Sunday, May 17, 2009

Night Ride up Gates Pass

I wasn't going to do it before I scoped it out a bit, but it looked so good on the map. I had to try it. So I did Gates Pass tonight. I left before the sun set, because I had decided to go up Ajo Highway, and I wanted some light for that. This turned out to be a good choice, although I think next time I do this ride I will detour south to Irvington and see if that's any better.

The stretch of Ajo Highway from La Cholla, where I got on, almost all the way to Kinney, is a fast two-lane road with a wide striped paved shoulder (eight feet wide). There's a lot of traffic, and the wind blows straight down the road (at least, it did this time, and I suspect it does a lot, because there is a pass at the top to channel it), so the air quality isn't very good, and while the shoulder is wide, it's also got a lot of broken glass and other schmutz on it.

I think this would be a really nice early morning ride, before the traffic picks up, but with the rush out of town, my theory is that Irvington will be more fun. Of course, I haven't tried it yet, so I may have to eat my words. The ascent is at an angle that would be perfectly pleasant if it weren't for all the traffic - you gain a hundred or two feet of elevation from La Cholla to Kinney, but that's over a couple of miles.

Once I turned off on Kinney, the traffic slacked off quite a bit, and there's a nice wide bike lane without a lot of crap in it. It's still not a particularly wonderful biking road, but there's nothing wrong with it - it'll get you where you're going. At some point you pass through a little wide spot in the road with a Family Dollar store and a fire station, and then shortly after that the road turns into what must be a National Park Service road. No bike lane, but the pavement quality is great. By this time, traffic had slacked off to the point where I think maybe four or five cars passed me all the way from there to Gates Pass Road.

A little way in here I stopped off to answer a call of nature, and took the picture on the left. There are parking pullouts about every quarter mile along this stretch of road. Obviously there wasn't much light - I had to shoot this with the backup headlight, which is easy to remove. My only camera on this ride was the iPhone, so I didn't have a flash.

Then I turned off all my lights (taillight and both headlights) and stood there listening. My eyes adjusted pretty quickly, and I was able to see a variety of different cacti and trees, and hear what was either a pack of coyotes or else some kids yipping off in the distance. This section of the ride felt *very* remote, almost spookily so, even though I was only a few miles from town. It's kind of amazing to me that I can get to a ride like this just riding out our front door - I tend not to think of Saguaro N.P. as being a big deal, but suddenly it felt more that way.

Anyway, when I was done I lit everything back up and kept going - it was still about a mile to the intersection of Kinney and Gates Pass Road, and stopping had allowed my muscles to cool off, so it took me a while to get back into the swing of things. The ascent up to Gates Pass starts off with a couple of swooping washes, and then starts to trend more consistently up. It's a bit steeper than Ajo, so I really felt like I was working, but it still wasn't too bad. But I wasn't going very fast, so at one point I turned off the bright headlight and just rode with the safety light - it was enough to stay on the road, and the desert really opened up as my eyes adjusted. Unfortunately I didn't feel safe with the light off when there was oncoming traffic, so I turned it back on. Two trucks passed me from behind, which was a surprise - I'd had no traffic behind me for a while.

Then the road turned steep, and I started having to work. To put it in perspective, I don't think the ascent to the pass is more than about 300 feet from the intersection of Kinney and Gates Pass Road, but probably half of that is in the last quarter mile. Not a brutal ascent, but enough to finally drive me down to the lowest gear. You crest the pass kind of suddenly, without any fanfare - there's just a little hump, and then the exit from the scenic view area at the pass. Suddenly you can see Tucson again, way off in the distance.

I shot this picture using the bright headlight to light the road. If you look at the high resolution version you can see a bit of detail, but I don't have the ability to take a timed shot with the iPhone, so the image quality isn't very good. It's very pretty up there in real life. And the descent from the pass is sweet - it's not steep, but it's long. It's a brisk downhill from the summit all the way to Anklam Road - not fast enough that I felt nervous doing it at night, but fast enough that I only had to pedal in a few flat sections. I picked up a follower at one point who couldn't pass me for a while, but they seemed willing to be patient, and finally passed me when an opportunity came in a slower part of the descent.

I don't know how long the descent took - maybe five minutes - but it was pure bliss. Finally I got to Anklam Road and had to ascend a bit again. Unfortunately I'd cooled off from the descent, and so the ascent up Anklam was slow at first. But then once I'd crested the top of Anklam it was a nice mellow but speedy descent all the way to the Congress Street underpass at I-10, where I discovered I couldn't cross because it closed a little early for construction (it was supposed to close at 9:00, but I passed it around 8:50, I think).

There used to be a bicycle underpass at 18th street that was kind of narrow and grim. There's now a full-fledged underpass there, but it's not open for business yet because it's not paved, and there's too much traffic on the frontage road because of the freeway entrance and exit closures. But as it turns out, the dirt there is packed down hard enough that you can just ride over it safely. The trick is crossing the frontage road safely - the traffic is going over sixty miles an hour, which is faster than most crossings one is used to on a bicycle, so it would be easy to jump out without enough of a safety margin. That said, I crossed it with no difficulty, and rode home.

Total time, door to door, about two hours, about 26 miles. Tikit behaved admirably. Jury's out on the bottle cage - it's wandering a bit.


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