TRIPLE ADVENTURE - FLY, RUN, & RAIL - VERDE CANYON
2008 November 15

     As I said in another web page, I like to mix my aviation and aerobic hobbies by replacing the $100 hamburger with a flight and a run. I've done them in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, New York State, Wisconsin, Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, Georgia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Arizona, and California. Just as the marathon wasn't enough for the extreme-sport runners so they invented the Ironman triathlon, I've extended the aviation-aerobic biathlon one step further. This is my aviation triathlon, a fly-run-rail triple adventure.

     A friend who will remain nameless suggested I join him on the Verde Canyon Railroad. (When I went to look up my e-mails, I looked up "Verde" and "River" and "Train" and didn't find anything because it's the "Verde Canyon Railroad," no "river" and no "train" in it.) My unnamed friend was going to drive from Phoenix to Cottonwood, I decided I would rather fly and meet him there, my friend "wussed out," and I decided to go anyway.

     Another nameless friend talked me into running the Rock-and-Roll Marathon in Phoenix on 2009 January 18, so I'm due for some longer runs, seventeen or eighteen miles. Also, I'm going back to Utah for some more back-country flying so I wanted to practice my short-field landings one time before doing it for real. So I figured I would fly to Cottonwood early, fly over the Verde River valley, do a few landings for practice, and run seventeen miles before showing up for the four-hour train ride.


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     The route from Cottonwood Airport (P52) to the Verde Canyon Railroad is 4.1 miles (6.6 Km) according to Google Maps. I could add another thirteen miles (21 Km) by turning east from Broadway (Route 260) on Tuzigoot Road, turning north on Sycamore Canyon Road, following the Verde River for 6.5 miles (10.5 Km), and turning back to Tuzigoot Road and Broadway.

     When I called the train reservations people to buy my ticket, I asked about Sycamore Canyon Road and the receptionist suggested it might be closed. So I figured I should call and find out.
• I called the town of Clarkdale and was sent to the county.
• I called the county in Prescott and was transfered to the sheriff.
• The sheriff said it was a forest service road and I should call them.
• The forest service person said it was part of the Cococino National Forest and transfered me.
• The fifth person I talked to was terrific. She knew nothing about Sycamore Canyon Road being closed, that I had to take Tuzigoot Road over the bridge to get to it, and I could check the Parsons trail at the end of the road.

  I have a friend in Minsk,
  Who has a friend in Pinsk,
  Whose friend in Omsk
  Has friend in Tomsk
  With friend in Akmolinsk.
  His friend in Alexandrovsk
  Has friend in Petropavlovsk,
  Whose friend somehow
  Is solving now
  The problem in Dnepropetrovsk.  
     It reminds me of the Tom Lehrer song Lobachevsky about plagiarism where he describes a chain of friends passing along a new mathematical idea. I only had five links in my telephone chain while Tom Lerher's chain had eight links.

     The continuous water from the Verde River is enough to support deciduous trees, the kind with green leaves in summer that turn bright colors in fall and fall off in winter. While the leaves were turning beautiful bright yellow for fall, enough summer warmth remained to make it really nice outside.

    

    

    

Fly

     The weather was perfect, 12°C (54°F) in the morning, 22°C (72°F) in the afternoon, clear, blue sky all day. I left Phoenix Deer Valley Airport (DVT) right at first light and flew to Cottonwood Airport (P52). I flew over the Verde River valley and took some (blurry) aerial pictures before sunrise. I did three practice short-field landings, the first rather bumpy, the second a little longer than I like, and the third was smooth and good with the flare-stall breaking right over the runway numbers.

    

    

    

Run

     After landing I put on my running gear with a couple of long-sleeve tops wrapped around my waist for the train ride where it might get cool in late afternoon. I carried my SPOT in case of trouble on a lonely dirt road with nobody around. Out the airport north end, northeast on Mingus Road, north on Willard Street, and continuing north on Main Street to Tuzigoot Road were my first three miles (5 Km). I went east down the hill on Tuzigoot Road, across the aforementioned bridge, and took a left north on Sycamore Canyon Road. The first 1.2 miles (2 Km) were paved and then it became a nice dirt road following the river. I took several pictures of the river and its surroundings. It turned out there was some traffic, a pickup truck or Jeep every ten minutes or so. I guess they were going to hike the Parsons trail or to see the viewpoint at road's end.

     When I was a kid, my theory of marathon training was simple. If you run a lot, then fitness will come. I wasn't able to run a lot, but I could run 90 miles (150 Km) per week. The "real runners" were doing a lot more, 140 miles per week or more, but it was a lot for my physique to handle and it got me marathons ranging from 3:12 to 3:03 in Philadelphia, New York, and Boston. If the total mileage is there, then the strength is there and long runs don't matter that much. Eight to eighteen years ago, I ran some marathons in the 4:00 to 3:30 range with 62 miles (100 Km) per week.

     Now I'm older, feebler, weaker, and slower to recover. Even 50 miles per week is a push for me, not enough to build the foundation of strength for a full marathon. So I have to use some kind of training strategy like Hal Higden's intermediate training schedule for the marathon. The idea is doing light total mileage with an increasing sequence of long and longer runs working up to 20 miles (32 Km) in preparation for the full 26.2 miles (42.2 Km) of the marathon race. The long runs are unpleasant at the end because, of course, I'm under-trained for them, but at least they build endurance reserve that used to come from doing a lot more running.

     The total run was 17 miles (27.5 Km), about 2.5 miles (4 Km) longer than the last long runs in Pennypack Park in Philadelphia and Bagdad here in Arizona and six miles (10 Km) longer than my run in Payson, also in Arizona. I've managed to make my long runs into scenic travel adventures, two around aviation in my own airplane and one near my mother's old place on a family visit to Philadelphia, that trip courtesy of US Airways.

    

    

    

Rail

     There are two famous tourist trains in Arizona. The most famous is the Grand Canyon Railway from Williams, Arizona, to the south rim of the Grand Canyon. I haven't taken that train, but it goes through sixty miles (100 Km) of the most boring terrain in the state. I'm told the best part is where they stage a fake train robbery on the way back to Williams. I tell myself I should get my own horses and ancient-style six-shooters and rob the train for real about two miles north of the fake robbery. Knowing they were going to be robbed as part of the show, everybody would cheerfully give me their money, credit-cards, and jewelry before they found out that my robbery wasn't fake.

     The other, less-famous train is the Verde Canyon Railroad that runs from Clarkdale, Arizona, north to Pickensville, twenty miles and two hours north in the canyon along the river. Peak foliage is still weeks away, but the trees had lots of yellow amid the green. When back-lit by the sun, the yellow leaves seem to glow sort-of the same way cholla cactus glow in the low morning sun in the desert. I took plenty of pictures from the train.

     Hey, I'm not a foamer, but I enjoy a train as much as the next person. There's something relaxing about rolling on rails, a feeling of a whole world in motion that doesn't happen in a car or a small airplane and there's an intimacy with the environment along the way that doesn't happen in an airliner. It's like that Steve Goodman song City of New Orleans made famous by Arlo Guthrie. I've taken trains in America, Europe, Australia, and Africa.

     The train boarded fifteen minutes before schedule departure and left right on time. There are open-air cars with seats in the middle and viewing rails on the sides. In the sun at 22°C (72°F) in the 10 miles per hour (16 Km/hour) train motion, it was thoroughly pleasant outside and the views were outstanding. After the two hour north journey, the engine is relocated to the south end of the train and the journey is reversed.

     They also had people on the train who knew all about the route. Our guy on the open-air car was a locally-born, lifelong resident named Fermin (on his badge). He told us about ancient dwellings, interesting rock formations, and the mining enterprise that created the rail line. The entire line is 38 miles (61 Km) connecting to the main line of the Burlington Northern Sante Fe (BNSF) Railway. Fermin pointed out some bald-eagle nests and even a bald eagle that was pretty hard to see with the rocks behind.

     I got a ride back to Cottonwood Airport (P52). from a pilot friend, Dave, who was taking the train the same day, and then I flew back to Phoenix Deer Valley Airport (DVT) as the sun set.

     They say an Englishman laughs at a joke three times, once when he hears it, once when it's explained to him, and, finally, when he understands it. Well, I got to experience the beautiful Verde River canyon three times in one day, once from the air, once running along a dirt road, and once from a train.

    

    

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