There and back again – 600k Brevet, Casa Grande to Tombstone

Super Randonnuer JerseySuper Randonnuer!  This past weekend Leonard Zito and I completed the fourth brevet in a set of four and are now qualified to ride in the longest running cycling event in history — Paris Brest Paris!  Randonnuer’s USA’s description of PBP:

First run in 1891, the 1200-kilometer Paris-Brest-Paris, or “PBP” as it is commonly called, is a grueling test of human endurance and cycling ability. Organized every four years by the host Audax Club Parisien, the Paris-Brest-Paris Randonneurs is the oldest bicycling event still run on a regular basis on the open road. Beginning on the southern side of the French capital, it travels west 600 kilometers to the port city of Brest on the Atlantic Ocean and returns along the same route. Today’s randonneur cyclists, while no longer riding the primitive machines used a hundred years ago over dirt roads or cobblestones, still have to face up to rough weather, endless hills, and pedaling around the clock. A 90-hour time limit ensures that only the hardiest randonneurs earn the prestigious PBP finisher’s medal and have their name entered into the event’s “Great Book” along with every other finisher going back to the very first PBP. To become a PBP ancien (or ancienne for the ladies) is to join a very elite group of cyclists who have successfully endured this mighty challenge. No longer a contest for professional racing cyclists (whose entry is now forbidden), PBP evolved into a timed randonnée or brevet for hard-riding amateurs during the middle part of the 20th century. The event is held in August every four years.

2011 300k Brevet Medal


2011 200k Brevet Medal


By riding a full brevet series (200k, 300k, 400k, 600k), we’ve also earned the designation of “Super Randonnuer.”  We also get some pretty sweet medals for each event and can wear the exclusive Super Randonnuer jersey!  This was Leonard’s first attempt to complete a brevet series and he did great!

We got a bit of a late start heading to the “Day’s Inn” hotel in Eloy on Friday night and didn’t get to bed until close to midnight.  That made the 4am alarm a bit harsh.  Felt like I had just closed my eyes when the alarm went off.  But we were pretty quick about getting ready, checked out and headed to the start in Casa Grande.  I don’t know what was going on that weekend, but all the hotel rooms in Casa Grande with two beds were booked.  I like Leonard, but not enough to share a bed with him!  Hence the hotel in Eloy.  Anyway… we put our reflective gear on for the visibility check and got our queue sheets for the ride.  It was relatively warm, so I opted not to put on my arm and leg warmers. We were ready to roll about 10 minutes before the start.  Good timing!

2011 600k Brevet Medal


2011 400k Brevet Medal


About 4 miles out of town Leonard realized he didn’t have his water bottles.  Were they stolen?  Left in the car? hmmm… Where did he last see them? The refrigerator in the hotel room. D’oh!  Luckily, the Day’s Inn was about 1/2 mile off our route, so we dropped off the group we were riding with and made a quick detour for his bottles.  It had really cooled off when we got out of Casa Grande, so while Leonard went up to our room to get his bottles, I decided to put my arm and leg warmers on.  Boy am I glad I did that!  We got rolling again and the temperature steadily dropped until it got down into the high 40’s.  Brrrr….

There was a bit of a head wind heading down the i-10 frontage road, but we still made pretty good time and got to the Circle K in Marana while quite a few riders were still there.  I bought a couple bananas, an egg salad sandwich, a bottle of coconut milk with pineapple juice and some water for my bottles.  We took our time, but still left before several of the other riders.  The light headwind would continue pretty much all the way to Green Valley.  I stopped at the turn on Mile Wide Road before heading into Tucson Mountain Park to strip off my arm and leg warmers.  I caught Leonard shortly after the top.  We made good time through the park and stopped at the Circle K on Kenney and Ajo to refuel.  Don’t recall what I bought at that stop, but I’m pretty sure it included coconut milk.

The ride up mission road is always tedious.  1 to 2 percent uphill grade with a light headwind.  It’s just a long mentally draining section of the ride.  When we got to Helmet Peak we started passing groups of racers who were competing in the Tucson Bicycle Classic stage race.  Those guys were MOVING!  The sound of the packs going by was also quite impressive.  Makes you wonder what a Tour de France stage sounds like when the main pack goes by.  Pretty impressive I’m sure.

Trevetti Restaurant in Green Valley, AZ

We stopped in Green Valley for lunch at the Trivetti restaurant for lunch.  They assured us they could get us our food in 10 minutes.  Great!  They let us put our bikes in the office in back, very nice!  We ordered the three course special.  Homemade Minestrone soup, Lasagna and a slide of super sweet cake.  After ordering I went and washed the salt off my face.  That felt pretty good.  It took a bit longer than 10 minutes to get our food, but it was REALLY good.  Then the problems started.  Apparently they were having some problems with their computers.  It probably took a good 45 minutes if not longer to pay our bill.  We were probably there an hour longer than we should have been.  Steve Kinney, a fellow Brevet rider from Canada who wasn’t doing the 600k walked in and said HI!  (Sorry Steve, I think I called you Paul… for some reason I keep mixing you up with Paul Danhaus, so sorry to both of you!).  Steve was supporting a friend who was participating in the TBC.  Several 600k riders walked in while we were trying to pay our bill and they were able to put their bikes in the main dining room.  The folks at Trivetti were really nice, too bad about the computer problems to pay.


We caught a good tailwind all the way to the turn to Sonoita.  On the way up Sahuarita Road I told Leonard to look back.  You could see the climb up Helmet Peak Road off in the distance.  One of the final climbs we’d face on the way back.  We also stopped at the RoadRunner convenience store on Houghton Road to refill our bottles before hitting the climb up to Sonoita.

Climbing is a very individual activity.  You have to find your rhythm and just ride your own tempo to the top.  So Leonard and I split up on the climb.  He wasn’t doing too badly, but it’s a super long climb.  Probably the hardest climb he’s ever done and he had to face it with over 100 miles already on his legs.  It’s been a while since I’ve done that climb, but I told Leonard there were 4 or 5 “false” summits, where you think you are reaching the top, but as soon as you crest, you see the road going up even further in the distance.  That part was true, but I also told him there were a number of big rollers, then a 4-5 mile descent to Sonoita.  That was just plain wrong.  There was one long one mile 6% descent that was fun, but that was before the rollers and it’s a pretty flat ride into town.

Leonard cresting the LONG Sonoita Climb

We stopped at the convenience store in Sonoita and I had a ham and cheese sandwich with potato salad.  That was just what I needed.  It was starting to get dark by the time we were ready to leave, so we changed the lenses in our sunglasses to clear, put on our reflective gear and put on our vests because the temperature really plummets up there after dark!  We stopped once on the climb out of Sonoita to check the distance to the Elgin turn.  We really didn’t want to miss that!  Susan had grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup waiting when we got to the Elgin lodge.  We both had a sandwich, but passed on the soup.  It was a slow ride to AZ83, the road to Tombstone.  But once we made that turn, we had a strong tailwind and a gradual descent which made for a really fast ride!  People started passing us going in the other direction.  They were several hours ahead of us.  But our goal was to finish and we just took our time.

The temperature had really dropped by the time we got to Tombstone.  We both opted for some Chicken Noodle Soup at the Circle K in Tombstone.  I also got some chocolate covered pretzels.  Those were tasty!  Unfortunately Leonard forgot his sunglasses on top of the ice box outside of the Circle K when we left.  But he flagged down a couple riders who were still headed into Tombstone and asked them to look for them.  The ride back to the Elgin Lodge wasn’t too bad, but we were back to that tedious headwind with a slight climb.  That slowed us down a bit.  I told Leonard the temperature would really drop when we made the turn towards Elgin and I wasn’t wrong.  It dropped down into the low 30’s.  That was cold.  We got our brevet cards signed, but didn’t stay to eat.  We had another 9 miles to the Sonoita Inn and we were both ready for bed.  Those 9 miles seemed to take forever.  It didn’t help that I had to stop for a natural break along the way.

When we got to the Sonoita Inn, we found food waiting for us!  A carafe of red wine with cheese and crackers was on the common room table, so I helped myself to a glass (or two) and some cheese.  There was also a small fridge with orange juice, yogurt, muffins, bagels, cream cheese… mmmm….  We ate are fill then headed up to the room for showers.  We were ready for bed by 2 am with a 5:30am alarm set. Ouch.

When the alarm went off we decided to wait another 45 minutes before getting ready to leave.  Packed up our overnight bags and brought them downstairs for Susan to pickup then had some breakfast.  Leonard also called Susan to check on his sunglasses.  They were found!  Thanks to whomever picked them up in Tombstone!  There was another rider eating and we chatted for a few minutes before heading out.

It was a bit brisk, but we had waited for the sun to come up, so it wasn’t too bad on the rolling hills heading out of Sonoita.  We had finished about 235 miles with another 140 to go.  The quads were a bit tired on the climbs.  Leonard said he was going to take it easy on the long descent to Sahuarita road because he didn’t have his sunglasses to shield his eyes from the wind, but every time I looked back he was pretty close to me.  That is one fun and fast descent!  I didn’t have to wait long before Leonard pulled up to the turn onto Sahuarita road.  He said he couldn’t resist enjoying the descent.

We stopped at the “RoadRunner” convenience store on Houghton for breakfast.  We shared an avocado and both had a “Big Boy breakfast wrap.”  That was really good.  We took our time at that stop and met a pretty strong cross wind when we headed out again.  But we were still able to make pretty good time.  The climb up Helmet Peak road is similar to the climb up Mission road the previous day, just a bit steeper 2-3% with a cross wind that just makes it mentally draining.  Leonard stopped once for a natural break but when he remounted and tried to stand, his knee gave out.  I’ve had that happen before, it’s not a fun experience!  It forces you to stay in the saddle way longer than you want to.  Everytime you try to stand your knee just won’t take it.  We still had 70 or 80 miles to go!  Not a good time to have knee problems.  He took the rest of the climb pretty cautiously.  Susan caught up to us and gave Leonard his sunglasses and refilled our bottles (Thanks Susan!) about mid-way up the climb.

At the top we had a nice strong tail wind when we turned onto Mission road, but with Leonard’s knee issue we weren’t able to capitalize on it too much.  But easy spinning is great for overall recovery and I’m sure that helped with his knee and allowed him to finish the ride.  Mission road has some really nasty sections of road.  I was going relatively fast and wasn’t paying enough attention to the road in front of me and hit a pot hole that gave me a pinch flat on my rear wheel.  I told Leonard to continue while I quickly changed the tube.  Then I really started moving, maintaining over 30mph until I caught Leonard outside of Tucson.  On one of the nice smooth newly paved sections I noticed my rear wheel didn’t feel right… almost like it had a flat spot.  When we got to the Circle K in South Tucson, I took a look and noticed I had cracked my rim.  It was ride-able, but it definitely needs to be replaced.  If the road wasn’t really smooth I didn’t notice it.

The counter lady said they didn’t have a public restroom, but let me use it “if I was quick.”  So I was, then picked up a can of chicken noodle soup and some coconut milk.  When I finished that I realized I was a bit too quick, so I went across the street to the Diamond Shamrock to use their facilities and to get a pickle.  Leonard made his way over and we headed back out.  The temperature had really gone up.  While sitting in the shade, my Garmin registered just over 100 degrees.  As soon as we started riding it dropped back into the 90’s but that’s still pretty hot.

The majority of the climbing was over, but we still had to get through the big rolling hills of Tucson Mountain Park.  Leonard dropped back a bit to take it easy with his knee.  As I approached Old Tucson I realized I needed to use a restroom again.  Odd.  I figured I’d stop at the Desert Museum on  the far side of the park.  But as I rode along, that call of nature got much more urgent.  Then demanding.  So I had to make an emergency stop!  For the first time I had to break out the emergency roll of Charmin I’ve carried on these long rides for probably 6 or more years!

Leonard had gone by while I was off in the bushes, but I caught him just before the descent down Mile Wide Road.  I explained what happened and he reminded me of the scene in Cast Away.  Who knew that coconut milk is a natural laxative!?!  I won’t be drinking that in large quantities anymore!  We had to stop again at a Chevron on Sandario road so I could use the facilities.  This was not good.  I drank a bunch of ice water and had a “Big Poppa” pickle before we headed out again.  We still had a tailwind, but it was starting to shift around a bit.

We stopped at the last official checkpoint at the Circle K in Marana where I used the facilities yet again and resorted to some Imodium.  With my stomach feeling the way it was, I just filled my bottles and skipped eating anything.  The rest of the way to Casa Grande we pretty much had a cross wind or cross/head wind.  The frontage road stretch on the way back just seems to take forever, but we eventually made it to the turn outside of Picacho.  Leonard was holding up pretty well with his knee, but was starting to bonk a bit so we made one last stop at the Circle K in Eloy, about 13 miles from the finish.

I pushed the pace a bit to the finish in an attempt to get there before dark.  We got there before dark at 7:02 pm, just over 38 hours after the start.  Leonard showed great determination finishing this ride and is a Super Randonnuer!


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