Zen On Dirt


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Scared of heights

So, I have this fear of heights and exposure.

I used to be okay with them. I used to rock climb when I was younger. I was a fairly adept ski mountaineer-type for a couple of years. I walked ridges with ice axes. I climbed up what seemed like near vertical walls of snow. I was perfectly okay with making turns over no-fall zones.

Then I had some close calls. People I was skiing with had some close calls. All of a sudden, I wanted nothing to do with steep slopes, ridge lines, and places where I couldn’t make a mistake. And I didn’t like avalanches, so I stopped skiing.

I knocked on the door of Team Vertigo and they happily gave me a membership card. Riding has been a great way to stay away from exposure for the most part. But, wanting to face the fear, and get it under control, has been on my to-do list for a little while now.

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Last week, when I looked at the route description of Picket Post mountain, I immediately declared it as something I didn’t want to do myself. Scott wanted to race the Picket Post Punisher on Saturday, and, well, I didn’t want to spend the weekend at home alone (Shhhh, I have FOMO, plus we wanted to see our PHX friends) so I started searching the Internet for runs/hikes to do in the area. The obvious one was the hulking mass of Picket Post, an old volcano that marks the end of the AZT 300.

The descriptions said something along the lines of scrambling, route finding, rocks. Yikes. 

“How about we both climb it on Friday, then I’ll race on Saturday,” Scott proposed.

“Yeah!”

All the descriptions we read said 4-5 hours and we wondered how a 4 mile hike could take that long. It became obvious as we crested the hill on the highway and got our first ‘we’re going up there’ look at the mountain. It’s funny how you can go by a mound of dirt and rock dozens of times and never really get a grasp of how big and steep it is until you decide you want to go up it.

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With five hours until dark, we packed headlamps and jogged up the trail. The first mile went easily, and then the trail went up. We were immediately faced with a slab of rock that looked to be a show-stopper in my eyes. Scott found a way around the side.

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We continued up. And exposed rock traverse had me saying that I was going to turn around. After having Scott go ahead and confirm that the trail looked better up ahead, I found a way to scoot around it.

Not long after, I declared DONE again at the base of a rock and after a fair amount of coaxing and ‘We can go back if you want’ I figured out a way up.

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This went on for seven or eight different scrambly parts. Have I mentioned I’m not so good with rocks and airy traverses?

I just about peed my pants several times, but eventually, rock turned to dirt and trail took us easily up to the mailbox at the top of the mountain. We read through the peak register, a 75 year old had been up the day previous. So much for feeling brave…

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We started down after a brief stop for a snack. It had taken nearly two hours to get up with all of my sitting on rocks and saying I wasn’t going to go any farther. I was terrified of the descent. There were at least six places I could think of that I wanted nothing to do with.

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The first went easily, scooting down sticky rock on all fours. Steps that seemed like a giant reach on the way up seemed relatively easy to lower down the other direction. The airy traverses, though only a few steps, sucked just as much going down as up.

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When we got down the last rock face that I’d initially balked at, I looked up at it and said, ‘I was scared of that?’

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Look, I’m a saguaro with really flexible achilles tendons

We jogged back to the car in the fading light to find John Schilling waiting for us, with a beer for me. We sat and talked, watching the sun set over the Arizona desert, marveling at the light show.

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So I’ve got some Shoot for the Moon wish-list items for the summer that’ll require me to get over this fear of exposure. I’d say this little outing was a solid first step, but hell, if anyone out there has some good ideas on how to speed the process up, I’m all ears.


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Placing meaning

I did a fair bit of riding last week.

This was for two reasons, 1) I got a new Salsa Spearfish and it’s pretty sinful to have a new bike sitting on the corner without riding it, and 2) I did stupid with running earlier in the week and was nursing hurty feet, so running was out of the question for a little bit (Hey, I’m a slow learner when it comes to moderation, leave me alone).

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Unfortunately, there’s no easy riding around here. What I wouldn’t give for some smooth, flowy, swoopy, low-stress trail…but I live in Tucson, and no, I’m not going to drive to Fantasy Island.

I found myself bobbling all sorts of rocks that I could ride last spring when we left. I found myself avoiding certain loops because I knew there was THE move, that I knew I could ride in the past, but didn’t really have a whole lot of confidence in now, even with a new bike.

I often ended my rides feeling a little like this.

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When we came to Tucson last fall, I was gung-ho about trying to ride everything. I’d go back and try a move over and over and over until I got it, and I’d say that I got to the point of advanced-beginner, at least compared to how the rest of Tucson rides, or at least the rest of Scott’s friends who live in Tucson who I’d ridden with.

But now, I’d look at a move, fumble it, and say, ‘Meh’, and move on with life and try to not let it get to me. It was a little bruising on the ego.

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It got me thinking about placing value on things. Things in this world are only important because we, as individuals, place value on them. Expensive jewelry, clothing, or wine, means nothing to me (But 2-buck Chuck from Trader Joe’s…now there’s a great value wine! Just kidding, sort of.), while the vast majority of the population would beg to disagree. Being able to get on dirt within a quarter mile of my house makes all the difference in the world to me, while someone in the middle of New York City probably doesn’t give a damn. Some people put value on their toys and stable homes, I put value on being able to move all of my belonging into a shed within 3 hours and be free to travel.

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Some people place value on being able to ride tech well. Some people just want to be able to pedal all day. Others just want to survive a 15 mile ride. I personally just want to be able to survive a 15 mile run right now.

Values shift. We all know that. And it’s a theme that’s coming up over and over in my life as of late. And it’s hard. How do we take something that we placed as a top priority for the past 10 years and say, ‘I still love you, and I still value you, but you’re going to have to sit in the corner temporarily because I have other things to do.’

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And then there’s the subsequent issue: What do I want to place value on now?

When there’s a whole world of possibilities to choose from…and in all honesty, more things I want to do and places I want to see than I know I can fit into a lifetime, how do you choose?

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But here’s the cool part. My guess is that whatever my next obsession ends up being, it’ll probably involve riding bikes, being in the mountains, and spending time with amazing people. And how can you go wrong with that?


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This running business

We’ve been running more than riding for nearly a month now. We are still, knock on wood, injury free.

Statistics to date:

Crashes/bloody knees – 2

Runs that left me obscenely sore – 1

Number of mountains climbed – 1

Number of runs that have me wishing for my bike for the first 5 minutes – All (seriously, does the first 5 minutes ever get any better?)

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The last time I ran with any regularity was back circa 2008 when I decided to race cross for a season. I got to the point where I could run for an hour at a time and not hate life. Since then, it’s been pretty regular – Hey, it’s off season, I’m going to run – for two weeks, and then I’m back on the bike because running hurts.

But right now, I’m a little burnt on big bike rides. There. I said it. I’ve been loving going on little hour spins around the neighborhood, but the desire to go ride for hours and hours and hours on end hasn’t really been there. Nor has the desire to push my bike or deal with any bike related BS, including but not limited to: Flat tires, brakes the need to be bled, shifting that has stopped shifting, and squeaky chains.

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Big surprise, I know. I feel a little guilty about it, though. And then Scott reminds me that I don’t have to ride my bike 365 days a year. In fact, if I don’t want to ride a bike for an extended period of time, that’s okay too!

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There were a lot of times this summer that I wished I didn’t have a bike with me, namely across the entire Montana/Idaho border section of the CDT. I was walking more than riding, and we were cover the same distances as the hikers. Demoralizing. And then there were the areas closed to bikes…namely the Winds and Glacier National Park. The trails looked absolutely spectacular from the pictures we saw on the Facebooks, and as we rode by (or thru for Glacier), we pointed and said, we want to go there.

So I think that’s really where this mini running obsession has come from. A means to go see all those spots that we couldn’t go see on our bikes. As a way to go see all the places around Tucson that we can’t go see on our bikes.

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We’ve been ramping up our milages and elevation gains to the point that we consider ourselves advanced beginners on foot. We were able to run Wasson Peak, a nearby Wilderness area mountain, that entailed 2,000 feet of up and down.We weren’t sore the next morning, which was cause for major celebration.

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It was a bit of a breakthrough. Mountains were fair game. And mountains were what we starting this silly little venture for.

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And riding bikes has been great to break up the week, because I definitely don’t have the muscles to run 6 days a week and I don’t function well without exercise of some type. And riding bikes is fun. But so is running.


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CDT Recovery and a Reflection

Yesterday was October 29th. It was the first time since May 12 when we departed on the CDT that I felt like I had excess energy to burn. Scott and I had gone out for a respectable 45 minute run in the morning, and late afternoon, I found myself bouncing around the house, getting up to go bother Scott in his man-cave at regular intervals.

Sorry, I’ll go ride, was all I could muster after I realized that I was probably making a nuisance of myself.

I sort of feel like I can hit the stop button on the recovery clock. From September 13 to October 29th, I suffered. 6 weeks of recovery and tiredness and post-trip blues and feeling useless and driving Scott crazy.

Up until now, I’ve been a little down on the whole CDT experience, not wanting to write up any thoughts on it because all I could muster was, “Hard. It was so hard.” I feel like I finally found my rosy glasses and can look back at the trip as more than just 120+ days of pushing my bike.

Scott’s written all sorts of reflections, statistics, and advice. He’s written a 2,000 word summary which I’m guessing will get posted around for people who don’t want to read 125 blog posts about the trip. I’ve found myself wanting nothing to do with it. We’ve discussed the idea of putting together a guide for the trail and in the past six weeks, whenever the subject has come up, I’ve always come back with ‘It was your trip. I don’t even know how to write a guide for it.’

It really was Scott’s trip in a lot of ways. He’s been dreaming of doing it for several years. He was the one who brought it up last summer. He did all the research. He did all the talking to mapping people. He calculated milages, elevation gains. He spent hours upon hours upon hours researching.

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Yay! I got us to Durango!

I’m much more of a, ‘Look! Squiggle line on the map! Let’s go there. Something’s going to happen.’

I can say, with 100% certainty, that we wouldn’t have finished the CDT without the level of research Scott did. He controlled for every variable that he could, and we (and by we, I mean I) still fell to pieces 1,000 miles from the end. I just think that if we’d had more navigation errors or poor Wilderness detours, the breakdown could have come, oh, lets say, mid-Colorado. And if I’d had had my Slag-a-meltdown in Colorado, I can say with complete certainty we wouldn’t have made it to Waterton.

I’ve always relied on GPS lines to follow to the point that I never even loaded base maps on my GPS for racing under the guise of ‘I don’t want to know what’s coming’ or ‘I don’t want to know my escape options when things get tough.’

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Watching Scott, forehead wrinkled, eyes bugged out, in front of the laptop at every town stop trying to figure out what was coming next gave me a real appreciation into what goes into designing long routes. It’s not just looking at a map and waving a finger.

I did nothing. I often joked that I just came along to provide witty conversation and to carry the tarp (a duty I gave up in southern Colorado and never resumed even though I swore I’d carry it through Wyoming as well).

For the past six weeks, it’s felt like it really wasn’t my trip at all. That I could have been replaced by anyone who could take 4 months off of work and push, I mean, pedal a bike.

But now, with a little bit of hindsight, I like to think back to a conversation we had rolling into Ovando. ‘Who else could you have put up with in such close proximity for so long?’ We listed all of our regular riding partners and decided that while we love riding with every one of them, none would we want to spend 4 months within sight of.

Seriously, think about it. We weren’t more than 100 yards apart from each other for 4 months. 4 months. That’s a third of a year.

So maybe that’s what I contributed to the trip. Not only was I a partner who could pedal a bike, and occasionally push a bike without complaining (I could push a bike while complaining all day long), but I didn’t drive Scott bat-shit crazy. Most of the time.

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But I would like to take some ownership of the trip, more so than just choosing the places we ate in each town and insisting that we visit as many hot springs as possible.

Scott’s pretty much dumped the idea of a guidebook project in my lap. I’ve spent the past six weeks grumbling about it. Who, possibly, would want to do what we did? It was a terrible idea.

But I feel like finally, I can see it as a terribly good idea. Hard? Yes. Worth convincing others to follow in our steps? Scott somehow gets 50+ people to ride Oracle Ridge during the AZTR, so maybe even bad ideas are worth propagating.

Down the rabbit hole we go…


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Dreaming while crippled

Last Friday we went on a run up on Mt. Lemmon. It was mostly inspired by it being too hot in town, and I think we were both over sitting in front of computers, and when the drive to the top of Lemmon, plus the hour we planned on spending lounging after our run was factored in, it made for an extended Friday Afternoon Adventure Club expedition.

We’ve slowly been ramping up our runs, and we’d done several near 1-hour runs out on Starr Pass, so we figured that an hour on Lemmon would be a pleasant way to spend the afternoon. Except we, as novice runners, haven’t really figured out the finer points of running. Like not starting with a steep downhill. Or how to actually run downhill. Or, if the most elevation you’ve gained/lost in a run is 500 feet, it’s probably not a good idea to do a run that drops 1,000 feet with very little reprieve.

So we ran. Any by the time we got back to the car, we both agreed, That’s going to leave a mark. But maybe not that bad of a mark.

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Long story short, I was hobbled for four days. My quads felt like I’d just descended into the Grand Canyon with a bike on my back. So I’ve had some time to kill because instead of getting up and moving around and futzing with stuff like I normally do when I’m bored, I’ve tried to stay sitting as much as possible. While googling “How to run downhill” I came across Geoff Roes‘ blog entry over at iRunFar.com where he talks about the shelf life of ultra runners, speculating on whether most really only have 4-5 good years of elite level competition in them before bodies break down, or if it’s just that fast most ultra runners don’t start running until their 30’s, and thus, reach an age ceiling.

But it got me thinking about the shelf life idea.

Geoff experienced a total body shut-down after 5 years of hard running that makes my body shutdown after 4 years of bikepacking seem like a common cold. I think we’re both left wondering that if we’d listened a little better to our bodies, if we could have avoided it. It seems like we both ignored our bodies whispering that something was wrong, we ignored the shouts, and finally had to face the ‘Go directly to jail. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.’

Maybe I reached my shelf-life for ultra racing.

My dreams of being an ultra runner came crashing down. (insert sarcasm)

But seriously, it got me thinking, What if my body will never be up for doing something retarded like a 100 mile foot race?

And then I started laughing.

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Today is the following Wednesday (five days after last Friday), and for the first time since Lemmon, I was able to walk without hobbling. We even went for a little A-Mountain run this morning without dying.

I think I need to worry about not being a cripple after a 6 mile run before I can even think about physical limitations of my body in terms of running. But it sure is fun to dream.

Focus on the present, young grasshopper.


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Sharing is caring

I’ve been having a conversation with myself recently centered around the question of ‘What would you do if no one was watching?’

Obviously, social media and blogs can have a profound effect on lives and what people choose to do. I’ve been maintaining one blog or another for nearly a decade now and The FaceBook tells me that I also joined in 2004, though it doesn’t seem like I actually did anything with it until several years later. That’s a decade of public broadcasting of my activities, censored, of course, knowing that my parents read it, and really, they don’t have to know some of the situations I’ve gotten myself into over the years.

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Of course, we could argue the benefits and detriments of social media until Scott learns to like beer (never), but I’ve definitely used it as inspiration to do some of the things I do.

I like doing cool shit and then telling a story about it.

I like it when other people do cool shit and then come back and write about it and make me want to go do cool shit.

Of course, the negative side of this is that there’s a line of doing things because we want to and doing it because we want to go home and have a story to tell.

So I’ve spent some time thinking, ‘If I took an Internet hiatus and stopped writing, what would I do?’

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This, of course, was spawned from having a million ideas of what I want to do in the next 12 months and having no clear frontrunner.

But after some pondering, the question sort of reframed itself: What would you do if you didn’t care if you failed?

Nobody likes to fail in the public eye.

Enter running. Scott was the instigator of this one because, apparently, he doesn’t really feel like riding his bike all that much these days either.

I suck at running. The fastest mile I’ve ever run is 8:15 in highschool. I thought I was pretty quick. But all in all, I’m slow, I’m uncoordinated, I dawdle when I walk, and I trip all over myself, especially downhill. Dying moose. I’d say I resemble a dying moose.

But the beauty of it is, I’m fully okay with sucking. I don’t care if people look at me and say, ‘Ooh, she should probably stop because that just looks painful and she’s going to knock all her teeth out when she trips over that rock.’ There is absolutely no ego attachment to my running shoes.

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And right now, for me, that’s awesome because I don’t feel like any one expects anything from me in the form of a good adventure and a good story. I don’t expect anything from me. I don’t need to go ride the CDT to feel like I did something cool, going out and running 3 miles on the backyard trails at under a 10 min/mile pace was HUGE!

So I think I’m going to run for a while. Take some pictures. And hopefully be able to tell some good stories. Because I like sharing. And I think running could take me to some really cool places where I have no desire to drag my bike to.


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Full circle

We got back to Tucson two nights ago. We drove from Thunder Mountain, down through Kanab, stopped at Jacob’s Lake for cookies, through the Navajo Nation, by Lee’s Ferry, into Flagstaff to get gas where we always do, by the Black Canyon Trail, through the mess of Phoenix traffic, and then the long 92 miles from Phoenix to Tucson. The same drive we’ve done seemingly countless times.

It seemed as if though no time had passed since we’d been here last, and at the same time, an eternity.

We got back in time to pick up the the van and our computers from Lee. We unpacked a pile of boxes from the back shed. We said Hi to Rufus the stray cat who came by to see if we had any treats for him. Our house still had our furniture in it, as it had been rented out as semi-furnished. Cups and plates had been moved around, but the bed, the table, the chairs, were all still in the same spots

Talk about a time-warp!

It’s been nearly a month since we got off the trail. We’re still tired, to say the least. I had this hope that we’d be able to ride the CDT “sustainably” and come back without being wasted…but I’m not sure if it’s possible to ride the entire trail in a season while still getting the rest needed to not dig a deep hole of fatigue.

Regardless of fatigue, we’ve done our best to live it up on this life off the trail.

 

Our first stop was Boulder to pick up my car and visit my family. Unfortunately, the trip also came with getting my car road-worthy again, which meant new tires, a new belt of some sort, and a new axle seal. This led to a drastic decrease in my bank account and many hours spent in a hip Boulder coffee shop working/people watching while the car was getting worked on. For how much I drive that car on roadtrips and how little money I’ve had to put into it over the years, I can’t get too upset with spending a month and a half of CDT living costs on getting it safe and functional. It does put into perspective how much less life on the trail costs than day-to-day living. $5 coffee drinks? Really? I’m so out of touch and not hip.

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Family time was good. Both brothers were around for a bit. Dog walks were the top goal each morning. But it was good to skip town and we headed up to Winter Park for what we thought would be a night. We got in late and decided to stay two nights. Two nights turned into four as we decided that we’d rather lounge around in my parents’ condo instead of scoping out a new CDT-bike route from Rabbit Ears Pass down to Steamboat. The Lazies set in and a very minimal amount of riding happened.

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We then hightailed it across the state and into Utah to see Scott’s family. We got delayed by two homecoming parades in Vernal and Craig. Who knew highschool football was so big…We went straight to a family dinner with eight adults and five kids. Now that…that was a shock to the system that is still pretty accustomed to the quiet of the trail.

 

We did some riding with Scott’s dad and older brother.

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We rode with Phong, an old roommate of Scott’s.

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We worked. Ate at Red Iguana and the Park Cafe (best potatoes you’ll eat anywhere). We went to Temple Square for my liberal education.

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We went up to Logan for a short ride with Alexis and Denny and ate tacos for dinner AND for breakfast.

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We headed south with enough time to stop at Thunder Mountain for an afternoon ride.

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A tailwind swept us up the bike path, decent legs got us up the steepies. Then we floated down through trails that make you wonder if you’re still on earth.

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Camping was sub-optimal. I think we’re over camping for a while.

 

Then the drive home. Full circle. Back to where we started.

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Now what?

 

Serious question. Stop laughing.

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