Zen On Dirt

Camp Tucson

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Not long after getting back from Mi Ranchito with Bama and Tanesha, Caroline and Mathieu arrived at our door. The reason: Camp Tucson.

We hurriedly swept out our guest bedroom, a fast turn around from Cat leaving that morning and tried to scrounge up enough chairs, camp loungers, and physioballs so that everyone could sit down. Life in the fast lane, or something like that.

Unbeknownst to most, the idea of Camp Tucson was just a way for Scott to try to lure me down to Tucson last winter, or at least to start up the email conversation that led me to coming down to Tucson. But the initial idea (stolen from LW) was a good one, so he went with with. The plan: Three big rides highlighting some of the best to Tucson and previewing nearby chunks of the AZT for people training for the AZTR. The timing is good for for people looking to go ZOOM in a month.

Last year I was out due to recovery from the ITI, this year I was hoping my perpetual motion legs would kick in so that I could ride with everyone. Unfortunately, a cold that I had been nursing throughout Camp Cat had migrated to Scott, and apparently Scott’s immune system doesn’t cope as well with colds as mine does. I personally think it might have something to do with his gut reaction (literally) of eating a pint of ice cream the moment he starts to feel sick, but that’s just my humble opinion.

Day one was Reddington, AZT, and down Milligrosa. Bama had another day to ride, so I convinced him that he’d totally make it through the ride and would love the descent. He charged up his bluetooth mini stereo on his handlebars, figured out a way to carry enough water between his bottle cage, two feed bags, and two homemade jersey pockets, and put a pump and a tube on his bike. At the start, he also added his drawn on mustache, a sure sign he’d make it through the longer, more XC-ish part of the ride. I had faith.

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Meeting at the Circle K, the group headed up Reddington, free of guns and trucks with gun racks. Hurray for Fridays! The climb wasn’t as bad as I’d remembered, the rolling climbs on the Chiva Falls section were just as bad as remembered and went on for at least twice as long as I thought they would. Then finally trail.

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“Are you planning on stopping and eating something ever?” Bama asked me climbing up the first piece of singletrack.

I hadn’t really thought about it. “I guess so.”

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We stopped at the top of the next ridge to have snacks and wait for the crew behind us who’d initially been in front of us but missed a turn. We started down the trail right after them and I soon started to get the feeling that I was the only one who knew where I was going…or at least the only one able to navigate using a GPS at high speeds. I knew bikepacking racing would net me some good skillz!

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Milli was as much fun as always until my fork started acting funny. It’d been acting funny for a while, but now any sort of drop left my front end nearly 130 mm lower than it was before the drop. It made for some confident riding. Made me feel okay about walking some sections that I’d normally ride.

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Whoops. 

Bama rallied Milli. Bama cramped on the road back to the Circle K. We got him back in one piece. It was the longest, fastest ride he’d done since the last time we rode together.

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He did good.

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Back to the car to be followed shortly by Scott who’d taken a shortcut and had watched us pass him on the trail while taking a nap. Darn cold.

Most riders showed up to 1702 for pizza a beer and then the party continued at our place as John came to sleep on our floor. Turns out, the bed that he and Kara put me up in at their place during my failed Phoenix bikepack and before Death Valley was probably a lot more comfortable than our floor.

But, by sleeping on our floor, it meant that we could all ride to the start of Day 2 at the Genser Trailhead at Starr Pass. Scott opted to sit the ride out, so four of us took the twisty route to the start. 20 people? 25? It was a big group and after a few minutes of sitting around and missing Scott’s motivational speech of ‘If you break your bike or your body, we’re not going to come looking for you’, we took off. Fast.

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Not paying much attention to the track, I was glad someone was at the top of the Eff-you hill to point down it, a route I generally don’t take during my rides out there. Following MY way to get to Robles instead of the track’s way, I managed to cut off a good little section of trail, with five or six people in tow. Sorry!

I rode with various people around the Robles group, wondering how long my motivation to ride would last. While the legs were in full on tour mode and not tired, the thought of drinking tea on our porch with Scott was sounding a little more appealing than doing a TMP Big Loop, a ride that I’ve done a handful of times this winter. The lack of a resupply option (with goodies) made the second half of the loop…less motivational.

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Up and over Cat Mountain, I cruised down the other side, leapfrogging with Krista, Jeff and Nancy, Caroline, and various other people.

At the base of Golden Gate Pass, I found myself alone, looking up at the pass. I’d had a fairly sub-par experience the last time I rode it and wasn’t particularly looking forward to climbing it again. I thought about shortcutting around it and getting back on the flatter singletrack. Instead, I did a full assessment of my motivations and shortcutted straight home over the Yetman Wash by-pass.

It was the best decision I’d made all day.

I was home by noon. Scott and I made salads and smiled at the sun. And we still got to go to Mi Ranchito for dinner.

I rallied the tired troops for Day 3. The official loop is a 85 mile beast that starts at Sahaurita road, take the AZT north to the powerlines, takes a set of powerlines and gas lines (i.e. rough dirt roads with impossibly steep climbs) east then south before dumping out on the highway to Sonoita. Then it’s back on the AZTR route to Sahaurita.

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Last year, Scott and Max had shortcutted it by taking dirt roads to Box Canyon before getting on the AZT for the Las Colinas section. It would save us 10 miles, and somewhere on the order of an hour.¬†With fresh legs, compliments of sitting around all day instead of pedaling, I convinced Caroline and Mathieu to take on the medium sized loop with me. Jen and Anna opted for the ‘shorter’ 50 mile version of the loop, and Aaron didn’t seem to really know what he wanted to do, but ended up doing the full meal deal.

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We went to Bobo’s for breakfast for the anti-bonk meal. I convinced Mathieu to share an apple pancake with me. Paired with a normal meal of bacon, eggs, and potatoes, I only had to eat half a Lara bar and half a pack of Mentos during the four hour jaunt it took us to get to Sonoita. With a burrito re-up there, I ate another half Lara Bar during the next five hours back to the car. I carried a lot of food around that loop…

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With legs in various states of tired, we took a leisurely approach to the day. Keep moving. Regroup at the gates. Gossip. We had lights, we knew we had bailout options. We had all day with nothing to do but pedal bikes. Well, Caroline and Mathieu had to drive back to Prescott afterwards, but that was far in the future.

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We ‘followed the track even if it seemed like it didn’t go anywhere’ as Scott had instructed, waded through some marshes, listened to bees buzz heavily somewhere nearby, and decided that it really wouldn’t be a Scott-ride if it didn’t have some appreciable BS-factor. We dumped out on road eventually and even found a map that had our roads on it, things were looking up.

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Unlike last year where the boys were faced with a heinous headwind, we got blown all the way to Sonoita.

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We ate. We basked in the sun. We wondered how long we could hang out there and still finish in the light.

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The sun’s slow arc overhead reminded us that it was probably time to go. Up the highway into a cross wind and then up the climb towards Box Canyon with the wind at our backs. It’s not often the wind cooperates. We were endlessly appreciative.

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And then the trail. It was my third-to-last section of the 300 course that I hadn’t ridden on a fun day ride and it was neat to go back and try to discern where it had gotten dark on me. Where I’d caught Chad. Where I’d nearly ended up in a prickly pear trying to ride a switchback that I shouldn’t have.

Caroline kept mentioning the hike-a-bike section. She couldn’t pinpoint where it was exactly, just that there’d been an extended period of walking for those doing the long version of the AZT Jamboree back in January. We found it eventually. She wasn’t making it up.

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The trail eventually dropped down to where the shortened version of the Jamboree started and I knew we were in for smooth sailing the final 10 or so miles back to the car. The sun dropped lower and lower in the sky as we railed around the turns, loving the smooth, fast trail. Landscape turned golden, we couldn’t be bothered to stop and take pictures.

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And then the gate. The car. We were back. The lower lip of the sun was just touching the horizon. Not only had we made it back before dark, we’d made it back before the sun had even started going down. It was magic.

We made it back to Tucson to find Scott starting to feel better. We shared a beer that John had given me, one that had been aged in rum barrels and pretty much delicious. Ate some chips. The burrito from Sonoita was still doing me good.

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We watched Caroline and Mathieu roll out around 8. The house felt eerily silent. It was the first night it was just Scott and I for nearly a week and a half. It had been a good party. But now our eyes turned to the future…touring the full AZT? Yes, please.

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