Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Big House

Arizona Brevet "Tombstone 600"  March 19, 2011

Somehow, the beginning of the "Golden Years" (see previous post) disrupted my blog posting. This is particularly unfortunate because my first 600 in 2011 really would have deserved a prompt report - it was a very special event for me. I don't know why, but I had been looking forward to riding in Arizona for many years already. Work being what it is with its limited number of vacation days, I never could afford the extra time for the long trip - had to wait for retirement! Then, I was particularly motivated this year to complete the first SR series as soon as possible - it is required as a qualification for Paris - Brest - Paris in August. Finally, I liked the date of March 19th: In my youth, this used to be an official holiday in Bavaria (and other countries): St. Joseph's day ...

Fabienne could make herself available to accompany Ghislaine and me from LA to Casa Grande. We were excited to travel into the AZ state which we hadn't visited in a long time. A sign at a rest stop set the tone:

The next morning, Ghislaine and Fabienne made a remarkable and much appreciated effort to get up and accompany me to the 5 a.m. start:

While I was out on the roads, on my way to Tombstone and back, the women would enjoy the Best Western swimming pool, go shopping and visit the Casa Grande museum.

As so often when my enthusiasm gets the better of me, I couldn't help but trying to stay with the group of the strongest riders to the first control in Marana. I nearly succeeded; it helped that the road was flat and that there was a headwind. But on the way around the southern edge of Tucson, the expected punishment ensued. Many of the friends who had wisely stayed behind now caught up with me, and I was unable to follow them. It started to warm up (first time in the year that I rode in short sleeves and without leg warmers - and got sunburned!), and the hills through the Saguaro National Park took their tool. 
So I went into my recovery ride mode and enjoyed the beautiful day and the fascinating scenery on my own. And because I had finally learned to spend less time off the bike (for lunch stops and the like), I could still meet with stronger riders on the road and accompany them for a while. This includes the friendly Rick B. and Irene T. who were riding together. (Search for "Colorado" in my report from the Cascade 1200, last year; the "young and strong women", that's her). But later in the day, on the long climbs around the Sonoita area, Irene let Rick go ahead, and I met her again at the Elgin control, not quite 35 miles from the turn-around in Tombstone. On the way out, it was dinner-time at this control (Susan the RBA had cooked for us!), and on the way back it was our sleep stop. Irene and I decided to do the night riding together, and it turned out that we would mostly stay together to the finish.
The last miles before Tombstone (around 10 p.m.) were not particularly pleasurable for me; it was cold, I did have stomach issues and the unexpected climbs before Tombstone made me feel weaker than I would have liked. Consequently, I could not care less about the touristic attractions of this historic town. I spent much more time at the Tombstone control than I should have, sipping a somewhat soothing herb tea, desperately trying to bring my digestive tract back into working order, while Irene was patiently waiting. I literally couldn't stomach the cold water (or any other cold liquid) in the bottles, and wished I had the heat from ten hours earlier back. The long, dark, cold, lonely way back to Elgin was a serious test of our randonneuring aptitude; both Irene and I expressed that we were happy not to be alone  in it. As we approached Elgin, it became colder and colder - just as knowledgeable friends had predicted.  I was lucky to have my full winter equipment with me, and it was barely enough.
Under these conditions, we extended the sleep stop more than absolutely necessary, to minimize the remaining cold night riding. It turned out to be not too bad (it helps to be rested and well fed again); and the super full moon  turned it into a memorable experience. When it was in our back, it threw a shadow that made me believe more than once that a car was approaching from behind.
The long downhill into the Tucson area brought daylight and higher temperatures back, and I finally had to get my personal "Saguaro with bicycle" souvenir photo:

For a couple of hours, the wind was mostly in our back, and the ride appeared easy (except for the cracks in the road that vibrated through the bike to the handlebars and you know where). Only the last flat and boring 45 miles became challenging again; the wind was strong and became unfavorable. I felt fully recovered from the more difficult periods, however, and proud to be able to accompany Irene without any trouble to the finish. Fabienne and Ghislaine (who said they enjoyed the time while I was out) waited for me at the hotel and were surprised to see how easily I could still carry my bike up the stairs to the "real" finish:


Based on my excitement about the ride and what I had seen there, we decided to stay another day so we could go together to the Desert Museum in the Tucson area on Monday. It turned out to be one of the better decisions we ever made - highly recommended! 

But the story is not over yet. Before driving back to LA on the next day, I managed to convince my passengers that we had enough time to make a detour to the Casa Grande Ruins. I had no idea what it was all about; I only saw the signs and recalled that there was an early 200k brevet named after them. When we approached the entrance, expectations were still subdued. Should we really pay money to stand around and stare at some old sand and stones? - Boy were we wrong with our attitude!

We were lucky to arrive just minutes before a gentleman named John Andrews started a guided tour. I believe I have never before seen and heard such a talented, knowledgeable and charismatic tour guide. He drew us into the history of that unknown native people who had built this incredible Big House some 600 years back - and then disappeared. We imagined their lives, rooted for them, and were distressed to learn that some unknown events and conditions drove them away. A big ride like a 600 km brevet always makes me more receptive and sensitive to "feelings" which may appear to be an unusual reward for a cyclist - but it is for me. And so, when I walked up to John Andrews after the tour (he was standing alone and watched the reactions of the group from a small distance) to compliment and thank him for the wonderful tour, I choked up. The whole story of that Big House as presented by him was just too impressive for me.

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