After such a great 300k, I was in for a bunch of hell back in Minnesota. Gobs of work, minor surgery for IronK and not one, but two unexpected crowns and root canals, resurgent autoimmune diseases. I had a plane ticket to return to Arizona for my dad’s 75th birthday. Dad is a longtime biker and former marathon runner. He still rides like crazy in his 70’s. In addition, this was a big party to celebrate his 40th year of sobriety – which may be one of the most impressive accomplishments I’ve ever known.
Susan had sort of offered an option to potentially pre-ride the 400k (I told you there isn’t anyone nicer). I had offered to assist at the start regardless since I was going to be in AZ anyway. IronK vetoed the idea of me pre-riding solo and with so many things going on I had not thought it possible. Then it just occurred to me that I should just change my flight and do it. That would make the pre-ride only 2 days before the real ride – how much more up to date could the ride briefing be? So I worked things out with Susan and Tom (another great Arizona fixture) and had the added benefit of a call from Lara, who has had a rough time of late and was pondering doing the ride herself. The two of us would avoid solo rides and put together a good preview of the route and see people off.
Dad picked us up at the airport on Wednesday and drove us down to Casa Grande. He had concerns about safety. “Do you want my 9 mil?” My immediate answer was no, because I had no license and I don’t even know what part of the gun the 9 millimeters is measuring. “You don’t need licenses in Arizona,” was the reply. “Oh,” pipes up Lara, “I’m a crack shot”. Geez, you learn something every day. We opted to leave the semi-automatic weapons at home since Lara, now Pecos Lara, is a revolver girl. Okay, we also forgot about it while I packed up the bike too. I had a brief vision of us in some kind of western movie with bikes instead of horses, kind of like a shoot out at the OK Bike Corral. But I digress.
The first thing that we decided upon arrival in Casa Grande was to start an hour earlier than the planned 6:00am. Seeing as we were doing this on a weekday, we were subject to rush hour and rush hour at the I-10 entrance ramp was not something I wanted to experience at dawn during rush hour. We decided to leave at 5 instead. Unbeknownst to me (who has a new smart phone that she is not used to) we failed to check email and missed Tom at the start who arrived at 5:15 (what a guy!).
We crossed I-10 still in the dark so our reflective gear and lights were in full force. Traffic was already building so I was very happy to have avoided the biggest rush. We made good time and saw another gorgeous sunrise as we pulled through Sacaton. Lots of trucks were on the road, so we were careful as we crossed I-10 once more. Temperatures were in the 30s, so we were bundled up, but we decided to wait for the first control at Maricopa before shedding.
Traffic in Maricopa was quite heavy and I was relieved that riders on Saturday would be spared. We pulled to the side to wait for an opportunity to cross to see Tom waving from the other side of the road. He and Lara have some history so we lingered a bit to catch up on old times. I think Tom has ridden PBP something like 6 or 7 times – that’s in the wow category. Really a nice guy, he had water and bananas and new control cards (the question for one info control was being changed). I took off my jacket but left most everything else on. It was only just 8:00 and temps were still down in the 40s.
The next 40 miles to Gila Bend were among my favorite. With the railroad and constant trains next to us, it really felt like the west. Beautiful mountains and a slow climb made for happy miles. We finally had to stop and ditch more layers around 9. I got to hear many stories of PAC tours, old rando stories and all kinds of stuff from Pecos Lara, who is apparently hooked into the scene pretty much everywhere she goes. I have never done a PAC tour (it seems kind of scary), but she finished the Elite Tour a couple years back and that is a real accomplishment, worthy of a good listen.
We got to Gila Bend just before 11:00 to the lunch rush hour (gee, there are lots of rush hours in Arizona). We opted for a food stop at McDonalds and Lara waited in line while I fussed with bikes and wrote down the info control answers. I had to settle for fries and a shake. My temporary crowns were still very sore from the root canals and I couldn’t chew anything with any crunch or toughness. It was going to be a perpetuem and gel kind of ride. Fortunately, the shamrock shake is going on McDonalds – at least it’s tasty.
The fries caught up to me and my digestive track over the next 40 miles. We had a pretty constant headwind about 10-15 mph. I’m not a fan of McD’s so the oil in the fries just sat in my stomach like molten lead. Not good. I also lamented the fact that I had accidentally packed a bad saddle that did not fit and my keister and knees gave me a severe lecture. Lara had a thrill when a hot guy with no shirt on told us to stop at the dairy if we needed anything. Damn, why are there no hot farm girls around when you need a pick up? We also passed a solar farm which I found very interesting.
Finally, we cruised over Gillespie Dam and up the only hill in the whole route. The dam itself is collapsed and the bridge is an old iron-truss style one that was really cool looking. This was another high point of the ride. The next high point was the hundreds of water birds: cormorants, white herons, blue herons, egrets and the like that clustered around the water of the canals alongside the road. I love wildlife! We even saw some rabbits that made me think of Vincent (depressed back in Minnesota that he wasn’t riding with us).
We finally got to the northernmost part of the route in Buckeye and made the stop at the school/info control. I wanted to shed my wool undershirt but school was in session and it was recess so the playground was crowded. Maybe not shed clothes in front of kindergartners? We pedaled on to Buckeye, where Dad lives, and gave him a call just to let him know we were safe and having fun.
The next 40 miles or so is a little more urban and we wound our way through the Estrella Mountains and past the Phoenix Raceway which was preparing for a NASCAR race. I know even less about cars than guns, so when we passed a guy polishing the rims of a semi that said, “Packed full of Bacon” with a big bacon picture, I wondered how much bacon a semi could hold. 5 miles later it occurred to me that the semi held a race car and probably had no bacon. Fortunately, the guy was also cute and Pecos Lara actually managed to flirt at 18 mph (that’s really impressive).
We stopped for another bathroom break just after the raceway and headed to Laveen. This was some more enjoyable road and it almost felt as though we had a tailwind (the winds were blowing around the Estrellas). We stopped at the Komatke Market to suit up for nighttime. Again, we spent more time that normal, but I had notes to take and Lara wanted new batteries for her rear lights.
Off we went down Baseline Rd, at this point with only about 85 miles to go. Unfortunately, the shake and 5 bags of perpetuem were taking a toll on me. I was feeling pretty down when we rolled across I-10 and into a store advertising “Cigarettes and Food”. I hoped I could at least find a smoothie or a soft sandwich. Alas, no sandwiches, but I did find a Super Sized Dinty Moore Chicken Pot Pie dinner: 550 calories, just what the doctor ordered. However, when I asked, no microwave. Ugh, I opened it to something that really looked like bad baby food. This stuff was not meant to be eaten cold.
However, it turned out that the people running the shop, a couple of native americans, were super nice. The guy took my food and ran it around to his apartment to heat it up for me. He also gave both of us a non-creepy hug and lots of encouragement. That pretty much ended my low point.
I came back from getting my food to see Pecos Lara talking to a patron, a portly guy in his late 50s. They were discussing the distance of the ride and he was asking lots of questions about where we were going, etc. I never like someone to ask too many questions and having surveyed the route offered up vague details of the parts that were very populated and had lots of traffic – I find that this satisfies the curiosity of a genuinely interested person without making it look like I don’t trust them (which I don’t). “Do you have guns?” he asked, then with a pause, “for protection from coyotes.” “I wouldn’t answer that question,” was Lara’s reply, “but neither of our father’s would ever let us do this without protection”. I tried to nod very sagely. The rest of the conversation passed and he drove off without incident. “I can’t believe you told him we are packing heat,” I said to Lara. She smiled, “well I have a baby mag that I can fit in my top tube bag.” Gee, I never knew mags had babies. I had another brief vision of my top tube bag going off and sheering of my seatpost. If I were a man, I might have thought of something else.
It turns out that packing imaginary heat is just as good as the real thing because we never saw the guy again; I suppose he could have been harmless too. We left feeling much better and headed for Chandler; where snotty 17 year olds kicked us out of Subway at closing time (really, we were still eating). This was more traffic and I was happy to leave it behind. My chicken pot pie worked miracles and we got to the last info control pretty easily with a few more mental notes to write down and a stop for bananas at Frys as a side trip.
By this time, it was in the 30’s again and I was wearing almost everything. Our pace was fast enough to keep me from needing my jacket (which I thought would be too warm). 40 miles from the end, we had the big crash.
It’s never fun to crash. This one was on RR tracks. We knew they were bad, we discussed the badness and were prepared. We were not prepared for the deep ballast gravel on the other side of the tracks. Lara hit them at slow speed and just keeled over with a thud. In the dark, it was actually pretty awful to watch. It knocked the wind out of her and caused some road rash on her left elbow. That was bad because her right shoulder was already hurting from another injury. I put on blinkies in the road and waited for her to catch her breath and get up. She was okay except for wounded pride (and road rash). I did most of the pulling for the next few miles with the occasional yelp behind me. Even so the guys in Coolidge were unimpressed, they still wouldn’t let us in the bathroom.
I probably should have put on my coat but didn’t so I was darn cold for the last 10 miles. We kept up the chatting and passed the bike shop at about 2:36, finishing the ride officially at the hotel at 2:45. My teeth were chattering, my knees were sore from my bad saddle and failure to stop and add a layer and sure, Lara was bleeding, but every finish is a triumph of man (or woman) and this one was no different. Our room was full of food, just waiting to be eaten.
We spent the next day sleeping and being lazy. I wrote all my notes to Tom on my phone (which took less time than I thought). We met Tom at the start to check everyone in and I did my little briefing. He was doing a drop bag service for riders; they would have access to the bags 3 times during the ride. “I’m keeping up with Susan’s standards” was the statement. That is the real truth.
Like I said, if I ever grow up and become and RBA, I hope I’m like Susan.