Monday, February 11, 2013

Stylish Riding for 300k the Arizona Way

After the very lovely Sun Valley 200k, Vincent and I had but one day to hang out at my dad's house and prepare for our next ride on Feb 2. We had a nice room at the Holiday Inn the night before the ride. Once upon a time, I would drive from Buckeye to Casa Grande for a start, now I am just too whimsy...

Vincent is the quintessential vegetarian.  So we prepared for the ride by buying a whole bunch of fruit for breakfast in the hotel room. We added oatmeal, greek yoghurt, granola, coconut water, the works. We even had individual coconut water for the bikes – high style. Vincent also had these green tea energy drinks called Verve – a little like a fruit flavored vitamin bomb.

We drove up to the start at the round trip bike shop at around 5:30AM to say hello to Susan. Susan is by far my most favorite RBA; if I ever grow up and become an RBA, I’d like to be like her. This being my favorite 300k of all time, the mix is obvious. We also ran into quite a parade of friends from past rides: Margaret and Bob from the infamous Titanic 400k, Ronaele from the Munger Bungo, Mike (who owned the perm we had just finished, and all my friends from the extreme picnickers. It’s always nice to see people that you share rando moments with, no matter how long, it seems we have long memories.

Per the official watch, we started out at 6:00am sharp. At a balmy 39 degrees, I was pretty suited up in my wool stuff. Arizona rides tend to start with people going out like bats out of hell, maybe it’s the cold. At 18 mph, Vincent and I dropped back a bit to conserve (It’s not like we were really trained up for this thing). The line of picnickers was behind us and I got to have a nice chat with Ryan, whom I rode with at PBP.

Beautiful sunrise on cue as we swung over I-10 and headed for Coolidge; temperatures were falling as we dropped into the lower area. I love Arizona sunrises and sunsets. In the desert, perspective is much different; everything is expansive and huge with miles of cactus, scrub and red-brown rocks. It always makes me think of being in prehistoric times for some odd reason.

As the sun warmed, we road out of Coolidge and onto the long climb to Oracle Junction. In past years, it had gotten quite hot, but we made it all the way to Tom Mix Monument (Control #1) without shedding any clothes. We stopped, stripped layers, used the men’s and ladies cacti and ate some of the great food. Susan always tries to staff controls, a practice I have come to really appreciate. We lingered quite a bit too long here and Vincent and I finally took off alone while others were still busy with tasks. A wind had started up and with bad pavement, I took just to the right of the white line, Vincent stayed on my wheel tucked back to my right to avoid the breeze.

About 5 miles later, a really interesting thing happened. We got pulled over by the police! The very stern police dude stormed up and demanded to know one good reason why we were riding next to each other. I remember thinking of reasons like “because Vincent is a nice guy and I like him”, but that really seemed really not good, so I opted for looking really confused and said, “I don’t know, I’m from Minnesota”. Apparently, you aren’t supposed to ride even close to next to each other even if you both are on the right side of the white line. He seemed to accept our dorky looks and pasty skin as proof of ignorance. We followed up with lots of contrite sentences starting with “Sir” and he drove off in search of some kind of water stop (we didn’t offer directions”.

The trip to Oracle junction was beautiful. Lots of cactus, long views and a nice warm sun. We passed a rider looking somewhat aimless and Vincent dropped back to see if he wanted to ride with us and draft. Returning, he no, the rider wasn’t tired – he was just “chillaxing”. This became the word of the day as we were to see many people out enjoying the day just “chillaxing”. We finally got to the crest at mile 66 and began the long descent through Tucson. By this time, we were both hungry and the Subway was closed. Last time I did this ride, I accidentally bonked and had no desire for a repeat. All eyes were peeled for food!

We picked up speed like crazy here in the ritzy neighborhoods with Mt Lemmon looming in the background. The sky was so clear this year which led to some great pictures. Finally, as we cruised along Tangerine at about 20 mph, we spied a mall and pulled in to check the food court.

Instead, we found high class, outdoor neopolitan pizza! After years of eating at gas stations, we opted for a sit down of pizza caprese, salad, lemonade and cloth napkins. I have to say that this is the first brevet EVER that I have such a decadent meal. Plus, the bikes were right next to us, they brought us a pitcher of water to juice up the bottles and neopolitan pizza cooks in 3 minutes! We were out in exactly 40 minutes, which for a typical halfway stop is not really all that bad. The pizza was good too.

The next 10 miles were still basically downhill too. So we cruised down Twin Peaks Road to Silverbell in record time. A few miles later, we climbed Gate Pass, passing another chillaxing rider, and stopped for a photo op at the overlook. Sure it took a few minutes, but Vincent had never seen it and on such a clear day, it was breathtaking. No way we could just ride by.

Down the always exciting pass (made less exciting by the pokey little prius who could not find his parking lot), was our next rest stop where Susan waited with sandwiches and refreshments. Okay, this was the very best tuna salad sandwich I have ever had (really). I had to ask for the recipe it was so good. We chatted briefly with Susan and Margaret and Bob, who were suiting up to leave. This is the Saguaro National Park and it is so pretty I don’t mind the choppy hills. The big descent down Mile Wide Road isn’t bad either. As we turned onto Sandario and back north, the wind picked up and, for the first time since the morning, we had quite a headwind.

The wind was an annoyance for the next 10 miles, but we amused ourselves and continued to gawk and the many interesting sights, including one of my favorite streets, Wong Way (that joke just does not get old for me). We pulled into Circle K Marana, got coconut water and suited up for dark.

The trip up the I-10 frontage road is always marked for me on this ride by the sun setting on Picacho Peak. Despite the busy interstate, the ride still seems vast and empty with the golden horizon and the pointy tops of the peak. Another of the reasons I love this ride. We cruised along at a lovely little clip and at some point the wind died down to nothing. The stars were astronomically bright for the last 30 miles or so – yet another treat.

We were somewhat surprised to not see anyone behind us, but we continued on pausing briefly at Circle K Eloy to use facilities and eat Vincent’s vegan cookies (which are really good). Though he didn’t like the trip up 11 Mile Corner, I thought it was nice with a gentle breeze that made the electrical wires sound like a sci fi movie. We even heard an owl hooting as we wrote down the info control question.

10 miles later at about 9:40 pm, we were at the end. Susan was there and had even more tuna salad (and egg salad for Vincent, who is a vegetarian). So tasty! We had a great talk with Susan and finally had to acknowledge that it was late and we really needed to get back to Phoenix. Margaret and Bob pulled up as we drove off.

This may be my favorite running of the ride. I felt awesome at the end and really was sad that I would not be able to do the Around the Bend 400k (Dad’s 75th birthday was the same day), but fate can be really kind as well as the next entry shows.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Lost Vampire Randos of Minnesota

What are pasty Minnesotans to do in the dead of winter? Sure we hang out in gyms or, even better, dark yoga studios where we hide skin that would otherwise be qualifying as a reflective surface. But there is no rest for the seasonally affected, so usually by about February, Road Pixie is fit to be tied. Bella Lugosi has more color than I do in the winter.

Last year a mild winter kept riding outdoors palatable, but stern warnings after 2 bouts with pneumonia convinced me that giving my lungs a break was a good thing. Added to that, dates worked out for a good friend, Vincent, to go with me for a couple of outings in the southwest. Vincent has a dream of completing an R12, no easy task in a state where even the Canadians (like our RBA) migrate south for the winter.

So we packed our bags, tubes, helmets and other miscellaneous gear and headed for the airport. I arrived first, to be picked up by my dad in his brand new Fiat. Ever tried getting your bike box into Fiat? I was thankful for all those crunches in the gym, lifting the bike box over my head to put it in the back seat via the sun roof was a feat of strength. Thankfully, we had the Yukon when Vincent got there, his box is bigger than mine.

No matter how well you pack, something is always missing but after trips to 3 different bike shops, we were ready for our first ride: The Sun Valley 200k in Phoenix on Jan 31. I had talked to the permanent owner, Mike, who is one of those types like me that owns half a dozen permanents. His favorite,and suggested, ride had 5,000 ft of climbing and a hill with the label "pass" in it. Having not been on the bike for about a month, we opted for his least favorite "urban but flat" route.

We got a great start by getting lost at 6AM in Scottsdale. I drive a Prius, so driving dad's Yukon was distracting enough. Add in unfamiliar territory and it's just bad; we asked a jogger for directions and felt better when even he couldn't tell us where we were (which turned out to be 1 block from where we were supposed to be). So we started about 25 minutes late. At least it was flat....

Okay, it wasn't flat. The first 18 mile stretch to the control was all up hill. Sure it was a false flat kind of uphill, but our pasty legs took some time to get going, we had about 4 mechanicals as we got the bikes adjusted, and we had a really nice sunrise to watch. Nonetheless, when we were 8 miles out from the control with 25 minutes to close, this sent me into minor panic. I hate being late! So we sprinted up the hill, I felt like I was in a spinerval class, my legs burned, my chest pounded, I realized I had forgotten to have a second cup of coffee. We got stopped by every red light, but did manage to skitter into the control in Cave Creek 1 minute before it closed. I ran to get a receipt only to be foiled by an old guy paying for gas out of his penny jar. Oh well, the sprint was still probably good for me, but we decided that pasty Minnesotans are just no good at 1% grades during their hibernation phase. And it was 40 degrees so far, not exactly tropical.

Cave Creek is a very arty place. Outside the gas station where statues of cowboys made out of used parts. I, of course, point me finger and exclaim "look at those two guys". I am horrified 1 second later when 2 actually people stare at me from the gas pump directly in front of the statues. I backpedal with a lame , "I'm not pointing at you" but the damage is done. I look like an idiot tourist in tights, and on cue, two local racer types wearing full kits, roll up to provide a stunning contrast. They probably road up the hill without any trouble at all. At least we were on the top, any direction would be a significant downhill from this point.

We passed the Vegan Academy on the way out of town - a thrill for Vincent who is a vegetarian. In fact, hanging with Vincent really improves my otherwise horrible rando diet of oatmeal cream pies and junk food. His sense of humor is just as sarcastic as mine too, we are sort of an Oscar Wild/Gertrude Stein combo on bikes. He assured me that we would make it to the end just fine while wowing the locals with our stunning, if not cellulite ridden, physiques. "Rando rides are all about POWER and SPEED", he joked as we settled into a nice 25 mph pace (which lasted the duration of our trip down the hill). I have always noted what a great rider I am going downhill with a tailwind. I silently dubbed Vincent Power Boy (okay, maybe not totally silently...).

The next 50 miles served to both warm us and the rest of Phoenix up as the sun got going and we had a great view of 3 hot air balloons in flight. With some time in the bank and finally being able to shed a layer or two, I loosened up. We had some headwind as we road past a "no bikes" sign on the entrance ramp to the 303. We had been warned about construction; I figured it could not be that bad.

Okay, the construction was bad. Nothing really annoys a driver as much as a pasty, pale cyclist taking the lane in a construction zone in a 55 mph zone full of concrete barriers and cones. As we neared the end, flashing lights were ahead. A state trooper gave us a very dirty look, fortunately he was busy busting a guy in a Miata whose trunk he was rifling.

At this point, we were starving and with a 26 mile stretch into the desert ahead, we opted to stop for eats on Bell Road. This was an urban sprawl fest, but we managed to located the newly opened European Bistro. A live accordion played the Carpenter's "On top of the world" as we slunk into our seats. After pierogies, a Greek salad and the best ham sandwich I have ever had, we called Mike, who gave us a detour around the construction for the ride back. For the record, ABBA translates well on an accordion.

We had a lovely out and back to a retirement community 15 miles in the desert. You know you're in Arizona when everyone on billboards is in their 60s and are driving golf carts. I had a somewhat unpleasant experience as we returned when skanky teenagers threw a full water bottle at me from a moving car. I made up for it by cheerily taking pictures of them when they got stuck at the traffic light just after the toss.

We finished the ride at about 5:30 pm. Sure it took 11:25 to finish, but we did start late, lazed about, had flats and generally worked all the bugs out of our setup. I decided my new saddle needed significantly more breaking in and Vincent may have decided to build a new bike. After all, we only had one day to rest before the Saguaro Park 300k...