The Hub: March 1999
Reports, News, Memos, Ride Reviews, Stories, Etc.
Updated 5/23/99

March 1999
Coalition of Arizona Bicyclists March Report
  Pete Joyce reports on March's Coalition meeting.
Answer to the Challenge
  Minnesota cyclist, Don Youngdahl, gives us his view of the Answer to the Challenge.
The Death Valley Century
  Explore a new dimension as GABA member Brian Buckmaster takes us along on The Death Valley Century.

Coalition of Arizona Bicyclists March Report
Added March 16, 1999
as reported by Pete Joyce

March Meeting News


The planning for the statewide bicycling advocacy meeting is in the final stages. The meeting will be held at the Embassy Suites Hotel, 2630 E. Camelback Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85016. Registration will start at 7:00 AM. The cost of the conference is $50 per person which includes lunch and snacks.

The keynote address will be delivered by the veteran bicycling advocate Mr. Andy Clarke. Mr. Clarke is now serving as a consultant to the Federal Highway Administration on TEA-21 funding issues and will discuss both accessing and implementing our share of the $3 billion available for bicycle/pedestrain projects provided for by Congress last year.

This conference will offer an agenda full of timely topics.

  • An overview of the State of Bicycling in Arizona.
  • A review of successful ISTEA projects statewide.
  • A discussion on appropriate, well designed bicycle facilities.
  • The Bicycles' Role in the Multi-Modal Transportation System.
  • An Open Forum to get your questions answered

Call (602) 493-9222, prior to April 10, for additional information and to RSVP.

The Coalition Swap Meet

The Annual Coalition Swap Meet will be held at the Phoenix Municipal Baseball Stadium (the old firebirds ballpark, near the zoo) in the East parking lot, on April 17th from 7:00 AM to 2:00 PM. Come out and buy or sell something. Admission Free to individual buyers and sellers.

Phoenix Bicycle Facility Status

The City of Phoenix Bicycle Advisory Committee, under the leadership of John Seifert, has almost $6 million budgeted for bicycle related improvements with in the City of Phoenix. These include but not limited to; street striping, addition tunnel construction, bicycle security facilities. These projects will be in the planning and implementation stages in the next 2 to 3 years. It is important to remember that as late as 1991 the City of Phoenix budgeted only $50,000 for bike projects.

The Coalition:

The Coalition of Arizona Bicyclists is a statewide bicycling advocacy organization devoted to promoting the bicycle as transportation. We influence the legislative process, advance bicycle tourism, and offer riders education.

The next Coalition meeting will be held April 19th at the Los Olivos Senior Center, just north of Indian School on 28th Street, in Phoenix. The meeting time is 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM. All are welcome, whether you are a member or not. If you club is not currently represented, we invite you to fill that void.

Coaltion address:
Coalition of Arizona Bicyclists
P.O. Box 54488
Phoenix, AZ 85078-4488

Coalition website

Coalition annual membership: Club $150, Individual $25

Road Hazards??? Report them to the Hazard Hotline.

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Answer to the Challenge
Added March 15, 1999
by Don Youngdahl

My X-C skiing friends would regard this as heresy, but I've reached the point in life where the prospect of a mid-winter escape from Minnesota weather is quite appealing. During one such mountain biking escape to Phoenix last winter, my gracious host loaned me a road bike to join him and his friends on their regular Sunday ride. When they were discussing their spring plans, my ears perked up when they started talking about their major spring ride, the Answer to the Challenge.

Ultra-marathon riding is no longer on my cycling agenda, but this piqued my interest when I found out it was "only" a total of 320 miles in three days. The "challenge" part is the 22,000 total feet of climbing encountered on the ride. Then I heard more war stories about previous years when they had: shuttled 10 miles through a serious snow storm; fought strong headwinds and rain for most of the first day's century ride with 9800 feet of climbing; rode the final 130 mile leg in baking 90-100 degree desert heat, etc. That didn't all happen in the same year, but it was enough for me to get the picture - unpredictable mountain and weather and desert heat could well be part of the challenge.

That got me started planning for the trip, and I wondered if I could be in good riding shape that early in the season, April 24-26. Fortunately, I had just the chance to sample some hot weather and hard climbing - two weeks in hilly Costa Rica in February-March. After some early season struggles, I shipped my bike to Phoenix, and flew there on April 21 for a few days of extra sun and acclimation. The weather was moderate and sunny, a harbinger of things to come on the ride. For those expecting a tale of horrendous weather, heat, storms, etc., sorry to disappoint you - after the ride was over, all concerned agreed this year had the best weather and riding conditions in memory.

Regarded as Arizona's most difficult road ride, the Answer to the Challenge is a scaled back version of the Challenge ride, when the same route was done in 24 hours or less, as a qualifier for the RAAM race in the 1970's. The ride is a circular route rising from the desert in Scottsdale, running counter clockwise through the mountains of central Arizona, and back to Scottsdale after about 50 miles of desert riding. The sponsor, Landis Cyclery, does a fine job with frequent and well-placed sag stops. The varied and beautiful scenery includes desert, scrub, mountain pines, snow-capped mountain peaks, grassy pastures, and broad valleys viewed from hard won elevations.

We started at Landis Cyclery of Scottsdale at dawn on Friday, heading east into the rising sun, with the mountains a distant blur through the light east valley haze. After a quick breakfast stop on the outskirts of Phoenix, we headed northeast across the Verde River valley and began the undulating climb toward the Mazatzal Mountains. As climbing has a way of separating riders of different strengths, and the wind was favorable, I was soon separated from my host and his group of friends with whom we had started.

Riding alone was actually a safer and more enjoyable way to enjoy my ride, as I could gaze in wonder and delight at the varied display of wildflowers, 2 shades of blue, orange, white, yellow, and the infrequent purple cactus. I have no idea of their names, but wildflowers along the road or trail always inspired me, and help to ease occasional pain and struggle of my journey.

I have heard a lot of cyclists' complaints about Minnesota drivers, but if they rode in Arizona, they would have a more kindly impression of Minnesota drivers. The trucks are much less courteous in granting a reasonable amount of space, and the boaters seem to have a particular disdain, or dislike, of us cyclists plodding up the hills and slowing them down a trifle. In the middle of one long climb, I heard the loud and seemingly rude horn blast of an overtaking vehicle that is so familiar and so maddening. But this time he had a reason, and I quickly forgave him as he passed me with the "wide load" warning sign on top of his truck. When I looked back to see the truck carrying a triple wide mobile home, I quickly took to the far edge of the shoulder, which happily was on the uphill side of the winding mountain road.

At 66 miles, we encountered the first long climb, nine miles of six percent grade, then some nice downhill and moderate hills before our lunch stop at Payson, where I rejoined our group for a fast-food lunch stop. The exertions of a tough climb and a stomach ache after lunch told me that fries and a malt were probably a mistake, and I should have stayed with traditional sag stop food. We ended the day at the quaint mountain town of Strawberry, and my aging body certainly knew that we had ridden 95 miles, and climbed 9800 feet.

The next morning was just cool enough to require a windbreaker and tights, but we started a good climb less than a mile from town, and the warm clothes came off shortly thereafter. The top of that climb brought us to some remnants of winter snowdrifts, the first snow encountered on the trip. After several relatively flat miles in the pines, we started the long, fast descent along Crook Military Road into Camp Verde. At the sag van in Camp Verde, I was reminded again of the biggest challenge of the trip - the 14 mile climb up Mingus Mountain. One rider told me the climb started "right on the edge of town", so I got psyched up for some hard work, only to find another 10-15 miles of easy riding in Verde valley, and another sag stop at the base of Mingus Mountain.

After gaining 2000 feet in 4 miles, we reached Jerome, a funky old mining town, now nicely gussied up for the tourist trade. Jerome is literally clinging to the side of the mountain, and one of it's historic oddities is the town jail, which once slid two hundred feet down the mountainside. Few riders will forget the steep hill entering downtown Jerome. If you are caught unaware as you round the sharp corner of a retaining wall, you might just suffer the ignominy of pushing up the hill. My wife has some vivid memories of a scary drive up the narrow, steep, and twisting road to Jerome. When she was a teenager learning to drive, she drove that road in the family car, a large sedan, because her father was a tough taskmaster who brooked no excuses from a frightened kid who thought she was ready to drive. She was. The rest of the climb was uniformly steep most of the way, with some great scenic views of the broad Verde on the left. Although I'd worried a bit about gearing for an overweight 61 year old, my 38 x 26 proved to be adequate.

At the top of Mingus Mountain, we were advised not to tarry too long, as the prevailing westerly winds across Prescott valley usually increased as the day went on. When we got down and headed west across the valley, there was another pleasant break from the weather - the winds were strong, but were direct cross winds, with an occasional shift to the rear to provide a slight boost. After we turned south, the last 7 miles into Prescott presented the first real headwinds of the trip.

Good weather continued for the longest and easiest day, as we left Prescott early in cool, clear weather, and it was about time to take off the tights and windbreaker at the first sag stop. We had a moderate climb out of Prescott, then lots of rolling hills until the last easy climb of the ride, to our breakfast stop at Yarnell. After tarrying a long time at breakfast, we started down the fast, winding six-mile descent of Yarnell hill. The long, straight run-out at the bottom caused some unwanted excitement, as I was suddenly buffeted by strong, turbulent, localized winds, probably generated by thermals formed by the warm morning sun on the base of the hills.

We cruised the remaining 21 miles to Wickenburg at a steady 30 miles per hour, on a good tailwind and a slight downhill grade all the way. At Wickenburg, I made my first clothing mistake of the trip when I left my tights, windbreaker, and rain jacket in the sag van, in light of the solid blue skies and warming temperatures. About 15 miles later, a mild desert squall appeared out of nowhere, and I was bucking a chilly headwind into light rain. This lasted only a few miles, and it was back to sunshine again, with some ominous dark clouds ahead over the Phoenix area. These clouds momentarily drenched riders an hour or two ahead of me, and lingered to provide me some brief cold winds and light rain about 20 miles from the finish, again making me wish I'd kept my windbreaker.

We started the least enjoyable miles of the trip near Pleasant Lake, where the narrow road has no shoulders, and swaying boats in a hurry to return to Phoenix provided a real test of nerves. I was glad to be free of the possible distraction of pace line riding or conversation, as I put my head down and road as hard as I could for several miles to get it over with as quickly as possible. At the sag stop on Cave Creek road, a large rock outcropping "just ahead" was pointed out as our last turn to head for the finish. It seemed to take forever to reach that rock, and I passed a few riders who were really struggling against the light headwind.

The last stretch, twelve fast miles south down the gently rolling two percent grade of Scottsdale Boulevard, was a fitting climax to a great ride. As we finished, we were welcomed by the congenial sponsors from Landis Cyclery, with drinks, food, and massages by students from a local therapeutic massage school. Although the vagaries of spring mountain weather will possibly increase the level of challenge this year, I'm looking forward to it again. If you want to combine riding in a truly beautiful place with a real cycling challenge, this ride is for you.

I "hung out" on the ride with my host, Walt Paciorek, a TCBC member and former Saint Paulite, and his friends from the Phoenix Metro chapter of GABA (Greater Arizona Bicycle Association). Like cyclists almost everywhere, they were a friendly, congenial group, eager to share their enthusiasm for riding in their beautiful surroundings. Walt would like to see more Minnesota cyclists come out for this ride, and help to demonstrate that Minnesota riders are up to the toughest riding challenges. He is able to host a limited number of visiting riders, and could find space for more if necessary. The 1999 ride is April 30 - May 1.

Don Youngdahl

(For details on this year's Answer to the Challenge see Major Events.)

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The Death Valley Century
Added March 11, 1999
by Brian Buckmaster

You are about to read about a new dimension - a dimension not only of distance and exertion, but of mind. That's the sign-post up ahead... next stop:

The Death Valley Century

Don't ask me what possessed me to do this ride. A middle-aged cyclist desperately trying to prove to himself that he can still ride with the big dogs. A desire to take on new challenges. Or maybe some kind of surreal attraction to a place that is filled with strange sights and even stranger stories, like the 700 pound rocks that slide by themselves across a dry lakebed (true story!).

This is a place where time and distance become distorted much like its geology. Even getting there can take much longer that you expect. Especially if you miss the turnoff at Kingman, or leave Las Vegas on I-93 instead of I-95, but I digress. Once you arrive it is hard not to imagine what it must have been like for those unfortunate gold hunters who stumbled onto this place in their hurry to reach the Mother Lode of California. The experience can be greatly intensified by listening to the FM Oldies station, 93.5 KOOL in Las Vegas. Time as well as distance become garbled and mixed up. Oh yeah, when you cross the border into Nevada, it helps to set your watch back an hour.

This event has three rides to choose from: a challenging century, the same challenging century by moonlight (for those who are unafraid of the dark the ride starts at 3 PM), and a double century that is billed as one of the easiest of the eligible California Triple Crown events. I chose to do the daylight century, which started at 7 AM.

The nearest accomodations I could find was across the border in Nevada, about 45 miles away the Desert Village Motel (my advice, if you consider doing this ride next year and you cannot get a room anywhere else: pitch a tent in the middle of the desert). My room had a little electric alarm clock set to the local time. I figured out how much time I would need to get up, get ready and drive to the starting point and still have 15 minutes to warm up before starting the ride, and set the alarm accordingly. However I did not reset my watch, and while driving to Furnace Creek the next morning, my mind wasn't fully functioning, so when I glanced at my watch I panicked, thinking that I was just barely going to make it. I arrived, as you can guess, an hour early. My first experience with time displacement.

After warming up, I left 15 minutes before 7 AM. There were other riders on the road, but it was easy to tell the double century cyclists from the rest of us: they had lights on their bikes, which were required, because they started before sunrise. I felt good and soon I was cruising along at a good clip and comfortable rpm. As I saw a rider ahead of me I would pick up the pace, confident that if I can see 'em I can catch 'em (that theory generally works unless your target is someone like Davis Phinney or Lance Armstrong!), and catch them I did.

Within a mile I turned south on Highway 178 Badwater Rd. The course is generally flat with some gentle rollers as the road meanders along the edge of Badwater to the right and the base of the hills on the left. The pavement is extremely rough even worse than the road up to the TV towers on South Mountain. I continued to catch and pass riders, but as I neared the first rest stop at mile 17, I noticed one of the guys I passed trying to catch me.

Aha! We'll just see about that... I decided to not only to pick up the pace but also to skip the first rest stop. Obviously this guy is working hard to catch me and if I don't turn in I may break his will. We are climbing up a slight rise as well. Sure enough, I looked back and he gave up and turned in. I continued on.

I soon passed another rider who was obviously not part of the ride; he was fully loaded and self-contained. He must have taken a wrong turn somewhere in San Bernardino. I greet him and continue on. Soon, an express train, consisting of four tandems and six singles, blow right by me. They are doing the double century and they've got a full head of steam going. I wisely opt to let them go, and as I watch them pull away I see one of the tandems drop away from the group.

Well, an opportunity to suck some wheels! I try to chase them down, but the two guys on the tandem are not going to let me catch them. I watch in frustration as they slowly widen the gap between us. At this point I begin to notice that the wind is starting to pick up and I'm riding directly into it. Glancing at my watch (and again not taking into account the time zone change), I convince myself that I have been in the saddle for three hours. And I've only ridden about 35 miles! What's going on here?

All of a sudden I start to feel tired. My lower back is hurting and the road shock from the rough pavement is starting to take a toll, not only on my body but also on my state of mind. My pace slows. I keep looking for the next rest stop, but as I round the next bend I can see for several miles and there's nothing in sight. This is not good.

Death Valley - Rough Road
This view from my bike shows how rough the pavement is along Badwater. Thirty miles of so of this really took a toll on my body.

Finally, I see the Penske rental truck up ahead that was used to haul supplies a great sight! The wind is really blowing now and I have had to drop into my small chainring a few times. I limp into the rest stop, get off the bike and lay on the lift gate. My head is swimming around... It takes me a good 5 minutes or so to recover and I eat a banana and a couple of cookies.

I know that the longer I stay here, the stronger the wind may get, and worse, it may shift so that I have a headwind on the way back as well. Reluctantly, I get back on my steed and continue on. Within two miles, the road turns to the west. Great! At least the wind isn't in my face, but looking ahead I see a big hill.

The climb is about as steep as the last rise up to San Juan in South Mountain Park, but it's four miles long. It's not that hard, but I am exhausted. I have to stop several times to catch my breath and let my heart rate drop from 150. Finally I reach the summit: Jubilee Pass, the turnaround point.

The ride down the hill is fast but bumpy from the rough pavement. All the way down I pass riders who are climbing the hill; they look at me and I am sure they are wondering how far it is to the top. Soon, I reach the flats again but I find that I cannot keep my pace up. I have to downshift into lower gears and my speed slows below 20 mph. The wind is not a factor at this point.

This is an out-and-back course, so I know what to expect on the way back. I know where the rest stops are and how much climbing I have to do. It doesn't matter I have convinced myself that I am riding poorly and despite the fact that I am, at this point in the ride, one of the first five riders doing the century I feel like toast.

The weather is beautiful. The sun is shining, the sky is blue and the temperature is in the high 60's or low 70's. The scenery is breathtaking, but all I can think about is how bad I feel. I continue on, knowing that on a long ride one tends to alternate between feeling good and tired. I try shifting body positions but nothing seems to work. The ride between the two sag stops, which is roughly 30 miles, seems to be the longest. Again, I find myself waiting with anticipation as I approach the next bend, only to be disappointed when I get there and see nothing for the next 3 miles.

Finally, I see the last rest stop at Badwater! I limp in and collapse on a chair. The volunteers look like they live there one guy had a long gray beard and hair. Someone had made some potato soup, which tasted good though it was a tad salty. I remarked that while it was good, it was missing something: some sourdough bread and a chilled Corona with some lime. Everyone agreed and I resolved to suggest this for next year.

Death Valley - Alien Sighting
Recumbents are the leading cause of alien sightings in Death Valley. I wisely chose not to ask what he was doing under that fairing...

At this point it is only 17 miles back to the finish. Might as well get this over with, so I get back on the bike and ride albeit slowly, back to Highway 190 where the only stop sign on the course can be found. From there, it is a continuous downhill to the finish. Finally it is over!

Looking back on the ride, after having had a few days to recover, I have to say that the course wasn't really that tough. Yeah, it had some wind, rough pavement and a long climb in the middle, but I have ridden tougher courses. I think what made it hard for me (besides not having ridden many miles in the last four weeks prior to the ride) was the psychological aspect. I really didn't start to feel bad until I thought I was riding too slowly. Then once I felt bad it was hard not to think about it. I'm glad it's over, but I wonder: will I do it again next year? You bet, because I've decided to attempt the Triple Crown next year and the Death Valley Double Century will be first on my list. Anyone want to join me?

Brian Buckmaster

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Members add your spoke to The Hub. Send your Reports, News, Memos, Ride Reviews, Member Profiles, Etc, to Terry Wright. The Hub: March 1999