Ahh, the big day of climbing has arrived! As the brilliant sun rose into a bright blue Arizona sky, we were all receiving emails and texts from back home...something about some big storm, schools closed...snow is the furthest thing from our minds here.
We set off at 8:30 am accompanied by Renzo, Petrina's dad, and Allan. We lost one rider who did not feel well within the first 20 kms (well we didn't really lose her, she just turned around and went back to the resort). Shortly after that, all the riders stopped to answer natures' call and squatted amongst the various cacti at the side of the road. Kathy emerged quickly with a "Jumping Cactus" (cholla)stuck to her riding shorts and the barbs digging into her skin.
Allan to the rescue! He raced over as she was trying to pull it off- wrong thing to do....Cactus removal is something that none of us Canadians knew how to do, until today! Bridget pulled a pair of tweezers from her bike bag (who carries tweezers in their bag ??!!) Darin, Petrina's husband had advised her to do this, in case cactus gets embedded in a tire while riding. They also came in handy to extricate barbs from skin!
Allan gently removed the cactus clump from Kathy's shorts, and flung it quickly away from himself, as these jumping cacti are known for jumping onto flesh. The cactus immediately jumped onto the closest piece of flesh, which happened to be Petrina's shin as she was standing next to Kathy taking photos. Dr. Allan then surgically removed the stubborn cactus from Petrina's leg and flung it where it would never hurt anyone again.
We continued on to Tonto National Forest to commence the epic part of our ride. Tonto National Forest encompasses almost 3 million acres of rugged and spectacular country, ranging from Saguaro cactus studded desert to pine forested mountains". Starting at the rangers cabin, we started a 13 mile descent to Bartlett Lake. True to the description, the scenery was spectacular, miles and miles of cactus and hills as far as the eye could see, the only signs of civilization the dozens of motorbikes passing us.
It was an exhilarating ride down to beautiful blue Bartlett Lake, where Saint Frances (aka Petrina's mom) and Nikki, the wonderdog, met us in the car. Frances brought out cold water for us and a buffet spread of smoked salmon, crackers, oranges, chocolate, and an assortment of other goodies. We had some goodies and water and then set off for the first 7 mile long ascent under increasingly warm temperatures.
Shortly after starting our climb I heard someone yelling, but could not see what was happening. Bridget was behind me and being a Good Samaritan, stopped to assist a woman who had been attacked by the jumping Cactus (aka cling on cactus) while taking photos. Renzo pulled up and, borrowing her husband's cane, extricated the cactus from her clothing. Beware the dangerous jumping cactus of Arizona!
We continued climbing and climbing and climbing....oh did I mention that we were going uphill a long way on our bikes? Thank goodness the grade was only about 6 percent. The spectacular scenery we had all admired on the way down faded into the background, as we focused on surviving the ride up.
At the top of the climb, who should be there waiting for us but Saint Frances again, with her trunk full of goodies! Thank gawd for Saint Frances! And according to rumors, the first thing out of many cyclists' mouths was "Holy #*"+" that was quite the climb!" It was about 5000 feet all told.
As we stood and enjoyed the treats, we heard a loud noise and we looked up to see a swarm of thousands of bees passing just over our heads, like something right out of an Alfred Hitchcock movie. Thank goodness they were not in the mood to bite humans at that moment!
We all regrouped back at the resort and heard more stories from the ride up. Hardly a kilometer from the top, Allan's frame actually cracked on one of the rear stays when he stood up to hammer, to catch up to someone. That was the end of his cycling day...a good Samaritan to the rescue, who drove him back to the resort. In a show of solidarity, Virginia offered to accompany Allan in the van to the top of the hill, where she was dropped off so she complete the last 10 kms of the ride, all downhill.
The rest of the day was anti-climatic, we actually had time to lie beside the pool. We swam, lay in the warm sun, jumped in and out of the hot tub, while those of you back home were experiencing one of nature's little April fools jokes. We also went one by one to get our sore bodies healed under Athena's healing hands.
Most of the group spent the evening shopping at a local mall, then went to sleep dreaming about our 100 km. ride tomorrow.