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R4WH – 3 Day Tour de Southwest – Arizona to New Mexico

R4WH – 3 Day Tour de Southwest – Arizona to New Mexico

3 Day Tour de Southwest

Arizona < Pheonix – Payson – Snowflake – Zuni > New Mexico

Ride for World Health April 2 – April 5, 2014

Enjoy every moment for it’s unique beauty.

I currently writing with an adrenaline rush received from the finishing charge of a century ride (100 miles) from Snowflake, Arizona to Zuni, New Mexico. Today capped off 3 amazing days of scenic, challenging, and eventful cycling for the Ride for World Health team. The team came off of a rest day in Scottsdale, Arizona with refreshed bodies and energized souls. The first week of riding empowered us with a sense of camaraderie and by ride day 7 we felt like a well-oiled machine. We needed to be prepared because of the challenging 3 day tour de southwest which was ahead of us. Day 1 included 65 miles and over 8800 feet of climbing. Day 2 included 87 miles and 5600 feet of climbing. Day 3 was a filled rolling hills and our first century ride as a team.
Before our Tour de Southwest (as I am calling it) we had a day off in Scottsdale where we enjoyed the plush accommodations at the Scottsdale Jewish Community Center. We were treated to sunny weather in the upper 70s and a salt water pool with lounge chairs to enjoy. I always have triathlon training on my mind and made sure to get a lap swim upon arrival and in the morning. Another great perk of the trip is travelling through towns with family and friends that I don’t normally get to see. In Scottsdale, I saw my friend Krista who I’ve stayed friends with since our time studying Industrial and Operations Engineering at Michigan. She joined our group for appetizers the first night and then I was pleased to stay on her comfy couch and wash all of my clothes in her washing machine. Everything I brought with me fits in one standard washing machine load.
We capped off our ‘rest’ day with a 6 mile hike up the Cholla Trail of Camelback Mountains. The hike has a fair amount of both uphill hiking and scrambling. The mountain range gets its named by the shape which resembles a camel’s back. It was awesome to be on top of the first hump and see the peak that we were climbing to. From the top of Camelback Mountain you have a jaw dropping view 360 degree view of Arizona. It was fun to do a team activity that wasn’t biking for a change. If you find yourself in the Phoenix-Scottsdale area and it is not 110 degrees I would highly recommend this fun and slightly challenging hike. After the hike we drove 20 miles to stay the night at Usery Campground in the desert of Mesa, Arizona. Surrounded by cacti we had a campfire, cooked rice and beans, and many of us chose to sleep outside under the stars.

 

04/2/14 Mesa to Payson, Arizona (Ride Day 7) – We started out in the desert and climbed our way into the Mazatzal Mountains. The day was split into two major climbs. Before the first climb we were treated to a bunch of scenic overlooks. Enjoying the wonderful morning a few of us stopped to take a lot of pictures and enjoy the views of the amazing canyons and mountain views in Tonto National forest. The first major climb ascended 2,500 vertical feet over the course of 15 miles with 4-9% steep grades. We were rewarded with an amazing view on the top of the mountain with greenery in the behind us and desert in front of us. We also were congratulated with one of the longest descents I have ever had the pleasuring of screaming down on a bicycle. I went the fastest I have ever gone on a bicycle reaching a top speed of 49.8 mph (Nick won the speed demon award at 52.2 mph downhill).

Into Payson there was a final 12 mile climb to leave the desert behind and ascend 2000 vertical feet into the evergreen filled mountains. The Beeline Hwy climb had 4-6% steep grades brought us slowly up to 4,960 feet above sea level. It really helped to have my teammates Jeff and Brandon by my side as we made the final ascent. As the riders ascended the temperatures dropped as a storm front rolled in. The last of the team members arrived into town just as snow began to fall in Payson.

We all found safe haven at the Mt. Cross Lutheran Church where the members treated us to an amazing pot luck dinner which featured a warming sausage and lentils soup. We also were treated to an evening lent service with a modern day skit of the story of Daniel. The church members were very happy to host us and we all enjoyed the evening’s dinner and conversation together as we rested our legs after over 8,800 feet of climbing. I was filled with joy as the 68 mile ride made it on my top 3 list of best bike rides in my cycling history. The combination of views, fun climbing, bluebird weather, camaraderie, challenging route, and varying scenery made for a day never to forget.

Payson to Snowflake (Ride Day 8) – At the team meeting we prepared ourselves for temperatures all day in the 40s and more climbing. Already sore from the crazy climbs of the day before we charged up the hills motivated by the breathtaking overlooks off the sides of the mountains in star valley. All morning we rode through snow covered hills ranging up to 11% grades of Star Valley. Travelling on Highway 260 we made our way through the Sitgreaves National Forest to Heber-Overgaard. All morning the snow melted and the trees glistened with water dripping in the forests around us. It was very surreal being in Arizona with the snow. It reminded me of Colorado with the rocky cliffs and evergreens as far as eye could see. At one point we stopped at a rock overlook that I could have stayed and stared off into the abyss of the national forest all day long.

“The Apache and the Sitgreaves National Forests were administratively combined in 1974 and are now managed as one unit from the Forest Supervisor’s Office in Springerville. The two million acre Forest encompasses magnificent mountain country in east-central Arizona along the Mogollon Rim and the White Mountains.” To read more about the magnificent area that we rode through please visit the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest Website. I had no idea this amazing national forest existed and was affirmation of my need to go on this trip and see the hidden gems of America from the saddle of my bicycle.

We couldn’t stay anywhere to long because there was a lot of mileage to ride and hills to climb. We were also rewarded again with our longest downhill segments of the trip thus far. We passed through Heber and descended from the mountains back into the desert. The team thankfully cruised downhill through all the remaining miles arriving to the welcoming fire station of Snowflake, Arizona. The 84 miles and 7,200 feet of vertical feet of climbing was very challenging and also extremely rewarding. The knee and seat pain will eventually reside but view overlooking the national forest from the edge of that rock will be seared into mind forever.

Snowflake to Payson – Today was the true test of endurance with our first century ride of the trip. The 100 mile trek would take us through rolling desert hills. Hills seemed like mountains as the lactic acid and soreness weighed heavy from previous two days climbing. I started off the day both mentally and physically exhausted. For the third day in a row I woke up with an achy and stiff left knee. My new morning ritual consists of bending and stretching my knee so it is flexible enough to have the full range of motion in the morning. We left the fire station thankful for cozy accommodations but chilled to the bone by the frigid morning air.

My achy body was extremely slow to get moving in the morning. I try to start my bike rides each day with a high cadence to get the blood flowing and the lactic acid out of my muscles. From the start through lunch I thankfully had a group of riders to go at an easy pace with. We all knew we had a long 100 miles to ride during the day and worked together to conserve energy. We worked together and had pace lines going to help slowly pull each other along the rolling desert roads. John, Michelle, Sarah, Jason, and I made a spectacular team until lunch. A slow and steady pace got us there. We had no shame in stopping to wait for each other at the top of every hill to get some rest and re-group. My favorite part of riding with this group is the positivity that each person exuded.


Michelle and John are very new to cycling. In fact, John bought his road bike a week before the cross country trip started. We spent the morning singing early 90’s songs and encouraging each other up all of the hills. Our first rest stop was on the side of the road 20 miles in. I was energized by one of my favorite snacks nacho cheese Doritos (unhealthy for the heart but great for the soul). I was so excited I dug into the Doritos with my lobster gloves still on. We also had hot chocolate to warm us up. The caffeine helped to temporarily boost my energy levels. The Doritos, banana, and oatmeal cookies definitely boosted all of our spirits. Our second rest stop was 45 miles into the century ride in St. John.

The Arizona sun rose high enough in the sky and the temperatures rose into the 60s. We shed our winter layers and played with a local cat that was roaming the street. Thankfully it was another blue sky day and the temperature provided for great cycling weather. Although my body and legs were struggling to get to lunch my friends and blue skies encouraged me to keep going. I remembered back to my first century ride about a year ago with the 2013 Ride For World Health crew when riding into Louisville, Tennessee. To this day I have carried the feeling accomplishment from my first century ride to mentally attack every century ride thereafter. We pedaled away and eventually made it to our lunch stop 65 miles in.

I decided that after lunch I would try to join the lead group and ride at a bit faster pace for the latter portion of the ride. When we arrived at the lunch stop, I had time to quickly scarf down an orange and leftover spaghetti. I refilled my water bottles, jumped back on my bike, and joined the lead group as they took off. The lunch provided the perfect amount of energy and my body was finally responding as I joined the pace line with the eight other riders. Drafting off the other riders helped me keep up with the group.

About 70 miles in we approached a right turn onto a new highway. I looked to the left and noticed the Witch Well Tavern. Jokingly I mentioned that we should stop in for refreshments and everyone actually agreed. It was a perfect rest stop for weary travelers. We stopped to for a quick cool down and were greeted by Donna. Our sore bottoms were happy to grab a stool, chair, or booth cushion. The amazing décor of assorted hats and signs gave us ample amusement. The rest stop provided a lot of laughter and a bit of escape from the long journey. It was Donna’s birthday the next day so we sang her an early happy birthday, finished our refreshments, and rode off with smiles on our refreshed faces.

The whole Ride for World Health team gathered at our final planned rest stop at mile 80. We were all eager to take a team picture on the border of Arizona and New Mexico at mile 88 of the ride. We rode together with to the state border and Matt from crew team Bravo snapped a picture of us all.

With 12 miles left my bottom was extremely sore and it was getting emotionally difficult to keep the same pace as other people. At this point in the ride I was emotionally spent and my body went into survival race mode. Half a mile after we entered New Mexico I decided to go all out until Zuni. The tail wind pushed me up and down the rolling New Mexico state roads and the century mark at our Zuni destination pulled me into town. I reached deep into my memories for all of the times I was finishing a race to pedal through my pain. I focused as hard as I could on my pedal stroke and cadence. I attacked up and down the hills and drove my legs through the full circular motion concentrating on every pedal stroke. I imagined Zuni as the finish line to a 3 day Southwestern cycling race that I was winning. I zoomed into Zuni at full force and was ecstatic with the last downhill mile. As I made the turn and pedal strokes through the town to our destination at the church my odometer flipped to 100 miles. I finished on an emotional and physical high. My adrenaline pumped and provided the ‘bikers high’ endurance fanatics are constantly search for. I high fived all of my teammates as they joined me in the Zuni school. We gathered for a team picture to celebrate many riders first century ride and even more importantly, our first century ride as a team.

The varying gauntlet of cycling environments from those three days provided breathtaking views and challenging roads. The diverse terrain and weather patterns of the Southwest surprised the riders and many expressed that they hope to visit the area again. We never would have known about the amazing national forests and picturesque desert lookouts of Arizona and New Mexico if we hadn’t embarked on our trip. For me, the 3 days are very bittersweet. While I had 3 of the most amazing days of riding of my life, I also pushed myself beyond my physical limits. I am currently paying for my lack of training with a knee injury resulting from overuse. While I enjoy attacking the mountains I was slowly degrading my ability to recover and my left knee is injured. Hopefully, I will heal quickly and continue to enjoy this amazing journey across America.

Big thanks to Routt County Riders in Steamboat, Colorado for donating a bright red & orange jersey so I don’t get run over by semi trucks!

2 Comments

  1. Dan, What an amazing experience — your descriptions are great! Sending good thoughts that you knee is better. Valerie

  2. Inspiring qսest theгe. What happened after?

    Good luck!

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