Mystery Weekend 2009 - Joyce's Turn 
Sunday, April 5, 2009, 10:39 PM
Posted by Administrator
Flashback - It's February 25, 2009. We've just arrived at the Tucson Airport where I find out that Paul is taking me to San Francisco for my Mystery Weekend. I'm thrilled! Then, I'm concerned. Will Paul be disappointed that his Mystery Weekend destination is sleepy Apache Junction, Arizona?

I had been leaving him clues all week and then, as we started the drive on Friday morning, I gave him the answers, one-by-one.

Clue #1 - Are you excited yet? Only 144 more hours. Be sure to pack the camera. There will be beautiful wildflowers.
Answer #1 - the Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

Clue #2 - This weekend, we’ll be living on the edge…
Answer #2 - ...of the Superstition Mountains.

Clue #3 - A week from today, we might be, “Sittin' on the front porch swingin' with Blanche."
Answer #3 - the Meanwhile Back at the Ranch B & B.

Finally, I handed Paul our race confirmations for the El Tour de Phoenix bicycle race on Saturday. While I had done my best to preserve the mystery, this race was definitely on Paul's list of Mystery Weekend possibilities. Normally, he would be completely unaware of the race date and distance, but, a few weeks ago (and much to my dismay), some riding buddies invited him to ride in it with them. I played it off as best I could, but now Paul knew that his Mystery Weekend involved bicycling about 70 miles on the same date as El Tour de Phoenix. A rather large coincidence? A clever red herring from Joyce? Nope, that was in fact the mystery. Thanks a lot riding buddies.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum
While I'd consider it a bit too far of a drive from Tucson to be a destination in and of itself, if you happen to find yourself in the area, this desert arboretum is a pleasant way to spend a few hours. After a picnic lunch and a stroll through the flora, the workweek worries began to fade. Yup, the vacation had begun.

Race Expo
From the arboretum, we drove to Mesa to pick up our timing chips and numbers and to browse the vendor booths. This stop was much quicker than anticipated as there were hardly any booths to browse. I know, I know...smaller race, smaller expo, smaller hoopla. You can't have it all.

Meanwhile Back at the Ranch
For the life of me, I could not find lodging in Mesa that was unique or special in any way, and so I broadened my search and found this gem in nearby Apache Junction. It was a bit of a risk being 10 miles from the race site. Would I regret this later? Would it be a hassle driving back and forth? But, the photo below, emailed by the owner, sealed the deal.

And we were not disappointed. Meanwhile Back at the Ranch is six acres of heaven tucked away in the sprawling metropolis of Greater Phoenix. Literally at the foot of the Superstition Mountains, we stayed in the Pioneer Cabin, a cozy studio which was the original "Feed Barn" when the ranch was built in the 1950's. Joy, the owner for 39 years, was just as sweet, welcoming and hospitable as you'd want a B & B owner to be.

We spent much of Friday afternoon relaxing on the back porch. Paul took pictures of the birds while hoping for a bobcat to wander by. I read the latest Runner's World while pausing occasionally to take in the gorgeous mountain views.

All of that relaxing made us hungry, and so I whipped up some fajitas in the kitchen, which was well-stocked with what I'm pretty sure were the original kitchenwares and appliances from the 1950's.

Then, with full tummies and relaxed minds, we were in bed at 8:00 pm. With a 6:30am start time, we set two alarms for 4:00am and, despite the early hour, felt refreshed and ready to go when they sounded.

El Tour de Phoenix
Last fall when El Tour de Tucson took over the streets, Paul and I discussed how it could be a lot of fun to do it on our tandem. However, we're both turned off by the sheer volume of riders. 8,000 bikes are a lot, especially when you consider how many of them are being pedaled by weekend warriors who have no idea what they're doing. With only 1,000 riders, I thought El Tour de Phoenix would be a safer, less-stressful way to get a taste of these events. Though I've done a few triathlons and lots of riding, this was, in fact, my very first bike race.

We arrived at the race site at 5:30am and, by the time we had put the bike together (and by "we" I mean Paul), hit the porta-potties and found a spot in the line-up, there were only 10 minutes left to stand around in the cold - perfect timing.

With the general excitement of cycling in a crowd that large, the first five miles flew by. Early on, we witnessed a few near misses, as well as the aftermath of one crash. In the spirit of self-preservation, we were avoiding riding in a pack. And so it was quite a surprise when I glanced in my rear view mirror and saw a seemingly endless paceline of bicycles emanating from our back wheel. Unknowingly, we were pulling a pack, and a rather large one at that. They stuck with us for a few more miles and then, around mile 10, the paceline broke apart and lots of people sped ahead. We did recognize a few of our former wheelsuckers as we gradually caught them over the course of the race.

Though not wanting to stop, after about an hour of riding, there were some necessities to attend to - using the bathroom, stripping off some clothing and applying sunblock. When we got back on the road, about seven minutes later, the pack had thinned considerably and we had lots of catching up to do. Although the first part of the race is on city streets and fairly flat, I could not believe that we were keeping an average pace of 20 mph - definitely faster than our usual riding speed. In all the excitement, I was really pushing it and was wondering if I'd pay for it later.

The first hill came as we entered Fountain Hills. However, I realized that our San Fran bike ride from hell had forever changed my perspective on hills. This...was nothing. We flew down the other side and turned onto the scenic Beeline Highway. Around this time, I realized that we had hit the halfway point of the race in 1:59:40. Hmmm...could we break four hours? Then, we made our second, and last, stop of the race at an aid station to use the porta-potty, refill our bottles and scarf down some bananas being handed out by adorable volunteer kids.

As we continued up the highway, we realized that 4 hours was not going to happen. On this course, the first half is also the fast half. Now we were facing a gradual climb and there was no a chance of maintaining that 20 mph pace. We turned onto the Bush Highway and enjoyed the rolling hills and stunning views of the mountains and lake (yes, a lake in Arizona - Saguaro Lake). On both highways, a full traffic lane was coned off for the riders, which was much appreciated, especially considering the number of large vehicles with boats in tow.

Around mile 50, my lower back started to ache, but, otherwise, I felt surprisingly good. And then we hit the only part of the course that made me a little cranky - Usery Pass, our final hill and a seemingly never ending one at that. To add to the challenge, at the bottom of the pass, our course merged with that of the 25-mile race participants. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love seeing all of the kids and newbie cyclists out there giving it their all. The problem lies in the fact that we were passing lots of them and they were weaving all over the road, not yet having learned cycling etiquette. After a few close calls and numerous false peaks, we finally crested the pass. And this is where the race really got fun.

We only had about 10 miles to the finish and it was almost all downhill. I'm not a very competitive person...but I loved hauling ass down that hill and flying by whole packs of surprised riders. Only one guy tried to come with us and he managed to hang on for a few miles before we dropped him. This is a perfect example of why I love riding a tandem. In addition to spending quality time with my wonderful husband, I get the thrill of competing at a higher level than I ever could on my own. Paul is a strong rider and, on the tandem, I get to experience his strength and speed firsthand. I love it!

The course did flatten out for the last few miles, but we kept pushing, not being sure exactly how far we were from the finish line. Understandably, the map they had given us was not to scale. And, understandably, our bike computer could be a mile or so off over a course that long. Not so understandably, depending on what you were looking at (race ads, course map, race medal), the course was either 72 or 74 miles. Two miles may not seem like much of a difference, but when you're at the end of a race and are not sure whether you have 1 mile or 3 miles left to go, it's annoying. (For the record, our bike computer read 70.20 miles at the finish. I have no idea how long the course actually was.)

We crossed the line in 4:17:22, good for 15th out of 21 tandem teams and 668th and 669th overall out of 959 riders. These results are pretty typical for me, but not so for my tandem captain. Luckily, Paul is willing to accept a mediocre race time in exchange for the pleasure of my company.

We hung around just long enough to take in some calories and do a little stretching before leaving in search of real food. Racing is a very social experience for us and we typically allow lots of time for post-race catching up with friends. But, the downside of out-of-town racing is that you don't see many familiar faces or familiar purple race jerseys.

Post Race

We had planned to eat out that evening, but being so enamored with our little ranch and so unmoved by the restaurant choices in the area, we decided to eat in. A quick stop at Safeway and we had a caprese salad and all the fixin's for homemade oven baked turkey sandwiches. And so it was another quiet, relaxing evening back at the ranch.

We woke this morning to what seemed like gale force winds and I was immediately grateful for the excellent weather we had for the race. Although we had planned for a trail run, we bundled up and settled for a hike instead. With the wind making so much noise, we, unknowingly, got fairly close to a herd of about 20 deer before they detected our presence and started bounding away. What an amazing sight!

Upon arriving back at the cabin, we found a lovely breakfast basket waiting for us - a nice touch. After enjoying our morning feast and packing up the car, Joy gave us a tour of the main house and asked to take our photo which she promised to email. We could not be happier with our stay at Meanwhile Back at the Ranch and highly recommend it to anyone who finds themselves in that neck of the woods.

What's Next?
The bike race taught me that I've been slacking on our training rides. Not purposefully - I thought I was pacing myself. But now I know that I can really push it for a few hours...and Paul knows it too. Somehow, I don't think he's going to let me forget it.

With no long distance races in the near future, I plan to focus on strengthening my legs which will help both my running and cycling. It was difficult to do much lower body weight training when preparing for my marathon and ultra, because I always wanted fresh legs for my weekly long run. I'm looking forward to this change in focus and whatever adventure comes next!
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A Different Kind of Endurance Challenge 
Sunday, March 29, 2009, 08:55 PM
Posted by Administrator
It was a weekend jam-packed with happy events and reasons to celebrate. And so I had to pace myself.

Pre-Wedding Run
Denise picked me up at 7 a.m. on Saturday and we headed to Reid Park for a 4.5-mile run with the bride, Billie, as well as Heather and Amy. Then it was bagels, fruit and wedding talk at Billie's house before her salon appointment.

I managed to squeeze in a little time in the hot tub to loosen up before...

Birthday #1
At noon, I entered Peter Piper Pizza for the first time in my life to celebrate the 1st birthday of little Jake. Not wanting to hit the wall or risk GI distress this early in the weekend, we passed on the arcade games and pizza, but had a nice time catching up with friends.

Birthday #2
We couldn't let the day pass without commemorating the 10th birthday of our boys, Rex & Mielo. While they may not have recognized the significance of the day, they seemed to appreciate the slice of fine, Greek cheese that was served with their kibble that evening. Our little boys are all grown up.

The Wedding
This was our second wedding at The Oasis at Wild Horse Ranch. It's a beautiful venue and Billie and Tom had a nice ceremony, including some inadvertent comedic moments when the minister said, "with this wing" instead of "with this ring"...twice.

We enjoyed prickly pear margaritas during the cocktail hour (proper hydration is so important at these events) and then were pleased to be seated with a group of our trail running friends. You know you're at a table of athletes when no one seems to mind dinner discussions about vomiting during races.

We laughed a lot and even danced a little before calling it a night. The weekend was not yet over and we needed to rest up before Sunday's festivities.

Birthday #3
Despite a late evening, we found ourselves awake before 6am. I hit the hot tub once again to warm up for the day ahead, but decided to multi-task by calling Susan, a wonderful friend from college, to wish her a happy 35th.

Birthday #4
The final party of the weekend was a noontime birthday potluck at Catalina State Park for our friend Jim. We decided to arrive a few hours early and go for a trail run, as this is simply what we do when we find ourselves so close to beautiful trails. That and I had a sneaking suspicion that last night's dinner of breaded chicken covered in white sauce was not a low-calorie meal.

We did our standard 10-mile loop at Catalina. However, to satisfy my need for variety, Paul humored me and we ran it counter-clockwise. My legs felt heavy, but it was one of those perfect Tucson spring days, and so we just took it slow, enjoyed the beauty and tried to ignore the sound of gunshots from the nearby firing range. That's a little disconcerting.

When we had first arrived at the park, the group picnic ramada was completely deserted. When we returned after our run, it was full of birthday guests and yummy food. Now that's how you finish a long run!

We are already looking ahead to next Friday which we're taking off of work to enjoy a full three days in a mystery location which has yet to be disclosed to Paul. That's right, it's Mystery Weekend #2, planned by me for Paul! Check back next weekend for the full report.

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Dave's Run for ALS 
Sunday, March 22, 2009, 11:29 PM
Posted by Administrator
Riding up Mt. Lemmon just wasn't enough and so, to round out the weekend, we ran a 5K this morning. Actually, I'd been planning to race at Dave's Run for ALS for months, as it benefits MDA.

While the race didn't start until 8:30 a.m., I arrived at 7:00 to set up an ALS info table. Paul came later with our three dogs in tow, much to the delight of the crowd.

It was quite a social morning with all of my worlds colliding - MDA co-workers and families, Tri Girls, Better Then Ever friends, SAR friends. My kind of day! I was especially excited that my two MDA co-workers were running their very first race. Sure, it's inspiring to watch the elites, but I find it just as inspiring to watch someone step out of their comfort zone and onto their first race course. Big congrats to Katrina and Tim!

Paul and I both planned to take it easy as we were tired from yesterday's ride, but Paul brought the dogs for insurance. They started at the back of the pack and then slowly worked their way up, making for a nice, easy jaunt. I, on the other hand, got carried away and really pushed myself.

I started off with my friend Denise who typically runs a little faster than I do. I stuck with her as we ran up a gradual incline and then cruised down a gradual descent. At the turnaround, my watch read 14:36 and I started thinking that I just might be able to crack 30:00 - something I've only done once or twice. Of course, now we were headed uphill again and I knew I'd need to work hard to make this goal. So, when Denise's plantar fasciitis flared up and she decided to walk a bit, I decided to keep on truckin'.

At the top of the hill, I caught my breath and began picking up speed to take full advantage of the long, downhill finish. I kept glancing at my watch and knew that it would be close. Sure enough, when I turned the corner and saw the finish line clock, it read 29:40. I began to sprint and gave it all I had. As I ran across the line and under the timing clock, it read 29:58. Victory!

While gasping for air and trying to bring my heart rate back down to an acceptable level, I grabbed the camera from my car to catch some photos of friends crossing the line. I got back just in time to see Paul and the kids finish. That was a first. When we both run a race, it's he who always has time to get the camera before I finish!

When results were posted on the wall, I was slightly disappointed to see my time listed at 30:00.04. Apparently, I need to work on my lean at the finish. That's okay - more motivation to actually do some speedwork before the next 5K!
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Conquering the Lemmon 
Sunday, March 22, 2009, 12:03 AM
Posted by Administrator
Halfway up a monstrous hill during our recent San Francisco bicycling trip, Paul said, "If we can do this, then we can definitely climb Mt. Lemmon." We debated a while and then decided we had nothing to lose. Unlike on an out-of-town cycling trip, there would be no pressure to make it to the next lodging destination before dark. Our worst case scenario would be turning around before reaching the top. I could live with that.

My only stipulation was that we drive to the corner of Tanque Verde and Catalina Highway to begin the ride. When Paul rides Lemmon on his own. He typically starts and finishes at our home, making for a 100-mile trip. My version cut it down to a much more reasonable 60 miles. I would have had a second condition, but Paul beat me to it by promising to keep the speed at a maximum of 35 mph on the way back down the mountain. He knows that the danger of the fast, winding descent amongst crazy drivers scares me much more than any pain that could be brought on by the slow grind of the ascent.

We got a later start than intended, but had our feet on the pedals at 9:30am and, after a 5-mile warm-up on the Catalina Highway, we started to climb

It was a gorgeous day and there were lots of cyclists on the mountain. In fact, there may have been more bikes than cars on the road - a beautiful thing.

We took it easy and paced ourselves as the only goal of the day was to make it to the top. After about 10 miles of climbing, I could feel my IT Band start to tighten up. My lower back was complaining a bit as well, but I got some relief during a stop at Windy Point to stretch and take in the views. Here, a guy told us that he promised to buy his wife a cabin on Mt. Lemmon if she could ride all the way up with him on their tandem, without stopping. Now, why didn't I think to make a deal like that? (In case you're wondering, she did not take him up on that challenge.) As we were headed back up the road, a motorcyclist told us to "keep the rubber side down." Good tip.

The magic of Mt. Lemmon is watching the scenery change from gorgeous city views to towering saguaros to desert scrub to crazy rock formations to pine forest...and even a little snow! My legs began to fatigue, but I tried to zone out on the amazing views and then would celebrate with each mile marker.

With just a few miles to go, we topped out at about 8,000 feet and then enjoyed some downhill into Summerhaven. My jaw dropped as we turned a corner and the town came into view. I realized that the last time I had been there was a number of years ago, shortly after a devastating forest fire had destroyed much of the town.

There is a beautiful new Community Center, new cabins all over the place and a much improved parking situation. It's heartening to see that Summerhaven survived the fire and is going strong. However, the new cabins surrounded by blackened, stick-like remains of a pine forest is rather sad. It will take more than a few years for that to change.

We enjoyed a hearty lunch at the Mt. Lemmon Cafe where lots of fellow patrons asked, "Did you really ride all the way up here on a bike?" There were usually a number of follow-up questions, some alluding to the quality of our brakes for the ride back if I needed to be reminded of the possibility of careening off a cliff due to worn brake pads.

As the only cyclists up there, we were something of a novelty, especially with the tandem. While the attention was surprising, I have to say that it felt pretty good to have total strangers tell you how impressed they are with you.

After eating, we bundled up for the ride down. It had taken 3 hours and 50 minutes to ascend, but we knew it would be a much quicker, and colder, ride from this point on.

My previously mentioned concerns about the descent turned out to be unnecessary. As always, Paul was a skillful, safe rider and I just held on for dear life. I also concentrated on keeping as still as possible, as the balance of the tandem was already being upset by some strong wind gusts and I did not want to add to the problem. While our max speed did reach 44 mph, I never felt unsafe. I had expected cars to be whizzing by us, but we were only passed a handful of times. Actually reaching the posted speed limit on a bike does have its advantages.

We reached our car about one and a half hours after leaving the Mt. Lemmon Cafe, and this included a stop to strip off our extra layers once we got to a lower elevation. I was tired, but felt great that we had succeeded. The whole adventure took the better part of the day, but what better way is there to spend a beautiful Saturday in Tucson?

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Mystery Weekend - San Fran Part 2 
Sunday, March 15, 2009, 07:18 PM
Posted by Administrator
Have you ever wondered what kind of view the tandem stoker has? Here you go - I took this as we were riding:

On Saturday morning, I got my sore, chafed bottom on the saddle by 8:00 a.m. and we were on our way back to San Francisco. I felt mentally refreshed after a solid night of sleep, but my physical state was another matter entirely. My quads were still quivering from those hills.

Our plan was to backtrack on the previous day's route until Olema and then, instead of heading inland which was the way we had come, continue down the Pacific Coast Highway. As beautiful as Friday's ride had been, I love variety and was excited for "the unknown." Had I known that "the unknown" involved relentless hills of insane grades on a winding road with a sheer cliff a mere few feet away, I might not have been so eager for the new scenery.

From Bodega Bay, we pedaled straight through to Point Reyes where we stopped at the Station House Cafe for a yummy (and large) lunch. We had learned our lesson yesterday and were stocking up on calories every chance we got. For Paul, the highlight of Point Reyes was seeing this Tesla. I had no idea what a Tesla was, but, apparently, it's a rather expensive and exclusive electric car.

We decided to be a little smarter about tackling the hills today with a plan of just going ahead and walking the really steep ones instead of waiting until exhaustion had set in. You may wonder, "What is really steep?" We defined that as the hills which we could climb faster by walking, rather than riding. However, now that it was the weekend, there were more people on the road to notice us. During one of our first walk breaks of the day, a police officer pulled up beside us and, over his loudspeaker, asked if we were okay. We wondered if he was responding to a call from someone who was concerned about a roadside, bicycle-involved domestic dispute.

We took a break at Stinson Beach to enjoy the ocean view - a rarity for us desert dwellers - and then continued on for a few hellish hours of hill riding...and walking. Was the scenery beautiful? Gorgeous. Did I care? After a certain point, not much. Paul had shown me an elevation profile of our route and I realized that we were now on the section with tall, sharp spikes - kind of like a gigantic "M" towering above the rest of the profile.

During a "walk break," I came upon a car pulled over to the side of the road. I was about to casually stroll on by when a concerned woman jumped out, ready to provide aid or a lift. The offer of a ride off of the mountain was tempting, but I couldn't leave Paul with a stoker-less tandem...which looks like this:

Eventually, we reached the top and my spirits soared as we flew down the other side. Then, devastation set in when I saw we had another climb ahead of us. Yes, I should have been ready for this as, after all, an "M" does have two peaks, but, apparently, I was in denial. I was crushed to realize that we still had a lot of slow, hard climbing left to do.

This was the point when I became very quiet. This was also the point when Paul started apologizing. When planning the trip, he had looked at the overall elevation gain and felt that it would be very do-able for us. He now realized that he should have looked at the grade of the hills, which turned out to be 10 - 15% in areas. Good Samaritans continued to stop and check on us and, while it was comforting to realize that there are good, caring strangers out there, it also made me feel that much more defeated.

Alas, we eventually reached the summit of the final hill and rode, white-knuckled, down the steep, winding descent. In hindsight, we should have taken a moment to don another layer of clothing. We were warm and sweaty after the 7 mph uphill slog, and were like Popsicles after the 30 - 40 mph descent. At the bottom, we pulled into a convenience store tired, cold and hungry. But, amazingly, just minutes later, I was a new woman, ready to get back on the bike and finish the ride. You wouldn't believe what a banana, a Coke and a jacket can do!

We made our way back to the Golden Gate Bridge where, over and over, Paul called out "on your left" as we made our way through the throngs of slow-moving sightseers. We came upon a large group of Asian tourists and, assuming they did not speak English, Paul hollered the universal "BEEP BEEP." It got their attention and we soon had the whole group laughing, waving and calling "BEEP BEEP" back to us. Quite a sight!

At 5:00 p.m., we pulled into Blazing Saddles and gladly handed over our ride before walking down to Fisherman's Wharf for some fresh shrimp and clams. Like the previous day, I was totally spent from the full day of riding, but felt fantastic about the accomplishment.

We caught a taxi back to the Red Vic where we were handed the key to the Flower Child Room which, we were happy to see, was much cheerier than the drab Redwood Forest Room in which we had previously stayed.

Sunday, our final day in San Francisco, brought a steady rain and so, over breakfast at the Squat and Gobble, we planned a day of indoor activities.

First, we walked to Golden Gate Park and visited the Conservatory of Flowers where I was fascinated by the carnivorous pitcher plants. I assumed they were designed to catch water, but the pitchers actually catch insects and, in some cases, small animals!

Next, we checked out San Francisco's newest museum, the California Academy of Sciences. Not having children, it didn't occur to us that parents consider a museum the perfect place to take their kids on a rainy day. It was absolutely packed! I got crawled over and walked on by lots of little people, but did manage to claim a spot (briefly) at the hands-on tidal pool exhibit. We also got tickets for the 3D showing of Bugs! which was pretty cool, although I feared the not-so-Disney-like ending might traumatize some kids.

At this point, our time had run out and we caught a taxi to the airport for a 6pm flight. Paul said that he felt like he owed me another surprise weekend after what I had been through on the bike. This was, after all, my Christmas present. But hey, I survived and didn't even shed any tears (which I can't say for our honeymoon bike trip)! I have a great story to tell and found a whole new level of strength and endurance within myself. And while you could say that the route he planned was overly ambitious, Paul was my rock the whole way - always upbeat and encouraging; never complaining when he was pulling more than his fair share of the load...which was most of the time. I have no regrets and look forward to our next great adventure together.

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