27 January 2009 - 3:50Riding Arizona – SSAZ09
Saturday started very early.
We woke at 5 to make the hour long drive from where we were staying in Oro Valley to Agua Caliente Park. The weather has been absolutely crazy, our pre dawn drive took a little longer than expected because of the thick pea soup like fog. The gathering was scheduled for 7:30, for the “rules of the ride” and head count. We were about 60 strong. The fog had lifted by the time we arrived at the park.
Once we collected out wits, we set off on the 8 mile roll in. The ride would take us almost 50 miles and 5800ft through Sonoran desert, high mountain plains, ugly jackhammer descents (check out mile 44, it was really that steep), past 4 “aid” stations, where the aid was to be found in the form of delicious ice cold Tecate.
Here is a link to the course.
The first climb was up a fire road, a fairly consistent grade with a couple of really steep parts. I was able to get a good pace going, and it felt like I was flying up the hill. I kept reeling folk in on the climb, but I knew if I kept it up, I’d be in sorry shape later on. I decided that I’d wait for Mandy, who was not that far behind, and in a pretty good groove of her own.
The scenery was absolutely spectacular. We had a great crank up the hill to the first aid station around mile 16. I brought a whole pile of food in my Camelbak, knowing that I’d need to fuel the machine if I was to even have a hope of finishing. I did a pretty good job of remembering to eat and drink as often as possible. By now, the sun was burning high in the sky, and there was not much in the way of shade. This was going to be a long day…
After the first aid station, the brutiful funishment began. It started out with a beautiful flowing ribbon of singletrack, just slightly downhill. Fast, sweeping turns through the cactus and cholla finally ended with a flowing wash. All the rains were finding their way down hill too, there were more than a few water crossing on this part of the ride, some of them, knee deep. The cool water was very refreshing, and thankfully we had thought of this possibility and wore wool socks. I shudder to think about what my feet might look like if I had chosen cotton.
As the day went on, you could see the desert wake up from it’s slumber. There were patches of new grass by the sides of the wash in the shady spots. I am pretty amazed by the way life works in the desert, the season is short, and plants are opportunistic. It made me wonder when the last time there was new grass where we were.
The trail went from singletrack, to creek bed, to a new term “zero track” then to super rocky gnarly baby head strewn jeep road.
I was very relieved to have made it to the second aid station around mile 25, which was back on the dirt road we had originally climbed up. I had finished off my 100oz Camelbak and needed to reload. We repeated a little more than 4 miles back up to where the first rest stop was (now the third), and I thought that now a Tecate would be pretty tasty.
I was right.
Then we headed out on the second loop, which was all singletrack. The trail was a lot of fun, and I was feeling pretty good.I even dropped the seat on my bike, as I was pretty much done with climbing for the day, the terrain was far too loose to really make a good go of it, and I thought that I’d keep my energy for railing the downhills.
This turned out to be a wise move, because it got technical. Fast. The last seven or so miles of the trail was down the Melagrosa trail, legendary for it’s ugliness. It’s not much more than a hiking trail, and some spots were just plain unrideable unless you were Hans Rey. I’d estimate that I rode about 80% of the downhill, which is pretty darn good if you ask me.
About halfway down the second lap we ran into three other ride participants. One of them was clearly bumming. We had passed them a couple of times over the last 10 or so miles, but now it was crisis management. We weren’t super sure which way to go, and the other two in the group had a GPS, so we possied up.
Things were going along fine, until one of the guys decided to bear hug a prickly pear on a particularly difficult step down. It was painful to witness, the spines were everywhere. Mandy and I went on ahead, and finally bottomed out on the canyon floor.
I was a little further ahead, and being tired I stopped at the top to wait for the rest of the gang on a small ledge on the canyon wall. I sat down on a rock, and witnessed something that you have to actually see happen to believe. I was parked right in front of a big ocatillo cactus, and I saw it leaf out! I don’t know if it was the mileage getting to me, but I swear I saw it’s leaves flick out in the late afternoon sun.
When the others caught up, we all agreed that the leaves were filling out right before our eyes, and what a sight it was. Also in sight was the end! The only thing standing in the way was an evil 700ft descent, spanning about a 1/4 mile. It was rugged, but I was determined. I rode all but one section that was too narrow for the bike to fit through and maintain any kind of control.
The fourth aid station (and unofficial finish) was at the very bottom of the canyon, where a kicked keg and 25 pizzas waited for us. Fortunately there was plenty of stream cooled Miller High Life, and the victory chugging commenced.
We did it.
8 hours on the bike, 50 miles. I was spent, but the good news, is that there was absolutely zero cramping. I can safely say, that this ride set the bar to a whole new level for 2009. If I can pull 50 out practically off the couch, imagine what i could do if I actually trained…
Oh, it’s on…
We wrapped the night up with $4 pitchers back at the Bay Horse Tavern and awards, where we passed out a bunch of the new Bike 29 t-shirts (picture of those coming soon, my camera ran out of batteries).
Once we got back to Oro Valley, it was very late. Thankfully, we didn’t have to wake up super early on Sunday, so we slept in.