Zen On Dirt


A return

I did something completely out of character last weekend. I raced my bike in a completely pressure- and expectations-free situation. I told no one I was racing (my parents called me the following Monday night, ‘We’re looking at photos of you racing…did you race?), I had zero expectations, and my only goal for the weekend was to not completely implode and to have as much fun as possible.

It was awesome and I loved it.


Evening pre-ride

Just a week and a half prior to the race, when out on a long ride with Alexis, I offered my services up as a duo partner for 24 Hours of the Old Pueblo. We’d ridden the Antelope Peak Challenge together two weeks before and I hadn’t completely sucked, I knew she really didn’t want to race solo, and I was battling a set of shin splints that had kept me off my feet, and thus, on my bike, for nearly a month. It was perfect preparation for a 24-hour race. Right? Right.

I was pretty stoked when Alexis agreed to switch categories.


Bike people are pretty awesome

I’d get to race, but I didn’t have the spend the three previous months thinking about racing and worrying about training and wondering if I should be riding instead of running. I didn’t get to worry about my weight, or my power output, or what my lactate threshold was.

And you know what? We did pretty damn well. It was old-school Ez racing of going out way too hard and holding on for dear life. And for the most part, I held on, posting far faster lap times than I had when I raced with Scott in 2011. It hurt more, sure, but that’s what racing’s about, right?


Wait, isn’t racing about unicorns and rainbows?

In summary, I had a really good time and it’s made me re-examine my retirement from racing.

A lot of my quitting racing came from not wanting to dedicate 100% to training and racing. I did that for many years, and I had some pretty spectacular results to show for it, but after a while, standing on the scale each morning got old, doing core work every day got old, intervals got old, worrying if what I was eating was the right thing got old, diet shit in general got old. I missed the days of hippy Ez racing where I chased boys around on bikes, drank beer, and rode hard when and if I wanted to.


Breakfast of champions

And if I wasn’t going to dedicate 100% to racing and try to be the best, I didn’t want to do it.


Also, breakfast of champions. 

So here’s where OP comes in. I realized, lo and behold, racing is really fun, even if you’re not in it to win it. The need to be the best was ingrained in me and reenforced many times over and here I was throwing that need out the window.

And it felt pretty damn good.


I’ve been the “best” at what I made my goals in the past. I’ve done the “serious” racing. I’ve made the “sacrifices”. I don’t need any of those things any more.

Take away message: Racing is a whole ton of fun. I’m going to do some of it this spring and summer. I’m going to drink as much beer and eat as much chocolate as I want while doing it. I’m not going to do a single structured interval.

And most importantly, the goal for each race isn’t going to be to show up as ready and fit as possible with a fully functional bike (wait, I never had that), but to use the event as an excuse to hang out with amazing people and to keep the Fun Meter pinned at high.

And I’ll try to be better about blogging to. Doing my small part to keep blogs alive.


The Hole, that no one talks about

So here’s what drives me nuts about trip reports – No one talks about the post-trip let down. Post-trip blues. Post-trip depression.

We read these stories of people riding around the world, or across a country, or continent, or going on a trek, or riding the CTR, or TD, or whatever. People go do something big, there’s elation at the end, a sense of satisfaction, congratulatory beers, blog posts summing up the trip, talking about the trip, etc.

But no one talks about the hole that a huge percentage of people who do stupid/awesome stuff fall into when all is said and done, the gear is packed away, damage to the bank account assessed, and life moves on.


Weekly Wasson 

I’d love to say that this is a Ez-problem, that I’m spoiled rotten and I should learn how to find adventure in everyday life and realize that I’ve had opportunities to do some really amazing things. I do realize all these things rationally. But humans aren’t always rational. That’s the beauty of being human. 

But it’s not just me. I know this because you see small snipets and mentions of The Hole on FaceBook. Maybe a sentence in an interview with someone after a trip. Snipets like – What’s next? The best way to fight post trip depression is to start planning your next trip. Coming back from this trip has been harder for me because I don’t have my next trip planned. 


Agua Caliente Round #1

I think we don’t really hear about it because when people fall into this hole, and I’m speaking purely from personal experience, we find ourselves entirely uninteresting. Our art-form in the form of movement and exploration, has been locked away. Maybe we’re given a dull pencil to doodle with on the back of an envelope in the form of short runs or rides while bodies rebound, but really who wants to share a doodle. And so I bet if you looked at people who blog regularly, there’d be a huge drop of in words produced after a trip.

These trips become more than a ‘vacation’ or ‘exercise’ or ‘time away from the real world’, they become our passions.

It’s a time of recalibration. Maybe it’s forced processing time.


It’s been a rough couple of months for me trying to rejoin “normal” life, whatever that means. On some level, I’ve just been tired. I feel like recovering from tiredness is worse than recovering from injury. There’s no PT to do. No stretching. It’s just a matter of waiting. Which can be maddening for people who express themselves through physical movement.


Baby saguaro!

I’ve got no deep, enlightening point, (like I ever do) about this. I just got to thinking about recovery and lack of inspiration after seeing Scott’s CDT trip report over on Pinkbike this morning. We did a damn cool trip. Sometimes I find myself wallowing in my lack of inspiration and forget why I’m laying on the couch staring at the ceiling wondering why I can’t think of a bikepacking route that’s inspiring me, and then I get reminded, and the wallowing doesn’t seem as bad anymore.


Agua Caliente Round #2. They rode. I ran. I beat them by an hour and a half. 

Because I went out and blew all of my energy and passion points in one sitting. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

And I guess, on some level, I want other people sitting in, or trying to climb out of The Hole to know that you’re not alone on the venture. Because I fully get how alone it can feel.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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…


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.


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.


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?’


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.


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).


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.


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.


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.


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.’


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?


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?)


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.


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!


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.


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.


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


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.


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.

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.’


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.


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…


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.


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.


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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