Day 5 – Saguaro

The eight mile loop at Saguaro National Park is one of my favourite things about Tucson – right up there with the ability to buy beer at the Circle K. I cannot say with any authority that the Saguaro loop is one of the best road rides in the world. I can, however, say with some authority that it is one of the best rides in Tucson and has been on the itinerary every time I’ve come here.

Someone said the thing about riding in Tucson is you have to ride through forty miles of bullshit to get to ten miles of most amazing road ever. With the va-jeep at our disposal we were able to drive the forty miles – straight to the good stuff.

That’s not entirely true, we did park about ten miles from the park and had a little bullshit to ride through to get there. But in this glorious weather it is not really much of a hardship.Once at the park we go straight to the eight mile loop of perfect road that twists and turns through a forest of protected Saguaro cactii. The first half is ridiculously fast rollers that make it impossible to adhere to the 15 mph speed limit. But I figure getting a speeding ticket on my bike would be pretty cool anyway so I’ll take the chance and go as fast as my legs, lungs and guts will allow.

The second half is largely uphill – and just long enough to to be reminded that Mount Lemmon is really going to hurt. You can train your brains out all you want on trainers, rollers, in the gym or in the wind – but being from the prairies I am never really prepared for the uniquely torturous act of going uphill for extended periods of time.

We do the loop twice and then stop to fill our water bottles and rest in the shade. In addition to being ridiculously dry (being the desert and all) it is also approximately 470 degrees kelvin outside. We meet a local named Scott Shipman, who from a distance bears a striking resemblance to Big Dave Pitcher.Originally from Los Angeles, Scott has lived in Tucson for some time and is quite comfortable in the heat, unlike us poor Winnipeggers who have difficulty riding in temperatures we generally only experience when taking a pot roast out of the oven.Scott tells us about some of the great rides around town, and is nice enough to almost be considered Canadian. Come visit us in Winnipeg anytime Scott. (Be sure to come in summer though).

Ben notices a perfect chin up bar not far from where we are sitting. Knowing how much I love doing chin ups he throws down the gauntlet. I kill myself to do three, then Ben does the same. The difference is, I can ONLY do three. Ben, as I have seen in our mornings at the gym, can do about a thousand.We leave Saguaro and decide to ride up Old Spanish Highway to Colossal Caves. Ryan and Sarah turn around about halfway, leaving Ben and I to meet them later. 

We ride for a while, Ben leading the charge up the slightly uphill road. I take the opportunity to clear my nose via a very ladylike “farmer blow”. This feat is performed thusly: one nostril is plugged by applying pressure along one side on the nose, while violently exhaling through the other nostril. For obvious reasons, it is considered bad form to do this anywhere but at the back of the pack.

Did I mention how dry it is in the desert? My farmer blow dislodged something important in my head, causing my nose to bleed profusely. A bad day to be wearing my white kit. I stopped and tried to call to Ben but he was either in the zone or tired of my company and vanished over the top of the road – leaving me to bleed to death and be eaten by buzzards and coyotes.It’s a good thing Ben is one of my best riding buddies. Fucker.

Finally he turns around and we meet up, stopping at a gas station to refuel with a shared ice cream sandwich and bag of Doritos. This is the power food of elite athletes, my friends.

We ride back to the car to meet Ryan and Sarah – passing this guy, who obviously didn’t get the memo that it’s 470 degrees kelvin.

It’s been a great day of riding. Even the bullshit riding through the city to get to the car seems pretty and serene.

There is an expression about nearing the end of a ride – “Smelling the barn door”. I’m no farm girl but I believe it is a reference to the excitement a herd of cows experience when being brought back to the barn after a day in the pasture.

Today a Safeway parking lot is our barn door, and we are as happy to see it as any.