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My flight left Chicago at 7am (in order to be at the airport by 6, having woken up at 4:30, which is INSANE) & travelled back in time (Mountain Time, that is) to put me in Tucson only two hours later. Judy picked me up at the airport, smiling & waving & hugging & laughing. Thirty seconds onto the road, I saw this:

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It made my day.

I was horribly, horribly overdressed, by which I mean I had worn pants instead of something far more Tucson-appropriate. Like nothing. The heat there is incredible. There are no trees, though there are shrubs & cacti a-plenty. There is also no grass, so everyplace looks like a “bad neighborhood” – an observation Judy quickly refuted by pointing out that, in lieu of greenery, people landscape with rocks. How inviting.

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We made our way up the first of many mountains I was to scale during my trip. (“Scale” is something of a misleading word. “Rode up smoothly in a blessedly air-conditioned vehicle” would be more correct.) Half-way up we pulled over to the side of the road – a crazed bicyclist flew past us, careening down the mountain on two slim wheels, a mist of sweat lingering in his wake.

“Oh look!” said Judy, “that’s my boyfriend Peter!”

Peter slowed his bike, then turned & began to ride back up the mountain, coming to a stop beside us. The three of us spoke briefly, & Peter lamented that it had been just too hot for him to reach the mountain summit – he’d have to try again tomorrow. He then pointed out that I was burning.

“Yeah, I do that,” I said. He had legs like two giant hams. I began to imagine pineapple rings dotting each one I had to make myself look away.

After chit-chatting/roasting, we parted ways, Peter downhill (quickly) & Judy & I up to the top, where the extreme elevation created an entirely different, much more hospitable climate. One with hummingbirds!

We ran around like this all week, ascending & descending & riding bikes through the desert & talking about nature & history & culture. Tucson is a great place to spark conversations of that sort: it’s a city of every sort of environment, ethnicity, concept & cultivation. Art ranges from the Ansel Adams collection at the U of A to the glittering shrines that spill across the sands with candles & roses & stones. The phenomenally wealthy literally look down upon the impoverished, building their second homes on the mountaintops & living beside the deep-space telescopes of Kitt Peak & the Tohono O’odham Nation at elevations of nearly 6,000 feet. The University of Arizona rises up from the middle of town, its uniquely open architecture a bold testament to the 300+ days of sun the city receives each year. Judy is a PhD student there, & her research consists of painstakingly tracking microscopic molecules & finding methods of practically employing solar power across the United States. She will probably save the world.

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Everything about Arizona was beautiful in a way I’d never experienced before, & I am so, so happy to have gone ahead & taken the trip. I’d missed Judy, more than I’d even realized, & having her show me around her home threw me into a deep romance with Tucson’s arid terrain. By Sunday, though, I was happy to be on my way home, looking forward to crawling into my own cozy bed, sunburnt & freckled, deep in the heart of my own rainy city on the lake.

You can see more pictures from my Arizona adventure here.

Mother Nature is a cruel, heartless bitch. In the last two weeks the weather in Chicago has had¬†averages of 72, 48, 85, & 54, in that order (how’s it goin, Chicago stereotypes?), which has made getting back into the swing of training strange. Yes, the swing. Yes, I lapsed in training. But I’m getting better.¬†As the temperatures continue to (mostly) improve, it allows me to break out my bike, or my new best friend in the world. I’m a little hesitant to profess my love for riding my bike, mostly because I’m not one of Those Bikers. I have to ask for help when fixing problems, & I only just mastered the art of filling my tires with air. I rock my dad’s old Schwinn, not a Bianchi, & I do not get off on the idea of having my body reduced to a bloody smear on the pavement – something that seems to drive fixed gear fans who, by & large, intimidate the crap out of me.

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For all the elitist, stuck-up bikers out there though, there’s a whole lot of all-embracing bike love happening in out here. I wish I knew Stacey Earley better, because she’s one of the nicest bikers I’ve ever been lucky enough to meet (she moved a friend’s entire apartment via bike!). Cycling Sisters aims to get more women on bikes, & Sewing Pattern (aka Angie Ma) just released a spectacular album completely devoted to the two wheeled wonder. Times are good for bikers – which is good news for me as I prepare for the other Assignment #12: biking from where I grew up to where I live now.

I’m actually going to do this one in reverse, heading south from Chicago to Midlothian, the suburb where I grew up. In theory, this ride will be pretty easy: Midlothian is directly south of my current home in Humbolt Park, and Kedzie Avenue, one of the larger streets in Chicago, extends all 20 miles down to my home town. On the map below, I’ve used the California Clipper as my start point & St. Stephen’s Church as my finish so you can see my travel plan:

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It’s roughly 21 miles, which will be the longest bike ride I’ve ever taken in my life. It’s a little intimidating, but I keep telling myself it’s really not that big a deal; about four years ago, my mom & dad (who are Of A Certain Age) rode their bikes from Madison to Milwaukee in the dead of summer. If they can do that, then I should be able to ride to Nashville & back without breaking a sweat! Right?!

…right?

I love riding my bike down Western Avenue. It’s like staring Death in the face. Then calling Death a wise guy, poking him in the eyes & pedaling away going “WOOOP! woop woop woop woop woop woop!”