Bicycle Culture

Cycle: An Olive Pilgrimage

For some reason, cyclists don't seem to pay much attention to the Southeast Valley. Head out on a typical weekend morning and spandex clad riders are found across the roads and trails throughout North Phoenix, South Mountain, Ahwatukee, Scottsdale, Mesa and even up into Cave Creek and Fountain Hills.

But go to Chandler, Gilbert and Queen Creek...nada.

Perhaps it's the utter flatness of the terrain and the lack of any perceived climbs to conquer? Perhaps it's the notion that there are only rough rural back roads with no safe shoulder to ride on? Perhaps it's simply a lack of familiarity with the area?

Whatever the reason, more cyclists need to discover this part of the Valley - especially triathletes looking for long, smooth stretches of road for training. And if for no other reason, it provides a chance to be rewarded with one of the area's best ride destinations: The Queen Creek Olive Mill.

The southeast valley seems to have an odd detachment from the rest of the greater Phoenix area. Sure, most of the vast agriculture that spread across this land has been scraped and covered with sticks, stucco and golf courses, but there still exists a rural otherworldliness that is best experienced from a bike saddle.

This is a long route -- 25 miles each way, 50 miles total -- so plan ahead. If you think you might want to purchase some of the excellent olive oil, have someone meet you at the mill, grab a bite at del Piero, the mill's tasty bistro, and possibly even load up the bike(s) in case the return trip is a bit too much.

Start your ride from the Whole Foods at Ray Road and the 101 in Chandler (yes, I know Whole Foods is cor-por-ate). As you swing east onto Galveston, be sure to check out the remote control airfield in Thude Park.

Wind through downtown Chandler past the San Marcos square and south to Pecos Road, where you will head east. Once on Pecos, settle into a nice riding rhythm as this road stretches for nine miles before your next turn. At first, it just looks like any other multi-laned suburban roadway (with nice glassy tarmac and wide bike lanes), but once across Gilbert Road, the old rural feel starts creeping in.

One street past Lindsay Road, look for TrapezeU, a school where "first timers and advanced flyers" are welcome. About another quarter mile east on Pecos is a home built out of three grain silos. Unfortunately, this strangely rustic setting is quickly interrupted by the San Tan Freeway overpass, the one semi-climb of the route.

Continue along Pecos another two miles and then turn right into the Power Ranch development area. Wind south along Ranch House Parkway to Queen Creek Road to continue heading east. Don't worry, you're getting closer - only 9 miles more to go.

Follow Queen Creek to Hawes Road. Mountain bikers should recognize that name from the sweet singletrack loops in Mesa near the Lower Salt River. Take Hawes south to Chandler Heights, cutting over to Ellsworth and down too Cloud Road. This will be the last drag over to Rittenhouse, taking you just past Schnepf Farms.

Rittenhouse is the final half mile stretch to the Queen Creek Olive Mill. Once you turn right onto Rittenhouse, look across the street to see the olive tree grove that is the fruit source for the mill. Bweare that there is not a wide should along this part and you will need to make a left onto Combs Road and across some rather bumpy trail tracks before you turn into the mill's parking.

But once there, rejoice in the bucolic setting, grab a drink (even a bottle of wine) and a bite to eat and enjoy once of the nicest spots in the entire Valley. Tours of the mill are available but really not all that necessary unless you want to get a real understanding of how the olives are harvested and the oil is produced. The bottled oil is super fresh, and they offer plenty of other olive-based products and other organic and local foods.

Return home along the same route or try out some other roads. Most everything follows straight paths, and remember that getting lost sometimes leads to the best discoveries.

Trip Distance: 50 miles (round trip)
Trip Duration: 3 hours and 30 minutes to 4 hours (not including a break at the olive mill)
Difficulty: Easy - flat, flat, flat - but with some distance
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