Saturday, August 8, 2009

From Mesa to the great and marvelous town of Kelvin, az.

Sleepy morning in Superior, az

Three is a great number. This weeks ride marks the third week in a row I have done a century on Saturday. I don't intend to keep it up next week though as I am running the high country brevet a week from Friday so I figure I'll take it a bit easy and let myself have a Saturday to ride with the Brumbys.

Back to the ride though. At 3 am it was 75 degrees outside in East Mesa. That's a downright tolerable temperature to ride at and sure beats the 95 degrees of Wednesday's morning ride. Although I would actually be cold approaching Superior as the temperature dropped to 58 in one spot. It was extremely wierd to shiver in August outside in the Arizona desert.

I made pretty good time and made it up to Superior before sunrise. I didn't stop at the rest area, even though it looked open still despite what the cleaning lady said about it two weeks ago. I wanted a water bottle I could stick in the back of my jersey pocket though so went on to the circle k. I was only going to buy 2 but I learned I got a third one free if I bought two. So, one went into the bottles and me, one went in the jersey pocket, and one went into an inconspicuous spot on the side of the store for later.
One of 3 10% grades.

Last year, after my wife broke her leg and I had to give up on the brevet season, I rode a permanent I had set up that included the stretch of road south of Superior in it. The interesting part of this road is it includes a rather difficult hill. I hit this hill in the afternoon when I was tired and I am afraid the hill beat me and I had to walk the last mile.
As I rode south I remembered the last time I rode this hill and I feared it. I kind of was afraid to go down it my memories of it were so bad. How hard it had been to climb and how I had run out of water and food. The memory loomed large and hideous before me and I felt a strange desire to turn around.
By the time I got into the 10% grade climbing up to the ridge I was commited. Once begun there is no quitting. Not unless there is threat to life and limb. Discomfort is not a valid reason to DNF. Fear for life and safety is perfectly valid. Still as I topped the ridge and descended the backside I kept thinking about what goes down must come up. I could have easily topped 50 mph dropping down the 10% grades but my shimmy a few weeks ago has made me a more cautious descender for the present.

The mighty Gila River

Last week I had ridden over the Salt River just before it is sucked right out of it's streambed and into a million homes and golf courses. Today I would cross it's sister, which just a few miles downstream from Kelvin turns into dust and tamarisk. I suppose it goes down to satiate the thirst of Tucson or perhaps it too is sucked into the valleys faucets.

Florence - Kelvin highway

Kelvin, pronounced kehl-vin (for you scientists out there it is in fact named after the same man the kelvin temperature system is named after) is a small town. Why is there a town out on the middle of nowhere named after a British Lord? Well, apparently back in 1903 someone sent a flyer back to Britain pitching the wonderful untapped potential of the Winkelman area, calling it a heaven on earth. They portrayed the Gila River as being fully navigable and another Mississippi river. Lord Kelvin bought the pitch and invested heavily, which I don't believe gave him much return in the end. I wonder if he was surprised when he saw the Gila for what it is. I suppose in a land where we call dry streambeds rivers, the Gila is indeed a mighty river, though it is not a river you could run steamboats up and down. These days he has a little area with 5 or 6 houses named after him and all his dough got his name on a street sign. Still, he at least he has his name on a map. Oh and I suppose he has that temperature system that all scientists use named after him. Not too bad I suppose.

Nice little house on side of road in Kelvin

General store?

On the side of the road is what was probably an old general store at what used to be a stagecoach stop. Back when this highway was probably the best way to get from Florence to Winkelman and had more traffic this store was probably an oasis on a long trip up to the mines. I must confess I was expecting trailer homes and trash when I went down to the river but the area is home to a few nice houses which are kept well and have beautiful green grass. The area actually had a very nice feel to it.

Asarco Pit Mine

The climb out of Kelvin is a three part hill. Theres the bait, the catch, and the sting I figured as I climbed it. The bait puts you at 8-9% for a few miles and then levels off a bit to give you a little recovery. You pass the Asarco pit mine and it's towering hills of tailings on the right. Soon you pass it and work into the second part, you start to notice the hill as it works up to 6% for awhile and then you enter a little canyon and as you reach the end the road hits 10% for about 3/4 of a mile. I stand and work at breathing deeply as I stair stepper my way to the first ridge. Near the top one sees a sign advertising a 10% downhill grade, the innocent thinks "I made it!". But exhuberence turns to bitter disappointment as the downill lasts barely a half mile and then the final 2 miles of the hill come into view.
In the final two miles of the hill it holds a steady 10% grade for over a mile and half. Parts of it hit 11%. You give all you have to get to the next corner, cranking the cranks at very low cadences as you throw your entire weight onto the pedals in a sort of twisted painful dance. Turning the corner only reveals another section of the hill just as steep as what you have come through. You can either stop or move on. You are going slightly faster than a moderate jog as you climb on as your chest heaves in and out trying to sustain your bodies demand for oxygen but falling short. The spokes on my bike make slight noises as they seat themselves further, never having been put under such stress thus far.
The hill laughs at me. It mocks me. It taunts me and invites me to walk. It says after it squeezes the last desperate breath from my body it will make me gasp for mercy. On I climb. Corner after corner after corner the road winds up the canyon. Eventually I pass the first fake top which I fall for but I do not despair and toil on. Another quarter mile after that and I am rewarded with signs showing a safety pullout which marks the top of the hill which the mining country century pamphlet calls the "End of the World" to be the opposing bookend to the ride which begins with the climb to the "Top of the World" which I climbed a few weeks back"

The top of the "End of the World"

I actually mentioned climbing this hill to a truck driver friend of mine a year ago after I climbed it the first time. He said when he drove it he was driving a truck up it and as the grade increased the truck began to slow and kept slowing until nearing the top he was under 10 mph and was seriously wondering if his truck was going to make it, which it did, but it was close he said.

I won't kid you, I am as tired as I look.

It was a speedy ride back to Superior being mostly downhill and starting off with a rather nice 10% drop which I had climbed earlier in the morning. Traffic had picked up a bit but still was very sporadic. Theres just not a lot of people going from Winkelman to Superior or vice versa.
It took me all the way to Superior to get my legs to recover somewhat. They are actually still tired but they were able to move me along at a pretty good clip going back to Mesa, even if I did have to force it a bit. That's what training is for though I guess. If it had been an easy ride back to Mesa then I suppose that would have meant the ride didn't push me. I missed my original return eta by 7 minutes since I stopped for a quart of strawberry milk and a slice of Pizza. Still I ended up being back by 11:07 which isn't too shabby I suppose.
I climbed about 5200' rode 115 miles in 7 hours and 27 minutes. It was a good training ride. How twisted have I become to where I can call a 115 mile ride containing 10% grades of death on it a training ride?

Picket Post Mountain

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