The Cactus Classic

One of the most interesting bicycling routes I’ve ever traveled!

suguaroStanding alone and in full dignity, a mature saguaro cactus conveys a sense of unflappable dignity. Since it is covered with spines that discourage intimacy and may be fifty feet tall and weight six tons, it is not exactly friendly.

Yet any one saguaro by itself seems benign, which may be one reason why my ninety-year-old, stroke-impaired mother, on her first visit to our new home in Arizona, snuggled beside a solitary saguaro, as close as the spines allowed, to have her picture taken. Two veterans: one fragile and just shy of a century, and the other already well past that age and strong enough to continue its vigil another hundred years.

A broad mountainside of these gigantic creatures, however, is an unnerving sight. Each one stands its ground seemingly unaware of its fellow creatures, unmoved by the wind and absolutely still, yet poised as though it would spring into action at the slightest provocation.

In the Saguaro National Park in the Tucson Mountains west of the city bearing that name, they are spread out in a seemingly random, unordered pattern. Nothing moves in this phalanx of fifty-foot, branched zombie clubs that warn travelers to stay away.

The only softness in these large displays, as seen from a safe distance, is provided by modestly sized cholla cacti spread out between the saguaros. Like most cacti, chollas have sharp spines, which actually are modified leaves, but on the chollas, they are unique. They cluster on the wart-like projections from the plant’s stem and are covered with papery sheaths that disguise their danger.

From a distance, they appear soft and inviting, but up close their true nature is revealed. The spines become detached so easily that they seem to jump on their own to attack anything that wanders by.

As we bicycled through the National Park, on the first day of PAC Tour’s Cactus Classic (February 2012), our company of cyclists was riding at a safe distance from the saguaros and chollas. After traveling through the southwest suburbs of Tucson, we climbed our way to a higher elevation on Kinney Road and the McCain Loop where some of us found ourselves interspersed within a group of Tucson cyclists using the grades for hard training. The bright sun and mild temperature were a welcome change from the cool, Pacific Northwest raininess from which I had come.

The above paragraphs come from my travelogue based on a weeklong bicycle ride a year ago. To read the full account of the tour: The Cactus Classic. 

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