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...