Three fine fellows and a lady
Despite my best efforts to be a cheapskate it would turn into an expensive day. My original plan was to eat solid food at a few stops in the afternoon and get water to mix my energy drink with at the visitor's center and the campground. Unfortunately it was not the food that would be the major expense.
There was a fine group of eight at the little park in Miami as the sun came up. First thing I was heckled for my El Tour de Phoenix numbers still on my helmet. I believe I commented on my own dorkiness in my last post for having forgotten to take them off so I deserved it for having forgotten to remove them this week. It was also interesting to see that almost everyone else had small rack bags on the backs of their bikes but all I had was a large seatbag. I knew this ride from last year and knew that if I could make it to 7 or so I would be fine for the rest of the day without a jacket or anything so in honor of the hills I went light.
After some tips from Tom we would be led out by the infamous Mike Sturgill who would lead our little group until it broke up at the bottom of the first largish hill. Miami, Claypool, Globe were just waking up and we had the road mostly to ourselves as we moved out into the fields.
We kept good time down to the first hill and then as expected I fell off the back and watched everyone else move slowly ahead as we got into the work of climbing. I heated up pretty quick and was working hard. My last month of training has been kind of a wash because of family commitments. Still, I knew I was in better shape than last year at this point so I didn't have a lot of worry's if I would finish or not.
Not too long after getting dropped Tom Baker pulled alongside and chatted with me a bit before he took off. I figured I'd catch him after I crested the summit but tuck as I might I didn't catch him on the descent into the Roosevelt lake basin. I had a nice ride across the rollers heading over to the visitor center. I was firmly set in the middle of the group with five ahead and two behind.
A three hour tour.....
Pulling into the visitor center I met Mike on his way out, and lest you think that I wasn't that far behind him, know that apparently the visitor's center doesn't open until 7:45 and they apparently had to wait for it to open. I on the other hand, had timed it so I arrived right at 7:45. Yep that's right, I was timing it, had nothing to do with being a slower rider :) . By the time I got my card signed and the bottles topped off everyone had moved on. So I was out on the road alone again to work my way through the winds out to Jake's Corner.
It was breezy heading across the bridge and out to the end of the lake. There were a few boats out and fishermen here and there. The temps were stil cool but it was nice. Later on the temps would be a little warm but this year the morning temperatures were a little cooler than last year. My plan was to skip Tonto Basin store and push on to Jake's corner so as I passed the store I noticed Tom Baker and Lara Sullivan ahead who must have stopped at the store. I got close to catching them once or twice but I confess I didn't push too hard to catch them, there was a lot of climbing ahead and I didn't want to blow myself up too early.
Leaving the first control behind
Approaching the most appreciated road cut (a place where the road cuts right through a sizeable hill to even the grade out) I pulled out my camera to snap a picture and as I put the phone back in my pocket something felt wrong. In fact, the bag containing my brevet card was not there anymore. Fortunately when I backtracked to the place I pulled the phone out it was lying on the ground.
Green fields before the most appreciated road cut.
I was running low on water but I knew that Jake's corner was just passed the big road cut and after I climbed over the cut I'd drop right down into it. When I pulled in there were no other cyclists there (which I figured would be the case). I made quick work of buying some water and filling the bottles and getting out of there. The quicker I got up the big hill, the quicker I'd be in the cooler temperatures.
Interestingly enough I had a tailwind heading up the beeline which was nice when I was going down hill but when I hit the main climb it was like I was climbing in my own portable sauna. The breeze was going the exact same speed as me and the temperature got uncomfortably warm and I started to sweat profusely. The hill climbing up to Payson isn't necessarily super steep, but it is long. It climbs about 1700 feet over the course of 7 or 8 miles. Grades go betwee 5-6% most of the way up. The thing is to stay at it. It seems to go on forever as you keep plugging away and every corner brings another long stretch of hill stretching out before you and you hear the sound of engines downshifting as they work to pull their loads up the hill next to you. So, I eventually made it to the top but it was a hot climb and I didn't relish the thought of fighting that headwind in the afternoon after getting off the hill.
Enjoying the shade of the most appreciated road cut
In my effort to spend a little less this brevet I opted to duck into the Houston Mesa Campground just after turning onto Houston Mesa road. The water fountain was shutoff but the restrooms had water and I filled up and was on my way again.
On the road I noticed a sign warning of a special bicycling event ahead. Nice touch Tom. Ha ha, no, it was actually a charity ride which had started earlier and most folks were on their way back. I would run into a few of the stragglers who I learned had started late due to flats in the parking lot and other misadventures. They were locals so they said they were the sweep crew. At one point I was riding along and I start hearing Flamenco Guitar type music blaring behind me and it started feeling like a spaghetti western until a guy on a BMW motorcycle pulled up alongside me and turning his music down he recommends I turn around since the aid station will be closing soon. I told him I was on a different ride and he was impressed when I told him how long it was.
Into the forest
Of course the other thing that added to the whole western flavor of this section was the giant semi trailer backed up to one of those old rustic corrals you see all the time on the backroads. It was getting cows loaded into it by 4 or 5 cowboys. This semi had passed me three or four times today and so it was nice to see it had finally reached it's destination. I had to take a picture seeing as this was the first time I had actually seen one of these old rustic corrals in use.
Whoopi tie yai yo, git along little dogies.
Getting to the bottom of the hill into the east verde Mike Sturgill passed me the other way in his aero-bars climbing the hill. This gave me pause. I knew I had been enjoying a tailwind but to see him climbing in the aero bars made me think the wind must be pretty strong. I figure he was about 40-45 minutes ahead of me at this point. A little ways further Wayne Churchman and Don Pettengill passed and I figured I'd see Tom and Lara soon too.
Hitting the steep section I notice several cyclists stopped by the side of the road. 3 guys in lycra and a guy in jeans, a t-shirt and a dirt bike helmet (his name was Daniel I learned later and I also learned he was actually a pretty strong rider in his own right). One of them was fighting off a hamstring cramp and they said they were fine and just waiting it out.
They would catch me just after the first creek crossing where I nearly biffed it. I hit it way to fast and of course turning or braking on the algae covered pavement was a disaster in the making so I had to just watch in horror as the gaping potholes I was aimed at came up on me at alarming speed. At the last moment I was able to miss them. I was more careful on the second creek crossing where one of the local riders informed me was a lot colder to cross in January. I was yakking with him all the way to the end of the turnaround (he also proclaimed me a super stud to his friends when he learned I'd ridden up from Miami that morning). I missed Tom and Lara passing in here as I was too busy gabbing apparently.
Having a terrible memory and no pencil I snapped a photo of the sign before I turned around to head back. I had a lot more energy in my legs this year and the small rollers that seemed so monumental last year weren't as bad this year. Having done over 6000' of climbing and over 100 miles though my legs were starting to get into that mode where they were losing a little spunk.
Cresting the hill on the way back the Cowboy's had finished their wrangling and loaded all the dogies up into big Mack the cow herding machine and left. The aid station was still there though despite the warnings of the spaghetti western soundtrack biker.
The Majestic Matatzels
After another top off at the campground I was back on my way and highly anticipating the ride down off the rim. Tom and Lara had stopped at Basha's in Payson so I passed them there as I skipped stopping in Payson and headed off the rim. It was pretty windy getting off the rim but it was that way last year too. I could feel the temperature rise as I dropped further into the desert. It was getting near 90 when I hit the bottom and rode up the few hills to get to the Roosevelt lake turnoff. The hills didn't seem so oppressive this year. Last year I had pretty much blown up before this point. Mr. Spaghetti western cycle passed me with a toot of the horn as I rode this section. There were also a lot of cars with road bikes on racks.
A sight for tired legs
Getting off the Beeline was very welcome as the high traffic is a bit annoying. It's also nice because it's mostly downhill from there to the Tonto Basin control. Right around the famous road cut Tom and Lara caught up with me and we would hold together and fight the wind to Tonto Basin and beyond.
We stopped a little longer than I would have liked at Tonto Basin but it sure felt good to get out of the saddle for a bit. The cold water was very nice too. I was feeling pretty warm out at this point and I was starting to go through water at a much higher rate. Last year it was getting on towards evening here but this year the afternoon was still hanging on.
Riding along the lake is always beautiful and this year it was too, not quite as beautiful as riding a longside it at sunset but it was still very beautiful. Around a mile or two from the bridge I fell off the back a bit and not too long after I heard a police siren. It was actually several sirens. More than 6 actually. A guy in a black SUV was rolling along talking on his cell phone while a long string of Sherriff's deputies and highway patrol followed him with lights on and sirens blaring. I wondered what the reason was for a while, hopefully someone else has further information as you don't see a chase with that many officers involved everyday.
I thought I had been left far behind so I pulled into the overlook by the bridge to take a picture and have a tourist take my picture (I didn't ask him to, he just did, guess I was part of the tourist experience for him). While I was taking the picture Lara rode up and asked me what was up. I hadn't noticed that they were waiting over by the bridge.
The Bridge in Late Afternoon
So we regrouped and stuck together much of the way to the happy valley market or whatever it is called. Last year it was pitch dark when I got to this point but this year the sun was just starting to think about setting but was still shining bright. I was hot and the strawberry cream popsicle and gallon of cold water were heavenly luxuries. I probably stayed too long here as well but it felt really nice to cool off.
I wasn't quite ready when Tom and Lara were ready to go so I told them to head off as I would likely get dropped on the climb anyway. It was about this time I discovered my taillight had fallen off somewhere, probably the last expansion crack I had bunny hopped. That's why I always carry two of course. So Evening found me plodding away up the hill enjoying the hush of evening making do with my ho hum taillight. I think the time of day when the sun is setting and the temperatures start to cool off is one of the best times of day to ride. Not only does the air become more comfortable to ride in but the night birds start to sing and the sounds of the desert come alive. The bottom of the hill doesn't seem so bad as the beauty of the evening makes up for the pain of the end of the day.
Just as dusk was starting to get serious about starting and I was about halfway up the hill I shifted down to stand and then sat down and went to shift back into my lowest gear and my shifter blew out. Just where you want to lose a shifter too huh? Right in the middle of a large hill with 7% grades.
Of course losing a shifter is inconvenient but not fatal. I had a lot of hill left so loosening the bolt that holds the cable and I pull the cable tight as I push the derailleur onto the highest cog, after it's tightened again, I am stuck in a good hill climbing gear. Standing will be annoying but at least I have a good gear to climb in. On up I go and the road starts to hug the hillside and I pass the three big cuts out of the hillside I saw below and know I am near the top. I turn to take a final picture as daylight makes ready to fade completely.
Nautical Twighlight nears it's close.
I did not have to have the experience of climbing a seemingly endless hill at night as I pulled over the top just after Nautical Twighlight drew to a close. I figured I'd readjust my gears at the bottom of the hill but the flat spot halfway down makes me spin like a brightly clad salt encrusted sweaty fan so I stop to stick the derailleur in a little harder gear which also gives me the benefit of shifting the chainring without crosschaining (I don't need another derailleur incident) so I have 2 gears.
As I got to the bottom of the hill I thought perhaps I had geared it too agressively but after I climbed over the few little hills after the bottom it would turn out they were fine even if they did keep me honest by making me work a little harder than I normally would have. The sign showed 67 degrees as I pulled into Claypool and I was just bordering on getting a little too cool when I pulled into the finish line at 9:05 PM where Tom and Lara had just finished changing and Wayne was just leaving in his car with a parting comment about SRAM shifters. In all fairness though I've lost Shimano shifters too and I much prefer the shape of the Rival shifters on my hands. Kevin at IronGearSports says SRAM is really good about their warrantee so I guess I'll get some recovery in while my bike awaits a new shifter and my pocket should be none the thinner (although at this point I don't think it could get any thinner anyway).
On Sunday I definitely felt a lot more drained after this than I had after the last 300k but that just makes sense seeing as it had about 3 times the climbing. It was a good ride and I think I paced myself better this year. I also beat my time from last year by about an hour and 15 minutes. It was kind of funny carrying those lights all day for only an hour and a half of riding.