On Saturday we were going to the home of some friends in Sonoita, Arizona. I was going to show them how to make beer-can chicken. Beer can chicken, by the way, even when done poorly, is awesome. But more on that another time.
The ride would be 40 miles east on two lane state highways and back roads that follow rivers and slip through and around mountains, climb over hills and dive down canyons. My wife would meet me there and we'd enjoy lunch with our friends.
The drive (in a car) is spectacular. I've ridden the route once before on a bicycle and the hills are formidable. In combination with the hills, the heat, and since it's monsoon season, humidity could possibly, I worried, prevent a whole lot of sight seeing on my bicycle.
I wrestled with the decision to bring the camelbak (3 liters of cold delicious water) or leave it because of weight. I decided to take the camelbak. Then I picked it up. The idea of carrying the additional 10 pounds (almost) up those hills seemed to only promise the NEED of the 3 liters of water it would carry. Three water bottles would have to do the trick. I filled two with gatorade, the other with water and grabbed my sport jelly beans and a gel shot. Sunscreen, more sunscreen, double checked the equipment and headed out the door at 8:30 am.
It was already 90 degrees. It was "fog your glasses" humid. Ugh. I was supposed to arrive in Sonoita at 11:00 am. Two and a half hours, forty mile ride and a climb of 2000 feet. I rolled through the neighborhood planning my approach, when to attack hills, when to grind them out, when to coast and rest.
I made it the five miles to South River Road, which winds along the bottom of a small canyon tracing the river's route. It quickly became clear that I didn't have the same amount of "juice" I've had over the past month. Game plan = gone.
River Road has never seemed hilly before and I've ridden countless times. But the rolling hills were frustrating me. I hoped the wind would pick up as it almost always blew from west to east. That would help. I guess the previous day's activities had taken their toll. I ran for 45 minutes in the morning and then rode in the heat for an hour and a half with my wife.
I turned east on Highway 82 and as always at this point was struck by the contradiction I was experiencing. The road definitely appeared to be uphill, and not subtly so. However, I was cruising at 18 mph and barely pedaling. Weird how that happens. It was short-lived though, lasting about a quarter mile.
The first sustained climb staggers its up way for about 4 miles before the road flattens on top of a large plateau featuring the Nogales International "Airport." When I reached the top I was rewarded with quite a view. The high clouds dropped patchwork shadows on the mountains, recently greened by the monsoons. The air smelled of honeysuckle and there were large patches of yellow and orange poppies, wild coneflowers, red and burned orange, and thistles topped with their large white flowers.
Then a bug smacked into my uvula. I swallowed...no luck, still there. I hacked and wretched. No dice. I squeezed a strong stream of water from my water bottle. Still, I could feel that stupid bug moving around. What is this...an insect version of Pinocchio where I'm starring the whale?
Up and down the hills I went before the best riding part, a sustained and steep downhill, about 5 miles long. I screamed down the hill in the lowest gear topping 42 mph. The road leveled a bit, but continued downhill, allowing gravity to shoot me through and around the winding, narrowing canyon.
I arrived in the first of the two towns on the route, Patagonia (means geographic end of the earth). As I pulled into the only convenience store in Patagonia, I noticed the wind was picking up. However, it was the wrong direction blowing in my face. The ride to the point had been tough. Adding to my misery was the realization that even with all of that up and down hill riding, the total elevation gain was just about 250 feet. I still had 1500 feet to climb, with the wind now in my face, which promised a simmering monsoon storm.
I bought a bottle of water, a bottle of Gatorade and my favorite in-ride fuel, a Snickers bar. The joys of riding are plentiful! I refilled, ate and stretched. Pending monsoon or not, I needed a break.
Sonoita is only 12 miles beyond Patagonia. Where the first 28 miles of the trip are steep climbs and fast descents, the last twelve miles are uphill without break. The last few miles are the biggest climbs.
The wind in my face picked up as I rode. My average speed dropped from 15.1 to 14.9 ... 14.8 and so on. I stopped looking at the average speed and focused on cadence. I distracted myself by looking for cool things in the view, but mostly I just suffered through it.
As I rode past a stone farmhouse I've always loved seeing, my wife passed me in the car. My youngest daughter's arm stuck out of the window, hand waving happily. I was still eight miles away, the hardest part remained. I know I would've said "No" if offered a ride, but it would've been nice. The ride proved to be a real grind, the kind that really tests mental toughness as much as physical.
Eventually I crested the last climb and saw that at the crossroad of highways 82 and 83. I felt less than proud of my effort. Then I noticed the flags at the Border Patrol station. They appeared hard-pressed and starched, pointed directly at me! Since it wasn't really gusting, I hadn't noticed how strong it had really become.
At the corner was a farmers market, the same one where two years ago I sold veggies I'd grown as well as salsas I made. My wife and daughter were there visiting people we'd not seen for a while. I stopped and said hello. All were amazed at the new me, but none asked what I'd done to lose weight. I think it was totally obvious at that point!
Upon seeing me, a lady said, despite the fact that this is definitely a family setting, "Holy shit!"
Another said, "I didn't know you had an athlete in you."
I replied, "He was WAAAY deep in there."
I rode with my wife the final mile to our friend's home. We cooked and ate and enjoyed awesome company. I played with Steve's remote control race truck and his track. Any thoughts of riding back home were long-since dismissed. That 40 miles incredibly more difficult than last weekend's 83 mile ride.
I can't wait to try the ride again. I know I've got better than that to offer, next time...