Sunday, August 17, 2008

The High Country Brevet

RUSA (Randonneurs USA) decided to offer special medals to anyone who rode in a special 10th anniversary brevet held on the weekend of August 16th. So, having read about this in the newsletter I does me some thinkin. What could a fella do in Arizona to get a hold of one of these fine pieces of metal that for some reason cause people to do incredibly crazy things to obtain them. I didn't want to travel out of state. Most of the Brevet routes here in the Grand Canyon State would mummify you before you were done this time of year. So, I decided to volunteer to host a ride if Susan (our local Regional Brevet Administrator) would let me. The route I had selected was about the same elevation as this one but Susan it turns out already had a ready made route starting out of Showlow that had been sitting around for a long time. Well, I have to admit I didn't want to drive as far as Show Low at first but then I remembered how awesome the white mountains were and any brevet that rode through them was bound to be alright with me.

You see, my Dad and I used to camp in the White Mountains for a few days each summer when I was little so I was looking forward to a nice cool Brevet with maybe a few old memories refreshed. All told I didn't need to have my arm twisted too hard to convert over to Susan's point of view on this one. I mean, verdant fields, tall firs and pine trees, Quaking aspens, flocks of sheep grazing in high meadows on a 75 degree day? What more could a randonneur want? How about a nice hill you ask? Well, funny you should bring that up. It's not a route with insanity written in the elevation profile but still a healthy 6700 feet of climbing for the hardy soul. To put the candle on the cake is a peak altitude of 9100 feet just to remind folks there is another side to Arizona far above the parched desert

Of course, one of the main reasons I wanted to do this in Arizona was I couldn't afford to go out of state for this either in time or money. So I set up my base camp at Fools Hollow lake which was around 5 miles from the start line. It was a nice enough campground but I really wouldn't spend enough time in it to enjoy it a whole bunch. I got there late Thursday night and was off to get my receipt at Circle K before the sun was up.

The Rando Roost

When all was said and done I pedalled past the Days Inn where everyone would start the next morning right at 6 AM. One thing I had not noticed about the route beforehand was that the first 10 miles of it was dead on into the sun. I was glad I had my cycling cap on. I also secretly hoped that the good folks of Show Low had clean windshields and sharp eyes as these are not necessarily the best conditions to be riding in. The temperatures were perfect though. 60 degrees happens to be the border where I don't where arm warmers or leg warmers and with the tailwind I was neither hot nor cold. Just a perfect morning.
After the highway split a car passed me with a wide load sign on it with the lights flashing. Well, that got my attention and looking in the rearview mirror I saw what looked like a giant silo on the back of the truck heading down the road with the load hanging wide out into the shoulder. Well, I live under the motto of "caution is the better part of valor", and take good direction from the poem "here lie the bones of Jonothan Quay who died defending his right of way", so I had no qualms about getting off the shoulder and into the weeds for a few minutes while this guy passed me (he gave me a friendly honk as he passed). It was kind of funny though because just down the road this guy would have to manuever through the construction that had the road cut down to a single lane. I saw him disappearing over the hill as I rolled up to the front of the line of cars where the flag lady had us stopped. I had just missed the cutoff along with the 3 semi's that had just passed me.

I was kind of hoping she would wave me through anyway but since she didn't I took her picture and now she lives in infamy on my blog! I ended up waiting there for around 15 minutes while the guy with the big tube on his truck drove through and the oncoming traffic came back. I had been making really good time so I wasn't too concerned about missing the control and just enjoyed the view.

Not too far down the road in Vernon I bought some peanuts and chatted with the lady in the store and she mentioned the heatwave when I told her how great the temps were. 85 degrees where I hail from these days is a winter's day! Of course growing up in Flagstaff, 85 degrees was a hot day. I didn't chat for too long and was off. The first thing out of Vernon is a nice hill, and just so you don't feel bad about that big climb visible a mile or two ahead there are a few patches of beautiful Sunflowers to take your mind off it.

Sunflowers below Vernon
Sunflowers weren't the only beautiful thing along this stretch. I had originally kind of dreaded this first part of the ride because I was afraid it would just be Juniper wasteland. That open land covered in Juniper was also covered in very green grass. It made the landscape into a vast blanket of rolling green hills.

Looking back at the town of Vernon

Riding into Springerville featured even more green hills and from the high point of this leg (7500 feet) you could see miles upon miles of rolling green hills out into the distance. If it weren't for a hill blocking the view of Springerville it would have probably been visible 15 miles away.

Springerville is not a very big town but the interesting thing is, it is really the only thing happening in this corner of the state. To the east it is well over 100 miles to the nearest anything, to the south there is a gas station called Alpine (ok theres a restaurant and a few houses too). And of course, 50 miles to the west is Showlow. So Springerville small though it may be is the last sign of civilisation really.

So, at the last Circle K on the way out of town, I stood looking into the vast nowhere. A place so desolate that they put the stateline on the mileage signs as a point of interest. I mean, have you ever seen a kid come up to his Dad and say " Hey Dad! Why don't we go see the state line today? Can we please? Can we pretty please?!?!". Yet, there it is, the only place of note in an endless string of large rollers heading off into the middle of nowhere. I finished my Bananna and the remainder of my gatorade and headed out.

I, for some wierd reason thought that it was flat from Springerville to the state line. In reality it is a set of 200-300 foot high rollers. Down, and then a slow climb up, repeated several times. Still, the 13 miles seemed to go fairly quickly. Excepting the last few miles of course. That is kind of where the "Watched Pot Never Boils" effect kicks in. And yet, suddenly off in the distance, looking like a "chain up your tires area" sign, a mountain grades ahead sign, or some other kind of non-construction informational sign looms the welcome to New Mexico sign. I failed to see how it was any more enchanting than the Arizona side of the line. Perhaps it was supposed to be the change in pavement color.

Hey folks, what color is more enchanting than yellow?
I mean, yellow really says New Mexico to me :)
Personally I think their state symbol would have
livened the sign up a little more then a few peppers. Maybe both?
I better shutup now before my Sister inlaw from New Mexico reads this.
After the turn around things started taking a turn for the worse for me. First off I had been forgetting to purchase sun screen at the last two stops and I think I burned a bit in this section. Second, I was starting to develop exersize induced asthma which would continue to get worse for the next 50 miles or so. I managed to make pretty good time back to Springerville but from there it was a real battle. I remembered to stop at the Safeway since Circle K was fresh out of SunTan lotion. After safeway I rode by the Springerville hospital. It really isn't any bigger than an urgent care but a little known fact is that it has the only x-ray machine for hundreds of miles other than Showlow.
When I was a lot younger, my Dad went to Philmot Scout Ranch for some training and the whole family got to go. It is over by Taos New Mexico for those of you not in the know. I was goofing off on a rail waiting for dinner and fell and everyone thought I broke my wrist. Well, wouldn't you know it that the nearest X-Ray machine was over 100 miles away in Springerville Arizona! So I remembered that hospital amazingly enough, it hadn't changed much. Incidentally I only bruised the bone, so no bragging rights there.
The climb out of Springerville meanders through some farms and ranches as it gently climbes at 2% up to the foot of the mountains. The asthma was getting worse and as the oxygen in my system decreased my muscles fatigued a lot faster and I was cut down to going to 7 mph or so. By the time I was getting close to the base of the mountains the shady junipers trees on the side of the road were calling to me and I succombed. I lay down under the tree, finished my peanuts and drank my water all gone. I lay there for half an hour watching the clouds collect into thunderstorms south of where I was. The fierce headwind I had been fighting was blowing them east so I was safe for the present. Every once in awhile a cloud would cover the sun and things would cool off a bit. I had set my alarm for an hour in case I fell asleep but after half an hour I was ready to go again. I had one bottle of gatorade left to get over the hill.
The hill starts out at 8% and I had enough energy to get up that before I was once again forced down into my granny gear (which is very low due to a mountain bike cassette on the back) to weakly continue up the climb at 4-5 mph. I was very glad for that low gear. I typically don't use it but in situations like this, where I couldn't get enough oxygen in to run things, it was perfect. As long as I had time and fluids I could continue. Interestingly enough I ran out of gatorade before the top. I had thought about stopping at Sunrise but it was downhill from that turnoff to Hon Dah casino so I figured I would push it through.

The top of the hill seemed to never come as you cleared one fake top into the high meadows, but then continued up repeating hills through the grasslands bordered by spruce, fir, and aspen forests. I spied a large heard of sheep grazing down in the valley by the ski area and stopped to take a picture. I also was pleased to find a trailhead with facilities. Unfortunately the facilities had no water (well, there was a swampy pond next to it but I wasn't that desperate).

The other interesting thing near the trailhead was the sign declaring this wolf country. I didn't know they roamed this far west. I knew they lived over in the Blue Range primitive area to the east but did not know they were out here. Hopefully they would not think a lone Randonneur limping across the prairie would be a nice snack!

Wolf Country

Fir trees near the Railroad Grade Trail
(you would think they could come up with a more interesting name than that, I mean, for goodness sakesall the boring gated communities have more scenic names than that)

After the stop I had around 15 miles downhill to Hon Dah. It is amazing how long 15 miles downhill can last when you have no power and can't breath. Outside of McNary I was limping along wishing I could get a full breath but rather having to take little tiny breaths to keep from coughing. It was around here that I remembered that last time I had this Claritin seemed to clear it up. So, rolling into McNary I stopped at the store. Kind of a Mom and Pop, sell the fisherman worms and beer type place but they did have Claritin, PowerAde, and Motrin. I sat on the ground out front and downed all three.
While sitting there a small group of Apache children came across the highway to the store on their bikes. They were walmart bikes but these kids were blissfully unaware, it was a bike and that was freedom to them. They got something out of the store and came out and started riding through the mud puddles. It was kind of cool to listen to them. The Apache language is almost musical to listen to I think. They reminded me a lot of my kids. Anyway, from here it was few miles down to Hon Dah and by the time I got out of Hon Dah I had turned a corner.

This is what the back of one of those flashy, led display
casino signs looks like.
From Hon Dah I could breathe deeply and my limp along sub 10 mph pace became a healthy 30 mph pace as I cruised down the hill towards Lakeside and then Showlow only being stopped by a few lights. The last leg went quick but I was a bit concerned by frequent lightning strikes I saw over in the vicinity of the traffic light we turn at in Showlow. I got there before the storm did and was Ordering my dinner and end receipt for proof of time finished at Arbys when the sky let loose. It poured, then Hailed, then poured some more, and then hailed and Poured. I had carried my rain jacket all day only to have the rain start after I had finished the ride.
Of course, I still had to get back to camp, so I finished my Giant Arby's sandwich, my large curly fry, and my large orange vanila swirl shake, and put on my rain jacket. By golly I brought this thing and I was going to use it! First thing I noticed was that unlike a few minutes ago when it had been 80 it was now 49 degrees, I paused, but then determined that it was only a few miles to the camp ground. As I left the parking lot the hail started up again and around the corner I kept hitting fog banks. It was several wipes of the sunglasses later that I remembered my cap bill was up and that if I just flipped it down I wouldn't be getting water on my glasses.
I pedaled through several streams up to my pedals and past a golf course white with hale that had collected out on the greens. Soon I was in the state park and almost to the campground. Pulling in I noticed a strangely familiar truck. It seems that Susan had decided to camp too and had setup at the next camping spot over next to the family that seemed to enjoy being noisy late at night. I showered and then headed out to get the goodies for everyone tomorrow. I was back for a well deserved early bedtime at 8:30.
Incidentally, 6 miles into my commute this morning my derailleur cable broke right by the derailleur. How is that for timing? I managed to use Mike Sturgills stick in the derailleur method to get me at least three usable gears using the front for the rest of the Commute. Tonight I am off to Performance Bike for a new cable.

The following are some pictures of other Randonneurs I took on the way while I drove support.

Susan riding in front of the Sunflowers. (There was
a much thicker patch earlier but I missed the shot)

Susan Approaching the first hill of any size on the course. I originally was taking a picture of Bruce taking a picture. The picture of Bruce didn't turn out as he put his camera away right when I snapped the picture so I decided rather than putting a picture up here of what appears to be Bruce touching his butt, I would Put a picture I didn't even mean to take, evaluating the picture of Bruce I noticed in the upper left corner of the picture was a pretty good shot of Susan and the hill which would look good on here.

Here is a shot of Tom Baker and Kris Kaufman having just climbed
into the part of the hills where the Aspen Trees start at around 8400 feet
Here is a shot of Mick McCoombs just below where the previous picture was shot.
I was hoping to get the picture of the tandem next to the sign but this works too. It is a lot harder to take pictures of moving cyclists than I had thought.


1 comment:

Tom said...


A nice narrative and photos. Your experiences and observations have provided additional enjoyment beyond our own ride experiences. Thanks for driving support the whole way.

Tom B.