Homeward Bound

Our last couple of days in Tucson included lots more training and lots more sunshine.  Our good friends  drove out from Encinitas to join us for the second half of our adventure, and of course everything is better with good company!  More outdoor swims, more riding, more running...

Our final outdoor swim...

Trail running - needed to be careful with footing as a simple stumble could land you maimed by a variety of cactus species. 
Starr Pass trail network. 

LOVE the roads for cycling! 

Stormy Desert Day

After a lot of hot weather here, we decided to take advantage of the arrival of a cold front in Tucson to do a long run.  Great because the idea of running 2+ hours in March in 88 degree F / 31 C did not appeal to us that much, so waking up Monday to March Vancouver Island weather was OK with me.  Although when the hail hit, I was jonesing for the desert heat to come back...

This is what the aftermath of a week of hard training looks like:

Mt. Lemmon

Today was our ride up Mt. Lemmon.  This is a legendary climb and a must-do when in Tucson.  It's not really a ride I would choose to do this time of year (I'm generally not doing epic climbs/long rides in March), but how could I pass up the chance?  Here's a teaser; the elevation profile from our ride:

Jason rode the first five miles to the base with me, then headed off on his own.  I rode with a couple of Swiss guys for a while, but at mile 3 (of 25) I said goodbye as I knew there was still a long way to go, and I didn't need to be pushing the pace that soon.  The ride was basically just climb climb climb, breathe, try to bring heart rate down, and climb some more.  It starts in the Sonoran desert, which is full of saguaro cacti that look like they're cheering for you.  I was surrounded by hundreds of my "fans" as I climbed, and then as elevation changed we moved out of the desert and into a pine forest.

A "cheering" saguaro.  (not our picture BTW)
I concentrated on cadence and watched the mile markers tick away.  At about 6500 feet I was pretty much at my limit, and feeling like crap.  I stopped to let my heart rate come down, eat something, and jumped back on the bike.  I started fantasizing about a cold Coke, and at just past 7000 feet Jason came heading down towards me with some fluids and a package of Clif Bloks that I inhaled in about 0.3 nanoseconds.  He rode with me to the summit that tops out over 8000 feet - my Garmin read 2475 metres (8120 feet).

Jason self-portrait. 

Me riding at my limit.
I was stoked because I heard there were giant cookies waiting at the top.  Now, for anyone thinking of doing this ride that hasn't before - let me fill you in on a very important detail.  The cookies are not at the top.  No, you have to ride an additional five miles of climbing and descending, and actually descend down to the "town" of Summerhaven (2303 metres / 7555 feet).  The cookies were amazing... but it does mean that you have to climb back UP afterwards another 600 feet.  This is information I wish I had beforehand.  Wait, who am I kidding?  As if I would have passed up the chance for a giant cookie.

The Cookie Cabin.
After inhaling a Coke and half a cookie (I sent Jason in to the cookie cabin and he decided we should SHARE one...), I was refueled and ready to go.  The descent flashed by, and the heat at the bottom hit us right in the face - after the balmy high 60's farenheit at the top, it was mid-80's back at the parking lot.

Me & Cookie.  A match made in heaven.
A classic ride for sure.  Highly recommended, but I sure wish it was a time of year I was actually in shape for a ride like that.  Not that I would consider riding in Tucson in July or August :)...

Done - and spent.

Sherpa Day

Today I decided would be Sherpa Day.  My legs were pretty blasted from Tuesday's long run and yesterday's short but tough ride, so I planned an easy day for me (swim and run) and set Jason up for a really hard ride.  I'd sherpa for him to refill bottles etc.

We started the day off with a swim - the owners of the condo we're renting are members at a country club down the road with a lane pool, and as a result we have guest access.  We headed there early, and lo and behold had the entire pool to ourselves!  For those of you in the know (now you all are), I LOVE swimming in an outdoor lane pool.  There's just something about the light in the water that makes any swim magical.

Starr Pass Country Club pool - all to ourselves!

After the swim we got Jason ready for his ride.  Before we left I googled "best rides in Tucson" and the Shootout Loop combined with Madera Canyon came up.  Long, lots of climbing - sounds like a Jason special.  I'd follow along with more bottles (it was another hot hot hot day here today), and point the way at intersections so he wouldn't get lost.

He headed down Mission and I booked it to the end of the road to head out for a run.  I parked the van in a pullout, grabbed my hydration belt and headed down the lonely, dusty road in the middle of nowhere.  Literally.  Well, I'm sure it was somewhere.  I felt like I was in Mexico as the terrain reminded me of hiking I'd done on the Baja peninsula.  Lots of cholla and prickly pear cactus, and lots of sand and dust.

Jason rode up to me just as I was finishing my run.  I pointed him in the right direction and we headed through a town near a large placer mine (I think).  The mine was so huge I'm sure it can be seen from space.  Jason headed up towards the climb, and got to enjoy a long combination of false flat and headwinds.  Lucky me for taking an easy day!  I met him at the top of Madera Canyon (5500 feet) where he refueled and jumped back on the Super Six for the ride down - needless to say the ride back to town, downhill and with a tailwind, took much less time!

Madera Canyon nestled in the snow - meaning lots of climbing!

The Shootout Loop is definitely on my list for a future visit to Tucson.  We still have a week here and so many rides to do!  It's been so hot and sunny, I feel like we're in a spring break fantasy.  Tomorrow is the climb up Mt. Lemmon, so stayed tuned...

Gates Pass, McCain Loop, and a Special "Jason Detour"

For our first Tucson ride, we decided to tackle the Gates Pass/McCain Loop.  It comes up on every search for "great rides in Tucson" and was literally just out the door of where we are staying.  Plus it's billed as 1.5-2 hours, so I thought that would be a nice spin for the legs after yesterday's long run.

Ready to ride!
The ride starts with a gradual climb pretty much right away.  You kind of wind westward, without really seeing too much ahead because of the hills.  There was lots of traffic (at least compared to our island roads at home), and it just seems to keep climbing.  Then all of sudden, you come around a corner and pop over to the other side - where you can finally see what you've been doing and all of a sudden start a fun descent.  One of those keeping-up-with-cars descents that I like.

I was rolling along after Gates Pass and Jason came riding towards me, saying the loop we were adding on was just ahead.  So I followed his wheel for a bit of draft practice, and we made the turn onto Kinney Road.  I thought we were turning the wrong way, but Jason was confident that we were indeed heading along our chosen route.  For some reason I had forgotten the number one rule of Jason navigation - the more confident he is, the more wrong he is!  By the time I had sorted this out in my head he had pulled away, so I had to keep riding the wrong direction to not loose him.  He finally looped back to me and I had us turn around.  Oh well, what's an extra 20-25 minutes on a nice sunny ride?

Finally we found McCain Road, and split up again (with specific instructions for Jason as to which direction to turn).  The ride didn't seem to have any flat sections, but rolled and rolled it's way back to Gates Pass Road.  Jason was riding longer, so I made the turn back up the pass on my own, and suffered my way up a short enough but steep enough (my Garmin topped out at a 13% grade several times, and even flashed 14% for a second!), and I'm pretty sure the cars passing me could hear me breathing.

Looking up the back (steep!) side of Gates Pass.
Once at the top, it was a quick fun descent back to our condo.  Great ride - highly recommended!

PS - Jason took another wrong turn on the way home and ended up with a second "detour" around the outskirts of Tucson.  But he made it back in the end...

Tucson Time!

Here we are at the beginning of our spring break training camp.  We woke up this morning in Phoenix, and did a long run on the Ironman Arizona run course.  Brought back lots of memories from racing there in 2010 - good and bad - and made me super-stoked for November 2012!  Glad that it's 8 months away as I still have lots of work to do.

We started our run at 8 a.m. and it was bright, sunny, and warm.  We ended at 10 and it was pretty warm already.  Today ended hot hot hot by the time we got to Tucson, so first item on our agenda after dropping all our stuff in our rented condo was a swim in an outdoor lane pool.  One of my favourite activities!

Grocery shopping, building bikes, unpacking... that was the rest of our day, and now we're planning tomorrow's ride.  Can't wait!

The drive from Tempe to Tucson -  not the most exciting.

"Elevating" the legs after today's long run. 
We're not on Vancouver Island anymore!

How To Pack A Bike

We're heading to Tucson for 10 days.  10 days in the sun - fueling my inner lizard as my friend Janet would say.  Of course we're bringing bikes and are going to use the time as a big training camp!  While it's definitely convenient to be able to bring our own bikes, packing a bike is not exactly a 5-minute task.

My first rule is to have Jason handy, as he's the one with the patience for the finicky jobs.  My second rule is to have a good bike box.  We've had several in the past, both hard shell and soft shell.  Our current ones are soft cases with a metal frame - nice and solid but can pack a lot of stuff in them if need be.

Humu would love to join us!

The bikes need to be prepped - remove saddle/seatpost, pedals, stem so the bars can be positioned in the box.  I also try to cover the entire frame with pipe insulation or bubble wrap.  The boxes are always opened by the TSA in US airports, so I want to make sure the frame is nicely protected when they're rooting around looking for whatever it is they're looking for.  Another super-important piece is removing the rear derailleur and using a travel skewer in between the rear drop-outs.  I suspect airports hire monsters to jump on bike boxes, so you want to make sure that any fragile areas are as protected as possible.

Removing the pedals. 
Marking the seat post - important so you don't have to fiddle with adjusting the
seat height over and over when you build the bike up again. 
Travel skewer in place. 
Our boxes hold a lot of stuff, but I don't like to completely stuff them unless necessary.  I try to add bulky but light items that would otherwise take a lot of room in my suitcase.  Airlines generally charge extra for bikes - we fly Alaska Air and they only charge $50 unless they're over 100 lbs.  Luckily I've never hit that, and I've had the box chock-full a few times!

Loaded up with gear. 
Last step - wheels!
We leave Sunday - I can't wait!  A spring break of cycling, swimming, and running in the sun! 

Ready to go!