenk Yuh very muuuuch.

Heading under the 202 and into.....More Chandler.

A hot and Tired Randonneur crawls out of the desert, throat coughing up dust, and lo! Is it a mirage? Out in the distance there is that savior of many an Arizona Randonneur, that oasis in the desert, the local watering hole, the ever present Circle K.

Ok, back to real pictures from my commute., Yes, the now defunct SOMA healthfood cafe has been redeveloped as the "Heart Attack Grill". Featured on the menu are the Angioplasty triple beef quad cheese ultimate burger, the fried chicken stent surprise, the triple bipass bacon burger, the My-O-Cardial infarction fry basket, and the Chest Pain fried cheese sticks to name a few.

Great place to do business right? I always get a bit of a chuckle when passing this sign.

And, lastly we arrive at our destination in the shadow of the radio towers on South Mountain.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Triple chainrings of fury vs the Giant Gila Monster

Well, with missing out on the 400k and thereby also the 600k I found the first possible weekend I could ride a permanent now that my wife was a bit more mobile. Hmm, what permanent to ride? Well, how about the latest one I made? Yes, fair readers, it would be "San Pedro and the Gila Monster", a 250k (155 mile) ride with 6000 feet of climbing (TopoUSA puts it much higher and mapmyride a bit lower but I think doesn't account for the rollers in the Winkelman stretch). I have to say, though it was kick your butt hard (Mike Sturgill would probably shrug it off but being mortal I found it quite challenging especially the hill at mile 110 with mutliple 10%+ grades lasting for around 8 miles. Still the scenery was epic so what more could a fellow want in a ride? Well without further ado, why don't we write a little more about this ride?
I sped off to Florence at 5:10 to get there in time for a 6 AM start time. I had emailed the Florence Chief of Police (who is very prompt at returning emails by the way) asking about safe parking and he said just south of the Police station would do. So, at 5:50 AM I was there and setting up. I got to Circle K just before 6 AM but the line in there was long so I didn't actually get stamped in until 6:02 and then I was off. About a mile out of town I reached back for my MP3 player to help with the long slow slog up to Tucson. Well, I must admit I was a bit surprised to find it not in my pocket. Worse than that my memory now checked in and said it was on top of the car. Hmmm, nope, can't turn back, I could need every minute today. So devoid of music I set off up the 40 mile hill to Tucson, I would have climbed 2000 feet by the time I reached the top.
The wildflowers in this section started out a bit droopy but as I climbed they perked up. There were tons of yellow flowers and mixed in with these were purple flowers along the roadside. The really impressive wildflower displays would come later in the ride though.
Everytime I ride this section I see these crosses (I call it seven cross wash) and I think on the difference between these poor souls and Tom Mix. Tom Mix has a monument and a rest stop dedicated to him. These seven people have nothing. I wonder what their story is. Was it a family? Was it a youth group? Was it a van of illegal immigrants being smuggled? There is no answer. But these crosses represent what must have been a terrible accident and there must be a good number of people who lost someone dear in this mishap.
Pressing on I know I have around 13 miles left to the top. The bright side is after you pass Tom Mix things slowly start to get more scenic as you go. Mountains come in on the right and the road, getting bored with going straight for the last 25 miles, starts to curve and develop rollers. Soon you are looking at power lines 10 miles away that mark the summit, you are almost there. And then, suddenly you are at the top. Through plodding along mile after mile you have reached the top several hours after having started the hill.
Did I mention that I fought headwinds all the way? I got a break after turning down towards Catalina for 4 miles to get my card signed and load up on banana bread and whatever sounded good (the real bananas were nasty looking so I passed on those). At this point I still had my arm and leg warmers on as it was still cold. The circle K employee and I had a talk about weathermen and how they never should be trusted, we got on this topic when she mentioned the wind must be kicking my butt. To which I replied the weatherman had forecast 4-5 mph winds, not the winds around 20mph we were seeing. I would see a lot more of those winds heading up to Oracle and more often than not I was in the granny gear of my triple. I had determined today with all the climbing I was going to spin easy on the hills if I could. This strategy turned out well. Somewhere on the long climb up into Oracle (and it is long, frustratingly long), I started getting excersize induced asthma, my chest tightened up. I sometimes get this down around Tucson and I can't figure it out. So it was a bit difficult to get oxygen down to those muscles as the hill would taunt me. "Here Paul" it would say, "why don't you rest a bit......Ha ha suckerrrrr! Here's another hill for you!". One section in here was just carpeted in wildflowers which made the taunting of the hill a little easier to bear. Seeing the biosphere 2 sign I figured I must be getting there but no. Oracle is not situated on a flat on top of the hill, no. It is on the side of the hill so you keep climbing even when you are in town. On up I went until at last, suddenly as if in a dream it appeared, could it be a phantom? An angel of mercy?

Yes sir, that's my baby, no sir, I don't mean maybe......Hooray! I'm so happy I'm Cuckoo for Cocoapuffs!

Just when I thought the hill was going to go on forever, theres the signpost up ahead, I was entering the descending zone and a good opportunity to build my cushion on time (I bought myself an hour going into the Catalina control). Down I sped. This descent seemed to go on forever. I just kept going down. You lose around 2500 feet going down this hill and it is beautiful and wondrous to behold! The beauty of the San Pedro river valley was unfolded to my view as I sped down the hill. The river bottoms were a verdant green that slowly grew closer and closer until at long last I pulled into Mammoth.

During my wonderful descent it had occured to me that perhaps this excersize induced asthma could be an allergy so I stopped in at Circle K for some Bnadryl and some Aleve (my back was a little sore). The Benadryl actually helped. It didn't completely go away but I could take a little deeper breaths now. It would be 20 miles to Winkelman from here and most of them downhill. Just leaving Mammoth I stumbled on something that made me pause and laugh inside just a bit.

Jesus is Loo? and who is this Black Shee?

Yes fair readers, this abandoned gas station has been turned into a church. On the signs in back one can read "God's filling station" on the other side of the door it reads "Tune up service, Sunday Church 11 AM". A rather creative use of what was probably the cheapest building in town to buy. Anyway, it brought a smile to my face.

Moving on down the road I encountered some rollers but they tended downhill and the shoulder was good so life was good (which was good because I had not yet recovered completely from Oracle hill). Around 10-15 miles down the road the shoulder decreased in quality and I got to play my little game of riding in the lane until I saw a car approaching in the mirror and then I would duck onto the shoulder for a bit.

A dust devil on farm south of Dudleyville

Stopping for what I thought would be a good picture I got an even better picture. Here in the southwest we don't have tornados, but we do have their little brother, the dust devil. While I was stopping to take the picture one sprang up and was sucking paper and garbage far up into the sky. I was glad I had my camera out. Soon the weakened devil came up and buffeted me a bit and then I was off again.

Fair citizens of Dudleyville, you may sleep safely and soundly knowing the "GREEN LANTERN" is here to protect you from the evil......hmmm, The dastardly....uh.... the terrible boredom! Yes the terrible Mr. Boredom!

Yes, fair readers, Green Lantern road, and even better, the road leads down Green Lantern wash (it is even written that way on the topo maps of the area) which was named about 100 years ago so DC Comics better watch out for copyright infringement.

This is the way we smile in headwinds, smile in headwinds, crap who am I kidding, these headwinds suck.

I thought of photoshopping pink floyds flying pig into this but I was lazy. Winkelman Ladies and gentleman, the fair city of Winkelman.

The mighty Gila, now for the monster.

Just before entering Winkelman proper you cross the Gila River, which although it is a good sized river by Arizona standards (yeah I hear you people from wetter climates snicker, but considering we also call dry sandy washes rivers this things the mississippi). Around the turn of the century people interested in getting British investers to invest in the mines up here described this thing as fully navigable and made it out to be a much larger river. They got the investors but I can't help but think they might have been a little disappointed in seeing the river.

A pretty set of cliffs next to the road.

A caboose in the fair city of Kearny.

Yep, that is just the appetizer to this hill. At least the flowers are pretty.

About 10 miles out of Winkelman there is about 8 miles of quadburning, triple chainring eating, expletive extracting, 11% grade hill, cyclists in this part of the country call it the "End of the World". At least it had pretty wildflowers though. Still, this is not necessarily what you want to face 110 miles into a ride which has already had a good amount of climbing in it.

The pits of despair

At the bottom of the hill you are looking up at these high piles of rock that have been extruded from the mine thinking that you must be climbing some hill to get to the top of that. Oh, the things we tell ourselves to take comfort, but soon you are distressed to see you are looking down on those huge pile of rocks and you are now over the pit and there is still a good sized hill before you.

Up up and away, on my beautiful, my beautiful. Aw crap, I'm not going to lie to you I stopped to take this picture to get my heartrate down.

I tell myself the hill can't go on much farther and the grade has relaxed a bit so I can't be too far from the top. Ha ha. This thing goes on forever and pretty soon it gets steep again and I am toiling to just get the pedals to turn in a really slow cadence in my granny gear (and I have a triple chainring so that is a pretty low gear). Just when I think there is nothing left I see a sign up ahead that says 10% grade 1 mile. Awesome, wait a second, whats this 1 mile crap? I climb this big freaking stupid hill and it is only a 1 mile descent? Then I crested and found something quite disturbing. Yes, we had a descent but across the canyon I could see the road twisting among the pinnacles climbing at what appeared an unnatural steepness. Yes, indeedy, the worst was yet to come fair readers. The sign meant that the 10% downhill grade was in a mile from where I was. I climbed about halfway up it, but with my heartrate through the roof I ended up getting off the bike. It takes a big man to tell people he cries, and it takes a big Randonneur to say he walked. I did both (Ok, I didn't really cry but seeing as I had ran out of water I really couldn't waste moisture on tears anyway). My heartrate was still up in the aerobic zone as I walked my bike the last half mile to the top it was so steep. This was top of gates pass steep(or King Kong steep for you riders in the valley) sustained over a much longer distance. As I walked in the early evening shadows I heard the desert birds cry and looked at the beautiful wildflowers in the coolness of the shade. I had worked up a lot of heat climbing this hill and the breeze felt wonderful(yeah the winds finally died down around the bottom of the hill, so I only had 100 miles of headwinds). I was thirsty and I was hungry. I should have topped my bottles off at Kearny. But for the moment all was at peace and life slowed down for a bit.

At the top it was downhill to Florence with only a few places requiring pedalling. This was a good thing as I was REALLY thirsty and REALLY hungry and it was no good eating food without water as my mouth was seriously gummy at this point. I managed to roll into Superior at 6 pm with an hour to spare on the control time. I am proud to say I ate and drank like a pig and sat and talked to one of the locals who told me about Lance Armstrong and the Race Across America climbing Devil's canyon just east of town. I smiled a little inside. Still it must have been something to watch as those riders that had been riding since the west coast faced the daunting climb ahead of them. As 6:30 rolled around I checked my light and it looked great, and I was off. The shoulder left a little to be desired until I was down by the arboretum and then, I was in heaven. I had a 15 ft wide shoulder of baby butt smooth pavement all to myself. This lasted to the top of Gonzales pass where I discovered my light was broken. My taillight worked though so I pressed on. The shoulder going down Gonzales was bad so I took the lane, seeing as the speed limit was 45 anyway I was only going a little slower than traffic, still I did get a honk or two (there was no way I was going to make a 30 mph descent in fading twilight on a shoddy shoulder). I was to Florence Jct. in no time and as I proceeded south the light faded and as darkness descended I could see my moonshadow so I would at least have the moon.

I know the shoulder here well and it is smooth and wide almost all the way into Florence. Also I must add that one of the reasons I am not a lasik candidate is my overly large pupils. So I was able to see largish obstacles on the shoulders and avoid them. I also was irritated that the stupid contruction people put out their signs in such a way that you are forced onto the obnoxious rumble strip to get around them. One benefit of doing this section without the light was the stars. They were beautiful. I actually didn't have to ride more than 40-45 minutes in the dark so it wasn't too bad. I wound up at the Florence Control around 8:27 and was pleased on returning to my car to find my MP3 player waiting for me on the roof. Now to order my t-shirt (yeah, running low on event t-shirts I decided I am going to use to make t-shirts for all my permanents).

Apache leap glowing in the sunset (and the shoulder to beat all shoulders)

Saturday, April 5, 2008

El Tour de Poor and Busy Paul

Phoenix? I knew I shouldn't have taken that left turn in Albequerque
Well, I originally intended to ride out to Butcher Jones beach on Saguaro Lake, I slept in though so at 6:30 I wouldn't be able to get out there and back by 9. I would have to settle for the Salt River at Water Users just below the dam for Saguaro Lake. Heading out the door it was chilly. I probably could have used leg warmers but I did OK without them. Heading up Usery Pass I was keeping over 10 mph all the way up and I felt really good about that. Coming back over the other way though I would realize that there was a strong wind coming up the hill this morning so I cheated I guess. Descending the other side I would see that somebody had painted "Brumbies" on the road in Tour De France fashion. The Brumbies are a racing team that train in the east valley. I figured there must be a race or something going on today (I realize now I was being extremely clueless). It was a beautiful morning and pedalling through the rollers to the bluepoint bridge was fun as it usally is. The cliffs and river were beautiful with the wildflowers blooming and the shadows of the early morning sun.
El Rio Salado
I took a couple of pictures at Water Users. Water Users is the location that the tubers get dropped off during the summer to start their binge drinking and dehydration party as they tube down the Salt River. Perhaps this would explain why I had the "Barney the Boozehound" song from the Simpsons Parody of Mary Poppins stuck in my head this morning even if they don't start the tubing until Memorial Day.
Your's truly courtesy of 10 second timer man.
On the way back I would see an easy up shade tent setup on the side of the road and then something suddenly clicked. This was El Tour de Phoenix weekend and the lead peloton was likely not too far behind! I kept expecting to see the peloton come up from behind me, and me feeling like PeeWee Herman as I road along on my bike with headlight, taillight, huge seatbag, and all the other dorky stuff I use as a randonneur. I kept seeing people on the side of the road looking to cheer on the riders and at the top a makeshift stop for.... the Brumbies of all people (hope they don't get a vandalism ticket seeing as they kind of gave themselves away having a sign that says "The Brumbies" being displayed about half a mile from where they painted it on the road).

Super Master Rando Ninja finds a new mask!

I found a skier's balaclava on the side of the road. Figuring my kids would get a kick out of it I picked it up.

The trip home from Usery pass was fairly uneventful other than the stiff headwind most of the way.