Within a half hour

by Lorin Michel Sunday, September 6, 2015 10:03 PM

One of the things we always loved about California was the diversity of the terrain (as well as the people). You could be skiing in the winter and drive down from the mountains and within a relatively short distance, be at the beach. You could drive from the land of palm trees to the true desert, again in a relatively short distance. Neither was 30 minutes, but it wasn’t long. We’d often drive north and east from Santa Barbara, into wine country. It was astonishing how different the terrain was and is.

The running joke used to be that anything in LA took at least 30 minutes. Everything in LA, like in most big cities with a lot of traffic, is measured in time rather than miles. Five miles can take 50 minutes making the five miles irrelevant. We’d go from our house in Oak Park and into the Valley and it was at least 30 minutes, sometimes more depending on the day of the week and the time of day. It was easier to drive out of the city than into the city but once you’re in the city, getting out can take hours.

We live at the base of Babad Do’ag, that’s O’odham for Mount Lemmon. We can’t see the mountain from our home because the road winds up and around and back and up further before finally getting to the actual base which is two miles north of Summerhaven. The road, known as Catalina Highway/General Hitchcock Highway, is one I’ve only traveled three times and one Kevin has only traveled twice, including today.

Last July 4th, we hopped on the motorcycle and drove from mid-town up to the Lemmon as it’s known locally. It was blisteringly hot in town, it being July. By the time we got to Summerhaven, it was so cold we had to buy sweatshirts. We’ve only worn those sweatshirts twice, both times on the bike. In fact, we keep them in one of the side pods for just such occasions. It’s not uncommon to be on a ride and change elevations or drive into a drastic temperature change. I remember going up to Ventucopa one day, just north of Ojai. We were dressed in leathers. By the time we got to Ventucopa, we’d stripped off jackets and stuffed them into the saddlebags. Once we hit the coast to come back down to Oak Park, we got cold again and had to stop and re-robe.

Today was warm but not excruciating. Still, we knew it would be colder up there. We wore jeans and long sleeve shirts. Kevin checked the tire pressure (the bike has been sitting for a while), I hooked up the iPod, we both put on our helmets, climbed aboard and headed down the hill in order to head up the mountain.

We’re less than 30 miles from Mount Lemmon, a distance because the road twists and turns, winding its way through the mountains, past the hoodoos and up. We drove through the green hills dotted with thousands of saguaros and ocotillo, yucca and agave. At about 4000 feet, the cactus abruptly disappeared, replaced with trees and wild shrubbery. Higher still, and the trees became pine trees. The road is well travelled but in excellent shape. It’s a magnet for cyclists who make the climb, have breakfast at one of the two restaurants and then descend back into the old pueblo. Motorcyclists like it as well. It’s a leisurely drive, an easy climb. We drove along listening to the iPod (the bike has four speakers), looking at the incredible scenery surrounding us, from the rock formations to the trees, to finally the chalet style homes that begin to dot the hill just outside of tiny Summerhaven.

We went into the town and had breakfast at the Sawmill Run restaurant. They have an outdoor patio, and it was filled with motorcyclists, having omelets and coffee, watching the clouds drift through the blue sky. A man walking a long-haired German shepherd came by, and stopped briefly. A squirrel came up through some rocks just off the patio, and stuck his head through the fence, looking around. Birds hopped along. It was so relaxing.

I remarked to Kevin that it was probably one of the prettiest drives in Tucson. He remarked that it was probably one of the prettiest in the state. And to think, it’s within about a half hour of the house. Definitely worth celebrating.

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