Riding in the Rain

Saturday, November 23, 2013
As I write this, a steady rain is falling outside my office window. I can hear the water running down the downspout. Now, in other parts of the country, this might not be deemed significant enough for a blog post. But, in Tucson, it's a very big deal.

It never rains in Tucson in November. Okay, not exactly never, but close enough so that it might as well be never. The average rainfall for November is .67 inches. That's for the whole month. (Yes, for those people who live in wet places, we do measure our rainfall in hundredths of an inch. We only get twelve inches of rain for the whole year.)

You should have heard the local news anchors and weathermen (weatherpeople?) gushing about this approaching winter storm all week. Not only is it raining today (Friday), but it's supposed to rain all through the weekend. Unheard of! The excitement Tucsonans have about rain almost matches that of New Englanders looking forward to an approaching blizzard.

As we got closer to Saturday, however, that excitement has turned to mild concern. You see, Saturday, November 23, is El Tour de Tucson, a nationally--if not internationally--known bicycle race. It's not quite as well-known as the Tour de France, but it's big. It attracts between 7,000 and 10,000 cyclists each year.

Residents who are not participating in the race or supporting someone who is, generally know to stay home that day, since many of the major roads are used, narrowing traffic to one fewer lane. There are frequent stops to allow cyclists to cross traffic. It takes twice as long to go anywhere on El Tour Saturday as on any other day.

As rare as rain in Tucson is in November, it has never rained on the date of El Tour. Ever. It did snow in 1994, but since the high that day was 54 degrees, it couldn't have stuck to the ground. The web site has been proclaiming "Rain or Shine!" for several days, but there is still an element of denial.

The El Tour route uses two washes and, as of this writing, has not been changed to avoid them during the race. A wash is a path that is taken by our heavy monsoon rains during the summer. Most of the year, they're dry ditches. Some are incredibly wide. Most are narrow. When they're draining the Catalina Mountains, they can fill to river depth. Unwary motorists can be swept away in their cars if they dare to cross a wash when it's running. Just being muddy can be treacherous for cyclists.

I'm fairly certain the evening news will have repeated announcements of a change in the route. By then, even race officials will have to admit there's a problem.

Unfortunately, the turnout will probably be low this year because of the weather. An amazingly large number of cyclists wait until the day of the race to register. I say unfortunately because El Tour de Tucson is a charity event. The primary beneficiary is Tu Nidito Child and Family Services. There are many others, including Habitat for Humanity and the Susan G. Komen foundation. The fewer riders, the lower the donations.

So, much as we need the rain--we always need the rain!--I'm almost hoping the weather forecasters are wrong and the sun shines tomorrow morning. Just a few hours break would probably make a difference.

Update Saturday morning from the El Tour Facebook page:
The 111 route has been diverted away from the Santa Cruz River crossing. The cyclists will follow Mission Rd to Irvington, to Calle Santa Cruz, to Drexel where it rejoins the route.

The "River" is one of those washes I wrote about. Most of our "rivers" are dry most of the year in Tucson. The Santa Cruz is probably very wet this morning since the rain's still pouring down.

Photo Credits:
Photo of a criterium road bicycle race. Boston Beanpot collegiate cycling weekend, Tufts University criterium race Image taken 8 MAY 2006 in Sommerville, MA by Joshua Furman

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