Wednesday, December 28, 2011

South Mountain

Over Christmas I visited Phoenix. For my gift this year, my wife arranged for me to rent a bike for the trip. On Christmas Eve -- a little early, now that I think about it -- I went for a ride.

We got the bike, a Giant Defy 2, at Arizona Outback Adventures. One of the thoughts behind the gift was that I could try out a Madone or some other better-quality bike, but in the event that didn't seem particularly motivating. The Defy 2 is cheap and serviceable. Actually my only complaint was that I completely forgot to check the horizontal size of the bike, and therefore got one that was at least 5 cm too short. Good enough for one day, though.

Looking north over Phoenix, from South Mountain
The family was getting together in the late afternoon, so I had to get going early. I rolled away at 8:15 and made my way from Scottsdale down to Tempe, along the so-called Greenbelt path. The Greenbelt is a drainage system that takes the form of a string of parks, emptying into the Salt River. Throughout the system there's a bike path, with no streetlights to wait for and few roads to cross. On Christmas Eve, there weren't even many pedestrians.

The rental bike on South Mountain
I made good time to the river, then followed it west to a bridge across the riverbed and into Tempe. I went south on Hardy so I would pass by my first apartment at school. I must say, it brought back zero memories. It was the right place, but hardly looked familiar at all.

I took Hardy to Baseline, then Baseline west to Central, and finally Central south into South Mountain Park.

When I lived here 20 years ago I rode up South Mountain a few times, but my memories of the climb were dim. As it turns out, it's long but not at all steep.There's no shade, which wasn't a problem on this cool day. The road winds up the northern face of the range, and since there are no trees you get unbroken views of the hill and the valley beyond.

The bulk of the climb is a 2.6 mile section that rises from about 1550 feet to 2250, for an average of 4.8%. At that point it levels out for a while, then climbs another 100 feet to the first stop: the summit. The summit area has a parking lot and a lovely view of almost the whole valley, from Avondale on the west to the eastern edge of Scottsdale. As the sign says, this area sits at about 2300 feet, perhaps 1100 feet above the valley floor.

The TV Towers on South Mountain
After taking a few pictures, I went back down and followed the signs for the TV Towers. This brings you around to the southern face of the range, and to its highest point (as far as I know). When I rode this in the 80s, I seem to remember that this road went past the towers, then just ended at a gate. Now it runs up to another parking lot, this one with views to the south and east, at 2600 feet. I'm pretty sure it wasn't here before.

Ahwatukee, from South Mountain
Here, at the high point of the ride, I stopped to eat a bit and enjoy the view. The last time I was up here I remember seeing construction to the south of the mountain and not knowing what it was. Well, now I know, but all the growth in this view -- Gilbert, Chandler, Ahwatukee -- is nonetheless a mystery to me. In multiple ways.

Refueled, it was time to descend. The road is in great shape. It twists a bit, but you can see along the road for miles since there are no trees. In other words, it's a great road to descend. I made good time, despite having to wait for a bit before I could pass a van.

I didn't have any other destinations in mind, so once I got on Central I just kept heading north. I ended up riding straight through the heart of Phoenix, which wasn't busy on this holiday.

The southern edge of downtown Phoenix
Central has a sporadic bike lane, but in any case traffic was light. My trip through town was pleasant but not especially memorable, which I guess one could say about Phoenix as a whole.

I followed Central to Glendale, then took a right toward Scottsdale. Glendale turns into Lincoln and goes by Squaw Peak (yeah, I know) and Granada Park, where I occasionally used to participate in the Sunday Morning Breakfast Ride. We would get up insanely early, wake up some friends, ride like crazy for a few miles, eat a big breakfast, then ride some more. Apparently that's still happening, which is great to know.

The remainder of the ride was an uneventful and straight shot back to Scottsdale.

Elevation profile. See a note about data for details.
In the end it was just slightly over 63 miles, so I met my goal of 100 km. There was about 2100 feet of climbing, which isn't much for a ride of that length. It was great to see South Mountain again, and although I don't remember my long-ago rides well enough to compare, I was happy with my ability to climb it. In all, the rental thing worked out well, and it may become a regular part of these sorts of family visits.

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