Saturday, February 21, 2009

Owl Head Ranch Training Route

A friend and fellow Randonneur, Dave Peashock, told me that the Park Link Road was now paved. He had that on authority from Gerry Goode, famed Randonneur from Boston, now Tucson resident.  

This road was what Tangerine used to be like not long ago--a remote East-West dirt road used by ranchers.  Tangerine Rd links I-10 and Hwy 77, or Oracle Rd., and Park Link connects I-10, sort of, via the Frontage Rd, to Hwy 79.  I'm not sure exactly why Tangerine grew and Park Link remained un-developed.  

This road rolled around in my mind as I thought it would be a great training course for brevets, and other long rides. The loop I would ride clockwise around the Tortolita Mountain Range would be about 70 miles.

My bike outfitted for the ride. I can carry six water bottles if need be. Two on the bike, two in each saddle bag. Today I carried only three--guess I thought that would be enough--um, wrong.

The weekends are for Callie. She's not sure she wants me to be gone all day--and I won't be; 70 miles is not that far, and the first part and the last part the course are fast.  Unfortunately I started at 10 a.m. which is really way too late to start a ride like this--but its all good. Callie is content.

That's Dog Mtn from about 8 miles out. This is where the big Match Play will be next weekend. Tiger Woods will be up here to defend his title. Good Luck, Mr. Woods, and to all the golfers who will play in the tournament.

If you look to the left you can just see the Great Owl's ears sticking up just above the horizon. Next time you're driving from Tucson up to Phoenix, look East and you can see his ears--the owl seems to be gazing West.

I must tell you Gentle Readers of This Blog, that as I rode North on the Frontage Rd next to I-10, there was a pretty foul odor--like manure--and it was very strong--that along with the deafening roar of I-10.

I don't know how well you can see it, mes amis, but there's this green stripe in the lane. I think its from farmer's equipment and rigs hauling manure out to the fields I'm riding past. Saying this is a shitty road is an understatement.

Since Park Link Rd had been re-paved, there's new signs that have gone up. This is good because Park Link is easy to ride past if you're not paying attention. Also, major work is being done on the rail line and I believe it will go to three or four lines from the one that's there now. Mileage from my house puts Park Link at 22 miles. I noted not long ago on a trip up the Phoenix that Park Link is at mile marker 225. On a bike you will see 226 but I've yet to ever see 225 from the bike.

As you enter Park Link, this sign tells you the distance as you head due East. The sign, like everything else, is brand new. This sign was faded before and easy to miss.

Looking West is the Secret Air Base Little Egypt told me about... Oops--did I say that?

In Arizona you will see shrines like this one by the road. I'm been told a few different things about what they mean. There location does not actually mean that a person died here at this spot. It could be that a family member or friend had a vision or profound thought about the deceased at or near this location. Hard to read this, but the soul lived from 1905 to 2003--a very long time. They must have enjoyed a few beers, these friends who put this iron cross here for him, as there's some refreshment left when said soul stops by. Road workers, railroad workers, and city maintenance crews will not disturb these sites out of respect for the Dead. Rest in Peace, mon ami...

Frontage Road I'm on was at one time the stage coach line. The US Army used this route to patrol for Apaches, and the Apaches no doubt observed their movements from Dog Mtn. Millions of people moving at light-speed it seems--

And just to the East where I'm going, the Desert still seems remote and wild and ancient. Mt Lemon with snow dominates the landscape of the background.

Very big changes will be coming here. I feel that with the new paved road, this pristine desert might not last.

This is what it means when you see the "open range" signs with the cows on them. Cattle will be on the road. I saw the few motorists on this road having to stop as they crossed the road. Should you be driving out here, best be careful. If you were to hit a cow your car would be totalled-out and you could be seriously injured by a cow going through your windshield.

Picacho Peak behind me, with no Interstate or rail line or power lines--this is how it looked to the ancient Indians, and to Father Kino in the 1690s when he rode through here on horse-back.

Music on the IPod blocks out the Interstate noise, but soon it becomes quiet, and birds singing and fussing and defending territory and calling for mates fills the hot desert air. It will just be me and a few trucks passing by--cowboys looking for stray cattle.

It is February, but it's quickly getting hot on this road. This route is very desolate--and soon it would be a bit foolish to try to ride this stretch of road because the temps would be murderous. There is nothing from my house until you ride 50 miles to Catalina, Arizona. I must also tell you that the entire 18 miles heading East is a gradual climb--not difficult, but there's a headwind that is hot and dry. Even in February, and when I rode this in December a few years back, I quickly became parched.

A wild hair--but really, its the steady headwind I've got since heading East.

Beginning to get glimpses of the Great Owl's ears. As you get near the Owl Head, things change--and the Desert seems strikingly lush and thick. This is a special place--I am drawn to it as somehow as every living thing is vibrant and alive--the cactus are two and three times larger and taller than other places in the Sonora Desert where I've been. Birds, bugs, bees, butterflies--even the little yellow and purple wild flowers by the side of the road seem to shine more vibrant.

Park Link and Cattle Tank Road. This is the half-way point on my 70 mile loop.

Cattle know where the cattle tank's at--I can't see it.

Picacho Peak about 15 miles West, and still visible. You can also see what I was talking about when I tell you how lush the Desert seems on this road, which you can barely see, mes amis.

Many thousands of saguaro cactus thrive here, as do other desert trees and cactus.  There's also a thick layer of bright green grass covering everything like carpet.  

Owl Head. It's as if he could up and turn around and see you. I would be like a little mouse compared to his size and might. As you ride, his head seems to turn and look out on things.

Picacho Peak too, changes shape as I weave on this hot winding road.

A new sign--all the signs were new and just installed, like the pavement.

The ears of the Great Owl.

Mt. Lemon with snow.

The road begins to change and the vegetation begins to get sparse. The wind is colder and picking up. There was an adobe style house down a ways on this road. I got the feeling that there was an old farmer living there with his voluptuous daughter--he puts a shotgun in my face and says I'm gonna marry her. While he's calling his cousin, who is a preacher, to come and hitch us up--I quick whisper to the daughter, "How old are you?" and she says something like, "Fore-teen..." and I'm like holy shit I got to get my ass out of here--because she looks like she's 22... But like I said, this part of the road is windy, hot, sparse, and strange.

This is the landmark you need to know. These mailboxes are at the corner of Park Link and Hwy 79. There's no signs so if you're driving or cycling you could miss the intersection.

It is at about mile marker 100 by the looks of things. Here I've just hopped onto Hwy 79. The Junction of Hwy 79 and Hwy 77 (Oracle Rd) will be a long tough climb of 9 miles. In Catalina is where you can stop for water should you need to.

This is just a landmark to let you know you're almost done with the wind, the climb, and the traffic. There's a bit of a shoulder--people drive fast.

This stretch of Hwy 79 has the White Tiger prowling, and he knows I'm here. This is right at or just below the snowline, and from the wind, the cold, and the climb, it seems like your leg muscles are being ripped from the bone. Today I was hurting, but on the 300 kilometer brevet back in early February, my leg cramps were a living hell--I cramped up so severly that the pain almost made me leap out of the saddle!

A few years before that I had to DNF because I had nothing left--leg cramps were so bad that they left me exhausted and trashed, and I limped home and just made it.  Today I'm okay because I'm only riding 9 miles on Hwy 79 instead of 22 or so of the 300 km brevet course.

I'm on Hwy 77 and Pusch Ridge is in view. I've got about 25 miles to ride back to my place, and this part through Catalina and Oro Valley will be a much needed descent down to Tangerine Rd.

When I rolled into the garage and off the bike, this little fellow scurried up the wall. He was a bit groggy--and I was surprised to see him.  It's still February, right? I caught him and let him go outside in the front garden.

Already a lizard? My, my, what next? Then I began to feel my skin burning--great, now I've a sunburn. Rest day Sunday I hope...

Thanks for riding along. Cheers!

Monday, February 09, 2009

Brevet of 300 KM Casa Grande, Arizona

Riding a Brevet is also about accuracy--although I know most of course from training rides and fun rides with the lads, I keep the cue sheet handy.

I finished the 300 KM Brevet this weekend with 45 minutes to spare before the controle in Casa Grande closed at 2 a.m.

This brevet I knew I would be riding alone unless I got lucky enough to ride with some other Randonneurs. That’s okay because I was prepared—anyway, I would have to make a stop at my house which was on the course, to check on my dog Callie. That would be important—Callie is 13 years old and pretty fit—but she requires our constant attention.

Susan, RBA of Arizona Randonneurs, at the start of the 300.

With permission from RBA, I was allowed to go off the course one mile, let Callie outside, give her her medication (she has Valley Fever) and then get back on the course. Little Egypt had Nat’l Guard Drill and would not be home until late. My neighbors were out of town, and other friends had commitments as well.


I would quickly switch out my wheel for the hub generator, and eat the left over spaghetti I had waiting in the fridge—I’d fill up the water bottles and be off.

Flat tires are part of this sport. The more flat tires you get, the better you are at keeping your wits as you fix them. I've noticed I'm using less swear words to express my emotions when I'm in this situation.

I rode out with Leslie, Tom, and Mike, and all was going well. The sun would be up soon and we’d be warm. Conversations were about breakfast at the controle, funny close calls on training rides and brevets—like being chased by dogs in Picacho—about the photo in my blog of that screw that went through my tire in Saguaro Nat’l Park—Callie barking at Gerry Goode and not letting him out of his car (if Superman's weakness is Kryptonite, then cranky old dogs are Gerry's) when suddenly! Wham-O!

Our group has it's first flat--not to worry--we set out to make quick work of the repair. A new tube is put in, CO2 fills the tire--but there is a problem! Leslie's tire is cut deep and long on the sidewall, and the tube is beginning to stick out. A boot might do the trick--but the tire I'm afraid has seen its last brevet.

Okay, I have a spare tire that I carried just for this scenario--it's been folded up for about two years, and there's no guarantee that it will work--but let's try it--we all agree.

So again we're changing a tire--and this folded up tire, made in France, fought me, fought Leslie, and fought Tom--it was still like new and not wanting to go on the wheel without a fight. Finally one of us was able to force the tire on the rim.

We took turns pumping up the tire with my hand pump--but as we were about to finish, we broke the tube's stem--and the tire was flat as a pancake.

Another tube goes in, and again, we fight the tire back on the rim. I was able to finally get the tire on, but I think I damaged the tube, because when Leslie used her last CO2, the tire went flat as soon as it had inflated.

A group of randonneurs, riding strong, passed us with a flash. The sun was up and the new tube was put in the tire--and the tire fought us yet again--but finally we had done it--we were back on the road.

After the controle, we were on our way down what I would say is the toughest part of this course. We ride East on Hwy 77, climbing gradually to the Junction of Hwy 77 and Hwy 79. I was unable to keep the pace with the other riders--they were just riding a little to fast for me. A few years ago it was snowing here, and bitter cold. Today I was fighting a leg cramp and a headwind.

A bent rim caused my wheel to rub slightly--making me work very hard the first half of the ride.

After I checked on Callie, I switched out the wheel for the Schmidt hub--and I noticed the wheel I’d been using was slightly bent—at the start Dave Glasgow told me he thought he heard something rubbing on the wheel but I didn’t notice anything—no wonder the day was so tough! I bet I’d bent the rim commuting to work or on my pre-ride with Susan last week.

Now I felt that I had my legs back and everything was running smoothly. I was making pretty good time. The wind was blowing hard but I felt confident I would make the controle in Saguaro Nat'l Park.

Point of No Return.

With over 100 miles on my legs, and with the drag of my Schmidt hub and all my gear, this would be a long difficult climb to the top of Gates Pass. I put all that out of my mind and recalled how my training efforts and taking this Pass head-on prepared me mentally to reach the top.

The reward for reaching the top of Gates Pass--awesome scenery! Saguaro Nat'l Park by bike is the only way to go, Gentle Readers of This Blog.

Thanks to Carl for this bike stand at the controle!

I made the Lunch controle in Saguaro Nat'l Park with about 30 minutes to spare. From here I knew I'd finish this brevet. Susan met me, filled my water bottles, slapped a wrap in my hand, and told me to eat, drink, and rest a few minutes.

With a Full Moon, I will be able to ride fast out of the Park.

I am going to finish!

My ride to the Picacho Peak DQ was fast and furious, and I made good time. I must give credit to my good friend and training partner, Steve Star of the Blog--he helped me gain confidence riding at night. Plus, we've ridden this part of the course so many times, I think I could ride it in my sleep. That's what I had to do once I got to the Plaza--I had to rest and did so for about 20 minutes. Now there was a steady headwind, and I could see the storm front gradually moving in like it was a thick carpet being put down by some huge invisible giants. I needed to eat the wraps Susan had stashed for me, and drink up--I still had to keep moving--the window of time to make the last controle was getting narrow.

I rode against a strong headwind to Eloy, Gentle Readers--it made for slow going, and if you were driving back to Tucson after the finish, you no doubt saw me on the Frontage Road. Know that I was okay, in good spirits, and feeling strong--just had to keep going. Dave Glasgow had seen me, drove up the Frontage Road, and stopped to encourage me--I also reassured him that I was going for the finish and that I would make the time cut off in Casa Grande.

Going through Eloy, the bars were in full swing. Music spilled out onto the street, and party goers cheered and waved as I rode past. At the Circle K at Eleven Mile Rd, the friendly clerk wished me well--she gave me the sports section of the paper to put in my jacket--that would keep out the cold and wind as I jumped on the Brookes and pushed off.

That was Midnight and that's when the rain started. The eight miles to SR 287 were fast--the wind and rain were fierce and pushed me right to the Yellow Flashing Sign. There had been not one car on Eleven Mile Rd and in the rain and darkness, my Schmidt hub and Lumotec lamp had served me well.

At Eloy, I had made it a point to read my brevet card so I would know the question to answer when I arrived--I will not reveal the matter, only let you know that I personally intended to deliver by by bike the item back to Susan when I saw her at the end.

Now riding West on SR 287 the last leg of the 300, it was rain full-force. With just seven miles to go to the finish I could just make out the white line of the road. Every so slowly, the lights of Casa Grande appeared, and began to reflect on the low rain clouds. I turned around and noted the street light way back at Eleven Mile Rd and then the lights of I-10 up ahead. It was an strange feeling that not one car had come either way. At this point I had to stop and take a bite of one of Susan's wraps--I was starving. I used my red flashing light on the back of my helmet to see the time on my bike computer. It wasn't quite 1 a.m. Time was on my side.

Quick work of the last few miles and I saw what I believed to be Susan pulling out, probably coming to look for me--but she stopped suddenly when it dawned on her that it was in fact me pulling into the finish. I made it--my bike computer said 1:11 a.m. Sunday.

Cheers! Bruce

Sunday, February 01, 2009

RBA Arizona Randonneurs

Susan riding in Saguaro National Park, on the 300 KM Brevet Course.

As the RBA for Arizona Randonneurs, Susan is the brevet official for our rides. Most people do not know, but she pre-rides the course to make sure the cue sheet and places like stores and places for water are available for riders. But she also pre-rides so she can get credit for the brevets--and she does it solo with no support or bag drop, etc.

Riding a 300 km, or almost 200 miles, by yourself--can be daunting, but Susan does the entire series this way. Often she's already completed many brevets in Utah or New Mexico prior to running the Arizona Brevets.

I live on the course, and about half way through as she passes my house, I join her--to give her company and support--and to ride with her those long hours in the dark. It gives me a chance to go over the route for myself, and make sure my bike and my gear are set for a 300 and the night riding we'll be doing.

The toughest part of the ride will be to the top of the front side of Gates Pass. This is the old mule train road built by Tom Gates back in the 1890s. It is beautiful and breath taking country in more ways than one!

When you reach the top, as Susan and I have done this afternoon, you have 100 miles under your legs. The rest of brevet is smooth sailing. Once you're out of the Nat'l Park, you prepare for the flat, long ride back to the start at Casa Grande.

Saguaro Nat'l Park is one of the most beautiful places on this Earth, Gentle Readers of This Blog. Normally I'm her very early in the morning to beat the heat, the tourists, and get to our breakfast place--then home before everyone wakes up. This is one of those time when I'm here in the Park and the sun is setting on the mountains and the saguaro!

I ponder the wonder of it all--Susan records her controle times.

Gentler Readers--this was the show stopper. Just about out of the Park I have blow-out! It's one of those four inch wood screws right through the tire. I boot the tire with a dollar bill and hope it holds.

It holds until about the Marana controle at the Circle K. I ride with Susan through the dark and we get through some of the more busy and narrow sections of the course--where there's not much but darkness, starlight and fields of cotton. In the little town of old Marana--the tire finally gives out.

I tell Susan that she's going to have to go on without me. I'll try to see if I can fix the tire somehow, and then I'll try to catch up with her. But even in the darkness, with a dim lamp from a nearby farm equipment barn, I can see the tire is beyond repair.

I was very lucky this time, mes amis--a quick call on my cell and it just so happens that Little Egypt was on her way back from Phoenix. She was only a few minutes away--she rescued me as she was right by the exit where the Marana Contole is located.

Susan was on her own again for the last fifty miles back to Casa Grande. She made it, I'm happy to report, but it was later than she had expected. My flat slowed her down, but she was a good sport about it--and we made quick work of fixing things up when the mishap did occur. Had I been by myself, and had it been dark--and cold--I know I would have had a hard time keeping my wits!

I'm glad I was able to ride and see the park and write to you about this adventure.