October 20, 2015
Southern Arizona hosts a treasure of stark, open beauty, quiet roads, and sunny, not-too-hot weather between November and March. For those of us from the frozen north, biking there reminds the lungs it’s okay to breathe deep when outside. It reminds us our muscles will work happily when given a little warmth and no bulky clothing.
Plus, things like the Mission San Xavier del Bac, the Tubac art colony, and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum give plenty of local culture and history. One of my most inspiring side visits was Kartchner Caverns, a moist, underground feast of geology with an impressive great room.
The southern Arizona biking is quiet and joyful and a breath of fresh air, until it’s not.
We’ve all had those days on the road when one thing after another tests our resilience. What keeps us going? Here’s my personal take:
A few years ago, I rode a fifty-mile loop near Tombstone and flatted. When I changed the tube, the rim was cracked. Thankfully, I was with someone who had a vehicle and an extra bike. I threw my things onto that bike, gave the tires a spin and the brakes a squeeze, filled up with water, and took off. Only twenty miles to go and I was all set.
Except the borrowed bike didn't fit me. I struggled with unfamiliar toeclips, and not very gracefully. I kept dropping the chain, the seat post wouldn’t tighten down enough, and I had to wrestle a heavy handlebar bag. I felt like an awkward circus bear, but I shrugged it off, got the bugs worked out, and was all set.
But then there was no shoulder, tons of traffic, and eighteen miles of long steep rollers between myself and the finish line in Tombstone. The wind picked up loudly and whipped all around. The temperature dropped as I slogged up the climbs, one at a whopping seventeen percent. And with my cycling computer not working, I didn't know how far I had to go. My happy attitude started to tank.
I’d had sketchy phone service all day and just as I ran out of water, I decided to pull over and call the civilized world, which, unbeknownst to me, was right beside me as people drove past into Tombstone only about four miles away. I thought of old movies where the person crawls through the desert, parched and seeing water mirages everywhere. No mirages here: just cows looking at me from the fields. I stood there pumiced by baby dust devils and wondered why I ever loved this blankety-blank sport.
At that moment, border patrol officers pulled up. They took my I.D. and asked a couple of probing questions, like, “What in the h___ are you doing out here?” I thought of how many times I’d heard that question in my travels. I said, "If you give me some water, I'll be out of here." One pulled out a bottle and I headed on my way, eternally grateful.
Shortly, I passed a road sign as I continued to climb in my lowest gear into the cold wind. It said, "Perseverance Rd." No kidding! It broke my sullen self-pity and I started laughing out loud. Just as I recovered from that giggle, the next road sign said, "Victory Lane." That was it. I was two miles from town and over myself, back to loving biking, and Arizona.
What keeps you going?
Photos by Linda Baldwin