Last year I discovered the joy of January cycling when I visited my brother Travis and his family in Savannah, Georgia. So this year I thought it a good idea to find another warm location to ride in. When the 2009 RUSA schedule was posted I knew I had to try to get down to Arizona on January 3 to ride their 200km Casa Grande Ruins Brevet. Not only could I satisfy my desire to ride in warm weather in the middle of winter, I could get a jump-start on my goal to complete a full brevet series in 2009.
I've done precious little riding since my 98 mile Plains-Whitefish ride in early November, so fitness was definitely a concern. However, with the 13.5 hour time limit randonneuring allows, I was sure I could finish the brevet-even if I had to take a few extra breaks along the way.
The event started out from the Round Trip Bike Shop in Casa Grande Arizona (south of Phoenix). The first leg of the ride takes a meandering loop to the Casa Grande Ruins located next to the small town of Coolidge and back to the bike shop. The second leg is an out and back on Indian Highway 15 in the Tohono O'Odaham Indian Reservation south of Casa Grande. Looking at the map the outermost point of the ride isn't that far from the U.S.-Mexico border, which became apparant as all day we met and were passed by border patrol agents in pickup trucks-and even rode through a border patrol checkpoint where it looked like vehicles (of the motor variety) were being searched.
It was 41 degrees when we started. It felt pretty good compared to what I was used to, but I did utilize a long sleeve jersey over my short sleeve jersey and some leg warmers. High temps were forcast for the mid to upper 60's so I didn't figure to need the extra layers for very long.
As the group of 38 riders made their way out of Casa Grande, I found myself drafting on the wheels of the fast guys at the front of the pack. After a few minutes I realized how futile that was and accepted the fact that at this stage in my fitness I had better not push it. It wasn't long though before a couple on a tandem and another rider overtook me and I was able to hold their wheel. Our group steadily increased in number and I was happily drafting along just outside of Coolidge when someone behind informed me that something fell off my bike. It turned out to be my cleat covers that were clasped to my saddle bag. After a brief search, only one of the pair was recovered. I should have just kept going. By the time I reached the check point at the ruins several of the group I had been riding with were already headed back the other way. With the clock running, these Southwestern Randonneurs don't want to mess around at the controls! No matter, I had to be a bit of a tourist and make some time to take a photo of the ruins.
The ride back from Coolidge to Casa Grande was a solo effort. Though I passed a few individual riders, I couldn't muster the energy to chase down a group a little ways ahead of me. I was able to keep them in sight most of the way-which was a comfort. The last thing I wanted to do was get lost.
After the second checkpoint back at the bike shop where we began, I left with several riders. I knew the route wasn't complicated, but I wanted to tag along with someone who knew the way so I wouldn't have to refer to my cue sheet at every intersection. This portion of the route is 37 miles-one way, so there were some opportunities to hookup with others along the way. Some were much stronger than me and quickly became a blip on the horizon, but others were going my speed (more or less). It was very pleasant chatting along as we shared the work of riding into a steadily increasing headwind. A little ways before the turn-around we met the leaders going the other way. Judging by the smiles on their faces, they were enjoying the tailwind immensely. We kept encouraging ourselves that we'd have that tailwind on the way back too.
At mile 88+, Susan Plonsky, the Arizona Regional Brevet Administrator (RBA) had set up a lunch stop with some delicious wraps and other goodies. It was literally an oasis in the desert-as we were way out in the middle of nowhere-somewhere between Casa Grande and Mexico.
After a short break I took off just behind small group of guys who seemed rejuvinated by the rest stop and loving the tailwind. I called to the engine room to give me the power to catch their wheels...but there was no answer. I was about out of gas and decided to let them go and just ride my own pace and enjoy the warm weather and desert scenery. I gave myself the excuse to slow down because I wanted to snap a few pictures as I rode and try to call my daughter on my cell phone to tell her when to pick me up in Casa Grande. As I rode the wind moved from a southerly tailwind to a west cross-wind, and finally a straight-on north headwind. It was a bit demoralizing having the wind in my face for the last 20 or so miles when I was expecting to be whisped along by a tailwind. But even though I was slogging, I was still throughly enjoying being on my bike in short sleeves in January!
I finished in a tad over 8 hours-and somewhere in the middle of the bunch. I was pleasantly surprised how good I felt after getting off the bike. I have never done a ride of this length with so little preparation-I think it bodes well for the season to come.
On the ride, at the lunch stop, and at the finish I got to visit with randonneurs from all over-including Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Texas (among other places I'm sure). The guys at the Round Trip Bike Shop where the ride started and finished were also very friendly. Special thanks goes to Susan Plonsky and the other Arizona Randonneurs that put the event on. I hope I can make it back there for another brevet someday. I am also extremely grateful to cousins Mike and Gert in Chandler, Arizona for their tremendous hospitality while staying with them (and for the light rail ride in Phoenix on Friday night!). And finally a special note of appreciation to my daugther Stephanie for coming along on this trip and driving the entire length of Utah on our 18 hour epic trek back home-I couldn't have done it without you Steph!