When we left for our trip to Tucson we didn’t know exactly how serious this pandemic was becoming. In fact when we flew from Seattle to Phoenix on March 10 it didn’t seem a risky thing to do. But after a few days of visiting with Gail and Tom in Phoenix we were already re-thinking the sanity of having left home. Might we find ourselves stranded in Arizona if we stayed?! We decided to stay the course but maintain social distancing. We reserved a one-way rental car for the return trip instead of flying.

We posted daily on Facebook documenting our rides. We’ve compiled them here for our friends who don’t do FB as well as for our own future enjoyment.  Note that if you click on a photo to enlarge it you can see the images in each section as a slide show.

Since our return to our community, we’ve settled in for a couple of weeks of “shelter in place”, going out minimally and keeping our distance when we do.

March 14 - Shake down ride - 23 miles

In Phoenix we had 3 days of intense rain, more than we ever see in Seattle. It continued as we drove a rental from Phoenix to Tucson. Spencer reconstructed our tandem at Scott’s Sonora Cohousing home where we’re staying for the next few weeks. Today was our first ride of 2020! We rode 23 flat and sunny miles. Thanks to our friend Carla who had just been here and alerted us to this fabulous neighborhood mosaic/tile mural that was dedicated last weekend. We’re enjoying our own unique form of social distancing.

March 15 - Riding up Sentinal Peak - 31 miles

A bit more climbing today as we broke 1,000′ of gain ascending Sentinal Peak and Starr Pass. (What looks like snow in the selfie is actually the white rocks of the Big A.) It was a sunny and warm day, the weather we expected to see in Arizona. The ride ended at Lovin’ Spoonfuls for a vegan chocolate shake. Felt very isolated. I think we may put on pretty good miles this trip. Trying to not freakout about COVID-19.

March 16 - Sabino Canyon - 24 miles

Today was a different kind of ride. We wanted to start prepping for our REI Bryce/Zion bike/hike trip in September. So we rode out to Sabino Canyon, then hiked about a bit. We didn’t feel comfortable leaving anything other than empty water bottles on the bike, so I kind of got loaded down. We were pleased to feel like we were in the desert. Sheila’s still dealing with foot issues, but we did almost 1.5 miles on uneven surfaces. Saw some great cacti. Then there was this line at TJs on the way back. 23 miles and a top speed of 38. Sunny and 77 when we got home.

March 17 - Errands & Airplanes - 30 miles

I thought I’d share a few shots from today’s ride which was mostly to do errands. The airplanes are mothballed on an Air Force base we rode by. The headwinds in the afternoon were brutal. The flowers are by our casita and are called the Tombstone Rose. It is extremely fragrant and comes with blooms of white or yellow and occasionally pink. It was a short, flat day, only 29.5 miles.

March 18 - Rest Day

Today’s forecast was for thunderstorms so we decided after 4 days of riding a day of rest was appropriate.

While Spencer was napping Sheila did some “emergency” client work and we did the laundry. On our walk today we saw trees and cactus interwoven. Also a lot of a little creature that no one was able to tell us the name of. We finally learned they’re called Round-Tail Ground Squirrels…smaller and less bushy than our squirrels, more chipmunk like but they stand on their hind legs like prairie dogs and burrow in holes the same way. You cannot photograph them as they quickly burrow away. The photo included is courtesy of my friend Scott Vance who posted his own shot of one on his visit.

Just woke up from my nap and it is raining as hard as it was the first days we were here. This unusual weather just adds to the weirdness of the national angst around COVID-19. Some pictures of me doing the Liberty puzzle. These puzzles are made of wood in fantastic shapes. The pieces drop into place with such a satisfying click! This 73-piece puzzle cost $45 but is worth every penny. Just don’t lose a piece! Sheila did it yesterday and I did it today. They do come in larger sizes, if you want more challenge.

March 19 - Lost on the trails - 26 miles

A beautiful day today, albeit kind of chilly. It had rained all night and snowed on the mountain tops, so we delayed our ride until the afternoon. We saw the Rillito River again and finally stopped for some pictures. In our 6 trips to Tucson, this is the first time we’ve seen water in the stream bed. And today it even flooded a road.

We were planning on a 40 mile trip, but we took several wrong turns that added 5 miles to the start, plus a lot of lost time. (We did get a great blueberry donut on one of the deadends!) One of the mistaken rides led us to this great bench next to the trail. Except it is behind a barbed-wire, chain-link fence. What was that all about? So we eventually just turned around and found our way home for one more 25 mile day.

By the time we got home the sun was finally out and we were getting warm. You can see in the pix that I had on long sleeves today. Sheila missed having her long pants, but she survived!

March 20 - Riding with Susan - 42 miles

Today we reunited with our friend Susan Walcher Reed who rides a recumbent trike and is on the board of GABA. Over the years we’ve ridden with her many times and even stayed with her once. There’s nothing like having a local who knows all the routes. Spent most of the day on really well maintained bike trails. We had decided to leave the trail and ride through a golf course and I was saying we need to find someone to get a photo of us together when we came across this downed saguaro cactus. We stopped to look and it turned out the mail carrier had just seen it fall and she stopped to let the homeowner know. He came out and we’re all talking. He grew up in the house his parents own on this spot, but he owns a medical equipment company in Seattle’s Madison Park and comes down to winter in this home. He was very kind. He not only took our photo but first went inside to get sanitizing wipes for the phone, before and after! We rode 41 sunny miles today.

March 21 - Saguaro East - 47 miles

Today’s ride report: Sunny and 70. 46.6 miles, 1,555′ gain. Rode out to Saguaro East for a great ride through cactus country. Stopped a lot to look at the flowers blooming everywhere. Felt very strong as we charged home. Even at 38 miles we were still smiling, or was that because we were taking a good long break from the bike?

March 22 - BONUS - Not on Facebook - Huge Bees

Sonora Cohousing is such a lovely setting with an amazing assortment of trees and bushes including the fragrant Tombstone Rose bushes and so many others. The first time we saw these bees we thought they were small hummingbirds! They’re literally the biggest bees we’ve ever seen and they were everywhere.

Here’s a quick video Spencer took and some info found online about Carpenter Bees: The carpenter bee is a solitary bee and does not live in a colony. The female carpenter bee will find a male carpenter bee to mate and nest with. The female spends her day building the nest for the family. She has mandibles on the front of her head that vibrate quickly against the wood grains, allowing her to build impressive nests in a short amount of time. The male carpenter bees’ days are spent protecting the female and the nest. Once the nest is built, the female will lay the eggs, each in a separate chamber and pack them full of nectar. When the task is done, the female and male will die in the nest. The next spring the young carpenter bees will emerge and eat the nectar left by the female.

March 23 - Rattler! - 41 miles

Got a slow start to our ride today. Intended to finally understand how the river trails intersect in Tucson. Only got 4 extra miles because of wrong turns! And on the wrong way we found a rattler, an egret, and very big machines dredging out the bed of the Santa Cruz River (now dry). Spent a lot of time looking at maps on the phone, in google maps, on paper….it was so hard to figure out where we were. By the time we got to Trader Joe’s, we were over 40 miles again. Stopped to wait for 30 minutes to become one of the 20 people allowed in the store at a time. But that’s Sheila behind the gorgeous cactus! All in all, a very good day.

March 24 - Puzzle

After 4 big days of riding we decided to take today off to do laundry and finish this puzzle we started a few days ago. We borrowed a large one of Matisse’s Studio from community member, Geoffrey, who collects them. It turns out that the community’s Liberty Puzzle library is actually owned by several members. Anyone can check a puzzle out once but after that you must contribute a puzzle to the collection. Geoffrey hosts this library and has done them all, as many as 2-3 times and sometimes choose to work them from the backside now for the challenge! You can see that this one was bigger than our introductory puzzle. It was 14.75″ square and had 483 pieces.

So today we finished this puzzle. It took us a few hours each of 3 days. You’ll see that with only about 20 pieces left we finally found the last edge piece. They’re not all flat edges. Intriguing puzzles. Very satisfying and FUN. I really want to get one of these puzzles when they go back online post-COVID.

March 25 - Catalina State Park - 41 miles

Another gorgeous day in the neighborhood, mid-80s. We rode out to Catalina State Park with our street shoes and bike lock in the pannier, thinking we’d do a little hike in the middle of the ride. But it was too crowded so we just turned around for home. Did 40+ miles averaging 15 mph. The bike trails are so sweet, wide, smooth, scenic and very flat. Spencer adds they’re car-free! We stopped at Christina-Taylor Green Memorial River Park both directions. It’s a lovely park memorializing a 10 year old girl, born on 9/11 and shot in the attack on Representative Gabby Giffords.

March 26 - Mission San Xavier - 33 miles

The weather turned cloudy and 20 degrees cooler today. Traveled some unexplored bike trails nearly empty of people. We eventually went out for a 32 mile ride to Mission San Xavier. When we visited it the first time in 2003 it was all in scaffold. This was our third visit over the years. The mission was closed and also very people-free. To make the trip more interesting, the transportation department closed some chunks of the return trail, posted a single detour sign, then left us to figure out a way home on our own. It was interesting. Stay safe!

March 27 - Gates Pass - 45 miles

The day dawned cloudy again, and cold, 45-50 degrees. We planned a 50 mile ride up and around Gates Pass, a decent climb. We were about 4 miles into the climb (6% grade) when we stopped for a short break at a trail head information sign. Then the rains pushed over the pass, so we decided to shelter in place since we’d left all our rain gear in Seattle. We thought we had let it pass, so we started up again, this time hitting grades well over 12%. And it rained again. Still, by the time we summited, it was dry again. Happy cyclists carefully navigated the steep down on the other side.

We liked being in the dry as sunshine seemed to spread everywhere. Our return route took us over Picture Rocks Gap, an undulating “pass” with lots of cars and little shoulder. We pulled into a Circle K for water and snacks. When we got back on the bike we noticed the entire Tucson valley was ringed with rain clouds. Then we got spattered again! We beat feet for home, trimming 5 miles off our planned route. Barely kept ahead of the rain. Temperature at the end – 54. Not the best day for riding but we had fun. We even topped 2100′ in elevation gain.

March 28 - Tucson Mercado with Susan - 38 miles

Today we went on a ride with Susan, our local cycling buddy. She pointed out this great mural of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Stopped for lunch at Beaut Burger, a vegan restaurant (take out only now) for burgers and fries. It was part of the Mercado complex built of storage containers. The food was good, but fries in the middle of a ride were a mistake. Then we did some climbing, some rollers, and a fast run home. 38 miles. Not giant climbing, but we are in a pretty flat valley!

March 30 - Mt. Lemmon - 46 miles

Yesterday we didn’t ride because it was a day of Zoom calls, one with Spencer’s family. Today was the climax of our riding in Tucson. We’ve often wanted to ride up Mt. Lemmon but since we are never in great shape in March, we’ve never made a serious attempt. We had the miles this time, so we decided to see how far we could get up the 25 mile climb. Scott, our cohousing host, graciously drove us to the start to save us 15 miles on the front end. The day was 64 and sunny as we set out.

The climb is a pretty steady 6%. It never gives up. The tandem isn’t a racer (like the ones who passed us all day). We just slogged along. After 6 miles we had our first rest stop. Our speed ranged from 6-8 mph. Then we started slowing as we continued on. Sheila found all kinds of interesting things for us to stop and photograph. This turned out to be a life-saver. Lots of little breaks made the going easier. Slower, but easier. But not too easy. Get my drift? It was cool to watch the scenery change as we ascended from Saguaro cacti to mid-range growth to mountain firs. It was much cooler among the firs! This was probably because we gained almost 3500′ and ended at an altitude more than a mile high.

Eventually it was clear that the summit was a bridge too far. We set our goal to reach the halfway point, 12.5 miles up (17 miles from the start line). We made it. We drank the last of our 5 bottles of water, then started down. Now a 6% grade on a tandem is a recipe for speed. We took it easy, rolling steadily at 35 mph. Fortunately that was the limit for the road, so no cars passed us. It was 30 minutes of just fun coasting.

We saw these beautiful flowers at Le Buzz, a cyclists’ haunt closed by the virus. Fully fueled and watered, we rolled onto our friendly bike trails for the return home. We now have more miles on the bike than we got all last year. We are officially tired pups. Tomorrow we pack and clean, Wednesday we start the drive back to Seattle, land of cold and damp.

April 1-2 Driving Home

Short version: We spent 2 days driving from Tucson to Tri-Cities. Went from sunny, 80 degree weather to snowy, 24 degrees and everything in between. For those in isolation and living vicariously, the rest is for you….

The finish line is in sight. We’ve spent the past 2 days driving our rental van from Tucson to Washington. We upgraded to a minivan so we could stow the bike inside without Spencer spending 2.5 hours dismantling it and squeezing it into suitcases, then reversing the process on the other end. What a joy!

We left Tucson Wednesday with blue skies and rapidly rising temperatures. Our route took us through Las Vegas (which seemed fairly busy on the freeway). We could have chosen to drive due-north through Nevada or NE through Utah. We chose Utah because that route was all on interstate highways and services would be more plentiful. After 12 hours on the road, we settled in at a rest area (wrapped in a Goodwill comforter and seats leaned back) for some sleep.

It was so cold, we awoke at 2 AM and decided to head out. Then snow started flying. We stopped for fuel after 25 miles. The attendant said it was coming heavily to the north and was going to be around 3″. Cars were pulling in from the north covered with snow and ice. Driving in the dark on unknown roads in the snow didn’t sound like a good idea, so we stayed put awaiting the dawn. Now we were cold, uncomfortable, and NOT asleep. There was no WIFI and no lights to read by, so we had no distractions. Unpleasant. As soon as light broke we tried again.

The roads were clear, but wet. There was enough snow that we felt we made the right decision. The mountains and trees were gorgeous. Yet, there was that twinge of regret when we discovered the snow hadn’t fallen in Nevada. We’d taken the long way round and were rewarded with delays.

Sheila happened to be driving whenever we hit construction zones. Going through Provo we were on the “Drunk lane line painter” highway, swerving from one side to the next. As we crossed into Idaho, our halfway point, we were getting a little rummy. We’d been driving more than 18 hours. That’s just a long time to be in a car, even with hourly breaks to balance fluids while practicing social distancing and door handle hygiene. Some people haven’t quite caught on to the necessity of that yet. I will say I’m still seeing more men washing their hands in the rest rooms than ever before.

We got to Oregon and rain, of course. That meant that I was back behind the wheel. I got to do all the driving that included precipitation or darkness. As we were climbing the hills toward Pendleton, it actually tried to snow again. It felt like we’d come full circle for our long, long, Thursday on the road.

We had an actual bed to sleep in in Pasco thanks to my brother Phil. Such a luxury! We slept like babies, the good babies, not the ones crying at 2 AM.

April 3 - Arriving Home

Home sweet home. We have arrived. Left the Tri-Cities after an in-the-driveway visit with my niece and nephew, Aubrey and Chris. The day was gorgeous. We took Chris’ advice and stopped for a box of honeycrisp apples as we went through Yakima. Those will soon turn into pies and other treats. When I got back behind the wheel, I got the weather card again. It was trying to snow as we climbed Snoqualmie Pass! No matter. Nothing was going to slow us down once we were over that hump. We only drove for 3.5 hours today!

Then we unpacked, bought a week’s worth of food, and turned in the rental van in downtown Seattle. The second picture is Westlake Mall at 6 PM on a Friday. You can see exactly one car, one transit police car, and one bus in the 4 blocks of Pine Street that are visible. Oh, and 2 people. When we got to the next intersection as we walked home there were no cars visible for 4 blocks in every direction. Seattle is well and truly hunkered down. Be sure to watch the professional video below.

So now we’re pretty much staying in our unit for 14 days to make sure we didn’t bring home any viral hitchhikers. This disease is just too quick to find victims for us to be too cavalier about it. Stay home, stay safe, everyone.

The video below shows the Seattle streets during COVID-19.

40 Grand (s)miles in our Happy Place