So this past week I was in Tucson. The land of 90 degrees and no clouds in late March. I’ve been a handful of times and always wanted to ride but I could never make it work. Not this time, this time I was bound and determined to ride; if just for one day. I went the route of renting a bike. It’s cheaper and much easier than shipping your poor bike down. Lucky for me that’s a pretty standard thing down there. There were bikes shops aplenty with bikes to rent. Anything from cruisers to Di2 Litespeeds. I went in the middle with a brand spanking new Felt F5. And when I say brand new I mean it. The first hard effort I put in when testing it all the spokes started to ping in the rear wheel. New.
I had my mind sent on Mt. Lemmon. All 9,157 ft. of it. The only place in south Arizona with a ski hill. Earlier in the week we had driven to the western side of Tucson and over another pass that wasn’t nearly as high but the roads just twisted around and up and down and it looked like it would have been an amazing choice for a ride. I was second guessing going up Mt. Lemmon. I was wrong. I had forgotten how beautiful the views are as you ascend that mountain. And going at an average of about 8-9 mph you get a lot of time to check them out. My phone was in my hand taking pictures more than it was in my pocket.
I was meeting my second cousin a few miles away from the base of the mountain. He lives in Tucson and hasn’t gone up since before I was born. Which was a god send in the long haul. His pace was a bit slower than mine and the first few miles seemed to be a nice easy 4-6% grade. This is it? I can do this for days. After a few miles it got a bit steeper and he could tell I was holding back to keep with him. He told me to go off on my own because he hadn’t planned on going to the top and wanted me to do my thing. Just as I went off three guys came up behind and hopped on my wheel. We went chugging along and started to chat and I found out that two of these dudes were pretty serious roadies. Wahoo trainers and the whole nine yards. And the third as a very accomplished marathon runner. Soon enough we split. And the marathon runner became my new friend.
As the road slowly twisted and cut through the mountain the wind came and went. For a bit I felt like I was back home with a pretty steady head wind coming along. I didn’t want wind, I’m climbing. The road eventually took a turn and went to the other side of the mountain and out of the wind… and into the sun. After a few sweaty miles I was wanting for that wind to come back. By this point I was alone for a while. The road was open. It was a Friday morning and barely any traffic. This really couldn’t have a better day.
Every once in a while a cyclist would come barreling down the road on the descent with a smile from ear to ear. At that point I wasn’t sure if I was more excited to do my first HC climb or to be able to reap the rewards of it with a 20+ mile descent.
At this point my marathon friend had caught back up with me after a little photo op I had with the bike. We were climbing steady and chatting about all sorts of things from Almanzo to triathlons. We were both running low on water I was the one with a computer in my face showing us just how far we were from the top. We finally came to the only place before the summit that had water. It was closed.
That was just about the time my left leg decided it wanted to get mad at me and started to give me a little cramping. No way was I stopping now, not with a marathon runner sitting behind me chugging along with me. I downed most of what was left of my water and pressed on. It went away.
And then there was the tease. Right as we hit the 8K ft. point the road went down. And pretty fast. Hands in drops, head down and sitting on the back of the saddle it was my first taste of what going back down was going to be like. And it was glorious. None of the turns were too tight, and the road was all ours. But the fun was short lived when we got back down to somewhere around 7300 ft. and then we had to go back up to 8K again.
This time it was shorter and the end was near. We finally reconnected with the others and they decided to grab some food at the restaurant up top. I hung out for a minute, filled all three bottles back up and went on the decent on my own.
After climbing that little burst that was so fun on the way up the real decent began. All 23 or so miles of it. Back in the drops, sitting on the back of the saddle and using every bit of the road. It was amazing! Crushing 30-35 on the flatter sections and spinning out the gears on the bike to keep my speed. I was very happy on the way up that I was running a compact with 11-28 on the back but I was wishing for a 53 up front the whole way down. There were a few times where my arms were getting tired from holding the drops for so long and just trying to cut though the wind whizzing past my head.
On the way down I had only been passed by three cars. One of which I dropped for a while through the turns and another that I had just about caught up to at the end.
From what I thought was the bottom of the mountain just kept going down as I road past the place I started. From there I used the stellar and abundant bike lanes that grace almost every street in Tucson and road my way back to the bike shop.
Everything went flawlessly. The bike worked spectacularly. I was slightly skeptical of doing such a ride on a bike I’ve never ridden before but there was not one issue. All said and done it took me a decent bit longer than I had anticipated, but I made it up and couldn’t wipe the smile off my face on the way down.
Long story long, if you’re ever in the Tucson area, have your bike shoes and pedals, a spare $70, and a free half a day go rent a bike and climb that mountain.