Every year, about this time, the Tour de France sucks me in with all its soap opera drama and excitement. Coincidentally this time every year sees me make a transition to riding the road bike a bit more. It really has nothing to do with the Tour but more to do with the fact that it is really hot outside. Moving faster on the road compared to the trails makes the heat a little more tolerable but really isn’t much fun for me. My road bike spends most of it’s days hung up and forgotten. Tires going flat from neglect and repurposed as a really nice drying rack for my mountain bike laundry. But as soon as the mercury hits about 100 degrees I tend to reach for the road bike a little more often.
Here in the desert, the riding seasons are reversed. Cyclists get de-motivated and out of shape in the summer instead of the winter like the rest of the country. When it gets hot you don’t have many choices. You can hop in the car and head north to higher elevation, get up really early and be done with your ride by 8am, or you can go to the bar or hang out by the pool all day. I’m a little tired of traveling places to ride at the moment and I hate getting up early so I usually just end up at the edge of the pool with a 12 pack of Tecate to help pass the time. This year, thanks to a little inspiration from my friends, I am trying something different. I am starting my rides really late at night.
It’s Sunday night at 10pm, I’m kitted up and heading out the door with my trusty Pacer. I have 2 frozen water bottles, $5 in my pocket, and a whole bunch of new tunes on my iPod. Game on.
I roll out of my hood and ride past all the bars with their patios full of happy drinkers. I hope nobody sees me, I don’t need to get sucked into the bar vortex right now. I want to pedal.
I head south through the little Mexican neighborhood where the smell of coffee roasting mixes with the smoke of somebody’s back yard fire. I feel the heat of the pavement coming up through the soles of my shoes and I can’t even imagine standing next to a fire right now. I ride over the highway which is the modern delineation of the right and wrong side of the tracks. It is instantly cooler. Manicured lawns and sprinklers abound, filling the dry desert air with moisture and I detour into a golf course to get sprayed down. Sufficiently cooled, I pedal on through empty streets. Meandering through the privileged neighborhood where people cut into the sides of mountains to build their homes and keep horses as pets in the middle of the city. The pavement eventually stops, but I keep going. I shut off my lights and ride the dirt road with the moon over my shoulder. Once my eyes adjust to the darkness, the ruts and potholes stand out better than if I had my light on. I now find myself on the Gila River indian reservation and temperature drops yet again. Just like that, I am out of the city and into the desert. There are a few houses and a few angry dogs but other than that, I am alone. The desert smells amazing. It is close to midnight now and it’s as if all the plants are letting out a collective sigh of relief. Exhaling their fragrance now that the brutal and oppressive heat of the day has passed. I take it all in. There is still no need for lights since there are no cars that need to see me and the moon reflecting off the white line shows me the way just fine.
You would think that some cliche jazz or some mellow indie tune would be in my ears at this time. Nope, for some reason I’m really digging on this old Naked Raygun live album my buddy gave me a couple years ago. I am just now getting around to listening to it and it is moving my legs for me.
I keep riding south making sure to check out a little bit of every dirt side road I come upon. I eventually hit houses and street lights again so I turn around for home. I make it to a 7-11 just as the guy is locking up the beer coolers for the night and I convince him to sell me a tall boy. I can’t imagine what he was thinking as this chubby kid in spandex with a gray beard pleaded with him for one last beer at 2am on a Monday. I see the comedy of the moment and laugh as I soft pedal and coast the last five miles home like a victory lap sipping my beer. Just as my luck would have it, the only car I see happens to be a cop. He pulls up next to me with his passenger window rolled down and says “I bet that beer is real good in this heat. Why don’t you go ahead and finish that up…”. Fair enough. I slam the beer as the cop drives away.
I hit the pillow at 3am more happy than I have been from a road ride in recent memory. I can’t wait for next sunday.
Even on the road, keep it dirty…