Before lunch I rode my fat tire up Old Mine Road toward Apache Peak. The grade increases steadily as the road climbs higher. My Strava profile reads 28% at the point where I biffed and had to dab. A skilled mountain biker could ride all the way to the top. Fifteen years ago, I rode all but the last 100 yards. Now I can’t seem to keep the front wheel down. The rear wheel starts to skid, and I wig out, not wanting to fall and break another rib.
The last time I broke a rib – actually two ribs – was two years ago, when I was running from the North Rim to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. A year before that, I cracked a rib flying over the bars of my mountain bike. Broken ribs are painful, potentially life threatening, and annoying, because they keep you from laughing. I prefer being a wimp on a mountain bike to not being able to laugh.
Yesterday afternoon, I rode my bike to the top of Humbolt Mountain, elevation 5200 feet, a 3500 ft climb according to Strava. Sitting atop the summit is a radar tower, most likely a key component of the southwestern air traffic control grid. It was a hot afternoon and I was angry. What better way to cool off than riding up a mountain?
A few hours earlier, I had received a call from the Crims VP of Development, informing me that my position was being eliminated for strategic reasons. In other words, I was being laid off. My first reaction was relief, because for the past few weeks I had been ruminating over how to quit working for that company on good terms. A few hours later, and even now, I’m feeling hurt and angry. In fifty odd years in the workforce, never before had I been laid off. That only happened to other people; I was too valuable. I was proud.
Pride is not a good thing. In Mere Christianity, one of my favorite authors, C.S. Lewis, talks about pride as the greatest of sins. After reading the book the first time many years ago, I decided I had learned to replace pride with humility. When I read the book a second time, the following passage caught my attention:
“If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realise that one is proud. And a biggish step, too. At least, nothing whatever can be done before it. If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.”
So ok, I guess I’m proud, though striving earnestly to savor my humble pie.
Easy road ride this afternoon – well, not that easy, maintained a steady tempo and Strava says I climbed 1600 feet. Without any cycling goals in sight for the rest of the year, I relish having permission to go easy, go short and just enjoy the ride. Arrived home to see the moon rising over the Mazatzal mountains.
Brad and I are talking about signing up for the Panzer option of the Levi GranFondo next year. We both qualified for the privilege of paying an extra fifty dollars, riding an extra 14 miles and 1600 feet for the ultimate Fondosperience. In so many ways it makes no sense, which is why it makes perfect sense.
I bought a new bike Saturday, first new bike in over two years. It has fat tires. Over 4 1/2 inches wide, they are twice the width of standard mountain bike tires, probably four times the width of my 700 x 23c road bike tires.
This morning I took my new bike to the desert for the first time. I was born again as a ten year old kid. While not particularly fast, the fat tires could roll over or through just about anything: washes with sand and gravel, desert pavement with its ball bearing like surface of eroded granite, stones, larger stones, probably even fallen Saguaros.
Sunday morning in the desert is my ride slow ride. Ride slow, ride early, feel the first rays of light glow on the balanced bolder, smell the fragrance of the dew on the turpentine bush, listen to the first Curve Billed Thrasher herald the sunrise. Red tailed hawk sits high in a Blue Palo Verde – no, there’s another and another. They take flight. I’m alone, and I’m not alone.
About the bike – it wants to ride slow. It wants to ride easy. The frame triangle is aluminum, front forks carbon fibre. No shocks. No front derailleur, rear cog has a wide range. I didn’t count the gears. Going downhill on dry pavement, I quickly spun out. Grinding up steep climbs, the gears were adequate. The tires are tubeless, saving about eight pounds of inner tubes and slime. The weight of the bike is similar to my hard tail two niner.
And it’s not about the bike. For fifteen years, since we first bought our house here, I’ve been riding desert trails, desparately trying to avoid the sand, gravel and washes that lead to hell. Today I rode a bike that was made to ride those washes. It was fun!
Having arrived in Arizona barely a week ago, I had been looking forward to my first mountain bike ride in the Sonoran Desert. Riding from our house at sunrise, there is just enough light to see rabbits scampering among the Hackberry bushes, nighthawks swooping across the painted sky and a coyote stealthily skulking whatever coyotes skulk.
A mile and a half from our front door is a network of a hundred miles of trails, ranging from old jeep roads, chewed up dirt bike courses, and single track groomed especially for mountain bikes. My Sunday morning rides are almost always at a casual pace that allows me to notice the fresh fragrance the damp Turpentine bush brings to the air, and the sound of the first Curve Billed Thrasher who heralds the sunrise.
Ten miles from home, I arrive at the main entrance to McDowell Sonoran Preserve, a parking lot with perhaps a hundred cars and a ramada with perhaps twenty five people milling about waiting for the start of a guided hike. The trails near the entrance tend to be more crowded with small groups of mountain bikers, hikers and occasional horses. My visit to this part of the preserve is brief because I prefer the solitude of my own thoughts and prayers.
Second run of the season, again mostly a walk, took me five hundred feet and five miles up and down the foothills behind our house in Tonto Hills. Miners pulled gold out of these hills in the late nineteenth century. Once the mines were spent, cattle ranchers moved in. Now much of the land is part of Tonto National Forest.
In 2005, the Cave Creek Complex Fire scorched most of these hills. On one particular day, if the wind had been blowing south, the fire would have taken out our neighborhood. Instead it turned north burning 45 thousand acres on the east side of I-17. Lightening started the fire and Buffalo grass planted by the ranchers fueled its spread.
Last Saturday, I rode the Tour de Scottsdale, the last cycling event in my plan for the year. Now comes time to start running again. Kathleen and I have set our eyes on a 10K in December, and probably a couple 5K’s to warm up and add to the tshirt collection.
Even though my overall condition is pretty good from eight months of cycling, it’s important to ease into a running routine that avoids injuries. Because running taxes different muscles than cycling, it’s easy for someone my age who is aerobically fit to overwork and strain those muscles. It’s like putting crappy tires on a Ford Mustang.
This morning’s run was mostly a walk around one of my favorite routes through Cave Creek, an old mining town nine miles southwest of where we live in Arizona. After the gold was mined out of the nearby hills, the town floundered in the first half of the twentieth century. In the 70’s, the hippies arrived, drawn by the wild west character that allowed them to live anywhere without the bother of laws or enforcement. Twenty years later, restaurants and shops selling trinkets to tourists began to appear.
Yesterday I rode with Brad and more then 6000 other cyclists on the Levi’s Gran Fondo, 101 miles along winding roads through the wine country of Sonoma County. The ride was epic. I’ve done a lot of centuries, and longer rides, never one like this one.
The mass start meant that it took nearly a half hour just to get all the riders over the start line. We were riding in a pack, four or more riders abreast for more than twenty miles to the first long climb. Even that climb was not enough to separate the pack. We climbed a steep grade along rough winding roads through forests and eventually an open ridge.
The technical descents required clear heads and good riding skills to hold a line through the curves. About 16 riders crashed along the course and had to be evacuated with broken bones. One rider died when he missed a turn and flew over a cliff.
Scenery was utterly breathtaking. Highlights for me were riding along Kings Ridge, with views of the Pacific Ocean, and a long winding open descent from the ridge to the ocean. At about mile 65 we received a reprieve from the climbing, riding south along Highway 101, with a kicker tailwind. I hummed Pachebel, listening to the sound of the wind and the waves striking the beach. Then a left turn took us over one more steep climb back to the start at Santa Rosa.