Dear Diary 001: Golden Streets and Lemmons

The Streets are Lined with Gold

Actually, they’re not.

And, for the record, it rains in Tucson during January. A lot.

When you’re headed here, people who went to school here or lived here once will have you believe that every day from here until eternity is 75 and sunny. To be certain, there are days that shine so bright it nearly breaks your heart but, let’s call a spade a spade: it’s winter.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not complaining. I’m just saying.

I Need More Drama

When the rain falls, it comes in heavy waves. Throbbing, fat drops that are forthright about their intention to get you wet. The skies are bruised and ominous and brooding. The wind ripping.

The Tucson sky does nothing halfway.

At night I lay awake and listen to the wind howling through the tree above the house. I think of the owls and wonder how they were faring up there. I wonder if the owls were wondering how I was faring in my little cave. They must be perplexed at how I stay alive at all with this soft, pink skin and shitty eyesight.

More likely, they don’t think anything about me at all.

Lemmon Fresh

We live 27 minutes from the base of one of the most fantastic climbs in the United States. Or 35 minutes. Or sometimes 23. It depends on what kind of legs you have, really.

They closed the road to the summit for five days during the storm so we all stayed down in the valley and looked up at the white tops of the surrounding mountains. The rain filled all the washes, which took out many of the streets we use to get around our remote, rural neighborhood.

The snow level dropped to something like 3500 feet. We kept riding, huddled in our arm warmers and kneekers and booties. We’re used to this shit, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it.

When they finally opened the road up, it was a bluebird day. Just like the kind that greeted us when we first arrived. 73 maybe, with sun. There was a recovery day on my schedule but I headed up anyway, pedaling slowly with a shit-eating grin on my face.

After the first major turn I could see all of Tucson stretched out in front of me. Soldier Trail Road headed in a straight line directly south, disappearing into the horizon. I imagined that you could ride Soldier Trail all the way to Mexico, but I don’t think that’s true.

I’ve been told that the road is named for an old trail that was used to take prisoners to a prison camp in the mountains. I’ve also been told that the prison camp was a Japanese Internment Camp. A non-committal internet search reveals little information other than recreational information about the “beauty and physical challenge” of the trail that goes by the same name.

Either way, I think about prisoners when I climb Lemmon.

I thought I found some two days ago, but they turned out to be Fire Patrol workers. I pulled over and made a photo of them anyway.

And then there was Meat.

We eat simple meals. Meat with bulgar wheat or brown rice or quinoa. Spinach salads with roasted pine nuts, goat cheese, cherry tomatoes. Steel cut oats for breakfast, simple tacos for lunch.

Last night, Sharp came home with steaks wrapped in brown paper.

He cooked them in a pan with wine and balsamic and it I got a Goodfellas feeling. We drank a cut-rate merlot and served it with sauteed bulgar. At the end of the meal we rubbed our bellies and ate small cookies with very strong coffee from the Bialetti.

Eating is good. Satisfying like riding, only better.

The house is engulfed in a steady rhythm of riding and eating, eating and riding. In the back bedroom, at a portable table, I spend long hours hunched over a laptop, making words into sentences and sentences into paragraphs. When they’re polished and primed, someone buys the paragraphs and puts them to work. Every now and then it feels dirty to sell the words into slavery but usually I get over it.

In the morning I wake up and work from 6am until 9am. Then I make eggs, works more, and eventually pedal a bicycle.

These are good times, even with the storms, so I’m trying to breathe deep and go slow. The owls outside somehow make the quiet even quieter and the post-ride ice baths are a painful, perfect comfort.

Life happens around simple moments and we’re collecting them by the hundreds.



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  1. Nice sum up of your stay so far in the Old Pueblo, Heidi, and great pics, too.

    Glad you’re having a good time here, despite the rain this month. To be fair, however, this a record-setting amount of rainfall for the month of January. Normally, it’s not this bad. We’re three times wetter than last year, and twice the normal average. Thankfully, you’re riding right through all of it with no problems.

    As for the prison camps and Japanese internment centers, there’s a lot of truth to what you’ve heard. Up past mile 7 on Lemmon, you’ve seen Gordon Hirabayashi trail, that used to be called Prison Camp trail, as it led to the Prison Camp. It was renamed after Hirabayashi in 1999. He was an American citizen of Japanese descent who was interred, and later sentenced to the prison camp on Mt. Lemmon. He was an inspiring individual, and you can read more about him here:

    Enjoy the rest of your stay. Hope to meet up with y’all before you head back north.

  2. Jamie!
    So glad you commented. We do need to connect for a ride. Let’s make that happen soon.
    I’m also glad to hear that the weather is record-setting. I don’t watch or read enough news to pick up on these things, but it’s comforting to know that when I come back next year, I might get a little more Vitamin D in the mix.
    I have to say, crossing the washes is sort of delightful.
    Also thank you for the link to Gordon Hirabayashi trail information.

  3. For the record, I lived there three years and never experienced anything like the weather you’ve been having.

    January rain? Inconceivable!

    But you do get funky weather in Tucson sometimes. Example: It snowed only once in the three years I lived there. At noon. On Easter. It just all of a sudden got cold, and started dumping snow.

  4. Dude.
    I want my money back.
    Seriously though. I’ve only been on one ride that actually got me wet. It rained for about 15 minutes while I went through a cloud on Lemmon. I’m really not complaining. Promise.

  5. Mwaka moja

    Appreciate the rain, Northwesterner, we’ve been in a drought and desperately need this water. I’m from the NW too, and its been a lesson in my 2 years in Tucson: rain=grateful.

  6. What sort of camera/lens configuration were you shooting with to get the miniaturization of the firemen?

    And to back Eric up, I lived in The Old Pueblo (as the locals like to call it) for over 20 years and experienced snow in the city twice. The aforementioned Easter snow and a white Christmas at least a decade prior.

    I don’t know if you’ve noticed, there is actually a “Ski Resort” up at the top and if it opens more than once in a given winter it is considered to be a banner year. Hopefully the snow melts soon, I am on my way down on Tuesday.

    • Hi Joe,
      I believe you, I believe you. Lots of snow up top right now – climbed Lemmon to Windy Point yesterday and had to deal with a ton of sledders. Deep snow all around. Fun but chilly.
      The miniature men were made with my iPhone. CameraBag Helga filter + TiltShiftGen filter applied (all the edits done in the phone).


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