By Paul Layton
Just finished the Desert Mountain Permanent (1/4/05 started at 5:00 AM on 1/3/05). What an experience. I woke up late at 20 minutes to 5:00. I filled in 5:00 on the control card so that was my start time. After I had all my preparations done I rode my bike the half mile to the start and by the time I got the clerk to sign my card it was 5:18. Hmmm, 20 minutes late but I still should have plenty of time right? After all, how long can a double century / 319k ride take, huh? I have 22 hours to finish. Who would ever need 22 hours? Even a first time double century rider like me should be able to do that!
The ride started out with light rain in the parking lot of Albertsons in East Mesa (corner of Power and Broadway). Rain gear and fenders were working like a charm. Nice easy climb for the first 4 miles up to McDowell road. I really enjoy riding in the predawn hours as everything is quiet and the cars are at a minimum. This morning was a wonderful experience slicing through the rainy predawn darkness as I descended McDowell Road across north Mesa. After awhile I left the lights of the city and entered the unlit roads of the Gila Indian reservation. I yelled at a couple of dogs that fortunately couldn't keep up with me. I was happy they were lazy dogs as I was trying to keep the speed easy knowing I had a long ways to go. Fortunately I did not connect with any lurking potholes under the puddles (this portion of road is known for potholes).
The rain was pretty steady into Tempe. One of the highlights of the ride came as I was riding along the side of Tempe Town lake. The lake is basically formed by two large rubber dams at each end of the lake which lies in the bed of the Salt River (The Salt River is completely consumed by the Phoenix Metro area these days and the river bed is usually dry). As I was passing the lower dam I heard a roar and noticed a large flow of water going over the top. This river that usually is just dry stones was rivaling the Colorado this morning from the rains we had been having. The river bed is ¼ mile wide here and moving water stretched shore to shore. This was the first time I had seen the Salt running this high. Pretty cool.
Right after the lake I checked into the first control with 40 minutes to spare. The clerk was pretty impressed with what I was doing, not to mention the weather I was doing it in. I quickly got my stuff together and headed south. I was keeping an average of about 15 mph in the dark. Not too bad considering the lights and various turns and navigation required for the last segment. The next segment was one of the most beautiful of the trip because it followed a bike path next to South Mountain.
The sky started to brighten as I went under US 60 and made my way over to South Mountain. The rain had really turned the desert green and foliage around the bike path was beautiful. I was starting to get a knee twinge though and raised my seat up a touch as this was something that had plagued me on my last ride. It seems to have worked as the knee didn't bug me again until the very end. From the bike path I made my way up to Dobbins Road passing the Boy Scout camp and headed out to the rural roads of Laveen.
Laveen brought cotton fields on the side of the road (either harvested or with ruined cotton due to the extra rain we have been having). One section of road had a nice golf course and a nice old brick corner store that looked more like it should be on a corner in New England than on a corner on the edge of nowhere in the Southwest. Everywhere the ground was green due to the recent rains. Most people won't think green is a big thing but out here in the desert it doesn't happen very often for us, so it is cool when it does. Rounding the west end of South Mountain the road passes between two mountain ranges. Both had peaks obscured in mist as I passed.
The second control had a laundromat but I was still dry so I didn't utilize it except for the facilities in the back. I also bought a disposable camera here as I had forgotten my digital camera at home. It was here that the rain started to get a bit harder and I was dry for the last time on the trip. Upon leaving the control my rain gear slowly succumbed to the wetness of the day. The next few hours were spent traversing the flat desert down to Maricopa. After turning onto Maricopa Road my speed went from 15 mph up to 20+ which was a nice perk of changing direction. It was amazing as most of the day I had tailwinds. They just seemed to keep shifting with me as I rode. I had to fight very few headwinds for the day overall (wish all rides were like that!).
I had to refuel at Maricopa and refill my Platypus. Got really cold as I think I stopped a little long (that came from waiting for them to reopen the bathrooms). Once I got going again, I warmed right up. The stretch down to the next control was a little long and wet. I did pass some beautiful mountains on the way. Light wispy clouds hung around the craggy peak in a mysterious fashion. I crossed the Gila River in this segment and unlike the Salt it was not flowing (couldn't say dry as nothing on this part of the trip was dry). This had originally been an information control but as I found a store open I got a receipt and had the clerk sign. After some comments from anonymous strangers about being careful not to get wet I was on my way again. The ride into Casa Grande was good for the most part. Some sections had a shoulder which was a little bumpy but overall it was good. Thank goodness for rearview mirrors (I was able to use the trick of riding the good pavement when no cars were near). I stopped on the outskirts of Casa Grand to celebrate the halfway point. I was feeling good. But that would soon change!
I originally had planned on eating lunch in Casa Grande but decided to push on to Eloy and get a bite at the truck stop. This section was a most notable for being next to the train tracks and I was amazed at the frequency of trains. It reminded me a lot of Flagstaff where I grew up. Anyway, that was the bright side of this segment. The most memorable part of this section was that the evil god Panku, lord of flat tires, decided to frown upon my endeavor. I was a few miles outside of Eloy, feeling pretty good , when BAM. I had a blow-out. Tire didn't look bad, must have just been a puncture so I changed the tube and was on my way. It wasn't too far down the road before I started to feel the wheel go a little spongy on me, so I stopped again, put in my second tube, and after much delay was on my bike again heading for the control. I thought I had done my flat penance for the day and shouldn't have any more problems. How wrong I was.
The control was a truck stop and I took the opportunity to get some warm food in me in the form of a sausage egg muffin. Under the circumstances it didn't taste too bad. I bought a pack of honey-coated cashews and was on my way to meet the fate of the late afternoon.
I had just passed the southernmost tip of the route, a corner I have dubbed Tierra del Fuego for its ominous repercussions because this is the area where my main challenges of the day started. I hadn't gone half a mile from the corner when BAM. Another blow-out. Upon closer inspection of the tire I found a hole that was the culprit. Booting the tire with a piece of plastic from the side of the road, I had the tire fixed but still had three tubes with holes in them. "No problem," I thought. "I still have a patch kit left. Plenty of patches in there, it is brand new! There must be 10 or twelve patches in there".
So, I patched the tube and put the tire back together. This setup worked real well for about 4 or 5 miles and then the annoyingly familiar feeling of a low back tire stopped me. I knew Coolidge was about 10 miles away and resolved to take a long stop at Wal-Mart and buy some new tubes and tires if I could. So I rode, pumped, rode some more, pumped some more, rode more, and pumped more, ad nauseum. At the same time the skies took this opportunity to darken considerably and soon the rain was falling in full force. My schedule was starting to fall by the wayside. As I entered Coolidge I discovered their lovely streets/lakes which were not very efficient at shedding water. I was forced to take the left part of the lane as a pinch flat in a pothole would be particularly nasty. After one more pump and ride I finally arrived at Wal-Mart several hours behind where I thought I would be.
I must have been getting a little tired as I actually believed I would find bike supplies for my bike there. I forgot they only sell Schraeder valve tubes which was a real pity as I could have really used those self-healing tubes that night. I got my sheet signed and downed another bag of honey-roasted cashews and bought some Hershey snack bars. I also took the time to reload my platypus for the last time and to mend two inner tubes. I trashed the back tire and put my spare folding tire on the back. Tire seemed to be holding air so I gave the tubes I had bought to a Wal-Mart worker who made me go get my money back. I don't think she understood I was in a bit of a rush and didn't care about the $10, I just wanted to get home! Anyway, I am thankful for her good intentions, I guess.
Off into the night and my next flat! I had not gone two miles when the tire lost air. I stopped and put in my other tube, chatted with a would- be good Samaritan, and was off. One mile down the road I had another flat. I was getting a little ticked now. I had been checking the tires each time for sharp objects and finding nothing. Besides the flats were occurring in different locations anyway so the only explanation to all this was that I must have angered the evil god of flat tires. I was beginning to believe that this ride might just be doomed (easy to do when it is dark, you are on your seventh flat, and the wind and rain are soaking you). My wife kept offering to pick me up but I was determined not to say die until the last patch was gone.
Amazingly enough the next tire patch job held up for a whole four miles. I was just starting to feel good again when that spongy feeling reared its despicable, reproachable, evil, nasty, head again. So I started working on my bike, another patch. While fixing this tube two police cars came zooming up asking me about an injured bicyclist. Hmmm, nope just fixing my bike, thanks! This was not to be the last of these encounters, by the end of the night I would be annoyed at even good Samaritans. When you have one flat it is nice that someone stops and shows concern. Two flats and it is still nice. But as the flats move up into the double digits the lost time spent talking to good Samaritans who offer free advice gets rather annoying. Not that I would have them change, but for the very unfortunate recipient of repeat flats it just adds to the frustration when help is not needed. That newest patch lasted two miles, by the way.
When I stopped to patch again, I pulled further off the road to avoid incidents such as the aforementioned. This however meant sitting in the mud. I eventually got the patch to take and put all my stuff away and proceeded to take the caps off my cleats when I discovered the caps had been sucked off in the mud. My Speedplays were thoroughly clogged with mud. Well, after much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth I was able to clip in again and surprisingly my tires held air for a surprisingly long amount of time. I think they made it a whole 10 miles. I rounded the corner onto the Florence Hwy. and proceeded to get a flat.
At this location I decided to stay a little closer to the shoulder to keep my cleats clean. Soon, however, I was instructed by a police officer (sent here to investigate an injured bicyclist of course, only thing injured was my will I am afraid) to get further off the road. A mile up the road I was chastised by a good Samaritan for looking injured when I was not and that I should do something with my bike to make it look like I was not injured as I fixed yet another flat (sometimes everybody has something to say, it seems).
They say necessity is the mother of invention and on the most recent stop a light went on in my head. All my flats had been on the back tire where my foldable tire was. On my front wheel I had a Bontrager race lite with kevlar protection. I almost kicked myself for not thinking about it before. I moved the front tire to the back and the back to the front as front tires have less tendency to flat in my experience. Lo and behold, I ride the next 20 blissful miles flat-free. This part of the ride had a couple of really good zen moments. Probably due to the readiness of my mind from the aforementioned affliction, I guess. Anyway, the bike hummed along the road, the sky opened a window into the starry heavens and the tailwinds blew. I savored the moment.
I can't remember this stretch of road ever having been so pleasant in past rides. Of course, I had never ridden it at night, and I had never been so grateful just to have a wheel hold air. Seems so commonplace usually but after so many flats I was grateful for the little things at this point. At US 60 I put the new batteries I bought at Wal-Mart into the lights (wasn't originally expecting to ride 8+ hours in the dark) and headed west. I took it slow as I knew there was one shoulder that would get you going down the first hill.
Sure enough there was the guardrail that forces bikes slightly into the lane for a short section (or down into a small gorge, your choice). I checked for cars and negotiated it. Not too far after that my tire went flat again. I was determined to do the pump and ride until I got to Apache Jct. This worked. After three cycles I was on the outskirts of Apache Jct. Where the freeway starts and the route turns north. Sure enough a mile or two up the road the wheel flats and I determined this was a good place to fix the tube. Tube is fixed, pump is now starting to have problems. I can't blame the good old pump, It had been forced to do industrial duty tonight. I got the tire pumped up at last. On to control 5! After climbing a few of the foothills on the front range of the Superstition Mts. I arrived at control 5 at 11:40 p.m. (and to think I moved my start time up to 5:00 a.m. so I would able to easily get to this control while it was open!). This store had long since closed meaning I would have to mail a postcard. Hmm, no mailbox around. Luckily I found one on one of my detours off of Brown road (it was flooding in several locations) not too far away.
Well, I thought smugly, I have one patch left! Imagine going through all but one patch out of a full patch kit (including the goofy long patches). I was soon to find out I would need every last one of those patches (after another blow-out) plus the one more I didn't have and a new pump. I sat on the curb and weighed my possibilities. I might be able to walk it in time. Could call my wife and she could get all the kids out of bed and come with a floor pump. Could blubber like an idiot. All viable alternatives, however, necessity is the mother of invention and as I was only 3 miles from the end of a 200 mile permanent with a little over an hour left to finish. I got creative. Using water from a nearby puddle I was able to get the piston in the pump sliding freely again and I selected the least damaged of my tubes and pumped it up and did the ride-and-pump routine to the finish with just an hour to spare. The store that was the finish control had even closed It was so late (it was 1:00 in the morning and Albertsons closed at midnight; fortunately, I still had an hour before the actual control time was up). So, time for another postcard. I got the gas station across the street to sign and give me a receipt just in case that was better. The mushy tire even got across the half mile to home after I had my sheet signed so it was not a bad end to a mostly good day (Mr. Tuffy is going to be my new best friend).
• Moral #1: You can never have too many patches and better be nice to your pump. (Have you lubed the piston lately?)
• Moral #2: Never scoff at the closing time of a control. You may be thankful that it is so long someday.
• Moral #3: Sometimes you just need to never say die, and with this don't be afraid to sit back, think, and wait for inspiration to blossom when all seems hopeless.