The Taylor House Century – 2013 version, a ride put on by Absolute Bikes out of Flagstaff, AZ. Features a scenic journey out to Wupatki National Monument, passing through a portion of the Painted Desert, and up past Sunset Crater in the national monument named for said crater. Approximately 4,850 feet of climbing.
July 20th, 2013: The Taylor House Century Ride
Got a chance to do the Taylor House Century last weekend up in Flagstaff. Had a great time, mostly. Got to see lots of friends from various cycling clubs in Phoenix. It was overcast, which kept the heat down and made for a pleasant day.
Only problem was, every time the road tilted upward, I was dumped off the back, losing contact with whichever set of friends I might have been riding with at the time. This happened even on a non-descript little rise in the eastern part of Flagstaff, eight miles into the ride. Harbinger of things to come I guess.
At Rest Stop #1, near the turnoff to Sunset Crater along Hwy 89, I connected with the Bullshifters and rode a big chunk of the route with them. On the way down Hwy 89 there was a little rise on this otherwise fast downhill. On that little rise – more like a flat stretch — about 36 miles into the ride, I was dumped off the back. A gap opened up just like that, maybe 20 yards long.
I spent the next four miles trying to reconnect with the group, hands in the drops, me peddling madly. I wasn’t able to close the gap until after we turned off Hwy 89 and rode into Rest Stop #2. Jeebus!
Had a nice romp with the Bulls from the Wupatki turnoff to Rest Stop #3, located a few miles past the Wupatki Visitor Center, near the 57 mile mark.
Some of the Bulls at Rest Stop #3, in the Painted Desert near the Wupatki Visitor Center. It was here we encountered a gal riding the century on her mountain bike, featured here in her pink and black arm warmers. Laurel was out training for the Leadville 100, a famous mountain bike race in Colorado coming up next month. She’s quite the character, and rode with us for a while, livening things up.
My average speed to this point was just under 20 mph. Not bad, I guess. But a full two mph slower than I’ve done in the past. The 20 mph wouldn’t last, I knew. For coming up was a long, 20 mile climb which winds its way past Sunset Crater.
I would crater on this ride past the crater, and would limp into the finish by me lonesomes.
History lessons: Repeated swats to the posterior
There’s a bit of history between me and the Taylor House Century. I’ve now done this ride three times and have received the same lesson each time. It comes as the road approaches Sunset Crater and you are climbing ever upward.
2006: First lesson
The first time in 2006 I didn’t give the Taylor House ride any respect. Having successfully finished the Triple Bypass ride the week before, featuring 120 miles and 10,000 feet of climbing in the Rockies of Colorado, I figured the Taylor House ride would be a poor second cousin, with inferior scenery and much less impressive statistics, being only 95 miles long and having less than half the climbing of the Triple Bypass. Also, instead of a high 9,000 –12,000 feet in altitude, Flagstaff, the host city, sits at a “lowly” 7,000 feet.
In reality, the scenery northeast of Flagstaff is just fine, thank you very much. It’s not every day you get to ride through the Painted Desert and see volcanoes that were active not that many thousands of years ago. And the ride? In 2006 it kicked my butt something good.
The first half of the long, 20 mile climb is mostly 2-3% grade, nothing serious. But it ramps to 8-9% by the time you’ve climbed to the Painted Desert Overlook, Rest Stop #4. And it’s the second half of the climb, past this rest stop, that can really get ya.
On the ride in 2006 I figured the climbing was basically over once I reached the overlook. Don’t know why I thought that. The profile I had downloaded before the ride clearly showed otherwise. I was surprised how tough the last ten miles were. This isn’t the Rockies, I kept thinking as I struggled up the hills. This is not the Triple Bypass. The climbing should be easier than this.
Back then I didn’t have a GPS, so had no way of knowing there were several stretches of 8-10% those last ten miles, particularly as you approach Sunset Crater.
One thing that makes this climb feel worse than it should: Every 1/2 mile or so, the grade lessens, maybe even flattens. You think you’re going to get treated to some nice downhill and get a well-deserved breather. But the downhill never comes. As soon as the grade flattens, you round a bend and the grade picks up right back where it left off. This is repeated over and over, until your legs give way or you are driven mad by the teasing hints of downhill. It’s not till you pass Sunset Crater that the grade goes down, for real.
2008: Second lesson
The 2008 ride was the same story: I had ridden the Triple Bypass the week before and went to do the Taylor House — as a sort of recovery ride I guess. Don’t really know what my thinking was back then – why I would want to torture myself with more climbing.
The result? The 20 mile climb kicked my butt, again, even though I was expecting it.
2013: Third Lesson. Will I ever learn?
This year was pretty much the same when it came to the climbs. In years past, I attributed my less than stellar performance to not having recovered, physically or mentally, from the Triple Bypass ride. But this year, not having done the Triple Bypass the week before, I didn’t have it as an excuse.
Whatever excuse I might have conjured up, the 20 mile climb kicked my butt once again — perhaps even more so than in the previous years. I crawled pathetically past Sunset Crater, having to stop a few times on its slopes, gasping for breath, almost passing out.
Sunset Crater, which last erupted a mere 900 years ago. It was here I had a “Kodak moment” – having to stop for one of several breathers. The road here is steep, at 8-10% grade.
Looking back onto the slopes of Sunset Crater.
Lava covers much of the ground in these parts. It was here that the first downhill came, much to my relief.
Jim and Susan of the Bulls came by when I was stopped near the shoulders of Sunset Crater, on the steepest part of the climb. Later, they said that by the looks of me they were sure I would be sagging it in. I didn’t, but it took what seemed like forever to reach Rest Stop #5. By this time I was almost last on the route. There were maybe 6-8 riders behind me. That’s all. I recovered somewhat on the downhill back to Flagstaff, and then, well …
Warning: Innocent little rollers at the end
If you’ve never done the Taylor House and plan on doing it in the future, don’t forget the little rollers near the finish in Flagstaff. After nearly 100 miles, they can deliver a surprisingly nasty bite. Each time I’ve done this ride these teeny widdle rollers have doled out hurt far greater than their size. It was no different this year.
What Rains May Come
As a general rule, it’s best to reach Rest Stop #5 by noon, and to finish the ride by 2 pm, or you are likely to get rained on. The rain in Flagstaff comes like clockwork every afternoon around 1-2 pm during monsoon season. At least, it has almost every time I’ve visited this lovely, high mountain town in the summer.
In 2006 I reached the last rest stop by 12:30 pm, with clouds gathering and thunder and lightning manifesting just as I left for the home stretch back to Flagstaff. I rode in the rain the rest of the way. In 2008 it was hot and sunny, with no rain on the route, but a veritable cloudburst opened up just as I reached the finish, around 2 pm.
This year, the skies were cloudy all day, rain threatening, but not materializing until well after the finish, just before 3 pm. I had eaten lunch and was loading my bike on the Jeep when the rain came. Later that evening Flagstaff was treated to a most impressive thunderstorm, featuring an hour of almost continuous lightning and thunder.
You too can do this ride
The Taylor House Century is a challenging, scenic, enjoyable (yes, even suffering can be enjoyable) event that’s worth adding to your cycling palmares. Cooler summer riding in the high country is always a treat for us lower desert dwellers. Maybe we’ll see you out next year.