Saturday, April 14, 2018

Two in Tucson: #2 - Mt. Lemmon

In December, 2017, my wife Pat and I spent a few days in Tucson, for a winter getaway from Colorado. I was fortunate to ride two of Roger Peskett's 100k perm populaires.

This is the second one I rode: the Mt. Lemmon Hill Climb 104km Permanent Populaire.

The ride starts on the NE edge of Tucson.

The route starts on the NE end of Tucson, at about 2150 ft, climbing to about 8200 ft just before the turnaround. (You can continue on a couple miles to the ski area, at about 9,000 ft., but the route doesn't do that.)

When Susan Plonsky - who founded the AZ: Casa Grande RUSA region - created this perm populaire in 2009, I knew it would be challenging. So it's great that I was able to ride it eight years later.

You climb up from Tucson through the saguaros of the sonoran desert environment.

The Mt. Lemmon road is beautifully engineered and well maintained, with a moderate grade.

This plaque shows the climatic zones you climb through on the way to the summit, from "Sonoran Desert" to "Mixed Conifer Forest." (A similar trip up Mt. Evans or over Trail Ridge Road would top out at "Alpine Tundra.")

The vegetation changes, amid interesting rock formations.

About a third of the way up the climb, you pass through hoodoos jutting up from the landscape.

To me, this was the most scenic section of the climb.

Occasional guardrails provide convenient bike rests for eating a sandwich or a snack.

An extremely quiet road, too, at least at this time of year.

My guess is that this is a good climb for about half the year, before the lower elevations get very toasty. It was comfy in the 50's at the turnaround point. The high in Tucson that day was close to 80º.

Mt. Lemmon is probably a big recreational draw during warmer months, with more traffic.

This may be the first "bear and bear cub" warning sign I've seen.

At the village of Mt. Lemmon, the checkpoint and turnaround point is this general store.

And then it's a gentle, fun descent back down to the desert.

Mt. Lemmon was the high point of my cycling in the Tucson area.
I'm lucky the weather was so good (which, admittedly, it often is in Southern Arizona).

Three days after this ride, they closed the road because of snow.


Monday, April 9, 2018

Two in Tucson: #1 - Picture Rocks

In December, 2017, my wife Pat and I spent a few days in Tucson, for a winter getaway from Colorado. I was fortunate to ride two of Roger Peskett's 100k perm populaires.

This is about the first one: the Picture Rocks 102km Permanent Populaire.

As you see, it traverses Tucson Mountain Park and Saguaro National Park. But the name "Picture Rocks" was the big draw for me, as it was bound to be picturesque!

Weather when I rode was seasonal: 50's to 60's, and partly cloudy to sunny.

From a north section of Tucson, we make our way to the loop trail, with an info checkpoint at a non-traditional bike shop perched on the trail at the edge of the Santa Cruz River.

The trail was one of the highlights of the route. Lightly traveled, a few cyclists and joggers, with nice riparian views.

Nice views and some shade, too!

The second checkpoint was at a courtyard of various cafés and other places to enjoy the passage of time, as a number of cyclists were doing when I breezed through.

The second highlight for me was climbing Gates Pass (3172 ft.). A few stiff sections, but really a delightful pass with low traffic and fine scenery ... 

... and our intro to saguaro country for this ride.

Nice views from the pass into the desert hinterlands beyond Tucson.

A plaque explains that local rancher Thomas Gates explored a way over the Tucson Mountains west from town, and found this pass. While at the close of World War I there was a flurry of local interest in spreading west of Tucson to establish mining and agricultural claims, Gates sought to preserve some of this landscape, and succeeded, resulting in what we see today as this Tucson Mountain Park, adjoining Saguaro National Park.

The national park is the next stop, replete with lots of info on saguaros, their place in Native American life, and local flora and fauna.

There are various side trails and items of interest at the visitors center, to peruse at another time. Here is a tour of cactuses.

The pavement through the park was a joy to ride, and a contrast to most of the roads in this area, which were quite rough with expansion cracks.

Out in the Picture Rocks area, it was a broad expanse dotted by rock formations. This is a desert agricultural area with lightly to moderately traveled roads mostly with no shoulder, and very polite traffic. This route avoided another feature of Tucson area roads: the roller-coaster traversal of washes, which make driving and cycling some mixture of fun and adventure.

This not very good photo shows a field of cotton backed by one of the rocky ridges.

The rest of the trip featured a segment down the I-10 frontage road, then final miles in town on roads with traffic but bike lanes.

I chose this Wienerschnitzel restaurant as the finish establishment.

Among the many offerings, they had a special on corn dogs, which was my choice.

I enjoyed this route overall, a great sampler to biking in Tucson and the Tucson area, and especially Gates Pass, Saguaro National Park, and the Tucson loop trail.


Tuesday, April 3, 2018

John Mangin's Colorado SR600 Tips!

At the beginning of last September, John Mangin became the third rider to complete the Colorado Front Range Super Randonnée 600. Here are his tips! These are geared to a two-stage ride, 300km to Woodland Park, sleep, and return:

  • Start early.  I started at 4 am, 3 am might have been better to allow for more natural sleep in Woodland Park.
  • At the bathroom station in Nederland there is now a water fill station on the north side of the building.
  • Woodland Park makes a lot of sense for the overnight.  Most restaurants close at 10pm almost everything by 11pm.  I ordered Jimmy Johns subs delivered to the hotel so I had food when I got there.  I did not have to ride to get food and also had a sandwich for day 2.  Had I started at 3 am I would have arrived before the County Market closed at 10pm.
  • It will be chilly riding to Deckers on the return.
  • Check the open hours at Deckers.  I was there around 8:30 pm and the restaurant was still open.  This won't be the case on the return.
  • Potentially very important:  At the mtb trailhead for Buffalo Creek there is a tent with snacks, water, Gatorade, and bike tools.  I was able to get a spare water bottle, which was important due to the heat.  On the return ride, if Deckers is closed, this could be very useful.
  • Witter Gulch is tough.  Not much more I can say about that!
  • I hit Echo Lake during the day both ways so it was open but this would be a control to check the hours on, depending on when one starts.  I was almost empty from Conifer to Echo Lake, but it was also hot.
  • There are plenty of service in Idaho Springs.

I think being very familiar with the route is important.  There are plenty of services along the way and I never had any trouble with food or water, despite temps that were in the upper 90's.  I did have a 100oz camel back, and this proved to be a good choice due to the heat.  I would also suggest a hard look at gearing.  This may seem obvious, but I made some changes to my drivetrain for this ride and it made a major difference.  

Be prepared to ride slow.  This is difficult mentally, for me I figured I would have the right mindset after LEL and that proved valuable.
I did not hit any inclement weather but there is obviously potential for that.  Aside from the heat I had near-perfect weather.  It was still very cool in the early mornings.

I will say that this is a spectacular route and well-put together.  It seems remote but there were always services close by if you know where to look and consider open hours.

John's bike at the Eldora checkpoint

From John's and Corinne's experience riding in early September, it does get colder at night than in mid-summer. But the days are reasonably long. For my July ride, I started at 3am, which did work out well.

Congrats to John, and encouragement to future aspirants!


Saturday, March 10, 2018

3 Perms - OK Panhandle, Guanella, Kona - Pololu!

 Here three recently-approved perm routes to tickle your imagination! 

#3547 - Oklahoma Panhandle Patter 105km Perm Populaire

The Oklahoma Panhandle Patter (RWGPS route) is a point-to-point permanent populaire from the SE corner of Colorado, through the Oklahoma Panhandle, into the Texas Panhandle. It is admittedly designed to tag any of these three states you do not have for the RUSA American Explorer award.

In Colorado - notice remnant of spring snow.
Note: not all of the route is this flat!

Landscape is some flat, some cliffs and hilly terrain, some agricultural, some grazing, yucca plants, rocky outcroppings. It's quite open and expansive! The only intermediate services at all are in Boise City, OK, which is why our route goes into that town rather than taking the bypass.

Boise City was also a RAAM (Race Across AMerica) timestation a number of times, this stretch being a trying period for riders who've survived New Mexico or the Rockies, and now face the prospect humidity and flying insects ahead ... and more climbs!

US-287 is in excellent shape with wide shoulders. It's concrete in Colorado. There is some truck traffic, on the whole light traffic overall.

A 210k out-and-back route would also be possible. Also a 150-mile / 240km four-state loop including Kansas is conceivable.

♦ ♦ ♦

#3546 - Guanella Pass Gambol 100km Permanent Populaire

The Guanella Pass Gambol (RWGPS route) is an out-and-back over Guanella Pass (11,670 ft.) with 7,200 ft. total climbing.

The segment to/from Downieville and Georgetown is fairly shallow in comparison with the rest of the route, and is included to reach 100km. It also gets you warmed up outbound.

There is a jog at the pass to Square Top Lakes trailhead - yes, we needed that extra couple tenths of a mile; perhaps you will be encouraged to hike this alpine trail (another time, not in the middle of the ride)!

At the turnaround in Grant, there are BBQ and other places to eat.

Choose fine, stable weather to ride this one!

♦ ♦ ♦

#3522 - Kailua - Pololu Lookout 202km Permanent

The Kailua - Pololu Lookout 202km Permanent (RWGPS route) is an out-and-back featuring the North Kona coast on the island of Hawaii.

This route spans the fairly built-up area of Kailua-Kona to the more sparsely settled North Kona area, to the old (former sugar cane) village of Hāwī on the north end of the island, and to Pololu Lookout on the windward side (lush and moister). Most of the route is on the sunny, dry, volcanic Kona coast.

Modern resort life on the Kona coast.

Pu'u wa'a wa'a volcanic cinder cone above the clouds,
viewed from north Kona coast.

Pololu Lookout on windward side. 
A sheer dropoff and roadless valley beyond your turnaround point.

You can also start from Hāwī if you're staying there, or one of the resorts midway up the coast.

Services are not a problem - available in Hāwī, at Kawaihae, the resorts, and in Kailua. Just remember to stay hydrated and bring sunscreen.


Map images © Google Imagery, Terra Images; routes produced by RideWithGPS.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Riding the New Smyrna Beach - Flagler Beach 115k

In late February, my wife Pat and I visited Florida. One thing we were aiming for were natural areas such as the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and Canaveral National Seashore (and no, we missed seeing a rocket launch, but we did see small alligators, sanderlings, and roseate spoonbills).

I also got in some biking, including Dave Thompson's lovely New Smyrna Beach to Flagler Beach 115km Permanent Populaire. This route takes in the Intracoastal Waterway, Atlantic beaches, and a nice forest.

This map, courtesy of Google and RWGPS, belies a route that's more interesting than it might look.

It's a nice, sunny start around 70º near the Intracoastal Waterway.

After a brief stint on US-1, we're on roads bordering the waterway.

Beach St. is a quiet road bordered by modest homes on one side and shoreside parks on the other.

Next up we veer into more remote-looking environs: Bulow Creek State Park. Light, polite traffic, and a smattering of cyclists.

The overarching trees provide welcome shade. There are signs here and there posting minimum height clearance (like underpasses have). Dave says the canopy has been thinned out some by successive hurricanes. So it must have been a shade paradise before and may become so again!

After climbing over the Intracoastal Waterway on one of those high arcing bridges, and zooming into Flagler Beach, I stop at the 7-Eleven (after bypassing the much more interesting looking "6-11" store, and an inviting barbecue place on the corner). 

At the 7-Eleven, I've caught up with three riders - each sporting tri-looking bikes with deep-dish, low spoke count wheels - who had waved earlier as they passed me on Beach Street. As I munch pizza, one of them asks if I'm on a randonnée. Turns out he'd ridden some brevets, including one of Paul Rozelle's 300k's, which as he recounted involved sudden downpours of chilling rain, and street flooding. He expressed interest in getting back into our sport. All of the three riders were fit and extremely good natured, and really brightened my ride.

Flagler Beach (named at least indirectly for the creator of the Florida East Coast Railway, which until the 1935 "Labor Day" hurricane extended through the Florida Keys)

And it's on to another quiet, wooded lane (John Anderson Drive).

The Atlantic coast segment is a succession of modest, well-kept, 1960's and 1970's neighborhoods,  punctuated by high-rise condos and resort lodgings.

Back over the Intracoastal Waterway, on either the highest or the second highest point in the route, depending on which bridge is higher. It's a nice vista.

And a final stretch back on Halifax ...

... before a pleasant finish on Highway 1.

A big thanks to Dave Thompson for the route, his tips, and the loan of his backup bike.

I really had a nice time on this intro to Florida randonneuring, and am encouraged to do more!