J&P 09: Florence to Tucson

Phil awoke quickly at 5:10am, and I rose more slowly.   The HIExpress had quite a good help-yourself free breakfast, including cheese omelets, bacon, and biscuits.   While we are there, more than a half dozen actors in Elizabethan costumes join the breakfast, and so we guess there is a Renaissance Festival somewhere close by today.  Just as we’re leaving breakfast, Bob Turner shows up and informs us that Sharon will come by about 7:45am for any bags we want to deposit in the van.

After all my knee twinging yesterday, I make an easy decision to go with Plan B and ditch my panniers in the sag wagon.  I keep the handlebar bag (full of snacks, camera, lotions, eyewear, etc.) and trunk (with all my warmth and rain gear).  I figure I’ll see how my knees feel after today and maybe re-attach the panniers for Day #3, just for the conditioning and experience.

We head over to the Blue Mist and make an attempt to link up with Mary Ellen.  I call and leave a message, but learn later that she is already out on today’s course.   I also ask around for a crescent wrench, to tighten up the nuts securing my handlebar bag.  With vibrations and road bumps, the bag slowly rotated downward to encroach my hands and brake levers yesterday.  No big deal, but annoying.   Tom tries several of his tools, then one rider produces a tiny closed-end wrench that works perfectly.  Success!

Phil and I head out onto AZ79.  It is a long straight shot southeast, and we are very soon working hard and looking down at our speedometers, reading numbers like 11, 12, and 13.  From the road, it appears we are riding on a flat by all landmarks, but we know from the cue sheet that we are on a 38 mile incline.

Jan P at a brief stop on AZ79
Jan P at a brief stop on AZ79
Sharon, Diana, and Jan
Sharon, Diana, and Jan

It’s cold this morning, and I’ve got on leg tights, thermal beanie, full gloves, a tee shirt beneath my jersey, and my rain jacket.  Very soon, I stop to unzip my pit vents – my arms are already starting to sweat.  After a few more miles, I stop again to remove my rain jacket.  It is really cold for another mile as the sweat evaporates, but then I am quite comfortable.

Phil and I pick up Jan P, and we pick up Diana and Jesse further down the road.  We lose Jesse, then lose Phil, so it is just the three of us for a long time.  We all stop at the Tom Mix Monument, nibble on snacks, and chat with Sharon.   I’m getting a little bit sore, and Diana offers me a Naprosyn, which she says is a little bit stronger than Tylenol.

Jan, Diana, and I head back out on the road and continue the long uphill.  Diana rides some 10 yards behind Jan, because I think she doesn’t like pacelining.  Likewise, I ride 10 yards behind Diana, because I know from her comments last night that she gets nervous if someone is on her tail.   So despite our grouping, each one of us is effectively “pulling” ourselves.

About 6 miles to the top, I hear Jan mentioning behind me that she is getting erratic, so I pull off for a cookie stop.  Diana pulls in behind me, but we are a bit surprised that Jan continues right by and keeps pedaling.   Diana and I cut our stop short and eventually catch up with Jan again.  About 3 miles to the top, I’m starting to feel pretty strained, too, and decide to stand up on the pedals to climb the last few swells.  This feels really good, but soon puts me 1/3 mile out in front of the girls.

AZ77 - where we've been
AZ77 – where we’ve been

I finally reach the “summit” and there is a big electrical substation there.  The hill crests quickly, and I shift onto my big chainring, crank a few times, and enjoy the much-needed 5 mile downhill into the town of Oracle.   I catch up with Peter and Carol gliding down the hill, then watch as they peel off into the restaurant at the junction of AZ79 and AZ77.  I think it is called Lupe’s.

AZ77 - where we're going
AZ77 – where we’re going

I stop beside the road after the turn, just in front of the restaurant, and crunch down a granola bar.  I’m looking for bikes at the restaurant, but don’t see any other than Carol and Peter’s.  I wait for a few more minutes for signs of Diana and Jan – I guess they stopped at the substation.  Soon enough, I click back in and head south on Oracle Road (AZ77).  Later, I learned that Mary Ellen was waving at me from the restaurant to come join them.  Wish I had seen her!

There is lots of traffic on Oracle Road.  At the intersection of Oracle and Tangerine, all I can see are dozens of orange construction signs south down Oracle, and clear sailing west on Tangerine.  I also know that Tangerine is a good bicycle route.  I check my cue sheet again – it says straight on Oracle all the way to Ina.  Reluctantly, I continue on Oracle and into the malaise.

There are three or 4 spots where construction barricades force me into the traffic, and at one I need to patiently wait for a break in the flow of cars.   Still, the passage is not too bad, often riding inside the orange cones, and there are big signs that say “Share the road carefully” with a cyclist symbol beside.

About midway through the construction, I pair up with Parke Hauten, from the Ft. Wayne, IN area.  Parke is riding a dedicated touring bike, one from Surly called a “Long Haul Trucker.”   He’s got both front and back panniers.  He asks if I’m with the J&P group and I nod.  I ask if he’s done this ride before, and he says, yes, a couple of times.  Of course, I assume he is with our group, and hang with him the rest of the way to Ina Road, then all the way on Ina to our hotel close to I-10.  He’s a pretty fast rider, and we’re going downhill, so we cover the distance doing 18-22 mph.

We catch up with John and Dennis at a traffic light a few miles before the hotel.   I’m really impressed at how Dennis can rocket away from the lights – wow – a strong guy.  Parke states his intention to stop for a sixpack prior to arriving at the hotel, which sounds like a wonderful idea to me.  The four of us pull in to a Circle K, and I grab a 22oz Tecate plus a couple of bags of nacho cheese Doritos.  Dennis, John, and Parke are talking cycling and various rides and I enjoy hearing these veterans talk about the sport.

It’s only a few hundred more yards to the Motel 6.  My room is ready but Parke’s is not.  He decides to sit out front and suck on a beer, which again sounds like a good idea to me.  After I get my stuff in my room, I grab my beer and an ice bucket and join him.  It is a good spot, as riders pull in and stop to visit with us.  Pretty soon there are 8 or 10 of us laying out in the sun.

I check out Parke’s Surly Long Haul Trucker bike again.  It has steel tubing, a nice low sturdy geometry, and it even has a decal that says “Papa Parke.”  I heft the bike, still loaded, and find it is actually lighter than mine.   I quickly surmise that I’ve overpacked.

A group of ABC riders shows up, riding our same loop but in the opposite direction.  All these guys are on upright road bikes without packs.   Parke seems to know most of these riders.   It turns out that I didn’t see Parke again for the rest of the ride, and I learned much later that he was touring independently and just happened to collide with our group.

Mary Ellen and her boyfriend John Harry show up.  They’re headed off to the Rock and Gem Show – a big event here in Tucson.  Jan P has decided to go with them, so to make room for her in the car, we decide to stow Mary Ellen’s bike in our room for the evening.

Mary Ellen describes a wrong turn she’s taken, which resulted in some hair-raising encounters with ugly traffic.  I can’t figure out which roads she is talking about and stop her to explain.  It turns out that I have been riding with the incorrect cue sheet – apparently Tom made some changes to them, but I downloaded them before the changes!  We were supposed to turn on Tangerine!

Within the hour, Jan and Diana show up.  They stopped at the restaurant at Oracle and AZ79, as did most of the riders.  Phil shows up soon enough as well, also having stopped for lunch.  Oh well, next time I’ll know where to go.

We head up to the room, clean up and shower, and Phil heads out for his own tall Tecate while I doze and watch TV (pre-hype for the NBA All Star dunk contest).   After a couple of hours, we walk over to the nearby Miss Saigon restaurant and take a table in the back.  It is a Vietnamese / Thai place, and I’ve got a taste for some curry.  I guess Phil does too, because he orders the prawns in a coconut curry sauce, and I order the chicken in same.  I also get a wonderful big side plate of steamed broccoli – just right – plus a lime juice/ade handmade by our waitress.  The food is delicious!

Back in the room, we watch the rest of the All-Star 3-point competition, then turn out the lights and sleep fast.  Tomorrow is another riding day.  Today has been a relatively tough day, but my knees are feeling better, ostensibly due to my lighter load, and I’m glad to have sagged those heavy panniers.

Trains go by all night, pounding the tracks, but I’m not bothered, with earplugs securely in place.

Miles today:  63.0
Total miles so far:  127.0