Sunday, September 20, 2009

Velo Migrant (Marana to Mexico and back)

Life's journeys are varied and many. Each is a passage of time and distance whether it be metaphoric or physical. There are things to see along the way, there are obstacles in our path, and there are things internally we may struggle with. Some journeys are unpopular with the current voting public, and as a result illegal. Mine was a legal journey my friends, but I'd be surrounded by folks trying to stop other's journeys which weren't so legal buzzing about the border like bees around a garbage can.

My journey of course was not so much about sightseeing as it was about obstacles. Though it was long it was still a training ride, albeit a ride with a crew. Bruce was my crew today and I must say he was as good a host as he was a crew chief, as there was dinner waiting when I got to his house Friday night (he called me on the phone right as the guy at McDonald's in Catalina was handing me my food which of course I didn't eat as I had a great dinner waiting 15 minutes down the road).


Dinner was excellent and we discussed the morning ride until late so we decided we would push the start time back to 3 AM so we could get an extra hour of sleep or so. I know, I know, you all think I wussed out of the 2 AM start and so I'll own up to it, yes I did wuss by going to 3 AM and I enjoyed every minute of it. I actually woke up a few times in the short time I had to sleep. But I managed to get enough sleep in the end.

With a 2:30 am wake up I was just able to get out the door at 3 AM. We had all the gear packed in Bruce's car, I had my bike setup, and most importantly, I was hardly carrying anything since I was riding supported which is a new thing for me. It was kind of nice not having jersey pockets full of everything I could need but rather had it all in the car. The plan was I would head out and then Bruce would follow after awhile.

There is something about night riding that is just awesome. You head out into the darkness, all is quiet (not a lot of people up at 3AM), the sky is dark and the stars are bright and it is just you and your thoughts. As I left Bruce's neighborhood a shooting star went overhead and I could see Orion and the pleaides shining brightly in the sky. Yes, it was just me, the mighty hunter, and the occasional car as I sped down Tangerine road to I-10.

I was making good time even if there was a slight headwind. I kept thinking cars approaching from behind were Bruce but they weren't. A Sheriff's deputy passed me just before Picture Rocks and nearly hit a dog down the road. I knew the dog was there so I growled at it on the way by to let it know I was a predator and not prey.

Just after that I entered Saguaro National Monument and I have to tell you there is not a lot to see there at 4 AM in the dark. Going down into the farms alongside Sandario road I would hear machinery noises off to the sides of the road and wondered what they were until I realized it was a well. It was amazing how far away you can hear those things at night. I remember hearing one and being amazed how long it took to get to it and pass it. This section of road got a little long in the end and I determined I would dig out the mp3 player after Robles Jct.

Baboquivari Peak

Bruce caught up to me just before I turned off Sandario. He took my order and my feed bottle then took a picture of me and I was off into the night. He waited a bit and then leapfrogged me to catch me down the road with a filled water bottle. The shoulder of the road heading down to Robles Jct was littered with thumb sized rocks. The kind that eat the sidewalls of your tires for breakfast. Fortunately I had a really bright light and I could dodge them. I had to look pretty funny with my lights turning this way and that in a seemingly random fashion to anyone passing by.

After I passed Robles Jct/Three Points the sky started to get a bit of light on the horizon. It also marked the spot where I put my mp3 player on and I would occasionally burst into enthusiastic song which I thought was only being heard by the trees and field grass. Apparently, sound can travel a surprising distance at night and Bruce commented that it was so quiet he could hear me from a half mile away singing my heart out. At least he said it wasn't bad. I guess if it was though I could take glad company in the screech owl that flew over my head earlier in the morning.

Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge

Between 5-8:30 I got passed by 1 civilian and about 20 or so border patrol vehicles. The border patrol were always moving fast. They have a lot going on I am sure. It was a pretty lonely road though. It averaged about 10 - 15 minutes between vehicles going by and much longer than that at times. As the sun rose you could see the telescope domes on top of Kitt Peak shine in the morning rays and in the distance Baboquivari peak would grow as we approached and eventually passed it.

I stopped to switch out my front wheel and the light that was on it with a normal front wheel and also took off all my reflective gear and put it in Bruce's car. I could really get used to this riding supported thing. I had Bruce fill a water bottle and we came to the conclusion that big hefty water jugs that you can barely lift are not very easy to use to fill small water bottles. It's for discovery's like that you hold these little practice rides before race day.

Bruce carefully filling a bottle

This part of the state gets quite a bit more rain than the other part of the state. The closer you get to the border the more the landscape turns into green rolling hills and grassland. Most of the first half of my route was a gradual climb and this end of the route was getting up around 3500-4000 feet. There were spots along the road that were 58 degrees which were almost chilly. It's a pain that those temperatures wouldn't last the day though.

Bruce's Bike Mobile

As I finally got to the turnoff to Arivaca and passed it I was surprised at how much climbing there was between that turn and Sasabe. There were a lot of large rollers and each one was taller than the last. Add to this a headwind and it took me the better part of an hour to cover the 12 miles. Bruce was going to ride a bit with me so he sped on ahead to get changed so he could ride back with me. I enjoyed the ride in the cool morning air, riding an undulating road through green fields with clouds dotting the deep blue sky here and there.

The road to the border is abuzz with border patrol

Even with the headwinds and being uphill I was able to maintain an average just below 17 mph up to the border. I was happy with that. I made a quick visit to the border upon arriving in Sasabe as I didn't see Bruce's car at the store (looked right when I should have looked left). I got a picture of the steel wall and the gate, waved good morning to the customs officials sitting around and headed back to Sasabe.

Old school bus, now a storage bin and shade.

I'd say Sasabe is a one horse town except Bruce took a picture of a lady with two horses so I guess that would be a lie. Sasabe has a store and a border patrol compound (yes, it's a compound surrounded by high chainlink fence and pretty rugged barbed wire on the top) and a few other buildings. Not a very big town but it almost has a warlike frontline type feel to it. Everything is fenced off and there are border patrol vehicles all over. Bruce tells me there isn't even a paved road on the other side of the border. It's very interesting to see all the effort and power that is centered on this very isolated and small border crossing.

Bruce's mighty trek

I sat in the shade of the school bus while Bruce bought some soda's from the lady in the store who said we could park here. I have to admit, for training purposes I probably shouldn't have stopped so long, but it felt nice to sit in the green grass and rest. It was also nice to have someone to chat up on the way back to the Arivaca turn. Bruce had originally planned on riding with me to Arivaca but he got a call and had to cut things short to get back home.

Coming In

Going Out

The great wall of Sasabe

I have to say it was really nice having Bruce along to chat with on the way back to the Arivaca turn. These long rides can get a little monotonous at times and having someone to talk to makes all the difference. With a tailwind at our backs we made pretty quick time back to the turn. After a quick picture Bruce was off to head back to his car and I was off to Arivaca.

Sasabe with Baboquivari peak in the background

The climb back to Arivaca was enjoyable. You cross the grassland, dropping into a couple of low Cieniga's and then meandering back into a valley until you arrive at the small town of Arivaca. Small though it is it is quite a bit larger than Sasabe. Most of the folk around are ranchers although there are people sitting on the side of the road peddling various wares to people who pass through (whch weren't many when I was there). I stopped to take a picture of my favorite bar. It's my favorite as It was the only warm place I could find when I was freezing from gale force winds and rains in the 400k ride in 2006.

Paul's favorite bar.

I called Bruce and he said he'd just gotten to his car and he would come back and meet me somewhere between there and the highway. Being the cautious type I bought a pack of gummy bears and a rice crispy just in case. I also bought a small gatorade bottle to use for extra water since I would be riding without support once Bruce met up with me one last time. You can't be too cautious in Arizona, even in September.

I was almost to the highway before I met up with Bruce. Apparently he had run into a nice custom's lady who wanted to show him her shotgun. Bruce of course is already spoken for by a member of our brave and vigilant armed forces so army trumps customs I'm afraid. I am sure she will get over it in time. Besides, why fall for a girl with a shotgun when you can fall for a girl with a grenade launcher? I mean really what was she thinking?

Thar be squalls ahead

I remember dooming myself by telling Bruce it would be an easy 75 miles back to his house. After all, it was downhill most of the way, and oh, there was that tailwind. No, it shouldn't be any problem at all. Besides there was thunder and a raincloud over there which should cool things off. Ah, the speculation of the naive and innocent.

The tailwind lasted for about 4-5 miles until I approached the storm and I got a pretty stiff headwind. Worse than that the sun beat down on me and the temperatures had risen into the nineties. The storm and it's precious shade were moving away from me like a sugar coated carrot hung out in front of my nose just out of reach. The thought that not a mile or two ahead there was blissfully cold water falling on the pavement was a little irksome. At one point I could see the edge of the shade on the road move away about as fast as I was moving towards it.

I eventually reached it. I never did reach the rain in that storm though. I felt about 3 drops. For a door prize I did get to feel the spray off my wheels on wet pavement which was nice and cool. The storm gave me a nice tailwind for about 4-5 miles and then I was back into a fierce headwind and pretty oppressive heat. I was doing good on fluids but boy it seemed hot out there in the shadeless brush.

I spotted a water bottle standing on the road out here and wondered if Bruce had left it (he had). I still had plenty of water so I didn't stop since I didn't have a place to put it, in retrospect though I should have stopped and chugged it down. A rule to live by is you never pass up a chance at water in the desert.

In this stretch was where I had to pull my enjoy the journey trick. When I push hard and it feels like I am suffering and I am getting depressed I pull this trick. It is where I say to myself that at this point I don't care about going fast. I am just going to slow down and enjoy the ride. This is particularly helpful in heat I have found. Survival in many situations goes to the laziest. The one who uses his energy to sustain life as opposed to speed. Spinning easy, sitting back and resting the back, let the body cool down a bit and slow the old ticker down. In the end I think this ends up with a faster ride as you don't burn out your body, but allow it to rest, regroup and come back stronger.

Hot, but cooling down quickly.

I got to Robles Jct and bought 4 litres of water. One of which I drank, one that I poured over my head and jersey. and 2 that went into the water bottles while I chatted up some teenagers who asked about my bike and told me about a friend that could ride 60mph on their road bike down the freeway. I don't think they caught on to what I meant when I said I had got it up to 50 mph going down a hill and they were ignorantly trying to one up me. Anyway, it was an amusing break from the heat. On the way in I had thought of either calling Bruce or waiting for sunset but after cooling down I decided I could do the 20 miles to Picture Rocks and then re-assess from there.

I slowly dried off riding up to Sandario road and was just starting to heat up again when a rainstorm formed over my head and started raining on me. It was very pleasant and led to one of the more pleasant moments on the ride with the green shoulders of the road, the dropping temperatures, the green fields and the tucson mountains off to the right. The rain eventually stopped but I had shade up until I topped the hill past kinney road and was heading down to Picture Rocks. I was plenty warm again by the time I did get to Picture Rocks but the storm had made much of the journey far more pleasant than it otherwise would have been.

Sandario Road

Did I mention the headwind I had up to this point? I'd had pretty steady headwinds up Sandario and they got pretty fierce leaving Picture Rocks. They just continued to build as I went on. It was hot and windy but I knew I was in the home stretch. I still had the 6 mile hill up Tangerine to deal with but I was riding amazingly strong for having ridden 190 miles and found I was able to keep a good strong pace climbing Tangerine road. I softpedalled down Dove Mtn Blvd to cool down a bit on the way back to Bruce's house.

I rang his door bell but no one answered. It was kind of funny, I had a brief moment of alarm as I hadn't planned on Bruce not being there but then I remembered I had his cell number and was just dialing it when he opened the door. After I had a big bowl of ice cream and a quick shower we headed out to have a big dinner at the local Chinese restaurant. It was tasty and I think I drank about 20 glasses of sprite

I ended up with 11 hours and 40 minutes of riding time and 13.5 hours elapsed time. My fastest 300k time to date is 14 hours and 15 mintues and this ride was about 315k so that wasn't too bad I think. The riding pace was about right, I just need to cut the time off the bike.

A special thanks to Bruce for driving support and the use of his couch and shower not to mention all of his time.

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