Arriving in Tucson, the weather was exactly what I’d expected: clear, dry, and warm. Right there in the parking lot, I shucked off my Northeasterner’s garb faster than you can say frigid Vermont winter and donned shorts and a tee. Heaven! Joshua and I got busy prepping Sojourn’s new fleet of Cannondale bikes for the tour’s start on Sunday afternoon. We were diligent and focused, enough so that we had some late afternoon free time and an opportunity to hop on bikes, giving me my first taste of the vast network of sweet bike paths that criss-cross all over the city of Tucson.

Josh and I raced the setting sun to get in some miles on Sojourn's new Cannondales

Josh and I raced the setting sun to get in some miles on Sojourn’s new Cannondales

I had no idea that Tucson is so bike-friendly, with wide bike lanes on nearly all surface streets, 165 miles of bikeways, and a population of auto drivers that is well-accustomed to cyclists on the road. Pro cyclists and their teams are common sightings in Tucson, as its bike-friendly infrastructure and beautiful desert climate make it an ideal locale for training when much of the rest of the country is feeling rather chilly.

Sunset in Sabino Canyon

Sunset in Sabino Canyon.

Saturday evening, Joshua’s co-leader Rob joined us and the following morning the three of us squeezed in a quick morning ride to scout some of the week’s bike path routes to ensure nothing had changed, no unexpected construction had popped up, stuff like that. Despite some early morning rain showers, mostly just misty, we had a great ride and were ready to meet the first guests of the season for Sojourn’s Arizona Bike Tours at the Tucson airport at 2pm sharp.

Rain did not deter us from an early ride Sunday morning to scout the routes

Rain did not deter us from an early ride Sunday morning to scout the routes

The first few nights of the Arizona tour, we base ourselves at the Hacienda del Sol Guest Resort, and let me just say: WOW. Not only is it in a beautiful spot in the Catalina Foothills, their staff is easily one of the nicest – and I mean it – genuinely kind and helpful groups of folks I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. The food there is delicious and my room may have been bigger than my college-years apartment. The whole setting is luxurious and simply delightful. I had to remind myself that I was still, technically, at work.

I have the best job ever! Riding the bikeways of Tucson

I have the best job ever! Riding the bikeways of Tucson

The Arizona tour is unique in that it has a bit more van shuttling than other Sojourn tours, but this doesn’t detract. Many guests still opt for the “city” riding components and are pleased to discover for themselves the aforementioned bike mecca that is Tucson! Rides out to the east and west sides of Saguaro National Park were highlights for me, and not daunting in the least, I thought.

Go Sojourn! The van is always there to meet us with snacks and hydration.

Go Sojourn! The van is always there to meet us with snacks and hydration.

In the park, the landscapes were truly indescribable. As a lifelong Northeasterner, I haven’t had many opportunities to experience the Southwest. One night when I called home, I said, “I feel like I’m on Mars!” – not because it was inhospitable, but rather that it simply looked and felt excitingly but enormously unfamiliar. Saguaro cacti as far as the eye could see, with dozens of other desert flower species I’d never seen, creating a stark contrast to the seasonally-changing deciduous cover of my Green Mountain State home.

The Loop Road in Saguaro National Park East

The Loop Road in Saguaro National Park East, one of my most favorite parts of the whole trip

The climb through Gates Pass to get to the west side of  Saguaro National Park was definitely a heart-healthy climb! The 30+ MPH downhill on the other side made it all worthwhile.

Saguaro West from atop Gates Pass

Saguaro West from atop Gates Pass

After three days of Tucson-area riding, we headed a south to where the landscape changes dramatically. This is Big Sky country! Grassy expanses of ranchland and more blue sky than I’ve ever seen made for really beautiful days of cycling. A lunch stop at Sonoita Vineyards was a delight; the owner Lori gave us a spirited overview of their operation and her energy and excitement was contagious.

Decisions can be very hard.

Decisions can be very hard.

Given that I had just come from Sonoma Wine Country the week prior, it was fascinating to see a vineyard here (in a totally different climate) where specific grape varieties actually thrive! We tasted a full flight of wines and I was partial to the Syrah and the Cochise County Colombard.

Lori at Sonoita Vineyards has a collection of wonderful rescue dogs that greet visitors to the winery.

Lovely Lori at Sonoita Vineyards has a collection of wonderful rescue dogs that greet visitors to the winery.

One of the things I learned about riding on tour is that sometimes you choose to ride with new friends, and other times you might choose ride on your own. I chose to spend a lot of that Wednesday more to myself, feeling connected to my bike and focused on meditative breathing. It was, in the true sense of the word, awesome. Sonoita, Patagonia, Arivaca – this is rural Arizona. Great day for photos.

Beautiful landscape in the high desert

Beautiful landscape in the high desert

Big sky country in Sonoita, AZ

Big sky country in Sonoita, AZ

Friday, I took some time to check out the Tumacácori National Historic Park, learning a bit about one of the early missions in the area. I love architecture of all kinds, so the buildings of the site in their various states of age and condition made for some beautiful photography opportunities.

Tumacácori National Historic Park

Tumacácori National Historic Park

I loved being on the Arizona tour. It was fun and rewarding to see friendships develop over the course of the week and to make my own new friends. It was fun to ride with slow folks, with fast folks, and sometimes just by myself. I wasn’t sure how it would be, being on a “group tour,” but what I discovered is that it truly is an opportunity to make your own adventure. I certainly made mine.

Easily one of the best parts of being on tour was making great new friends!

Easily one of the best parts of being on tour was making great new friends!

The famous Arizona sunsets do not disappoint! (Photo: Joshua Poppel)

The famous Arizona sunsets do not disappoint!

Arriving back home in Vermont, the temperature was still below zero. Though I came home to a happy spouse, two excited dogs, and a roaring wood stove, I can’t wait for the next time I’m out on tour with the wind at my back, the sun on my skin, and my bike beneath me.

Sojourn is a boutique tour operator offering bicycling and active vacations in the US and Canada. Based in Charlotte, Vermont, Sojourn is known for its one-of-a-kind itineraries, exceptional tour leaders, and personalized service. Jim Beebe-Woodard is Sojourn’s Tour & Operations Manager.

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