Monday, February 2, 2009

Tucson's Fabled Mt. Lemmon Climb

I always thought you could tell a true cyclist by where he/she chose to buy a house. No true cyclist, I believed, would buy a house at the top of a mountain, or a home with a ridiculously steep driveway.

How terribly wrong I was.

It turns out a true cyclist--a world-class cyclist--would do exactly that, forcing him/herself to get stronger with every pedal stroke back home. Screw spinning for the last 10 minutes of a workout to flush out your legs!

Case in point: Mr. Lance Armstrong, as cycling lore has it, rented a cabin at the top of Mt. Lemmon while training for Le Tour a few years back, so all of his training rides ended with the 26-mile climb (starting at mile marker 0) from about 2,500 feet in elevation to over 8,000 feet.

While not particularly steep (the grade never surpasses 5%, and it is possible to survive with an 11-21 cassette), there is no respite from climbing for about 20.5 miles.


It may not be HC or "hors cat├ęgorie", but it certainly rates as DA, a "disappearing ass" ride-- unless you stop at the Mt. Lemmon Cookie Cabin in Summerhaven to fuel up on pizza and cookies to begin the rear replacement process. (And to add a few pounds for a lightening fast descent!)

In Phoenix for Christmas, coachubby and I decided we should drive on down to Tucson to give the climb a shot. Little did we know that the day we chose to ride was the first day the road had been opened after a snowfall. The warm temperatures and saguaros and desert landscape at the bottom did not foretell the wet and sometimes icy roads awaiting 13-ish miles up.

With toe covers, leg and arm warmers, a wind vest, thick gloves, a jersey, and a tank top underneath, I was a sweaty mess at the bottom. Everything that could get rolled up, scrunched down, unzipped, and stuffed in a pocket got rolled up, scrunched down, unzipped, and stuffed in a pocket.

With "26 miles" in my head as the distance I had to climb, it was a surprise when a decent descent appeared at mile 20.5. Turns out you don't climb too much more after 20.5 to get to Summerhaven. But don't worry, you'll still get your 26 miles of climbing in since you must go back the way you came.

Coachubby and I passed hundreds of families sledding, having snowball fights, building snowmen, and shoveling snow into their pickup beds for some reason I could not comprehend.

Needless to say, I have never ridden by people reveling in a winter wonderland. Ever. Particularly while exposing my arms and legs to the elements.

The descent was scenic, slick, and fabulous. Everything I was wearing got rolled down, pulled up, zipped up, and yanked from my pocket. I was snug and happy. Even snow families returning to the desert were respectful of my space, and didn't pass until it was comfortable for us all. Cycling bliss.

So if you're going to Tucson and feel you have a little too much junk in your trunk, or just want to pretend you're Lance (or a host of other famous athletes who train down there) and get in a great approximately 4 hour workout (3 up, 1 down), DO MT. LEMMON!

You won't be sorry. Unless you get knocked off of your bike by an errant snowball.

For a comparison of Mt. Lemmon and other US rides (in the West) to Le Tour de France stages, check out this awesome article on Daily Peloton.

IF you're going to the Tucson Tri Fest in March, you have no excuse not to climb Mt. Lemmon!

Directions to Mt. Lemmon:
From I-10 E from Phoenix, exit on Grant road. Turn left onto Grant road (E).
Left on E. Tanque Verde Road. Stay on this road.
Left onto Catalina Highway. You'll see a sign for Mt. Lemmon, and a mile marker 0. You can park on the side of the road here, or ride from town to make the ride longer.

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