Tour of the Tucson Mountains XXI

29 04 2007

An entire year has pass since my last attempt at the Tour of the Tucson Mountains, as a lot has changed. For one, that whole incident lead to my subsequent purchase of a second bike. This new bike is sleek, fast and red, everything I’m currently not. It’s been loads of fun riding the second bike only on days when I’m not going to leave it anywhere. It rides so smooth, except for the occasional seat post creak, it’s been the most awesome bike I’ve had.

As my bike has changed for this year’s ride, I have have also changed. Changed for the worse as far as cycling goes. Since I made it to platinum status 2 years ago, I have been struggling to get back to that level of fitness. It may be that I was never really at the level I thought I was, and I was just having a good day.  But I don’t think you can ride that far that fast (109 miles in 5 hours) and not be in decent shape.  Today was another reminder that I still have a long ways to go to regain my fitness and to re-achieve my platinum status.

I have been to so many PBAA rides now, that I have gotten into a good grove as to getting things ready ahead of time, and wheeling to the start. Since I am still a platinum rider (even though I feel I don’t deserve it), I was able to get a few more winks of sleep, and pull up with plenty of time to spare in getting a spot (it gets crowded even in the platinum section). The start was uneventful, and went of like so many before this one. However, I had not ridden in a group in so long, I was rather nervous at the start. Would I not clip in right and slow other people down (and get them angry at me)? Would I fall and cause some one else to crash? Would everyone just rush past me because I’m really slow compared to everyone else? Well, I was relieved to find out that none of those things happened to me. I kept up with the group at the start; I clipped in calmly; and managed to not slow others down. This was a mark of an experienced rider, even if I have been off the bike for a bit.

As the pack made its way to the frontage road, the first main stretch of the course, I couldn’t help but remember what happened last year, and the time in the ride in which it did happen. I don’t remember the exact spot, but I just instinctively knew when I had passed that point. After that, I mostly concentrated on the group in front of me which was hauling some pretty good tail. These are the parts of rides I enjoy most. Having to “muscle” for position, being aware of every single person around you, and just enjoying the whole sights and sounds that go with a fast moving group.  The frontage road is not very smooth, and as such, the main pack I was in stretched and compressed frequently. I thought this was making some people twitchy, because soon there was a crash right in front of me. I swerved right, hoping that I wasn’t cutting off someone, and tried to catchup to the people who were in front of the crash. A friend of mine, Jose, was in that group. For the next few miles, I would barely hang on to their draft. All the while, I was already in my red zone (that area you know you can’t sustain for more than a couple minutes, if that). I decided that my time in this group was done, and I backed off. We were now at the foot of Rattlesnake Pass. I climbed up with the standard sensation of burning in my legs. I didn’t want to hurt myself so early in the ride. I saw the main group go up the pass; it was like watching footage from the Tour de France.  Once I made it to the top, the main group was clearly out of sight, this time for good.

I trudged along for a while, finding a draft if I could, but otherwise, just going at a reasonable pace. Eventually, my friend Jose joined the group. He had managed to stay on longer than me.

The ride up Silverbell road is never fun, no matter if you do it first thing in the morning, or early afternoon (as in the Tour de Tucson). The road is just shot to pieces and needs to be replaced.  Anyways, after we do our time, we get to the previous year’s detour, that has now become a permenant fixture of the event. It’s hilly, but really not all that bad.  After a few minutes of huffing and puffing in order to stay with the fragmented group if people around me, I realized one important fact: I still had a fully functional handlebar.  I was almost kicking myself at my pace given what I had done last year in the exact same spot with less stability. 

Eventually those hills I was climbing were crested, and I was allowed to coast down for a short break. Last year, I couldn’t do more than 15 mph for safety’s sake; now it was a much more natural 25 mph. I enjoyed this section of the course a whole lot more than last year.  Although, there were a few people who didn’t enjoy it all that much because for some reason they bunched up too close together and crashed. Again, in front of me, I avoided the crash this time by swerving left. I hate to see people get in a crash. I have been far to close to so many these days.

The next milestone approached in the form of the intersection of Ajo and La Cholla. Here is where my ride ended last year. I had used my front brake so much, that I had inflated my front tire due to excess heat. My tube just exploded. This year, I was a little nervous in that now I made it to this point with no problem. But, even with a turn that is not a favorite, I cleared it and headed west to experience the part of the route I missed last year.

The ride to Sandario road went so fast. By this time, we finally got a brake and were aided with a slight tail wind and a downhill. By now, I also found my sustainable pace in the form of a 150 bpm heart rate. Usually when we ride out to the Ryan Field area, it feels like a long ride. This time, it came up rather quickly.

I usually never stop at the rest stops anymore because I am always trying to do my best and fastest time. This time, I knew I wasn’t in the greatest of shape, and in order to finish the ride, I needed to stop and get some water and a banana to help me from cramping. At the rest stop, I came across another friend of mine: Chris. Chris and I met on a GABA ride long ago, but only began to keep track of each other when he saw me bike to work when we both worked in the same building. He was busy telling someone of my exploits from last year when I actually pulled up. I didn’t recognize right away him because he lost some weight. But, after he told me that, I was a little proud that my story is being passed on to others.

Riding up Sandario was not as bad as I thought it was going to be. I know this road is the mental tough block to get over in that it’s so boring and straight. If you’re lucky you’ll get a tail wind to help you out. I didn’t. However, as I was plodding along as best as I could, I saw and heard another rider come up behind me. This happens all the time…heck I even do it…ride up to someone and get a rest in their draft. Then, some more guys came. We had a good little group going, and I was in front doing all the work. I didn’t mind, but then when I tried to start a rotation, they kept following me back. No one wanted to pull. There was no way I was going to make it to the finish line at that pace with the wind at my face, I needed a break. They were nice about it, because they were tired too, but after I moved to the back, I eventually dropped off. I just didn’t have the power in my legs to conitinue at that pace, even with a draft. It didn’t help much when the guy in front of me wouldn’t keep the same pace as the group.

I made it to Avra Valley road. I was pretty beat, and it was getting hot. I needed to finish soon. The day before, I had signed up my daughter to do the kids 1/4 mile kids ride. I was looking forward to watching her ride with other kids. This motivated me to keep going.  I only wish it was enough to motivate my legs, because they were still sore and didn’t want to continue.

Soon thereafter, I made it to the finish area. I had completed my journey in 3 hours and 40 minutes. Pretty slow, but still not at a snail’s pace. One thing that caught my attention as I was crossing the finish line was the announcer was providing rider information as we crossed the finish line. I heard first my number, then my name and the city from which I had registered. It was pretty meaningless because it was being done for everyone who came across, but I still find it odd to hear my name being said in public. At least she pronounced it correctly, and didn’t call me “Sal”. But, now that I had finished my ride, I was eager to see my daughter in her very first event.

My family weren’t waiting for me at the finish line, but, at least I arrived before they did. But, I was eager to see Eliana ride her event, and I wanted to get some rest and not feel so crummy when everyone arrived.

Eliana’s event started with a little confusion, but we eventually found her number at the starting table, and pinned it to her back. She was a little stoic at this point, taking in the crowd and the procedure we were subjecting her to now.  I think she was a little intimidated as she held my hand without question.
I walked her to the start line, and tried to reassure her that she would be ok, and that I would be out there with her.  She saw a guy dressed as spiderman, and said she was scared. I quickly distracted her, and we and the rest of the kids were sent out of the gate. It was kiddie bike meyham as many of the kids still hadn’t quite gotten the hang of stearing yet.  With Eliana’s mom taking pictures, I was trying my best to calm Eliana and get her to pedal at a little quicker pace.  It was here that I realized that I am a bike nut, and that I shouldn’t push her to go too fast yet. She should go at her own pace. So I backed off, trying to encourage her to go faster.  I only wanted her to go faster because all the other kids were ahead of her. I just wanted her to keep up. But, this was just a fun ride, and I know I was having fun. In fact, I was holding back tears of joy, I was just so proud to be a dad and to share my life and activities with my family.

This year’s ride was much different that last years. I finished, with a fully intact handlebar. But, I the part I actually enjoyed the most was walking along side Eliana, sharing her first timid moments among other kid riders in her first ever cycling event. I can’t wait for the next event.

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