Saturday, February 27, 2010

Beautiful Day and a 300k Brevet

My last blog entry was all about rain and I think it worked as the weather was pretty much as good as it gets Saturday. To keep up with a longstanding tradition of not getting enough sleep before 300k's I was surprised that my Parents decided they wanted to go see my daughter in her play Friday night instead of the next week. I ended up getting 6 hours sleep which isn't bad actually as I was able to get good sleep earlier in the week unlike years past where the kids wouldn't let me get a decent night's sleep the whole week before these things. In addition my training over the past month has been terrible. I missed a whole week due to having to work all night a few nights and a persisting depression has made it a struggle to get on the bike lately. This past week hasn't been so bad though so there is hope and the medications they have me on now seem to be working. In any case, I wasn't as prepared as I would have liked to have been but it all turned out well in the end.

4:30 caught me not quite ready to wake up but I didn't have too much trouble getting up. I missed the 300k last year due to knee issues and I was excited to do this one as there were a lot of people signed up and it is always nice to ride with other Randonneurs. Don't get me wrong, I like riding permanents too but a full saturday on a bike among other riders in near perfect weather is just something not to be missed.

It only took me 20 minutes to get on the road and a short stop to get 2 apple fritters and I was on my way to Casa Grande. I had 20 minutes to check in and get ready when I arrived. Most of the usual suspects were there but I didn't get a lot of mingling time before Tom Baker led us out so I would have to run into them out on the course.

I decided I was going to try and ride up towards the front so when the group split I would be with the front group. I don't know how beneficiel that was but it ended up working out in the end even if it did take me awhile to recover. The lead group was hauling and I was finding it all I could do to just hang on for dear life. One guy up front kept missing turns which took me back a bit as the first time I rode this course Susan had to chase us down and turn us around before we had even got out of town. For some reason the turn onto Woodruff seems to be an easy to miss turn as I have seen people fly right past it several times now.

Heading towards coolidge the group broke apart several times but those of us in back had a secret weapon. There was this tandem that was manned/womanned by superhumans. Well, ok, so one was a Paul Danhaus who is aRAAM finisher and his stoker who didn't seem to shabby of a rider either. In any case they would always pull the group back in. So, this all worked out until I found myself out front heading down Cactus Forest road. I shamefully noticed that though I was pushing way harder than I should have been at this point in the ride I was still not pulling the group as fast as it had been going and I think I should have ended my pull earlier than I did but I didn't want to feel like I hadn't done my share either. In hindsight I should have saved a little something and cut out early.

Of course the rider behind me was Sturgill and of course the pace kicked up a few notches when I pulled off and before I knew what was going on the group was a hundred feet up the road and I was sprinting to get back on. I caught them but didn't have the wind left to hold on so I let them go. It took me awhile to recover. I had really struggled the last bit to stay on. I did end up holding them for 24 miles though so I think I didn't do too badly.

I almost bit it pulling off my jacket and tying it around my waste when a wind gust hit me but I saved it fortunately. I figured I would be riding alone at least to Tom Mix and probably beyond but a few miles out from Tom Mix I got caught by Wayne Churchman who I had thought was in the group up ahead. He was pulling along with Cathy (who was from Colorado) and I joined in. I was still recovering but I found I could hold on and even was able to fulfill my end of the bargain as we did 1 mile pulls. Up into Tom Mix. Where the tandem and a few others were pulling out just as we pulled in. We would do the same favor to a few guys who pulled in just after us.

It was a little chilly but not enough to put my jacket back on. We continued trading pulls up the pinal parkway which was pretty temperate. There is usually a pretty hefty wind but the wind wasn't too bad as we rode on. We were joined by two other guys for awhile but they dropped off a few miles before we got to the top. Wayne, Cathy and I would hang together untl the turn onto Tangerine and then Wayne and I ducked into the service station there to top off the water bottles. Steve Atkins was there when we pulled in and so our group was back to 3 since Cathy had gone on.

I'm usually way behind Steve so it was kind of cool to ride with him for awhile. I would actually end up riding with him off and on the rest of the day. Wayne dropped us about when we got to Silverbell and he said he pretty much rode alone the rest of the way. Steve and I rode along together for awhile until we got onto Sweetwater where I let him go on ahead so I could slow it down a bit and take a "moving rest" before hitting Gate's Pass. I have been fighting a head cold lately and I was feeling a little achy heading up to the pass. The pass seemed a little intimidating today too for some reason. Other than feeling a little ill I didn't have too much trouble climbing it. Having climbed it a few times now I know to slow down a bit between the steep spots to keep my heartrate down. I stood up for most of the descent to give my rear end a bit of a rest as it was starting to get unhappy with me.

Steve was just pulling out when I got to the lunch stop and I intended to get out fairly quickly but ended up chatting a bit with Carlton a bit before I headed out. I rode alone pretty much almost to the airport when Russ caught up to me. He was riding strong today and we started trading pulls until Steve caught us from behind (which was a bit of a surprise, he must have stopped at picture rocks). The three of us worked together up to Marana into a headwind from the North of which Steve said he needed to have words with weatherunderground about.

We decided to push on to Picacho Dairy Queen before stopping and we got out on the frontage road with either Steve or Russ pulling and I kept looking at my computer and seeing we were getting up over 20mph and I remember thinking that someone must have hit their second wind or ate their wheaties or something as that's a pretty good pace to be doing this late in the game. Of course my bubble burst when I got to pull and lo and behold I was pulling at the same speed. Those beautifullly forecasted southern winds had kicked in and as we got out onto the frontage road we kept 24-28 mph almost all the way to the Dairy Queen. I have never ridden that stretch so fast and it was rather nice I must confess. It was also nice to arrive at the DQ while it was still open. The last time I rode this course with a Steve (Jewell) we got here late in the eveing in the cold and dark with everything closed.

Heading out of here we resumed our beautiful speed heading to Eloy. The shoulders were incredibly green and it didn't look like a highway in Arizona but somewhere else where things are green, the recent rains have really made the desert come alive. Steve started cramping in here and dropped off the back. The wind shifted a bit so we were getting a bit of a crosswind but since we were about to 11 mile corner road it wasn't a big deal as it was blowing the perfect direction to blow us effortlessly at over 20 all the way up to 11 mile corner. It was a beautiful thing. It was so beautiful in fact that it made the 6 miles of crosswinds heading back to Casa Grand worth it I think. Of course I did a bit of drafting off Russ quite a bit through here and I have to say I didn't give much back as I was tired. In all fairness though, with the crosswinds there wasn't much of a draft. Still, thanks Russ. We got to Casa Grande with about 10 minutes to 6 and after we rode around the medical center we managed to slide in at 3 to 6. Not bad for a days work after a month of goofed up training and a head cold. I'm happy with it.

There really isn't any weather better than what we had. It wasn't too cold in the morning, we had some clouds to keep the UV down for much of the day and the temps got into the lower 70's. I think most of our friends from the north got their money's worth on this one. It truly was one of the best brevets I have done. After I got home and in bed I awoke around midnight to the sound of torrential rain falling and hoped everyone was off the course which it sounds like they were. The only downer of the day was that Chipotle's hadn't opened their store yet. They were training their crew. Maybe I'll finish the 400 early enough to chow down when they've officially opened.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

300k A Return to the Beginning?

This of course is a vain attempt to appease the rain gods of the Picacho by saying it's going to rain and so, since they find pleasure in spiting us mere mortals, they will not in fact rain on our brevet. That being said, as of today there's a 50% chance of rain at this time. For a desert area that's a pretty good chance and it's also a pretty good chance that somewhere on the course we will find rain.

I think if there is rain I will pull out my good old commuter and throw the fenders on. I just picked up a brand new windstopper jacket on clearance at Performance so that is all set. I also scored a new helmet cover. I think I will need to test it to make sure it is as waterproof as my goretex one first though.

My training has not been optimal at all the last month. I don't know how much fitness I have lost but I think I will still do alright. Endurance is not something that goes away quickly. Speed yes, endurance no.

It's been a long time since I did a ride of any length in the rain. I got the wind at Cochise so that's not too long ago on that front, but for a long rain ride I think we need to go back to the epic 400k of 2006. It would take a lot to match that one. Interestingly enough, the very first time this course was run was in the rain. It was only the third brevet held in Arizona under Susan's rookie year as an RBA, and rain it did. That was my first experience with drafting in the rain. Coincidentally it was also my first experience with gritting road scum between my teeth and wondering why it seemed to rain twice as hard when we were moving.

I seem to recall riding much of the last half alone and in increasing rain as I passed Picacho (which is usually where the rain picks up again). I recall dipping my feet in deep puddles as I peddled amd meandered the back streets of Casa Grande and finally pulled in to a line of wet, dark, and lonely buildings. Sitting hunched up under the roof of "From the Heart Yoga" watching the rain was a dark figure. Pulling out a flashlight when she saw me, Susan came out and welcomed me back and signed my card.

I distinctly recall wondering if I would do any more of these as I pedalled soggily through the rain down to I-10 from La Palma. Of course once the bike is in the car and the pride of finishing set in I was up for another. Anyone can ride in fair weather. Brevets are not always about comfort despite what all the folks who tell you that steel is real and the only brevet frame is a lugged touring type of frame modelled by some French Rennaisance artist, think. Being able to stay on the bike is key and comfort has a part to play in that for sure, but weather is not a comfortable thing you can plan on. No matter what you wear, you will be wet either from the inside or outside, the water will get in your eyes, despite fenders your feet will probably get a splash or two or be dipped in flash flooding road crossings on the frontage road. You will likely swear at the wind and rain a few times, you might even sit in front of a Circle K and ponder why you are out here in this and that perhaps all the folks that are calling you crazy are right. They probably are. There is, however, another side to rain riding. There is the pauses in the rain where the clouds swirl around the mountain tops, the desert turns green and the lichens on the rocks get almost flouresent. Water flows in typically dry creeks, the desert smells fresh and new as it has been cleansed. Dry clothes are appreciated far more at the end of the day. I suppose it is worth more than bragging rights. It of course also teaches you about yourself and shows you what you can do. Most people have no idea what they are capable of and lead lives of lazy ignorance. So, friends, countrymen, Randonneurs. Lets put on our fenders and jackets and learn!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

How green the desert.

Red Mountain with flanks of green

I missed blogging last week. I have a good reason, I really do. It's because I didn't get any riding in. 2 months of depression and anxiety kind of came to a head. I had a doctor's appointment last week though and they have me trying some new meds and after nearly 2 weeks I think things are a little brighter which is quite refreshing. On Tuesday I took a personal day because I just couldn't face another day of work and I hoped a day of relaxation would do it. It didn't. Getting a couple of nights good rest combined with the meds starting to work did though. Yesterday was the first good day I have had in a long time. I actually found myself starting to get the desire to get on the bike back last week. It's a nice feeling.

Anyway, I got out for a good 60 miles this morning with the Brumbys before the rain set in. I did get a good chunk of the headwinds blowing the storm in though. I've had a head cold lately so I was pretty happy to hold onto them until the big hills started heading back to canyon lake. I ended up turning around with a couple of other guys at the lake but I stopped to take a few pictures on the climb out and they didn't wait. No worries, I'm a big boy and a hearty randonneur. It was a nice ride back with a few side trips thrown in to get my mileage up a bit. I managed to get back by 9:30 to take my boys to gymnastics.

The desert is beautiful right now. Every patch of ground is covered with a green carpet from the rains that have fallen recently. It also looks like the wildflowers are just about ready to start blooming.

My boys said they want to ride in the rain this afternoon after their gymnastics meet so I might get another 10 -15 miles in depending on how long the being wet and cold things stays "neato" for them.

Next week is the 300k. My training has not been optimal in any definition but I don't think I'll do too badly. I will be happy with whatever time I get. The long range forecast has rain in it. It might be one of "those" rides. Whatever it is, it will have it's ups and downs I am sure but it will beat sitting around watching tv, that's for sure.

Here's some pictures from the weeks riding-

Green grass at Butcher Jones water area.

Green slopes on the cliffs below Saguaro Lake

Green grass and cholla

Riders on the storm

Yours truly

View off road to Canyon Lake

Storms moving in over the mighty Superstitions

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Lord Kelvin of the Wild Frontier......

Sunrise on SR177

Well howdy pardner! This here ride I tell about aint none o those pretty boy rides. No sir, this be one o' them rides through the desert on a horse with no name rides. This be a story of the Florence Kelvin highway. Not like any of them sissy high falootin paved highways y'all see today. This here highway be made o' dirt! Take them pansy 23c tires off old paint ya city slicker and get some of them 28c tires that'll help you get through this here country of dust and cacti.

Sunrise over the big hill down into Kelvin

Awhile back when I was working out a permanent route I got looking at the Florence-Kelvin highway and when I found out it wasn't paved all the way I dismissed it and didn't think about it anymore. Recently though I have been wondering about it and even thought about giving it a go now that I have a bike that will take some larger tire sizes. Larger tires are important as there are over 20 miles of dirt on the Florence-Kelvin highway. Overall I'd be quite pleased with how they worked.

butte above Asarco pit mine.

The original plan was to leave before 4 am and ride from my house out to Superior then over to Kelvin, down to Florence, and then back home. Well, I got to bed late and I was doing really good to be out of bed by 4:30. My 133 miles ride would be chopped down to 86 miles with me driving to Queen Valley to start. It still took me 6 hours to ride and was pretty hilly so I think it was a good training ride in the end even if I did cheat and drive out to Florence Jct to start.

Your's truly with a new riding cap.

I was not feeling like a ride today and it was tough riding up into Superior in the cover of darkness. The stars were pretty even if there was a little more traffic than one would hope for on a cold early Saturday morning.

The rest stop in Superior had the same cleaning lady there telling me about how they will be shutting the rest area down soon. I hope they are able to continue to keep it open. Unfortunately vandals are making us lose more and more places like this. May they eventually get what is coming to them hopefully sooner than later.

All alone under the mistletoe

Heading south I had difficulty generating enthusiasm for the 10% grade coming up that I would have to climb before dropping down all the nice grades on the other side. I was hauling 3 water bottles since it was 50 miles from Superior to Florence and 20 of those miles were hilly dirt road.

Old Adobe building in Kelvin

I discovered my commuting bike would do 40 safely but above 40 it got a little squirrely. It was a nice drop into Kelvin albeit cold. Riding through Kelvin I would see frost out in the fields.

The gila river was not running as much as I expected but I suspect they aren't letting as much water out of San Carlos this time of year and most of it was probably runoff. A lot of normally dry creekbeds were running though.

The mighty Gila river

The highway just on the other side of the Gila wastes no time in showing you what it is about. You start off climbing what has to be at least a 15% grade if not more. I have an extremely low mountain bike gear on this bike and I was standing a lot of the way. I was glad the pavement went this far or I would be spinning out. Just after the steep spot the pavement did end though.

15%+ grade just south of the bridge

The road was pretty good for not having any pavement. There were patches of sand but they never extended all the way across the road so I was able to keep up a good speed when I wanted too but it was difficult braking down the steep hill to the Gila just before the big climb. I couldn't go over 20 without risking going down in the corners.

There was a small ranch house down in the valley surrounded by mountains. Most of the mountains were not big enough to have snow on them but as I climbed out the other side Pine mountain would be visible which did have snow on it. As I dropped down to the house I could see the long grade going up the other side of the valley. I couldn't see the top, it just stretched out into the distance and disappeared. It also looked like it was healthy steep.

Me and my shadow

It was healthy steep. I was in my granny gear most of the way up keeping around 5 mph most of the way. I figured it was the equivalent of about a steady 9 or 10% grade on pavement. It just kept going and going. Most of the scenery was behind me but I did take the occasional glance behind me at the mountain ranges lined up one behind the other as far as the eye could see.

To the end of the pavement....and beyond!

I could see a microwave tower up ahead on the mountain top. These towers are few and far between these days. Before Satellites they were how the long distance telephone system ran. Today many have become cell towers or have been dismantled.

This was one of those roads that just seemed like it kept going up into the sky. My watch beeped at me and let me know I was running out of time before Noon. 10 o'clock was swiftly approaching and I was likely going to have to shave my hundred mile goal down to whatever I would get if I just shot straight up the Florence highway to get back.

Looking back over distant mountain ranges

Upon finally reaching the top after a relentless grade that never let up all the way to the top, I am seeing Manzanita bushes and century plants, signs I am in the high desert. The road rides along a high ridge at the top for a mile or so. There are gates of a few ranches up here and a LOT of wind. Having taken off my jacket further down and strapped it to my seat it is a bit chilly.

Climbing higher and higher. Theres snow on the furthest mountain and you can see part of the road way down there.

From the top there is 20 miles of mild downhill to Florence. It's just perfect. Steep hills aren't good on dirt but a long steady hill where you can keep 20-25 mph is just perfect. On this side of the hill you can see Picacho peak off in the distance next to the larger mtn next to it but other than that it is a vast plain of desert and cacti.

I was able to keep 25 and sometimes 30 much of the way but occasionally I would hit a washboard and my helmet would just about shake right off my head. These usually brought me to a standstill. Fortunately there weren't a whole lot of these. A lot of the road had packed clay and on these stretches it was like riding the smoothest pavement.

Short stop on the top of the ridge

There was a really cool boulder field off to the right on the way down and I stumbled on some scouts camping by some of the cooler rocks. I stopped for a picture near some that had graffiti on them. I refer to my previous statements about vandals.

Boulders along the highway.

Not too far past the boulders the pavement started up again. I stopped to mix another bottle of drink and noticed I really didn't need that extra bottle but it would have been absolutely necessary if the weather had been any warmer.

The Florence-Kelvin highway

I would spend the next 20 minutes riding down the highway to hook up with the florence highway just north of where the 300k joins up with it. It was 10 to 11 and I would need to head straight back to the car parked up on the hewlitt station road by Queen Valley. I would make really good time heading up the super smooth shoulder of the highway north of Florence and ended up finishing at 10 to noon.

Queen Valley road