As kids, we (most of us, anyway) denied the oppressive summer heat of Phoenix for the sake of running and jumping. Red faces and pools of sweat were no match for the determination of playing with friends. Besides, no matter how high the mercury rose, there was always a pool to jump into or a hose to turn on.
These days, the desire to challenge the desert heat dances in the distance like a mirage on the roadway. We wake before dawn to spend a few fleeting moments exercising before the triple digits register and the remainder of the day is spent moving from one air-conditioned space to another.
Fortunately, several Phoenix-area facilities and groups have made the mirage of a cool-temperature athletic experience a reality. Thanks to massive air-cooling units and frozen indoor ponds, it's possible to escape the brutality of the desert sun and enter a make-believe world filled with air that will bring goose bumps and competition that will thrill. And when that gets old, get in the car and head to Flagstaff.
Imagine scaling a sheer granite wall with alpine peaks and flowing waterfalls fueled by icemelt completely enveloping you. No need to fret about exorbitant airfare to the Swiss Alps or the impossible-to-get permit to Yosemite, much less the scalding touch of Superstition rock faces that have been baking in the sun. Just venture down to a fully air-conditioned rock gym and test your skills and strength against a nearly infinite number of rated routes. Climbmax Climbing Gym (1330 W. Auto Drive, Ste. 108, Tempe, www.climbmaxclimbinggym.com) offers a kids-only climbing area, as well as the state's lone adults-only climb-through cave. Climbmax is open seven days a week with adult rates starting at $18 per day, including shoes and gear.
Envision yourself in the Vancouver Olympic Center, preparing to exalt in the thrill of victory or suffer the agony of defeat. Then grab a big rock and some brooms and head down to the Ice Den in North Scottsdale to play in the summer curling league with the Coyotes Curling Club (9375 E. Bell Road, Scottsdale, www.coyotescurling.com). The club's summer league starts on June 16 with two Learn to Curl sessions before league play commences on June 30. Membership packages run $150 to $200, depending on how many Learn to Curl sessions a player takes. Worried about other gear costs? Don't be, because the league supplies stones and brooms; players need only provide warm, flexible clothes and a clean, dedicated pair of running shoes.
Le Mans. Long Beach. Rio. Jetting along straightaways only to grip a turn and gun it again. Open-wheel racing is a globetrotting sport, to say the least, and the tracks are set in amazingly exotic locales, alongside a beach or dropped in some idyllic countryside. Imagine going all Ayrton Senna in the heart of Phoenix on one of the nation's largest indoor tracks. The fleet of Honda karts at Octane Raceway (317 S. 48th St., www.octaneraceway.com) hauls around one of two quarter-mile tracks at speeds up to 45 miles per hour. If that's not enough race time, Octane combines the two tracks on Sundays and Mondays for a half-mile loop. Tuesday night race leagues are now under way through mid-June, with each night costing $50. Go, Speed Racer, go!
Why grind a rail in a cement microwave outdoors when there are bowls, ramps, and rails aplenty on smooth wood surfaces indoors? Kids That Rip Indoor Skatepark (1927 N. Gilbert Road, Mesa, www.kidsthatrip.com) has over 3,500 square feet of street-course bliss inside an air-cooled facility that will make it feel like Dogtown at Venice Beach, as well as the previously mentioned bowls and ramps and even a tunnel. Skate camps for kids ages 5 to 15 run throughout the summer starting at $199 per week for park members. The park also hosts open skate for all ages, at $15 for a three-hour session with a themed open skate every first Friday. Kids That Rip is also holding a three-part skate contest — June 17, July 22, and August 19 — for all kids' divisions, with prizes and cash on the line.
There is nothing like the rush of gliding through the French countryside inside the peloton, cresting impossible mountain passes, rolling along roadsides filled with hooligans and fanatics yelling and clanging cowbells, pushing speeds toward the glory of the Maillot Jaune and the top podium spot in Paris. Okay, perhaps the chances of actually getting a pro contract and suffering through 21 days in July are next to nothing, but there's nothing stopping the cyclist in anyone from loading their faithful rig onto a trainer or hopping on a stationary bike and riding with the pros as they suffer. Live coverage of the Tour de France, June 30-July 22 (NBC Sports Network; Cox 69/1069, DirecTV 603) begins around 6 a.m. daily. Just be sure to place a fan nearby for some air circulation. Trust us on this one.
Don a helmet and shoulderpads, grab a stick, and buckle up for the rough-and-tumble world of indoor lacrosse. Popular on the Eastern side of the United States, lacrosse is a mix of football, soccer, and hockey, requiring strength, speed, stamina, and skill. Or you can run around like a crazy person and have just as much fun. The Ice Den (9375 E. Bell Road, Scottsdale, www.coyotesice.com/turf/) converts one of its frozen rinks to turf for the summer, and four indoor lacrosse leagues, including one for women, square off for play between June and August. Each league runs $110 to $150, depending on age and length of schedule.
Should all else fail here in the Valley of the Sun, try heading north to the cool climes around Flagstaff. There, tucked in the shadow of the San Francisco Peaks along the banks of the Lakes Mary, runs the oldest triathlon in Arizona. The Mountain Man (July 15 and August 12, www.mountainmanevents.com), now in its 28th year, is one of the state's great races, with the bike and running course unfurled along a classic stretch of roadway, Lake Mary Road. At an altitude between 6,800 and 7,200 feet, this swim/bike/run race will test legs, lungs, and desire. But the air will be cool and sweet with the smell of pines.