Way pre-ride: About midway through 2007, I overheard a club member say, “If every club member would volunteer for one ride a year, we’d have every base covered.” That made immediate perfect sense to me, and so a few weeks later I volunteered for the 2009 Casa Grande Century ride.
Turns out that with a new CGC route that year, there were more than 80 turns! The focus was on course marking. Coupled with the fact that the club had only a few decent marking signs, I volunteered to make a whole set.
This effort actually turned into a pretty big one, including 10 double-sided plywood A-frames hand-painted and hand-lettered with “PMBC” and various other markings, AND over 70 smaller cardboard signs, painted and lettered with laser-jet transparencies in 175 pt font. In between my own training for the 2008 ETT, this effort occupied me nicely from September through December of 2008.
Johnny and I put those signs out in the dark hours of the morning before the ride on January 11, 2009. We also set up and ran Rest Stop #1 on this ride. When the riders came through, I could see that they were having a pretty great time.
My 2008 ETT training rides had included portions of the Casa Grande Century route, but still I longed to ride the whole thing myself. By September 2009, I had volunteered again to do the signs and other support for the CGC. By November, I again felt a longing to ride the whole route. I made a decision to do the ride unsupported as a scouting effort, to check for route issues, to refine the sign plan, and to certainly to enjoy the entire process.
November 2009: During November, I tried to recruit my virtual riding friends Jack and Phil to do the route with me during the 1st week in December. Virtual, of course, because they almost never actually DO ride with me, but we share riding stories and stats by email routinely. Jack in Atlanta couldn’t make it. And Phil was busy with work.
With no riding partners in view, I self-made a commitment for Monday, November 30th. But at the last minute, a tee-time invitation arose with Linda and buddy Trish Tassini at Longbow – I just couldn’t pass that up. I moved my plan to Tuesday, December 1st.
November 30, 2009 – Golfed pretty well and I was glad to get out with the girls. No booze that night. I prepared 3 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, grabbed a few protein bars, fixed up 2 water bottles, and gathered up all my riding clothes. I included arm warmers, head beanie, lycra leggings, full-fingered gloves, and raincoat, all designed to give me plenty of layered protection from the cold. Besides, I was going to ride with my rack and trunk on the back, so there was more than enough storage space.
December 1, 2009 – Wall thermometer said 50°F when I awoke about 6:30AM. Not bad at all – warmer than I’d expected. I ate a huge bowl of Cheerios, dumped everything in the SUV, and took off west on the 202, then south on the 101. My car thermometer now read 45°F but I knew it would warm up nicely from here out. The Casa Grande Century ride officially starts at the Safeway parking lot at Chandler Height Boulevard and Alma School road, and I pulled in around 7:45AM and found a spot.
Was off in no time, down onto Hunt Highway, and I stopped to carefully survey the intersection of Hunt with AZ587 and AZ87, a source of confusion for a few of last year’s riders. I’d brought paper and pen along and I started taking notes for sign placement and especially some details for the cue sheet directions.
Besides, I was pretty out-of-shape as a cyclist. Frequent stops to take notes were a good excuse to keep my legs stretched out and loose.
Headed into a mild breeze riding east and the sun rose from the southeast. A beautiful morning, chilly. Soon enough, however, after 10 miles or so all the zippers were down on my raincoat in an attempt to ventilate.
I bristled against the thin shoulder and moderate morning traffic along Riggs, but only for 2 miles. As each mile would click away, I was doing the math, 2 miles in (only 49 more of these segments to go), 4 miles in (only 24 more of these to go), 10 miles in (wow- only 9 more to go!) I started taking notes of sand or gravel encroaching the bike lane or shoulder, but soon I stopped this effort – there were simply too many places to take any specific action. I made a note to add this warning to the map and/or cue sheet.
Out east onto Empire, then finally to the 1st rest stop at Circle Cross Ranch Park. Johnny and I had hosted the rest stop here last year. A few moms with kids were occupying the pavilions, but the park was otherwise empty. I tried the water fountains without luck (no flow). But fortunately the bathroom sink water was flowing, and I was able to top up my water bottles. Ate a PB&J sandwich, stowed my raincoat, and took some minutes to enjoy the rest.
Back out heading south onto Gantzel, I marveled at the great wide shoulder there that is also super smooth. You can’t ask for much more as a cyclist. Too soon it ended, as the route turns again east onto Bella Vista. The breezes were now fairly steady out of the southeast, but mild, maybe only 3 to 5 mph.
Bella Vista is aptly named. The views to the distant mountain ranges to the east are very pretty here. I made up a Burma Shave poem on the spot: It’s warming up / Take off your sweater / The distant views / Keep getting better. I even stopped my bike to write this literary gem down. Any excuse to stop…
While doing so, I looked down at my rear tire and, with some horror, saw that the tread was showing lines of separation in many spots. Wow, I knew the tire was well worn, but I didn’t actually expect the rubber to be separating. Looking through the cracks, it even appeared that I might be looking directly at the tube. Fortunately, I figured the stiff outer wall of my thorn-resistant tubes was helping to keep the tire in rolling shape. But clearly, the tire needed acute attention, the sooner the better.
The route stair-stepped southeast on Quail Run, Judd, Attaway, Arizona Farms, and Felix Roads. I noticed that the railroad crossings were much smoother this year, and have apparently had some big gaps filled in since last year’s ride. What hadn’t changed is the rough surface of Attaway Road. Pock-marked with no shoulder, it is pretty rough on a road cyclist rolling on 23 or 25 mm tires. Fortunately, the traffic is minimal.
Still, with my ailing tire, I vainly tried to avoid every rough spot and pothole. The tire seemed to be holding up, but a nagging cloud of stress kept creeping into my consciousness, tainting what was already a beautiful ride.
Finally made the right turn west onto Hunt Highway, expecting to get out of the breezes. But you already know the answer to that. The breezes had clocked around to be coming mostly from the south and west. What were the odds? Good, I guess.
Chugged further down Attaway, crossing the SR287 lights, and finally west on Vah Ki Inn. This road took me through the southern reaches of Coolidge, where I stopped at the Circle K for a rest. Grabbed a bottle of Gatorade and started munching on another PB&J sandwich.
I asked the clerk at the Circle K if Coolidge had a bike shop, but she shook her head, nope. Picking up my cell, I gave Linda a call. I thought maybe she could look up the number of a bike shop in Casa Grande, but unfortunately she was out at lunch with a friend. I gave her my status, and a heads up that it was possible that I might be calling later, stranded by the roadside.
Rolled off down the road towards Casa Grande, still some 35 miles away. Could I make it 35 miles on that tire? On these rough farm roads? We will find out.
A long slog south on Skousen, then an even longer slog south on Eleven Mile Corner Road. At the jog on Bartlett I reminded myself that I’d hit the 50 mile mark, and that from here on out, I was headed back to the SUV. The breezes were fairly steady from the south and west now, but really nothing over 5 mph or so. Still, they kept me pinned down under 15 mph, grinding away. I stopped at Yandell’s New Camp Store, the only establishment for miles, about ½ mile north of the SR287 turn (Steele Road) for a breather and a swig on the bottle.
Turned west onto Selma, heading again into the breezes, and noted the poor condition of this road for cycling. The first couple miles are fairly bad, then the surface gets better, and then it get downright horrible, with pockmarks and an annoying oscillation that’ll drive a cyclist nuts after a while.
The I-10 overpass finally came into view, and I knew that I was getting closer to Casa Grande. NW on Jimmie Kerr Blvd., then north onto Kortsen Road, entering town. As I rode, I considered calling my friend Jules Moore for bike shop advice, but then realized that I no longer had her number in my cell phone (another story). I started scanning all the store signs for one likely to have a phonebook handy. At busy Florence Blvd., I pulled into the parking lot on the SE corner, planning to take a long look down the street. Gazing up, one of the first signs I saw proclaimed “Round Trip Bike Shop!”
I felt like I had just stumbled thirsty onto an oasis. The friendly mechanic there immediately mounted up my bike and replaced the rear tire. “Wow,” he said, “you got your money’s worth out of that tire.”
Turns out the mechanic is a road cyclist himself and rode in this year’s El Tour de Tucson. We talked about the event for a while and some cycling friends we mutually know. Basically, I could hardly believe my good fortune in finding this shop and I was grinning the whole time I was there.
Feeling a nice sense of relief, I pedaled over to the CGC’s designated lunch stop at Dave White Park, and stopped for a bite myself. I didn’t want to consume my last PB&J sandwich yet, and so opted for a big protein candy bar and the rest of my water. The candy tasted delicious.
The route heads north from here on Pinal Avenue. The breezes continued mostly out of the west but curiously had an occasional component from the north, too. Go figure. Pinal Avenue rises very slowly away from Casa Grande. Before leaving town, I decided to top up my water bottles and stopped at a McDonald’s. The pictures of hamburgers proved too overwhelming for me, and I broke down and purchased 2 cheeseburgers and lemonade for my water bottles.
I chowed one cheeseburger immediately and saved one for later. Met a McDonalds’ employee who was servicing the drinks station, and he immediately asked about my riding. I asked him if he was a cyclist, and he proudly told me yes, that he cycled some 20 miles every day. The man appeared to be 55, maybe 60 or so, and when he told me he was 74, I was truly surprised and impressed. Nice guy.
Headed on up Pinal, finally canting NE back across I-10 and up into the small desert mountains there. The shoulder got thin but the views got really pretty. With renewed confidence in my bicycle, the day seemed to get its second wind, and I really enjoyed the minor climb and descent in this area.
Thinking about the nice guy at McDonalds, I came up with a second Burma rhyme, and stopped again to write it down: Regular cyclists / Know the truth / Bicycles may be / The fountain of youth. Amen. Over and out.
Stopped at the intersection of AZ87 and AZ187, the site of the last CGC rest stop. I laid my bike down, found a small hill of dirt, and sat right down on it to rest. I extracted my cheeseburger and water bottle, and sat there munching away, enjoying the time of day. Pretty soon a pickup truck entered the clearing, rolled around my way, and the driver asked me if I needed any help. “Nah, just taking a snack. But it is very nice for you to stop.” The kindness of some people is really refreshing sometimes.
I knew that the SUV was a mere 16-18 miles away, but there was no doubt I was getting pretty fatigued. The turn NW up AZ87 put me again into the head-breezes, but at least the wind speed seemed to be slowing. I decided to segment this last leg of the route into 6 pieces, giving my poor undertrained legs a brief breather every 3 miles or so. The shoulder on AZ87 is excellent, making periodic stops easy. With this approach, my riding pace picked up over 17 mph, presumably due to both the stops and the decrease in headwind.
Was glad to get back to the SUV. Except for my legs, I felt chilled, and the heated seat felt great.
I wrote the next day to Round Trip Bicycle Shop and thanked them again for the work, and for being there. Matt wrote back to me in appreciation, and told me that they would even have come to get me if I’d have broken down. Now, there’s a new number for my cell phone.
I checked out the weather statistics later on, and discovered that, although they were fairly mild, I was not just dreaming about those headwinds following me around all day.