The Around the Bend 400!

One good thing about repeating a brevet you’re ridden in the past is that you’re given an opportunity to better your previous results. One downside is that you know the areas that combines high traffic and rude drivers….not be confused with high traffic and rude cyclists.

This is a route that circles from Casa Grande to Gila Bend and then traverses Phoenix from west-to-east where we eventually turn south and west back to Casa Grande.

When we rode last year’s version, David Brake and I were relatively new to brevets and weren’t 100% that we could even ride 400-km (250 miles) in one day. Our confidence level was higher this year and without stating the obvious, I think each of us felt we could finish better than last year’s 19:50.

We kept to our normal routine – breakfast at the Chandler Rd Waffle House followed by the short drive to Casa Grande. As fate has it, that breakfast was the only full meal of the day so I’m thankful we took time to eat properly.

The usual suspects signed up for the 400 and we had a few visitors. Catherine Shenk from Boulder registered as did Ronaele Foss from Colorado Springs. I think Ronaele likes the AZ group – she’s become practically a regular attendee. We met Catherine on the Utah Triple Loop 600 last year. One word of advice regarding Catherine: “Don’t pull on Superwoman’s Cape.” She’s a heck of a rider and always smiling.

The briefing went a tad long on Saturday morning and that’s fine. Getting everyone to listen is akin to herding cats so our start was delayed a few minutes. What’s a few minutes when you’re faced with 15-18-20+ hours in front of you?

The A-team was off the front as if shot from a cannon. This time, we didn’t make an attempt to hang with them – those guys, and gal, are amazing riders who know how to work together. I think it was Catherine, Carlton, Steve and Roger who formed the core. My apologies if I left someone out.

The first few miles to Maricopa were uneventful almost to the point of boring. We passed a few here and there and performed a leap-frog routine with Matthew Jungers who is an affable, strong first year rider. I believe Matthew is a PhD student at ASU. Just for the record, I have socks that are older than Matthew. We met on the SNP 300 towards the end and finished together.

When we made the turn to Gila Bend, I was anticipating this portion with near glee.  The climb out of Maricopa is described as “railroad grade” which is code for “recumbents can maintain 16-17 mph without killing themselves”. In reality, it’s only a climb from around 1150-ft at the 37 mile point until you top out at around 1520-ft at the 61 mile point.  There was a bit of tailwind which helped.

The route from that point into Gila Bend simply screams “fun”. Bob Lynn and Margaret O’Kelley, both from El Paso, can attest that someone did the “GEICO pig” when passing them on last year’s ride.

I guess it was about this point that the wind started to build but it wasn’t a factor on this section. My speeds topped out at 37 mph as we descended 800 ft over about 17 miles into Gila Bend. Screaming fun.

We waved at the A-team as they were heading out of Gila Bend – happy to note that they weren’t too far in front of us but not willing to admit that they likely sat down to a leisurely breakfast at one of Gila Bend’s more famous restaurants. (I’m kidding of course – everyone knows that there’s nothing in Gila Bend that rises above a 2-star restaurant.)

David and I talked about not spending too much time in Gila Bend but with the wind building and a long leg to Buckeye, we decided to eat a little something before striking out again. We hit the Burger King for a quick bite and we were amused at the attention that our recumbents attracted from a bus-load of elderly travelers who had stopped at the same location.

Once we hit the road again, we passed Matthew again and settled in for the long slog to Buckeye. The wind was mildly brutal and it turned into ‘mind over matter’. Just sit back, try to maintain some semblance of pace and patience while knowing that it won’t last forever.

We seemed to catch a break as the road took a slight turn towards the west and crossed the Gillespie Dam Bridge. This year, we noticed some new additions to the site which included a historic marker that told the story of the bridge and the dam.

These pictures are from the site noted above.  I’ve copied and linked them from my account in case the site above is ever taken down:

We stopped for a few pictures and as was to be the pattern, Matthew caught and passed us again. This was my favorite stop of the day – I enjoyed learning about the history of the dam and in true Arizona fashion, this one shows the pioneer spirit of self-sufficiency that ranchers have displayed over the years.

Buckeye was… well, Buckeye so we passed through on our way towards the east.  I was concerned about the traffic around Phoenix International Raceway which was holding a minor NASCAR race.

I’m from the deep south. I know rednecks and racefans and am leery of them. I’ve been to exactly two races in my life. The first was at the old Birmingham Raceway which was event that preceded NASCAR. I wasn’t more than 5 or 6 years old. The only memories are of the noise and not being able to see a lot. The last race was at PIR several years ago. I took the scenic route across the desert from the Mobile area on a KTM 950 and parked literally outside the main gate. I left after a few hours – racing in that format isn’t for me.

The roads leading to the venue were configured to move people away from the track, not cyclists going past it. I knew that the road going into it is wide but they had moved the east-bound traffic to the far right, one lane, in mostly gravel-covered asphalt. We didn’t have any issues but those few motorists behind us were frustrated at not being able to easily pass us. Some took to the lane going west to get around us. There was no traffic there so it wasn’t an issue.

We stopped at the Circle K at Southern and Avondale which was covered by vendors selling NASCAR-related gear. As usual, the recumbents attracted the attention of a few but mostly, we watched as sun-burned fans purchased beer and water to sustain themselves after a hard afternoon of watching their favorite drivers master the oval track of PIR.

Prior to hitting that area, we had caught Matthew again and were riding mostly as a group of three. I can’t speak for the others, but I was happy when we turned off of Southern onto Broadway! That’s one mile further away from the Circle K and one more mile moving tangentially away from the race crowd.

We set our next goal for the store at Pecos and 51st Ave. This is the last stop between there and Chandler that has supplies. I know this location well – from my house to the store and back is roughly 45 miles so it’s a regular route for me. Wide shoulders, low volume but you do see the occasional DUI-related traffic stop or accident. There was a cyclist who was hit there a few months ago by a drunk driver but for the most part, the reservation police keep a high visibility on 51/Riggs Rd and have even stopped to see if I needed assistance when wrestling with a flat tire. Good guys.

As we turned to the east towards I-10, we came across Tom Baker maintaining a secret control. I was surprised to see them and actually rode past them and did a u-turn to come back. Actually, it wasn’t a secret control but David had fun asking Matthew to name the 11th Vice-president of the US.

From the record – I google’d it – it was George Mifflin Davis:

We talked about our food options with Tom knowing that there were plenty of places to stop as we traversed through the east valley. At one traffic light, David mentioned the promise of food at the last control so we agreed that we’d skip any other food stops and take advantage of the food there.

Now, I’m not sure what David heard but trust me, I was a little disappointed when we arrived at the intersection of Combs and Schnepf only to find an ice machine and a Coke machine. OK – we can deal with this – where’s the next market or Cicle K?

As we resumed our travels, I spotted a small market on the left and led the group there. Big mistake – all they carried was Mexican snacks and food meaning the pickings were slim for typical cyclists food. No matter – we made do with dulce de leche, potato chips, drinks and other snacks as the local kids entertained us with their music and driving antics.

It was a relatively quiet ride back to Casa Grande – no issue with drivers until we hit Cottonwood and one particular, impatient driver decided his horn was the mechanism of choice for informing us of his displeasure.

We arrived back at the start of 00:26 or 26 minutes more than my personal goal which was to start and finish a 400 on the same day. Still, it was a much better time than last year’s 19:50 but far behind the A-team which I believe finished at 21:40 – an amazing ride.

What worked?

  • Riding with David and Matthew – good friends, good riders
  • Our speeds were respectable without killing ourselves
  • No flats and no significant equipment issues
  • The A-team – a very good group of riders!

What didn’t work?

  • We goofed up a little with food – we really need to be more cognizant of our needs and not purposely ride past so many food stops.
  • My Garmin 810 locked up and FUBAR’d my ride data. I hate when that happens since it’s nice to have the route plugged in but we did well without any GPS routing just the same.
  • I was cold – one more layer would have been nice but luckily, it didn’t reach the ‘miserable’ setting.

Many thanks to Tom Baker and Michele Brougher for their efforts!

Edit:  Here’s Steve Adkins’ perspective from the front group – always an enjoyable read.  



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