Sunday, May 2, 2010

Tammie Nakamura Rides the AZ 600K!

The 600K Casa Grande Tombstone brevet [April 24, 2010] featured sunny but breezy weather. We were lucky to miss the big rains and 60-70 mph winds that sometimes occur in the springtime in Arizona. The day started at 5 AM with 28 eager riders pedaling into the rising sun, past the Picacho Peaks State park. The first rolling climb through the Saguaro National Park ascended 1600 ft. The striking feature of this area is the astonishing vistas through the Sonoran desert extending all the way to the horizon.

At mile 75 begins a gradual but persistent 30 mile climb up Mission road through the Tohono O'odham reservation, ending at the Duval mines. The road ruts rattle every tooth and bone in your body. The border patrol buzzes around like angry hornets throughout the area. Passing through border patrol checks, the officers seem amused to see a steady stream of bicyclists out in the middle of nowhere.

The next climb of 16 miles on Sahuarita Road is followed by a steeper 22 mile climb up the Sonoita Hill for a total elevation gain of about 2800 ft. Occasional vineyards appear in scrub grasslands along the rolling descent to Elgin Lodge.

A surprise encounter with a foot long Gila Monster near Sahuarita!

The Grasslands of Sonoita

At the lodge we are warmly greeted by Susan Plonsky and her famous turkey rolls at the door! However, it’s getting dark and the temperatures are dropping rapidly from the 88 degrees in late afternoon to the low 40s. A quick dash down the hill and it’s on to a 70 mile loop in the dark to Tombstone and the mid-ride turn around control. The pitch darkness underscores the remoteness of the area. More border patrol officers are hidden near the top of hills, silently scanning the valley with night vision goggles.

It’s the middle of the night and the titanic forces of drowsiness begin to take hold. No doubt this is a very bad place to take a nap on the side of the road. For that matter, I wondered about riding by myself in the middle of the night so close to the US-Mexico border. I watched another rider weaving in the center of the road- he was sleepy too no doubt. I noted that he had no rear lights and no reflective gear on himself or his bike. The drivers clearly couldn’t see him until they were nearly on top of him and swerved around him in a panic. Good grief! Hope somebody has sharp words with him.

Getting back to the Elgin lodge was the most joyful moment of the day- WARMTH and the most cheerful greeting from Mike Allen who hands me some some desperately needed calories. The lodge was a great stopping point for a quick nap. Riders were very respectful to take off their shoes and talk in a whisper. The sleeping room was large enough to spread out so thunder snorers didn’t wake everybody up. Susan greeted everybody in the morning with a quick breakfast of cereal and coffee and it was back out the door to a very chilly ride.

Arizona RBA Susan Plonsky at the Elgin Lodge. Susan runs a tight ship and provides legendary support of the riders. Thanks Susan!!!

The return trip traced the same outbound route back to Casa Grande. The rolling climb back through the Saguaro NWR at mile 312 was surprisingly onerous- no doubt the 92 degree temps (and still dressed for a cool-weather ride) made for a shock to the system. It was a grand HOORAY to finally arrive back in the Casa Grande Walmart parking lot and to hand my card to Susan. The ride was a grand adventure- just the right amount of challenge, beautiful and unusual views of the desert and really good folks to ride with.

I have no pics of the riders of the 600K, but here are a couple of Irene [Takahashi] toughing the headwinds near the Buenos Aires Natl Wildlife Refuge on the way to Arivaca on the AZ 400K [March 27].

- Tammie Nakamura

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