Frodo goes for a ride

The Two Towers Century, looping from 52nd St & Doubletree in Paradise Valley.
It’s a 134 mile loop, with 5000 ft of climbing.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

I click into the pedals, coasting down the block and rounding the corner, turning east into another patented Arizona tequila sunrise. The first few turns of the cranks bring a pleasant response. My legs feel supple. My legs feel strong. Quite different from a week ago, when I felt discombobulated on the bike, legs cooked after 74 miles. Attending yoga classes four times during the week and also doing short cycling sessions on the indoor trainer seemed to have worked magic. My legs feel up to the task that lay before them. I’m out for an adventure, a 134 mile adventure. A loop spanning the Phoenix valley:  from Paradise Valley to South Mountain, and then all the way north to the highlands of Carefree — and back.

This will be no ordinary loop across the valley. While there’ll be plenty of flat miles, two of the major climbs in the valley bookend this route: South Mountain, and the highlands of Carefree.

On a whim

I first conceived this route in 2008. Like many riders, I had ridden both of these climbs on separate, shorter rides, but never in the same day. In that twisted mind of mine, I thought it would be fun to try just that. At the time, I was preparing for the Solvang Double Century, which features a steep climb at the 172 mile mark, and figured that climbing to Carefree after 90 miles of riding would be good training for Solvang.

There’s another, more whimsical reason for this route. The towers topping the two climbs are at opposite ends of the valley, a situation reminding me of the locations of the two towers in the Lord of the Rings trilogy: Mordor and Sauron. Henceforth, I dubbed this ride the “Two Towers Century,” with South Mountain filling in for Mordor, and the Carefree Highlands as Sauron. (Yeah, I’m playing loose with Middle Earth geography. So sue me.)

Unlike Frodo and his companions, I’m not on an epic, heroic quest to cast the Evil Ring into the volcanic fires of Mordor. I just want to see if I can cart my bottom up and down these two climbs, and put in enough miles that — shocking when I think about it — is the same distance as going from Phoenix to Flagstaff.

I cruise the 20 miles down to Tempe and reach Kiwanis Park, where the Phoenix Metro Bicycle Club stages their Saturday morning rides. I’m taking advantage of the fact they are doing a loop to South Mountain. This will give me a chance to do part of the ride with others. (And no, I wasn’t able to convince anybody to join me on the rest of this epic quest. There would be no Fellowship of the Ring.)

Awesome legs

I’m totally amazed when I reach the summit near the towers of South Mountain, after 40 miles of riding. My legs feel awesome. No aches, no pains, and not tired in the least. Yeah, baby!

Granted, I haven’t been riding hard. After the group of 84 signed-in riders split into smaller packs along Baseline Rd, I let go the lead pack I usually hang with. I didn’t want to burn too many matches so early in the day. I’d need them later. For the same reason, I kept my heart rate in check going up the climb, making sure to stay below Zone 5. Yes, I had found my edge, and made sure not to cross it. That’s the key to these long distances. You can only survive by staying in the aerobic zone as much as possible. Any hard efforts will come back to haunt later in the day. See my description of the Tour de Scottsdale for a good example of what not to do.

I descend back to the Ranger Station, where the group re-congregates. I roll out and stay with the pack for a while, but when we turn east up Dobbins Road, I drop off the back. For some reason, the slight incline along Dobbins Road always kicks my butt. Today was no exception. It’s probably my legs saying, “Hey man! Don’t you think you’ve done enough climbing for the day?” Rather than attempt to hang with the pack, I choose not to. It’s not my agenda to win any trophies on the way back to Kiwanis Park. I have loftier goals. I’ve got that ring to carry to Mordor … Oh, wait! I’ve already been to Mordor. Need to rethink my geography analogy here …

Soon I’m riding all lonesome-like — my fate for the rest of the day. I reach Kiwanis Park and fill my water bottles, stocking them with Perpetuem fuel, then turning north through Tempe, Scottsdale, and Paradise Valley, on my way to Carefree Sauron. I’m still amazed by my legs. They still feel awesome. They feel that way until the 70 mile mark, when I reach 66th St and Double Tree Rd and stop for a breather. It’s not that my legs are cramping. Just getting tired.

Potato chips — lunch of champions

I soldier on, making my way east and then north, eventually hooking up with Thompson Peak Parkway and then Pima Rd. I stop at AJ’s (a local upscale grocery chain) at Pima and Pinnacle Peak Rd for my first longish rest stop of the day, at the 90 mile mark. I sit on the patio and eat an energy bar and bag of potato chips (lunch of champions!) and then restock my water bottles before heading out.

I make the journey north along the gentle (1-3%) slopes of Pima Rd. My legs are the opposite of awesome now. I feel like Frodo crawling his way to Mordor — except I’m heading for Sauron. (Maybe I should being do this route in reverse. Then this story would make more sense. Yeah, that’s it!)

I inch my way to Cave Creek Rd, and wearily turn northeast for the final 4 miles to the summit. The miles tick by ever so slowly. I won’t be winning any trophies along this stretch, that’s for sure. I want to stop. I allow myself that privilege several times, pulling over to catch my breath. A lone rider cruises down the hill and turns the corner where I’ve stopped, giving me a long look. We exchange waves. The rider probably notices how winded I must appear: sweaty, chest heaving. I’m not embarrassed by this, or disappointed that I wasn’t able to climb the whole way without stopping. I’m not out to prove anything. I just want to make it to the top any which way, so my GPS can record the entire route and I can write about it on this blog. Ha!

Tired cyclist — lunch of buzzards

I stop one last time, about 1/4 mile from the summit. I can see the towers, so close. I know they are just around the corner. But also around that corner lies the steepest part of the climb. (These climbs always seem to save the best for last, don’t they?) I take a deep breath and click back into the pedals. The 6% grade turns into 9%, then 12% for a few yards, and then back to 9%. Heck, after 12%, that’s almost level. Ha!

A shadow flickers across the road, followed by a whoosh over my head that scares the bejesus out of me.

It’s a turkey buzzard, swooping low and catching an updraft, finding his edge. He circles above, patiently awaiting my demise.

“Oh, thanks for the vote of confidence!” I say to Mr. Buzzard.

I’ll be no lunch for Mr. Buzzard today. I reach the top alive and well, thank you very much. I raise my arms in celebration, giving a victory salute to the record crowd, anticipating the yellow jersey and kisses from the podium girls. Racing announcers Phil Ligget and Paul Sherwin wax poetically about my historic achievement …

Oops! Wrong dream.

How about, “I roll silently to a stop and blow out a weary sigh. The scene is all quiet and lonesome. No cars — no other bike riders either.”

That’s more the truth.

I’m at the intersection of Cave Creek Rd and the turnoff to Bartlett Lake, at an elevation of 3,240 feet, some 700 feet higher than South Mountain, which is lurking somewhere in the blue haze far to the south. Having been overcast much of the day, the sun is shining now, but its light is dimming in the late afternoon.

It’s now 3:30 pm. I’ve covered 102 miles, and have 32 miles to go* — if I head straight home, that is.

Wait! You — you don’t think I’m going off on another wild goose chase and put in even more miles, do you?

Well, I must confess. The thought crosses my mind to take a final test on the way home. I could take a short detour and climb Hummingbird Rd, on the eastern slopes of Mummy Mountain in the Paradise Valley area. It’s a hill near my house where I train on a weekly basis. Yeah, that’s it. I could do said climb just for the hell of it — to see how my legs respond.

Just kidding!

Before I click back into the pedals and begin my descent down from the towers of Sauron, I call and check in with my wife, telling her I’ll be home by sundown. She says tuna noodle casserole will be waiting for me when I get back.

What a lucky guy I am, to have a gal like that!

Back to the shire

And lucky me, it’s mostly downhill back to the shire. I take a different route, turning south along Carefree Way and Boulder View Rd, then heading west down StageCoach Pass, eventually hooking up with Legend Trail. I zoom around the half-moon circle that makes up Legend Trail before connecting back to Pima Rd. My legs began to recover during the descent. I stop at AJ’s again, topping off water bottles for the final segment of the journey.

By the time I reach the shire, my legs are feeling good. Not awesome-good like they were earlier in the day, but pretty darn good for 134 miles of pedaling. I sprint out of the saddle, up and around the last corner to my house, feeling no cramps, aches, or pains of any significance. My back and shoulders are in decent shape too. Heck, even my pinky fingers aren’t numb, as they often are after long rides like these.

Gosh, feeling like this, I might as well put in another 50 miles or so.

Just kidding!

I pull into the driveway, which is lit by another patented Arizona tequila sunset.

Frodo’s tired. He rest now.

* The miles are off a bit in the elevation profile shown above, for reasons I don’t know.

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