Memories of Desert Camp 2011

March 10, 2011

Vic, Carolyn, Ruthy and Chris (from left) arrive in Tucson.


Saturday,  March 5 2011

Getting to Tucson by noon requires waking up in Eugene around 3 a.m., which isn’t a terrible ordeal if you weren’t up past midnight packing. So they tell me.

I should make it clear that I wasn’t packing my bicycle. No, that’s the easy part for me. It’s the other stuff that can give me headaches.

A relatively uneventful flight lands us in Arizona a bit ahead of schedule. As we pull up to the gate, the flight attendant asks us to close the window shades to help keep the cabin air temperature cool — this is not something usually requested when flying into Eugene, particularly while it’s still winter. Though not sweltering, Tucson is distinctly warm, and it wouldn’t take much for it to become downright hot.

Ruthy Kanagy & I group up with Vic and Carolyn, also from Eugene, also Bike Friday riders, and also along on Desert Camp. A short shuttle ride later, we’re at the hotel, meeting our hosts Lon Haldeman and Susan Notorangelo (also Bike Friday riders), and the rest of the PAC Tour crew.

Tour guests arrive in ones and twos, and start pulling their bikes out of suitcases. Soon, a fleet of assembled and adjusted Fridays are propped up on the tour stands.

By 3 p.m., most of the riders have arrived, and we gather to make introductions and get an overview of the week’s plan.

Though most of those present are experienced cyclists, several (myself included) have not been on a supported tour before, and the details on how to keep things running smoothly are most welcome.

After a quick re-organizing of my gear (it turns out that part of the “supported touring” concept includes that the hosts schlep your stuff in the van — the rider pretty much only needs water, a patch kit, and a camera!), we stroll out to a delightful dinner with Lon, a coach from the previous week’s endurance training tour, and a handful of other guests.

By about 9 p.m., the mega-doses of caffeine have worn off, and I retire to instant sleep.

Lon, Dennis, Doug and Larry.


Sunday, March 6 2011

Tucson to Sonita

Up early equals out early, and if the weather forecast is to be trusted (Dry/sunny/warm, highs well into the 80s ) this is a good plan.

I’m a little worried how my Eugene-acclimated physiology’s going to adapt! The “cool” morning has the Southerners heading out in tights, hats, and gloves, while the Pacific Northwest, Chicago, and Eastern Seaboard folks are already unzipping their summer jerseys.

Tucson’s got a bit of the urban sprawl going on, but it’s pleasantly mixed in with cactus, (dry) creek beds, and wide-open sky.

Before long, we’re leaving the suburbs behind and riding through open country, with only a bit of headwind.

The group speads out a bit, but everyone’s riding fairly comfortably, and the cactus thorns haven’t yet pulled anyone over with a flat.

Midge, Lon and Spence.

A late morning rest-stop with the tail-end of the group reveals that we’re getting a little too spread out, so a few folks get a van assist to the next rest-stop near the pass, and Lon and I zip out to catch up with the core of the group.

Rest stop

We discuss Arizona drivers (generally respectful, if sometimes a little fast on the wide-open stretches of desert highway), riding Fridays in Peru, and racing single-speed across Wisconsin.

I quickly realize that although I might be a reasonably competent cyclist, I’m no World Champion; so it’s nice to have the World Champion carrying the bulk of the conversational burden while I huff and puff up the hill. The tailwind also helps.

We gather up a few more of the riders near the end of the old (virtually unused) highway, and determine that the drivers on the main route, though respectful, are indeed a bit on the fast side. A sigh of relief is breathed when the improved road shoulder widens enough to allow side-by-side riding.

Near the pass, I find the rear tire running a little low — turns out the shredded truck tire I swerved around a couple miles back nonetheless left some wires on the road, one of which decided to come along.

Embarrassingly, the only flat of the day hits me, the mechanic.  (On the plus side, the trailer full of spare tubes and tires made short work of getting back on the road.)

After a stellar lunch (Oh, my goodness! Quinoa salad might very well be the best food for the cycle tourist), we crest the summit for the long, rolling (mostly) downhill into Sonita.

The morning’s tailwind is now coming from ahead, but that just lets us enjoy the downhill a bit longer.

We roll into Sonita just shy of the 50-mile mark and set up in a charming Inn, made from a barn designed to house the famous Secretariat racehorse.

Fears of sleeping in piles of straw are abated when we see the wood floors, ironwork chandeliers, and spread of cheese and local wines that the innkeepers have laid out for us!


It isn’t the most posh hotel I’ve ever stayed in, but it might well be the coziest.

As the bulk of the tour enjoys the thematic Secretariat film in the big central hall, I wrap up this day’s record, looking forward to a solid sleep and good ride tomorrow to Tombstone.


Monday, March 7 2011,

Sonita to Tombstone

I noted a day or two ago that the luggage-carrying service is one of the attractions of supported touring. Another one worth mentioning is the food: You don’t need to get up early to boil water for sleazy instant coffee and re-hydrated instant porridge, and you don’t need to lug around a jar of peanut butter and slightly stale bread that’s been mooshed out of shape by bungee cords; instead, the gracious staff of PAC Tour provide breakfast, a snack stop or two midway through the morning, and a hearty lunch as the end of the day’s ride approaches.

If for no other reason than convenience, this is a appealing aspect of the system, but it’s the quantity, variety, and quality of the food that makes this feature of the PAC Tour downright delightful!

As we made our way into the main hall at the Sonita Inn, we were greeted by a buffet spread of english muffins, mini-fruit muffins, cinnamon rolls, apple streudel (touring cyclists like their carbohydrates), boiled eggs, apples, oranges, grapes, dried fruit, blueberries, yogurt, and best of all, a couple big crock pots of oatmeal …

Now, oatmeal has a reputation as being kind of a bland, mushy, uninspired food; and much of what people encounter these days doesn’t do much to dispel this impression. As this morning’s oatmeal demonstrates, it doesn’t have to be like that.

Start with good quality rolled oats, minimally processed. Cook them just enough to be hot through but still with real texture (akin to pasta that’s al dente), then serve with fresh, simple toppings (especially the blueberries, and maybe a bit of butter and honey), and you get a meal that’s as hearty and satisfying as a big greasy egg/potato/meat monstrosity and as virtuously healthy as a wheatgrass/spirulina/pomegranite/tofu smoothie.

I don’t want to go overboard singing the praises of this oatmeal, but it was really sublime.

Post-breakfast, we gather around the fireplace for a rousing discussion of basic bike upkeep, Friday-specific tips and tricks, and the philosophical underpinnings of orienting tire labels and valve stems. Though it would be easy to chat about such things all day, we soon find it’s time to saddle up and roll out.

If Sunday was the hardest day of the tour (at least according to Lon), today is the easiest: The headwinds that slowed us down climbing the pass are now strong tailwinds pushing us down the gradual hills toward the San Pedro river.

One can easily coast for miles around 20 mph, and it doesn’t take much effort at all to get above 30.

Auto traffic is light, pavement is good, the sun is out with the occasional puffy cloud, and spirits are high all around.

A surprising number of wineries are passed (maybe it’s not surprising to those who know more about vineyards, but I’m used to seeing grapes in somewhat moister climates), and before long, we’re having another great lunch (this time, it’s grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato, three or four different salads, yet more fresh fruit, and chocolate bundt cake) under the trailer awnings alongside the small but flowing river.

Light winds follow us as we climb from the river, scooting along the rolling hills surrounding Tombstone.

The climate dries out, and the tailwinds become crosswinds for the last few miles into town, resulting in that perfect sort of riding day where 90% is blissful and easy, and the last 10% is just challenging enough to make you glad to reach the end.

Tombstone has apparently gone through several boom/bust cycles (variants of mining, agriculture, ranching), and currently seems to be focusing on the Old West and historical aspects, particularly the whole Earp/Holiday/OK Corral excitement.

Gunslinging outlaws, sheriffs, and assorted local color walk with jingling spurs on the plank sidewalks and gravel-covered main street, chasing each other out of town and issuing ultimatums, and if the visitor needs a distraction from the living history, ice cream parlors, saloons, and curio shoppes abound.

And if the attractions of town aren’t your thing, a three-block stroll puts you in view of the rugged mountains and stark desert landscape surrounding the town.

Sunsets are particularly splendid.

After dinner, we gather around the fire pit behind the hotel and swap stories of our favorite/most memorable/most challenging bike travels.

If you ever want to get a distilled sense of what a person is about, ask them why they travel and what the highlights of adventures have been. (Also, if you ever decide to have a campfire in Arizona, be aware that just about all of the plants have thorns, some of which are well hidden until you start to break up kindling.)


Tuesday, March 9,

Tombstone to Bisbee

The big egg/potato/meat/flapjack breakfast at the Longhorn steakhouse leaves us as full as yesterday’s oatmeal, if perhaps a bit less health-inspired. That’s okay, though, because there’s nothing like exercise in the clean air to get a person feeling like they can take on the world.

Thank goodness, because we start out with a bit of heading back toward the river, and the wind (though less intense than yesterday) is back in our faces.

At the river crossing (a few miles south/downstream from our earlier crossing), an old trestle bridge can be seen from the highway, and I decide it looks worth checking out.

Though not fit for autos, it’s great for someone on foot or bike, and the trail at the other end looks like it takes you back to the highway.

Looks, as they say, can be deceiving, and about five minutes later, I realize that the dirt “trail” is only providing more thorns and barbed wire, and the highway is getting further away.

About 15 minutes (and miraculously, no flats) after leaving the highway, I’m back crossing the main bridge and scrambling to catch up with the rest of the group at the first rest stop. Next time, I’ll take the 15 minutes and splash around in the river instead.

The riding today ends up being fairly steady, moderate rollers with light, variable wind. The vistas aren’t quite as stunning, but the conversations with other riders more than make up for it, and before long we’re climbing into the canyon that shelters old Bisbee.

Hailing from Eugene, Oregon, I’ve been very much aware that the arid climate and rural life shapes the pervading culture of (at least this corner of) southern Arizona in a way very different than the ever-present moisture and still-largely-rural-but-not-infrequently-citified southern Willamette Valley.

There’s some overlap, but I’ve had that “fish-out-of-water” feeling for a few days, and not just because my skin is a little dry. Bisbee, or at least the old town, feels like coming home (if home is the funk of the Whittaker district built on hills that make Hendricks park look horizontal).

It’s still dry, but the anarchist/artist/outdoorsy/creative vibe pervades the town, and I feel like I can (literally) let my hair down.

From a bike nerd perspective, the highlight has got to be the Bisbee Bicycle Brothel, less than a quarter mile up Brewery Gulch. Jam-packed with classic bikes (mostly road/racing, but with a healthy dose of touring, mountain, and town bikes mixed in), the shop is enough to keep a vintage bike/component/photo/tool fan enthralled for hours.

(If you plan on visiting, take a look at the shop’s website first. Hours are limited, although you might be able to arrange something special if your travel constraints don’t align with the regular hours.) If I someday end up with a home workshop a quarter as well-equipped or a collection one 20th as fascinating, I’ll be doing better than I have any cause to expect.

Chris Nelson enjoying lunch.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Roka Walsh  |  December 30, 2011 at 3:41 pm

    I live in Eugene and recognized the Shady Dell. I lived in Bisbee through much of the ’70s. Fun place!


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