Thursday, February 8, 2007

Technicolor Disney Desert

 I have arrived in Palm Desert, CA, where my parents spend their winters.

I'm here to visit, and to ride in the 2007 Tour de Palm Springs. I've done this ride before, and it's quite a spectacle. Thousands and thousands of riders. Megabuck unobtanium road sleds are out there with Wal-mart clunkers. Tandems haul trailers full of dogs. Recumbants. Very old and very young riders. Thousands. It's like a critical mass only with t-shirts and aid stations. Vast aid stations. Fifty-porta-potty aid stations. Many of them. Bizarlo.

But this year all previous years' pomp and circumstance will be trumped. This year, Monte Hall will be the Honorary Cyclist.

I have shared race courses with famous folks like Travis Brown and Alison Dunlop, and that was cool. But how exciting is this? What's behind door number two Monte? I get tingly when I think that I could be out there sharing the tarmac with the Game Show Hosts' Game Show Host. I will never be a pro cyclist, obviously, but if I play my cards right and maybe get the right advice from The Master, I could be a game show host. I think maybe I have a new career goal.

Think of the groupies!

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Race Camp Established

 The POD has been moved into the spot she will occupy during the race. I will be operating out of that camp with the help of my generous little sister Meg, and my good friends Scott and Kym Campbell will also be racing (Duo) out of this camp.

The POD is literally less than 200 feet from "Wahoo Rock", which is known by folks who've done the race. The race course trail splits less than a quarter mile from the start/finish, one route (to the left) goes through a rock garden then down a steep granite face probably near 30 feet long. The right-hand fork goes around the rock outcropping, and the two trails meet up again just downhill from where the POD is closest to the trail. That junction is perhaps 300 feet from camp.

These photos were taken of camp from the top of Wahoo Rock:

The trail junction and my neighbors' encampment are visible in the second photo to the right.

Today I'm off to visit the parents in SoCal.

It's all happening soon. Wahoo!

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Monday dawned windy, but quite warm. I did some organizing and minor trailer repair, then lubed up my chain and hit the race course. I did two hot laps, with the addition of some singletrack options that aren’t part of the course. I rode probably a little over 40 miles at a mostly brisk pace.

I went quite a bit quicker than I would be advised to ride during the race. I won’t make it past midnight if I try to establish such a hot pace--at least given my current level of fitness. I’m feeling very good and fit, and I think I’ve made good use of my training time. But honestly, I’ve only had about 5 weeks to really get ready for my first 24 hour solo effort. I need to keep a strong sense of my limits or I’ll wind up hurting really badly by dawn.

It was a tiring day, but a fun day too. The best part is that I rode for the whole time in a short-sleeved jersey and shorts. Wow, what a luxury! The weather here still isn’t what you would call hot, but it’s certainly quite a bit warmer than it was for all of January.

I probably won't do many hard rides. Saturday I'll be doing the Tour of Palm Springs, a huge century ride (there are usually ~10,000 participants). I am going to try to go at an easy pace, and I guarantee that I'll do lots of wheel-sucking. But that'll probably be the longest, hardest ride I do between now and Saturday the 17th. Today I'll go tweak my Fisher, adjusting brakes and such so that it won't have a wrench near it for a week before the big day.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Good Long Day

Saturday was a wonderful day. Cool but not too cool. Sunny, and almost no W-I-N-D.

It was time for me to get back on the training horse with a vengeance. It was one of the very few days I’ve been here so far when it was not difficult to get going by 9:00 AM. Well, almost nine anyway. I was all ready to go at a bit after nine, the POD was locked, the bike was loaded, and I pulled on my pack and got ready to mount up. I put my hand on the Fisher’s handlebar and noticed that I was wearing no gloves. Gaah! It’s always that way this winter with me! I need an assistant to get me all rigged up. Invariably I have to get into the trailer one more time--or two, or three more. Every time I put my keys in the pack I laugh at myself. Sure, I’m done in the trailer. Right. Peel the pack back off, get out the keys, grab the gloves, lock back up (laughing about how I’ll probably need in two more times) and put everything back on again.

At 9:15 I roll. Even with the silly dance I did getting outfitted, I was leaving relatively early. And I didn’t need to stop immediately to put on a jacket! Nice!

My plan was to first go ride an unofficial loop of singletrack that my neighbors have named Painter Boy. It was created last winter covertly right under their noses. They were aware that someone was making a trail out there, a builder that they call Stick Man because he doesn’t use any tools, and just marks turns by laying sticks down. The approach is minimalist; just ride it, never move any soil, never cut vegetation. The routing is inconsistent, sometimes really nice and rideable, other times just plain dumb--straight up and down the fall line. It reminds me quite a bit of the “secret” trails constructed around Salida.

It was called “Painter Boy” because the builder(s) marked many turns by building cairns then painting the rocks bright white, and by painting huge white arrows on larger rocks. A local bike club claimed the honor of having built it last year and put a map and glowing commentary on their web site. The State of Arizona, who owns the land here, was shown this web site and the trail. They were furious, and they ordered the web site to remove the map, and they told the painters to do something about the defaced rock. The solution was to paint the white stuff over with beige. One of my neighbors is from Crested Butte, and he named the trail “Painter Boy” in honor of the mine in CB, and the fact that these “kids” got their hands slapped for painting.

My neighbor the JuneBug had shown me and a group from Tucson the trail a week or so ago. I wanted to GPS it, just for the heck of it. It goes through some pretty country, but the routing makes it annoying and it’s difficult to follow at times. And there are several barbed wire fences to crawl under or climb over. But I wanted to record it for posterity. So I rode the sucker pretty quickly. I made a less-than-6-mph pace even though I was not loafing. It GPS’d at almost exactly 6 miles.

The famous Jerry Q, former Mayor of 24 Hour town, riding Painter Boy

After I did that I made my way through the venue to the Willow Springs Road. I did not want to spend my whole day out here since there are a ton of people around now that it’s a weekend only 14 days from the race. So I rode south out of the venue on the Fisher, then hit the pavement and rode to Catalina. From there I climbed up the Golder Ranch Road to intersect the Fifty Year Trail. My plan was to climb up to the end of Fifty Year and then maybe ride the Deer Camp trail I’d heard about.

It was perhaps 12:30 when I got to Fifty Year. I’d been on the bike for 3 hours, but lots of it had been relatively easy. The trip down Willow Springs Road and the highway had been mostly downhill and down wind. The climb up Golder Ranch was not very hard by Colorado standards.

Fifty Year is really a great trail. I had several miles of the fun, swoopy part before I came to the Chutes and started climbing. It was a surprise that there weren’t more riders up there. I ran into quite a few mountain bikers, then a group of 15 relaxed and friendly horse people from Missouri (their horses were wet with sweat).

There are a number of brief anaerobic efforts in and above the Chutes. I started feeling overdressed and underfed. I peeled off my arm warmers and continued. As the trail wound up into a Saguaro forest, I stopped again and took off my leg warmers. Riding with short sleeves and shorts felt great. But I was definitely starting to feel that the bottom was within reach. It was around 2:00 PM. I had a minimum 2-hour ride home. A good hard training ride was definitely in order, but bonking is never a good idea. When I ran into a gate that formed with upper end of the Fifty Year Trail, it was pretty clear that I should just turn around and go home. I want to see the Deer Camp Trail, but not at the cost of a bad bonk.

The northern end of Fifty Year, snowy Mt Lemmon in background

I took the fun descent down through the Chutes, then the fast section of Fifty Year back to the trailhead at the end of the Golder Ranch Road. Good fun. Then I rolled down into and back up out of the deep and wide Cañada del Oro wash, then down to the highway. I turned north into a cool headwind. Ah yes I thought, good thing I turned around.

I started home around 3 and actually arrived at the POD at 5:15. I wasn’t bonking, but I was really tired. I warmed up some leftovers. I sat down at the table and using a spatula to load my plate I immediately dropped a warm hamburger onto my lap. It was as if I was drunk.

Pretty danged good day, in spite of the stain on my pantleg.

Saturday, February 3, 2007


 When you live in a tiny trailer, crappy weather feels permanent. I spent a day and a half in an 8x8 space reading and working on a laptop not connected to the internet. It felt like a week. 

I could have driven to town to be in a different space and get on the internet, or to get other things to read, or to rent a dvd, but that really isn’t consistent with the spirit of this journey of mine. I did not come here to live like I do when I’m at home. And frankly, at home I don’t start up a vehicle every time I want something that is not available in my immediate area. 

There were also practical reasons for me to avoid leaving the POD during the last several days of bad weather. The road I would need to drive almost 10 miles each way when I leave and return gets very slick and messy in bad weather. My truck was already a mess, but packing even more adobe mud into the undercarriage doesn’t seem like a great idea, especially when it is not necessary. And it would be possible to actually have an accident or get stuck. There are some stretches of clay that are crowned and get incredibly slippery when saturated. I’ve seen a few vehicles get stuck in the ditch, and the truck has wiggled around a couple times on those wet stretches, even in 4-wheel-drive. And then of course there is the cost of going even without mishap.

Beyond all those reasons is my desire to live in a more zen existence and therefore to council myself—this time is not ideal, but bad weather passes.

That has turned out to be true. This too did pass. I woke up Friday morning with a large moon shining in my eyes. Stars were visible from horizon to horizon. When dawn came it was clear. The desert, which loves moisture, looked fat and satisfied. There was thick, frosty ice on the truck’s windshield. But I scraped it, loaded up the truck and got going early. I had a list of things that weren’t frivolous or unnecessary, and I wanted to get to pavement before the road thawed. Along with my laundry, water jug, and grocery list I loaded up the Surly. 

I parked in a Pima Community College parking lot on the west side of town at mid-morning, pulled on lycra (including legwarmers—it was sunny but less than 55°) and rolled out to climb over Gates Pass toward the low desert beyond the Tucson Mountains. My legs felt fresh after two days of forced rest. It only took about half an hour for me to summit Gates Pass and zoom down the western side. I found an almost deserted road (McCain Loop Road) that rolled up and down through the Saguaros in Tucson Mtn Park then exited the Saguaro forest to the west and rolled down a long gradual descent on Mile Wide Road. I headed west until the road turned to dirt, followed the dirt until it turned north, then turned around and headed back up. I went south to the Ajo Highway and followed that east back into the Tucson basin and rode surface streets back up to the Pima Community College. About three hours, never felt the need to remove the leg warmers, but it was so wonderful to ride in sunshine. It was wonderful to ride. 

I got back to the truck around 2:00 PM, spent the rest of the day running around getting things taken care of, like laundry, groceries, a shower, then returned to the POD as the sun was setting. Surprisingly, the road was still pretty wet even though the sun had shown on it all day. It’s gotten really beat up since I’ve been here. 

The evening was so sweet and pretty, I felt compelled to mount the lights on my bike and go ride for an hour or so. I had a really nice, really easy 90 minutes on the bike. Then went back to the POD and ate dinner, watched an episode of South Park on my laptop, and hit the hay. 

Back to the life I came here to live. Yeah baby!

Thursday, February 1, 2007

 This morning (first day of February) a news guy on the radio announced that this had been the coldest January in Phoenix in 30 years. Super. I’m so happy to have been part of this historic January!

Yesterday I dashed off early on my Surly (heh!) when the low clouds looked ominous but there was as yet no rain to the post office in Oracle. Fifteen miles, more than half of it dirt--seemed like I could make a surgical strike and be back at the POD before the inevitable rain started falling.

The road was soft with Tuesday’s rain, so it was difficult to carry momentum. Then the drops started to fall. It wasn’t blowing in from the west or the north, the clouds all around were dropping lower and it began to rain all around me at once. I got a good soaking in pissing rain just as I hit the highway. I climbed into Oracle with traffic hissing by raising mist. I got to the post office just before it opened and went inside to peel off my wet windbreaker and replace it with the rain jacket. I wasn’t cold because I’d been climbing, but the ride home was going to be chilly.

Luckily the rain stopped and I only had chilly wind, wheel wash off the pavement, and then an even softer dirt road to contend with on the way back. When I returned to the POD I considered doing a quick mtb ride, since it was windy but not raining, but my feet were numb and I was cold. So I went inside to warm up. By the time I was halfway warmed rain returned, and then hard wind-driven sleet, then even more rain.

Blah. It’s been a good trip, really. And Colorado has had a really harsh winter that I haven’t been too disappointed about missing. But man, I have nearly worn out my leg warmers and winter jerseys. And who would have guessed that it would have been a good idea to rig up fenders for the Trucker before heading down to AZ to ride? An hour before dawn, I sit in the POD listening to rain and sleet coming down outside as the heater fires up and runs--again.

At bed time last night the gibbous moon shone in a mostly clear sky, and the promise of a clear day sent me to sleep with a hopeful smile and visions of tacky singletrack dancing in my head. Will today be another day spent lounging around reading or passing time driving to town to surf the internet?

The weather has sure been a pain in the ass for the last 8 months or so. Let’s hope that it’s just El Niño or bad juju or some other temporary shit. Cyclists in the west may be praying for the return of the drought this year.