As I write this, I am around 30,000 feet above Arizona. This flight brings to an end a five week experiement. For the last 33 days I’ve been training in Tucson, Arizona in preperation for my summer mountain bike race campaign. The experimentation in this trip was a mix of personal and physical challenges. I essentially moved away from home for five weeks, isolating myself from family and friends. Additionally, while I already work remotely for a company in San Francisco, I have never worked for this long away from home. This trip also included a hefty increase in training hours and mental focus, requiring balacing training and work. Fortunately my wife and fellow Native commrades Derek Blagg, Nathan Young and Grayson Smith came down for a week long visits. Also the transition to Tucson was made easier by the perfect confluence of weather, terrain and density of cyclists.
Unsurprisingly, and well known to retirees across the United States, southern Arizona is warm and dry. Not only is it warm and dry but very consistent. Coming from Seattle the steady climate was a welcome change. Consistent weather alone can make training everyday, for hours on end exponentionally easier. This means fewer articles and types of clothing, no need for fenders or vitamin D supplimentation to keep your spirits up on rainy, gray days. This consistency comes at a price, the sun is intense. So intense in fact that my skin tingled upon stepping out to ride, as if the sun was trying to remind me that the earth is indeed round.
Nestled between the Catalina mountains to the North and East, the Tucson mountains to the West and Mt Wrightson in the distance to the South there is plenty of climbing and interesting routes surrounding Tucson. Most famous of the climbs, Mt Lemmon and it’s roughly 21 miles continuous climbing was a staple of many of my training rides. Riding to Summerhaven or the SkyCenter observatory makes for at least an 80 mile day with a simple out and back ride. Lesser known climbs Madera Canyon, Gates Pass and Kitt Peak were also great and argubaly more fun and interesting. Madera Canyon is roughly 45 miles from central Tucson and in my opinion is the best climb within riding distance from Tucson. Beginning with a 7 mile false flat, Madera ends with series of steep undulations hiding in the alpine shade of Mt Wrightson for a total of 13 miles. Gates Pass is due West of the city and couldn’t be closer to Tucson. Surrounded by rolling hills and Saguaro cacti of state and national parks it’s easy to make enjoyable ride near town. Finally, a long haul South West of Tucson is Kitt Peak. Better known to astronomers as it is the site of a national observatory, telescopes loom overhead throughout the 12 mile climb.
Both Gates Pass and Madera happen to be included in two of the most popular group rides in Tucson. Starting bright and early between 6 and 7am, depending on time of year, are the Tuesday and Saturday morning “shootout” rides. Both of these rides are generally large, open to all skill levels and basically races. If you’ve done the “rocket ride” in Seattle the shootout rides are similar though the tatics, terrain and size of group make them very different rides. Don’t be surprised to line up with 75 other cyclists and be promptly dropped by a handfull of full-time pros. You won’t find cyclists just on the group rides though, I was repeatedly surprised by the number of both male and female cyclists of all ages out on the roads, especially climbing up Mt Lemmon.
After almost 2000 total miles, 25 hours a week on the bike and countless In-n-Out burgers with heavy legs I am headed home. During my stay I proved to myself that I can manage work and training more than I thought previously possible. Also, how lucky I am to work for such a supportive and flexible company. Not to mention a wife that is cool with me running away for weeks at a time to ride a bicycle. Training-wise the trip was very productive, found some limits and pushed beyond others. A successful experiment made easier with a little determination, location and having good company.
Words by Joe Williams – Growing up the hills of Shawnee National Forest at the Southern tip of Illinois my brothers and I developed a penchant for riding bikes in the dirt. Later racing on the road in college and then in Belgium. Now as a computer engineer I attempt to ride as much as I can while making sure the internet continues to work.