New Friends in Arizona: Casa Grande Ruins 200K

"You've got the best quads I've seen in a long time". It just goes to show that sometimes when you are really uncomfortable and thinking about your lackluster abilities that some unknown randonneur will just make your day. So here is the story.
I had been planning on doing the Casa Grande Ruins 200K on Jan 2 since completing Mt Lemmon. After copious planning, disaster struck just before Xmas when a virulent case of "knee"-monia set in. Without warming, my knee swelled up and I found out that I had some major issues with adductor magnus (aka the groin), gastrocnemius and soleus (aka the calf brothers) and the infamous IT Band. After 2 different therapeutic masseurs and a PT clucked their tongues, I was sure my 200K was doomed. I spent days doing the kind of stretching that I previously thought was only achievable by a rubber band. And gradually, things started to unlock and I could at least walk. So I flew to Arizona on New Years Eve promising everyone (including IronK) that I would not ride if I was in pain.
Dad picked me up at the airport after I celebrated ringing in the new year on the tarmac. New Year's Day, we went for a warm up ride with Dad's friend, Lemonade Guy (so named because he sells lots of lemonade). Maybe it was the excitement, maybe it was the nice warm temperature, but the knee seemed pretty okay. I scanned the elevation picture for the ride again. At only 1400 or so feet, this was going to be pancake flat. I decided to try my luck.
Dad dropped me off in Casa Grande at about 7:00 am. I spent most of the time stretching everything I could think of (including things that didn't hurt). It was only 45 degrees or so at the start which frankly seemed really warm after seeing that the temperature at home was -15. I wore tights anyways on principle.I swore to myself that I would start the brevet very slowly and ride for at least half an hour to get the knee really loosened up. This proved very hard with no less than 40 people all at a very exciting start with the sun coming up on a beautiful sky and nice smooth pavement. I quickly fell off the back riding at a even cadence in a really low gear. The route first headed north up Pinal Ave before turning east and heading up a very scenic highway. At this point, I knew that the only real "hill" of the ride was approaching. I busied myself watching giant cactus and some really interesting boulder formations in the hills surrounding the road. With the sun now up, there were some really pretty shadows across the rocks and the hills blocked the sun from being in my eyes too much. I was feeling a little breathless and started to wonder if I was having a bad day, then I realized it was because the hill had actually started about a mile before - duh!
There was a really nice view at the top of the valley below. I passed a guy with a flat but he smiled said he was almost done changing it. With the hill out of the way and the knee feeling pretty good, I breathed a big sigh of relief. I started gradually picking up my pace as I rode through what they call the cotton belt. Cotton is a big crop in this area and harvest must have been recent because there were cotton "balls" all over the side of the road. Made me just a little nostalgic for the snow back home. I pulled into the Casa Grande Ruins at around 9:30 and saw several others in various states of visiting the control. I have to confess that I didn't spend as much time at the ruins as I might have originally planned, but they did look really neat and I plan on returning at some point as a tourist. As I dismounted my bike, I noticed that even though it wasn't hurting while I was riding, my knee was quite stiff. I stretched more and started off.
About 10 miles later I noticed that I really wasn't able to push it quite as much as I had been. At this point, 2 riders passed me including another woman (something I don't see much of). I followed them for a couple of miles before introducing myself. They were Bob and Lorraine from Vail (the AZ version). Lorraine was on her very first brevet, though Bob was a PBP ancien. I got to chatting with them and we wound up working as a team for the rest of the brevet. Amazingly, they used to live in the Twin Cities (very close to me) - small world.The three of us reached the bike shop at about 11:30 and by this time, the knee was starting to hurt. I made a mad dash for the advil bottle in my pack and stretched more. By this time, temps were in the 60's so I stripped down to shorts and a wind vest.The three of us left the bike shop just before 12 for the 36 mile out-and-back trip on Indian 15. The first 8 miles of this are on some really gnarly pavement. The jarring was hell on the knee so I attempted to speed up with the hopes it might be smoother (it wasn't). Finally, at mile 8, we entered the reservation and the pavement improved considerably. We all breathed a major sigh of relief.
The next 27 miles were beautiful with rocky hills, cactus, desert and at least 40 border patrol SUVs. I knew that this section was slightly uphill until the turnaround at mile 88, but hadn't realized how much of a toll that would take. There were also a few rollers that had me humming. I confess that Lorraine and Bob totally pulled me through this section - I'd would have been in considerable pain at the turn around had they not been there. I rode the final 5 miles to the turnaround using only my right leg.As it was, I was still in some pain at the turnaround - swelling had gotten worse as well. I got off my bike,walked over to Susan's pickup and out came what truly has to be the greatest cycling complement I have ever heard, "You've got the best quads I've seen in a while". Boy that perked me up along with seeing several others from Mt Lemmon who all said hi. This is all part of the camaraderie aspect of the sport that I personally find to be a real treat. After having some really nice turkey wraps, Bob, Lorraine and I headed back.
I had some real trepidation about my knee, but the rest of the ride was really a gradual downhill and we made really good time without pushing it too hard. Bob paused to take a telephoto shot of a house up in the hills (we debated whether it was actually there or not). By the time we got back to the bike shop it was about 4:30 and the swelling had disappeared from my knee. In fact, it felt better than it had all day. Go figure!
Major kudos to those that helped me out on this ride. I think I would have finished, but I would definitely not have had as much fun. It doesn't always work out that people hang as a team, but this was really a treat. I hope to see both of them for the 300K in February as well as the many other new friends in AZ.
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