Cliche yes, but so is “ships passing in the night” until you’ve been on one. Yesterday was epic, not in the sense that anything went wrong, but in the mental sense. We all got pushed, some more than others, and to quote Seb Grieve “its all in the mind.”
I went down to Phoenix early, to get a big sample of the riding, see people new and old, and kick my own ass. All were accomplished, but first I had to get to the beginning; which I did half an hour early. 30 minutes I could’ve been sleeping if I’d done the math. Phoenix (in the large sense) is enormous, and I was able to scoot around it on the loop interstate without dealing with traffic or route finding.
I got there, and people just kept coming. I never got a good count, but total numbers were certainly in the mid to high 30’s, probably twice as many people as I’ve ever ridden with (RAGBRAI) excluded. Quite a peloton on the road.
It being a group ride, we got strung out quick. I was not the only one on a rigid bike; two guys on matching Gunnar 29″ SS’s with pace forks and huge gears (32:18 and 19, respectively) were in attendence, and we three were soon off the front. Halfway up the 5+ mile initial climb I backed off, peeled layers and let some of gearies go by, I really didn’t want to kill myself so early in the day. The rest of the climb proceeded as an archetype for what was to come, long rocky grinds; nothing super steep or technical, but very sustained. A good hour of climbing got me to the saddle in what would become my standard position for the day: yo-yoing off the front of the second group. The views were awesome, a good breeze kept the temps very reasonable, and the two aforementioned SSers pulled out one of the four Coors oil cans they were hauling, one for each pass. Coors never tasted better, certainly at 10am.
The rest of the morning fell into a good pace, climbing and descending another pass before beginning the traverse south to Sunrise. Great variety again, with very cool twisted and rocky singletrack, in and out of washes and even under and through a rock strew culvert. I managed to crash in the silliest way, washing out in the gravel and tumbling into the rocks. Julie (my bike’s name, more in the next paragraph) lost some paint and I lost some skin. No dents, and very little blood, the benefit of riding a tank (as she was called many times).
Soon we were at the base of Sunrise. The whole area reminds me of Death Valley, in the huge litoral fans spreading out below the steeper cliffs and slopes. This is the fun of Sunrise, several miles of slow grind before the switchbacks begin. Again, I paced myself, one technique for which is following a geared rider. 30 rpm becomes normal. Eventually things steepened and I made a run for it, cranking most of the switchbacks and the steep climb above the false summit. While drinking tang I decided that Sunrise is a truly great trail. Minutes later, cranking out another gradual slope, I decided my bike would be called Julie. Julie Brooks was who I had a crush on in second grade, my prime target for snowballs and bark chips at recess. She was scary, though when I got to know her in high school I realized she was just dull. Anyway, I have a Brooks saddle now, and biking is both dull, scary, and mysterious. So, Julie it is. It made perfect sense at the time.
Down the back side, through the ritzy faux-western subdivision, onto the fire road. I actually enjoyed the chossy fire road climb, though lots of others (especially Walt) looked to be suffering. It was getting hot in the early afternoon, and I was reaping the benefits of eating and drinking enough early on. We crested out, and made a drop in of questionable legality through the future sites of million-dollar homes, to a trailhead building and our food drop. Pat, a nearby resident, had hooked up up with a huge cooler of gatorade, Paydays, pb and j, and other good stuff. I was good to go food wise, but salt and calories and hanging out on the curb were just fine. The herd had thinned to 9 by now, with inpatience and planned and unplanned exhaustion. In total a flat or two and a bent derailleur hanger, shockingly few mechanicals.
It was diffcult getting moving after such an extended and food-heavy break, but the single track on Dixie Mine was excellent. Certain steep hills I didn’t even bother with, and I managed to fall over clipped in trying to clean a rock garden. Walt was having issues with cramps, and everyone had the look of knowing they would make it but struggling with the pain of doing so. To skip the drama, the last climb was done with, the last descent beat the shit out of my hands (which had been totally fine all day, the last descent was the longest and by far the rockiest), and we were back.
Exhaulted, tired, pleased. I lingered saying goodbye, then found In n’ Out and gorged on two Double-doubles with grilled onions. Yum. Now the quick drive home was a blessing, and the episode was done.
These are the days we live for.