McDowell Mountain Century 2009

ABC’s McDowell Mountain Century, 2009 edition

November 14, 2009, Scottsdale, AZ

I try to keep expectations low when signing up for an organized ride. That way, I can be pleasantly surprised when the day turns into a good one. This happens more often than not. It happened for me again on November 14th, when I rode ABC‘s McDowell Mountain Century. A combination of good riding weather, the perfect pace, and a great route made this an enjoyable outing.

The weather looked a bit ominous at first — light sprinkles as I left the house. But the sprinkles didn’t last, and the rain never materialized into anything more than a low-level threat. Instead, we had cloudy, cool weather (50’s mostly, and into the 60’s by the end of the day.)

The perfect pace

It didn’t appear there were many riders signed up for the whole century — most that I talked to were doing the metric, or an even shorter 30 miler. I left with a group that was  doing the full distance, comprised mostly of riders from the Bullshifters club. I’ve never ridden with these guys, but I knew that in their midst were riders of impressive double-century palamares. I wasn’t sure how long I’d be able to hang on to their pack, but figured I’d go as far as I could.

That turned out to be the whole distance!

The group rolled out at a mellow pace, and then slowly ramped up the speed. Every time I started feeling a bit uncomfortable with the pace, the group magically backed off the effort, almost as if they were reading my mind. It’s rare that I get to ride with a pack that’s going the perfect pace for me, but this was one such occasion.

A great route

This year’s route was a big improvement over previous editions of this ride, which tended to wander through the nooks and crannies of outlying neighborhoods in a series of confusing turns. In years past, no map was handed out. Instead, you got a sheet with turn-by-turn instructions. Only problem is, if you missed a turn, it was sometimes hard to figure out how to get back on course.

These problems were non-existent in this year’s ride. For one thing, the route sheet now had both turn-by-turn instructions and a map. Another thing was that the route was straightforward, and made sense to anyone who does a lot of riding in these parts. Starting at 56th St and Sweetwater in Phoenix/Scottsdale, we shot directly north up to Deer Valley Road, and then directly west all the way to 19th Ave, before heading north to Carefree Hwy. While I’ve ridden most of the roads in the valley, I’ve never ridden the whole length of the eastern portion of Deer Valley Rd before. Whaddya know, something new!

At the turn onto 19th Ave, we headed north, eventually riding on newer roads, (well, at least roads I’ve never ridden), like Norte Parkway, and North Valley Parkway, all with low traffic and nice bike lanes. We cruised into the first rest stop just before reaching Carefree Highway. The route headed east on Carefree Hwy, again, with nice wide shoulders/bike lanes, all the way to 56th St, before taking a series of jogs that had us bypassing the used-to-be-rural-but-now-not-so-much towns of Cave Creek and Carefree. There was some other cycling event going on in Cave Creek, and I suspect we were being routed around that.

Here come the hills

Eventually, we made our way up Scottsdale Rd and east on StageCoach Pass, over to Mule Train, up to Cave Creek Rd, and then begin climbing, all the way to Lone Mountain Parkway, and then back down to Stage Coach Pass, and onto Legend Trail. Whoever designed this route knew what they were doing, for these were the same roads I would have picked if I was designing the course. Lone Mountain Parkway and Legend Trail are good cycling roads, Legend trail in particular is one of my favorites, for it is a divided street with wide bike lanes, very little traffic, great scenery (you can survey a big chunk of the Phoenix Valley), and a fast downhill. What more could you ask for?

Legend Trail eventually hooks up with Pima Rd, and then we descended south on Pima — a route that used to be a wide open and fun downhill, but less so these days due to heavy traffic. You still have a bike lane though, which makes up for that a little. Not long after the second rest stop, we turned east onto Dynamite Blvd, and began the familiar Dynamite Hill climb, and then down the long, long descent of Nine Mile Hill.

This part of the route was the same as in the Tour de Scottsdale, except when we arrived in Fountain Hills, we took some jogs in a south-westerly direction on roads I hadn’t seen before, before hooking up with … gulp … Golden Eagle Blvd. Those that know Fountain Hills know what this means — a nasty, nasty 18-22% climb up Golden Eagle. Part of me wanted us to do this climb. The other part of me wanted no part of the other part of me. By this time, we had put in 70-80 miles, and my legs were beginning to feel the miles. Good thing another rest stop came our way before the climb.

You learn something new evra day

I’m at the last rest stop, thinking about the rest of the route. I figure we won’t really be riding up Golden Eagle. But just how are we going to avoid it? I knew of no other way to get out of Fountain Hills without going up Golden Eagle from this point — unless we back-track. I could check the route sheet to find out the solution, but nah, that wouldn’t be any fun! Better to let the road markers (arrows sprayed on the road by the ride organizers) surprise me, making it an adventure.

I leave ahead of the group, figuring the others will drop me on the climbs unless I get a head start. I figure I’ll be heading left out of the parking lot, but instead, the road marker guides me to the right. I cruise down the street a little ways and another marker wants me to turn left onto Desert Canyon Dr. I’ve never been on this street, but it has bike lanes, and virtually no traffic. While some climbing was involved, it was fairly mild. Next thing I know, I come to a junction with Sunridge Dr, a road I’m very familiar with. And I also observe that I’ve avoided most of the climbing that would have otherwise been required. Desert Canyon Rd was the trick. Ya learn something new evra day!

From Sunridge Dr, I wind my way south, up and down a series of rollers, eventually hooking up with Palisades Blvd and then onto Shea Blvd. One of the faster riders of the group catches me, and we cruise down Shea, up 136th St, and then onto Via Linda — a street with many “metaphorical ruts” from all the miles that I and thousands of other cyclists put into this area, week in, week out.

The rest of the group eventually latches on, and we spin our way back to the finish, where supposedly, some kind of meal awaits. We pass 60th St, just a few blocks to go. I get out of the saddle and start sprinting, figuring I’d use up whatever energy I have left, and then realizing that if I manage to stay ahead of the others, I’ll be the first of the century riders in — for we were the lead pack.

But my glory was not to be. The rest of the riders take my act of getting out of the saddle as a challenge, and they start sprinting too. They blast by me, leaving me in the dust.

Not that I care in the least. The whole point of the ride was to enjoy the occasion. And this had been a great ride, with good weather, and a nice route at the perfect pace.

I finish the 96 miles (yeah, yeah, they never seem to make these rides the full distance) in around 5 1/2 hours of saddle time, at an 18.2 mph average. The ride included 3,500 ft of climbing.

I munch down a sub sandwhich and drive home. Once there, I decide to take a short cruise on my bike to add the extra four miles needed to make today’s efforts an honest century. This would be my 13th of the year so far. Last year I did 24 centuries. Guess I have some catching up to do. There’s still time! Heh heh.

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