It’s a Tuesday afternoon in early November and I have computer work I need to finish but I’m doing something better instead. I’m slowly riding my way up Mt. Lemmon in Tucson with our Arizona Sonora tour group. It’s the 3rd week in a row I’ve made the trek up the mountain and each week is proving to be delightful in its own way. Our guests are full of delicious breakfast and coffee from Le Buzz cafe (the officially unofficial starting point for Mt. Lemmon riders), the sun is out and the temperature is perfect.
With 5,800 feet to ascend, Mt. Lemmon isn’t exactly an easy day. I would even call it daunting, depending on where you are coming from. But the thing about Lemmon is that I think it might be a little bit magic. I don’t mean to say that it’s easy. It’s not. With a 5% average grade the whole way up, it’s not a steep climb but it is long. It takes a certain mindset to slowly turn the pedals over for 3+ hours. But it’s such a unique and special ride that you’ll want to try it, even if you don’t go all the way up.
The thing is, if you don’t climb it, you might miss something. You might miss the first curves where you look to your right over giant Saguaro cacti and see Soldier Trail road below you, stretching straight as an arrow into the horizon, marking the route you pedaled the previous day. You might miss Thimble Peak, which sits above Sabino Canyon, one of the most popular hiking areas in the city. You might miss Windy Point Vista, which, true to its name, is both quite breezy and one of the best views of the ride. You might miss the hoodoos after Windy Point, balancing over the road like ancient protectors of the land. You might miss taking a deep breath near the Palisades Visitor Center to smell the Ponderosa Pine forest surrounding you. You might miss the descent – 45 minutes of swooping turns and a chance to catch all the amazing views one more time. To me, Mt. Lemmon is worth the challenge. After all, how many times do you get the chance to tackle one of the longest road climbs in the US? With a support vehicle and all the snacks you could want, nonetheless!
It was March of 2020 when I climbed Mt. Lemmon for the first time. I had flown to Tucson to ride on our Arizona Sonora tour as a guest, a rare treat after spending the better part of a year working in our office and guiding a few trips. I spent that short week falling in love with the Sonoran desert. I was delighted by the desert landscape (so different from my home of the Pacific Northwest), tickled by the myriad varieties of cactus, awed by the surrounding mountain ranges, and I just couldn’t get enough of the riding. I headed back to Seattle at the end of that week knowing that I would be back at some point.
I returned in 2021, spending almost half the year in Tucson exploring the area by bike and soaking up the sun. I climbed Mt. Lemmon every chance I got, sometimes on my own and sometimes with the Bicycle Adventures groups. Every time I climb it I find something new to smile about – the vistas and the changing scenery always providing a fabulous backdrop for a good day on the bike.
If you’ve called the office and asked about this trip, I’ve probably talked your ear off about Mt. Lemmon and the wonders of the Sonoran Desert. I hope you’ll come explore it with us. Ride what you want on the mountain and then jump in the van and enjoy the views at each stop. We have everything you’ll need to have a wonderful day. If you’re willing to give it a shot, I’m always happy to give you a pull.
Interested in learning more about our Arizona Sonora tour? Find all the details and available dates here.