As my Tucson travels have come to a close I’ve realized this place is far more than the library of cycling I’ve previously compared it to. Tucson is far more like a university. Many come for a quick visit, others, like me, are enrolled for a semester of learning. Some even make this their permanent residence, taking on a professorship of cycling. I’ve just finished a full semester and think it’s high time for a regrouping and reflection on my time spent here and the classes I’ve attended. These classes are the climbs in and around Tucson.
The first class I’ll mention is Sentinel Peak; it represents the stereotypical introductory college course. Located fairly centrally, it is short and gently curves up and around the big A, for the University of Arizona, offering a panoramic view of the campus. It’s a nice opening to the university with a first taste of things to come, but it’s no place for a real academic. Upon reaching the top, you can see the full scope offered at school and choose which direction you want to go.
We’re first going to head north and west to the Math and Science department and look at Mount Lemmon. This wondrous climb represents calculus IV, differential equations, where much of my work is done. The climb is a steady slog, never overly difficult, but relentless and often functions as the weed-out class separating those who will continue and those who will turn around and choose a different direction. When you finish, there’s a sense of accomplishment that goes along with the knowledge of achieving something that many quit.
At the top there’s a cookie shop that offers another fascinating comparison. There are a few unique options in cookie flavors, and I think it’s not too far of a stretch to relate this cookie decision to choosing your specialty after differential equations. Once you’re proficient in the class and reach the top you can go off in diverse and exciting directions of study. My cookie of choice is The Rachel, which you’ll have to climb to Summerhaven if you want to experience.
The Rachel course brings us back down the mountain and just slightly south and east to the obscure ascent of Reddington Pass. This climb may be unfamiliar to most, much like the class it represents, quantum physics. Still in the Science area of campus, quantum physics represents the far reaches of undergraduate material. The climb starts off in a few hard and twisting switchbacks of steep pavement before quickly turning to dirt as you ascend into the unknown. Turn after bumpy turn leads to beautiful views as your insights grow deeper into this branch of science. Cresting the final pitch you look out on a vast expanse of virgin land waiting to be explored. The dusty road continues on into the distance, but this is as far as my studies will take me for now. A brief look into the quantum world shows me that there is much more to learn and that I’ll have to save that for my future and more advanced studies.
So now we’ll head out of this part of the campus and in the direction of the Humanities. Traveling to the far south of Tucson we arrive at the base of Madera, a climb taken on in the popular Shootout group ride. Starting out rather gently and imperceptibly, we begin our study of philosophy. The climb is not steep, but is noticeably more tiring, and we realize that our base of knowledge is continually growing despite the less obvious growth in our cumulative understanding and altitude. The steadily rising exposed land is coming to a close and you suddenly realize that it’s been much harder getting to this point than any snapshot of the previous miles would disclose.
Now philosophy II begins. This climb must be separated into two parts, and the second is far more difficult. Like philosophy, the deeper you get into the climb, the harder the figurative questions get to answer. Each consecutive pitch is steeper than the last and steeper than you expected. At times the cyclic knowledge nearly grinds you to a halt, particularly on the pitch past the final switchback. And then the climb is done. You step off the bike and out the classroom. That was a rough one, but enjoyable. You might have to come back for more.
There’s one final part of university I was introduced to this year, and that is graduate school, known as Kitt Peak in these mixed terms. Located outside the immediate campus, sixty miles to the south west, it’s a lumbering beast separated from the undergraduate world. Only the true academics make their way out here to test their knowledge and might. Preceded by an inclined application process, you turn left into the proper climb. A very brief flat introduction crashes you into the first pitch, and from here on out you wind up and along the ridge line, circling the mountain and steadily gaining elevation. There are no breaks, the wind is persistent and the top is always further than you expect. It’s a mighty push up the slopes but eventually you are rewarded with a hard right-hand turn around the base of a large telescope and the flat top arrives. Here you are rewarded with a true sense of accomplishment as the vast world of research surrounds you. You’ve entered the cycling intellectual elite.