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!