January 16, 2011……..I mean April 16, 2011, dawned cold and dismal, as had most days this winter in Seattle. But it was to change dramatically for us. We were heading for Tucson, Arizona for a week of R&R. The omens were positive. Our flight left at a respectable hour of noon. It was nonstop. Our friend Sooz chauffeured us to the airport and we were on our way.

The omens remained good. Our flight got in early. We had a quick ride to our rental. The only other passenger on the van was a member of Stone Curves Cohousing, which we were planning to visit that week. How fortuitous!

Sheila had carefully selected our condo, The Riverside Suites, for its proximity to all necessities. They even upgraded us to a 2 bedroom so we’d have space for the bike. While I was reassembling it on the front porch, Sheila walked to the nearby bike store for tire air and to Trader Joe’s for food supplies. I finished in time for us to pedal to Sonora Cohousing for dinner. There we had a nice meal and pleasant conversations about the ins and outs of cohousing. The next day would be our first real day of riding.

April 17 – 39.8 miles

We headed out early, around 7:30, for a ride with GABA, the local club. We were a small group of 8 heading for Rancho Vistoso in the Catalina foothills. We were smack dab in the middle of the “pack” mostly riding with a gentleman named Ron. We had feared we’d need wind jackets, but we were plenty warm after only a few miles. The temps were in the 70s and rising.

The route was gently uphill much of the way and we reached the turnaround with Ron and Harry. Then we started the flight downhill.

All was going well until our chain started jumping. A visual check showed the links had broken where I’d put it back together. No problem, I had a chain tool. Then the chain tool broke. Now it was a problem.
Harry came to the rescue. We were only 1.5 miles from his home, so he pedaled over, got his van, spare tools, links, cleaning rags and rushed back. We opted to get sagged back to our unit where I accomplished the repairs with ease. Thanks for the spare chain tool, Harry! We had nearly 40 miles in when we broke down, so it was a good ride.
We lazed around until it was time to visit Stone Curves CoHousing. We sat in on their quarterly meeting. They were very accommodating. It was an interesting experience. Then we had a tour of the facility which was very nice. There were about 50 units in a horseshoe around the common house. We splashed our feet in the pool, then headed home, a mere mile and half away.

April 18 – An off day – only 25 miles

We had no rides planned for this day. We slept in. We played games. We rode to a yoga studio a couple miles away. While Sheila took a class at the nearby Yoga Oasis, Spencer went to the U of Arizona to look about. Then I sat outside reveling in the warm while waiting for her to come out.

Then we went to Lovin’ Spoonful for lunch. It’s all vegan but we had a BLT and a bacon cheeseburger which were quite tasty. Especially when combined with a chocolate shake! Four stars for this place! We went home for more napping, reading, and pool lounging.

In the early evening we went to visit our third cohousing community, Milagro. It was across town on a 43 acre tract of land. This community was very eco-minded. They had catchment systems, grey and black water recycling, an underground wetland, a solar oven, solar hot water heating, PV panels, the whole works. It was a nice place, but far too suburban for our tastes. We scooted back home before the sun made its departure. It had been a good day.

April 19 – Riding with Judy – 39.8 miles

We connected with a friend from our ’03 GABA cross-state ride, Judy Bolt. She led us on a trip to Rancho Caliente. It was located at the foot of Mt. Lemmon, so there wasn’t an awful lot of climbing. It is a park that used to be a hot springs spa. An unusual oasis in the Sonoran desert, it was very pleasant. We zipped back toward town and stopped at Le Buzz to wait for other GABA riders who had attempted the Mt. Lemmon climb. Pretty soon there were a dozen or more of us sitting around tables outside enjoying drinks, pastries and other goodies. It was quite the pleasant group. Several were snow birders, so we got the lowdown of that lifestyle. Wintering in such a bike friendly, dry place was looking pretty good.

Eventually we rode off home. We stopped at Judy’s to admire her residence. She quite unexpectedly asked us to dinner Friday night. A home-cooked vegan meal? Who could refuse? We said our goodbyes and pedaled the last mile or so to our place at the Riverside Suites.

Mind you, it was barely noon now. So we had plenty of time for more reading, napping, and swimming. This vacation life is hard to beat!

April 20 – An early ride – 48 miles

The trick about riding in Tucson is you have to get up early to beat the heat. So far we had been on the road by 7:30 every ride day. Today was no exception. We were out by 7 because we were headed to West Tucson and Gates Pass. We wanted to be done by noon with what we expected to be a 50 mile ride.

The climb to the pass was mostly gentle, maybe 2-3%. As we approached it first kicked up to a 5% grade, then ratcheted up to 10% for the final half mile or so. But it was still early and the traffic was light, so we just cranked along. Then came a wonderful rush downhill to the West Saguaro National Park. We were there before it opened at 9! So we continued on our way noticing lots of cacti in bloom on the way down. I didn’t want to stop in the middle of such speed, and we figured we see more blooms going back over Picture Rocks Pass.

Wrong. We went miles before we saw another bloom. It all must have to do with rain patterns and sunlight. We finally caught a couple picture worthy specimens just shy of our second pass. Then we rolled back to Tucson. We were so far ahead of schedule we stopped at a Starbucks for iced chai and pastries.
We had time to clean up before Sheila’s friend Anna and her husband Bill showed up at 12:30. They are retired RVers who had come down from Phoenix. Time for another trip to Lovin Spoonful. This time Sheila even got her own shake. Nothing like a big ride to build the appetite! Afterwards they took us to Sabino Canyon. There we took a tram to the top of the 4.5 mile canyon, oohing and ahhing at the desert flora and fauna. Did you know saguaro cacti get their first “arms” at 75 years old? And they live to be more than 200? We walked down a bit, just schmoozing away, then caught another tram back to the entrance. It was a pleasant diversion. They returned to Phoenix and we hit the books again.

April 21 – Heading east today – 46 miles

We got up even earlier today to catch a GABA ride heading for East Saguaro Park. This only had two other bikes, ridden by Cal and Robin. Both are math teachers at Pima CC. We had compatible paces as we rode out Old Spanish Trail to the park. Inside the park is an 8 mile long, one-way loop. Since there was no traffic at all, we had a blast rocketing around the dips and swirls until we got to the big 10% hill at the back of the park. Our gearing took us through, though and we were soon back at the headquarters.
Again it was early as we came back. When we got back to the start of the ride, we still had 7 miles to go to get home. Fortunately, we found a Whole Foods on the way and stocked up on Coconut Bliss Chocolate Hazelnut frozen dessert. We stuffed it in the bike bag, then raced home before it could melt. It was a delicious post-ride feast. Then we had lunch. Still half a day to play! Sheila started the week reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. I began with In the Neighborhood by Peter Lovenheim. By this point we had switched books and  were zipping along. Both are great reads and seemingly on target for our current discussions about aging and community.
Our friends Tom and Gail arrived from Phoenix that afternoon for a long visit. We toured downtown with them and ate at El Charro, the oldest Mexican restaurant continuously run and owned by one family. Vegetable fajitas and margaritas, ole! Sheila’s known Gail since ’79. It was great to have the chance to catch up. We had fun playing with the cool “add me” feature on our new Android phone’s camera.

April 22 – Earth Day and Biosphere2 – 60 miles

To celebrate Earth Day we pedaled (REDUCING our car use) to Biosphere2. It was pretty much all uphill for 30 miles, albeit mostly gentle. We caught a thorn on the way and spent 20 minutes repairing the back tire (REUSE) before arriving at B2 around 10:30. Every day had been mid-80s to low 90s which meant mornings were very pleasant times to ride. We were soaking up the sun and the dry!

Inside the dome you can tour through what were the living quarters for the Biosphere crews. Two different teams had lived within the hermetically sealed structure in the 90s. One group stayed for 2 years before they left due to insufficient calories in their diet and a steadily thinning atmosphere. El Nino had caused an unusual amount of cloud cover for two years preventing the internal rainforest from producing enough O2 for continued habitation.

They’d learned a lot in that time though. One interesting thing they discovered is the system they’d developed to equalize the air pressure in the structure actually absorbed oxygen as the air passed through it, heightening the problem.
Now though, we had to ride back. It should have been easy, downhill and all. But it was now the hottest part of the day. And the winds were strong in our face. We had to pedal all the way. Still, we brought our average up from 13.4 mph to 15 by the time we rolled into Trader Joe’s for some last minute shopping. But we also know why people here ride in the early hours!

We luxuriated in having a dinner made for us by Judy and Bob. He even picked us up so we wouldn’t have to get back on the bike. We sat on their porch, watched the sun set and listened to their waterfall. They even had a cactus in FULL bloom. It was an amazing sight. But all good things come to an end and our trip was one of them.

April 23 – Back to Seattle – 0 miles

I spent the morning dissembling the bike and repacking it in our suitcases. Sheila loafed. No. She packed the last bag and cleaned up the place. We would have liked to RECYCLE some stuff, but that hasn’t quite made it to Tucson in the same way it is in Seattle. We caught the shuttle again and were winging our way back by 3:30. Bill and Sooz picked us up again and we were greeted by Seattle’s one day of spring, temperatures in the mid 60s! It was a gentle return to the long, long, long, northwest winter. And so we said goodbye to sunshine and warmth for awhile.


Our Mountain States Adventure