An hour into the drive, less was making sense. The idea was good on paper, yet as the drive went on, precious time was slipping away. It was going to be a long day in the caravan for only a few (albeit significant) miles. I became uneasy and my thoughts went wild with ideas of escape. I had just met the people I was traveling with an hour before. At this point, the awkwardness of asking they stop the car so that I could get on my bike was only a minor concern. The way it was going, the miles up and back from Mt Graham were going to be short, and although I’ve never ridden it, time was simply too precious to spend half a day driving in order to ride 40 miles. Mt Graham would always be there. My time would not. A simple equation to live by. It was upon this realization that I asked, and my new friends graciously pulled off the road. Things were cordial.
I stepped from the car to 45 degrees air temperature in Globe, Arizona. The Sun was just beginning to show. The territory surrounding Globe offers a kind freedom for cycling. This is Mining Country. Hills fold into mountains over endless miles of pavement, dirt road, and trails. The Arizona Trail is within the same territory. The Mining Country is reflected upon as a hallowed training ground. Lore of cycling here recalls old men of Arizona cycling spending their days out here. They were so dedicated that they even lived in the desolate beauty for years. That is something. Few ride here anymore, however. The traffic of mining trucks and tourists over shoulderless miles have had their way. The only saving grace is a well timed departure in the early morning such as what I had just sought.
As the Sun broke over the ridge in Globe, the thin veil of moisture steamed away from the parking lot. A day of sunlight to pedal away was on my agenda now. It was a perfect storm or something.
There is North, East, West and South yet there wasn’t any thought about it. Tucson was south so Tucson it would be. Why not? It was within reach at 130 miles and this was a life long want; to simply get on the bike and pedal. To loose routine, to disregard routes, to fuck all, to Sojourn. Entirely randomly, but also I had a pack of day clothes and a credit card. Nothing could be more perfect by chance.
Before this area was mining country, it was Indian territory, and all those raids and murders occurred in this expanse. This makes it sacred. A pristine relegation of a roadside story and it is easily evoked as a creep of emotion while pedaling through it all. Murder and death of unknown tragedy. Much of Geronimo’s exploits and demise occurred in this area, among countless other stories of savage greed, defiance and the tragedy of the times. I was fortunate to be in the middle of it on a bicycle. Had time not passed, how absurd was my presence? Further East, the history becomes even more aboriginal. This would be enough for the day. These lands are the gateway to an unknown, familiar yet unrecognized history. That history has been too easily combined with our progress. I suppose the contrast is how the eerie sense is confined to the roadways. Of man and machine.
The suffering of the climb over the Pinaleños was the one major pass to define the route, although there are many other climbs and rollers. The suffering was mitigated with a fine IPA refueling (provided by said credit card) at the summit. Things were sublime at this point. Further down the road the descent into the Gila river valley would behold transitional beauty from pine glades of the summit to the chaparral then the scrub and to the sonoran desert floor. Every now and again, a roadway store would entice a break. One should note the patchwork of housing, while more importantly, noting how little housing there is. This again contrasts to burbs riding in Phoenix.
The desert of the Mining Country is a rich yet brutal land. Cholla, Ocotillo, Barrel Cactus, Mesquite and countless other species savor it from the banks of the Gila out. From the road, the hours tick along with the rattle of the tarmac. It is easy to become lost in thought on how everything has come to be while the shoulder waivers from wide and unusable. Progress is marked by the buzzing and rattles as things glide by.
Throughout that Saturday, the traffic was lazy and the winds were mild. I was in the middle of nowhere. The rolling descent ended hours into the day with the rise to Oracle; the last bastion of “country” before the northern progress of Tucson would emerge. Ranches, villages, and RV parks slowly gave way to stop lights, traffic and fast food. The familiarity of Tucson became a comfort. I guess I can never get too far from the luxury of modern day American living. I’d eventually arrive to a good friends home in Tucson proper close to dusk. Credit Card Touring, day number one complete. Although, in definition of a Credit Card tour, I’d perhaps be lost in a strange town, charging a room and a pizza to the card, yet given my network of friends and family across Arizona, it was good to find the warmth of friendship, select beers, and a most excellent couch for the night. I would imbibe, laugh and slumber well. Thank you Flo.
Credit Card Tours Day Two
I anticipated work, and I got what I anticipated. A double century & change is nothing to fuck with. As I awoke, I felt as though I’d been through a mosh pit the day prior. My body was slow to move, and stretching took on the look and delay of a cat. The clock ticked past the ideal departure of 6am, and went to 7, and finally, by 8:30 I had amassed the energy and flexibility to pedal on. Flo cooked up a breakfast sammy to take on the way.
I would flow out of Tucson by way of the Loop, a highly and relatively new resource since 2014. it stretches from the inner workings of the city to well past its northern congestion. I would realize through hindsight that this was the highlight of the day. What Tucson has built is a thing of triumph for “rideable” living.
The endpoint of The Loop, however, was the endpoint of enjoyable miles. The day prior, I had already chosen to take the valley floor back to Phoenix. This is based on some loosely attractive Arizona right-of-passage. It’s a route I’d taken a few times during the winters of my training days. To ride from Tucson to Phoenix, or vice versa is a legitimate Arizona cycling measure. An annual procession for pre-season development. Yet, it isn’t a walk in the park. On the flats in between, if anything, wind will be an issue, and on this day, it was very relevant. Whatever insightful riding was experienced the day before, Sunday would be all about slow headwinded pain where thoughts of its tedium would either work to break you, or calm the angst of seemingly going nowhere. Brunch was therefore, requisite, and that sammy Flo made was a godsend.
The roads across the valley floor are dead straight forever. When there is a turn, it is a welcomed sign of progress. Each stretch of straight goes on for hours. Picacho peak, a marker of the first 1/3 of the ride, arrived and went with little acknowledgement. The endless highway traffic flowed by to my left. The trudge was stiff. 14 to 20 mph for the day, and to arrive at 20mph was to time trail with 40k focus only to be blown back down by gusts as they came across the desert. In the handful of times I’ve crossed these flats, I’ve been fortunate to dodge the wind. This time, however, I was getting it full blast. The Piper is never too far. Eloy would come with significant effort and the dirt of it’s farmland was greeted with a lacking fervor for gravel grinding. Shit was already slow enough.
I’d pass the old Valley of the Sun road race course and begin to feel that home was nearing yet there were still hours remaining in the ride. This was the progress I had to cope with. A type of purgatory, yet if the mind and legs are strong, only a day of it. The guestimation and the late departure from Tucson amounted to the truth that I would be racing the sun to arrive anywhere reasonable by the end of the day. Fortunate for the vast network of family and friend, my bro living at the southern edge of Phoenix would be my salvation from skulking through the night without lights.
I’d arrive to his doorstep and see a smile exude from him while he shook his head. he is not a cyclist. The humorous head-shaking acceptance of me as his brother is a thing of endearment. My antics are ridiculous to him, but there is always respect. He gets the basis of such shenanigans even if he’d never take on such misery himself.
To find it a reasonably good idea to take on a thing like a Credit Card tour requires acknowledgement of a deep need to depart the lock-step order of the regular world every now and again. As much as we’re made up of a fabric of humanity, to get out on the road, under one’s own accord and power, is to sense the independence once afforded all who first set foot here: the Natives, the early frontiersmen, the settlers and so on. There isn’t anything of that left now. Not here, but to be able to pedal through the places where history of that freedom was both made and destroyed brings on profound connections with time and place.