Monday May 26 – We decided to leave earlier this morning, but I guess everyone else had the same idea. We enjoyed a breakfast of eggs, bacon, and sausage, and an interesting pumpkin streudel with a tasty topping. I had a rare cup of coffee that gave me a good morning jolt. After stowing our stuff for the truck, we found ourselves again the last riders on the course.
Monday’s route started directly into a 14-mile climb from 5770 feet in Reserve up US180 (the Colorado Trail Scenic Road) to the Luna summit at 8000 feet in the San Francisco Mountains. Mary Ellen and I decided to take it sanely, in segments, and started out by taking brief “photo” stops every 2.0 miles. The views were absolutely stunning, with gorgeous stands of pines, tranquil mountain meadows, and textured rocky crags everywhere.
Approaching the summit, the slope increased plenty and we reduced our intervals to 1.1 miles. We this plan, we reached the top (and SAG#1) feeling good.
We learned with some surprise that quite a few riders (no number was specified) had decided not to try today’s ride and had shuttled back to Springerville. Mary Ellen’s legs were fatiguing after the climb but she was feeling good. I was pleasantly surprised to feel little soreness as well. We both decided that our piece-wise climb up the mountain was a good investment for the rest of the day.
After another brief climb from SAG#1, we started a wild descent of over 1000 feet in about 7 miles. Mary Ellen flew out ahead of me and was a speck way down the hill. Even while trying to rest, I was amazed to see my speedometer creep up over 40 anyway, hitting a peak of 45. As the road twisted and turned through rock channels, the winds would occasionally gust from the side unpredictably, buffeting the bike sideways 1-2 feet. What a kick in the rear!
The road then again started to climb, and we worked to regain our altitude back to 8000 feet in the next 17 miles. Despite all the climbing, there was very often an assisting crosswind or tailwind that really helped a lot. SAG#2 was set up at Luna Lake itself, a peaceful medium-sized fishing lake high in the mountains, and a home to bald eagles.
After another delicious lunch, Mary Ellen and I started riding off and on with a 72 year old woman named Hildie, and eventually we “adopted” her for the remaining 20+ miles of the day. The route climbed again from Luna Lake and topped out at 8500 feet at Alpine Divide. As the last riders on the course, Mary Ellen and I often stopped for photos and waited for Hildie, and she would eventually come chugging on by us with a determined smile.
Hildie rode a fairly upright frame with straight handlebars, outfitted with a cage and pack on the back and skinny road tires. Mary Ellen commented how impressive it was that Hildie was riding without toe clips or cycling shoes, and Hildie replied that she didn’t need any of that fancy stuff because she was just an old Prussian. We liked Hildie immediately.
From the 8500 foot mark, the road descended gradually but turned decidedly north, providing us a terrific tailwind. Like yesterday, the wind speeds increased throughout the day, and by afternoon we again we seeing steady winds above 15 mph with gusts up to 30, all from the S-SW. From Alpine, AZ, Mary Ellen and I flew through the next 10 miles of gorgeous countryside at well over 30 mph, with Hildie not far behind us. We eventually reached SAG#3 at the 51 mile mark and stopped to catch our breath and consume a few more energy crumbs.
The final 12 miles back into town included a couple small climbs. Mary Ellen and I waited for Hildie before the last hill, then started the climb with her. It turned steep and it also turned south, completely exposed to some stiff winds. Hildie was very ready to get off the bike, but gamely hung on and geared completely down, bracing against the headwinds. A combination of walking and chugging eventually got her to the top of the hill and we were all rewarded with a fast 5 mile wind-assisted drift down into Eagar and Springerville.
We met Hildie in the Safeway parking lot with her husband at their trailer, and we traded email addresses in order to exchange photographs. We grinned as Hildie instinctively started to pronounce the spelling of her address in German.
The GABA team set up men’s and women’s shower rooms at the Rode Inn, complete with loads of clean towels and shampoo – how great is that? After cleaning up and packing, Mary Ellen and I headed back to Phoenix feeling just about like a million bucks.
Total miles Day 3: 64.8
Total climbing Day 3: 4600 feet
Total miles Luna Lakes Tour: 170.2
Total climbing Luna Lakes Tour: 9600 feet