John Cruise bicycle and travel adventures.
Postings beginning in November, 2006
Here I am hoping to publish some of my travel journals and to edit them from time to time. I may also be able to insert some of the more interesting photos.
I will be working backwards for now and starting with a very recent trip:
My Great Arizona Bicycle Adventure
September 29, 2006
Hello to Friends and Family,
Some of you know that Cheryl and I have headed off to Arizona for a special trip that I had planned about five months ago. At that time I got a flyer in the mail about a group bicycle tour in Arizona. It interested me because it is such a unique place to see and being on a bicycle is an added bonus. I also thought that I needed to spend more of my cycling time with others. I do most of my cycling alone and something tells me that I should be a bit more sociable.
Anyway, we drove out of Iowa City on Tuesday and spent four days getting to Phoenix. We had nice overnight stops in Emporia, Kansas; Dalhart, Texas; and Gallup, New Mexico. I took some time to exercise along the way down and got in about 1-2 hours riding each day. We enjoyed the fall scenery and pleasant sunny days.
As we passed through southern Kansas, the Oklahoma Panhandle and the Texas Panhandle we were very interested in seeing the lay of the land some 70 years after the horrible dust bowl years of the 1930's. Much of this land has reverted to grasslands that now lay dormant. Cattle feeding in huge lots occurs throughout the area. At the same time we see many active oil wells and some natural gas refineries. We avoided the Interstate highways while keeping to fairly quiet back roads. It was pretty lonely country.
There are about 130 riders who will do a 550 mile ride over the next week. The average age of the riders is 52 and 10 of us are from Iowa. Tonight we had our opening banquet and orientation. Tomorrow we drive up to the Grand Canyon. The real ride begins on Sunday. It will be quite rigorous because this is a very mountainous state. We will end up in Tucson a week from tomorrow. I will write as the days go by.
Jerry and Dorothy are flying into Phoenix and should arrive within the hour. They will spend the next 10 days with Cheryl and I touring the state as I ride with the tour group. It is good to spend time with family and I am looking forward to their company. Cheryl will hone her tour guide skills.
I hope all is well for everyone. Football will consume Iowa City for the weekend. May the most deserving team win and may we all keep our eyes on the ball, the real ball.
October 3, 2006
Iím pretty tired tonight but I do want to touch base with friends and family as we are in our third night in Arizona. Everything is going very well. On Saturday the four of us toured slowly up to the Grand Canyon. We did go through Wickenburg and saw the Desert Caballero Museum there. We saw Prescott and other towns along the way. We made it to the Canyon in time for the late afternoon views and sunset and then had dinner in the Bright Angel dining room. It was a very full day.
Sunday the ride began and I left our hotel at 6:30 just after sunup. It was 42 degrees. I really enjoyed riding through the national park and viewing the Canyon at the various outlooks on the east rim. The ride was enjoyable and fairly easy so most riders took plenty of time to enjoy the sights. It was a good time to meet fellow riders.
Cheryl, Dorothy and Jerry did a more in depth tour of the park and actually got into Gray Mountain about two hours after I arrived there. The motel was a dump but it is well located for the bike tour and we really didnít care that much. We just enjoy traveling and seeing new sights with good company.
Today, Monday, I got up at 5:30 for breakfast and left for Flagstaff at about 6:45. The route was much tougher with lots of climbing involved and the wind became very fierce at about 10:00 AM. All of the riders suffered and some came in quite late in the afternoon. I arrived at this great Little America Hotel at 1:00 PM just as Cheryl and company were checking in. If you go through Flagstaff and want to pay the freight this is a great place to stay.
At this point in the narrative, John is ready to fall asleep so Cheryl takes over. It was a very hard ride for the cyclists and we could tell as we passed them how many were fighting the wind and the climb. John was toward the front and looked good. Jerry was tired just watching the riders from the van.
We went through two National Monuments. The first was Wapatki, an area of about 800 pueblo ruins and much to learn about the civilization from about 1200. The people were farmers and this was made possible by a climate change in 1064 when a volcano erupted nearby. That place is also a National Monument called Sunset Crater. The area is very strange looking with huge Ponderosa pine forests coming through old cinder fields and lava flow. The cinder ash is slow to change to soil because it is so dry here as compared with the volcanoes in Hawaii.
There is an interesting place that we will not go to about 35 miles away. It is where a meteor crashed and left a hole a mile in diameter. The land is so strange that astronauts trained there for the Apollo moon missions.
Tomorrow John will have an easier day and we will go through Sedona, a favorite of ours. I am hoping to have Jerry and Dorothy take a scenic biplane ride over the red rock cliffs and then weíll see if Jerry can feel the masculine energy at the vortex near the airport.
Meanwhile, we are at a great place. There are 500 acres of Ponderosa pine around us and tiki torches lining the path between the buildings and pools. The moon is bright, the restaurant was superb, and we are feeling lucky to be here.
Iíll sign off for both of usóBest wishes until the next report.
Cheryl and John
October 4, 2006
Camp Verde, AZ
Hello Friends and Family,
The Cruises, all four of us, are in Camp Verde, Arizona tonight after a very fine day of touring. I will let Cheryl write the highlights of her day with Jerry and Dorothy. I had 70 darn good miles on the bicycle in one of the prettiest spots in this state.
It was 39 degrees when I left Flagstaff at 6:45 AM. The road between Flagstaff and Sedona is fairly narrow and much of it winds through a beautiful canyon along Oak Creek. It is a downhill run and I made it to Sedona, 30 miles, by 8:15. By then the temperature was already above 70 degrees. Flagstaff lies at an elevation of about 6800í and Sedona is much lower at 4400í.
On the way to Sedona I caught up with Jack from Toronto who appears to be about 60 and is riding a recumbent bike. He and I have spent time together riding and visiting over the last few days. I also caught up with Daniel from Sedalia, Missouri. He is about my age and is a farm boy who became a CPA. Daniel is a bit portly, probably because of too much time sitting at a desk but he still rides quite well I kind of organized us the last 5 miles into Sedona and got everyone to the same coffee shop for a leisurely break including Starbucks coffee and muffins. We have visited some during the first two days but today we had more time to relax and talk. Even though I am inherently shy I enjoy making connections with interesting strangers and learning about them and their lives.
Sedona is beautiful and prosperous. If you are young and ambitious, move there to make a living serving the needs of all us baby boomers who would like to live there. It is a unique place but I will let Cheryl expound on that.
In Sedona I also met a rider, Phil, from Washington State who is in the apartment business in the Phoenix area. We talked about the rental business and he envied me for having Tim back home managing the business. Phil seemed to be about my age but I have finally developed some sense of tact and donít ask folks their age even when I am very curious. You have to know that even though we are a fairly mature bunch of men and women we really are constantly sizing each other up. We may be getting older but we are quite competitive under the surface.
Cheryl and company got to Sedona about 9:30 AM just as I was ready to head down the road. It was another 20 miles of quick riding to the growing town of Cottonwood then another miserable 20 miles to Camp Verde. The last leg of the trip was bad because of traffic and a bad road. Still it was a great day overall.
I arrived at the hotel at 1:00 PM and spent time visiting with the early arriving riders and resting while waiting for the other Cruises to join me at 3:30. Cheryl and I then drove out to Montezuma Castle, an Indian ruin settlement that dates back about a thousand years and is embedded in a high cliff. We took some good photos.
Tomorrow the more difficult part of the trip begins with some intense climbing. I brought a spare rear wheel with lower gears so I spent some time mounting it and adjusting it so I can haul my own too heavy carcass over the mountains that I will be seeing in the next four days. The lower gears will come in handy when things are very steep.
We had a fine buffet dinner here tonight and enjoyed eating with Jim from the Minneapolis area as well as tandem riders Dale and Jane from Stockton, California, Barb from Olympia, Washington, John from Minnesota-now Schaumberg, and gal from Denver. We must have spent two hours eating and talking and learning a lot. Dale is also in the apartment business.
Oh, tonight I am not tired. I feel great so I could write on forever but I want Cheryl to tell about her touring day and then we will try to send this note out sometime tomorrow when we find a "hotspot."
From Cheryl: Oak Canyon is a lovely place to drive through any time but this time I found something else unusual- a women's rest area with pit toilets outfitted with soft padded seats and cool air blowing up from below! That would be Sedona at its best.
When we arrived in town we arranged for Jerry and Dorothy to tour the area by bi-plane and enjoyed a scenic Starbucks first. After the flight, we drove to the Chapel of the Holy Cross, a great meditative place set overlooking red rocks cliffs.
I did have us climb up to an energy spot- a vortex- near the airport which is very important to do while in Sedona. Dorothy and I felt very yang but I'm not sure about Jerry.
Good day, all in all.
We look forward to tomorrow.
John and Cheryl
October 4, 2006 (evening)
Hello Friends and Family,
The Cruises are all well here in the nice town of Payson, Arizona sitting in the high forests at 5,000 feet in elevation. The town is populated with about 15,000 residents and it will continue to grow like gangbusters because it is well located about 90 miles NNE of Phoenix. We baby boomers are flocking to these towns for second homes or permanent residences. It seems like a nice place to be. The temperature is a very pleasant 85 degrees and humidity is quite low. My bicycle clothing is drying on our balcony and it only takes a few short hours for even the thick socks to lose all their moisture.
Phil, the apartment owner with property in Phoenix, and I are having continuing discussions about the business and whether we should be buying or selling real estate in this market. He is about my size and age and rides at my general speed so we seem to find each other at rest stops along the way. I have enjoyed being around so many other cyclists of the same mentality as mine who are all quite interested in visiting and sharing experiences.
However, the riding is very strenuous and I know that most of us are wondering how we can survive another three days each of which will be 100 miles or very close to it. Today was the shortest day with just a 60 mile distance from Camp Verde to Payson but the climbing seemed steep and unending. The cumulative amount of climbing for the day was over 5,000'. For the most part the route was quiet and safe. The last 15 miles into Payson were a bit dicey with a busy road and no shoulder. I left at 6:45 AM and arrived here at 12:45 PM quite exhausted and very happy that my room was ready for me. Many riders are still straggling in three hours later.
Arizona topography would be amazing to a newcomer. You can begin a ride in the bleak, arid desert and within 30 miles find yourself in a national forest with tall pine trees all around. That was the case today and we were glad to get up into the forest area to avoid the heat, the harsh winds and the terrible, endless climbing that it seemed to take in getting there. For 20 miles it seemed that I could only go about 5-7 mph and often had to stand on the pedals to keep moving forward. I'm really only competitive with myself and my goal is to just survive with a smile on my face but it is sometimes demoralizing to see some rider in your rear view mirror coming on strong and passing you like you are an old fart. It's even worse when the other rider looks to be about your age or older but I do have to say that more often than not it some younger stud or "studette".
Cheryl, Dorothy and Jerry toured back to Cottonwood and the historic mining town of Jerome while I was riding. Jerome is built on a hillside and attracts artists so on come the tourists and the baby boomers. That valley area will continue to grow until the water runs out.
We will have cocktail hour (cheap wine) in our room a bit later and then go out for a leisurely dinner. I am famished. The sooner the better.
We wish all our friends and family well. The stock market is going up so the economy must be doing well. If you are still young and adventurous and like a little heat Arizona is a fine place to live and do business.
GABA Day 5
October 5, 2006
Show Low, AZ
Greetings from Show Low,
This is a resort town lying at 6,300' of elevation. Like all of the towns we have been in, it is growing rapidly.
I had another rigorous ride of 90 miles. It was a very scenic with the kind of views that you might get in the Appalachian Mountains. The going is slow because of the climbing in these fairly steep mountains. We did another 5,000' today.
Things have been difficult for me. I usually finish each day in the first 20 riders but I have felt drained and have been left wondering if I would have the reserves to complete the last three long, difficult days. So I tried to follow a new strategy today and it worked well. I used my camelback for water so it was easier to keep drinking and keep hydrated throughout the day. Then I slowed down the pace and tried to ignore the other riders particularly when I was going up the steep mountains. I can't keep up with the better riders on the climbs and I just have to accept that fact. Boy, if I ever get the gumption to lose those 20 extra pounds that I am carrying I could do much, much better.
I left at 6:30 AM and made it into the Sleep Inn at 2:40 PM. Just after I arrived we had a heavy thunderstorm pass through. The late arrivers got drenched and cold.
The other Cruises had a mellow, relaxing day. I saw them along the route a couple times. Cheryl took some photos at the first rest stop. I found them in a cafe in Heber and horned in for a short break stealing Cheryl's coffee from her. It really hit the spot right then. I needed something warm and a boost from the caffeine.
Tonight we will have a banquet of Mexican cuisine and I will fall asleep early. The next two days are the hardest. Tomorrow we will have over 6,000' of climbing and the winds will be in our faces 20-30 mph. I hope there are enough trees along the way to knock down some of the wind. I intend to leave 15 minutes before dawn because the winds become stronger in the late morning and early afternoon. I think we will be going 92 miles.
Best wishes to all.
GABA Day 6
October 6, 2006
San Carlos, AZ
Greetings to all,
Tonight we are lodged at a casino hotel on the San Carlos Apache Reservation. It is a nice place and we will enjoy the facilities even though we all detest gambling and feel some compassion for the silly people who make gambling entrepreneurs wealthy. Oh, enough with the editorializing.
I'm kind of full of myself tonight because I made it through an exceptionally difficult day and I feel great. They told us at the beginning of the ride that Arizona does get rain and today we experienced it to the max. It rained a lot during the night and as I left the hotel in Show Low at 6:15 AM it was raining and that rain along with thunder and lightning followed me most of the day. I was probably about the 5th person to hit the road and at the end of the day I came in as about the 8th person to finish. The more remarkable thing is that only 35-40 of the 130 riders made it all the way through the route. Many bailed out completely and many just rode part way and gave up.
Actually, those who failed to do the whole route made a big mistake. The lightning never got close enough to hurt anyone. The rain and the cloudy conditions kept the winds down and made the riding easier even though we had more than 6,000 feet of climbing during the day. Of course you have to be willing to ride soaking wet and a bit cool to make it through a time like this. Hell, I'm good at handling a small amount of suffering like rain and cold.
The tough part was getting up and down the steep, endless climbs. There were three very steep climbs and I took the same approach as yesterday, taking my time on the way up and going down as fast as safety would allow. The road was drenched and at times water overflowed it. One rider apparently crashed and needed medical attention but I used my brakes and kept safe. It really was a beautiful area to cycle. Most of the route took us through the Apache Reservation or national forests. There was a steep descent into Salt Creek Canyon and a steep climb out but the views were great. It made it worth the effort. I traveled without my camera to keep weight down. Cheryl took photos as she came through in the van.
The rain knocked out my Magellan GPS on the bike and also murdered my cell phone. I have both of them up in the room drying out on the air conditioner hoping they will come back to life when the water evaporates. I'm in the lobby where there is a wireless Internet connection all cleaned up but wearing my rain soaked shoes. In this dry air they should dry out tonight as I sleep.
Today was our 6th day of cycling and we did 92 miles. Tomorrow it will be about 105 miles to get into Tucson. The others Cruises had a quiet day of touring along the route. I think the slow pace and nice scenes keep them interested and content. I'm waiting for Jerry to take the bike for a spin so he can plan to join us cyclists some time. Something tells me I'll be waiting and waiting and waiting.
Last night at the banquet we talked long and hard with a Los Angeles couple. Robert is a solo lawyer and Susan is in health care. Cheryl could have visited with them forever but I was pretty tired so I had to cut her off. We'll see how tonight goes. Tomorrow Cheryl and company will tour some more and for one thing visit the Biosphere project near Oracle Junction. I hope to leave early, enjoy a hard ride and get into Tucson by 2:00 PM or thereabouts. Then we will visit Mt. Lemmon together.
I really think everyone is glad to be here. We enjoy the Arizona experience. We enjoy meeting folks from all over the country and we enjoy our own good company.
Best wishes from the Southwest.
GABA Day 7
October 7, 2006
Hello Friends and Family,
It is early Sunday morning here in Tucson and the sky is blue with a temperature of 60 degrees that is expected to top out at 80 later in the day. The ride is over and I feel younger and friskier than at the start. This group ride was a very good thing for me to do. It improved my body and soul and left me with unforgettable memories of gorgeous views, hardships overcome and new friendships made. I know my limits but I am glad to feel the power of the accomplishment.
Yesterday I again started at the crack of dawn to get up the first mountain before the heat and the winds could become a factor. The first 13 miles were all up hill and the last part of the climb was the steepest part of that day's ride. After reaching the top and visiting with our support folks there I headed down into a long valley that stretched in the general direction of Tucson. I felt a bit weaker than usual on this downward run and it worried me a bit. I wondered if my body would recover enough to get me through the next long climb and the 105 miles to the end. At the same time I knew from experience that during long hard days in the saddle the body can recover on its own if you just have patience and confidence and let up a bit to give it time.
It was getting quite warm as I rode into the small town of Winkleman for a water stop. It is about 70 miles northeast of Tucson and lies at an elevation of about 1,900'. I took time to remove my arm and leg warmers and to just let myself rest and visit with the faster cyclists who were beginning to overtake me on the route. Some of them were very fresh and frisky since they had taken the previous day off. I had another relatively flat 21 miles to go to Mammoth where lunch food would be available and the last long climb of the tour would begin. My body started feeling better and better as I pedaled along.
At the Mammoth rest stop I ate but my appetite was poor. I filled my camelback water bladder about half full. I wanted plenty of water to get up the next 12 mile climb but no extra, unnecessary weight. As it turned out, I needed more than I took. It took plenty of patience to make it through that last long climb. I decided to listen to music on my MP3 player as I pedaled up at about 5-6 mph. I was passed by six cyclists on the way up but the climb went better than I expected. Even though I ran out of water in the camelback and in my reserve water bottle I got to the top feeling pretty strong and knowing that the day was "won" and that I would complete the event having finished every mile of the course. I was quite happy.
The last rest stop was at the 71 mile point at the top of the last climb. Our support folks were set up in a gravel parking lot outside a rural tavern. They had watermelon and other snacks there to fuel us for the last leg of the trip into Tucson. There was a festive atmosphere because all of us knew at that point that it was downhill into the city and we had done well to make it so far. Many of our sag/rest stops were at places where no restrooms were available and us cyclists had to improvise. This was the case at the last stop. It was particularly frustrating for the women on the ride. The tavern owner would let us use the parking lot but not the bathrooms. So as often was the case the outdoors was our bathroom.
At the top of the climb the winds became quite strong coming out of the south at 25-30 mph. That made the 30 mile ride down to Tucson a bit more difficult. Two tandem riders that I got to know during the trip made it to the last stop behind me and we headed down the mountain together. They are especially strong riders, real athletes. I was invited to draft behind them but declined because I'm just not good at doing that and prefer to take on the wind alone at my own speed.
Tucson has a population of just over 500,000 within its corporate limits. There are probably another 750,000 folks living nearby. The roads are busy but they have made provisions to encourage cycling almost everywhere so the ride into the city was relatively safe. I passed about 10 cyclists on the way in because I move downward faster than the average rider. Three bikes were stopped by flats including Dale and Jane on their tandem. I stopped to visit with them and then headed on into our motel, hot and drained but quite happy.
I should certainly say that even though I finished each day's ride among the leaders, I am just an average rider in this group. I finish earlier because I start early and never dawdle along the route when the riding conditions are tough. Still, being average in this group and knowing that my 58th birthday is just a month away, I am content.
Jerry, Dorothy and Cheryl have been kind companions during the last week. I believe that they have been comfortable with the pace and have seen plenty of interesting things. Yesterday they took an alternative route going west of Globe and down to Winkleman. Then they toured the Biosphere project near Oracle and headed into Tucson arriving about an hour ahead of me. Late in the afternoon Cheryl put the four of us in the van for a tour up to the top of Mount Lemmon about 30 miles up into the Catalina Range. It is a must see for newcomers because it is an "upside down" mountain. What that means is that a mountain usually is green with trees and other foliage in the lower elevations and barren and brown at the top above the tree line. However, down here the mountains begin in the desert that is barren, brown and marked by tall saguaro cacti. Then as you climb up you enter a cooler, greener environment of tall pine trees.
I was a bit cranky on the Mount Lemmon tour because I was stiff, tired and starved. Still, I'm glad that we took the time to do the drive. It is very much worth seeing if you get the chance. There is a small town, Summerhaven, at the top of the mountain along with a ski facility. Three years ago a forest fire destroyed much of the town and there are massive rebuilding projects going on now. The best part of the drive is the scenic views of Tucson and the surrounding area. The road is busy with cyclists from the city who train going up and down this scenic route.
Today we will have a shootout at the OK corral in Tombstone and Jerry and I are insisting on a relaxing pace. We have to keep Cheryl reigned in or she will wear us out while she educates us. We are having a fine, happy time.
Forgive my wordiness. I write for all of you but I write for myself as well. These notes will be assembled and preserved so I can read them in the years ahead as long as I may survive.
Bless you all.