White Mts Tour 2008: Hondah to Springerville through St. Johns

Phil rises before the alarm in the morning, and he’s in his bike clothes before I’m out of bed.  He tells me that he’s gotten almost no sleep.

We find the Hon Dah Casino and Resort easily enough on AZ260, then search around for a coffee shop.  We enter the casino restaurant from the back door, and find a very nice looking breakfast buffet on one side – perfect.  I even enjoy half a cup of coffee, for both the good flavor and the unaccustomed caffeine jolt.

Phil and I quickly register and receive a map, door prize ticket, and a new Camelbak water bottle.  As we are preparing our bikes and gear in the lot, Jules finds us and parks nearby.  The clouds are grey overhead but not menacing, and there is no evidence of rain. Each of us considers whether to take raincoat, arm warmers, or extra layers, but in the end we decide to skip them all.  After all, it is about 50F, a perfect starting temperature.

Registration in the Hon Dah Resort and Casino parking lot
Registration in the Hon Dah Resort and Casino parking lot

The three of us head west on AZ260 from Hon Dah and quickly roll through the Pinetop-Lakeside area, assisted by a small tailwind.  A few other riders join our group and we are soon motoring at well over 22 mph towards Show Low.   The route takes a right on US60 in Show Low for a long trek eastward, climbing several rolling hills, and finally reaching the first SAG stop about 27 miles from Hon Dah.  This stop has only water and Gatorade, but it is a good excuse to air out the legs a bit.   Phil is a short distance back, which provides an opportunity to take his picture rolling into the SAG stop.

Phil and Jules ready their gear for the road
Phil and Jules ready their gear for the road

There is a “fast” group at the stop (Jules says if you doubt it, just ask them) and we wait around a while for them to leave before taking off again.  At my request, Jules and I stop at the junction of US60 and AZ61.  There is an optional longer route up AZ61 – Jules and I are considering doing it, but we haven’t really touched base with Phil about it.  We wait about 8 minutes and begin to wonder if Phil has had trouble.  I ride back a half mile or so to see if I can see his white and blue jersey, but I see nothing.  We call his cell, get no answer, and leave a message.

Phil rolls in to the first Sag stop on US60
Phil rolls in to the first Sag stop on US60

After about 15 minutes, it’s clear that Phil must have had trouble, but we figure the ride support will most likely fix him up, and Jules and I decide to head on up AZ61.  The route does several annoying climbs away from US60, then settles into a series of slow rollers.  Eventually, we reach a “top” of sorts, and are rewarded with a long fast descent into a flat valley area.

Riders at the first SAG stop, Mile 27
Riders at the first SAG stop, Mile 27

Concho is the next named location on the route, and SAG #2 and a lunch stop awaits us there at the 42 mile mark.  Phil has left me a message on my cell – sure enough he’s had a blowout.  In fact, Phil tells me there were so many flats during the early part of the ride that the support truck actually ran out of tubes.  Phil explains that the truck had to move him to the next SAG stop for more tubes, but fortunately he is back rolling again.  I call Phil but he again doesn’t answer, so I take this to mean he is probably pedaling – good news.

Lunch is peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, orange wedges, grapes, cookies, sweet breads, brownies, etc.  One of the SAG stop volunteers offers to make me a sandwich, and I accept the offer, but later wish I hadn’t.  She uses way too much jelly – the proper ratio of peanut butter to jelly is just too important to leave to others <grin>.  I also eat the equivalent of a full orange and lots of grapes.

While we chat with the volunteers, a truck rolls up, stops, and a lady emerges to ask if she can buy something from our “bake sale.”  She nods in understanding when she learns it is a stop for bicyclists only, but she still seems to want to buy something from our display of goodies.  A few minutes later another lady pulls up and asks if we are running a bake sale too – wow, must be a good spot for it.

Jules prefers not to stop for too long, and we are soon back on the road and headed towards St Johns, now on US180 but still headed east.  There a number of short climbs on the way, and soon we start calling each of them “just another bump in the road.”  We’ve been pushing a healthy pace the entire day, usually around 20 mph on the flats, and I’m glad when we finally roll into St Johns.  It gives me an excuse to slow down and check out the place.

We head south on US180, which has picked up US191 in St Johns.  The road descends slowly out of town and the terrain is fairly sparse.  The skies are continuing overcast but in this direction we can see a nice concentrated cell of rain south of us.  As our luck would have it, the winds are starting to increase and they’re mostly in our faces.  Hmmm…

We reach the last SAG stop around the 69 mile mark, just before Lyman Lake.  It again only has water and a box of Powerbars.   Still, it is good to shake out the legs and top up the water bottles.  The volunteers there suggest that if we ride quickly, we might be able to beat the storm to Springerville.  I think it might be heading slightly to the west of us anyway.

Heading south again, the breezes continue to pick up.  We ride another 10 miles or so on the rollers into a subtle ascent, under darkening skies.   Finally, the rains start – I guess we are not fast enough <grin>.  As we ride along, I am actually enjoying it.  I guess I figure that I’m in a beautiful remote spot on a long stretch of road with a good bike and functioning legs, and I’ve driven a ways to get here, and paid for it, and have truck support if I need it.  The rains feel good.  What is not to enjoy?

Riding in the rain on AZ180
Riding in the rain on AZ180

Jules doesn’t quite see it that way, and she falls off her normally brisk pace.  I pause on the shoulder and take a couple of photos as she approaches.   When she arrives we rest a minute.    She asks me, “Do you think this will let up?”  I look southward and decisively reply, “Yes.  No.  I don’t know.”   The support truck eventually pulls up behind us.  Jules explains that riding in the rain is just about the opposite of fun in her book, having done this for too many miles in the Casa Grande Century ride back in January.  She decides to head back to town in the truck.

I continue south on US180, still about 23 miles from Springerville.  The rains are steady for several miles and, now alone, I start to wonder what I’m doing out here.  Abruptly though, the rains stop, the air warms a bit, and I quickly remember exactly what I’m doing out here.  I also immediately think of Jules, sitting in the truck on the way back, probably thinking, “Geez, the rains have stopped already – I want to ride!”

The final 15 miles leading back to US60 are starting to take a toll on my legs, as the elevation slowly climbs several hundred feet.  I’ve lowered my pace to around 16mph and try to ignore the straining in my quads.  I pass a sign that declares I’ve entered the Springerville city limits and I’m immediately encouraged.

Another 7 or 8 miles go by until I finally reach US60 again – the city limits must grab a big area.   Turning left, I then ride a half mile towards Springerville when a familiar cyclist emerges on the horizon.  It’s Jules!  She’s come out to greet me!  That’s really nice of her and I feel much better riding the last four miles alongside her.  I also know she’s happy to get in a few more miles under the now clearing skies.

Jules mentions that we should probably go for dinner, but I’m thinking I want to go to the hotel room first.  I finally realize that she is talking about a ride-sponsored dinner that will close in 1 hour, so we head south on AZ260 out of Springerville towards Eagar to find the site.

Most of the riders are in already, and Jules and I find Phil already done with his meal.  We start out by tanking up on lemonade and tea, then finally on ravioli and desserts, and we all sit and swap stories about the ride.   Phil tells us about repairing his flat tire, heading back out on the road and starting down a good hill, and then discovering he’d failed to reset his rear brake.   He hits an all-time speed of 41.6 mph, all unintentional, while in a mild panic doing his best to slow down using his front brake only.  Geez!

Door prize numbers are called out, but unfortunately Jules and I have left our tickets in our luggage, and so we ignore this part of the program.  Apparently, many other riders have done the same thing, because it seems like a hundred numbers are called just to give out 30 prizes or so.  Phil wins a bicycle lock for a mountain bike.

Picnic dinner of lasagna for all in Eagar
Picnic dinner of lasagna for all in Eagar

Jules’ rear derailleur gave her some fits on the course, so she has the ride leader Jay take a look at it.  Jay shows her a badly frayed cable on the handlebar end, and says it must be replaced.  He clips the cable, removes it, and inserts a new one, only to find out that a standard length cable is too short for her bicycle.

Yikes.  Jules’ bike is now almost DOA, incapable of shifting.  Jay immediately starts calling area bike shops but it is now getting late on Saturday afternoon, and he can’t reach any of them.  After a nervous 30 minutes or so, Jay is still unsuccessful in locating a long cable, so Jules calls her husband Glen, an accomplished bike mechanic himself.  Glen agrees to drive all the way up from Casa Grande with another of Jules’ bikes, and will try to pick up a cable in Chandler on the way.  Savior!   Jay adjusts Jules’ derailleur into a middle gear to assist Jules’ ride back to the hotel.

We find the Rode Inn, head to our rooms, and it feels great to lean back onto a soft bed.  Phil and I shower, then crack open a bottle of merlot and break out the cards for a good afternoon game of cribbage.

The three of us regroup around 6pm and decide that steak would really hit the spot.  The Rode Inn clerk suggests the nearby Bluebird Café, or the Coyote Creek Steakhouse about a mile down the road.  We check out the Bluebird and find it possibly passable, but decide to also check out the Coyote and then decide.  The “mile down the road” turns into about 1.5 miles, a fairly long walk.  However, we are not disappointed.

The Coyote Creek Steakhouse is perfect.  Low key cowboy atmosphere, with attentive service, salad bar, cold beer, and EXCELLENT steaks, tender and flavorful, cooked just right.  We are starving after our long day of riding and this meal is heavenly.  We sit and talk of the ride and cycling in general.

A long hike back to the hotel faces us in the dark, but we manage it fine.   I grab a couple Motrin on the way back since Jules has recommended it for my sore legs.  About 100 yards from the motel, Jules’ phone rings.  It’s Glen, just arriving from Casa Grande with Jules’ bike!  What a devoted husband – and he even has to make the return trip tonight to tend to their dogs!  We say hi to him in the Rode Inn parking lot, then head off for some sleep.  After some minutes of obligatory TV, I drop off to sleep pretty quickly, and awaken only once in the middle of the night to drink water and take the other Motrin.

Total distance today: 95.9 miles (Rich’s odometer)
Total climbing today:  about 2000 feet (mapmyride.com estimate)