Gutting it Out on Lake Mary Road

I arrived in Flagstaff, Arizona, the day before my ride on Lake Mary Road and checked the weather forecast to see how conditions would be for the ride. The temperature was predicted to be nice, but there was a high wind warning.

I was leery right away. In recent months, I had set out to ride from Denver west to Boulder a couple times and turned back due to strong westerly winds that had me struggling like I was hill climbing on nearly level ground

But I had driven to Flagstaff from the Grand Canyon specifically to ride Lake Mary Road, a scenic route along rolling hills traversing the Coconino National Forest. I only had one day to do it, then I was going to be driving to Sante Fe to meet a friend.

I decided to just give it a try. Willingness to try factors in pretty big for me in cycling. I like to talk about doing huge rides, but I never actually feel like doing them.

So usually, I end up kind of just talking myself into getting on the bike with a “we’ll see” attitude.

A view from just outside the spot I parked at on Lake Mary Road the morning of the ride.

So I got myself out to a parking area on a dirt forest service road, got my kit together, and set out on Lake Mary Road.

Immediately, I began to feel a sense of contentment that often comes to me when I’m riding in a beautiful setting. The road has a pretty good bike lane for most of the length of it, and none of the climbing was really very brutal.

The forecast had called for the strong winds to start in the late morning. But that didn’t stop me from invoking hubris. As I set out, I rode through a moderate wind, and reflected to myself that it wasn’t too bad.

By the time I had ridden 10 miles or so, the high winds manifested with gusto. According to the warning, there were supposed to be constant winds of around 15 mph (24 kph) with gusts of 40 mph to 60mph (64 kph to 96 kph). I would say that’s what it felt like

Fortunately, the winds were mostly blowing in my face on the way back. I steeled myself and just kept pedaling. I reasoned that I could wear myself out and then turn back, since the wind would be at my back on the return trip.

Upper Lake Mary along Lake Mary Road. It was around here that strong winds kicked in.

As bad as the headwinds were, though, it was the crosswinds, especially the strong gusts, that made the ride nerve-wracking for me. I spent a lot of the ride desperately clutching my handlebars, never knowing when a strong wind would try to push me sideways.

Once the wind kicked in for serious, I was thinking about turning back pretty much constantly. But, again, I felt like this was my opportunity to ride this road, and I wanted to do as much as I could.

I set my first goal to get to a viewpoint on the top of a ridge that looks down on a sweeping view of a broad valley. (This is the viewpoint pictured in the feature image of this post.)

I knew from driving the route the day before that I would reach the viewpoint at around the 20 mile (32km) mark, which would yield a decent 40-mile (64km) ride.

By the time I got the the ridge that the viewpoint was on, I was getting used to the idea that every time the road opened up to views, I lost the windbreak from the trees. That meant that wherever there was a view was where the worst wind was.

As soon as I got to the short climb up the ridge, I was able to confirm that the wind was at its worst.

Another view from the ridge on Lake Mary Road, looking southeast in the direction leading away from Flagstaff.

I struggled to the viewpoint, snapped a few pictures, and then decided that I really wanted to ride more. I’m trying to build up my ability, so my goal was to make this my longest ride

That meant riding more than 70 miles (112km) , as my longest ride was around 68 miles (109km). Lake Mary Road was an ideal place to do this, as it presents 50 miles (80km) of scenic road to ride.

Well, it was ideal in theory.

When I got back on my bike and started riding across the ridge, I started one of the toughest challenges yet of my cycling experience.

The headwinds and crosswinds were absolutely blasting me as I made my way across the ridge, which was around 5 miles (8km) across. This stretch of road was also cracked and bumpy, which was the cherry on top.

Despite what seemed visually like a slight downhill grade, I struggled across the ridge feeling like I was riding uphill. I pretty much felt like I had to go into warrior mode.

I am happy that I kept myself going through the fairly miserable conditions. It wasn’t fun, but it felt good to conquer a challenge, in the wind, that had put me out in the past.

It’s always encouraging when you’re riding a road to see a stop sign that’s been run over. It lets you know that drivers in the area conduct themselves with care and due attention to the road.

I eventually came across the ridge and down into a little depression where I stopped for a snack and snapped a few pictures.

When I started back up again, I didn’t realize that I was starting the most serious climbing of the route thus far. During the whole ride, it was hard to tell if I was struggling due to the slope or due to the wind.

Ultimately, I would end up riding a few more miles before, looking at a hill rising up before me on a straight stretch of road, I decided that I was physically done climbing with the wind blasting me in the face.

It was disappointing because I really wanted to end the day with at least 80 miles (128km). But my body was just feeling done.

As it turns out, it was good that I turned back when I did, as the crosswinds turned into headwinds on the final 12 miles (19km) or so of the ride.

A view on Lake Mary Road southeast of the ridge with the viewpoint.

Nothing will make you shake your fist at the gods like being hit with headwinds in both directions on a ride.

Overall, though, the return trip was pretty uneventful. A rider from Canada came to check up on me while I was on the side of the road having a snack, and it was cool to chat with him. He gave me the tip to spin my tire and hold my gloved hand over it to kick out any burrs or thorns.

I returned to Flagstaff earlier than I was hoping, and my mileage didn’t corroborate the effort I expended. My final result was 53 miles (85km). But I was happy to have met the challenge of high winds and completed a ride that I had planned over a month beforehand.

Now that I have dealt with the challenge of wind, I won’t think of the wind as being prohibitive. So if I want to ride to Boulder and there’s wind blowing in my face, I know it’s not impossible.

Published by Miles of Mindfulness

My name is Mike Bragg. I'm a Denver-based cycling enthusiast and a big advocate of mindfulness. I enjoy the outdoors, and I use mindfulness practices to help myself be more present with my adventures. I like to read challenging material, and I have a keen interest in ancient history and natural sciences.

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