Sunday, February 23, 2014

Ride In Beauty - Visitor Center Canyon de Chelly

A cold and windy ride this weekend
I'm learning that although temps are reported in the mid-50s to almost 60, it does not really feel that way!  Ha ha ha ha - the sun is intense and bright like my Tucson Days, but I'm at 7200 feet elevation - so it's not actually that warm.  

I miscalculated the distance from TS - 39 (my spot in the college trailer park) to the Visitor Center - I thought it would be a 60 mile round-trip ride, when in fact it's just under 50.  Oh yeah, it's Visitor Center not Visitor's Center - kind of how the weekend went for me, Gentle Readers of This Blog.

As my riding progressed this month, I went out and rode down to the first pull-outs, Mummy Cave and Massacre Cave.  That went well.  For the Birthday I went a little further down to Antelope House - so now this past weekend I got all the way to the Visitor Center.

All week long I looked at weather reports - and the report was warm weather.  Late in the week, there was a massive dust storm with the sky turning red - dust everywhere - and wind blowing like 60 MPH! The Library has a maintenance hatch - a ladder that leads to the hatch, and then onto the roof.  The wind ripped the hatch off roof with a shriek!  When I went to check it out, I saw the red sky above and the door gone.  Facilities guys came right away - found the hatch out on the grounds, and then strapped it down from the inside.  Finally I was glad it was Friday - it was a long week.

Saturday morning was very cold, but started to warm up as the sun came out.  I got everything ready to go, and expected to head down the mountain at around 50 degrees, and then enjoy 60 degrees plus part way down and all the way back.

I took my camera, but this time out I wanted to spin at a good steady clip, and try to get my average speed up.  Well, it was simply a powerful head wind all the way down and cold too.  I still tried to pedal steady, and not stop for photos.  Pretty much I was in the drops and trying to stay upright on the bike.  I could just not get any speed on the down hills - the wind was blasting me - and the climbs were so slow too.  I felt I needed to tough it out, keep going like a brevet rider would, and get to the Visitor Center!

The pullouts I'd ridden to the last few weeks went by, and I started to speed down the road closer to Chinle and the Monument.  Even with a full-on head wind, I was riding fast - just wanting to get there - because you know, Gentle Reader of This Blog - with these fast descents, comes climbing when you're coming home!  I felt okay because I knew that I would have a 15 to 20 MPH tailwind to help me climb back out of here.

So then there I was, the final three or four miles shooting down to the Monument entrance - which by car is okay because the speed limit slows to 45 MPH, but on a bike - you are really gaining speed and the road narrows - then no shoulder.  Lucky for me there was no traffic behind me - I was riding into a strong headwind at 35 MPH and the road curved and banked, like you're favorite set of fast rollers, except this is a very busy intersection - and suddenly you stop.

There I was at the entrance to Canyon de Chelly Nat'l Monument - I did it!  Numb from the cold.  Yes it was actually getting colder, mes amis!  So I stopped in, got out of the wind and sat on a bench in front of the entrance to building and got warmed by the sun.  The sun felt great - and the roar of the wind in my ears was gone much to my relief too.

I went inside to fill my water bottles.  Probably best to get back on the road and get home.  I'd ridden about 25 miles in exactly two hours - not very fast.  And you know what I was thinking - it will be a long haul back.  I could see the two choices for a restaurant but I'll save that adventure for a better ride - one where I start out early and not so damn cold.

Inside the Visitor Center there are a few foreign tourists, and folks from back East.  I receive many perplexing looks - and a guys asks me, kind of as an aside, "Where did you come from?"  He asks this because my friends, we are in the middle of nowhere - practically.  I tell him I live and work up at the college, and then show him on the big park map.  "It's up here, about 25 miles - a pretty good road for riding."  The other tourists look to and are satisfied that I'm not some crazy man.

I begin the climb back - right out of the Visitor Center is it steep and grueling.  I have the help of a strong tail wind, Gentler Reader of This Blog - but it is now frigid cold.  Instead of a roaring blast  of air through my ears that's deafening, it is now so silent and still - the tail wind is pushing me, adding about 3 MPH to my already super slow speed of about 5 MPH (yes it is steep!) and I can now hear my breathing and the tires on the road, and every strain the frame and the wheels take over the rough pavement.

I have to tell you that I caught a glimpse of the canyon from one of the tight turns, that was spectacular - one you would never see from a car, but only by foot or by bike.  I almost stopped, but thought I better just keep pedaling...  I'd say for at least 9 miles I crawled up and out of the lowlands of the edge of Chinle.  Finally I got to Antelope House, where I had been the weekend before, and tackled two more big climbs - then finally a downhill and with tail wind.  I flew like a rocket toward the Chuska Mountains ahead.   Again, it was eerie quiet because the wind is pushing me and not roaring in my ears.  I hear birds - thousands of them - on the wind.  The call out warnings as I make my way past on the road.  Again, I hear the sounds of my bike melding into the sounds of my breathing - it doesn't last long but I stay in the drops, pedal as steady as I can to take as much advantage as I can from the wind and slight descent.

Even with the tail wind - and with about 8 or 9 miles to go of these 50 miles - I was cooked and feeling like I had nothing left.  The last descent, where it seemed I was descending anyway, I could only reach a top speed of 12 MPH.  Finally I made the one last climb to the highest point in my ride - the one where from the top I can see Tsaile, and Dine College spread out below.  Next is four miles of very fast descent - and I pull into the trailer park.

Good God - what a tough ride.  I was frozen and stiff.  I was also starving.  I'd only had a Cliff Bar at the turn-around.  I should have had more calories...  Wow I did it - what a ride!

So I know I can do it - I did do it in just over four hours.  My average speed was 12.8 miles per hour.  To me that seems very slow.  I would not be able to finish a moderately difficult brevet - a 200 - if I rode so slow.

I guess I can just get better, right?

Okay thanks for coming along!  Cheers!  Bruce



1 comment:

Dan Trued said...

Bruce, you're still riding faster thatn me. 7200', now that's a challenge.

Dan