Friday, 23 October 2015

Oak Creek Canyon & Sedona

When I was coming here, I knew there were some places I have to visit. One of them was Sedona - a little town about 50km south from Flagstaff, that used to serve as a "Wild West Town" for a number of western movies.
So, I was very nice to my bike, got it a nice dinner the night before, promised some ice cream when we come back, and off we go.
The main thing I was worried about wasn't the distance (it turned out to be 53km one way). I think that's a distance that even as shitty cyclists as myself are able to handle easily.
The problem was the elevation difference. Flagstaff is at 2100 m above the sea level, Sedona - at 1372 m. That - in theory - should make a really easy and fun ride one way, and a really painful one on the way back.
Well, it wasn't that fun that way either. Even if it was more than 700m down, there were many uphills as well. I think in total it was about 300m up and over 1km down that way.

I set off at 8am, it was still quite cold, but it was cloudless and sunny, so I expected it to be a really nice day. After about 10km I finally left Flagstaff on State Route 89A. In the beginning it goes parallel to Interstate 17, then they split, and 89A goes a bit more west.
After about 15km it started to be quite hard, some of the uphills were draining my hope of ever finishing this trip. Actually downhills were even more depressing, as I knew I would have to climb them on my way back. But it's still early, I've got a whole day (no running today - need to recover, plus my knee is still a bit angry at me).
So I ride, stopping from time to time to take some pictures, as the landscape is really nice. Here's a few:

Then, after about 28-30km, there is a sign: "7% decline, next 3 miles".
Great, I thought, that's gonna be about an hour walk on my way back. My future self won't thank my current self for taking a decision to continue. I was really close to turn around and go back home. Fortunately I thought that my future self will have to live with that, so far it's my current self who's in charge. So I continue to cycle, and then, just after I passed a sharp bend - I knew that my future self will forgive my very recent self for doing that. Suddenly I was on the ridge of the canyon.
It's hard to describe the view, or how happy and astonished I suddenly felt.
The road twisting down along the canyon, losing about 400m in maybe 3km. The vast, open space below me, the mountains on the horizon, and some hawks floating above it all. Simply breathtaking.
Here are some shitty photos that don't give that view a justice a tiniest bit, but I don't have anything better:

As expected, getting down was quite easy business. Basically, I realised cycling is quite fun. As long as you're cycling downhill. It's quite different to running, which - in my opinion - is most fun when you run on the flat surface. When it gets hilly, it gets hard, no matter if you're going uphill or downhill. All right, you're going much faster downhill, but it still can be a hard work, and it can actually batter your legs even more than going uphill. But on the bike - blimey, going downhill is for free! I suppose that's why it feels so hard to cycle uphill... there's no such thing like a free lunch.

Anyway, I'm still cycling to Sedona. Now I'm at the bottom of the canyon (it's called Oak Creek Canyon, after Oak Creek - a small, well, creek, that runs in the bottom of it), creek is joyfully accompanying me, sun is shining, birds are singing, cars are passing by.
Speaking of cars, drivers seems to be really polite here. I mean, all of the car drivers, and most of the tank drivers. They don't ignore cyclists, overtaking with a safe margin. Only those tanks are sometimes a bit scary. I think it's because they're not allowed to drive actual tanks in the times of peace, so they have to disguise them as huge cars. You know, just take the gun and caterpillar tracks out, and here you go - your tank is now fully legal to drive it on the roads. But I suppose that deep down there is some frustration, that your beloved war machine is discriminated. So that makes some of the drivers angry, and therefore - they drive fast and in a cyclist-scarying manner. Fortunately there are very few of those, the vast majority is ok.

Few more pictures from the Oak Creek Canyon:

Finally, after exactly 3.5 hours, I'm in Sedona. It consists of very touristy main street, which is actually very nice, and nice and quiet rest of the town. It's small, but it seems to be a perfect base for hiking, running, cycling and so on, as the surroundings are mind-blowing. There are numerous jeep and helicopter touring companies, so even if you're not into sports, you can still see a lot (maybe even more than if you're into sports, as being driven around in a jeep doesn't make you sweat like a pig and effectively blind you).
The main street of Sedona looks like this:

Not-so-main streets look more like that:

I stayed in Sedona for about 2 hours. Took some rest, had lunch, walked around a little bit. Then, before I left, I've done the smartest thing in my life: I went to a bike shop, and asked the guy to inflate my tires properly! Holy shit, that makes a difference! Suddenly my bike moves, I can even cycle uphill! So I set off on my way home, as I was expecting it would take me at least 1-2 hours longer to get back (over 1km up, remember?).
The first part was surprisingly good. On my way to Sedona, after I got into the canyon, it was almost all the time downhill. I was really scared I won't be able to make it back. But hey, it seems it's enough to put more air into your tires, and you can even cycle uphills! Finally I got to that super-steep bit, when you have to climb back to the rim of the canyon. That was too much, I started walking. Got lucky here, as whenI was more-less half way through it, some nice guy gave me a lift to the top of the hill. It was maybe 5 minutes in a car, but saved me at least half an hour of climbing.
From that point it was easier, although it was still about 30km to go.
Finally I could see the Humphrey's Peak - the highest mountain in the area. I knew that if I can see it, home is near. And it was. It took me under 4.5 hours back, so actually better than I expected.

It was a hell of a trip. 106km in total, about 1.1km up, and the same down. I think that was the longest bike ride I've ever done. But well worth all the pain. Arizona is beautiful.

PS. Funny addition: that's what list of countries expands to, when you're trying to book a room in Grand Canyon Village:

Apparently not the whole of the USA noticed that they've actually won the Cold War...

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