Life as a Bike Jockey: Tuscon, Training & ‘Surly Succulents’

Judy Freeman, Kenda-Felt pro and columnist, hit the road to find more temperate climes to train in compared to wintry Colorado. What'd she discover? Clingy cacti and a Smith&Wesson cyclist.

judyMug-1Even though the plan was to stay in Boulder, Colorado to train all winter, it quickly changed the day I noticed the circulation in my arms was cut off from all the layers I was wearing.

My new Kenda-Felt teammate Amanda Carey organized a sweet rental in Tucson, Arizona for February. I came down last Tuesday to join in the fun. Training buddies, fewer layers and seeing a new landscape definitely help keep motivation up when there’s long hours to log on the bike.

Packin’ Heat on the Seat

Training in Catalina State Park in Tucson, Arizona. Photo by Zack Vestal
Training in Catalina State Park in Tucson, Arizona. Photo by Zack Vestal

Amanda has trained in Tucson for the last few winters and has the area dialed. She’s a wealth of knowledge and a walking GPS system; helping me pick out rides, avoid traffic and steer clear of areas you need to pack heat.

Yeah, coming home from my ride the other day, I bumped into a local on a road ride who gave me some tips on Tucson riding. He explained that out of town a ways you can run into folk who really don’t like cyclists — so much so that he thought it best to carry a firearm.

That’s when he told me he always rides with a gun. Oddly, I found myself at a loss for a reply. I then put “I always carry a gun” on my top-ten list of “Things to Say to End Conversations with Strangers.”

Despite the OK Corral imagery, Tucson has good riding. In 2004, Tucson was awarded the silver-level Bicycle Friendly Community designation by the League of American Bicyclists and still has a committed city bike program. Add to that areas like Mt Lemmon, Catalina State Park and Saguaro National Park and there’s plenty of nice road and trails for training.

Jumping Cholla, Batman

50 Year Trail in Catalina State Park. Photo by judy Freeman
50 Year Trail in Catalina State Park. Photo by judy Freeman

We got out for a few hours in Catalina State Park on Monday. There’s loads of fun, twisty singletrack out there. And loads of cacti. I went a little too wide in a corner and picked up a “jumping cholla cactus.” Also known by its scientific name Opuntia bigelovii, which I believe is Latin for “fricken succulent.”

I read the ‘jumping’ ability enables the plant to attach itself to passers-by for transport to other areas, helping to propagate the cholla. The opportunity to celebrate this marvel of Nature’s design was wasted on me as I hunted for sticks to pry the little bastard out of my leg.

On the Road Again

Twisty trails though are better for the dirt skills than for intervals and long rides, so I’ve been spending most my time on the road bike. A little too eager, I made the mistake of heading up the popular Mt. Lemmon on Saturday. A fairly constant stream of weekend traffic served up tailpipe soup all day.

But I headed back out there on Tuesday when the cyclists easily outnumbered cars and the air tasted much better. Lemmon has some cool views and about a 5 percent average grade. It’s still seeing snow this time of year above 7,000 feet, which can make for a chilly ride. I’ve a new wind-front base layer from Pearl Izumi that has been great for this still vest-weather spring riding. I’m wearing it so much, it’s become my wooby.

Speaking of snow, we’ve been having nice weather here. There’s been three days with rain since I arrived, but mostly it’s been sunny and in the 60s. A friend in Boulder sent me images of the snow that I was missing. I felt sorta bad. But I felt a lot better when I put my flip-flops on and walked outside in shorts and a tee shirt.

Cultural Exchange

Other than riding, it’s mostly been hanging out here at the house. Right now there’s just four of us; Amanda, her husband, Nate, and Sarah who came down from Utah to race the 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo this weekend. It’s been cool meeting new people, chatting about racing, training, gear and just the general exchange of knowledge and ideas. Nate showed me the Twitter-line ShitMyDadSays. Really, biking has broadened my horizons.

We did head out the other night to partake in Tucson’s eat-out culture. Our Kenda-Felt teammate Andy Schultz works down here in the winter at The Cycling House and had the night off to join us for dinner. All the restaurants seemed crazy busy for a Monday. We went for Mexican, which was worth the 20-minute wait. The food was good, and when you factor in the free chips and salsa, the total meal price comes down to about .60¢ per pound. Viva Cycle-nomics.

Still got some more exploring to do and the weather looks good for the rest of the month. Next week I’m heading to Ohio to coach at the Women’s Weekend at Ray’s Indoor Cycling. Looking forward to getting back to Ray’s, even if I am leaving my flip-flops for the snows of Cleveland.

Judy Freeman is a pro mountain biker out of Boulder, Colorado. In 2009 she represented the U.S. at the World Championships in Canberra, Australia. For 2010, she’ll be racing for Kenda/Felt Mountain Bike Team. Other sponsors for 2010 include TrailMaster Coaching, Hayes, Manitou, Voler Apparel, Pearl Izumi, WickWerks, KMC, SDG, Shimano, Crank Brothers, Uvex, Pika Packworks, and Mighty Good Coffee.