Fountain Hills and Hot Tamales: 200K in North Phoenix

Having successfully completed the Saguaro National Park 300K brevet on Saturday, I decided to maximize my riding for the month by doing a permanent as well. Originally, the plan was to do it on Sunday, but Dad's birthday was Saturday and we had the party on Sunday. Dad trumps riding sometimes.

I picked out Mike Sturgill's North Phoenix and Fountain Hills 200K as a good follow up ride to the 300K. It was listed as "flatish" and for the most part it was. This being my off-season, I didn't want to overdo it and my chest was hurting due to bruised ribs and boughts of coughing after the dust on the 300K. It turned out to be a great choice.

I met Mike at the community college/park and ride near the start. Mike is one of those guys that I admire and potentially say hi to at the beginning of a brevet. His plan is to do the Cascades without needing to turn his lights on. I, on the other hand, will likely be recharging mine each night. Perhaps in a few years, my thighs will achieve epic status, but not right now.

In any case, after a few last instructions, I set out. The first few miles were along the streets of North Phoenix and I couldn't make a light to save my life. I hadn't really ever ridden in the area, so this was actually a good thing. Sometimes in urban riding, I fixate so much on the road and traffic, that I never bother to actually look at the scenery. Traffic lights give me an opportunity to do just that. I finally came to a bike path through a really beautiful park just along the highway. By this time, it was around 8:00 and though the sun was up and the cars were moving, it was still really quite scenic with many cactus and a few flowers starting to emerge. I then made my way to the canals where, for about 10 miles, I was treated to an amazing array of birds. There were some parrotish looking birds with bright green feathers and purple acccents, some plover-style birds and some others that looked a little like a long legged woodpecker. Not something I expected.

I passed a big amusement park in the Arabian style that made me think of rides when I was a little kid. The canals in Phoenix make for great riding with tunnels under most of the streets. It had rained very hard 2 nights before and there were some lingering puddles to splash through which was also fun. I finally turned onto 51st street and began the trek to more rural areas. There were some very nice neighborhoods in the next few miles; Phoenix definitely favors stucco over brick. I pulled into the first control at about 9:15 (32 miles) and bought some water.

The next section, Lake Pleasent Road and New River Road, were the most rural part of the ride. For miles, I really didn't see much in the way of buildings, just green desert. Yes, the desert is currently green. Every few years, Arizona gets lots of water, probably the result of El Nino. This year is turning out to be quite the wet one and I expect that there will be many flowers in the coming month or two. I dawdled a bit on this part just because the sun was out and I really was enjoying the scenery. I pulled into the RoadRunner Cafe just after noon, bought a coke at the bar and took off quickly.

The next few miles were a bit hillier than the previous ones. I passed through the town of New River and wound around quite a bit before hitting 74 and cruising for about 10 miles. At this point, I entered back into Scottsdale and turned onto Dynamite Road and beginning the ascent of 9 mile hill (okay the 5 mile side of it). Being from Minnesota, I don't get to do sustained climbs of more than a mile or two very often. This one was maybe 5%, but went on for about 5 miles before the Shell Station (control #4).   At the Shell Station, I pondered food options, by this time it was about 1:30.  Another cyclist showed up whom I had seen ascending the hill came in and said hello.  Seeing my indecision, he piped up, "hey, you should try these" and pointed to some refrigerated hot tamales.  "Wash it down with some of this Cactus - it's a great pick up".  I must have been really low on blood sugar, because I agreed that this was a good idea.  So much for trying something new - I took one bite, realized it was a bad idea and went back for a heath bar instead.  The Cactus stuff was okay, but I have to say that water is even better.
Shortly afterwards, I was climbing the final steps to the descent of 9 mile hill.  There was a spectacular view of the Rio Verde valley with a snow capped mountain in the distance.  It was about 75 degrees, perfect riding weather.  I had fun on that descent and was sad to see it go as I turned onto Forest Road.  The next 10 miles were uneventful as I wound my way through Scottsdale.  I hit the final Control at about 3:30 and headed up Palisades hill.  At this point, things got interesting.  I turned onto Shea Blvd for a 2 mile descent, but rush hour had apparently started because traffic was pretty thick.  It's one thing to scream down a hill at 35 mph, it's quite another to do it with a bunch of cars going 50.  Needless to say, I was happy to turn off.
As I completed the last 10 miles, I was amazed at the traffic.  At the time, I kept thinking it must be rush hour.  Only later did I find out that a major accident on the 101 had detoured almost all the traffic off the freeway onto my route.  Mayo Blvd, normally deserted, was packed with cars.  I did enjoy riding around the remnants of the Phoenix Open.  Had I been there the previous day, it would certainly have been difficult to get around the people.  As it was, there were just cleanup crews and a few detours for cars remaining.  The traffic on Union Hills was also heavy and I was happy to finally see the Circle K at the finish.  A total of 10:20 with 1:45 non-moving (the traffic lights were at least half an hour).  Not my fastest, but considering the circumstances, a fine ride.
I won't get back for Susan's 400K in March, but I have to say that I have a good feeling about the Tombstone 600K in April. 
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A fine day for a 300K - Saguaro National Park

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