So before I let you know how today went, I have to talk about last night! Irma got some well deserved loving. During the day she had not seemed like herself. As a former nurse I was a tad bit worried about her health. I asked Rick (our fantastic tour mechanic) to give her the once over. Ric and Dana turned the pedals, watched the wheels, listened to the sounds, looked at each other and finally agreed that Irma needed a new chain. So that’s what she got, in addition to the new tire she acquired earlier in the day! As long as she doesn’t start requiring things from Coach or Bloomingdales I still think she is a keeper!
Leaving the hotel at around 7:40 am, it was great to cycle along, istening to the new chain hum like a well oiled machine, and the gears click smoothly up and down the cassette. I had decided well before leaving today that this was going to be a day to relax and enjoy the views. With only 46 miles to ride, I was not going to worry about the almost 5,000 ft of climbing until it was in front of me. Deirdre and I spent our honeymoon in Scottsdale, AZ and had visited Sedona and Flagstaff then for the first time. We were also out here in January of this year, so I already knew how beautiful the ride was going to be today.
With this in mind I cycled along at an easy pace out of Cottonwood for the first 13 miles. Then large sandy looking hills started to appear in the distance. The further I rode the higher the hills became and the redder they looked. These are the hills I remember from a generation who grew up watching Saturday cowboy and indian films on British TV. I know in today’s world we might debate the negative, biased and stereotypes of these two foes, yet as a kid in the 60’s and 70’s we just saw good and bad, hero’s and villains. I for one would never have seen a real German or Native American as the enemy or even bad as long as I wasn’t walking the streets of Stoke on Trent alongside John Wayne. Sorry I digress again, which is a common habit in my brain. So with towering red rock mountains and buttes now all around me I finished a 1.5 mile climb and entered Sedona. This is a place you should all visit sometime if you’ve never been. I won’t give you the cut, paste and edit tourist guide to Sedona! Quite simply, it’s stunning and so worth a visit!
Everyone in our group had been told about a good coffee shop in Sedona, so most if not all of us headed there first. Due to my many photo stops I was probably just about the last to arrive. It made me smile when the tour staff asked me if I was doing OK as they were not used to seeing me at the back of the group. I would have never guessed I would have coped as well during week one as I have when I was training on largely flat roads! After telling them I was feeling great and out for a leisurely spin today, they were fine and encouraged me to continue to enjoy myself and take in all that I could. With a large latte now inside me I rode off along a now winding road for about 12 miles. In this stretch the road runs along the beautiful Oak Creek Canyon. Unfortunately from the road you only just get glimpses of the creek now and again. From a bike, you get much longer looks but I am certain hiking it he best way to experience it fully! No surprise then that after one too many tempting glances at the stunning river running alongside the road, Irma and I had to go take a look. Together we took a moment out from our journey to just sit alone quietly by the river. It was peaceful and gave me pause.
Back onto the road we continued on and began to pass a couple of the other riders along the way. One of these was Bob, another of my early hero’s on the tour. Bob is 78. Now I know age should not automatically mean your either too old for something or so old that people can’t believe you can actually do anything. However, think for a moment about Bob, who is a fit 78 years old, and is happily cycling across a continent for fun. He’s a warrior! This tour is not his first time, crossing America, and I really doubt it will be his last.
Next began the climb for around 2.2 miles up about 800-900 ft. This was my first experience with proper switchbacks. I don’t think you can count the switchback videos on the Peleton bike as legitimate! I had thought during more than one of my training sessions on this trainer, that riding on the very outside of the left turns would give less of a sudden incline. I also knew that being tight on the inside of a right corner would lead to sudden short big gradients. Now in my smallest gear (the next gear would be the walking one), I rode Irma steadily up and up towards the next SAG stop. Unlike Prescott there was no cruel torture of a hidden climb, no false summits and no hidden surprises, just a very steep and steady climb to the top.
Deirdre and I had stopped at this exact spot in January this year and talked about this journey. It almost seemed surreal now to be standing in almost the exact same spot, having actually just cycled up it. A few minutes later I caught up with Phil and he didn’t look too good. I stopped and checked if he was OK. It seemed to me that either the altitude,three days of climbing, or seven days of effort had started to wear him down. I rang the support team to explain that he didn’t look great and that I would stay with him until they checked him out. However, after I put my phone back into my pocket, I looked up to see Phil heading down the road again! If nothing else cyclists all seem to be determined and stubborn lot!
Now I have to explain something even though it might turn a blog post into a novel (sorry but hang with me here). While preparing and thinking about this ride over the last year, I read many blogs and a book written by others doing the exact same tour. I remember that in one book, a rider appeared to be suffering a little with his breathing, and another rider had offered to pace him home through a headwind. However the strong rider lost the slower along the way but everyone eventually made it to the hotel. After a rest day the suffering rider didn’t show up in the morning for the start, and it transpired that he had passed away during the night. It seemed he had some underlying health issues. So I remembered that story, and didn’t want to be the guy that ‘checked on Phil’ but rode off and left him. I wanted to ride him home if not for his own health definitely for my mental health. We rode along and I tried to encourage him up any inclines until we were home. Actually Phil was OK, and just a little tired after the climb in this altitude. I was relieved that Phil was fine, that I had made it to Flagstaff, and that I had survived the first seven days! Tomorrow is our first rest day, so I rewarded Irma with a good wash down and clean.
My first week is done and dusted, and I have cycled 532.1 miles, that used up 19,404 calories give or take a few. I have to say this is a tough diet but it is so so worth the effort.