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)


D'Net said...

All I can say is better you than me. I'd never make that even wthout the broken leg. Glad you had fun, my fair rider!

momtocsmki said...

I'm glad your MP3 player was still around after your great adventure--Come to think of it, I'm glad you were still around too!

Love ya bro!

Bruce's Bike Blog said...

Once again, Pablo--Bravo!