- As a kid, he rode his bike with his friends 4 miles each way to watch mechanics work on airplanes.
- He played basketball for Jordan High School in Long Beach, California.
- He served in the U.S. Navy for 20 years and passed his annual Physical Training test.
- He ran with me (age 10) and my brother (age 7) across The University of Arizona lawns on our way to watch college football games.
- He joined his co-workers in walking up and down stairs a 20-story building, three days a week, when his co-workers prepared for a hunting trip in the Rocky Mountains.
- They stopped, but he didn’t. He continued stair climbing three days a week until he retired.
- He walked the dog twice a day.
- With his free time in retirement, he went to the gym three days a week. He swam, he shot some baskets.
- He played basketball in the Senior Olympics on a 70+ team.
- He continues going to the gym in his 90s, walking briskly on the treadmill and lifting weights.
- Here’s how he supported my fitness:
- He cheered me on at Saturday soccer games from age 10.
- He and my mom bought me a ten-speed bike.
- He took time off from work so he and my mom could be the only parents cheering at my weekday afternoon junior varsity basketball games.
- He said “Great opportunity!” when I told him I’d take my savings to pay for a trip to play soccer in Germany.
- He said “Great way to see the country!” when I told him that my college graduation present to myself was a bike tour across the USA.
- And now he asks, “Where did you ride this weekend?” every Sunday when we have dinner together.
GPS weighs me down, physically and mentally. I pick my way up the technical rocky climb with more rocks on my right and prickly pear cactus on my left. I’m on my mountain bike, riding a route with about 50 others, to raise money for the Arizona Trail. AZT is the cross-state trail from Mexico to Utah.
It’s called a Jamboree, but right now, it’s no party. The 50 riders are spread over time and space. My riding buddy Lee and I started late and we’re following the designated route, but might bail out early.
I’m way too much in my head, and not enough in my body. GPS is on my mind. Later, when I plug the unit into the tracking website I will see how fast I went, distance, competitively compare myself to other women who have ridden designation segments along the route. I have an outdoorsy GPS unit, no sleek pocket-sized cell phone clone is tough enough for me. My unit is made for mountain biking or wilderness hiking or whatever adventure the burly rubberized shell transmits through the palm of its aspirational owner.
I’ve stashed the bulky unit into my backpack’s exterior pocket.
So I wonder about how fast I’m going, where’s the top of this climb? And we reach two young women, one of whom holds records for the Arizona Trail and the Great Divide Ride—she’s been fastest across the state and across the continent. Oh, and she’s riding a single speed bike, no need for all those extra gears to make things easier. Intimidation sets in. They stopped to take pictures, we all chat. I watch them ride away, easily pedaling and picking their way through stone drop-offs and twists of this trail nicknamed “Ledge surfer.”
I take a couple pictures with my GPS unit, and continue riding and sometimes walking with Lee. It’s a big cocktail party of a ride, we meet up with people going both directions, chat, and I know I’m not going to be top ten of any segment.
Later in the ride, I reach for the unit again to take picture of a perfect Arizona winter landscape: saguaro cacti, red rock cliffs, deep blue sky.
My GPS is gone! It bounced out of my pack somewhere along the trail. So I’m mad because it’s expensive to replace, and I can’t track myself anymore. But that’s also a relief. Now it doesn’t matter how fast I ride because the ride will never be posted on the website.
Soon after, the Jamboree route designers catch up to us on the trail. They are also legends of bike-packing in Arizona and the Great Divide. Lee knows them well and we chat briefly as they bounce down another rocky trail that I am hike-a-biking.
But then, sweet relief: a flowing trail where we weave in and out of a cholla cactus forest, up and down small rubbly hills. I follow the orange backpack ahead of me and enjoy the ride, the late afternoon sun shining on distant mountain ranges across the valley.
I’m riding with my dream team of local mountain bikers, we’re all just biking. Just being.
We head back to the trail head, through a “snowbird” RV resort. It’s one hundred or so sardine-parked RVs from the Yukon, Wisconsin, Minnesota and the rest of the frozen north. We hit the asphalt road for the final couple miles to the trailhead.
I’ve forgotten about GPS, I don’t care how far I’ve ridden or how fast. I just spent six hours biking on awesome trails, outdoors in my beautiful desert, in the sunny January of the Tucson Mountains.
Here’s the Arizona Trail Jamboree 2016 map and gpx routes if you ever want to ride 25 or 35 miles east of Tucson.
Here’s link to a pdf of all the trails in Tucson Mountain Park
[PS: Another rider found my GPS unit on the trail, so I have it back, and my competitive spirit lives on.]
I ride my bike 28 miles (45 km) to the top of Mt. Lemmon, near Tucson, Arizona. It’s a big climb, starting at an elevation of 2605 feet, ending at 8,077 feet (794 to 2462 meters). But the road isn’t the biggest part of the Catalina Mountains.
On a recent visit to my hometown, I convinced my buddy Lee to join in the Greater Arizona Bicycle Association Mt. Lemmon hill climb with me. For me, the main benefit of being on a supported ride are snacks and drinks at the aid stations. The Mt. Lemmon Highway runs through the Coronado National Forest with no public water sources until about mile 20.
It’s a very popular cycling route. In the winter, professional cyclists and triathletes ride up and down the usually sunny Mt. Lemmon for winter base training miles.
Our ride day dawns cold, unusual for May, and it gets colder as we climb up the mountain. (The next day, snow falls on the upper ridges).
We snake our way up the mountains, first on south slopes overlooking the city, then we follow the road inside the mountains and switch-back along an interior canyon. Beyond the guardrail, the gaping canyon is so deep that we can’t see the stream that created it. Looking west across the canyon, more ridges, more slopes, more canyons ripple the topography. Ridges end at peaks un-named and named: Thimble Peak, The Castle, Finger Rock.
Some folds of this earth are inaccessible by road or trail, even rock climbers cannot reach the cliffs. The Catalina Mountains mark the northern horizon of Tucson, but its many dimensions must be seen from within the range itself—deep and wide. From our bike saddles, we also see the Rincon Mountain range on the eastern horizon of Tucson. In the Rincons, hills roll into multiple ridges topping out at two peaks.
Lee looks and calls it “Big Country.”
We climb higher through several biomes with their unique signature plants. We start in the Sonoran Desert with rocky slopes of Saguaro cacti and agave, then reach the oak woodland at about mile 6, and 5,000 feet. Next we ride through conifer forests and towering Ponderosa pine trees.
Reports of “rain at the next aid station” doesn’t deter us because we have great wind/rain jackets. I rarely put on a jacket after miles of uphill climbing, but this time I do.
I wish I had jackets for my frozen toes.
Clouds block our view of the uppermost peaks, and fog descends onto the road. Fortunately, the rain holds off. Unfortunately, it’s so cold, some cyclists battle hypothermia and crowd into vans to be driven down the mountain.
We ride past giant “hoo-doos,” rock formations sculpted by wind and water. For our sweet and salty fix, we eat pie and peanuts at the final aid station, seeking shelter from the wind behind skinny trees.
Lee keeps talking about chili at the Iron Door Restaurant, located at the Mt. Lemmon’s Ski Valley. We pass aspen groves, descending and climbing again. We stand in our pedals to conquer the final section with its 11 percent grade.
Riding in the mountains makes me dream big. At our fireside lunch (yes it’s cold enough to have a blazing fire in the hearth), I propose a four-peak expedition to Lee. We will bike into the four mountain ranges that surround Tucson, then hike to the highest peak. We discuss various options, the best bikes to use, and different approaches to the peaks.
As we demolish his bowl of chili and and my bowl of split pea soup, the sun breaks through the clouds. Our descent starts cold, then we warm enough to remove hats and jackets. We scream 28 miles down the beautiful curves of the highway, battling wind gusts, and coast into the Tucson valley and home.
What is your “big country” beyond the lines you run or bike on roads and trails? May you dream big during your next bike ride.
Except when it snows, Mt. Lemmon Highway (also called Catalina Highway or General Hitchcock Highway) is open to cycling all year. Info here: http://goo.gl/iIrDBp .
Mary Reynolds is a writer who lives in Tucson and Barcelona. She blogs with her partner about adventures in Barcelona and Europe at: https://barcelonaadventuring.wordpress.com/
Cap de Formentor rises 384 meters from the sea on the northern tip of Mallorca, Spain. I’m on the island with my partner, Lisa, to begin my month (or more) of 50th birthday celebrations.
We ride our bikes together in the early morning peace of Port de Alcúdia and Port de Pollença. With the bay on our right, we pass old stone buildings sliding gradually into the Mediterranean Sea.
I head for the Cap de Formentor, about 20 kilometers round trip. I will climb and descend through the rugged cliffs above secret beaches. Destination: lighthouse at the end of the cape (Cap).
Lisa turns around when the road gets steep, just outside Port de Pollença. She will explore the island’s Ecovies — quiet rural roads.
I’m thankful for my rental road bike’s compact gearing, making climbing fairly easy. I’m on the west side of the cliffs, in the shade of the early morning. A goat walks on top of some rocks above me—must be a farm around here somewhere.
I reach the first overlook—not too much effort, I think.
Then some major descending begins through hairpin turns, shaded by pines. I glimpse the piercing blue of the sea below sheer white faces of 200-meter cliffs behind me as I twist and turn toward the low point of the ride. I focus on the unfamiliar road, watching for cars, and wary of the camber of curves.
I reach the natural park in the middle of the island, and the road turns to crap. My bike bounces over chunky asphalt, getting steeper and I have to get out of my saddle. Tunnel—no one told me about this! Not that I asked.
Two cyclists with headlights scream past me on their way down. I have no light. I can see the light at the other end, but can’t tell how long it is. Fortunately, I have seen only one car so far. I pedal furiously into the tunnel, hoping my speed uphill will bring me to safety. I hit total darkness, except for light from tunnel exit that seems farther away.
My eyes don’t adjust. My stomach sinks in fright.
Finally, the tunnel gets lighter and I emerge into daylight.
Then I see her. A small brown goat happily munches grass next to the speed limit sign. I realize these goats are wild, a strange concept in Spain with its thousands of years of goat herding.
Up and down I climb, and at last I see the lighthouse. Another descent, another climb and I’ve made it!
I park my bike and see two other cyclists watching a goat walk along the parking lot wall. The goat aims for me. I back up and watch her amble past my bike; I confirm that my energy bar is in my jersey pocket and not my seat bag!
A few meters from my bike, the goat lies down for a nap in the sun. Just like that, I’m laughing with the other cyclists.
I take a few pictures of the goat, then the spectacular 360-degree view hits me. There’s the serpentine road I’ve just biked, the original rocky path converted to a hiking trail, the cliffs of Formentor, and the many blue hues of the sea.
The goat made me see.
On the way back down and up and down, I stop every time I see a goat. A family gathers by the guardrail. I see more of the cape. I see rocks in the road and look up to see a goat climbing a steep slope. Goatslide.
I stop frequently on the return to Port de Alcúdia. I soak in the other capes and bays and beaches of Mallorca.
Lisa, a Capricorn, sees my goat pictures and tells me they are Balearean Goats that roam wild only on the Balearic Island of Mallorca.
Goats enjoy the rocky slopes of Cap de Formentor every day: climbing, descending, snacking, resting. An excellent way to ride a bike today too.
Follow the adventures of Mary and Lisa at http://barcelonaadventuring.wordpress.com