Zen On Dirt

Grace in the Gila

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I had texted Scott from the Freeman water cache: Sleeping pad fail. Headed home. Miss you. When the progress bar was at nearly complete, my phone shut off and for the life of me, I couldn’t get it to turn back on. This happens occasionally as it’s a phone made many many years ago. How I haven’t broken it yet is beyond me…but I assumed that the text hadn’t gone through as I headed back towards the car, sans music, which was really the real reason I was turning the phone on in the first place. After my endless bouts of 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall during the Divide without music, I’ve developed a low tolerance for riding dirt roads without audio stimulation.

When I got back to the car I got a text back: I could bring your other pad out to you and join you for more bikepacking. But I was done. My stomach had turned from my lack of sleep (or possibly the second Mountain House meal I’d eaten at 3 am) and I was nothing short of exhausted, so I drove home. Scott had planned on trying to track me down in the Gila before getting my text and most of his gear littered our living room floor.

“We could go back out tomorrow,” he proposed.

“We could.” I went to go take a nap, having no intention of actually going.

When morning dawned warm and beautiful, as it tends to do around here, I couldn’t resist. “Let’s go bike packing.”

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It didn’t take much to get ready. Swap out my useless sleeping pad for my more robust one, refill baggies with dried canteloupe and papaya, hand the fuel and stove over to Scott to carry in exchange for carrying breakfast, and I was set. With a quick stop to pick up water to stock the cache, as I’ve now taken two gallons from it between the prior day at the AZTR, and a stop to get burritos (never start a bikepack hungry), we were soon back out at Freeman, ready to ride.

The Boulders and Ripsey are possibly two of my favorite sections of trail on the AZT and I was a little disappointed when  I’d bailed on my ride right before hitting the good stuff. But now we were back with fresh legs, less weight for me, and the whole day to get to wherever we’d get to.

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Yes. It’s a bush in a fence. Why? I don’t know.

A tailwind ushered us along effortlessly. Sections that seemed to take eternities during the race passed quickly and we soon had Ripsey in our sights. My master plan was camp on the ridge, both for the view and sentimental reasons. It may be my single favorite place in AZ so far.

But it was still early when we got there. And windy. And as much of a sap as I can be sometimes, I preferred sleeping in warm spots rather than ones with gigantic views and excellent memories associated with them. Most of the time. And nights are long enough in the winter, the last thing we really needed to do was to tack on another two hours of daylights to an already long camp.

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So we continued on, filling up on water at the new water cache and avoiding the trip to the ADOT yard for the spigot in Kelvin. Then up the climb that nearly killed me during the race. While effortless might be a strong word to describe it, I wondered how I had struggled so. We made camp at the Golden Spike of the AZT, a beautiful overlook with the 7 lights of Kelvin to one side and the long stretch of valley with the Gila river on the other. Ideally situation for watching the last rays of the sun, and catching the first ones in the morning. It was also ideally situation to catch what was left of the wind that had blown all day, but I guess you can’t have everything.

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We ate dinner. Drank tea. Made plans for the summer. Where-oh-where in this big wide world should we go?

And slept. Semi-soundly. Listening to the wind make its way down the canyon hoping that it would continue to blow at our backs for the morning and then die for our return to the car.

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Breakfast. Pack. Ride. Three ingredients to the good life. Knee warmers came off 20 minutes in, even though I’d insisted on starting the ride with my down jacket on. I’ve been cold enough in my life that I don’t do cold any more. We rolled, effortlessly again, aided by the wind, down the river. Enjoying the morning. Enjoying the green in the desert. Enjoying each other’s company.

This trail was so hard during the race. I pointed out to Scott where I’d completely cracked and sat down in the shade of a leafless tree and threw a fit.

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A quick skip across the river and we were back climbing on dirt roads, anticipating the onslaught of a headwind as soon as we reached a reasonable elevation. But the wind never came. It went so far as to blow at our backs, just slightly, just enough to make it seem almost uncomfortably hot.

We collapsed at a gate crossing. Collapsed may be a strong word, but energy levels were dwindling and we were still 10+ miles from the car. I need to get in shape for this summer! How can four days of bikepacking wreck me like this? We laid in the sun, helmets over faces, half enjoying the warmth, half actually needing the break.

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“If we go back through Dudlyville, we can get dinner at La Casita,” Scott proposed from the shade of his helmet.

“Mmmm…La Casita. We should go.”

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And with that renewed motivation, we got up and finished the final 10 miles backwards on the Boulders with some semblance of grace.

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We finished with no water for the final 10 minutes and two bars and a small bag of cashews between the two of us. Tired. Hungry. Ready for Mexican food. It couldn’t have been a more perfect ending to the start of a new year.

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