Thursday, March 27, 2008

Spring Training Camp (Sort Of)

Tuesday I head out to Arizona. Tucson forecast is looking favorable at the moment. Mountain bike is on a FedEx truck. New England weather is looking yucky into the foreseeable future. It will be a real shock to the system to jump from 20's and 30's riding to 80's without a cloud in sight. I'll be packing the Endurolytes.

This will be my sixth trip to Tucson. Business trips have brought me here the first few times when I worked with Raytheon. This time, the trip will be all pleasure. My wife and mother are coming, Mom flying in from Michigan and meeting us at the Phoenix airport. It is a win-win situation. Cathy and Mom get along well and can find tons of things to do while I ride, guilt-free.

Climbing Mt Lemmon on dirt from Oracle.

Over the last several years, the Mt Lemmon Highway has been under re-construction, and bicycles were not permitted on it for the most part. Even cars did not have free travel of the highway. The Mt Lemmon Highway rises from Tucson, roughly at 2500ft, to the mountain village of Summerhaven, roughly at 7700ft. The summit rises an additional 1500ft on a service road above the ski area (southern most in USA) to communication towers. All of this is paved (I think).

Descending Mt Lemmon on pavement back to Tucson

For years I have wanted to climb to the summit of Mt Lemmon. Last year at the end of March, Dave Penney and I set out to do the "Squeeze the Lemmon" ride. This 107 mile ride starts in Tucson, heads north via highways to Oracle, then back south over the Catalina Mountain Range on a dirt fire road. But foul weather moved in, dumping snow to fairly low elevations in the mountains with thunderstorms in the forecast. You don't want to get stuck in the desert in thunderstorms. We had to bail on the planned ride and had no choice but to ride pavement as far up the Tucson side as possible and then come back down. We made it to the base of the ski area, as the highway had been plowed, but not the service road to the summit. So we came up short, not only missing the summit, but the epic loop with thousands of feet of climbing on dirt.

Profile of "Squeeze the Lemmon" ride

So Wednesday, April 2 will be my next chance. I plan to put 1.6" slick tires on my MTB. I have never ridden the fire road, so I have no idea how rough it will be. Forecast is calling for around 80 that day in the city, low 60's at the summit. The snow should be gone by now. The best part of the ride will be the return to Tucson. The views are killer the whole way down. You rip 40+mph without pedaling for 40 minutes. The pavement is buttery smooth. Only a few switchbacks are hairy tight. Our hotel will be right at the base of the mountain, so the ride will truly finish all down hill. This ride could take over 7 hours in the saddle.

The Mt Hopkins climb

I have one other climbing ride planned while in Tucson, but it may be harder to squeeze in depending on what the women want to do that day. This one is an hour's drive south of Tucson, climbing Mt Hopkins. Mt Hopkins Road is nearly all dirt, gains a vertical mile to cluster of observatories at the summit. You can see the Tucson basin and well into Mexico, as it is very close to the Mexican border. I climbed this once in 2004, heading up essentially in summer gear, but there was rime ice covering everything at the summit. I froze severely coming down. I also saw huge, freshly minted black bear tracks in the snow on the edge of the road. Who would think bear can live on a little mountain oasis in the middle of the desert?

Mt Hopkins profile

I hope to squeeze in one honest trail ride too, before heading up to Sedona Thursday evening. The Fantasy Island trails are a must for any mountain biker visiting the area. It is an amusement park for the knobbie two-wheeled set. No stunts really, just wicked cool terrain to rip around on with severe penalties for miscalculation. Cholla and other nasties abound here.

In Sedona, the riding will be much more singly-tracked. Sedona features some of the best trail riding in the world in a red sandstone wonderland. One more major climbing ride there is planned, a loop over Mingus Mountain in nearby Cottonwood. Not sure if I climb pavement, descend dirt, or vice-versa. Depends what wheels I feel like putting on that day. I read the dirt descent is a real hoot and worthy of body armor.

None of us have seen the Grand Canyon, so a full day will be reserved for that (my only rest day of the trip). Mom isn't up for major hikes anymore, but we hope to make it about half-way out on the South Kaibab Trail with its spectacular views. I hope to post updates from the road, as I picked up a cheap laptop recently.


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glen fraser said...

Doug, looks like a great trip. The warm weather will be nice. Looking forward to the reports