Wow, what an absolutely epic ride! It had everything, lots of climbing and cross/head winds, beautiful, desolate vistas, challenging weather and good company (at least on Saturday). The ride started at 4 am Saturday morning. 13 riders left the start, only 4 or 5 would finish on Sunday. We had a small group that stayed together all the way to Sandario Road. This time I rode in the back until the first checkpoint at Picacho Peak. Just before the town of Picacho we had to cross some railroad tracks and got stopped by a train. This was no ordinary train, it was a very slow confused train. When we got there it was in the process of stopping. It sat for a minute, then started going in the opposite direction for a few minutes, stopped again, then went back in the original direction. Weird. There's a second train crossing on the other side of town. I looked right as we were going through town and there was that damn train headed for the second crossing. Luckily it stopped again before it got there, so we made it through that crossing ok.
After the first checkpoint at Picacho Peak I started working the front with a couple other guys. Somewhere along Sandario, I pulled off the front and found there were only three of us left, Derek Slife (the RAAM racer I met last weekend) and Mike Sturgill ( a long distance cyclist who rides with the Bullshifters). I found out when I got to Tombstone that someone had missed a turn [Val Phelps from Colorado – Susan] and the others [Robin and Jim Krayczy – Susan] stopped to wait for him. I dropped Derek and Mike going through the rollers by Old Tombstone but sat up and waited for a minute and Mike caught me. I didn’t see Derek, so Mike and I rode to a Circle K on Kinney road and stopped to fill our bottles. Derek still hadn’t shown up, so we continued on. Apparently Derek was experiencing some knee pain and wisely decided not to push that pain through 375 miles.
Mike Sturgill is a really strong rider and we made great time. Occasionally either he or I would drop each other on various climbs along the way, but we rode together quite a bit and it was really refreshing having a wheel to sit on for a while. There were several points when the wind picked up that I was REALLY glad to have some other guy’s butt in front of me! He dropped me on the climb up Mission Road where we both got buzzed by a large flat bed tow truck. The guy flew by me a little too close for comfort, but there was a car approaching from the other direction when he was approaching Mike, so Mike was lucky enough to get to listen to that asshole’s horn for a few seconds before he got buzzed too. I caught Mike somewhere near Helmet Peak. On the 400k we turned on Helmet Peak Road, so I automatically started to turn there. It was a good thing Mike was with me because he stopped me from making a directional error. We had a good descent down Continental Road into Green Valley and stopped at the Chevron to fill bottles. Mike’s like me and isn’t one for sitting around at the stops for long either, so we continued on pretty quickly. The climb up Sahuarita Road was pretty much against a cross wind, so it was tough. I dropped Mike for a bit, but he caught me before we hit US83.
There was a store at Houghton and Sahuarita and I made my first serious tactical error by not stopping to fill my bottles. The cue sheet indicated 5.9 miles from the store to SR83 and 22.1 miles to the mini-mart in Sonoita. I had a full bottle and about 3/4ths of a bottle when I went by the store, so I figured I’d be ok. I didn’t think about the heat (in the 80’s) and the amount of climbing that was ahead of me. Mike dropped me on the climb up to Sonoita. I could see him in the distance and he wasn’t getting too far ahead, so I just took my time. Susan and Derek pulled up and asked if I needed anything. I looked up and thought I saw the top of the climb, so I turned them down. Huge, huge tactical error. Lesson learned: if you don’t know the terrain, always, always accept fluids when offered. Of course it was a false summit and I was no where near the top. The road follows a bunch of ridge lines that just kept getting bigger. You’d see what looked like the top, but as you approached you could see another ridge even higher beyond it.
I still hadn’t reached the top when I ran out of Accelerade. A few miles back I had seen a sign that said Sonoita was 14 miles ahead, so I probably still had a good 10 miles to go. I didn’t want to work too hard without water, so I slowed my speed down. The wind at that point was welcome because I was going slow and it helped cool me down. There was also some patchy clouds that helped when they went by. Several miles out my face started to buzz, similar to the feeling when you hyper-ventilate, so I started coasting whenever I could. I seriously thought about abandoning at that point by trying to stop someone to ask them give me a ride into Sonoita. I don’t know how I made it. I saw some ranches off the road so I knew I was getting close and just kept plugging away.
Mike was still at the convenience store when I got there. He also ran out of water about 5 miles out of town and he was smart enough to accept water when Susan passed him. I took some additional time at that stop and bought some ham which was pretty high in sodium, some peanuts, and an ice cream sandwich. Mike waited for me to recover some, which was mighty nice of him. We left together and had a bit of a tail wind for a while, then it turned into a cross-wind again. I pulled for a while, then let Mike take the front. We hit a hill and he dropped me. I was thinking about trying to catch up when I realized that I was less than 40 miles from Tombstone, where I planned to relax and sleep for a while, so what was my hurry? I slowed down and tried to maintain a recovery pace, which was difficult with the hills and cross-wind. It started sprinkling a few times on the way into Tombstone, but it wasn’t bad.
When I got to the “Slither and Crawl Inn” at about 4:30 pm, Mike was there and Susan was making some really good pasta for dinner. We ate together, then Mike headed back. He asked me if I wanted to go with him, but I was tired of fighting the wind and was ready for a break. I took a shower and felt a lot better. A couple other guys showed up when I was in the shower and they were also heading straight back. I relaxed on the couch for a couple hours and headed to a bunk at about 7:15 or so. I asked Susan to wake me at 1:00 am, which would give me 5 or 6 hours of sleep. Susan said three people abandoned on Saturday, two with knee problems [Glenn & Derek – Susan] and one with bad stomach problems [Richard – Susan].
About 12:30 I got up to use the bathroom. I was trying to get back to sleep, but couldn’t. I could hear the wind just howling outside. Susan came in at 1am and said it was windy and raining. I got up and took my stuff to the main house to change. When I walked out a huge lightening bolt lit the sky and the rain really started coming down. I changed, had a cup of coffee, banana and a muffin, then headed out. The thunderstorm was still raging and I was soaked within seconds. Rain was coming down in sheets and I had to take my glasses off to see. The wind was coming out of the west and west is where I was headed. It was brutal. The rain finally stopped 10 miles or so out of town, but the wind continued. My Polar shows the temperature dropped to 46 at some point, so I was wet and cold and riding slowly into a strong headwind. My bike started to feel bouncy and my rear tire was going flat. I’ve mentioned how bad light is on a wet road before. I thought there was a shoulder, there wasn’t. So when I pulled off to change the tire, I pulled off into mud and quickly got back on the road. Now I had to change a tire that was covered in mud.
It was a slow, brutal ride back to Sonoita. But the clouds were starting to clear and it was a full moon out, which really lit up the plains. If the wind hadn’t been there I would have really enjoyed that section. No traffic, great scenery and just the sounds of my tires on the road would have been really nice. Instead I was probably going 13 or 14 mph, but the wind made it sound like I was on a 40 or 50 mph descent! I still got to enjoy the views though.
After Saturday, I took every opportunity to fill my bottles. There was a gas station open at the corner of SR82 and SR90 that I stopped to fill one bottle. The store was closed in Sonoita, but there was a water tap, so I filled a bottle there too. Then the wind gods smiled on me and the wind shifted to the South and I was headed north. It was a great climb and descent back to Sahuarita road. The roads were still wet and it was dark, so I took the descent really easy. I pulled into that store on Houghton around 6am-ish and got myself a ham and cheese lunchable for breakfast. The wind continued out of the South and would occasionally shift to the west, but there was a mild descent all the way down to Sahuarita, so it really wasn’t too bad and I made pretty good time.
The route back stayed on Sahuarita road which turns into Helmet Peak Road after crossing the freeway. The wind picked up out of the South on the climb up Helmet Peak and was fantastic when I hit mission road. I was flying along at 30+ most of the way down Mission -- it was probably the most enjoyable section of the ride from an effort standpoint. I would have been better if the road wasn’t so rough. When I got to Ajo, I got mixed in with the PBAA’s Tour of the Tucson Mountain (TTM) riders. Luckily they were going to Sandario and I was turning on Kinney, so I was with them for less than a mile. Somewhere after Old Tucson I had my second flat. I’m really surprised that tube lasted as long as it did with all the dirt I got in the tire earlier in the morning. When I got back to Sandario Road there were still a lot of riders, but they were spread out and going relatively slow. That wind was still coming out of the south, but not as strong. I maintained 23-26mph pretty much all the way to Marana and was just flying by the TTM riders.
When I got to the Circle K in Marana it was around 10:40 or so. The clerk said three other riders had come through around 7:00ish. That didn’t seem right. I was in Tombstone for at least 7 hours after they left and now I was only 3 or 4 hours behind them? No… he had to be mistaken. I made good time down the frontage road to the road that leads back into Casa Grande. I was at least 2 hours ahead of the time I thought it would take. The wind was coming out of the West, so I was fighting the headwind again. Right around Eloy I decided that I was close enough and I didn’t need to fight that wind anymore, so I sat up and just started riding easy into the wind. My legs felt ok and I probably could have continued fighting through that head wind, but I decided I’d rather recover my legs some before getting in my truck and driving an hour home. When I got to the finish, Susan wasn’t back from Tombstone yet, so I went around the corner to the Dairy Queen for a Cherry Dilly Bar and to get a receipt showing my finish time. Susan was there when I rode back to my truck.
The riders who rode all night had to battle through thunderstorms most of the night. At points it turned into sleet. They had stopped a few times to try to wait out the rain, but it must have been way harder than my ride. They wound up finishing sometime around 11am. I finished just before 1pm. Boy am I glad I decided to get some sleep in Tombstone! One rider was still out on the course when I finished. The others had abandoned somewhere near Sonoita. That wind from Tombstone to Sonoita was just brutal. I’ve had hard climbing rides, I’ve had long fast rides, and I ridden long distances in the rain, but this ride had everything. It was, by far, the most challenging and personally rewarding ride I’ve ever done. Saturday was 192 miles and it took me about 12.5 hours riding most of the way with Mike Sturgill. I spent about 9 hours resting in Tombstone. Sunday was 180 miles and it took about 11.5 hours riding alone. Total time was about 33 hours.
My legs feel fine today, but the top of my left foot is sore (I must have had a shoe strap too tight) and the tips of my index finger and middle finger on my left hand feel like they are asleep when I touch something (a very weird feeling, don’t know what caused that, maybe a glove too tight?). I’ll stretch tonight, ride easy recovery commutes the rest of the week and take Friday through Sunday off to spend some quality time with my family camping at Roosevelt Lake. I’m really looking forward to the next Brevet series! I think a 1200k Randonnee is definitely in my future! :-)