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Desert Ride: or How to be Humbled by Nature

April 18, 2011

Ride: 50km—Tempe & Scottsdale, AZ

Weather: Hot. Like, really hot.

I spent last week at a conference in Phoenix, Arizona. Great conference—the annual meeting of the American Society for Environmental History. I attended some exciting sessions and caught up with a number of old friends. In addition, with the conference winding down on the Saturday afternoon, I got out for a ride with Josh Howe, a post-doc at Montana State University and a cycling enthusiast. Josh and I knew each other through overlaps in our research interests and also through Velominati, where he posts some great stuff.

We took the Phoenix light rail out to Arizona State University and rented bikes at Tempe Bicycle. A couple of Giant Defy bikes. New, these retail for more than my CAAD 9, but there was really no comparison. The frame felt heavy and pretty unresponsive. I was struck how my Cannondale wants to move forward; the Giant seemed to want to move closer to the pavement—and then forward, which made for a slower feel. Now, the bike was a bit older, in need of some love and attention, and I was in toe clips (and sandals). I might also have set the saddle a touch low. But the bike felt heavy. I’ve written about my regular ride elsewhere, but it was gratifying to find that I wasn’t preferring a different bike. Far from it: on any metric, I think it would be difficult to justify pouring significantly more money into a bike in the hopes of improving performance. Not that I’m complaining too much: after a week of not riding and mainly sitting in an air-conditioned hotel, this was a most welcome excursion. And good to ride with company.

From ASU, we rode north up a greenbelt, which abuts the university campus. The pave was a little bumpy, but there were few interruptions, as the trail typically rolled under intersections. It was all a bit surreal, in fact. Phoenix is built up in a desert. And while reminders of heat, aridity, and water shortage were omnipresent throughout the stay, the greenbelt was lush, lined with green-lawned parks and golf courses. In the distance, the mountains rose up desiccated ahead of us, but we rolled through an alarmingly artificial greenness. Weird. Not devoid of life, though, as rabbits dashed in front of us, and all kinds of birds flitted in and out of our view. Even a small kid caught the biggest Koi I think I’ve ever seen (at least it looked like a Koi—or a really, really big goldfish). Crazy stuff.

And hot. The forecast called for 36 degrees celsius. Hamilton gets up that high in the middle of the summer (with humidity to boot), but this was April and a very dry heat. I’d had a lot of water at lunch and brought a 250ml bottle with me. Not enough.

Almost as soon as we started, I was struggling. And I had a lot of trouble breaking through that first barrier. I realize that on local rides, I’m climbing out of the valley almost immediately, which means that by the time that is out of the way, legs, lungs, and heart can settle into the longer ride. Here, along a more or less flat trail, I just couldn’t catch my breath and dig in. Or maybe I should have, but my throat was too parched too quickly to want to give it a try. Josh didn’t seem to have trouble with this, and I was really struggling to keeping up. Eventually, I shifted from a high cadence to a slower stroke on a higher gear and that helped. By the halfway point, I was finally starting to feel more comfortable, and was almost sorry as the bike shop came into sight as we returned (I was, however, out of water…). But two hours in the desert and a good ride with good company to boot.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. xyxax permalink
    April 21, 2011 2:58 am

    Given the source, it probably won’t shock you that Bicycling named the Giant Defy (Advanced 1) as their 2011 Editor’s Choice in the “plush” category (second place went to Elmo).

  2. April 21, 2011 3:17 am

    Ha! It was really a disappointing ride. One of the benefits of renting is that you get to try something new; getting home and on to my own bike felt great yesterday. The Giant seemed to observe the rules of gravity a little too strenuously—the Cannondale wants to go forward.

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