Arizona, The Grand Canyon State

I’m ready to move to Arizona.

Okay, not really, but I definitely got a taste for its appeal.

Three days of 90+ degree temperatures, great cycling roads and time relaxing poolside was almost enough to blind me from the sprawl of strip malls, overwhelming amounts of ‘surgically-enhanced’ individuals and lack of real water—lakes, rivers or ocean.

To its credit, the area had a unique beauty all its own. Rocky, jagged peaks soar from the desert floor in every direction. The graveled landscape in sandy, pink hues provide a beautiful backdrop to stunning varieties of cacti and beautiful desert blooms. And the azure sky with whisps of clouds gliding by seems endless. At night, it is really dark, despite the urban sprawl, providing a chance to gaze at a blanket of stars—a rare sight in the Seattle area. And, as it was Arizona Bike Week, there was a fun ‘rough-around-the-edges’ atmosphere with throngs of motorbikes roaring up and down the streets and parked in front of biker bars—the kind I had really only seen in the movies.

Actually, there was something about it that felt a bit nostalgic to me. Growing up, I spent my summers among the hot, arid landscape in and around Helena, Montana. While Montana doesn’t have cacti dotting the landscape, the rocky peaks, Native American/cowboy culture, and barbed wire fences felt reminiscent of my childhood.

Home on the Range.

Here are 5 observations from my short trip to Scottsdale and my first trip to Arizona:

1. Climbing is easier in Arizona.

Since I started bike racing, I have never considered myself a climber. I was perennially the last one up climbs, huffing and puffing (sometimes wheezing and swearing) while everyone else on the ride waited at the top. Not this weekend. I went on a shop ride with the intermediate group, worried that I’d get left behind in an unfamiliar area due to my lack of ‘inner mountain goat.’ However, I was the second person, male of female, to get up a sustained, several-mile climb! 

Not a huge climb, but the sign is awesome!

I was excited and I attribute it to this—it never really felt like a ‘climb.’ Everywhere I rode during my trip (with maybe one or two exceptions) had really steady, low-grade, long climbs instead of short and steep ones, like I’m used to in the Pacific Northwest. The ability for me to get into a steady rhythm, keeping my power steady, allowed me to chug right up the hillside. Although I may never wear a Queen of the Mountains jersey, this weekend gave me hope and confidence that maybe I’m not a complete lost cause after all. It also makes me think I should consider racing Ironman Arizona in the future.


2. Arizona is more bike friendly.

This trip made me wonder how-in-the-world Seattle made the list of the top 5 Most Bike-Friendly Cities in the U.S. At home, I am constantly honked at and have and numerous close calls with vehicles who don’t aspire to ‘share the road.’ That, on top of countless potholes, truckloads of gravel in the shoulder, narrow roads and constant rain, sometimes I don’t know why I ride in Seattle if I think too much about it. On my trip, the wide lanes of smooth pavement allowed cars to safely pass me on even the busiest of roads. There were plenty of bike lanes and the clean shoulders made it easy to stay out of the way. I was only honked at once (I’m hoping out of flattery!) and only had one jackass driving a Maserati, aggressively pass by me.

3. Arizona is clever.

Not a real cactus!

Clever, at least when it comes to telephone poles that is. On my ride with the bike shop, the other riders pointed out to me the darndest thing—fake cacti. Apparently all of their communications poles are camoflauged as giant cacti. At first I thought it was a joke they were pulling on a gullible tourist (me), but if I really looked closely, I could tell the difference. Brilliant. What could Washington hide our poles in? Fake espresso stands?

4. Arizona sprawl is ugly.

The unique beauty of the landscape is tainted by the miles and miles of continuous strip malls. I appreciate the effort to ‘blend’ the strip mall architecture into the landscape, but man, the monotony became dizzying and a bit disorienting. I found myself asking ‘is that the strip mall I make a right at, or is there one that looks exactly like it in another couple of blocks? I will give them a bit of credit for effort. A small group went to dinner at a Mexican restaurant in a strip mall that offered outdoor dining. It was the first strip mall I’ve ever been to with a babbling brook-like water feature.

5. Arizona is crazy.

Bikes on parade during Arizona Bike Week.

On my way back to the resort from the bike shop ride, I was stopped by a police officer. I was attempting to use the crosswalk to essentially make a left-hand turn out of, you guessed it, a gigantic strip mall. He told me I wasn’t going to be able to make my turn and that I’d need to use an alternate route. Being that I didn’t know the area, I told him I didn’t have an alternate route. I was just going to have to wait. Why? The police officer was stopping traffic to allow the dozens and dozens of motorbikes through. As I watched the bikes roar by, I noticed that maybe 1 in 10 riders are wearing helmets. After they had all passed, I asked the police offer why helmets weren’t required by law there. He answered, “I don’t know. We have some crazy laws here.”

That’s for sure. Don’t even get me started on their immigration policies.

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6 Responses to Arizona, The Grand Canyon State

  1. Graem Looper says:

    Carly, you have a great writing sensability, totally enjoyed reading this. I think I’ll move to Arizona and be more polite to bikers in Seattle 🙂


    • carlsincharge says:

      Thanks for the comments! I really look at this blog as ‘perfectionist’ therapy. The teachers at LC taught me how to be a great business writer, but knocked out all of my creative writing sensibilities. I’m trying to get a little bit of that back. I’m sure you are probably a very polite driver!

  2. Lisa says:

    you are a great writer! That was fun to read 🙂 and now I am looking forward to some time away from Seattle (we are skipping next winter because of our trip!!!)

    • carlsincharge says:

      Thanks Lisa! I hope that Cherry Blossom was at least a break from the rain for you if not the clouds. If you can get away for a bit, do it! I feel so much better.

  3. Thanks for your comment at Triaspirational! I join previous commenters in expressing appreciation for this fun post – I too fantasize about cycling in Arizona, though I fear that IMAZ might just be too hot for me (dry, though!)… The fake cactus thing is INSANE!

  4. carlsincharge says:

    I think the nice thing about IMAZ is that the weather would at least be predictable. If I know for sure it will be hot, I can mentally prepare. IMCDA could be hot, could be freezing or anything in between. I volunteered two years ago and it barely got to be 65 and it rained on the late marathoners. Last year, I was begging for ice as I ‘ran’ my marathon in 85 degrees … after not having one training day warmer than 72.

    Cycling in AZ is awesome. I highly recommend it. I don’t think I would have ever gone there without having another reason, but I’m really glad I did.

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