It was great when Southwest had a directly flight out of Manchester. They don't anymore. Now I have to drive down to Boston and use a different airline to get direct flights to Phoenix. I hate travel. Not the visiting of cool places, but the getting there part.
Our flight left late. No worries, no connection to make. It just meant we'd get to our hotel in Tucson later. Arizona doesn't do daylight savings time, so they are a 3hr time difference now from east coast. A late flight meant potential to get groggy and ornery many hours past normal sleep time.
We picked up bags and headed out the door for rental car shuttle at PHX. There were hundreds of people there, like not even able to walk through. WTF. Some dude directing cars and people was screaming at people. If he had a cattle prod, I'd sure he would have been using it. Cathy and I made it over to the sign that said rental car shuttle. Somebody politely told us the end of the line was back there. Huh? Where? I couldn't even see that far down. The line was the length of the terminal and then doubled back half way again. Hundreds of people waiting to get on a shuttle bus to the car rental facility five miles away. I think they had one bus going that took 20 people at a time. There were many angry people there. My blood began to boil.
After standing there about 20-30 minutes, more buses started to come through. Hopefully Dollar still had our car. We were really late now.
Eventually, we were on the highway and I was looking to make up some lost time on the 75mph posted interstate. About 10 minutes out, a big amber sign says vehicle fire, seek alternate route. Huh? Was that for I-10 east?
Just about then, five lanes of cars grind to a halt. Yep, that be where we were going. Now I was bullshit. Vacations are supposed to melt stress, not turn the burner up a notch. It was warm out and everybody had their windows down. You could hear other WTF's being yelled. After killing another half-hour plus, we started moving gain, slowly. A tractor-trailer caught fire and shut the highway down.
We never made it up to the speed limit before the traffic completely stopped again. Now what? Anybody whose traveled with me knows I don't suffer stupidity, or traffic not moving for no good reason, lightly. This one took a long time. No idea what happened, as there was debris all over the road and it looked like something burned. Maybe a car fell off a transport and caught fire? Hard to tell. Big mess.
That would surely be it, I thought. I'd be going to bed just a couple hours before I normally get up on east coast time. That wasn't the last of it. Next, a big amber sign said I-10 closed 46 miles ahead. You've got to be shitting me. Hill Junkie hissy fit! We had 56 miles to go to Tucson.
Fortunately I know my way around Tucson a little bit. It is a huge, sprawling city. I could get off a couple exits up from the closure, avoid the big CF that closure no doubt was causing, and take secondary roads into the city center. It worked pretty well, but it must have been 30 stoplights. That comment about things never going in my favor? Stoplights must sense when I'm coming and turn red.
I shipped my bike to FedEx Office, open 24hrs. I was just waiting for that to go wrong. It didn't. In two minutes I was in and out with my bike box. Finally, something went right. The hotel was another 15 minutes away. We checked in and collapsed into bed.
I got no more than 3hrs sleep before I realized it was pointless to stay in bed any longer. Time to build the bike, I guess. I had to take extreme measures to get a long-travel 29er to fit in a Trico Sports box and keep it legal FedEx size. Deflated both shocks, tire pressures down to about 3psi and hoped a bead didn't break and spew Stan's all over, remove crank, rear derailleur, handlebar, rotors from both wheels. Box was still a little pregnant, but it works. Everything was still intact when I opened it in Tucson. Bonus!
Plan for Sunday was Cathy was going to drop me off at Box Canyon, not far from Mexico. I'd ride the Arizona Trail (AZT) to Pistol Hill, much closer to town while Cathy went for a hike in Sabino Canyon. She'd come back in five hours to pick me up. I've ridden 75% of the route before. The northern quarter would be new to me.
The route loses net 1200ft, but there is a considerable amount of steep, punchy climbs along the way, especially a 10 mile section near the beginning. Once through that, there are miles and miles of slightly down hill, flowy, buff trail to rip on through cactus forest. Don't screw up though, which I did twice...
The temperature was ideal starting out. Having not many hours of riding in my legs over the last few months, I had to throttle back on how hard I normally ride when visiting Tucson. I used the granny gear a lot on my 2x10 drivetrain.
Negotiating the many tight switchbacks with the sofa bike proved challenging. I missed a couple. I missed having Dave on the ride to school me on those things. You'd meet severe consequences if you botched a couple of those.
A couple hours in, I came hot into a sweeping left hand turn where both the radius diminished and camber faded to outside at the same time. Crap! There's a term "tripod'ing" around a turn, where you put a foot out as an outrigger. But what do you call it when you have foot and a hand on the ground with both tires sliding out at the same time? Turned out it was the same turn Dave sliced his elbow open on a couple years ago. I managed to escape unscathed somehow.
About 30 minutes later, I was less lucky. Wheels went out without warning around a tight turn. It was elbow and shoulder check to rock hard terrain. My face just missed a cactus. The bike slammed down so hard it broke the zip-ties on the GPS mount. Dang, I need that for navigation, and I didn't bring any tape or zip-ties with me on the ride. I did have a large ziploc bag though. I stretched it out tight and tied my GPS to the stem. Of course, I couldn't read much of the display now. Other than minor scratches on my arm and getting dirty sliding in the dust, I got off pretty lucky again. Things seemed much more loose than normal, maybe because it has been so dry here.
I reduce air pressure a bunch in hopes of avoiding more slide-outs. Not a minute later, I hit a rock so hard I tested my front wheel's natural resonant frequency. Sounded just like taking a hammer to it hanging from a string. I stopped, expecting to see Stan's sealant spraying out of the tire, but nothing. Hmmm, these 2.35" Racing Ralph's did feel much beefier than the 2.25" tires I normally use. Guess I won't be calling Cathy to come rescue me just yet.
When I got to the buff section, I started seeing people, after 2+ hours of perfect solitude in the desert. Crossing under I-10 soon brought me to the section of the AZT I hadn't ridden yet. I didn't study this part at all, just assumed it would be more of the same from that area. It wasn't. It was even more challenging than the hilly section early in the ride. Lot of exposed ledge and chunder. Pretty though, finally getting into saguaro's. With four hours in my legs, I was ready for the ride to be over, and it was getting close to the planned rendezvous time with Cathy.
The last couple miles to the Pistol Hill Rd trailhead had some sweet flow to it. Passed more riders there too. From there it was 2-3mi of dirt and paved road to meet Cathy waiting at Colossal Cave park. I finished with about 47 miles in 4.7hrs on the Garmin. I reached that state of total mental depletion. Attitude was adjusted. Bring on the traffic jams now! I could deal with it.
High point of ride, Mt Wrightson wilderness in background
Rincon's in distance
Many gates to open and close along the way
Open range land, hovering between 4500-5000ft elevation.
The fast, buff section, getting closer to the Rincon's
Near Pistol Hill