After a long climb out of Benson, Arizona we caught a tailwind and sailed into Tucson at 25 mph. Then we turned north through the city, lost our wind and began climbing.
After 60 miles we found Claire’s aunt Barbara and uncle Bob Tschanz, high in the Sonoran desert hills; beautiful house in a spectacular spot under rugged peaks. We have been invited to stay a few days until we find long-term housing. There is room for us at the Tschantz Inn.
Cleaned and oiled Zippy Christmas eve day. He was filthy from the snow and rain of last week. While cleaning him, we found his rear tire had a large bump in it, and a long tear through the rubber and into the Kevlar belt. At first we could not find what might have done this damage, then Claire found a piece of metal over a half inch long, over an inch from the original tear, hidden out of sight. The thorn proof tube held, but the thought of us running 25 mph with a tire in such bad shape is scary.
We took a walk in the desert nearby and got a close look at some new plants: barrel cactus, cholla, palo verde, and ironwood. Barrel cactus are shaped like, you guessed it a barrel; they have curved thorns and show yellow seed filled fruit. I tasted one and it was quite pleasant. Something had been eating them, perhaps pack rats, which are common here. Cholla (choy-ya) takes several forms, most topped by beautiful seafoam green cactus-like arms on tree-trunk-like bases. Some are as large as small trees. Palo verde and ironwood are both brushy trees and widespread. There are also many forms of prickly pear (some very large) and a variety of other unusual plants. It is again wonderful to be in an environment where nothing is familiar.
It is nice to hear Christmas carols when the temperature is 60 something and the sun is shining; just as nice as when it is snowing and cold. The desert encourages thoughts of that Christmas in Palestine.
Christmas day, we rode 26 miles in shorts and jersey. Sunny. I can see why Tucson is known as a bicycle friendly city, with weather like this on Christmas Day. At Catalina State Park, up against the mountains, giant saguaro marched up rocky slopes of ironwood and ocotillo to blue sky. Sun warmed and thankful are we.
The next day we found good long term housing at Palm Court Inn at a very reasonable rate. We have cooking facilities and a heated pool.
New Years Day, 1996. I surpassed 10,000 cycling miles for last calendar year a couple of weeks ago, and Claire is there now. I don’t think either of us ever expected to amass such a figure, ever. Our trip miles, since May, stand at 8,800.
We’ve been on two rides the last two days with the Greater Arizona Bicycle Association (GABA) Tucson chapter; another one today. There were three other tandems the first day and four yesterday, along with a dozen singles. It is a good way to get to know the city and meet people.
Tom Chabot and Pat Young led the ride yesterday. Tom has done three cross-country tours and Pat one, and they rode from San Antonio to Anchorage together a few years ago. They leave this spring for a one-year perimeter tour of the U.S.
They rode into Tucson two years ago, found bike routes and paths everywhere, and stopped. They decided to work a couple of years, save money, quit and go on another long tour. Amazing how much money you can save if you seldom drive your car.
People don’t stop riding in winter here, since winter isn’t really winter. We wear windbreakers, armwarmers and light gloves to start the ride and they are off by the turn-around point. The sun shines everyday, generally all day, and mid to high 60’s are the typical highs. So far we haven’t seen, or smelled, much air pollution; the winds are favorable. There seem to be lots of cyclists on the streets, and I can see why.
After a ride and some socializing over breakfast, we left the group and stopped in at a mall where a big band was to play. Under the vaulted central hall, we saw a tiny band of just three pieces. It made us miss our Opus One 16 piece band in Port Angeles. We decided to stay anyway since we couldn’t find a New Years party with a big enough dance floor, or good music. There were about 20 seniors couples there to dance and a 100 or so there to watch and listen.
We forgot about the size of the band and got into the dancing. It wasn’t long before our athletic swing-dancing earned us our usual moniker, “The Kids.” We met some nice people and got some tips on where to find big band era dancing in town.
And, I remember a waltz: He, blue serge slacks and bow-tie, and she, long flowing red dress and flowers in her silver hair, the oldest couple there. Smooth as water and just as bright; their eyes reflect 50 years of dancing together.
The others flowing around the floor in swirling skirts and genteel manner, halt the shopping frenzy of teens who stare in wonder at these beautiful old people. Old and beautiful. How could this be?
A boy tries to get a girl to dance, but she is afraid; another young couple feel the beat and try, and laugh; a young mother dances with her small daughter and the old couples part for them and smile.
Seniors without partners look on and remember; the dancing they see is in the past and behind their eyes.
A few days later, we rode to Mount Lemmon, a 78 mile round trip. It is 6,000 feet above Tucson at over 8,000 feet. We have been missing the long steady climbs since Great Smoky Mountains NP, and we got what we wanted. We started in saguaro cactus and ended in large ponderosa pines with snow under them. We were very impressed with the progression of life-zones, and with the spectacular views of the Tucson metro area and Sonoran desert.
It was cold at the top; rivulets of melt water crossing the road were beginning to freeze in the shade. We were glad we’d brought lots of clothes for the descent, which was fast, fun and long. By the 3,000 foot level, were ready to get down to short sleeves again; it was nearly 70 degrees in the city.
One of the things we appreciate about Tucson is that the lights are dim, peach colored, not white, and stars are visible near the horizon. Nearby Kit Peak observatory, a collection of large optical telescopes, looks deep into the universal past; Tucson accommodates the need for a dark sky.
After midnight one night; it is cool in the desert near our motel. We find Big Dipper and Polaris, turn south, then southwest, and wait, talking quietly, not daring to hope.
Then, a red object, unflashing and fast above the palms, arcs into the southern sky, trailing a silver ribbon anchored in the west. So fast. So straight, it’s line the curve of horizon, and no more.
It is a slow burn, lasting minutes, and hardly seems a fall to Earth at all. Something fragile and soft is there, a human brain that guides the thing on it’s clean line home.
After nearly eight million miles and nine days in space, shuttle Endeavor passed over us; left us wanting to cheer, but not wanting to break the magic of the red and silver and black of it.
By the time we walked across the street to our room, Cable News Network was broadcasting a live image of their safe touchdown in Florida; how many thousand miles away? They must have retraced our bicycle route along the Rio Grande; minutes to our month.
I’m not sure I’d trade our ride for a shuttle ride though. I like the slow close-up view of life.