“You set before me a space uncluttered by association. It might be a void or it might be a release. Certainly I want to take the risk.”

~Jeanette Winterson

“The ravings of a madwoman.” That is an insult unless you are like me and aspire to be regarded as mad….not mad in the unstable and manic way, but mad for believing dreams can become real. Mad for seeking out all the possible realities, for creating disturbance and watching the particles settle again. Everyone is just the right shape for defiance.

Between Tucson and Sonoita

Earlier in this series of posts, I mentioned meeting the landscape photographer who led me to Las Cienegas Conservation Area. These are his photos. This is his website.

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bb’s First Bike Tour: Day Eight

The final day! I wake up at 5am to drive back to my Tucson. The drive is shorter although it still rings in at 4 hours with rush hour traffic in Phoenix. I return the F150 25 hours after renting it, with 650 more miles on the odometer. I am famished and hole up for a few hours in a coffee shop where I get some writing done. A lot of stories are bumping around after twelve hours of driving. I write a bit, and get caffeinated, chat with the barista about cactus alcohol.

I start feeling too smelly to be in town, let alone at a bougie coffee place. Eventually I have to bring my bike back to the shop where they’ll pack it and ship it back to New Hampshire, but I have a few hours of daylight left. There’s one more road on my mind: Gate’s Pass.

The locals have recommended it and I’ve been itching to move a little bit more, to see one more epic view before I leave. I head out of town again, pedaling uphill gradually at first, then steeper and steeper. Cacti rise up like gatekeepers of the heat. I stop at a wildlife museum where the attendant tells me to keep going. Three more miles.

Up and up until I can’t go up any more, and suddenly the road kinks in half, flanked by two mountains. This is it! I know it is, and I’m walking my bike now because it’s so steep but I don’t care. I’m pep talking to myself about how lucky I am to be here and how strong my legs are for getting here and how it’s only a little bit further. Chest heaving and tights burning again. I make it to the top and stop talking. At the pass you can look away from Tucson to the west, toward L.A. or whatever’s out there: a whole bunch more sand and javelinas and plants built to defend themselves from foreign objects.

The way down is breezy, sweat cooling me, then drying. Down down into town and laughing, so happy to have escaped the cold east just for a bit, to have one last day of freedom here.

Curious how all this touring business got started? Read from the beginning.

bb’s First Bike Tour: Day Seven

I arrive at the car dealership ready to pack my bike into a compact car like the one I reserved the previous night online. It’s a three hour drive to Sedona from Tucson and I should be able to fit my bike in the back with the seats down, just like I do at home. I pull up in the enterprise lot and see two compact cars and one big truck. The clerk flirts with me, trying to get me to take the truck, a shiny white F150. “It’s going to guzzle gas.” I am pretty bad at flirting back, but I smile anyways and we walk over to the little sedans. I wheel my bike over to it and open up the back seat of the first one.

“Do the seats fold down?”

“No.”

“What about in that one?” I point to the other sedan.

He checks inside the back. “Nope.”

“I guess I’ll take the truck.”

 

With a full cab, my bike (now named Negu after the fluffy gray cat from my Air BnB) can fit inside and  throw my panniers in the back. I planned to have time to ride the red dirt that Sedona’s known for but I get horribly lost somewhere in Cococino National Forest.

It’s a good thing I have the truck because I accidentally turn down a closed dirt road and end up descending into a canyon. I drive in a circle, up and over craggy mountains covered in dark pine trees, back down, through a town where the only thing the gas stations sells besides gas is beer. Eight hours pass in stunning monotony despite the dramatic landscape. My eyes feel tired from moving so quickly through everything. I miss my bike, my back aches, driving is lonely, and the cost of gas guzzling is stressing me out!

I fly by the red rock formations of Sedona at dusk as I pull into town, and resolve to return to Tucson early the next morning after spending the night here. Back to the land of cacti, friendly hipsters, and bikes!

What to do on the final day of the tour??

bb’s First Bike Tour: Day Six

In the morning, my host points out to me that my bike has a flat tire. It’s a good thing I have people around who notice things like this! I have no technical knowledge of the mechanics of anything (bikes included), but I often have an intuitive sense about how machines come apart and fit back together.

I set about to yanking out the leaky tube which I discover has a very small puncture. Then edging in the new tube underneath the tire, squishing everything back into place, and pumping it up. I start pumping madly with my mini road pump. It’s really an emergency thing, not meant for this. At this rate I could be here pumping the rest of the day. Thankfully, my host comes out and offers me a bigger pump.

I like the way everything here is surrounded by mountains. It feels safe. Even when you’re in the matrix of city streets, you can see the craggy brown silhouettes rising into the blue sky. Very few buildings are more than two stories high, and the city sprawls out over 200 square miles. It feels like a small town until I try and bike out of it.

Now that my bike has two functional tires again, I head out for Sabino Canyon, the National Park that my hosts recommended I explore it’s a 13 mile ride there, and I make the mistake of trusting Google maps blindly. It routes me on a “bike friendly” road called Speedway. Unfortunately the thing lived up to it’s name and I am pushed nearly onto the sidewalk as trucks whizz by me. Luckily, my friend recommended some metal music to me before I left New Hampshire and that’s the only playlist that will get me through this shitty traffic situation.

Finally Google releases me from the dreaded speed road, and I’m off ascending a wide curving road, following signs toward the Canyon. I see a Snowbird in front of me and keep pace with him.

Of course at the Canyon, I lose my phone on a bench by the men’s bathroom and some nice ladies pick it up and return it to me when they see me looking for it. The Canyon is completely dry. The land is in a draught which explains the lack of water EVERYWHERE. Where the trails here are often impassable due to high water flow, they are now mere washes, sandy beds where javelinas travel in packs at night.

At this point I’m getting tired of my own inner monologue. This is a very strange thing for an introvert who often tries to escape social interaction nearly all the time. I wonder what happens when I rest in this discomfort a little longer.

I rest in it until dark, then give myself over. I text the boy and he picks me up so we can eat Mexican food and visit some bars together. The bars here are weird because you can pick out a can or bottle from a huge case or get something on tap. I don’t understand the difference because if you choose something from the case, you bring it to the bartender and he pours it into a glass for you.

We get drunk, I fall in love a little bit like I am apt to do. Driving through the night on roads criss-crossing the city, Arianna Grande on the radio, crooning. We end up at a place called the Shelter, an old fallout place that’s nearly empty. The room with the pool table is nearly empty and they play Jack White, exclusively.

“What song is this?”

“I don’t know. Do you?”

“No.”

Only when you’re smitten by alcohol and dreams is a conversation like this revolutionary. I smile and put my arm around him. I’ve made a new friend.

Tomorrow I’m out of Tucson and off to see the dirty trails and red rock of Sedona 😀

 

bb’s First Bike Tour: Day Five

I wake up and decide it is a day for resting and writing. I spend the morning with my hosts who offer me pancakes and some advice about where to go. They recommend a place called Sabino Canyon on the outskirts of the city. It’s a rare place because the landscape includes cacti AND water. Usually the desert “trees” stay far away from the liquid of life. I’ll go there tomorrow.

For now, to the coffee shop, and biking is the only way to arrive in style. I remember Epic Cafe which I visited on my second day in the city, a homey local place where students go to study, date other students, and a bunch of old guys show up to shoot the breeze with each other. I snag a table by the windows and start typing, staring at people, typing, staring into space, drinking my coffee, and typing some more. Soon the whole afternoon passes.

I pedal back to my new home which is 30 minutes east. When I get home I get a tour of the composing toilet and outdoor shower, and then try to catch a glimpse of the tortoise under it’s dirt mound. I get down on my knees and look into a hole at the side of the mound, but all I can see is darkness. It’s too far submerged!

Next: Fixing a flat and the road to Sabino

bb’s First Bike Tour: Day Four Part II

Back in town I feel just a little out of place. I’m biking to my Air BnB and am monstrously hungry. I park my bike at Target and run in. I try and calculate what the cheapest and most filling item will be. I pick up a greek yogurt that is over 350 calories. Seems substantial enough for now.

I purchase the Noosa and rush back to my locked bike only to find my spork is buried deep in my pannier. I’m not even sure which of the two I’ve stored it in. Potentially unpacking both panniers seems like too much work and too much time. I’ve got to eat the yogurt, stat. So I peel back the cover and dive in, tongue licking mouthfuls from the middle back to the edges, then scraping the creamy remainders along the sides. This is heaven and I notice some Target workers on their break looking at me strangely.

After I assuage my hanger, I head to my temporary home. It comes complete with a hibernating tortoise in the backyard. Apparently 70 degrees is too cold for it to be out and about! The first thing I do here is shower, so luxurious and dreamy. My skin turns a shade paler as all the desert dust washes down the drain. I sigh sweet relief. The bed is somewhat hard, but I sleep though the night for the first time since camping.

Read on to hear about the great day of rest.

bb’s First Bike Tour: Day Four

I wake up to the sun illuminating my tent and the sound of the air compressor from an RV in the tent site next to me. It’s windy and a fine silty sand covers everything, my skin included. When I try to put my contacts in, they burn and I resort to glasses. I discover a water pump near the main campground which is full of Arizona Conservation Corps volunteers.

It’s twenty miles into town, and I know the way, thanks to my maps. I’m back in the saddle, forgoing my bike shorts for a pair of shorts I’d meant to sleep in. At this point, my bike shorts reek, and even I can’t stand them. The Old Spanish Road is a popular bike route skirting the eastern edge of Tucson and Saguaro National Park. I’m buffeted by the wind, but I’m heading downhill all the way to the city.

I pass a few women in purple bike jerseys and say hi. I think I’ve seen the last of them when one bikes up beside me and starts asking me about my trip, where I’m going, where I’ve been. I find out that they’re part of a women’s triathlon training group, the Tucson Tri Girls. The woman invites me to meet the group at a Starbucks at the edge of town and I accept, happy to be able to follow her to a place where I can caffeinated and finally charge my phone so I can find the Air BnB place where I’m sleeping that night.

Inside I plug my phone into the only outlet I can find squeezed between two men who also appear to be carrying everything they own on their backs. I wait, stare at the wall, and wonder where the Tri Girls got off to. Frustrated at the slow rate of the phone charge, I rip my plug from the wall and head outside to find a gaggle of purple jerseys at one of the patio tables. I sit down and they pepper me with questions, interested in what I’m doing. I pepper them right back, asking for advice on what to do with my remaining four days in the city.  I jot down some recommendations in my notebook. Sedona’s in the cards, and also the laundromat.

Miles: 100

Days: 4

Animals Encountered: 2 dogs, 2 antelope herds, 1 road runner, uncountable # of Snowbirds

Next post: Day Four, Part II

Want to know how it all, started? Check out the beginning when I was stuck in a snowbank in New Hampshire.