Early morning in the Tucson MountainsThe time is 4:18 AM. It's early, and just a bit chilly. The start time I agreed to was 4 am and I am 20 minutes late but I'll make up the time. Lights shine brightly as I head down Arizola avenue. This is a new part of the course for me and I am quickly through it and onto Jimmie Kerr blvd heading down to Eloy. In the darkness I see lights off in the distance and the night reinforces the thoughts of the long and daunting journey ahead. It is going to be a tough day. I've been tired this week and just not in the game so to speak. I feel intimidated by all that lies before me. Riding 254 miles alone is difficult. At Cochise there was Bruce to check in peridodically with, on the 300k I rode with people almost all day as well as on the 200k. Today was completely solo and it seemed a much bigger task than it usually does for some reason. So I dug out the mp3 player to create a bit of a distraction and told myself I would make it at least as far as Picacho Peak and then re-asses.
This morning I just went with knee and arm warmers and a windvest figuring the forecast high was near 70 degrees and it should be a nice day. I never really got warm all day except for a bit climbing mile wide road. At 6 am I pass Picacho Peak and press on, I am well underway now and the first glints of dawn are starting in the eastern sky. I am chilly but not overly so. By the time I am to the Marana Circle K the sun has just peeked over the horizon. It is a beautiful day in the desert and the desert is green from the recent rains. Purple and orange wildflowers grow on the side of the road. The river on sanders road is still flowing strong as I pass and start to head up picture rocks road. The hills that usually daunt me felt a lot easier today for some reason.
I am making good time. I work my way up mile wide road and there is a pretty hefty crosswind. The wind has been a fickle friend this morning, sometimes a tailwaind, sometimes a crosswind, but only rarely a headwind so far. Up I climb, there is a good sized group of cyclists regrouping at the turnoff to the McCain loop and they wave at me and comment about the tailwind. Yep, nice tailwind I suppose I should enjoy it while it lasts. Cresting the top I am descending through the Tucson Mtns when up ahead I see a familiar figure coming up the hill. He is hunched low and his body seems to be encased in a yellow halo made by the sun lighting up the hair which covers his body like a yellow gorilla, he is only wearing cutoff jean shorts. Yep, the wolf was out and about this morning. I wonder how come he is not cold, perhaps he has transcended such concepts in his endless journeys among these desert hills. He gives me a smile and a nod and is on his way.
Butte just north of Calle Don Miguel
At Drexel road I figured it was about time to take a break after 70 miles. Only thing was I forgot to put on sunscreen when I took off again. I was about halfway up Helmet peak when I stopped. There are many cyclists out riding helmet peak today. Having a giant seatbag I am eschewed by the racing crowd but smiled and waved to by the older fellows who have learned to relax a bit and enjoy the beautiful day. I am quickly up down helmet peak road. ever since 2006's 400k this hill does not seem like any big deal anymore. The course now heads straight instead of heading down Helmet peak road and I am off. I must say the scenery up here is much better than wandering around the streets of greenhaven or whatever town that is off of La Canada or whatever we used to ride. Climbing the short 10% spot out in the middle of nowhere I see to people ahead that look like cyclists. It is odd that I have caught anyone with my big old bag hanging off the back. One takes off just before I get there and the other is not a cyclist but a support crew as I see him hop into a van with a giant bike rack on the roof that looks like it could hold 10 or more bicycles and there is a large hammer nutrition ad on the side of it. I didn't catch the guy again you might have guessed. I didn't feel too bad about it. Even if I wasn't encumbered and had 80+ miles in my legs, he is obviously training and must be pretty good if he justifies that level of support and likely sponsorship.
I fly down between the mines and into the rollers along Camino Del Sol. I am getting into the last hill when my rando sense goes off. Hmmm, was that a gas station I just passed? Yep, but that wasn't tres Calle or whatever street I'm supposed to turn on.....Still, can't be a lot of gas stations in a neighborhood like this. Better stop and check the cue sheet anyway for good measure. Hmmm, what do ya know, that station is Mercado Del Sol, the control. Good call Paul.
Some more water and some more drink mix and I am off again. I am pleased to note that we spend less time on the frontage road with the new course. There are patches of bright yellow buttercups or poppys or something like that and I wait for the largest patch to get a picture. By the time I get to the Cow Palace I still haven't found it. It is amusing to see that across from the cow palace is a saloon fronted by a giant cow skull.
Up and down and up and down, I am slowly working my way up to Arivaca. The temperature has not risen much. It's in the 60's but feels like the low 50's. I am getting crosswinds and headwinds now. I suppose it is the price for the bits of tailwinds I have enjoyed this morning. It is nice to see a border patrol checkpoint along this road and a strong presence of border patrol driving the road. The first time I rode this course I about got taken out by some smuggler or someone who had enough urgency to have them going far over the speed limit passing someone coming my direction. I hugged the edge of the road and missed a head on hit by inches. Today there are only border patrol speeding along and they do so fairly responsibly.
I ran into 3 seperate groups of bike tours af around 15 - 20 people each. People from Northern climes who paid big bucks to come down here and ride in the sun with a nice warm van behind to fill their every desire and wish. Probably rode in it to the top of the big hill out of Arivaca even. They look like they are enjoying themselves. The last group has everyone on hybrids. I suppose that group is folks who aren't used to riding road bikes. Oh well, I am not breaking the bank today on my tour. I might be breaking lots of other stuff but not the bank, saddle sores and sore muscles to heal eventually after all.
Arivaca was a little surreal today. I heard fairly loud music echoing across the town. It wasn't western music, it wasn't some sort of native american southwesty type music, heck it wasn't even gene autry. Nope, the music was some sort of techno pop christian reggae mix. There was one guy with a drum machine a voice pitch correction module over corrected to make his voice sound like Cher (you know that synthetic type vocal sound she pioneered a few years back and which is used ad nauseum these days). He played one finger improvisation while he sang repetitive songs. I am married to a piano instructor so one fingered playing is a little annoying. It's how those organ salesmen hook old folks that walk the mall. You play a note with one finger and the keyboard does the rest adding base or something plastic and uniform in the background that's supposed to be harmony. Anyway, I digress and I shouldn't be too unkind, after all, they offered me a bag of popcorn and a bottle of water. It was a funny experience though. I never would have thought of seeing that down here. Then again, I have been surprised by the locals of Arivaca before when invited by an innebriated lady to play darts while I shivered and shook over a warm radiator on a hellacious evening a few years back. They are very nice people even if a bit quirky. If I had to put up with all the border craziness and was living out in a small town in the middle of nowhere (very scenic nowhere though) I'd be a bit quirky too.
From Arivaca I am to start strong headwinds that will stay with me to past Marana. I had made it to Arivaca around 1-1:30 ish and was hoping to keep good time from here since it trends downhill from here with a few exceptions. It is frustrating to ride 12-14 mph downhill. A stretch of road that should take a bit over an hour and a half takes 3 hours. In 2006 I covered this stretch in less than an hour. Of course I had earned every last bit of that tailwind in the preceding day. Today I would pay an inordinate price for the few tailwinds I had this morning. Along in here I spotted a last group of flowers and decided this was the last chance and took a picture.
Around 5:30 I pull into Three Points. The last hour I have been thinking about the coming night. Though the temps have been around 70 it has felt cold all day. I am sure it is going to be cold tonight and I am also sure that arm warmers arent going to cut it. They only sell extremely heavy rain coats so I must be creative. I get some garbage bags and electrical tape from the guy working in the hardware department. I then address my second need. I have been craving solid food for the last 2 hours. There are pizzas ready to eat in a warmer and I am soon satisfying my strong hunger. This stop was the longest today. I was getting saddle sore and fatigue was setting in. Added onto this was the mental challenge of the headwinds over a very long stretch of nothingness and a good break was in order.
I near the northern border of Saguaro National Monument when dusk is finishing and my lights light up the road before me. I'd put my reflective gear on down at Three Points but made it farther than I thought before the light was all gone. I hate riding down Sandario after dark. It's narrow and the cars passing are annoying as their headlights hit my rearview mirror and blind me. There is no enjoying the night through here, unlike when I road to Sasabe and back and road this stretch at 3 AM. On Sanders 2 dogs pick up the chase but they are slow on the uptake and I am passed. I had originally hoped to be done at 9:30. A late start of course moved that back to 10 but headwinds would shift it later than that. I pull into Marana after 8:00 and I foolishly think I might make it before 11.
It is cold now. The time has come to put my plan into action. The idea is to keep the wind from blowing through my armwarmers and so I tape strips of the plastic bags to the fronts of my arms. People stare but try not to look like they are staring. The guy back in three points thought it was the most natural thing, and said he had to do it once himself to get out of the Grand Canyon. The good folks at the circle K did not appear to have shared that experience. The next stretch of road is always long and usually cold.