I went to Tucson to train for the first time in 1994. That hit me a few weeks into my trip this year; it had been 20 years since my first winter there. Since then I've been a snowbird in a lot of other places: Gainesville, Tallahassee, Orlando, Tampa, Austin, Athens, San Diego, Winston-Salem. But eventually, once I was a full-time rider again (and single), I started going back to Tucson every year. Of all the factors (weather, terrain, riding safety/accommodations, community), Tucson may not be perfect in any one area, but it has the highest overall score. This winter, I had the best 2 months of training I've had in my career, on par with only one other year, from 2010. I did 80 hours of training in February, and 93 hours in March. I'm certain I could not have accomplished this, and stayed sane, in any other place.
There was a lot of national controversy while I was there this year regarding potential anti-gay legislation passed by the state government. A few years ago, a similar situation came up with SB 1070, the anti-immigration law, and HB 2281, which more or less banned Ethnic Studies in Arizona public schools. When those previous issues came up in 2010, I had to think hard about why I was going to Arizona, and why I was giving the state my money. And again this year while I was there, some friends asked the same question. “Why do so many pro cyclists go there in the winter?” The context being, “when the politics there are so terrible.” The answer, of course, is Tucson.
On my flight home this year, I continued to dwell on this question, like I had on so many of the solo 6-hour rides I'd done over the past two months. Tucson is the reason (with apologies to Danzig).
Why Tucson? Because of Mount Lemmon, Madera Canyon, Box Canyon, Kitt Peak, Gates Pass, Sonoita, Arivaca, Park Link Drive, the Shootout, and the Loop.
Because of Saguaro National Park, Coronado National Forest, and the Tucson, Catalina, Rincon, and Santa Rita Mountains.
Because of El Groupo, Bicas, and Tucson Velo. Because of bike lanes, bike paths, and ghost bikes that stay up when it goes badly.
Because of great local racing like the Old Pueblo Grand Prix and the Tucson Bicycle Classic. I wish there were more races like them in Arizona.
Because of the Pascua Yaqui and Tohono O'odham, the latter of which allowed me to look across at a distinct peak the first time I rode Kitt, wonder what it was, and get an answer. Because of Baboquivari Peak, home of the creator god, I'itoi, who lives in a cave below the base of the mountain, and explains the “man in the maze” logo you see regularly. Because everywhere you stand (or ride), someone stood before you.
Because of Tuscon weather, with its 350 days of sunshine per year (the highest in the US), and 1 inch of rain per month in the winter when I'm there. But also, because of things like the UA Center for Climate Adaptation that studies and teaches how to live correctly in the desert. Tucson is not Phoenix, Las Vegas, or LA. Because my wife can fly here in an afternoon, and be hiking with me in a bikini top the next day.
Because of Stella Java, Exo, Caffé Lucé, Epic, Sparkroot, Cartel, Le Cave's, Estrellas, Tap and Bottle, 1702, Che's, The Buffet, 4th Ave, University, Congress, and Broadway.
Because of guys from the rides like Conor O'Brien, Matteo Dal-Cyn, Zach Heskett, Eddy Kwon, Josh Berry, Todd Wells, Travis McCabe, Miguel Folch, Paul Thomas, and Ben Hoffman. Because of old teammates and friends I got to do some miles with like Isaac Howe, Morgan Patton, Clay Murfet, Chris Uberti, Stephen Hyde, and Andy Baker, and acquaintances I got to know better like the Mullerveys and Derek Ivey.
Because of locals who make the scene here happen on and off the bike, in and out of racing, like Gord Fraser, David Glick, Tim Carolan, Rob Alvarez, Joey Iuliano, Kathryn Bertine, Damion Alexander, Daniela Diamenta and Ignacio Rivera, Colin Holmes and Monique Laraway, Susan Frank and Kurt Rosenquist.
Because of old friends like Kyle and Mel Colavito, Vic Riquelme, Curtis Zimmerman, Eugene Boronow, Melissa Sotelo, and new friends like Liz Schmitt, Max Rich, and Kim Lucie.
Because of my “landlord” Dan Stein, who opened his 2-bedroom apartment in Iron Horse to me, and was the perfect housemate. Because being able to walk to downtown, 4th Ave, and University from home was amazing. Thanks for reminding me that it's ok to take it slow once in a while, and introducing me to Broad City.
Above and beyond, because of Kim Truitt, the best friend anyone could ask for. She was my taxi service, my study partner, my drinking buddy, my feed zone help, recovery ride company, comic relief, conversation partner, and therapist. I could not have accomplished all the training I did in Tucson, or stay sane doing it, without her friendship and support. And she is from Tucson.
So when you're reading all the national news about the weird politics in Arizona and wondering why I go back every year, you should know that Tucson is also Arizona, and Arizona includes Tucson, even if Tucson's signal sometimes gets drowned out. The riding is amazing, the weather is amazing, and most importantly, the people are amazing. They're as puzzled by the politics in Phoenix as you are. And they have their own thing going on.
Love you, Dirty T.