Seated in the sky for what feels like days, landed is a good feeling. An hour spurned waiting then convincing customs that a rogue banana isn’t a threat to national security puts on a connection-flight pressure that I’m just too tired for. Coming to America, I shouldn’t have, but I did try to fool a sniffer dog into ignoring my lunch. Mono-tasked they may be, but good at it they are.
Arizona stuns by daylight: Sagauro cactus prick the skyline in every direction; dust tracks and trailer homes; Stars and Stripes; huge trucks; big blue skies stretch from all corners across empty roads heading in straight lines toward dusty blue-gray mountain ridges watching over them.
Veterans of Tucson—Montana-based camp operator The Cycling House and legendary titanium masters Moots—share this annual owners’ camp at the foot of Mount Lemmon. Twenty-one miles of steady, well-surfaced, cactus- then forest- then rock- then vista-lined curves and switchbacks that, despite their hardship, beguile us with rewards of views so stunning it leaves empty speech bubbles to be filled in later. Picturesque does not do it justice; this is unreal. Looking out across the spread-out grid of this cactus city sleeping between mountain ranges on all sides gives a sense of perspective—humbling, like the presence of all mountains, yes, but something more. Hard to put your finger on. Different to the Alps and Pyrénées and Dolomites, this is like your local hills photocopied at 400 percent and then plonked into a John Ford film set. No, actually, that’s it. Familiar and yet otherworldly, this is like a John Ford film set because it probably was one!
Waiting atop a mountain with long lens for cyclists, a familiar task; to meet friends of friends just riding by 7,000 miles from home, a new one on me. Solidity provided by who knows whom, warmth felt through mutual interest and openness. Invitations made, connections light, Colnagos descend. I wait. Voices heard on switchbacks below, shutter-count increased, sit back down in basked winter sun. A slow business capturing a spread-out group taking on a mountain. Terrain changes with altitude. Cactus stops abruptly—too cold for them just one floor up. Pines and grasses and sage aromas accompany us. Rocks emerge balanced precariously for thousands of years…not today. Ride past and up. Viewpoints stop us in our tracks, each better than the last but likely not as good as the next. Gamble on one. Twist, twist, stick? Hold out for a better one. Curves straighten out and flatten, the best view yet for a group reunited and a mission completed. On to 45 minutes of downtime….
There will be more of this: Kitt Peak, Gates Pass, Madera Canyon. That’s for other days. Here and now, chef Steph’s lunch—whole food yearned for by a dozen tired bodies. Sweet potatoes, squash, a goat-cheese-and-grape salad welcomed. Warmed, roasted pecans, sweetened by honey, a surprise delight. Spiced brown rice or homemade bread to accompany, it is a feast for the famished already uploading to Strava. Guzzled fast, still appreciated; simplicity and nutrition in balance here. Task done. But the tasks are never done behind the scenes.
Brainchild of Owen Gue, this house of cycling did what it was supposed to for escaped roadie souls hedged in by Montana winters. More than a decade later, it has gained helpers that came for a season and stayed for a life, following this charming, gentle, talented, pied-piper rouleur. Punters too—repeat custom always the indicator. A campfire feeling warms this living space, the staff exiting stage left to fill dishwashers and hang out bib shorts unnoticed while these titanium strangers chew the fat.
All too quickly, this week of new hills and friends will be in the past, memory reviving the big moments; and in time, with space and quiet, reflection will recall the smaller, more intricate and special ones to accompany a smile.
As the final evening, after a hard last ride, unveils—a feast of homemade Mexican delights, reds and greens and orange and black wrapped and stuffed and smushed together to make a long, loud, happy table go back for seconds—it creeps over faces that these exciting new smiles won’t be coming home with them tomorrow. Home is where these hearts are after tonight but now, here, a tribe brought together stays together as long as the candles burn into the night, probably already wondering about next year and the possibility of getting this band together once more.
From issue 50. SOLD OUT!