Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Battling the monsoons of Northern AZ

Tuesday, July 24. 8 miles west of Grey Mountain, AZ to Williams, AZ. 68 miles of riding in 4:32 hrs.

Woke up this morning at 4:30 AM to some lightening and thunder. This monsoonal weather thing out here is really serious. I mean I have been out here countless times and this is a first for me to even consider rain. Usually you just wake up to sunshine and it’s blue skies and sun all day long. But this thing, man it’s crazy. So I worked for a bit and then walked over to a 24/7 gas station for coffee. We stayed at this el cheapo motel and have no coffee maker or coffee. I mean this place was budget all the way. Hell the wash towels looked like old work rags – and I’m definitely not kidding! So anyway, got the coffee and we packed and headed way the hell out of town about 30-some miles to the point to where I stopped yesterday. By then it was raining and socked in like nobody’s business. It was just white out once we were north of Flagstaff. Got to me start point and it was raining like hell. The while out was so heavy that you couldn’t’ even see the San Francisco Mt range in Flag. The cloud cover spanned both horizon lines.
         Ended up waiting there on the side of the road for nearly 2 hours. I worked on the computer, called some clients, and watched ranchers herd a couple of stray calves back into the rangeland and away from Rt 89. The monsoon finally broke just shy of 9 AM. Got it rolling and had Jude go about 10 miles up the road just in case the rain got rolling again. Now this would be about 20 mile of solid gradual climbing up once I rode out of the Indian Reservation land. And that was indeed the case as the climbing began about 2-3 miles north of the Coconino National Forest. At that point I was at 6K in elevation. The terrain changed almost within a mile, as I left the baron plains of the Reservation lands and began climbing. Trees just started filling the landscape and what with the rain, the smell of pine was pungent in the air. The heavy rains also made it a bit humid once the sun actually popped out, and that to was pretty new to me in AZ. All my prior experiences were in hot and dry. As it turned out, that morning got to be moderately hot and humid.
         During the biggest step up in that long climb, about 6% grade for 5-8 miles, I was sweating pretty good, with sweat dripping off of my bar grips, running off my nose, and trickling through my mustache and into my lips.  Rt 89 by that time was split into a northbound dbl to triple lanes and a southbound dbl to triple lanes, so I had a massive, expansive berm to climb on. It was just perfect. Did about 2/3 of the climb in the big ring, but that last little pitch up to the 7K elevation sign I had to shift into the middle cookie, and just do a long session of out of the saddle.
         Once I got up over the top the wind was coming out of the east and I was just able to fly, doing about 20-25 mph just cranking it towards Flag. This stretch of 89, from the 7K sign into town is just great to ride on. You’re up in the mts, with the beautiful San Francisco Peaks just towering above you. The smell of pin is just permeating the air and everything smells fresh. Great place these Northern mts of AZ. Made it into the middle of town at the jcn of I-40 to meet Judy. She was parked in a little park area with trails. Downed my 2 sandwiches, a coke and quart of ice water. The storms were forming again, with thunder and lightening booming and banging away to the south. To the north was another system that was grey and black and threatening with showers. We even watched yet another system, this massive sheet of rain moving in just a few miles from where we were parked. So I got it rolling asap.
         Now I’ll most likely be riding on the berm of I-40 for most of the rest of the way across AZ. There are several chances to exit and ride parallels, but today especially, the dirt frontage roads that did happen to parallel I-40, they were either flooded out or just awash in mud. No way I was going to slosh through that crap with monsoonal rains chasing me along the way. The famous Rt 66 also ebbs and flows off of I-40, but just in small pieces. So really, I-40 is the only ticket for going west between Flagstaff and the CA line. If I get the chance I’ll definitely get on some parallels here and there, but the majority of the ride to CA will be on I-40. And honestly, time, money, and sore legs pretty much have me trying to wrap this thing up in the next week. I’m pretty smoked and just don’t want to make this last for another 3 weeks.
         What’s more, riding on I-40 is WAY safer than riding on stretches of Rt 66, where there is little to zero berm and a lot of busy traffic. This was the case in Flagstaff. Rt 66 there is just a zoo of busy traffic. At least on the interstate I have a whole lane all to myself. Well, got on the interstate, and it’s still kind of a kick in the ass to get on an on-ramp and just ride down to and on the interstate. It just feels so wrong, but it’s totally legal out here, as long as you stay on this massive shoulder. So I got rolling on I-40 and just started cranking. By that time all these storms were kind of converging into one big solid black mass of storm clouds. I made it darned near out of the environs of Flag when Judy went by and signaled to me. I just waved her on and rode with all that I had, trying to stay one pedal stroke ahead of this storm system. So I’m riding along and all of a sudden the mile markers are looking totally goofy, like I’d entered on mile marker 202 and suddenly I’m seeing mile marker 338. WTF? And then there’s Judy on an exit ramp yelling at me that I missed the I-40 turnoff. I was riding south on I-17?
         How the hell I missed that is beyond me. Probably because I had my head down just hammering away trying to outride the storm. So I threw my bike in the van and we went back to the jcn to I-40 west. By the time we got on the westbound the rain began, gradually, and then like a torrent. Pulled off the interstate and just parked the van in a gravel parking area to wait out the storm. This pup was a doosie – with hail, lightening, thunder and rain by the bucket loads. We must have waited there for an hour with the rain coming and going in waves. I even got out and got going on the on ramp once only to be turned back by another wave of rain. With a slight drizzle I was out of the van for a third attempt to ride west and Judy yells out the window “come on, let’s get this done!” And I countered with “shit, you get out here and ride in this!” I mean the roads were just streams of water and the semis were blowing up these massive mists of water as they flew by along the interstate. And still above us was these steely grey clouds that just looked like they were going to unload again at any minute.
         But she was right, I just had to get the ball rolling and salvage the day by finishing the ride in Williams, about 30 more miles away. So I rode up the on ramp and into the abyss – soaking wet berm with spray from trucks and SUV’s and pick-ups just flying everywhere. I tried to ride on the last 1 foot of the berm which was about the driest place on the whole freeway. Rode for about 10 min in a light drizzle and with a wind picking up out of the east for a great tailwind. Finally the rain stopped and I was just flying down the freeway berm, doing 24-30 mph at times. On a bloody mt bike. It felt just fantastic. The freeway rolled up and down with nothing really steep. Now there was a few sections where the berm was just a pathetic mess of broken asphalt and asphalt gravel. But I was still able to do a solid 20 mph, as if I was on a gravel road for God’s sake.
         With about 7 miles to go I was riding right into yet another massive black storm. This thing was thundering and lightening like hell, just a wall of black. Thankfully the road curved a bit to the right and I was able to stay just to the north of it without diving into the abyss. Did get sprinkled on a bit but be darned if I didn’t make it though this thing without getting soaked. I was totally amazed that I missed it. Met Judy at an off-ramp just outside of Williams. Loaded the van and headed into town. Now this is a pretty cool place, with a little section of old Rt 66 going right through the middle of town. Lots of diners and drive-ins and the sights and sounds of the 60’s. Cool, nostalgic place. We’re in a little dive motel again, but have a great location next to a Safeway store and DQ. Time for a Cutthroat Porter!! Late……..Pete   

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