Thursday, March 4, 2010

Fountain Hills and Hot Tamales: 200K in North Phoenix

Having successfully completed the Saguaro National Park 300K brevet on Saturday, I decided to maximize my riding for the month by doing a permanent as well. Originally, the plan was to do it on Sunday, but Dad's birthday was Saturday and we had the party on Sunday. Dad trumps riding sometimes.

I picked out Mike Sturgill's North Phoenix and Fountain Hills 200K as a good follow up ride to the 300K. It was listed as "flatish" and for the most part it was. This being my off-season, I didn't want to overdo it and my chest was hurting due to bruised ribs and boughts of coughing after the dust on the 300K. It turned out to be a great choice.

I met Mike at the community college/park and ride near the start. Mike is one of those guys that I admire and potentially say hi to at the beginning of a brevet. His plan is to do the Cascades without needing to turn his lights on. I, on the other hand, will likely be recharging mine each night. Perhaps in a few years, my thighs will achieve epic status, but not right now.

In any case, after a few last instructions, I set out. The first few miles were along the streets of North Phoenix and I couldn't make a light to save my life. I hadn't really ever ridden in the area, so this was actually a good thing. Sometimes in urban riding, I fixate so much on the road and traffic, that I never bother to actually look at the scenery. Traffic lights give me an opportunity to do just that. I finally came to a bike path through a really beautiful park just along the highway. By this time, it was around 8:00 and though the sun was up and the cars were moving, it was still really quite scenic with many cactus and a few flowers starting to emerge. I then made my way to the canals where, for about 10 miles, I was treated to an amazing array of birds. There were some parrotish looking birds with bright green feathers and purple acccents, some plover-style birds and some others that looked a little like a long legged woodpecker. Not something I expected.

I passed a big amusement park in the Arabian style that made me think of rides when I was a little kid. The canals in Phoenix make for great riding with tunnels under most of the streets. It had rained very hard 2 nights before and there were some lingering puddles to splash through which was also fun. I finally turned onto 51st street and began the trek to more rural areas. There were some very nice neighborhoods in the next few miles; Phoenix definitely favors stucco over brick. I pulled into the first control at about 9:15 (32 miles) and bought some water.

The next section, Lake Pleasent Road and New River Road, were the most rural part of the ride. For miles, I really didn't see much in the way of buildings, just green desert. Yes, the desert is currently green. Every few years, Arizona gets lots of water, probably the result of El Nino. This year is turning out to be quite the wet one and I expect that there will be many flowers in the coming month or two. I dawdled a bit on this part just because the sun was out and I really was enjoying the scenery. I pulled into the RoadRunner Cafe just after noon, bought a coke at the bar and took off quickly.

The next few miles were a bit hillier than the previous ones. I passed through the town of New River and wound around quite a bit before hitting 74 and cruising for about 10 miles. At this point, I entered back into Scottsdale and turned onto Dynamite Road and beginning the ascent of 9 mile hill (okay the 5 mile side of it). Being from Minnesota, I don't get to do sustained climbs of more than a mile or two very often. This one was maybe 5%, but went on for about 5 miles before the Shell Station (control #4).   At the Shell Station, I pondered food options, by this time it was about 1:30.  Another cyclist showed up whom I had seen ascending the hill came in and said hello.  Seeing my indecision, he piped up, "hey, you should try these" and pointed to some refrigerated hot tamales.  "Wash it down with some of this Cactus - it's a great pick up".  I must have been really low on blood sugar, because I agreed that this was a good idea.  So much for trying something new - I took one bite, realized it was a bad idea and went back for a heath bar instead.  The Cactus stuff was okay, but I have to say that water is even better.
Shortly afterwards, I was climbing the final steps to the descent of 9 mile hill.  There was a spectacular view of the Rio Verde valley with a snow capped mountain in the distance.  It was about 75 degrees, perfect riding weather.  I had fun on that descent and was sad to see it go as I turned onto Forest Road.  The next 10 miles were uneventful as I wound my way through Scottsdale.  I hit the final Control at about 3:30 and headed up Palisades hill.  At this point, things got interesting.  I turned onto Shea Blvd for a 2 mile descent, but rush hour had apparently started because traffic was pretty thick.  It's one thing to scream down a hill at 35 mph, it's quite another to do it with a bunch of cars going 50.  Needless to say, I was happy to turn off.
As I completed the last 10 miles, I was amazed at the traffic.  At the time, I kept thinking it must be rush hour.  Only later did I find out that a major accident on the 101 had detoured almost all the traffic off the freeway onto my route.  Mayo Blvd, normally deserted, was packed with cars.  I did enjoy riding around the remnants of the Phoenix Open.  Had I been there the previous day, it would certainly have been difficult to get around the people.  As it was, there were just cleanup crews and a few detours for cars remaining.  The traffic on Union Hills was also heavy and I was happy to finally see the Circle K at the finish.  A total of 10:20 with 1:45 non-moving (the traffic lights were at least half an hour).  Not my fastest, but considering the circumstances, a fine ride.
I won't get back for Susan's 400K in March, but I have to say that I have a good feeling about the Tombstone 600K in April. 

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A fine day for a 300K - Saguaro National Park

February 27th, 2010 was the day of another fine brevet by Susan Plonsky.  This was a really challenging brevet on several fronts.  First, I got lost getting there.  I don't usually get lost, it just happened somehow.  I'm blaming the rental car or perhaps it's just what happens when you drive around at 4:30 am looking for people in tights.  Second, more serious, I had a chest contusion before I ever started the ride (an unfortuate accident 4 days before as I flew over my handlebars on ice).   I distinctly remember reading in the RUSA handbook that the single most important thing to bring to a brevet is an unfailing desire to finish the ride.  This one set a personal record for me, not because the weather was, shall we say, unpredicatable or because it's the first one I started late, but because it's the first one I have ever done where I had to make a real effort to take every breath.  I now have a new appreciation for the amount of work my rib cage does during the course of the ride.

I will say that starting late really was a bonus in this case.  Had I been on time, I would have missed a real treat of a ride with Eagle Eye Alan.  He and another guy were also running a little late and when we started at 6:15, he discovered that his Schmidt hub wire was broken.   He and I went back to the start for emergency repairs with Susan that took another 15 minutes.  I have to say, going back was one of my best decisions of the day.  If I had gone on, I might have been able to keep up with the other guy (whose name I don't remember), but I had a great time riding with Alan.  It's very seldom that you run into someone who is just about evenly matched with you so that riding together is a pleasure for 190 miles.  We both took turns fighting the wind, I got all kinds of information about the terrain we were riding through that I wouldn't have known.   Just a great experience.  So if Alan reads this, thanks for the ride.

When we finally got going, our first treat was a gorgeous sunrise heading out of Casa Grande.  I think it's the combination of the mountains, the giant cactus and the exapansiveness of the land that makes desert sunrises so vast and majestic.  It is simply one of those moving experiences that sets the tone for the day, like a big capital O at the beginning of a sentence.  The two of us cruised at around 18-20 miles per hour in a crisp 48-50 degrees.  All worries about starting late just faded away.  We continued east until finally turning to the south on Highway 79,  it was at this point that things turned interesting.  A sign ahead read Oracle Junction 36 miles.  So starts a very long hill, essentally 36 miles long but at only a 2-3% grade.  Though I had noted in in the elevation profile, I hadn't really thought much of it considering the fact that there was only about 4,200 feet of total elevation on the ride.  Being from roller country, I'm not nearly so used to sustained climbing.  We were also climbing into a mounting headwind.  If I hadn't looked at the profile and had Alan to reassure me that yes, we were going up, I would have gotten pretty depressed on this section.  The kicker was the optical illusions of the road.  Even though we were climbing, the road actually looked either flat or descending.  After about 9 miles, we caught up with 2 other riders, whom I remembered from the 200K in January.  Alan told me that hitting this hill too hard was a common mistake responsible for many a DNF over the years; I resolved to cut back a little after the contorl coming up.  At Tom Mix Monument (about 12 miles into the hill), we chatted briefly.  The sky was cloudy by this time and it was warming up, so we shed some layers and got back on the bike as quickly as possible.  The ride organizers had a nice setup with a bike stand for repairs, food and water all waiting for us.

The next 24 miles were long ones.  It's not very often that the low point of a brevet comes so early in the ride.  There has been quite a bit of rain and the desert is starting to green up (a rare occurrance).  Alan and I traded stories and he did a fabulous pull for the last few miles.  The wind continuted to pick up.  Finally, we made it to Oracle Junction.  A sigh of relief was audible and it was like the whole ride started over, we both picked up in spirits.  After a not-so-fast-because-of-the-headwind descent into the second control, we stopped at Walgreens for snacks, water, and a stretch.  This was also my first informational control.  I had read about them in the RUSA handbook, but hadn't used on before.  We were successful in naming the business on the corner of the street.  We'd gone 75 miles.

Parts of the next few miles I recongized from the Mt Lemmon ride in November.  The next 20 miles or so were windy, but had lots of rollers and a very fun downhill on Tangerine.  We then crossed underneth I-10 and turned onto Silverbell.  This was the worst of the wind for the day with a combination of a headwind and some not-so-happy pavement.  We went up a short hill called Rattlesnake Pass and joked about the fact that photographers on rides always wait to take picture of cyclists after they have spent hours ascending a pass and, bluntly, look like hell.  I had a flat just before Gates Pass; Alan graciously helped me change it.  More joking about his Yin (bad wires) and my Yang (bad tires).  Then we ascended Gates Pass which is about 2 miles of fairly steep climbing (not the worst, but probably has some short segments into the 8-10% range).  At the top, Alan texted his wife and I took some pictures; the view was spectacular  Then a screaming, twisting descent down to the last manned control in the wind.

The first thing I noted about the descent, was the view of the valley below.  I knew we would be almost entirely downhill from this point on with a tailwind now.  But the wind was also kicking up a massive amount of dust.  You could see dust billowing down in the valley like plumes of whipped cream.  We met Susan for snacks, bottle filling and some last words.  Then off for the big finale.

Even though the weather was supposed to have an ascending chance of rain at this point, the sun came out for the first time in hours and we got a real treat of a tailwind/descent on Sandario.  I took some more pictures as we easily spun at about 25 mph.  It's impressive when you ride at 25-30 mph and still don't feel any wind.  We turned briefly on Marana Road and discovered just how powerful the wind was; as a crosswind, it nearly blew me over.  We stopped at the Circle K for a bit of water and I put on a dust mask; I have mild asthma and I remembered the plumes of dust that were likely all around us.  That turned out to really be a good move for me.  Coughing with a chest contusion is exceedingly painful.

We turned north again and saw a beautiful sunset near Picacho Peak.  The wind started dying a bit but we still cruised at around 18 mph.  We stopped at a Dairy Queen at around 6 pm to put on reflective gear, turn on lights and make a final pit stop.  We also picked up another randonneur for the ride back.

The last 25 miles had a full moon and all the trappings of a great night ride.  We were very careful on our directions, between local knowlege, my GPS and some careful cue sheet reading, we didn't get lost.  At least a couple of others apparently did and missed Eloy.  Alan and I slowed up a bit and the other randonneur went ahead once we turned on Eleven Mile Corner.  We then needed to find the color of a ribbon on a sign (informational control) at 11 Mile and 287.  I can't figure out how we missed it.  I swear I looked at every sign about 4 times, but we could see lighting on the horizon (the storm was finally on its way) so we didn't dawdle.  I tried to remember as many other landmarks as I could and figured I had the tracks in my GPS as well.

We finally rolled in at about 9:15.  I wound up showing Susan my GPS tracks to prove we were on course.  The third randonnneur (who had gone ahead) also vouched for us being on the right roads.  I never got a chance to really say thanks - I'm always a little fried at the end of a ride.

This ride was really a great experience.  It isn't every day I get to ride with someone the whole time.  Most brevets in Minnesota, I am the only female and I see everyone at the start and then catch possible glimpses during the course of the ride.  I like riding alone, but there is a really nice aspect to riding with someone else as well.  As usual, Susan put on a great brevet.  I can't wait for the Tombstone 600K.  Just 7 short weeks away and the desert will probably be blooming.