Tucson: A Great Escape for Winter Road Riding

In 2014, I turned 50 and I was determined to mark that occasion by doing various things throughout the year, even though my actual birthday was not until December. I decided my choices would be motivated by travel and bicycling. That’s when I elected to sign up for a spring training bicycling trip to Tucson, AZ. in the middle of winter.

Midwest Winter Doldrum

It was the first full week in February in another long, cold, and dark Midwest winter.  Like many bicyclists, I rode the trainer an hour or so a couple of times a week while longing for spring. If I got lucky and the weather was moderate, I might even gear up and go out for a ride.

Usually, though, within an hour, maybe an hour and a half, the cold would get to me. The next day, I would be back on the trainer. I definitely had a case of the Midwest winter doldrums and, at least this year anyway, I wanted to getaway.

Chris Carmichael Cycling Videos

During Lance Armstrong’s reign as the king of cycling with all his Tour de France victories, I discovered that Chris Carmichael, a former pro rider for the 7-11 team during the 70s, was his coach.

After some heavy internet research, I discovered Carmichael ran his own cycling/ training company, so I bought some of his videos because my trainer routine was dead-on boring and I wasn’t getting much out of it. To say that these hour-long videos are a challenge is an understatement. Some of them are even harder than road rides I’ve done.

I knew I wanted to bring my bike, but I didn’t want to fly since I had already invested a large amount of cash for this trip. I had the time, so I decided to make it a road trip where I would do this camp, then perhaps, afterward, journey further west and do some riding through Joshua Tree in California.

A Time Trial Welcome to Tucson

The weather in Tucson was in the 80s over the next five days, so it was hot and it was only February. Three days prior I was immersed in the depths of an Ohio winter where the daytime high was in the mid-20s.

The participants in the spring training camp numbered around 12 riders of varying levels of ability. The first ride the group was asked to do was individual time trials, which I was not expecting. It was short out and back of less than a mile with a slight uphill at the end.

The CTS coaches said “do your best effort” and “push hard,” but after two months on the trainer and an occasional ride outside, not to mention the time difference and the altitude, my legs felt like rocks were inside them. In fact, I could barely turn over the pedals.

Bike Handling and Saguaro National Park Road Rides

Thankfully, the next day wasn’t as intense.  It consisted of a crash course in bike handling skills, such as how to handle a turn during a descent, etc. Next, it was a basic and casually paced ride around Tucson where a large network of bike paths was covered.

The day after that the group was broken into small groups based on ability. This was a slightly harder road ride with moderate climbs through the Saguaro National Park, home to large Saguaro cacti plants that lined the road. One of the elements the group learned was how to ride in a group, which I never much liked but I did get the confidence to not feel intimidated by people riding right next to me. All this activity was a long buildup to the major final day of riding, which would be an ascent up Mt. Lemon.

The Climb Up Mt. Lemon

I admit, I’m not a fast climber and I’m probably slower than a lot of road bicyclists, but I’m not a racer. I ride for fitness, the scenery, and event-type rides. Mt. Lemon is a long ride with a steady 5% grade to the top. At times it flattens out but then the grade kicks back in. So, it isn’t super hard but halfway up, I was starting to fatigue and wondered if I would make it, so I would stop occasionally, take a few pictures, then start riding again.

That’s when one of the CTS coaches decided he would ride with me to the top, which was kind of annoying but I really had no idea how long it was taking me. Once at the top, the other CTS coaches were waiting for some other riders to show up before going down the mountain, so obviously I was neither the slowest nor the worst cyclist at the camp.

Overall, Mt. Lemon is a great climb on perfect roads, and I don’t think I saw one car during the whole ride. The descent, however, is the best part. It is pretty much straight down, not technical at all with no dangerous turns to worry about.  In fact, there were times during the descent when I had to start pedaling again because the road would level out.

Some Last Thoughts on Tucson/ CTS

Tucson was a great place to go riding during the winter months. The weather was great, the roads perfect, and there were not many people in town. And if you’re seeking a motivational adventure where you can do some excellent road riding, improve your bike handling skills, and learn how to be comfortable in a group ride, then selecting a Carmichael Training Systems camp is a good choice.

Oh, and last but not least, after each ride, and as part of the camp package, everyone received a full body massage. A nice perk after a day of intense riding. Make sure to include that as part of your winter cycling vacation (or at least a few massages) and thank me later.

CTS also offers bike fitting at an additional cost. This is where I discovered my bike was a bit too big for me and my riding position was inefficient. So, I learned a lot and also had a great time, and I didn’t have to wait until March or April to be outside on a bike ride.

Author: Doug McNamee

Freelance Content Writer, Travel Writer, Editor, and poet.

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