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Wednesday, March 26, 2014
Biking Mt. Lemmon, AZ March 18 & 19
March 18.....today was a work day.....dropped my camera off to get the dust and dirt out of the lens, had the Aquahot hot water system regular maintenance done on the RV, set up dry camp at the Diamond Desert Casino in south Tuscon, and ate our free seafood buffet that we got at the casino for signing up for a players card.
March 19.....89.47 miles in 7:52......6325 ft.!!! I read that the climb to Mt Lemmon is the longest non stop climb in the state of Arizona. That got my attention. Then I read that Lance Armstrong trained on this hill, and it wanted to see what the best in the world train on. Man, did I find out. The number 6325 ft is the elevation gain that I had on my ride. I had only ever climbed over 5000 ft in a day twice. Today was a major improvement on that PR, and I didn't even make it all the way to the top of Mt. Lemmon. My day started with the 25 mile ride just to get to the base of the mountain. I rode on bike lanes and bike trails that doubled as drainage canals. Some of the trails sloped right down into the canal, and you actually ride in the canal exactly where the water would be if there was rain. There was development, houses, golf courses, and such right up to the 0 mile marker that marked the beginning of the climb up Mt. Lemmon Rd. I rode exactly 20 miles uphill at a five percent grade, and NEVER stopped climbing. There was one area where it leveled a little, and I may have actually coasted around a couple of switchbacks, but I never stopped going up. As I rode, I tried to decide whether it was better to KNOW that the climb wasn't going to stop, or if it would be better if I didn't know, and continually looked for the top around every bend. I've now done it both ways, and it is better for me to know that it's not going to stop climbing, so I can just get on with it, and not be disappointed around every bend. I read that I climbed through seven climate growth zones, and the temperature would drop about 30 degrees. It did. At the bottom of the hill it was 85 degrees, and when I got to my turn around point, it was 55, even the sun was shining bright all the way up. I was pleased with my strength on the first half of the ride, even though I was passed and left in the dust by two guys that looked to be older than me. I stopped twice, once to pull out a third bottle of water from my back bag, and once to take a picture of the 7000 ft sign. I wish I had taken many pictures because it was beautiful up there, but my camera was in the shop, and riding 20 uphill is not a tourist activity for me, and I didn't want to make it one by stopping all the time and taking pictures with my phone. There were uncountable numbers of Saguaro cactus up to about 3-4000 ft, then the rock formations began, with huge rocks and cliffs, and hoodoos. That is a stack of rocks, like at Brice Canyon National Park, that stands alone, and seems to defy collapse. There were areas where there were thick pine forests above 5000 ft, which is where I noticed the cooling of the air. At that point, there were signs to watch for snow removal equipment, and icy patches. There were neither this year on that mountain. I saw water in a very narrow stream once, but it was very dry. Humidity around here set a record the other day when it was at 2%. Now that's dry heat. Above 6000 ft, I could feel the lightheadedness that comes with altitude, and by 7000 ft, when I stopped to take the picture, my legs were screaming for oxygen, and my brain agreed. Thoughts passed through my mind to quit, and turn around there, but I soon talked myself out of that by telling myself it would be like quitting 25 miles into a marathon. I kept going until I came to the ranger station called Palisade, I believe. It was about 7800 ft, and I was still five miles short of my original destination of Summerhaven, where they had food and drink, I was told. My legs were so fried, that it thought another five miles of climbing would be detrimental, if not damaging to my oxygen starved legs. I'm really pissed that I didn't make it, but I had a 25 mile ride home after I got back down the mountain, through the city. I would stop at the same place, if I had it to do over again, so I can live with that. On my ride up, over 50 bicyclists passed me as they were on their way down, so this is definitely a popular ride. Many, if not most were guys at least as old as me. I would love to be able to train here, and practice that climb and keep records of improvement like those guys probably do, but my guess is that I will never climb over 6000 ft in a day again, let alone the next milestone of 7000 ft in a day. You never know, though. The guys coming down were dressed in jackets, and fortunately I knew enough to be prepared. It took me over three hours to make it up the hill, but I made it down in about 45 minutes, going between 20-30 mph the entire way. There were very few straight stretches to build up speed, but plenty of switchbacks that I took faster than I ever would have before. I just let it roll.
There was nice shoulder all the way up and down, and traffic was heavier than I would have expected on a Wednesday afternoon. There were plenty of turnouts and scenic vistas that looked out over the Tuscon metro area and valley, and people were up there for that view. There were also campgrounds up there, for smaller RVs and plenty of tent sights. There were lots of hiking trails, that also attracted lots of people. The Coronado National Forest governs the area, even though the fee station and ranger station that I turned around at were closed. There were also rappelers and rock climbers in several areas. A surprisingly busy place to the uninitiated.
As I came down the mountain, I tried pedaling as often as I could, but my legs locked up pretty well. I was worried about how they would loosen up on that 25 mile ride home, and once they got oxygen back in them, they were fine. The ride home is when I realized how much oxygen debt I was in, it wasn't lack of hill training, because my legs recovered so well.