What have I done?

Today marks two straight weeks of riding my bike every morning.

For those who know me, you should indeed find that fact astounding because 1) I have to ride my bike in the MORNING, before work, very early due to the desert heat, 2) I am NOT a “morning person,” and 3) riding my bike is not without effort for me, even after accomplishing the purpose of this blog and gaining all that cycling experience. It has admittedly been difficult to get up some mornings the past two weeks knowing that the third thing I was going to do (the first thing being go to the bathroom and the second thing being eating breakfast) was place my posterior on my saddle and pedal my lethargic body some miles somewhere.

However, I want to lose the pounds I gained while working my day job and get back into shape. Or, get back some of the shape I used to be in….or something like that.

So, my dear “self-appointed trainer” (SAT) enthusiastically and too quickly suggested I start riding my bike each morning with him. The dialogue went something like this:

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SAT: “So it’s summer now and I know you want to get back into shape. The only good time to get out and exercise is the morning because that’s the coolest part of the day. Let’s ride our bikes together each morning!!!! [insert his maniacal laughter at suggesting this “brilliant” idea]

Me: “–urgh–grunt–”

SAT: “It’ll be so great. You’ll get SO STRONG in NO TIME. Think of how awesome this will be!!!!”

Me: “–gs#$98d–meh–blurgh–”

SAT: “It’s settled. We’ll start tomorrow. Let’s not be too ambitious this week. Let’s sleep in a bit, maybe get up around 5:30am, then start riding around 6am. That should allow you to get used to the schedule.”

Me: “–hiss–”

SAT: “After 3 weeks, your body should be fully adjusted! You’ll feel awesome!!!!”

Me: “–whimper–”

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Another small motivational factor in this new riding regime is the fact that I am now part of a cycling team. Ok, so the “cycling team” is really more of a “social club,” but members have the option of entering whatever cycling races — road bike races or mountain bike races — suits his or her fancy. I decided reluctantly (in keeping with the name of my blog) to enter my first team race in November. It’s a 12 hour mountain bike race and before anyone gets too excited, no, I am not going to be riding my mountain bike for 12 hours. I am not stupid. I will be part of a 4 person (women’s) team and we will all take turns riding a pre-determined loop. The team that rides the most number of loops, or laps, wins!

I don’t want to be the “weakest link” on my team, so I’ll do my best to stick to a regular “training plan.” I’m not certain if I’m feeling stronger yet….I don’t feel “awesome” [you LIED to me, SAT!], but getting regular exercise hasn’t been scientifically proven to harm anyone….yet. So, I will carry on.

I hope to update again soon with some mountain bike stories and pictures. In the meantime, I will leave you all with a couple of pictures from this morning’s mountain bike ride. The first is of a pretty cactus in bloom and the second is of a gila monster (they’re rarely spotted, so seeing one in person was cool!).

 

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More hikes!

In the past few weeks, I’ve been fortunate to hike in a few pretty places. Last month, a couple of work friends and I hiked a little 10 mile loop in the Seven Springs Recreation Area, just north of Carefree, AZ. We started our drive at 6:30am and arrived at the trailhead just after 8am. Pros: great chance to get to know some work people, exploring a new place, exercise….Cons: rather warm that day! Our original plan was to follow trail #4, which would be 16 miles in total. However, around mile 5, we lost the trail due to overgrowth so we decided to go back out the way we came in. Despite the name “Seven Springs,” we didn’t see a lot of water, but when we did, we took advantage of it by wading around a bit to try to cool off. Most of the hike was in direct sunlight, which made us all feel rather sluggish near the end. One of the things that kept me going was the thought of the icy cold Coke I had in the cooler in the car!

(Clockwise from top left: lots of cacti; lots of saguaro cacti; Lindsey, Jennie, and I posing for a poorly taken selfie; still hanging in there!)

(Clockwise from top left: pretty cactus “hand” holding a couple of flowers; Jennie and I about to wade in the water; a snake we spotted on the trail; water felt great!)

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Last weekend, my friend Lindsey and I hiked Humphreys Peak near Flagstaff, AZ to try and escape the record high temperatures in Phoenix. (As an aside, when we left Phoenix at 5:40am, the temperature was already 85F / 29C. The high temperature hit 118F (47C) and the high temperature that my truck’s thermometer hit was 122F (50C)!) When we got to the trailhead, we noted that the parking lot was full. Apparently, most of Phoenix had the same idea we had: drive to Flag to escape the heat. The hike begins in wonderful, shaded, cool forest (adjectives used to convey the sheer joy and relief we felt at being able to walk outside without the fear of sunstroke) then gives way to numerous switchbacks, until finally, the true peak appears, after 3 false summits. Humphreys Peak is the highest point in Arizona, topping out at 12633 ft / 3851 m and the main trail we took is about 4.5 miles (one way), with an elevation gain of 3300 ft / 1005 m. We saw snow at the top, we felt cold enough to wear a jacket at the top, and we rejoiced in the much cooler temperature! In addition to feeling cool, neither of us experienced any altitude sickness, which is always a possibility when one is at a high enough altitude. After the hike, we stopped in at a local brewpub to devour some well-earned calories.

(Clockwise from top left: The temperature at 5:40am!; snow near the peak; we did it!)

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Yesterday, my SAT (self-appointed trainer for all of you who are new to the blog or have forgotten what the heck “SAT” means) and I hiked the Granite Mountain trail just outside Prescott, AZ with our friends Ben and Colleen. I met Ben, a clarinet player, in grad school and we played a number of recitals together. Turns out that he and his wife Colleen are moving to CO very soon, so we all thought it would be nice to get together one more time before they leave us. 😉

Total round trip distance is about 8 miles, with about 1500 ft / 457 m of elevation gain. The temperature was very delightful; Prescott sits at 5400 ft, which makes the town very appealing to us “lowlanders” in Phoenix (elevation 1100 ft), as the temperature is much more bearable higher up. [Temperature seems to be a recurring theme in this post!] As we hiked, we saw lots of burnt trees (evidence of a recent forest fire) as well as rock ledges, which are popular with rock climbers. This wilderness is a protected area for the nesting of peregrine falcons, which were almost extinct just a few years ago, and the protective order keeps the cliffs off-limits to climbers for much of the summer.

Once we reached the overlook at the end of the trail, we sat and enjoyed the views. From this viewpoint, you can see the lake which looks like a puddle from 7186 ft (2190 m). There are lots of extremely large boulders, rocks and huge stone slabs in the area. It would be easy to spend an entire afternoon just climbing the rocks and exploring. Reaching the actual summit would require some bushwhacking, rock scrambling, and navigation skills. If we had more time, we may have considered that. Perhaps next time…

(Clockwise from top left: start of the hike. You can see the granite in the top right hand corner.; Burnt tree; some sort of baby dragon?; view from the overlook. The lake on the left looks like a little puddle!)

I like long weekends.

I am writing this blog post on Memorial Day, which is the unofficial start of summer in the US. I feel that the Memorial Day long weekend is highly anticipated by many people because of the lack of long weekends in the first part of the year. What do I mean? Well, in the US, the calendar year begins with New Year’s weekend, which comes right after Christmas. The holiday festivities are winding down and people start thinking about all of those noble New Year’s resolutions they are going to break in the first 2 days after starting those resolutions. Martin Luther King, Jr. day is the third Monday in January, which seems rather soon to have another long weekend (or federal holiday, to be more precise). But hey, I am not going to complain about having another long weekend in January! The third Monday in February is President’s Day and is usually a good time to get some great deals on bedding, for some reason.

Then….nothing. It’s a long haul from President’s Day to Memorial Day. Three months. It’s no wonder, then, that everyone seems to anticipate Memorial Day weekend. The parties, the camping trips, the barbecues, the start of nicer weather….

This Memorial Day weekend, we spent a couple of days in Prescott, AZ with some friends. We camped, ate great food, and mountain biked. There are a ton of great trails in and around Prescott, with the biggest and most challenging being the Prescott Circle Trail. As the name implies, the Circle Trail circumnavigates the town of Prescott and is about 54 miles long with about 5500 feet of elevation gain. All you road cyclists who are scoffing at the low mileage of the Circle Trail: this is a mountain bike trail! So, biking it is more challenging. How do I know how challenging the Circle Trail is? Because my SAT rode it yesterday. (For all of you who thought I was going to describe my Circle Trail ride….thank you for thinking I could do that!!) He was gone by 6am and rode the entire Circle Trail (and a few extra bonus miles for “fun”); click on this link to his Circle Trail statistics.

While my SAT was torturing himself, I rode a few trails with our friends and got to practice my burgeoning mountain bike skills. Riding a bike on forest trails is very different from riding desert trails; I found the forest trails generally smoother than the desert ones I’m used to riding, except for the huge tree roots and occasional boulders. A number of turns were rather narrow, which made me use my brakes a lot (they work well). And Prescott itself is at a higher altitude than Phoenix, which affected my breathing. (Prescott sits at about 5400 feet and Phoenix is about 1100 feet high). I did not take a lot of pictures, since I was busy trying to stay upright on my bike, but my friend Lifan took a lot and once I get some photos from her, I’ll upload some of those photos to my blog.

One good mountain bike lesson I learned this weekend: when you start riding, try to start with either a climb or flat section. Starting a ride with a downhill section doesn’t get you “warmed up” and “used to your bike.” When we started our first ride yesterday morning, that trail began with a descent. I ended up falling, only because I wasn’t warmed up and wasn’t used to the steepness of the descent. The fall was as gentle a fall could be, i.e. I didn’t incur any injuries, I just got a little dusty. After a half hour or so, I felt more confident and was able to navigate the trail better.

I’m looking forward to my next visit to Prescott, if not for the mountain biking, then for the cooler temperatures!

(Clockwise from top left: view of Prescott’s valley; our camp; the food one can enjoy when exercising all day…burger and (sweet potato) fries and mac ‘n cheese!)

 

A couple of cool hikes and even a mountain bike ride!

I actually have a few minutes to spare, so I thought I’d write about two beautiful hikes I enjoyed last month. Arizona has a lot of interesting and gorgeous scenery; the state boasts a wide variety of environments and landscapes that surprise most visitors. That said….

Hike #1: Brown’s Peak

This hike leads adventurers to the highest point in Maricopa County and offers fantastic views of the different canyons and lakes. Brown’s Peak is the highest of the Four Peaks mountain cluster north of Phoenix and is a good day hike for those with the time and inclination….and you will need a lot of time, because the drive to the trailhead takes a good two hours, for which you will need a high-clearance vehicle. The last 20 miles of the drive is on a rocky, dirt road and took us a whole hour. Normally, that would be hard to endure, because who likes being in a vehicle that is going THAT slow? Our scenery during the drive was really pretty, which made being stuck in a truck more bearable.IMG_2507

(I called this “Arizona’s Stonehenge.”)

The hike starts at the well-marked trailhead and winds its way through lush forest. After a few switchbacks, we came across a rock nicknamed “Woodstock.” Very cool rock formation! We kept on hiking up and up and passed through burned forest (there was a fire in this area about 20 years ago) then caught lovely views of Roosevelt Lake. The REAL hike started at the saddle; the trail stopped here and we had to climb over boulders to get to the scree chute…then scale a small wall to get up to the final ledge before the peak. The view was worth the effort.

(Clockwise from top left: Me and “Woodstock”…Our goal!…the scree chute we had to climb in order to reach the final ledge to the peak…a view of the valley along the way.)

(Clockwise from top left: We made it to the top! We are with our friend Julia. Roosevelt Lake is in the background….the view of the other 3 peaks from Brown’s Peak…what the scree chute looks like from the other direction, i.e. DOWN….is this an original rock carving from 1867?)

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Hike #2 (and a short mountain bike ride): During Easter weekend, the annual AZ Muni weekend took place in Sedona. What is “muni,” you may ask? Muni stands for mountain unicycling and it is exactly what that sounds like….riding a unicycle down mountains. Just like mountain biking, muni riders test their inherent toughness by navigating down trails strewn with rocks, ledges, boulders, and other natural obstacles. My SAT was heavily involved with the AZ Unicycling Club when we lived in Tempe during my graduate school years and when we moved back to AZ, he looked up his old muni buddies and got hooked into the muni scene again. While in Sedona, we camped with some muni friends and enjoyed the beautiful scenery and temperatures. My SAT chose to mountain bike with some other friends that weekend and since they were doing a very long and painful training ride, I decided to hike up to Wilson Mountain, the highest point in Sedona (7,122 feet / 2,171 m). I ended up hiking about 8 miles in total, gaining almost 2,500 feet (762 m) in elevation. The top is actually a 2 mile wide mesa (“table” or plateau) and I hiked to each end to see the views from both sides.

(Clockwise from top left: the start of the trail; view of Sedona; me and my Coke overlooking the view of Sedona; the view from the northern end of the mesa.)

My SAT and I did ride one mountain bike trail together in Sedona….sadly, pretty much all of the mountain bike trails in the Sedona area are rated intermediate level or higher. At first, we thought that I could attempt some of the intermediate level rides, as difficulty levels can sometimes be overrated. However, when I tried riding an intermediate trail that connected with the easy “Bell Rock” trail was on, that intermediate trail got difficult really quickly. Sedona trails are not overrated. The Bell Rock trail was very doable and pretty and now I can say that yes, I have mountain biked in Sedona. I collected a lot of red dirt on my bike during that ride!

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“She’ll be comin’ ’round the mountain with her bike…”

Thanks to work (daytime, full-time) and work (nighttime, part-time), I don’t have a lot of free time to play outside. But when I do, I play hard. 🙂 Over the past month, I have managed to hike my mountain bike up and down a trail with unicyclists, hike up a local peak without my bike (i.e., the “conventional way to hike!”), and ride my bike with my “self-appointed trainer,” i.e. my SAT.

My SAT is an enthusiastic proponent of mountain unicycling, or muni. The Arizona Unicycling Club hosted a mini muni-fest a few weekends ago that saw about a dozen unicyclists gather together to ride the trails in the Phoenix area. My SAT and I joined them one morning at the Dreamy Draw Recreation Area; he rode his one-wheeled steed and I rode, but mainly pushed, my two-wheeled steed up and down the rocky trail. The trail the unicyclists rode was way too difficult for me to ride, so I ended up getting more of an upper body workout than anything else. I joked that I was the “support vehicle” for any unicyclist who may incur injuries during the ride. Watching the unicyclists ride down the steep trail was pretty impressive and they got a lot of comments from the hikers we encountered along the way. The next day, I decided to hike Piestawa Peak with my friend Diane. After all, my leg muscles were primed for hiking thanks to the previous day’s hike-a-bike! Piestawa Peak, or “Squaw Peak” by which it is known locally, is the second-highest point in the Phoenix Mountains after Camelback Mountain and the third-highest point in the city of Phoenix.

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(Top left: the unicyclists before their ride; top right: Steve, the unofficial spokesman for Starbucks; bottom left: Olof getting some air; bottom right: Diane and I at the top of Piestawa Peak.)

To get a sense of what mountain unicycling is, check out this video. Yes, that’s my SAT and his friend Chris. Both are crazy.

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For the past 3 weeks, my SAT and I decided to set bike training goals for ourselves. His goal was to ride at least 10 hours each week for 3 consecutive weeks. My goal was to ride 8 hours each week for 3 consecutive weeks. My SAT met his goal. I was pretty close. The first week, I hit 8 hours and 7 minutes. The second week, I rode for 9 hours and 23 minutes. In week three, I managed to eke out 7 hours and 4 minutes. In my defense, I had rehearsals and 2 concerts in that third week! Overall, I rode 24 hours and 34 minutes, which results in an average of just over 8 hours per week. I can live with that. May I also add that the so-called highlight of week 1 was a 33 mile mountain bike ride? That was hard. It’s a lot more challenging to ride a mountain bike for 33 miles than a road bike. Those things called rocks and sand really make forward progress difficult.

Why did we decide to set those goals? Mainly to kickstart our fitness. We were both feeling lethargic and old and yucky and gosh darn it, we needed to change that NOW. I noticed that my coughing and wheezing and panting — and I am not exaggerating! I really sounded like I was a pack-a-day cigarette smoker riding a bike — is much better now. Instead of feeling like I was going to cough up a lung, I can almost utter a sentence or two without gasping for breath. My bike handling skills are obviously getting better and tonight, I successfully navigated all 3 tricky spots in our normal route for the first time. The most important thing? The more I exercise, the more I can enjoy eating!

(Left: big boulders on the Pemberton loop in McDowell Mountain Regional Park; center: mountain biking bling [that means “showy jewelry!”] on my gloves; right: pretty sunset)

 

Another cool little hike

Yesterday, my SAT and I hiked up Picacho Peak with our friend Julia. Picacho Peak is located in Picacho Peak State Park between Casa Grande and Tucson just off of the I-10. The summit is 3,374 feet (1,028 m) above sea level and the name means “big peak” in Spanish. Total distance is about 6 miles (9.7 km) and total elevation gain is about 1780 feet (543 m). Near the top, there are short steep sections that hikers have to climb with the help of steel cables and handrails . When you arrive at the summit you are rewarded with a beautiful 360 degree view of the surrounding Sonoran desert. Fun facts: Picacho Peak has been used as a navigational landmark for hundreds of years, was the site of Arizona’s only Civil War battle, and sits on top of an ancient volcanic lava flow!

(Top row, L to R: early morning light; Picacho Peak is in the top right of the photo; Julia and my SAT at the base of the first set of cables. Middle row, L to R: Julia and I posing on the first set of cables; more cable-assisted climbing; signage. Bottom row, L to R: many Saguaro cacti near the top; can you see the black, volcanic rock in the middle of the photo?; another photo from the summit.)

Beautiful day, beautiful hike, beautiful company…and sore legs. 🙂 I’m glad we did this hike in February; Picacho Peak is NOT recommended in the late spring and summer months, as there is no shade along the entire trail. Bring lots of water, snacks, sunscreen, and hat.

My new friend, Polly

Last weekend, I made a new friend. Her name is Polly. Polly has promised to help me get back into shape and to challenge me in pursuing new outdoor adventures. Some of you may wonder who Polly is and how I met her….well, Polly is really my new mountain bike! Polly is a Pivot Mach 4, black and pink, and pretty cool looking. Here she is: IMG_2130

I ordered Polly from our friends, Carl and Lifan, in Las Vegas. They own Irwin Cycles and are the friendliest bike experts ever! Last Saturday afternoon, my SAT and I drove out to Vegas, picked up Polly, and I test-rode her that night. Despite the ridiculous wind (30 mph), cold (a few degrees above zero celsius), and darkness (it was past sundown when we rode), I was quite happy with my new 2-wheeled buddy. Everything worked perfectly and the pink was an added bonus. The next morning, we joined Carl and Lifan for a lovely inaugural ride in Red Rock Canyon.

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(I am smiling while riding a bike! Will wonders never cease?)

On the way back to Phoenix, my SAT and I stopped in Kingman, AZ to check out Monolith Garden, a slightly hidden “blink and you’ll miss it” area off of the freeway just before entering Kingman. Monolith Garden has a number of trails that are perfect for hiking and mountain biking and feature a lot of volcanic rock. The scenery is really pretty and is worth a visit if you’re in the area. We only rode for 2 miles because it started to rain, but made plans to come back! FullSizeRender-11

(Polly and I checking out Monolith Garden.)

The challenge at the moment is finding time to hang out with Polly. Due to my day job AND my music job, finding spare time to ride is going to be tough. I’m already finding that mountain biking is a totally different ‘animal’ than road biking:

  • no cars to worry about!
  • mountain bikes are heavier than road bikes, which makes for a harder ride (to me)
  • there are rocks on the trails! and my mountain bike is ok with that!
  • mountain biking is harder than road biking (oh, I said that already)

One of my first long-term goals is to ride part of the Arizona Trail in November. I would like to try bikepacking, i.e. biking + backpacking, but I need to build up my fitness, stamina, and mountain bike skills. Wish me (and Polly) luck!