Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Just North of the Border AZ 400k Brevet

JUST NORTH of THE BORDER 400 km Brevet
Tucson, AZ, March 2020

by Paul Foley and Pascal Ledru

After our fastest ever 400km around Phoenix (Pascal to make sure to get his qualifier in for PBP and Paul to get his double series) last year, we thought another early trip to Arizona to get some miles in would be a good idea. And this time, after an easy recruitment speech, John M, Mike and Jason decided to join us.

While "Around the Bend" was a flat course south of Phoenix with about 2,600 feet of climbing, "Just North of the Border" is a more hilly and more windy (but also more scenic) course with about 11,000 feet of climbing south of Tucson.

Meeting at 5:30 at a Starbucks in Tucson, time to introduce ourselves to some of the other riders such as Ann and John Jurczynski who are riding a Seven tandem with a carbon belt and are targeting the Trans Am this year. We also saw old friends Jen and Steve, with whom we had ridden in the past in both Arizona and PBP.  The ridership included participants from seven different states, and one Canadian.

Mike Sturgill, excellent Arizona RBA, went over the course for both the 200km and the 400km riders; Mike will meet us 4 times through the course with water, bananas and snacks at control points as well as a nice lunch in Tombstone.

Departure at 6:00, exiting Tucson going east, then south, then a small loop through Saguaro National Park. A nice opportunity to see the large saguaro cactus close and personal. The road was a single lane-one-way roller coaster through the park, with appropriate warning signs.

Saguaro National Park East
Rincon Mountains in the background

Mike Turek

We then headed South to Sonoita starting with a long but progressive climb. Team RMCC stays together and Steve Atkins from Phoenix joins us and will stay with us through the remainder of the course; he is not used to our bad jokes yet! In Sonoita, Mike Sturgill meets us for water and snack. At this point the 200km riders turn back and we will be on our own: 5 RMCC riders with Steve Atkins, and intermittently Leif Bjelland from Montana will ride with us on and off.

Bridge in Elgin

Store in Sonoita, with welcome support from RBA

After Sonoita, the ride goes through Arizona wine country, unfortunately no time to stop, much to Pascal’s chagrin.

We then pass Elgin (an info control) and then reach historic Tombstone. We were lucky to not get shot and make it alive while we cross main street as this the home to the famed Gun Fight at the O.K. Corral.   Tombstone advocates itself as "the most authentic western town left in the united states" and it definitely has a Wild West atmosphere.  As the town has daily gun fights, John M wondered why local law enforcement couldn’t put a stop to such behavior.

John Mangin in Tombstone

Allen St.

"The RMCC Posse"

40 miles after Tombstone we reach Mule Pass the highest point of the ride, at just over 6000 ft. The climb gradually steepened on the way up, which splintered the group.  We regrouped at the pass, and from there a long downhill to Bisbee where we stop at the High Desert Market and Cafe for pizza (Mike and Pascal) and snacks (everybody else).

Traversing Bisbee, we pass the Lavender Pit, which is a former open pit copper mine, before we go down Erie Street which seems to have been frozen in the 1950s: rusting and fully renovated cars and trucks, old gas station and a "biker patrol" cruiser. Time for a couple of pictures.

After Bisbee, we head south then west and actually ride "Just North of the Border" for 20 miles, where we see occasional Border Patrol Agents on the lookout.  Unfortunately strong head winds and a deceptively difficult climb took its toll, raising fears of possible deportation back to our wintery climes

We then finally head north to the next control, aided by the wind and a gentle descent in Sierra Vista. We all stop at McDonald’s, except for John who is still psychologically traumatized by a bad experience as a teenager requiring him to pick up a sandwich at the Circle-K instead. He still then reluctantly joins us to eat his sandwich with us. The sun has set now, and the temperatures are dropping.

From Sierra Vista back to Sonoita; all the stores are closed, but luckily Mike Sturgill waits for us one last time with water and snacks. Ten miles north of Sonoita, we go through a Border control check poin: are you all U.S citizens: "oui, oui", they let us pass.

Finally, at the 210 mile point of the course, the downhill back to Tucson begins, we reach the outskirts of the city, pass by a couple of B-52 Stratofortress at the very nice Pima Air & Space Museum. The road becomes pretty bumpy as we enter the city and Mike wishes he had taken his Ypsan randonneur bike instead of a carbon bike.

Victory dinner at In-And-Out right before 1:00AM wraps a very enjoyable experience, and a near nineteen-hour brevet.

It seems an early 400km in Arizona in March is going to become a tradition. From 2 RMCC riders in 2019 to 5 in 2020, this is a 150% rise. Will we see the same progression or even a bigger one in 2021? And a huge thank you to Mike Sturgill for organizing and superbly supporting, this ride.

Grace Turek celebrated our success !

Finish at the In-n-Out Burger in Tucson
Paul, John, Jason Turner, Leif, Pascal, Mike

♦ ♦ ♦


  1. Steve from Phoenix joined us at the In-n-Out Burger. Leif was to fast for us at the finish!

  2. Paul, great report, and great riding with you!

  3. Paul, you are such a locomotive. Are you ever going to slow down? Good report.

  4. Awesome report, Paul! Great job RMCC team!