Day 3 – North Tucson to Picacho – Wednesday, March 22nd
We got up and got underway earlier this day than the prior days.
Motel in North Tucson
In looking at the route the prior evening, I decided to make a major change.
It appeared that the route going through Florence could have some significant climbs, and there would be long distances between stores (where we could replenish our supplies). Besides that, I saw numerous drainages crossing our path, which means numerous ups-and-downs to climb out of each drainage.
If we instead followed the Santa Cruz River flood-plain (as Interstate 10 does), we could avoid all of that, and have more stores for replenishing our supplies as well.
The down-side of this, is that I would be relying on maps only, without the capability of using Google Earth to check photos of what's actually on the surface of our route. I would also have no way of researching the route before taking it. This was also complicated by the fact that our Arizona map had no enlarged inset-maps of cities (such as Tucson), so we had no information on the names of the streets we wanted to take – only the fact that they existed on the map.
To do this new route, we back-tracked to Speedway Boulevard, hoping to find a place to eat breakfast as well as joining the route. It appeared that Speedway Boulevard also crossed the Santa Cruz River.
Taking this route, we turned west, and passed a convenience store at the freeway. Hoping for a better place to eat, we continued westward a considerable distance, but found no better place to eat. Worse yet, I saw nothing that resembled our road paralleling the freeway an the west side of the river.
So we returned to the convenience store, and ate there. It looked like there was another road going west over the river a few miles north, and we would know if we passed by the street (that we didn't know the name of) by crossing a river.
So after eating, we headed north on Oracle Road. True to form, we eventually crossed a river drainage, so we knew we had passed the road we were looking for. Tired of not knowing the names of the roads, I inquired at a service station, where I looked at a map of Tucson. The street we needed to go west on was West Wetmore Road, and the name of our road on the west side of the river was North Silverbell Road.
Armed with this information, it was easy to find our route.
North Silverbell Road turned out to be a good route, and we passed other cyclists using it. However, from the map, it veered far to the west eventually, so I counted the cross streets, and we turned back toward the freeway at the point it started veering west.
Unfortunately, the map showed only one frontage road along the freeway, on the west side of the freeway. But this was a one-way road going the opposite way we needed to travel. Malcolm inquired inside a business, and they indicated there was a service road on the east side of the freeway as well. I did not want to take that road, because it was not shown on the map, and frontage roads have a way of ending without going through.
But it appeared that was our only choice, so we took it. It turned out to be a good choice, because it turned out that it went all the way through to Picacho, where we finally left the freeway. But we didn't know this at the time, and could only hope.
On the East Frontage Road of Interstate 10
This was a good road, though its close proximity to I-10 made it somewhat noisy. There were shady trees along the way, and the road surface was in good shape.
By this time, Michael was becoming impatient with our slow, rambling pace, including rest-stops & photo-stops. He preferred to go ahead and wait for us, which we allowed, since we were no longer in the city. While in the city, we insisted on keeping together, but out here, there weren't all that many choices. So you don't see many pictures of Michael from here on out.
A Shady Rest-Stop on the frontage road
We were getting a bit low on water, and not knowing how far it was to where we could get more, I did a worst-case calculation which said we had enough extra water to make it, with some reserve. There was an RV park nearby we could have gotten water from, but my calculations said there was no need.
We continued on the frontage road, and finally there was a freeway exit/entrance at Marana with a service station and a Circle-K. We found Michael waiting for us there (he had guessed right that we would stop). We ate snacks, and other refreshments. There were some neat saguaro cacti there, in front of which we posed in this desert oasis.
Cyclists and Saguaros
After this welcome break, we resumed cycling the frontage road, with refilled water-bottles (so the uncertainty was gone).
This was a long stretch before we encountered another store.
Relief From the Blinding Heat of the Desert
The route was next to a railroad, and several trains passed (both directions) as we cycled along. Eventually, we drew nearer to a strangly shaped mountain called Picacho Peak.
Picacho Peak in the Distance – No, it's not a volcano.
Mountains East of Picacho Peak
At the base of Picacho peak is a park of some sort, and more importantly, a Dairy Queen, which we could not resist.
We found Michael there, having again guessed correctly that we would stop. Hey – who am I to pass up a caramel malt, when on bicycle trips, the only calorie counting is to make sure you get enough?
We got underway again, and the road turned more to the west, rather than going mostly north. We had plenty of water, and the next major town (Eloy) was maybe an hour and a half down the road. Michael again pulled off ahead on his own, assuming we would stop at Eloy, but his luck in guessing what we would do was about to change.
Water-Break, in the Late Afternoon Sun, Heading Toward Eloy
Note that the road shoulders here are non-existent, but there was very little traffic on the frontage road.
Mountains North of the Highway, in the Late Afternoon Sun
Having spent a lot of money on motels so far, we had been figuring on camping. I supposed we would camp out in the sticks, somewhere going north on highway 87. But as we neared civilization, we saw a billboard advertising a KOA campground in the next town (which was actually before Eloy). Since I prefer campgrounds over camping in the sticks (because they have restrooms), we turned in to the KOA in the town of Picacho.
Since Michael knew of my preference for campgrounds, I thought he would be waiting for us there, but he wasn't.
While I registered for our campsite, Malcolm waited out by the highway in case Michael showed up. He waited there until dark (when cycling wouldn't be possible anyway), and then came into camp.
We figured Michael had gone on to the town of Eloy, but on a closer check of the map, we saw that highway 87 went north 4 miles before the town of Eloy, and we didn't want to back-track.
I called Emily and Laron (our transport crew), telling them where we were staying, and alerting them that Michael was missing. We also gave them the information Michael would need to find us if he called them.
It turned out that Emily and Laron were thinking of camping somewhere about half-way between Tucson and Mesa, and they were actually planning on staying at the KOA we were at. So they actually pulled in, and camped in the next campsite from us, and we had a good time talking after being briefly re-united.
After they were settled in, we drove in the truck to Eloy to see if we could find Michael, but saw no sign of him.
We called his wife Wendy, letting her know what had happened, and giving her information Michael would need to find us in case he called her, though he was not that likely to call, not having a cell phone.
On returning to camp, we got in our sleeping bags for a good night's sleep. The temperature was pleasant.
On this day, we traveled 53.1 miles, at an average speed of 9.3 miles per hour.
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