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.

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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 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.

bb’s First Bike Tour: Day Three

By far the hardest of days. It begins innocently enough. I wake up to signs of my period and grabbed the diva cup, go outside the tent and cook some oatmeal. An RV pulls up next to my campsite, and out steps an professor of History from Purdue University. He wants my campsite because a group of hunters with dogs are moving in next to the site where he and his wife have been staying. His wife doesn’t like the idea of seeing bleeding animals strung up outside her RV window.

We make small talk as I pack up my gear, and at one point he steps away to answer a call from his wife who is checking out another campsite further down the road. I ask if she’s found a good one. He doesn’t answer my question, obviously concerned with other things. “One day you’ll be married to a man who you like to check in on and make sure he’s doing things right.”

The professor tops off my water bottle which is a huge help since I would have otherwise had to backtrack to a small stream in a gulch a few miles away. He holds my bike for me while I heave on the panniers, and I bike away toward the nearby visitor’s center, hoping to charge my phone which is near dead. I arrive to find a few construction workers restoring the old ranch home, and a woman coming out of a trailer next to the visitor’s center. I ask her about charging my phone and she says, “No! You can only go in if you need information. It’s for visitors.” I don’t have energy to argue with her, so I keep on my way, knowing there is really only one road I can take back to Vail, the blessed and speedy 83.

I zoom down the road, past the mountain ranges and cacti which look completely different than they did on day one. The sun performs stark wonders on the landscape, everything now harsher, more aggressively showing up before my eyes. The road back to civilization is fast, almost too fast, and the land changes from high to low desert as I descend the Catalina foothills.

 

I laughed as I was going up a small incline and thought of why I came on this trip. My ex-boyfriend made fun of my Jamis Renegade. He mocked people like me who had nice bikes and didn’t use them. He is not an evil person but he said evil things about my body. “If there was a Bethany with less weight, I’d be totally in love with her.” The day after we broke up, I booked my flights to Tucson. I had to get away from that story he was telling about me. Otherwise I’d start believing it. I am telling my own story.

The night of day three, I found a campsite at Colossal Cave Mountain Park. It was sandy and very windy. I settled down at a freshly built platform. I was twenty miles outside of Tucson, and surrounded by tall saguaros, prickly pear, and mesquite. Once again, I peeked at the stars before holing up in my tent, so content and alone, the night quiet, my legs sore. In my journal I write a thought that occurred to me while biking: “I am a Bethany carrying 90 pounds of pannier every day. I am the heaviest I’ve ever been. I am the happiest and strongest Bethany.”

 

Read about the final day of the tour!

bb’s First Bike Tour: Day Two

The next day the boy leaves to go back to work. He says, “I hope you have a lot to think about,” and I reply, “I usually do.” Free and easy, I take down my camp and pack up my gear. I want to bike into Sonoita and see the town. On my way there I see a field full of antelope and a sign “Grazing Stops Blazing.” When I get to the town, I realize it’s not really a town, but more of an outpost for local ranchers. There is a collection of buildings centered around a single intersection: a gas station, a steak joint, a gift shop that sells “Aztek fetish” objects, and the cafe where I order a coffee, fruit, yogurt, and granola.

 

After fuel, I am desperate to find underwear. Before I left for my trip, the pipes froze at the house and we couldn’t do laundry. All my underwear was dirty and so on this trip I have none. The gas station has none, but then I notice a Dollar General across the way. I find two-pack of Hanes in the second isle along with some sunglasses.

Outside in the brilliant pearly sun, I remember to google the route to Patagonia, the town I hope to end my trip at before returning to Tucson. Nope, it’s not gonna happen at my pace. I’m slow and I don’t care.

I bike back up to the camp site from last night, happy to see a whole afternoon and evening sprawling out in front of me with nothing to do and no one to pay attention to but myself. I set up my tent and take a nap. I read my book, cook another dehydrated meal on the pocket rocket stove as the sun sets, and check the stars before I go to sleep at 7:30pm. Turns out my sleeping bag and my down jacket do a fine job of keeping me warm all on my own.

Read about day three here!

bb’s First Bike Tour: Road Day One

We begin at the intersection of 10 and 83, heading South on 83 toward Sonoita. My guide, a freelance landscape photographer and old college roadie has an idea for a campsite a few miles outside Sonoita. I have no idea how many miles it will be to get there. The thing I know most at this moment is the work in my thighs. They burn with every downstroke. I joke that I am carrying two children behind me. The panniers must be about 90 pounds of weight. Every time I stop, the weight of my bike threatens to tip me over. There is work too in my arms and shoulders, the way I hold the handlebars steady so I keep to the right of the white line. The road is narrow and the speed limit is 50mph, large trucks blowing by at speeds far higher than what’s mandated by the black and white signs.

My tour guide, the boy, says it feels like we’re going downhill. I don’t know how to tell him this: DEFINITELY NOT. NO! But I keep pedaling, looking at the vistas as they pass. This is my kind of slowing down. My obsessive thoughts about preparations, planning, everything going wrong are gone. Instead, there is only the burning of my muscles, the desire to reach the top of another hill for a moment of sweet release gliding down the other side.

The land is brown, prickly pear and leafless mesquite giving way to rocky crags rising above the road, everywhere lumpy hills, leading to the base of massive angular mountain ranges. There are so many mountains I can’t keep track of them all. Signs saying “open range,” and cattle fences of barbed wire. Supposedly illegal immigrants come through here carrying bales of weed on their backs but I only heard this from a white guy. We stop so the boy can take a photo. He likes taking photos of me in front of the mountains. “You should only take photos of me eating and sleeping. That’s all I intend.”

On and on and up and up and finally, nearing the end of daylight, we come to an opening up of the land, a massive plane spreading before us, tawny yellow grasses waving in the wind. Hills rolling downward, my legs shaking in relief, joys of coasting. We set up camp at Las Cienegas National Conservation Area at the edge of the Coronado National Forest. The sun is setting over the mountains and I am lighting up my stove, thrilling in the fact that I carried everything I need. The boy is distracting me with his talking and he’s setting up my tent. I look for his tent. He has none. Then I remember that he is wanting to sleep in mine. I remember I must defend my freedom because it’s not given to me.

I am afraid and half of me wants him to sleep outside, but the other half of me knows it is so cold and I am not sure I will be warm enough in my tent alone. I finish cooking my dinner. He gets in my tent. I stand and salute the stars. They are the brightest and most stunning I have ever seen. I crawl in.

Get in on the tour, day two!

 

bb’s First Bike Tour: Arrival

 

 

When I arrive in Tucson, I have no idea where I am headed or how far I can bike in a day.  I have some vague route plans that a local bike shop owner sent me, and, as usual, no real direction of my own. I like that it is warm. I like that there are mountains on the horizon.

I’m staying with a Warm Showers host near the center of town, close to the University. I get an Uber to her house, and then walk to the shop where I shipped my bike. It’s there behind the counter, safe and sound! Since I’m a woman facing a bunch of male mechanics, the shop owner tells me that next time I should call ahead to let them know that my bike is coming. I can’t find the words to say that “Yes I fucking called ahead and told an employee the exact day my bike would arrive at their shop. Gave him my name and everything.” I say those words in my head. Out loud, I shrug and mumble that I’ll do better next time I ship a bike to Tucson.

When I return to the host’s house, her daughter and son-in-law are there with their kids, dropping them off so they can have a night out. The son-in-law hands me a map of bike routes that he’s drawn with a magic marker on construction paper. I am so grateful for this, a small act of kindness. I can tell I’m going the right way.

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I check my phone and re-download Tinder because why not. If you can’t join the old boy’s club, then you might as well abuse it. I update my page to say that I’m on a bike tour. So then all the boys from all over town start messaging me with advice about where to bike. And some want to ride with me because maybe it’s cool or some sort of novelty to find a girl who likes bikes. I agree to ride out the next day with one of ’em toward Sonoita, a town about 35 miles south of the Tucson.

I sleep and spend the next morning repacking gear, and mounting my handlebar bag to my handlebars. It requires some fiddling and concentration, reminds me of my construction days, the need to put something together or else everything will collapse. finally, everything’s fixed, Ortlieb panniers set on the back rack, water bottle full. My stomach is empty because although I’ve bought food, I’ve forgotten to eat it.

Find out how the tour begins here.