Mountain biking Starr Pass after work yesterday, I wondered what had taken me so long to get back on my mountain bike! Thanks to a tune-up from Scott at Arizona Cyclist, my bike sailed up the rocky climb out of the trail head parking lot. Facing directly into the late afternoon sun, I see a tourist family of hikers just in time to shout RIDER and they move out of my way. THANK YOU, another shout and I’m on my way into the glare.
I ride one of three switchbacks, just a little too tight, too steep for me this evening. The deep blue sky frames Cat Mountain and the sun makes the cholla glow with halos. A jack rabbit bounds away from my bouncing bike and a few quail scatter too.
I’m training for the Whiskey Off-Road 50-mile event in late April, but haven’t managed to ride more than two or three hours on my mountain bike over the past month. Sickness, Tucson Festival of Books, even snow (yes, it snows in Tucson!) are my range of excuses. I’ve had some great road rides with my new road team, Southwest Hand Cycling, but need to hone my technical skills on the trail.
Starr Pass includes medium-steep rocky climbs and mild descents, sandy and rocky wash bottoms, and a couple small drop-offs. Veteran riders ask, “what drop-offs?” But to me, they are drop-offs and in one case, a spill-off. My front wheel jams on a rock, my weight is too far forward and over the side of my bike I spill. I click out in time to catch myself and land on my feet.
I see a few other riders, runners, and dog-walkers. I’m descending south toward the Tucson Mountain Park boundary, and the dirt road to connect to other trails. Near Tucson Estates, a golf cart pulls up, and a woman hangs out for a smoke while a man walks a Chihuahua-esque dog, no leash. I’m cruising through her waft of weed, and the man thankfully picks up his dog so it doesn’t run under my front wheel.
The trail loops back toward the trail head, with a few climbs and another ride through a sandy wash. I hit the rockier section of wash and it’s getting dark faster than I realized. The ride back to the trailhead is mostly downhill and something about the creosote smell in the air reminds me of when I was a kid. We would race to get home before dark, after playing around on jumps and trails in the desert all afternoon.
I’m so at home in the desert, and glad to be feeling the last cool evening breezes before summer hits Tucson and stays for awhile.
Does an hour and fifteen minutes on my mountain bike make me ready for the four-hour marathon race I’m doing on Saturday? I don’t care, I’m just happy to be riding my bike.