Days three and four on PAC Tour’s Cactus Classic 2012
The Arizona highway from Gila Bend to Wickenburg—88 miles according to my friend’s Garmin—is one of the most interesting bicycle routes I’ve seen in my forty years of two-wheeled travel across America.
PAC Tour’s Cactus Classic uses this austere highway for days three and four of the annual Cactus Classic bicycle tour. On day three, we travel northward, gradually climbing from an elevation on the Gila River of 700 feet to the high point of 2,700 feet on the ridge near Vulture Peak, eight miles from Wickenburg.
The first 35 miles are on old U.S. 80, through a mixture of open desert and industrial farmland. At the Hassayampa River Bridge, the route turns west on the Salome Highway and at the 40-mile mark north on 355th Avenue, which, north of Interstate-10, changes its name to Wickenburg Road. Nineteen miles north of the interstate, at an intersection with oblique angles, the route turns onto Vulture Mine Road and the final serious climb of the day.
The last few miles are an easy downgrade to “Wickenburg Way,” more formally U.S. 60, which takes cyclists into the heart of an old American town that preserves much of its traditional appearance.
Since the Cactus Classic is staged in mid-February, most cyclists on the tour are still suffering from their cold-weather down time. After the first two days of the tour, their bodies are calling out for rest, but instead, their minds insist on a day of steady and unrelenting ascent. It is easy to overlook the unique vistas of this part of Arizona.
On the next day, however, with their bodies hardening into the routine, cyclists are better able to see what this old road offers to the observant and thoughtful traveler. Except for the initial climb back to Vulture Peak, and two or three short pulls close to Gila Bend, the Wickenburg-Gila Bend Road offers the happy antithesis to the previous day’s pain: 88 miles of gentle, down-hill riding.
Cyclists can see the beauty of this austere land, and their bodies, despite a residue of fatigue, seem content to keep on going.
On the hard day, I discovered once again how important it is to think. The more one’s mind is occupied on important things, the less likely it is to entertain negative thoughts and feelings caused by fatigue. My pain-breaking meditations included two lessons for life that kept me going that day and may help at other times when I’m doing other things.
Find your own rhythm and stay with it. On the hard day, when I was pedaling hard and resting, pedaling hard and resting, pedaling hard and resting, I remembered another PAC Tour event. Half way through the tour, I settled into a sweet spot where cadence, gear, feeling of exertion, and breathing were in happy agreement. I could pedal smoothly, with subtle changes in the gearing, for long distances. During the afternoon, to my surprise, I overtook riders who ordinarily seemed faster than I.
Remembering this previous occasion, I found my groove and, true to earlier experience, I began to cover the miles with discomfort remarkably diminished and forward motion wonderfully improved.
A similar principle holds true, I am convinced, for everything we do.
Let the younger man take the lead. This lesson, of course, is conditioned by the fact that my cycling companion for the trip is a man twenty-eight years younger than I, in the prime of life, experienced as a cyclist, and blessed with young, strong muscles. Although we are riding at close to the same speed, both of us are feeling the pressure of the long days. Yet, for many of the miles he takes the lead position, bearing the brunt of the wind and giving me the benefit.
As I quietly accepted his gift, I remembered reading a paper on the stages in an executive’s life. In each section of his or her working career, there are roles that are exactly right. In the later period, a primary task for good executives, according to this one study, is to step away from lead positions, gradually seeing to it that those who are coming along, move up in the succession of honor, authority, and responsibility.
By the time, I had thought this matter through, I reached the top of the grade, where my younger friend was waiting for me, and together we rode happily into town. As you might expect, he was out in front.