Bikes Fight Poverty: Part 1 of 2

207 Miles from PHX to Puerto Peñasco

Nate Hughes, my friend and church small group leader mentioned something offhand about a bike ride to Rocky Point. If you know me at all, you would know that this is the kind of thing to really pique my interest. Nate is not a cyclist, but he works for an organization called 1Mission.

Side note: 1Mission is a non-profit that deals in community development in impoverished areas of central and south america. One of their more well-publicized efforts is building houses. Despite what you may think about a Christian organization that goes down to build houses in Mexico, 1Mission works to create real progress and empowers people to work in their own communities, by requiring people to earn houses via community service hours. As an organization, I believe they were worth my fundraising efforts, money, and sufferwatts. Check them out yourselves if you are interested at 1mission.org

Anyway, that seed was planted in my mind, but I was apprehensive about what seemed to me a large fundraising goal of $750 (in addition to a registration fee). Certainly, the bike ride itself sounded right up my alley, but I had no previous experience fundraising, and a sort of aversion to asking people for things. A few more weeks went on with no real commitment from me, but once I sat down to think about it, and with encouragement from my girlfriend Raquel that the fundraising would be “no big thing” (she didn’t say that), I registered!

I wrote a nice intro for my fundraising page about living on the streets, by making some laughable equivalancy between impoverished homelessness and bike touring (I mean there’s enough there to make a point). Long story short, with a couple weeks to spare, I had more than met my fundraising goal (thanks for the email blasts, Mom!). This write-up is in part a thank you to all of you who donated! You made this experience (and the opportunity for someone to live in a solid home) possible.

I’m bad at preparing for things. If you’ve read my account of the 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo, you’ll know I don’t make great attempts to ready myself for the pain or discomfort of the things I sign up for. Occupied with life and relationships, I wasn’t exactly gearing up for two back-to-back centuries. The weekend before the ride, I did manage to squeeze 130 miles out of a week, with two moderate-length rides back to back. That my butt hurt after that sorry effort should have been more apparently worrisome to me than it was.

The morning of the ride I had to get to the launch area by 6:30 am, which meant getting up around 5:30 am. Most cyclists in Phoenix are well-accustomed to waking at this hour (or earlier) in order to “beat the summer heat” (spoiler alert, it’s still hot). Pas moi. It takes an act of God, or a well-organized social cycling event to motivate me out of bed any earlier than 7 am on a Saturday morning. So initially, my gut reaction was strongest to this aspect of the ride. The 207 miles were easy enough to rationalize. I’d done bike touring, with many 60–80 mile days in a row. I’d done a single century, from Phoenix to Tucson (120 miles!). I’d done shorter rides that were arguably just as hard due to the climbing (Exploring the Vortex!). So I knew this ride would be within my abilities.

I packed my bags last night, pre-ride. Zero hour, 5 am. When I woke up I was actually incredulous. Wait, I’m really doing this. Ugh. But what if I just want to sleep? Nonetheless, I stirred, and proceeded to slip on my brightly-colored spandex, one bib strap at a time. I drove to the public parking garage that Chase Field graciously provided us for the weekend. I rode my bike in the dark down the street to the launch site, where free Chik-Fil-A breakfast and Cartel Coffee awaited me.

Don’t mind the mismatched kit. I wore my comfiest bibs!

NOW TO THE PART WHERE I STOP RAMBLING AND TALK ABOUT RIDING BIKES

The ride group to which I was assigned via a (rather ambitiously) self-selected average speed of 18 mph gathered at the starting line. We were group #5. I hate to admit, but I did not get to know well everybody from that original group, but I blame that partially on the fact that it got scrambled a fair amount over the two days of riding.

Among our numbers was a girl named Kat who had started riding bikes just a few months prior, and had signed up to do the full 207 miles, at an average speed of 18mph with the rest of us. I really had to respect her ambition and audacity, but my own fear of finishing projected itself into a skepticism for her odds as well. Either way, I gave her mad props for signing up, and hoped she would stick with us.

It seemed like a significant portion of the riders who were on this ride were the type to train really hard for a ride like this every few months (or once a year in some cases) and then retire the bike til next time. I garnered that from random samples of conversations I had and overheard during the information sessions leading up to the event, and from a quick assessment of the bikes present. I say this only as an observation. Largely, these are not folks who are immersed in cycling subculture (in the way I have been at times), or necessarily prioritize cycling in their everyday lives. As far as I could tell, these were not your Rules-toting regular patrons of Scottsdale’s Bicycle HAUS. And yet, there was an eminent possibility that I was about to be schooled in the way of suffering by any given rider here. Just goes to show: legs matter, ‘rules’ less so.

Last minutes before departure

The time finally came for us to embark, and we shot off through downtown Phoenix with a convoy escort graciously provided for us by Phoenix PD for the extensive and perilous 1/4 mile ride out of downtown. We cruised down to Buckeye Road with no fuss, and then started sailing west without much issue. There are the inherent issues from riding in town, such as inconvenient lights, traffic and poor road conditions, but I’m of the opinion that if you’re ‘bout to ride 207 miles, a couple potholes and too-cozy semis are the least of your worries.

First 30 miles out of Phoenix were downright agricultural.

The first rest stop happened at around 30 miles in the town Buckeye. Some cyclists may have a thing against frequent SAG stops, but I know for myself, they can make or break my ability to endure the pain of a long difficult ride (that, and gummy worms). One thing I noticed which didn’t bode well for the rest of the ride: my legs were already feeling something. Warmed up, but also well-used. The feeling you get at the end of a good social-paced 50-miler. The past 30 miles were indeed ridden somewhat quickly, but didn’t seem that intense. I hoped this was not an indication of the remaining 80 miles.

After peeing in the bathroom provided at the Buckeye City Hall (felt so statesmanlike), it was about time to roll out again. We’d be seeing the last of significant civilization for a while. We past several variations of farm-fields (kind of an odd thing for a desert-dweller to see), and several variations of typical Phoenix mountain formations.

Lunch was subway cold cuts, conference room Lunch-but-no-chargeline-provided meeting style (my time is worth more than 1 sandwich/hour, TYVM). Supplemented with a few dixie cups of gatorade and various cookies, this was as good of a repast as I could ask for. In the time before my group embarked on the next leg of the ride, I attempted to mitigate the growing lactic acid in my legs by eating as many half-bananas as I could without drawing attention to myself. As I would learn soon, it wasn’t enough.

SAG stops and group changes.

I was starting to slip. The 18mph (and sometimes faster) pace was proving too much for me too keep up. The two triathletes in the front kept pulling the group above our desired average (I know, they can’t help it!), which was a bit frustrating to me. 18 mph was already an ambitious enough endeavour for me, and I didn’t need any extra pushing! At one point, we decided to stop for a stretch and water break at a SAG vehicle stop. I knew I wouldn’t last any longer at this pace, so I elected to fall back to the next slowest group. It’s worth noting that every chance I got along this entire ride, I took the time to splay out on the ground. Such is the best way for me to eradicate the constantly creeping muscular pain in my lower back on a strenuous bike ride.

I was in such a position as I saw group of riders approaching… ‘uh oh!’ I thought, as I sprung to, and got to catching up with them right as they past. There was another rider from my original group who was intending to jump on as well, but he was not ready as they came by, and I barely made it on myself. I alerted some of the riders in the new group to his intentions, and a couple went back to try and wrangle him up. I wouldn’t see them again until the next rest stop.

My new adopted ride family was much more appropriate for my fitness level

Immediately, the pace of this group was a serious relief. Though we were keeping to somewhere around 15–16 mph, that speed was plenty for me combined with the wind and incline. The road continued to slope up in front of us, and even this new group was splintering as a result. For a good portion before the last rest stop of the day, the last few of us bunched together struggled to maintain 14 mph. Fortunately, the next stop was not too far after this slog.

While replenishing my electrolyte stores, executive decisions were being made at this last rest stop. Sticking with some of the prescribed rules of this ride, Groups 5 and 6 were merging together. But “anybody who can’t maintain 16 mph should probably just quit now and get SAG’ed into Ajo”. I looked to one of the riders I had just worked with for the last several miles. “We were struggling to push 14 up that hill! And there were definitely people behind us” we remarked between us. It seemed an unnecessarily strict rule. There were plenty of slower groups behind us, and at least 4 hours of sunlight left. No need to apply such draconian rules this early in the game. And I also just hoped that wouldn’t be my undoing. I wasn’t going to let anyone keep me from finishing what I started!

Life saving rock formations.

The newly formed, larger group went on reunited into the last 30 or so miles to Ajo. This 30 included both the steepest and most scenic portion of the day’s ride. My fears proved largely unfounded, the group was able to keep together, and maintained a steady pace of 17 mph as we made our way through the desert. A crosswind began to assail us at our flanks. Unfortunately, the nature of the road and shoulder we had available to us did not allow us to mitigate the effects of this crosswind by forming an echelon. As such, everyone nearly took the full brunt of the crosswind. This made riding brutal for several miles.

Our relief from the wind came to us via picturesque rock formations that rose up along the side of the highway. Its efficacy at blocking crosswinds gave me new appreciation for practical scenery. The last miles before the outskirts of Ajo thankfully passed somewhat quickly, but to my dismay, there was a long killer climb just outside the city limits. I held on as long as I could, but the hill succeeded in weeding me out of the peloton. As riders dropped off, it was clear this was an “every man for himself” situation. My legs screamed at me, and I had almost reached critical bonk. When one has reached this state, the only thing one can do is keep it in the easiest gear, and concentrate on moving forward, the top of the hill will get there eventually. Sometimes, it’s helpful to stop and stretch for just 15 seconds. This can at least keep the cramps down, if only a little bit.

I finally reached the top of the hill! The end was in sight. A downhill cruise all the way through the town of Ajo down to the high school. I saw some sweet street art, but was too preoccupied to stop and take a picture. I had to google maps where the high school was, as I realized it was not as obvious as I thought it might be, and I was now alone.

I was greeted upon arrival with all sorts of cheering! Nate and his son Titus were among the welcoming committe. My legs were noodles, and I greatly looked forward to the free meal and relaxation time afforded me for the rest of the evening.

Thanks Karl for the loaner converse!

Because this came out so long, I’m going to put an end to Part I right here. Stay tuned for Part II, wherein I eat a delicious milkshake from a vat, subject my body to further torture propelling myself through some of Arizona’s finest wilderness and witness abject poverty present just across the border to our south.

Ehhhh. Nobody is going to read this, but it’s obvious I’ll never write part two. Enjoy this first leg! The second one consisted of a really sore saddle region, a couple flats, and lots of ibuprofen until we got to Mexico. We had a couple of Mexican nationals join us in the ride just across the border on 29er mountain bikes, and the Mexican police gave us a direct escort the entire length of our journey within their country.

Sleeping in a bunkhouse with several adult male cyclists was really not bad. The house build trip I would go on in a couple weeks would be much much worse for sleeping conditions.

Ok bye.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Jonathan McCurdy

Jonathan McCurdy

58 Followers

Seeing and tasting the world via bicycle. Designing fun and usable products and currently open to new work opportunities! www.jonamcc.com