We are back to work and in the swing of things after our 3 week trip in Southern Arizona. We had an amazing time there! Fortunately for us, the weather was unusually warm for this time of year. Most days were perfectly sunny and 70-80 degrees so it was good incentive to get out everyday and ride as much as possible. In the three weeks we were gone, we spent about 70 hours riding our mountain, gravel, and road bikes. We rode 907 miles, and climbed roughly 60,000ft. This was all in 18 days of riding (I forced us to take one day off per week 😜).
Of course we had to do the obligatory Mt. Lemmon climb in Tucson. We chose to do that one on an 80 degree day because the top is at an elevation of over 9000ft and it’s usually pretty cold up there in the winter. It’s sort of confusing packing layers for this kind of ride because it was in the high 40’s at the top, but near 80 in town. You just have to be ok with having overfilled pockets and a little extra weight for the climb! Mt. Lemmon is definitely a big climb. It’s kind of nice though because it’s not super steep, it feels like the same gradual grade the entire way up. I can’t remember how long it took us from our house to reach the top, maybe 2.5-3 hours. Neither of us were going for the KOM so we weren’t really concerned about time, I think some doper has the KOM anyway. Regardless, it was still a tough climb. After about 2 hours of steady power to the pedals (there are really no rest down hill or flat sections on the way up) you start to feel a bit weak in the legs, and the altitude doesn’t make it any easier.
After exploring some popular paved routes and a few mountain bike trails in Tucson, we decided to get out on some gravel. My favorite ride was a gravel loop down by the border of Mexico near a town called Patagonia. I wish we could have stayed in Patagonia longer or made another trip down there because there are many more quality gravel roads we didn’t get to explore. Basically we rode straight to the border of Mexico and back up to Patagonia on some windy dirt roads through the mountains. The ride was about 71 miles and 6100 ft of climbing. It was kind of slow going, but it was just so beautiful we had to slow down to take it all in.
According to this sign above, illegal immigration and smuggling may be encountered in the area. We didn’t encounter any, just a few border patrol vehicles, farmers, and a random guy walking on the road. Everyone waved, was friendly and courteous to us as they drove by. There were some beautiful homes in the hills we rode through as well. I’m guessing most were second homes. We were told that it is sort of a risky area to own a second home because border crossers will sometimes break in for shelter. I’ve been reading about the illegal immigration in this area and apparently Border Patrol catch and detain many crossers who are severely dehydrated and/or injured and end up taking them to the hospital, which of course is the right thing to do, but it takes a toll on the local economies. Many of the small towns near the border in southern Arizona aren’t financially or medically equipped to handle the influx of immigrants that come in on a daily basis. At least this was the case a few years back. I suspect the numbers of border crossers have declined substantially in recent years. This book I recently read titled Notes from Bisbee: Twenty years on the Border with killer bees, rattlesnakes, and folks needing supervision, the author talks about how in one year in the early 2000’s, the hospital in the small town of Bisbee, AZ spent over $400,000 on medical services given to illegal immigrants who were caught crossing the border. During those years, the author says that they would catch an average of 1,000 people a day in the area, and many of them needed to be sent to the hospital. That number is how many were detained, we don’t know the number of people that got through. After spending some time in the area, reading about illegal immigration, and hearing from locals, I’ve realized this issue is way more complex than I thought. It’s definitely a lot more complex than building a wall. I believe that most people who come to this country are well intentioned, contribute, and are beneficial to our society, but yes there are some bad people as well. Nonetheless, it’s apparent that our illegal immigration situation is still in need of a long term solution, and a bipartisan one at that. Also, the specific issue of people dying and getting severely injured trying to cross needs to be addressed as well. Anyway, I digress. It’s hard not to talk about this because I think it’s a very interesting topic, but back to cycling!
Another favorite ride we did is called ‘the Lemmon squeeze’. I don’t know who came up with that name, but everyone who does it on Strava calls it that. It’s quite fitting. I don’t have many photos of this ride since I forgot my phone and Brad’s ran out of batteries half way into it. The ones I have don’t capture how beautiful it was. You start by riding up Redington road which is a fairly rough gravel road for about 25 miles. There is a very small town called San Manuel after that about 45 miles in where we filled up water and had a quick snack. We weren’t sure how long this ride was going to take and wanted to finish in daylight, so it was just a quick pit stop. After the San Manuel gas station, you have to backtrack a little and then take a right onto the dirt/gravel road that takes you up to the Mt. Lemmon Control road, aka the back way up Mt. Lemmon. I actually don’t think I would call this section a dirt or gravel road. The condition of it probably depends on the time of year, but I would call it more of a rock road if there is such a thing. It was grueling. It would have been way more comfortable on a mountain bike. If I did this ride over again, I’d do it a mountain bike because of this part. It was about 10 miles or so of gradual climbing, which doesn’t sound bad, but the rocks! There were giant rocks the size of your fist strewn all over the road and embedded in the dirt. So yeah, we took a beating. Finally we reached the bottom part of the control road, which was smooth, but short lived. The rest of the climb gets steeper and rockier near the top. The last 6 miles or so is pretty rough, but still not as rough as the earlier rock road section. We finally made it to the top of Mt. Lemmon around 2:30 or 3, which was actually much earlier than I expected (we left the house at 7am). We descended into the little town of Summerhaven to get a snack at the touristy market before the decent back to Tucson. Brad got a coffee and a donut and I got a piece of fudge, which was ridiculously sweet. It was kind of wrong how sweet it was. I don’t remember the last time I ate fudge so I don’t know if it’s supposed to be super sweet or if they make it that way special just for the masses of cyclists who ride up there everyday, probably the latter.
We did some other really cool rides too, but those two were probably the most noteworthy. If anyone wants to do these routes at their own discretion, here’s the Strava link to the Mexican border ride, and the link to the Lemmon squeeze ride for your reference!
We also did some mountain bike exploring on the Arizona trail, checked out the riding in Fountain Hills, where I’m pretty sure I saw a tarantula on the trail, did some long road rides, and some bike path riding in Tucson. Riding on the bike path is sweet. It’s not just for old people on recumbent bikes. We rode almost 70 miles on it one day, and it was awesome! They call it ‘The Loop’, and it basically circumnavigates the city and also goes north of Tucson into Oro Valley. It’s over 100 miles of path dedicated to bikers, walkers and joggers and any other mode of non-motorized transportation. I would definitely need a pair of rollerblades to put to use on that path if I lived in Tucson.
Even after 3 weeks in the area, we didn’t cover everything we wanted to do. I’m hoping I can convince Brad to go there again next year. He wants to go to New Zealand. Good thing we have some time to decide.
Now we get ready for NAHBS… More to come on that later…