Thursday, January 20, 2011

Mt. Lemmon

After spending a little time in Tucson a few weeks ago i couldn't wait to get back to enjoy the warm weather, so with the Martin Luther King Day holiday coming up i booked a flight to go back down and spend the long weekend with T-dub and Trigger and Reggie. When i was there over New Years T-dub and i had attempted Mt. Lemmon, but could only ride the first 14 miles on account of the road was closed beyond that because of the snow and ice. In retrospect that may have been a blessing in disguise. With warm temperatures (high 60s and low 70s) this past weekend, however, we would not be deterred. It has been five months since my amputation and i thought what better way to celebrate than to climb Mt. Lemmon.

Mt. Lemmon is a great climb. Twenty-one miles of pretty consistent climbing with only a few let ups in pitch and a few sections of 10-12% grade to make up for it. It's a beautiful climb that transitions from the desert valley floor up to the ponderosa forests with incredible panorama views in all directions. After you hit the 21 mile mark you've got four more miles of up and down before descending about a mile down to the famous "Cookie Cabin."

I got in friday afternoon and we went out saturday and did the Saguaro National Park loop, then Sunday morning we set out to ride Mt. Lemmon. I felt pretty good the first six miles or so, but as we hit a steeper pitch between miles 6 and 7 i started to fade a little. I kept at it though, and was glad for a few spots between miles 7 and 12 where the slope ease up to 1-2%, even if it was for just a few hundred meters. At about mile 12 the pitch picks up to 8-9% up to mile 14, but i had ridden this before and so was able to set into a fair pace (for a one-legged gimp at any rate) up to mile 14 at Windy Point. Moving past Windy Point we had a few sections of the steeper 12-13% slope, but they are through beautiful hoodoo rock formations that elicited unknown stores of energy from my tired body.

After the hoodoo lookout, however, i was done, but i still had a good 5 miles to go before mile 21 and 10 miles to go before the cookie cabin. T-dub peeled a banana and some fruit snacks and handed them over to me and i managed to slowly work my way those last few miles to the summit. From there we descended down the backside to the Cookie Cabin where Reggie and Trigger and the kids came up and met us for some king size cookies.

After the cookies we jumped back on the bikes and made our way back up to the summit, then started the 21-mile descent. I brought my gopro camera along so we got some footage that i'll try to post up in the next few days, but suffice it to say it's a great, fun descent with some wide, fast turns and curves—a nice reward after the climb up.

Monday we rode out over Gates Pass and out into the desert enjoying the warm temperatures and bright western skies, then rode back into Tucson and enjoyed each others' company at the outdoor seating of a coffeeshop which will remain nameless until we had to head back to Trigger and Reggie's so i could pack up my bags and bike and head to the airport. A short trip i wish i could've extended, but i'll be grateful for what i get!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Bringing in the New Year Tuscon style

As is tradition, i spent the new year with Trigger and his family. Well, it's not really tradition, but this is two years in a row now that i've spent New Years with them, so maybe it's the beginning of a tradition. Last year i went down to the Baker Ranch to help Trigger look for a bull that i don't think really exists, but a few months back Trigger took a new job as a horse trainer at the Bandalero Ranch, and T-dub was going to Tucson to train for a few months, so it worked out nicely that T-dub and i could drive down together and spend a week with Trigger & Co. before i came back. I was excited to get to some warmer climes and get some miles in, especially when i saw the forecast for the big storm that was supposed to hit SLC. Turns out that same storm front rolled through southern AZ with freezing temperatures, rain in the valley, and a lot of snow up Mt. Lemmon. Despite the relatively cold temperatures and rain, however, 45 degrees still beats 7 degrees, and T and i got some good riding in before i had to come home.

The view west from Gate's Pass

T-dub at Gate's Pass

T-dub at the bottom of the Mt. Lemmon climb

About mile marker 6 up the Mt. Lemmon climb.

By the end of the week the skies had cleared and the temps were climbing again. By Sunday we were able to get out and climb Mt. Lemmon with near 60 degree temperatures. The road was closed at mile marker 14, however, and the last 3 miles from MM 11 to MM 14 were a total clustermuck of bumber to bumper cars on account of the snow, but not in the way you might imagine. It was three days after the storm had rolled through, the roads were plowed and dry. There wasn't a traffic jam high on a mountain road because of nasty weather conditions, rather, it was because all those folks from Tucson who only get to see snow once or twice a year, if that, had decided to drive up the mountain to fill their truck beds with snow to take it back down to the valley. I kid you not!! They were building snowmen on the top of their cars, on the hoods of their cars, in the beds of their cars. They were stringing snowballs on their car antennas. They were sledding down 3 foot road cuts. They were shoveling loads of snow into the beds of their trucks, onto the tops of their cars, and anywhere else they could pile it. T was amused that something that gives Utah drivers so much angst was providing so much excitement and euphoria.

Loading snow into the back of the pick up.

Grid lock at mile marker 11

Overall, however, riding in Tucson, at least this time of year, is great. Although one guy rolled down his window at a stop light to tell me that riding on the white line of the bike lane was illegall and i should ride further toward the curb, Tucson has a great network of bike lanes and biker-friendly road improvements including crosswalk buttons that are actually on the side of the road, within reach of cyclists, rather than all the way up on the sidewalk, and specific bike lanes and bike traffic lights. It's nice to see SLC take some initiative in this direction, but the rest of the valley is appallingly bad for cyclists, either in terms of encouraging cycling as a simple method of transportation or for recreational cyclists. We could learn a few lessons from Tucson.

We spent New Year's Eve playing Rumikub and drinking sparkling cider, then on New Year's Day Trigger had to feed the cattle, so we went over to his work and Riddles got to experience cows for the first time in his little super-suburbia life. He was all tough like he thought he knew how to herd cows, but Dally dog, his mom, had to show him what to do, and even then ultimately he was still kind of a wuss. Too bad Trigger's not on the ranch anymore where we could really teach Riddles what a cow dog is supposed to do. He thinks herding chickens and chasing the other dogs around the back yard is a big deal, but when he came face to face with a bunch of hungry cows, he wasn't quite so sure of himself anymore.

T-dub bucking some hay, she says she bruised her leg lifting that thing up.

Trigger, Dally, Remi, and Cass

Riddles barking at the cows (from a safe distance).

Remi helping feed the cows.

All Riddles needs for fun is a hole in the ground. He loved the fire pit in Trigger's back yard.

Monday morning we loaded up T's stuff and dropped her off at one of her teammate's houses, then the dogs and i hit the road to head back to SLC. I was excited that we were on the road at a reasonable hour because i hadn't driven the stretch from Flagstaff to Panguitch in daylight for quite some time. We only made it to Page before it got dark, but weren't disappointed by the scenery or the sunset. Back when i lived in Indiana for grad school i really missed mountains and big open spaces, and specifically the cloud formations that both of those physical features influence.

We rolled into SLC at about midnight on monday, then tuesday night i went back up to the UOP for some bobsledding. Big change from 60s and sunny to 10 degrees and icy.

And then today i reacclimated myself to winter training in Utah: bad air and ice.

"Red Air Day" in the SL Valley.

Five or six days after the storm, my street is still full of snow and ice.