Tuesday 29 January 2019

Mount Lemmon, Arizona – A Peach Of A Ride

Hello Readers! I really must apologise for the break in service. It’s been six months since I last wrote to you and you’ve probably been thinking that I’ve fallen off the bike or worse. Well, nothing could be further from the truth. I’ve actually been very busy on several fronts including some superb riding. Following the end of the USA tour I returned to the UK and spent quite a bit of time reflecting on the experience and even more time trying to sort out and caption my photographs. I also wrote an article about the tour which, if you’re interested, you can read here.

Sacramento - on message!
I said I’d been busy so, what have I been up to? Well in August I was back in the USA, in Sacramento in Northern California. While I was there I also headed down to Southern California to ride the Cool Breeze Sportive (100 miles) which was really cool. It was great to be able to experience an American event and compare it to those in the UK. I’ve also done quite a lot of riding around Sacramento which has a fabulous network of cycle trails – some of the best local riding I’ve experienced anywhere in the world. The opportunity to ride on traffic-free, paved routes through spectacular urban countryside is exhilarating. The American River Trail to Folsom is a total delight.

Team Super 6 ready for the off ...
In September, Team Super Six gathered together again and we rode a six-day tour in Italy, from Pisa on the west coast to Senigallia on the Adriatic. Our route took us eastwards through Tuscany before we headed south into Umbria eventually looping back northwards through the Marche region to the coast. This was the complete package with stunning scenery, lovely old hilltop towns and villages and great roads including some Tuscan white roads (Strade Bianche). The ‘domestics’ were great too – fabulous accommodation, including a night in a former royal palace, as well as the very best of traditional Italian cuisine, accompanied by superb local wines. The riding was excellent and it was huge fun riding with Team Super Six again. Although we only get together once a year, when we do meet it feels like we were together just the day before.

Captain Century rides the redwood!
At the end of October I was back in Northern California to do, amongst other things, one of my bucket list rides – the Golden Gate Bridge. Unfortunately smoke from the horrific fires that hit California meant that riding opportunities were severely curtailed. We made up for this with a wonderful trip to the coast to see the giant redwood forests – a truly humbling experience. Riding through, literally a 1,500 year-old redwood tree, was a first for me. From my former career as a forester I have long wanted to see the ancient redwood forests so the opportunity to achieve this was not one to be passed up. By now some of you maybe wondering why I keep coming back to California. Well, let’s me just say that it’s not all about the bike! As I write this I’m on a short trip from Sacramento visiting friends in Scottsdale, Arizona. Which brings me to the reason why I’ve decided to start tapping the keyboard today.

A few months ago an article in Cyclist magazine (Issue 77), which I read voraciously, caught my eye. The article “Raising Arizona” by James Spender really captured my imagination and if you can readers, look it out. It’s well worth reading. I realised that Scottsdale where my friends lived, was only about 100 miles from Tucson. No distance at all in US driving terms as I’ve learned. So Mary and I set off early in the morning bound for Tucson and Mount Lemmon. A couple of hours later we were in a parking lot on the outskirts of Tucson. My Bianchi Infinito (Fausto), who now lives in Sacramento, was rearing to go and so was I. So with a couple of photos to commemorate ‘Le Depart’ I was underway. Mary had agreed to SAG the ride for me so I didn’t have to worry about hydration as she had plenty of spare water bottles in her car.

A long straight road, gently rising upwards, took us out of Tucson through scrubby desert. Ahead of me I could see the lower slopes of Mount Lemmon, defined by a long ridge of rock crossing in front of me and rising from the plains. With each turn of the pedals I drew closer and began to get an inkling of the scale of the challenge that lay ahead. Then as I rounded a right-hand hairpin the ‘proper’ climbing began. Ahead of me lay about 25 miles of riding with nearly 7,000 feet of climbing. Game on!

Not even halfway up ...
Looking to my right I could see the valley floor that I had just ridden across. What surprised me was how many houses were tucked away amongst the desert scrub with the Saguaro Cactus trees poking through the undergrowth. Although I had never been here before this was a landscape that felt very familiar from watching episodes of The High Chaparral as a kid. I could almost see Big John Cannon, Buck and Blue galloping across the land with a cloud of dust trailing behind them. The landscape is harsh and I guessed that during the hot summer months this would be a brutal place to live.

As I made my way ever upwards the road twisted and turned through a series of sweeping curves with views back down to the road I had ridden along several minutes before. The succession of rocky ridges and shoulders meant that it was difficult to gauge my progress. Cresting each ridge revealed another ridge with hints of the road snaking upwards. My progress was marked by a succession of viewpoints and I struggled to balance the need to keep riding onwards and upwards with the temptation to stop and soak up the magnificent views. I think I managed to achieve the right balance. From time to time, Mary caught up with me so I was able to refill my water bottle. The importance of finding water to stay hydrated on the climb was something I had noted in James’s article so today, at least, that was less of a consideration for me.

Nearly there!
As I headed ever upwards I could feel my breathing was getting slightly more laboured and my heart rate was higher than usual. Reaching the road sign for 8,000 feet altitude explained this. I had passed the 4,000 feet sign about 90 minutes before so I had climbed 4,000 feet over about 25 miles. Despite the rarefied air I felt pretty good, although my legs certainly knew they had received a workout. The landscape too had changed dramatically.  Gone was the scrubby dessert vegetation which had been replaced by pine trees with the heady smell of resin in the air. Gone too was the dessert sand as I was now surrounded by the remnants of some fairly large snow drifts. The other main change was a significant drop in temperature so I took off my lightweight short sleeved jersey and replaced it with my windproof Castelli Gabba jacket. Cycling readers will understand what I am referring to here. The rest of you – well take it from me that I was snug and ready for the last leg to Summerhaven with, according to James, the promise of an excellent cookie. Sure enough, the Cookie Cabin was easy to find and, better still, open. I opted for a 7” oatmeal and raisin number which, given the calories I had burnt on my ascent, I felt quite justified in chowing down.

Is it a lemon or a peach? No it's a giant cookie!
I was now ready for what I confidently anticipated was going to be the reward for my climbing effort. The  return leg. The prospect of riding about 25 miles downhill on a smooth, largely traffic-free road with open sweeping curves had me drooling. And I was not disappointed! The descent was the best I have ever completed. I freewheeled most of the way down and my speed never dropped below 30 mph and I topped 40 mph at a few points. (Mary clocked me at 45 mph on her car speedo at one point so I’ll take that.) If I had known the road better and with higher gearing I reckon I could have been much, much quicker. My ascent took me about 2.5 hours (riding time). By contrast I was back in Tucson, complete with a lovely sunset, a mere 70 minutes after leaving Summerhaven.

What a ride! Definitely not a bitter lemon; more like a sweet peach! I can confidently say that it was up there with the best. Sitting in the car on our drive back to Phoenix I was buzzing and full of that warm glow that readers who ride will recognise after a great and demanding day in the saddle. I would love to do it again one day. But like JoJo in the Beatles song “Get Back” which James quoted in the introduction to his article, I’ll soon be leaving Arizona for California. And as for the why, you’ll just have to watch this space readers …