Another year has passed since my last ride in the El Tour de Tucson. This year is the 34th anniversary of this annual fund-raising event, and once again I signed up to ride the full distance - which was 106 miles this year. This year was thankfully warmer than previous years, but holy cow - the wind was terrible. But I'll get to that in a minute.
The night before the ride I packed up my bicycle gear, and I made sure that I wouldn't repeat last year's mistake and forget my helmet. As I was putting my things together, I discovered that my bicycle had a flat tire. It was no fun changing it, of course, but it was so much better to have fortuitously discovered that problem the night before rather than the morning of. After that issue was resolved I set my alarm for 4:30am climbed into bed around 10:30pm. However, for some reason I could not fall asleep, so I probably did not drift off until sometime around 2:30am, which meant that I was hauling my exhausted self out of bed after only two hours of sleep. (Would someone please remind me why I do this every year?)
Anyway, I was on the road by 5:00am, and after a brief stop at a McDonald's for some carb loading via an Egg McMuffin, I headed off to Armory Park in downtown Tucson where the ride was scheduled to begin. I had studied the map before the ride, and I noticed that the route had changed for this year. First of all, the long, uphill ride on La Cañada Drive was gone, but it appeared to be replaced by an even longer uphill ride on Oracle Road. In addition to that change, the end of the ride had been changed from the 20+ miles riding Tangerine Road and the Frontage Road along I-10 to Avra Valley Road and Silverbell Road. This was all new territory for me, so needless to say - I did not know what the the day would have in store for me when I would arrive at those sections of the route.
Sometime shortly after 5:30am I arrived at the Tucson Convention Center (TCC), which is where I always park my car for the day, and after a few minutes putting the last of my things together, I hopped on my bicycle and rode over to Armory Park to get in line for the ride. I arrived around 10 or 15 minutes before 6:00am, and there were perhaps a couple hundred riders in line before me. (That number includes the "Platinum Riders," who must have had a ride time of less than five hours during a previous year.)
|Arriving near the start line. |
|The group of cyclists in front of me. |
(The banner in the distance is the actual starting line.)
As I waited for the ride to begin, I talked with the cyclists around me, and I met a guy whose wife had inadvertently cheated on one of the shorter distances during the previous year's ride. It seems that she didn't want to deal with the large crowd at the start line, so she began her ride 1 hour earlier than the rest of the riders. This meant that she wouldn't have an official time for the ride, but she didn't care. However, she was the first woman to cross the finish line for her distance, so they erroneously listed her as the winner. This isn't an actual race, so it's not that big of a deal, but nevertheless she registered for this year's ride under a different name. ;-)
|A quick panorama of the crowd of cyclists around 6:30am. |
As I mentioned earlier, the temperature was a little warmer than in past years; it was somewhere in the low 50s while I was waiting. But I had learned from some more-experienced El Tour participants during my 2014 and 2015 rides to wear something disposable like pajama pants while waiting in line, and any clothes which are abandoned near the start line are donated to charity once the riders have left. With that in mind, I had bought a large set of black pajama pants to wear over my legs as I waited, and I had made sure to leave the tags on to show that they were new. As the start time drew near, I removed those, folded them nicely with the tags showing, and placed them on the side of the road. (Other cyclists simply threw jackets and pants over the barriers which lined the street.)
As has happened in previous years, in the last few minutes before the ride begins, all of the cyclists don the last of their equipment, and then all the riders bunch up toward the start line, thereby filling up all the gaps in the crowd.
|Cyclists pushing toward the start line in the last few minutes. |
Shortly before 7:00am we all sang the National Anthem, and after a few perfunctory words from local politicians, they sounded the horn which announced the start, and we were off. I will admit, it always fills me with a small amount of nervousness before arriving at the starting line when I think about heading out as a lone cyclist within a sea of thousands; I am always afraid that I will fall over and get hit, or someone else will fall over and I'll crash into them, but every year it is an orderly affair as the cyclists cautiously start out in unison. (It seems that everyone else is also concerned about avoiding an accident.)
|106-mile riders starting out for the day. |
30 minutes after the ride had started I found myself at the Santa Cruz River crossing, where all of the cyclists are required to dismount and hand-carry their bicycles across the dry river bed. Once again, a Mariachi Band was playing music for everyone as we arrived on the other side of the river.
Once across the river, I climbed back on my bicycle and headed off. However, this is where I need to mention the wind which I had alluded to in my opening paragraph; the first 35 miles of this ride is predominantly uphill as we rode south, and we had a great deal of wind blowing to the north, which meant that the first several hours were uphill into the wind. There were brief downhills and a few respites from the wind here and there, but for the most part the beginning of my day was spent tucking my head down and riding into the wind. One of the biggest sources of relief for everyone was around the 25-mile point when we turned north onto Kolb Road and had the wind behind us for a change. It was only for 2½ miles, but still - I heard dozens of other cyclists verbally reacting to the difference, and throughout the rest of the day I heard cyclists complaining about how awful that wind had been.
Of course, one of my personal demoralizers is when I hit the 30-mile mark; that is when the route passes Pima Community College, which is the start of the 75-mile route. I always think to myself, "If I had done that ride, I would be starting from here, rather than having just ridden 30 miles."
As we turned off Kolb Road onto Irvington Road, we entered my section of town, where I train all the time. In fact, I had ridden the northbound climb on Houghton Road and Escalante Road a couple of times that week, so I was quite used to that terrain and the climbs did not bother me. Shortly after reaching the end of Escalante Road, the route turned north onto Freeman Road, where we were all treated to several miles of fast-paced, downhill riding. (With no winds!)
At the bottom of Freeman Road the course followed the familiar route of Speedway to Houghton to Snyder, which took about 30 minutes to negotiate, and then it was time for the second river crossing. By this time I had been riding for over 3½ hours with no breaks, and I was running low on water, so I stopped to refill my water bottles, eat a few snacks, and remove the last of my cold weather gear.
After a brief 20-minute rest stop, I was back on the road. My next obstacle was the steep climb up East Snyder Road near North Rockcliff Road. I have mentioned this hill in my other blogs about riding in the El Tour de Tucson, so I won't go into detail here, except to reiterate what I have said in the past - thankfully this climb is only a few hundred meters in length.
Once I had put the Snyder Road climb behind me, I had a short ride to Cowbell Crossing, where my wife, Kathleen, was cheering on passing cyclists around the 52-mile mark with a group of her coworkers and our dog, Boudicca. Kathleen had been watching my progress via my Garmin Live Track, although what she was seeing was a few seconds behind my actual location, so she barely had time to run to the side of the road with Boudicca and wave as I rode by. (I had thought about stopping, but their group was set up on the opposite side of the road so I chose not to stop. In hindsight, I probably should have at least stopped to say "Hi" to everyone.)
The route meandered west along Sunrise and Skyline Drives, then we climbed north on Oracle Road, which was a departure from previous years of climbing north on La Cañada Drive. This extended the length of the climb by a couple of miles, so I'm still not quite sure if I approve of the changed route.
Around the 60-mile point I ran into an interesting predicament; my Garmin Cycling GPS announced that it's battery was almost depleted and it was going to shut down. I had fully charged it the night before, and I had used my Garmin GPS on several 100-mile rides with no problems in the past, but this year I had more devices connected than in previous years. For example, my GPS was linked to my cell phone for Live Tracking (which was constantly updating my location for family members to watch), and my GPS was paired with a Garmin Varia Radar which helps me know when vehicles are approaching from behind. Fortunately I had planned ahead; my cell phone was already attached to a spare battery and was still fully charged, and I had brought a spare USB battery pack in case of emergency. With that in mind, I quickly pulled off to the side of the road, and then I attached a USB cable from the battery pack to my GPS. Once I had all of that connected, my GPS showed that it was charging and I hopped back on the road. (Note: By the end of my ride, the GPS was fully-charged once again and the battery pack was still half-charged.)
I was running low on water as I reached the 75-mile mark, so I pulled off the road with dozens of other cyclists. I quickly refilled my water bottles, and I also availed myself of the Girl Scout cookies which the volunteers had provided. (No Thin Mints, of course, because those would have melted in the heat.)
After a 15-minute break I was back on the road and heading west on Moore Road. Thankfully the worst of the climbs were behind me, and the next 10 to 15 miles were predominantly downhill, which was a welcome change after the miles of climbing earlier in the day.
As I rode by a family which was cheering on the riders, their boys were all holding out their hands for high fives; most riders passed them by without obliging, but I held out my hand and swatted them all - thankfully without losing my balance in the process.
As I have seen on other long rides, I encountered a variety of interesting bicycles throughout the day's ride; most cyclists were on road bikes, of course, but there were a lot of mountain bikes, several single-speeds, a bunch of tandems, a smattering of recumbent bikes, and a couple of complete novelties - someone was riding a an ElliptiGO for the full 106 miles, and another guy was riding a unicycle. (I have no idea what distance the unicyclist was riding, but it was before we had merged with the cyclists riding for 28 miles, so the unicyclist was riding at least 37 miles.)
The route headed down Avra Valley Road and then onto Silverbell Road, which I mentioned earlier was different than riding down the Frontage Road in previous years. There were a few things about this new route which were a welcome change; namely that the ride was nowhere near as boring as 20 miles of riding along a frontage road next to an Interstate. The biggest drawback was, however, that riding south meant facing into the wind - again.
Nevertheless, after an hour's ride south on Silverbell Road, the route turned east on Speedway, then shortly after that the route briefly turned onto Mission Road and then 22nd Street, thereby retracing the final miles of the route from previous years. After that we turned onto 6th Avenue for the final stretch to the finish.
|Turning onto 6th Avenue for the final mile. |
|Approaching the finish line. |
I crossed the finish line around 8½ hours after I had started, although my actual riding time was just shy of 8 hours. (The remaining half-hour was spent on my two stops and the several intersections where I had to wait for the street lights to change.) It should go without mentioning that I was exceedingly happy to be done with the ride, and after picking up my silver medal for my time category, I found a quiet place to stash my bicycle for a few minutes and I bought a slice of pizza with a bottle of Gatorade to celebrate my successful completion of another "Century Ride."
Looking over the miles that I rode, my ride began with 25 miles of riding uphill into the wind, and it ended with 20 miles of riding uphill into the wind; so just shy of 50% of the ride was spent riding uphill while enduring a steady wind in my face. That was subpar, to say the least, but there wasn't anything that could be done about it. I would estimate that the wind added at least an hour to my ride time, although it would probably be more accurate to say that it added 1½ hours to my ride time.
- Primary Statistics:
- Start Time: 6:58am
- Distance: 106 miles (105.6 miles on my GPS)
- Duration: 8 hours, 36 minutes (7 hours, 52 minutes on my GPS)
- Calories Burned: 3,074 kcal
- Altitude Gain: 4,259 feet
- Average Speed: 13.4 mph
- Peak Speed: 32.7 mph
- Average Cadence: 73.0 rpm
- Average: 72.1 F
- Minimum: 48.2 F
- Maximum: 86.0 F
- Heart Rate:
- Average: 147 bpm
- Maximum: 183 bpm
It dawned on me earlier today that this year - 2016 - marks 30 years since I first joined the military. In early 1986 I reported to Phoenix, AZ, for induction into the US Army, where I raised my hand and I repeated the following oath:
"I, Robert McMurray, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God."
Little did I know the adventure upon which I was embarking, and what a profound difference the next eight years would have on my life.
During my tenure in the Army, I was sent to a a lot of places where I did a lot of interesting things; there are a bunch of stories which I can talk about, and there are some circumstances which I will never be able to discuss. I had some amazing experiences, along with a handful of terrifying incidents, and there are a few decisions that I made about which I will continue to question whether I did the right thing for the rest of my life.
I spent months away from my wife and children in faraway places - quite often in deplorable conditions - and all for a paycheck which was less than I would have earned if I had stayed home and got a job flipping burgers for a living.
On the other hand, I was anorexic when I joined the Army, and in that respect the military may have saved my life. I weighed less than 114 pounds when I reported for Basic Training, and yet I still thought that I was hideously overweight. By way of contrast, I weighed 135 pounds when I graduated Basic Training eight weeks later, and I had learned how to be thankful for eating three meals a day.
Most of my time in the military consisted of serving at three different duty stations: the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, CA, for a year; the 511th Military Intelligence Company in Fulda, Germany, for 3½ years, and the 111th Military Intelligence Brigade in Fort Huachuca, AZ, for 3 years. (My remaining six months of service was spent in Basic Training and a variety of other undisclosed locations.)
Despite the passing of several decades, I am still friends with several of the people with whom I served, and I have done my best to regale my comrades-in-arms in other blogs on this website with some of the stories which I had taken the time to write down during our service together. We were privileged to be first-hand witnesses to some amazing times in history; from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union.
That being said, moving on to each duty station was always a strange experience. Like everyone else before me, I was always the "newbie" when I arrived; I was surrounded by people who had been stationed there longer, all of whom had months or years of shared experiences, and they all knew how everything worked. By the end of my first year, I was no longer the new guy, and I would find myself teaching the newly-arriving recruits all the same important details which I had learned during my initial months. By the end of each tenure, I was an "old timer," despite the fact that I was only 25 years old when I left Fulda, and only 28 years old when I left Fort Huachuca.
I would love to say that I endured all of my military experiences with a positive attitude, but that would be far too dishonest. Those who knew me "way back when" can certainly attest to the fact that my attitudes about the Army often fluctuated, and usually in a negative direction. (That general attitude is reflected in several of my stories on this website.) Eventually I realized that I was not like some of my brothers-in-arms who could survive 20 years in uniform in order to earn their retirement, so I chose to exit the military after two four-year tours of service.
By the end of my time in the Army, I had graduated with honors from every school which I had attended, earned a college degree, received a bunch of awards and decorations, and served exactly 3,700 days. Nevertheless, it was time for me to go.
I have never regretted my time in the service, although I must admit that I have no desire to repeat most of my experiences. (Rappelling from a helicopter might be fun, though.) Just the same, I am incredibly thankful for the guys with whom I served; it was an honor and a privilege to work with them.
For people who are either unhappy or ecstatic about this year's election, consider the following statistics:
The figures collected by United States Elections Project show that of the 231,556,622 people who are eligible to vote in our nation, only 131,741,500 actually participated, meaning that an estimated 99,815,122 people did not vote.(1) In other words, 43% of the population refused to contribute to this year's presidential race.
Think about that for a moment. That's almost 100 million people who could have made a difference.
With that in mind, let's look at some additional statistics from the election:
As of this writing, the New York Times' election website lists 60,071,781 popular election votes for HRC versus 59,791,135 votes for DJT, which is a difference of only 280,646 votes.(2) This means that even a tiny fraction of the tens of millions of votes which were not cast could have easily made the the difference between winning or losing for either candidate.
Just 0.003% more of the population would have given DJT a popular majority, although it would have taken much less than that for HRC to have swung a few of the Midwest states in her favor. For example, DJT won the state of Pennsylvania by only 68,236 votes, and he won the state of Florida by only 119,770 votes.(2) If those two states had gone to HRC, the election results would have been dramatically different; HRC would have had 277 electoral college votes on election day versus 241 for DJT. In other words, less than 200,000 votes could have elected HRC.
We all really need to let that concept sink in, regardless of whether you are satisfied or distraught by the results of this year's election.
What all this means for you personally is - you really need to mobilize your fellow party members to get out and vote for the next election. The participation of your fellow citizens will either swing the election in your candidate's favor, or it will widen the gap so that your candidate has a clear and uncontested victory.
- United States Elections Project (http://www.electproject.org/2016g)
- New York Times (http://nyti.ms/2fAyEAv)
Many years ago, I used to think that abolishing the electoral college was a good idea. To be honest, I felt that way for the majority of my life. But that was until I studied more about the history and purpose of the electoral college, and then I slowly came to realize that even though situations like 2016's election debacle are a distinct possibility, our existing electoral system actually makes a lot of sense.
The following videos came out over a year ago, and they explain not only why the electoral college is essential when trying to prevent a candidate from only focusing on specific states with high populations, but also why the abolition of the electoral college would have drastic outcomes.
Do You Understand the Electoral College?
The Popular Vote vs. the Electoral College
To summarize these two videos - doing away with the electoral college sounds like a good idea when you're upset at the results of an election, but it's really not.
That being said, the word which best describes most Americans after this year's election is "angry." And I get it. You're probably angry. I'm angry. Millions of people are angry. This year's election sucked.
But that being said, impassioned and uninformed responses are not the best way to bring about the changes which our electoral process so desperately needs. If people really want to make a difference, they need to encourage the Democratic Party to abolish their ridiculous system of "Super Delegates," which is what helped HRC to unfairly steal the DNC's nomination from Bernie Sanders, who most-likely could have defeated the Drumpf.