Caffeine Peter Colijn
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May 28, 2018 (link)
Ride Report: Phoenix work trip

My work at Waymo takes me to Phoenix a few times a year. I had been wondering what it would be like to ride there for a while, and after I rode to our company ski trip again this year some of my coworkers were kind of goading me into it.

Looking at the Google Maps directions, it was interesting. Approximately 1300km, so longer even than my Iceland ride. However, with only 4400m of climbing, it's really quite flat. The main challenge would be heat. I'm really not used to riding in hot weather, and some parts of the route are quite remote, meaning it would be necessary to carry a lot of water. The other issue would be riding through 3 nights. I'm sort of "used" to doing 2 nights, but I'd only ever done 3 in Iceland, where it didn't really get dark and I had a van full of espresso. Of course, having 3 nights was an advantage from the heat perspective, so it was a mixed bag.

When my team had settled on same dates for a trip to Phoenix in May, I figured I could make it work. I needed to be in Phoenix and capable of working on a Tuesday morning. So my plan was to leave work on Friday afternoon, ride through the weekend, and show up at some point on Monday with enough time to clean up and get a good sleep before Tuesday. I took Monday off work :)

Rolling out from Waymo's Mountain View office on Friday afternoon, I had a pretty nice tailwind (which is typical, but not guaranteed) and made my way along the baylands dirt trails and then the Guadalupe trail in San Jose. Along the trail I ran into Sourav, who figured I was probably just on my way to Caltrain. Not so much :) It was nice to see him, but actually saying that I was on my way to Phoenix made the gravity of the ride really sink in. After saying good bye to Sourav I made my way through downtown San Jose and on to Monterey Road, which continues all the way down to Gilroy. At Gilroy it was a left-hand turn on to CA-152, and a quick jaunt along there until the Casa de Fruta place, where I stopped for dinner. I had actually ridden this part before on my way to Panoche about a year ago.

After dinner I made my way over Pacheco Pass to the central valley. Pacheco Pass is pretty unpleasant on a bike, because the shoulder has a really wide rumble strip for most of it, so the actual rideable part is really narrow, and there's a lot of debris too. The last time I rode it, I flatted on the descent. Fortunately this time I made it through unscathed.

I had some drinks from the Casa de Fruta place, but I knew I would need more before getting to Bakersfield, the next big place on my route. Fortunately, there was a small town (Mendota) that had a 24-hour truck stop place where I could load up. Some of the folks there asked me where I was going, and were a bit stunned when I said Phoenix.

The rest of the ride in the central valley at night was pretty uneventful. The wind was calm and the only issue I had was that my route had a stretch of private road. Fortunately, I had downloaded the route and surrounding map on to my phone with the RideWithGPS app, so I was easily able to find a way around.

I rolled in to Bakersfield around noon, and hit a Denny's for brunch. It was nice to get a proper meal, especially because I knew the main climb of the ride (Comanche Point Road) was coming up, and I'd be doing it at the hottest time of day.

Bye bye central valley #MTV2PHX

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I grabbed some more drinks in Arvin before heading to the climb. I had researched it a bit before the ride, and knew that it was a dirt road. I was encouraged by the fact that the Strava segment had some recent rides; sometimes with these small dirt roads that Google Maps recommends, they can be private roads or closed for some other reason. Still, the road was pretty sandy and there were quite a few stretches where I had to walk, because my skinny road tires would just sink right into the sand, especially now that my bike was loaded down with a couple litres of drinks. It was pretty, though. When I finally made to the top, I stopped to drink a Coke, which was great even though it was warm.

After that the road rolled for a bit before getting to a smaller climb followed by a descent into Mojave. There was very strong tailwind on the way in to town, which was great and helped me make up some of the time I had spent walking the sandy sections of the Comanche Point climb. I hit up the Denny's in Mojave (which might actually be the only restaurant in town) for dinner, remembering the time I had been there on Murphy's TransMojave tour. After that, I grabbed some more drinks at a gas station and rolled out feeling pretty good. I was encouraged by the fact that I was more or less half way done, and most of the climbing was done.

My route out of Mojave plopped me on to a dirt road, possibly because CA-58 might not be bike legal right there. Anyway, the "road" was really more of a trail and it was quite sandy and not really rideable on a road bike, especially in the dark. So I decided to get on CA-58 about 10km before my route would have gotten me on, and didn't have any problems. A little while later, I made the turn south towards Victorville. It was quite late at this point and I was starting to feel pretty tired, this being the second night of the ride. On the way to Victorville there was a crosswind and what felt like a slight incline, so it was sort of slow going.

I grabbed some more drinks and caffeine in Victorville before heading out towards my next major milestone, Joshua Tree. The ride east out of Victorville was fairly pleasant, and since it was the middle of the night there was very little traffic. As the sun rose it was easier to stay awake, but it warmed up quickly. When I rolled in to Joshua Tree around 10ish, it was already hot. I found a nice café for brunch and had a good meal with lots of coffee.

After Joshua Tree was the hardest part of the whole ride (but I didn't know that yet). I had about 200km until my next major milestone, Blythe, a small town on the Calfornia/Arizona border, before I would hop on I-10 (bike legal in Arizona) for the final run into Phoenix. The first ~130km on the way to Blythe was pretty desolate, very hot, and combined a headwind with a long (but not terribly steep) climb. After 2 nights on the road, these conditions were really tough. I had loaded up on drinks in Joshua Tree, but no matter how much I drank my mouth would pucker up and be bone dry again within seconds.

Alrighty then! #MTV2PHX

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After slogging east through the wind and climb for a while, I finally made it to my turn south towards Blythe. At this point I only had about 60km until Blythe, but the road Google had routed me on was dirt/gravel. I really wasn't sure how rideable it would be, and looking at the route I figured it continued for at least 45km. Before starting down that road, I looked at the map to see if there was another way around. The only thing I could see easily (using the downloaded RideWithGPS map, because I didn't have any signal) would be to backtrack a lot and get on I-10 in California, where it's not bike legal.

So, reluctantly I decided to try my luck on the dirt road. Fortunately, while I was pondering all of this, a motorcyclist stopped to take some pictures and, after chatting with me for a minute, offered me a bottle of water, which was great because I was starting to get a bit worried about my drink supply.

The dirt road was really slow going. Every few hundred meters it would turn into deep sand and my skinny 25mm road tires, weighed down by food, drinks and (of all things) my laptop, would just sink in and stop, leaving me to walk until it firmed up again. I was also starting to feel a bit bonk-y, which didn't help my dirt/sand bike handling abilities. The problem was that with my mouth so dry, it was incredibly hard to eat anything. After slogging for a while I decided I needed to kill the bonk and sat down to eat a bar, using my last can of Coke to wash it down. This was risky, since after the Coke I only had about a liter of liquids left, and I hadn't made a lot of progress towards Blythe. I seriously started to wonder whether I was going to be "that idiot" who went out in the desert without enough water and never made it back...

After the Coke and food, my dirt/sand riding improved slightly, and I managed to slowly make my way to a small climb I had been able to see in the distance for hours. The climb itself was less sandy than the flat part had been, and I was able to ride the whole thing, which was great. At the top, I was rewarded with a few fun rollers, vaguely reminiscent of Murphy's Panoche course, which were also rideable. And then, shortly after the rollers, I got the best reward of all: the dirt ended! Based on my route, I had been expecting another 15km of dirt, so this was a very welcome surprise. Now only 30km out of Blythe, I was much more confident I would make it there before running out of liquid.

Didn't really intend to throw a Panoche-y section into this ride. Oh well! #MTV2PHX

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But I was tired, and still super thirsty as I had been very carefully rationing my drinks. The last 30km to Blythe took what felt like an eternity, and I was met with a tough headwind for the last 5km to round things out. When I finally made it to a gas station, I wasted no time buying at least 3 liters of drinks and quickly chugging them down. It felt so satisfying to chug these drinks as fast I could after rationing my liquids for so long, but I was amazed that no matter how much I drank, my mouth would instantly be completely dry again.

After the drinks, I turned my attention to food. I had been hoping to find some kind of diner or "real" restaurant, but it seemed like the only options were fast food joints. And here's where I made probably the biggest mistake of the whole ride: I decided to get some food from McDonald's. I can't have been thinking straight, but I do remember thinking that at least it would be fast. Right? Wrong :( The service was ridiculously slow; I think I ended up waiting 20 minutes for fries, the only (pseudo) vegetarian thing on the menu. At least I was able to sneak refills of my drink while I waited.

Finally fed, I went back to the gas station to load up on drinks for the next section of the ride. But as I was walking around the store I started to feel sick. After grabbing drinks, I decided to sit down outside for a few minutes to see if my stomach would settle. Pretty shortly, I vomited hard into the trash bin next to the gas station. So much for McDonald's :-/ On the plus side, I didn't feel sick any more. But I would need to get more calories somehow before rolling out, so I bought and chugged a couple more Cokes.

The McDonald's fiasco had taken a lot of time, so I was eager to get back on the road. The rest of the route consisted of about 200km on I-10, followed by 70km of meandering suburban roads. To be honest, I was actually looking forward to the I-10 stretch. It would be boring, sure, but it would also be straightforward and paved with a wide shoulder.

Probably about 40 minutes after getting on the freeway, I got my first flat of the ride. It looked like a staple or something similar, and was easy to spot. But given that there was a lot of debris in the shoulder, I decided to swap the tire to a brand new one to try to reduce the chances of another flat. This went smoothly and I was rolling again within 10-15 minutes.

Adding I10 to I280 on the list of interstates I've ridden legally.#MTV2PHX

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The next few hours on I-10 were pretty monotonous and boring, and as this was my third night on the road, I was really struggling to stay awake. I switched to loud, lively music and chugged several canned espresso shots I had picked up in Blythe to keep going.

Eventually, the sun rose, which was both a blessing and curse. It really helped keep me awake, but the temperature started climbing quickly as well. Shortly after sunrise I got my second flat, on the brand new tire no less. Again it looked like a staple and was pretty easy to spot. As I was fixing it, a big rig pulled over in the shoulder in front of me. The driver hopped out and was super nice and friendly, offering me tubes and a floor pump! When I got my new tube installed and the tire re-seated, he even pumped it up for me! Though he did take the opportunity to scold me for not running tubeless :P

At that point, I had another 30km or so to the next service station, where I picked up more drinks, and then another 50km until my exit off I-10 and on to the suburban roads of greater Phoenix.

When I finally popped off the freeway, it was already super hot even though it was still morning. Now in the Phoenix suburbs, I felt "close" even though I still had 70km to go to get to the Waymo office. The suburban sprawl riding was OK but slow, with a lot of lights and some rough pavement that was unwelcome with my now very tender backside. I stopped for ice cream and drinks another few times during this stretch, and felt kind of silly for doing so, but it was over 40C, I was going through drinks extremely quickly, and I really didn't want a repeat of how I felt in the dirt section before Blythe.

Eventually, I made it to parts of Chandler and Phoenix that I recognized from my previous work trips, and was pretty excited, with less than 20km to go. When I got to an intersection near the office, I saw 4 Waymo vehicles there at the same time, and I knew I was in the right place :)

At the office I made quick work of their La Croix stash and enjoyed basking in the A/C while I waited for check-in time at my hotel. After cooling down I was even able to summon the strength to catch up on some email.

Getting to the hotel meant another 7km on the bike, but it was all flat and I took it very easy. I was pleased to notice Waymo vehicles giving me plenty of room when they passed. Priorities at the hotel were showerbeer, Strava upload, food and sleep. The first two went fine but I had ordered some food online and not noticed that the order was cancelled until it was too late, leaving me to scrounge hotel snacks for "dinner", which was a bit disappointing. Fortunately, it didn't prevent me from getting a long, deep sleep before heading in to work the next day.

Back: February 2018

email: caffeine@colijn.ca