Rhythms of the ride on the Grand Canyon Tour

The red trailer was parked near the visitors’ center at the entrance to the Petrified Forest National Monument. As they relaxed over lunch, cyclists on PACTour’s Grand Canyon Tour 2010 had a decision to make. They had already cycled seventy-five miles from Gallup, across the border into Arizona, and many of those miles had been on the litter-ridden shoulder of I-40. Should they take the short way to Holbrook, which would require seventeen more interstate miles and a total distance of ninety-seven miles for the day?

Or, should they take the Petrified Forest option, a quiet loop to the south, no freeway, but longer, for a total of 115 miles? (Several cyclists had traveled part of the day in one of the support vehicles because they wanted to do this loop but doubted that they were ready to do the full 115 miles.)

From the parking lot, the road took a short northerly meander through the Painted Desert, a raw expense of mineralized land remarkable to behold. Even the cyclists who tended to cover the miles as rapidly as they could, giving little attention to interesting sights along the way, made sure that their cameras were ready. They slowed their pace, pulled over at viewpoints, sometimes walking short distances in order to take in the vistas.

Some gathered at the Fred Harvey restaurant and gift shop near the southern entrance for refreshments, shopping in the gift shop and sharing their impressions of the trip through the park. It was the most relaxed day of the ride. “This day is the kind of ride I had hoped for. It has made the trip worthwhile,” one of the riders exclaimed.

During the night in Holbrook, AZ, the storms that had been forecast for several days arrived, and the cyclists started the day in heavy rain. To increase the tribulation of the day, the first segment of the route was on the shoulder of I-40. In addition to the ordinary hazards of the freeway, they had to contend with spray from passing vehicles, especially RVs whose drivers seemed determined to move closer to the right edge in order to harass the cyclists.

After leaving the freeway (forty-two miles into the day’s ride), cyclists enjoyed a peaceful road with a wonderful tail wind. By then the storm had passed by, and riders were drying out as the sun reestablished its dominance. Twenty miles later, however, both the road and the wind changed directions. The last forty miles to Flagstaff were hard work for even the strongest of the group.

Bad day, good day, bad day—what next?

The fifth day of the Grand Canyon Tour dawned bright and cold, with signs of frost on windshields. Cyclists dressed for the temperature and soon after the sun was up, turned their two-wheeled mounts onto U.S. 180, the highway that would take them to the Grand Canyon. Even though the route sheets noted that the high point for the day (nineteen miles into the ride) was at an elevation of 8,046 feet, no one had reckoned with the steady, steep grade through the Coconino National Forest. It didn’t take long to warm up!

The next thirty miles across the Coconino Plateau, which slopes gently toward the Canyon, was another period of sheer delight: decent road surface, long vistas, gentle rollers that strong cyclists and those riding recumbents could power over without even gearing down. And the color of the open land: yellow-orange as far as the eye could see, all caused by a desert plant covered with clusters of tiny blossoms that carpeted the landscape.

Although the last thirty miles of the day’s trip were marred by increasing traffic loads, poorer road surfaces, and short climbs, the beauty of the high plateau and anticipations of two full days at the Canyon gave even the tired cyclists a sense of achievement and joy.

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