The drive across northeast Arizona was gorgeous. I think it’s called high desert? At elevation the landscape changes dramatically. It’s quite green. Of course I was driving up or down 7-10% grades most of the time so it was literally exhausting my right calf and I couldn’t take any pictures, but just google images of Tonto National Forest to get an idea. We were supposed to go for a bike ride or something so I had Tom find somewhere scenic on our route where we could hop out and go for a quick jaunt. Turns out we would be driving right through the middle of the Painted Desert. Perfect!
Or not so perfect. By the time we arrived there was a crazy storm brewing with really high winds, and the temperature had dropped significantly. And the park closes at sunset, which we were rapidly approaching. We had a nice chat with a ranger who suggested we just drive through to Blue Mesa and maybe walk the path they just built. There are pull-outs throughout the park, most suitable for RVs (they are plentiful in these parts), but she pointed out one or two we should avoid. We wasted too much time at the lookouts on the northern edge of the park not realizing how magnificent the Blue Mesa would be and we ended up getting chased out of the park by the rangers at dusk. And while we did not manage to avoid the rain storm, we were also there for some magnificent [double] rainbows. It was just about a mile path down into and around the Blue Mesa. The perspective of looking back up at the rocks is much more powerful than standing on the rim looking down in. The water running off the rock down into the canyon was actually this pale purple-mauve color. There was also some petrified wood which I don’t think I’d ever seen – but it’s basically big pieces of tree trunks that look like sparkly rocks.
Although clearly we weren’t the first people to wander off the path to this particular piece of petrified wood, it was also clear that we were walking on quicksand so we quickly returned to the path as the sun was setting over the horizon.
A local college hosts a charity bike ride through the park in the fall to raise scholarship funds. I’d love to come back and ride here on a slightly less windy, cold, stormy day. I caught this shot quickly as the ranger chasing us out stopped to close the gates behind us.
As we approached Albuquerque our plan was to stay overnight at the Camping World on the west side of the city. Upon arrival we discovered this was one of the few locations that does not allowed overnighting. Womp womp. It was past 9pm and too late to call any proper RV parks or check in to any campgrounds. We drove through the city and my hopes of running around Sandia Crest the next morning were dashed as we passed all the exits near the park. There was a Harvest Host site up the road I thought might work, but reviews mentioned something about being locked in behind a gate so that was out. In the end we resorted to a Wal-Mart parking lot in a little town just off the interstate. We weren’t alone but it was past 10pm, cold and windy. No point in unhitching, just dropped some jacks and made a little dinner. By the time we woke up all our neighbors were gone so we had a quick breakfast, hit up a grocery store Starbucks, and headed on. The view wasn’t terrible but it’s a shame we did zero exploring in New Mexico.
If my mother ever asks, we stayed at a campground, definitely NOT in a parking lot.
The whole point of coming to Scottsdale/Tempe was to volunteer at the Ironman – otherwise why put ourselves through 3 long long days of driving to Memphis in time for turkey right? I asked Matt if there was room for me in the BASE team house but it seemed pretty full – so he said we could park the Airstream in the driveway and just hang out in the house, use the showers, etc. But after the situation in Tucson we played it safe and booked a spot at a proper RV Park. After another successful parking job by yours truly we hopped on our bikes (my triathlon bike actually) and headed out to ride the race course. The park was only a block or two off the course which worked out great, except the route didn’t have good bike lanes or even shoulders for some high traffic sections and the first 20 minutes were a little nerve wracking as jerk drivers honked at and buzzed us. Out on the Bee Line Highway we had a nice wide shoulder but we also had headwinds and a 10 mile false flat. We missed the markings for the U-turn and found ourselves out by a military base and caught in some traffic for a rodeo. After cutting across 4 lanes of divided highway we were headed back.
We missed the turn for the bridge across the river to the Ironman village and were again honked at and buzzed before pulling off onto a pedestrian walkway (maybe for bikes?). We said hi to the BASE folks then chased daylight back to the RV park – happily on a proper bike path thru a park. We were conveniently located 3 miles from the village on a good bike route.
There were a ton of athletes from Portland in town to race including several of Tom’s former teammates, the Ironheads, and Summit Coaching clients. They invited us to their hotel for dinner and we hit up a Hispanic grocery for a sad wine selection en route. I know it was nice for Tom to have some friends to hang with after we’d spent a few days with all my gal pals in Tucson. Karen and Bob RV too so lots to talk about – and if any of my Seattle friends got caught in a 4 hour interstate closure at SeaTac back in July I know why lol.
Saturday we had to swim, bike, run so we started off at a nice outdoor aquatic center nearby, bumping into Hillary, Alyssa, and a bunch of Smashfest girls. Then we drove over to Hole in the Rock to run on pink paths around Papago park in the hot sun. We had to do another loop on the race course but with some TT efforts but first we rode to the village where I bought some new Hokas and chatted with my Base Salt peeps. I even forked over $10 to the mechanic tent staff because my headset was rattling around again and I didn’t have my multi-tool on me (hello lazy!). I thought I was feeling good and excited for a little workout on the P3 but I quickly realized that my Wahoo was paired with Tom’s power meter (my battery was apparently dead) so I had no meaningful data for my intervals and with the crazy winds I was beyond frustrated. Plus apparently Tom has been holding back on our rides and is way stronger than me when he actually tries so it was demoralizing to watch him ride off into the distance. He waited after #2 though so we could cross the highway together to head back towards town with the wind at our backs for #3. I got caught at the only stoplight though and started chatting with a 2 time IMAZ finisher who was volunteering too and out for an easy picture snapping ride.
After the ride we headed to the BASE house for team dinner and hot tubbing. Indeed the driveway would not have worked for the trailer seeing as how it was gated and had a decent pitch to it. The place was awesome however and we enjoyed hanging out until it started to get cliquey (as all triathlete gatherings eventually do) at which point we bowed out. The clique-i-ness continued the next day as we arrived, by bike, to help set up the salt party on the race course. It was still important to be there for the racers though. Just before dark I decided we needed warmer clothes and I hadn’t gotten in my run for the day so I ran the 5k back to the trailer. Stuffed a few extra layers into my hydration pack and ran back to the aid station. Most of the racers I knew were finished and it was turning into a stream of exhausted walkers. Not long after, I got really tired myself so we packed up and rode back. We had a long day of driving ahead of us and needed to get a little rest.
Except for feeling like an outsider with the crowd that we actually came to hang out with and support, we really enjoyed Tempe/Scottsdale and hope to return soon. Of all the Ironman venues I’ve been to though, this one felt a little different, a little snottier. Maybe it was the hateful drivers, maybe it was the abundance of athletes set on punching their Kona tickets, maybe it was the wretched wind, maybe it’s just a west coast vibe, but it didn’t make me want to come race in Arizona, that’s for sure.