Newsletter - 2013 Archive

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My Desert Winter Training Program
by Gary Baker

Over the years I've seriously considered signing up for one of the PAC -Arizona Tours, but why pay the big bucks when a more affordable option is available. Here is my story.

A good friend of mine, Dave Goodman, has become a bona fide 'Snowbird' spending the better part of 6 months a year in the community of Oro Valley just north of Tucson. Some of you may has seen Dave as he was part on my Fleche team in 2010. He is an avid and very strong cyclist although he doesn't look the part. He is a big man and he rides in 'street' clothes. His only concession to cycling apparel are cycle shoes and of course a helmet ( Note: Dave pioneered some of the earliest research in sports caused concussions).

Oro Valley is the home of the Vistoso Cycle Club comprised mostly of 'Snowbirds' and year round retirees, many of whom are very fast, strong riders. Some years ago when I rode a 200km permanent while visiting with Dave, I jokingly suggested he organize a poor man's version of the PAC Arizona Desert training camps. Well he and some of his fellow club members did just that. This was the second year of Cycle Mania held over 11days.

Dave and his wife Corinna ( who has several podium finishes at the World Masters Triathlon Championships and was just named the USA Masters Duathlon Athlete of the Year) graciously hosted us and arranged a tandem for Sheryl and me to use on the the more leisurely bistro rides.

Our first day ( a Friday) was a 90km ride ( on the tandem) to downtown Tucson. Tucson is one bike friendly place. The drivers are extremely courteous and the network of bicycle paths is astounding. This route was 30km down, 30km flat, and a 30km climb home. Saturday Dave and I rode in the Greater Arizona Bicycle Association Picacho Peak Century. The route passed nearby the Vistoso Club's daily rendezvous site so the decision was to start the ride there. Five of us met at 6:30 AM to ride 35km to the official start location. It was almost all downhill and it was high desert COLD!!!!! Another group of Vistoso riders, and five riders who travelled from Chicago to partake in Cycle Mania met us there and we were off, at a hellishly fast pace that was to hold for the next 30km. This was nuts! Most of the next 70km was uphill into varying head winds. Thankfully, most of the remaining route was downhill but for that same climb back to Sun City in the upper suburbs of Oro Valley.

The weather for the next several days was looking iffy, particularly for the Wednesday, the day for the Rollie Pollie a 100km romp with approx. 4800ft of climbing. The decision was to move the Rollie to Monday. The prospect of this much climbing thinned the group off to a few of the diehard locals, the Chicago gang and me. At the turn around point the route had this 300m, 25% pitch aptly called 'Hell Hill'. I was one of the five who made it up without getting off the bike. My tested max heart rate is 157bpm. When I hit the top my, HR was over 170bpm. There was lots of climbing to come, but it was anti-climatic, and of course there was that climb back up to Sun City, Oro Valley.

Tuesday was another 100km day ride over Gates Pass. This is the pass that Ben Coli had his nasty crash on last year. The climb was not that bad, but oh the descent. The road is steep, twisty and very rough. The steep and twisty I can handle, but the rough with furious, gusty cross winds reminded me that I'd like to live to see my grandchildren graduate from high school. At the bottom my hands were sore from braking so damned hard much of the way down. When we grouped up at the bottom of the hill, the talk was all about this couple who just blasted down the mountain ( they went by me like I was stopped). She was tucked in behind her partner, both pedaling flat out. It was beautiful to watch. At one point where the road straightened out and was smoother, I released the brakes too see if I could stay with them..I was instantaneously up to 70kph+. They just pulled away, humbling! Then we had the ride of our dreams.....ten miles virtually straight, slightly downhill, with a 30mph tailwind. Our average speed for this stretch of road was near 50kph.

As was forecast Wednesday did not not look too promising, and only a handful of riders showed up for the daily ride. The locals don't ride when there is the slightest hint of rain. The destination was to a eatery called 'Beyond Bread', a 25km ride. Sheryl and I were on the tandem and dropped the small group on a steep downhill. Bad move when you don't know the intended route. We found ourselves alone, but as we knew where to go we thought we would continue on and meet them there. At the 20km it started to rain. We were the first to the cafe, and as it was to turn out the only ones to get there. The others turned back at the first rain drop. A good call. The rain got heavier....and heavier. It was going to be a cold wet ride home ( the temperature was about 4C). Off we headed and were soaked to the skin within minutes. This was no fun at all. We could feel the temperature dropping and the wind getting stronger; we were freezing. The rain was falling horizontally... it began to sting as it hit our exposed skin. Then in a flash we were riding in a complete white-out, a BLIZZARD! It's not supposed to snow in Tucson; this is a desert!

On that final climb my hands were frozen and ice was building up on the shifters. I had to use both hands to shift either shifter. Then an angel appeared! A crewcab pickup slowed beside us and we heard her voice. The driver, Liz, sensing our situation and desperation called out the window, “You kids shouldn't be riding in this, throw your bike in the back, I'll give you a ride home, get in”. By evening there were over 5cm of snow blanketing the roads, the cacti, everything; it was magically surreal. The locals were in disbelief, so were we.

Thursday was another leisurely day ( 80km) with Sheryl on the tandem to another eatery called AJ's.

The plan for Saturday was to ride the monster climb up Mt. Lemon ( approx. 6000' in 26 miles ) summitting at slightly over 9000'. Unfortunately the storm earlier in the week had dumped a huge pile of snow ( at least by Tucson standards) above the 7000' zone. The locals considered the ride to be too dangerous and decided we'd ride the iconic Tour de Tucson Route ( 182km) instead. Of course this meant that the Friday ride should be less intense. So on Friday we did a 66km spin on the tandem to another eatery. I was really liking eateries!!!!

Saturday we met up for the ride at 9AM. Come on guys a 9AM start for a 180km ride! The reason for the latish start was, hopefully it would be somewhat warmer by then. The ride started with the usual 30+km descent to the Tucson flats. The route then followed a series of flat bike paths and secondary roads counter clockwise around the outer boundaries of the city for a good 70km. At the 85km point it was decided that the faster riders would form a group to do the full route ( and the hilliest section) and the remaining riders would take a slightly shorter, flatter route home. I don't know what possessed me, but I decided to try and hang with the faster group. Within a few kilometres, I was contemplating the thought of having to do a long lonely ride home. How was I every going to stay with these guys for a 100 klicks, but somehow I did. I really got to practice sucking wheel, I mean drafting.

We headed into the hills to the east of Tucson passing by the huge Davis-Monthan Airforce Base where literally thousands of military planes are mothballed. What a sight. There had to be several billions of dollars worth of planes stored there. What an incredible sight. Up we climbed, but there were fewer wheels to follow. I might not have the sheer power of most of the riders I was with, but my power to weight ratio was clearly higher than for most of them. I found myself climbing easily when some of them were hurting or finding myself climbing with the better climbers amongst them, There were a couple of guys whom were lungs on stilts who I'm sure could have dropped me like a stone whenever they had chosen to do so. The downhills were a different story. They all seemed to be coasting and I was spinning like mad.

At the start of the ride there were concerns expressed that some of the 'washes' might have running water in them; if so we would have to find alternate routes around these wet crossings. As we approached one notoriously wet wash, one of the local riders suggested we take a different route. OK!. A few kilometres later we were riding along a very sandy jeep trail...” Is that running water we hear?. Yip!.” Now what? Do we go back, wade or ride through the flowing water? One rider did what most thought to be unthinkable. He accelerated toward the water, leveled his pedals and coasted across the wash, which he knew had a concrete liner. He made it and the rest of us followed only to be confronted by another wash. This one no longer had water flowing through it , but it had no concrete liner. The sand was wet and deep. Off the bikes, throw them onto our shoulders and run for it. What a hoot. On crossing the sandy wash we found ourselves in the service area of a very exclusive detox ranch. Folks were more concerned about the sand on their bikes than the fact we were now on private property. Ah, a water hose. The bikes were washed off with loving care and we proceeded to ride through the ranch grounds toward the official entrance way. This is fun!!!!! The remainder of the route followed what had been part of the Rollie Pollie. I was home comfortably at 5pm. That evening Dave and Corinna hosted a dinner for all the Cycle Mania participants.

On Sunday Dave and I did a moderately intense 1600yd swim workout ( we met when we both swam for the UBC Swim team). That evening we drove to downtown Tucson for dinner at a wonderful vegetarian restaurant ( The Loving spoohfull).

On Monday Sheryl and I did one last club ride on the tandem to AJ's.We had a great time!

P.S. The five Chicago riders rented a house for the week. Something a group from our club might consider for Cycle Mania III.


March 2, 2013