Phil’s up quickly again this morning, about 6am. I used my cell phone as an alarm clock and it works very well. In the morning darkness, we hoof it across the street to the Waffle House, which some of the riders have dubbed the Awful House. Phil gets a nice big plate, while I order just a waffle plus 1 egg and some OJ. Just as we’re finishing, Jan, Carol, and Diana show up and occupy the booth next to us.
Mary Ellen calls around 7:30, then arrives at our room to pick up her bike. We soon head to the parking lot and stand around a while talking with the other riders, and taking a few photos.
Phil and I hit the Frontage Road , which runs north on the east side of I-10. There is a quiet tailwind this morning, and from the cue sheet we know the incline is downhill today. It shows immediately in our speed, up around 18-20 mph, and in noticeably less leg strain. Dennis and John scream by us on this stretch and are soon out of sight – hauling ass. Almost before we know it, we’ve hit Marana, and stop in at the Circle K there just to stand up for a minute or two. Some of the riders head instead over to the Chevron, which is the traditional J&P stop here.
It’s an absolutely gorgeous day, but cold, and my ears and toes are pretty chilled. I snug down my thermal beanie, and for the first time, try out my toe covers. Back on the road, we’re cruising along again, with a nice tailwind assist that occasionally swirls around to be a crosswind. I enjoy watching the trains go by us on our right, and study the intricate grafitti on many of the cars. At one point, I spot an acrobatic plane doing almost impossible stunts, then realize that it is a large scale model plane.
Another 9 miles takes us to the Picacho Dairy Queen. I’ve been dreaming about either a hamburger or a vanilla soft serve the whole way. When Phil and I pull into the parking lot, we’re the only riders there. I order a hamburger and nick some lemonade for my water bottle, and I don’t remember what Phil gets. We take a table and are soon joined by a slew of riders, Mary Ellen, Jan P, Diana, Jesse, Steve, Jan H, Sharon, Peter, Carol, and Geni, probably others. It is a great place to linger with everyone, enjoying the day, enjoying the workout, enjoying the weather, and especially enjoying each other. We spend nearly an hour yucking it up while other riders come and go.
Phil and I finally head out, almost reluctantly. We continue on the Frontage Road, with the tailwind coming and going, another 8 miles or so into Eloy. The frontage road ends there, and as we reach the end we see Carol heading the opposite direction with a cell phone stuck in her ear. She calls out, “Do you guys know the route?” We call out, “Not really,” although we have an idea what we should do.
We make the forced left turn, and the cue sheet says something about taking the “Eisenhower St. overpass.” I see no sign for Eisenhower St., but there is certainly a big overpass up ahead, so we find its entry way and chug up and across. The goal seems to be to get to AZ84, and this route works as well as any. [It turns out to be precisely the right route.] We’re soon heading due northwest up AZ84 through Eloy, and the winds cooperate nicely with us. We slow down through Eloy just to take a look around, and we eventually see Sharon at the Circle K on the corner of AZ84 and Eleven Mile Corner Road.
We stop to chat, and Steve and Jan H eventually pull up and join the conversation. Jesse pulls in as well. The five of us head out together for the final few miles to Casa Grande. When we get to Sunland Gin Road, I lean right, according to my cue sheet. A half mile ahead the road turns to dirt! I am again a victim of downloading a premature cue sheet. Fortunately Steve is on top of it, and indicates a need for us to continue on to Arizola Road before turning north to Florence Blvd.
The others take off, but as Jesse cranks out his rear wheel slips on the gravel and he quickly wipes out in the middle of the road, landing on his left leg. A car slows, honks, and continues on. Jesse gets up, apparently OK, and is wondering why the car honked. He is surprised at the spill but shakes it off quickly and is otherwise OK. Phil, and Jan H roll up and are wondering what happened.
We all catch Steve further along, and eventually Jesse departs us when we pass his campsite. We head up Arizola, and then make the right onto busy Florence Blvd. Our hotel, the Mainstay Inn, requires a sort-of nasty left turn across traffic, but, with patience, we manage it fine. The rooms there are nice, and after we get settled, Phil and I crack open a bottle of Cabernet that Phil has been carrying in his duffel. By the way, my toe covers worked quite well.
I immediately think that Mary Ellen would be enjoying the wine, and so I give her a call. She is just checking into her room, and her roommates are not here yet, so she’d love to join us. She arrives a few minutes later, and we have no problem downing the entire bottle, laughing a lot, and we probably solved a few of the world’s problems, although I can’t remember the solutions.
When Mary Ellen leaves, we finally shower, then start up a good game of cribbage. Very soon, it is time for the tour happy hour. Tom has generously used some of the extra funds to buy beer, wine, and nibbles, and arranges to use one of the hotel’s meeting rooms for us. Everyone shows up, and we are soon spilled out into the lobby and hallways. We are once again reminded how friendly the people are on this tour!
When the happy hour winds down, everyone heads over to the Golden Corral, a quarter mile walk from the hotel. It might as well be called the Pig Trough. I can’t believe how many people are there – I didn’t know that Casa Grande was that populated. And mountains of food. “You might as well stuff yourself – they’ll only throw it away.”
Waiting in line, I meet Kevin, who, along with Phil and I, is one of the younger riders on this tour. I like him right away – he is full of energy and has a quick wit. He is scheming to ride across the country in 2011. I have been scheming the very same thing for 2010, and we compare some notes. When I learn he plans to do it in a mere 6 weeks, I back down. Wow – that’s somewhere around 70-80 miles/day average. I want to do some golfing on my tour, and will probably average half that, riding one day and golfing the next.
Our group is gathered on the side of the dining room, and everyone is chowing down seriously. I start with a load of broccoli, mashed potatoes and gravy, and a pile of mushrooms. The potatoes are particularly good – homemade with chunks of potato included. After that plate, I go back for a slab of pot roast in juice, more potatoes, a heap of green beans, and a roll. I enjoy talking with Geni and (I think) Mark, and also with (I think) Charles and Judie, about places they’ve gone, and a little about scuba diving.
I’m ready for dessert, but there are no clean plates around. Mine is full of sauces and gravy, so I head over to the trough again, and load up with spinach, noodles, and “Bourbon Street” chicken pieces. The chicken turns out to be quite good. Geni cracks that I am always eating, running right on the edge. She also states that thin people (like the both of us) often have large stomachs, and that her own x-rays prove out that idea.
Soft serve vanilla ice cream with fudge and caramel sauces hits the spot for dessert – so much so that I get a second helping. Maybe Geni is right. We hike back to the room, with Tom sporting an LED-lit baseball cap to illuminate the way.
The TV is showing the NBA All-Star game, but it is pretty boring when neither team is playing defense. A little writing in the journal, and lights out.
Miles today: 55.0 (the easiest miles of the trip so far)
Total miles so far: 182.0