Cycling into the Day
The heat is upon us here in Phoenix these days. Daytime temperatures have been in the 90's for several weeks and have moved into the 100's where they will stay for a very long three months at least. Anyone with sense just stays indoors from noon to 6:00 pm. I do. But I still want to ride my bike, which these days means racing the sun. I head out about an hour before sunrise when the day is still refreshingly cool and (a bonus!) traffic is nil.
A few weeks ago the pre-dawn offered a grand view of the morning sky, with Venus shining brightly in the east and Jupiter hovering just above the western horizon. Despite the great discrepancy in brightness, the two planets seemed to represent a cosmic balance on the edge of a dawning day. Jupiter is gone from the morning sky, setting but a very pale yellow Venus still lingers over the darkened silhouette of Camelback Mountain as morning light filters into the eastern sky. In the still darkness before twilight, I have the streets and the city pretty much to myself. Riding will be less pleasant when the monsoon arrives in early July bringing its considerable humidity to this desert metropolis.
But in the meantime, my morning rides are a real joy. I have two routes that I particularly like. One takes me due north about three or four miles into the foothills of the Phoenix Mountain Preserve. Riding north offers the grand view of Venus and Jupiter with a simple turn of my head. It also takes me into the very rich enclave of Paradise Valley with its wide streets, very large sprawling houses and (best of all) no street lights. Virtually all the landscaping is natural desert and I often see rabbits and quail. One morning, after the merest shower during the night, the air was redolent with creosote. The ride tops out on with a view of the city below. The return is a wonderful downhill that winds through neighborhood streets with the occasional rabbit or quail visible along the way.
The second route takes me around Papago Buttes that straddle the Phoenix-Scottsdale border. It’s not as scenic as Paradise Valley but in the early morning even non-descript neighborhoods have their own mystery. One neighborhood still has some of the older homes on large lots that were common in Phoenix in the 50's and 60's. I pass one house has a huge pasture with three horses and five or six goats; other houses are set back from the road behind large trees and extensive foliage. The high point of this route crests the pass between the buttes where I can see Phoenix stretching into the western horizon. Behind me I can look across the Scottsdale to see Four Peaks and the Superstition Mountains. Coming off the pass is a long downhill where, if I push it, I can hit 30 miles per hour.
Morning has long been my favorite time of day, the earlier the better. Riding before dawn clears my head and opens my mind to the possibilities the day offers. It’s also somewhat mindless–I can ride on autopilot and remember my good fortune: health, friends, living in a peaceful place, opportunity. All the things that so many people in the world only dream about. Riding is a simple act that takes me places well beyond the route I follow.