Today we have a Celebrity blogger. Andy Smith, please tell us about your experience in the last three days...
Andy: Thank you for the introduction, Kyle. It's an honor and a pleasure to be here.
So, I arrived in Phoenix on Wednesday (Jan 31st) night from Sacramento. I had two backpacks full of tight-fitting lycra and assorted cyclewear, as well as a big cardboard box with my bike in it. Kyle and Mike met me right outside the terminal and whisked me away to a nearby RV park, where a very tiny bed was waiting for me. Before going to bed, however, I thought it would be a good idea to re-assemble my bike (I had one of the bike shops in Sacramento partly disassemble my bike to fit it in the box) so we could get an early start in the morning. When I opened the box, it took Kyle and me a good five minutes to figure out where everything was. The front tire was strapped to the side, the brakes were taken off, the handle bars were strapped to another part of my frame, etc. etc. I began putting things back together and was about ready to put the front tire back on when Kyle asked me where my pedals were. I looked all over for them and couldn't find them. After a few minutes of fruitless searching, I began cursing the bike shop in Sacto for their sloppy work. Just as we had resigned ourselves to taking an unscheduled trip to a bike shop in Phoenix the next morning to replace the missing goods, I found the pedals, sitting in a smaller box that I had removed when I first opened the main box. Mike shook his head and laughed; Kyle called me an idiot and laughed harder. I put the pedals on and went to bed, ashamed yet thankful.
The next day (Thursday, Feb 1) we headed east. We quickly learned that the lion's share of the Arizona place names that we had heard of - Phoenix, Scottsdale, Tempe, Mesa, Glendale, Peoria - are pretty much all in the same place. We put down about 20 miles just weaving through strip malls and suburban areas before reaching US 60 at the eastern edge of Tempe. Along the way, we had to wait about 45 minutes for Mr. Media Star (a.k.a. Kyle) to wait, on hold, for a phone interview with a local radio station that never actually happened. After finally getting onto the highway, we were pumped to pick up some speed and put down some miles. Unfortunately, we were greeted by a narrow shoulder and a wide rumble strip. The "rumble strip," which consists of 1/2" grooves in the pavement spaced every inch or so (put there to alert sleepy drivers if they drift onto the shoulder), was a bigger pain than I had imagined. If one is forced to ride on the rumble strip for long (and we were in spots), your bike shakes so hard that you actually begin to lose sensation in your hands and feet, making it hard to react if, say, a huge truck blasts by you and the wind from its "wake" pushes you to one side. Eventually, it got better, and we were able to ride for about 35 miles before hitting Superior, Arizona, where Mom was waiting for us in the SAG vehicle. Just before we hit our destination, however, Kyle got his second flat for the day – right as it started to rain on us.
On the way out of Superior, we drove farther into the mountains along what was supposed to be our route for the next day. We quickly realized that the shoulders were narrow to non-existent, the grade was pretty steep, you couldn’t see more than 300 yards ahead of you at any time, and there were a ton of big trucks passing through – in other words, certain death awaited us. Our conclusion was that the route was pretty much unrideable, and that we needed to find another way east. We decided to look over a map that night and then make the final decision the next morning. That evening, we stayed just outside Globe, Arizona, in the heart of the San Carlos Apache Reservation. Our RV park for the evening was actually in the parking lot of the “Apache Gold Casino,” a truly magical place nestled at about 3,500 feet in the mountains. After enjoying a sumptuous feast inside at the casino buffet, we hurried back to the RV in the near-freezing temperatures to retire for the evening.
We woke up (Friday, Feb 2) and decided that the best course of action was to head south towards I-10, which connects Phoenix and Tucson. When we got to I-10, Kyle called a guy named Seth, who works for Caltrans in their Bicycle and Pedestrian Pathways department. Seth basically told us that a) getting on the freeway at that location, as cyclists, was illegal and dangerous, and b) that there was a better route that paralleled I-10 about 10 miles north of where we were. So we backtracked, again, and found our way to State Highway 79. This road was straight as an arrow, flatter than a pancake, and pretty lightly traveled. The only missing ingredient was a good shoulder. Having already wasted half the day at that point, however, we were not about to complain, and suited up for a productive afternoon. As straight and flat as it was, it was fairly slow going. We averaged about 10 mph for 4 hours, due mostly to a very bumpy shoulder, shown below.
The upside was that the scenery was pretty spectacular – an array of cacti, including some pretty cool saguaro, and some very cool mountains in the background. During one pit stop, Kyle snapped this candid photo of Mike and me admiring several excellent cactus specimens.
We ended the day about 25 miles from Tucson, at the top of a pretty decent downhill stretch. Mrs. B drove us into Tucson to the “Prince of Tucson” RV Park, where we stayed for the night. Kyle and I met some nice Canadians in the hot tub and then took a hot, steamy shower (in separate showers). We passed out shortly after dinner.
We woke up (Saturday, Feb 3) and had a lovely breakfast prepared by the team mom. As we were getting ready, Kyle decided that he needed a bandaid on the back of his knee, where his knee braced had been chafing him. Due to excessive leg hair, however, the bandaid wasn’t cutting it, so we convinced Kyle to grab his mom’s razor and do some shaving. Enjoy:
Notice Kyle's excellent technique.
We were then chauffeured back to our ending point from the day before. We had an excellent time screaming downhill for about 25 miles into Tucson, despite the flat Mike got a few miles in. We met back up at “the Prince” in Tucson, had a bite to eat, and did some cursory bike maintenance before embarking again. Since it was warming up (low 70s?), Kyle decided to go topless, but played it safe with some sunscreen:
When we took off, we were finally headed east again! We had to navigate our way through the center of Tucson on surface streets, since the freeway at this point was still off limits. We found a couple of nice frontage roads on our way through town, which happened to take us past some sort of enormous gem show that was taking place. We finally decided that we were beyond the “edge” of the city (see below), and that we had “no choice” but to get on the freeway.
As we passed another “Bicycles Prohibited” sign, I was a still little nervous about getting on the freeway, but I was comforted by how confident Mike and Kyle seemed as they chugged up the onramp ahead of me. Just as I was starting to relax, I heard a loud electronic beep behind me. I turned around, and there it was: the Arizona Highway Patrol, pulling us over less than 300 yards into our freeway adventure. I clicked out of my pedals, expecting a brow-beating from the officer. Luckily, our antagonist wasn’t an antagonist at all – Sergeant Gary Durree (he and Kyle actually traded cards) was a fellow cyclist, and guessed immediately that we were attempting to follow the Adventure Cycling route from San Diego. He politely explained that we needed to follow the frontage road for two more miles before being legally able to enter the freeway, and then turned his car’s lights on and backed his way down the onramp in order to provide some safety for us as we turned around. We thanked him and said goodbye, and quickly found our way to the legal onramp. Once we were on the freeway, the going was good. The shoulder was wide (5-6 feet), the road was smooth, and the road was pretty straight and the grades were pretty low-key. The only downside was the incessant truck noise, and the quantity of exhaust fumes we had to inhale. Otherwise it was great, and we put another 35 miles behind us before meeting up with the SAG vehicle. Below are several good shots from the freeway:
This truck may look stationary, but the posted speed limit on this stretch was 75 mph.
Tonight, we’re in Benson, Arizona, staying at a pretty cool RV park perched on a hill overlooking the freeway. Kyle snapped these shots of the mountains to the north at sunset:
If you thought this entry was long-winded, too bad. Kyle’s dad gave me a 22 oz. IPA before I started this, and Kyle’s mom has been feeding me some really good peanut butter fudge, and this blog entry is the natural result of those things. I’ve had a blast being out here and riding with KB and Co., and wish I could stay longer. So long,