Sunday, November 20, 2011

El Tour de Tucson

8,700 riders lined up for the start. Photo complements of Arizona Sta
 Perfect weather for the 29th riding of El Tour de Tucson, a race that attracts ranked riders from all points N, E, S, W, and even internationally. Of course the elite riders are protected from the mass of 9,000 riders by being given a place up front, tucked safely behind the pace vehicles.

It's a chipped ride now, so no more having to line up at 3:00 a.m. to shiver in the chill of the moon to assure a desired position on the start line waiting for the 7:00 start. What better way to inaugurate my being a Tucsonian than by riding El Tour.

My garage door woke the neighbors at 5:15 a.m. who had arrived home only an hour before.  Lights on, I rode down the dirt path from my garage to the Rillito Wash Path, to Mountain Ave, through the University of Arizona that still slept, through the heart of downtown Tucson and finally to the start line at 6th Ave. and 13th St.--7.5 miles from home. I lined up with the other riders who were planning to complete the ride in the 7's.

A male quartet from the U of A sang a stunning rendition of the Star Spangled Banner and the mass began to roll out. Couldn't put both feet in the pedals for at least a block, going so slow compressed by carbon, steel, titanium, passion, and adrenalin. But when I did clip in with both feet there was clearly something amiss. But of course, it was at least my 10th flat in two weeks, despite Mr. Tuffy kevlar rim strips. Off the course, onto the sidewalk to change my flat while 4,000 riders left me behind.

The upside: well, I didn't have to jockey for position in the throng those first few miles; the downside: by the time I was rolling again all the police had left their positions at traffic intersections so I had to obey the traffic signals losing precious more minutes waiting for lights to change, etc.

As many of you know, El Tour features the crossing of two dry river washes for a total of about 0.8 mile. I caught the tail end of the 4,000 at the Aid Station on the far side of the Santa Cruz Wash.
Crossing the 1st Wash: Photo by the Arizona Star
Topped off my tube with the floor pump and spend the rest of the day passing as many riders as I could. Having ridden the course a week before paid off in spades knowing where my favorite Convenient Stores were, where the climbs were, and where the speedy descents were and whether I would want to have my windbreaker on or off.

The 85 mile riders folded onto the course at about mile 26 of the 111 mi route. The 85 milers only had to off-road through one Wash, the one through Sabino Creek (dry) which skirted Canyon Ranch through their parking lot.

Bill Walton, of basketball fame, was riding El Tour; I bumped into him in the Sabino Creek Wash, both of us sucking down some Gu Gel. I had a deep conversation with my first celeb: "Bill, I just gotta ask you, what size is your frame?" His response was thorough, but hardly expansive: "72". And then we were both off into our own rides.

At mile 50 I was back on roads that I ride weekly; so good to be on familiar roads. The 60 mile riders would fold in shortly on Sunrise Dr.; and finally the 42 milers folded in Rancho Vistoso near Catalina State Park.

The good news was that I had no more tire issues and the strong headwinds that had been predicted for the last 20-30 miles were not all that bad and the dropped cell phone I found at mile 90 was able to be returned to its rightful owner at the finish park.

El Tour by the numbers:
  • 8,700 riders, about 50% rode the 111 mi route
  • temps ranged from 60-72
  • I was the only female recumbent rider on the 111 mile course; there were 8 male bent riders who ranged in age from 47-68 on the 111 mile course. I finished in the 44th percentile among All the bent riders--7 hrs 42 min
  • There were 16 women riding upright bikes in the 61-70 year old category, my age group (age 66).  I finished in the 75th percentile among all the women in my age category, although I was really my own category of 1: a bent rider in the 61-70 year old category. 
Take aways:
  • It was a GREAT day. Loved every minute of it, except the flat
  • It would be fun to be more competitive, but given my age and classification of the bike I ride, I turned in a respectable showing.
  • Wonder why it is that out of nearly 9,000 riders on 17 women in my age category toed the line? Don't know the true answer, but what works for me is to smile one of gratitude for the gift of being able to put my wheel on the line and ride the distance
  • Next year I think I'll ride again, but do so as a Bike Patrol giving back so others can have a glorious El Tour.
Eric Marcotte of Scottsdale,  left, men's winner in the 111-mile race
Photo by Arizona Star

Jennifer Wheele of Tucson, women's winner in the 111 mile race
Photo by Arizona Star

Monday, November 07, 2011

Arivaca, Arivaca How Are You?

Always wondered what Arivaca meant: dry cows? sister to frere jaca (aka Jacques)? Who knew it is the oldest continuously inhabited townsite in Arizona. It was home to the Hohokam Indians from 300 BCE (before common era, the pc replacement of BC or before Christ) to 1,400 CE before the O'odham and Spaniards and Anglos showed up. And, it means "little well or place where water comes up."

I had several really fun opportunities for a long ride on Saturday, November 5th and I'm so, so glad I opted tor the 142 mile (+ 5 miles from the finish to home) with Mark Dumas and 2 of his Bike and Breakfast riders, Derek and Big Dave. Big Dave is big; I thought our son Daniel was big at 6'-6", but Big Dave was 6'-10" before he fractured his hip in a bike wreck and is now only 6'-9".
Left to Right: Derek, Mark, and Dave
Friday night before the 6:00 a.m. departure from the U of A Flagpole, the ubiquitous start of many Tucson bike rides, the wind gusted to 50 mph threatening to launch our patio table's umbrella from our 4th floor patio. The rain came, too, overnight dropping the temp an additional 20 degrees below its usual sun-gone-down dip. Whatever our weather would be for our ride would be better than if I had traveled 200 miles (one way) north to Congress, AZ for the AZRando's 200k, which, I heard, even offered snow at the higher elevations.

Mark has been the leader/instigator of the Bike and Breakfast rides for quite awhile now. A social group they are, that proffers challenging rides to boot. An unknown, me, showing up for the first time under the shelter of a flag pole for a 140 mile ride sent a chill of doubt through the other riders.

Headlights and blinkies on, we set out for the 1st of 4 legs: Green Valley for breakfast in 35 miles. I love to experience new routes, and about 120 of the 140 miles would be new vistas, new terrain, new joy, oh, and a little pain. We were passed by a couple of huge peletons from the Saturday Morning Shoot-Out gang and a fiercely strong mixed tandem. We were content with our conversational pace up the climb.
A wonderful surprise on the descent into Green Valley's Mama's Kitchen!! We passed a mountain biker who, it turned out, was Mark Mandell, my friend from PAC Tour's 2011 Desert Camp, who had crashed badly about a month ago breaking his shoulder in 5 places, breaking 3 ribs, and suffering a concussion during a Tucson Shoot Out ride. He's obviously on the mend. Read more about his shattering of the Arizona Perimeter Record.

Breakfast was full of "big fish" stories about our various cycling pursuits and then off on leg two, 35 miles of headwind and perpetual climb into Arivaca. I think all of Arivaca's population of 698 was out and about dancing, hooting, and hollering for their Fall Fair.

Leg three had to be the best of all. Clearly the direction was both downhill, kissed by a tail wind, and the most glorious non-billboard scenery imaginable of Altar Valley, Baboquivari Peak, a 7,730' sacred peak to the Tohono O'odham, and Kitt Peak National Observatory.

Our third rest stop at about mile 114 was Three Points, however, I think there are really only two: an expanded convenient store and a closed restaurant. We opted for the the expanded convenient store for the likes of beer nuts and beef jerkey. We left Three Points at about 4:15ish with 25 miles to go; Should be back to Tucson in civil twilight. But there were some mechanicals on our dance cards.

Derek's 2 month-old armadillo tire was slashed by some angry detritus on the 3' margin of Ajo Highway with its 55 mph traffic. The setting sun was so bright in my rear view mirror I didn't realize I had "lost" them for about a mile. Called Mark, walked backwards toward them, the tire had been booted with a dollar bill, but with concern as the boot wanted to pooch through the slash. Letting some air out of the tire to protect against a blowout laid his tire vulnerable to the inevitable pinch flat. We're way beyond civil twilight now, patching his only tube by the light of our headlamps, and using my tire boot made from a piece of discarded tire I carry just for this particular "just in case" purpose.

Up and running again with 20 miles of Ajo Highway night riding, not meditative at all, unless you call praying for safe delivery onto Mission Road meditative.

This Arivaca Loop will go down in my book as one of my two most favorite one-day rides, the other being my 300k with Michelle Williams in NOLA last February.

If the Ride and Breakfast riders will have me, I'm looking forward to many more rides with them.

Thanks, guys.