Zen On Dirt


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Three weeks in the Republic of Boulder

Generally, anyone who has hung out with me for any appreciable length of time will learn that I’m not the hugest of huge fan of Boulder these days. I grew up in the Peoples’ Republic, and I think it’s just one of those cases of ‘You can never go home again.’

It’s changed. I’ve changed. No matter. I’ll always come back to visit family, even if it’s accompanied by what even I might admit is an excessive amount of whining.

But I was faced with three weeks in the Boulder Bubble to watch my parents’ two dogs.

Sparkles. Who is crazy.

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And Huckleberry Hound, who was once again trying to be the 14 year old hound who was attempting to recover from another middle ear infection that left him stumbling around like a drunk sailor. I knew the drill. I just had to keep him eating and hope real hard that he recovered as the ear infection subsided.

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So my charges were one crazy dog who I was hoping to get to some level of trained before my parents got back, and a sick dog who may or may not make it until my parents got back.

But hey, let’s make the best of any situation.

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Sparkles would.

Luckily, we were pretty tired getting to Boulder so taking a few days to binge watch Better Call Saul seemed like a pretty good use of time. Plus, the dogs needed walking, the dogs needed ear scratches, work needed to be done, blogs had to be caught up on. But eventually, the itch to do stuff descended again.

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Mt Sanitas is right behind my parents’ house and is a lovely 3.8 mile jog/hike to its summit and back. I would end up tagging the summit of this little mountain nine times during our stay in Boulder. It’s just so easy.

Luckily, we have friends who can get us out on days that require a little more motivation than putting on shoes and running from the door.

Jill and Beat wanted to do a long run at Golden Gate State Park one day. We wandered around much of the Dirty 30 race course and put in a solid 17 miles, which is a lot farther than I’ve gone in a while. Jill and Beat went on to do another seven. Just because.

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I saw on Instagram that Danielle happened to be in Boulder for a long weekend over Memorial Day, up from sweltering PHX. I immediately coerced her into a run.

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Somehow, we thought that all runners would be at the Bolder Boulder running race, which is one of the biggest 10k road races in the country, held on Memorial Day morning, and that Chautaqua would be somewhat empty.

You’d think that with our combined knowledge of Boulder, we’d know better.

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Even with lots of people on the trails, it was still worth the trip up to Royal Arch. It’s a classic, and the people watching is priceless.

Neven and I headed out for an afternoon lap of Sanitas one lovely day. Friends were definitely making the time pass, we were a week in!

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At some point in time, Jill had proposed a Boulder skyline traverse. The classic route hits Sanitas, Flagstaff, Green, Bear, and South Boulder Peak, the five major peaks that tower over town. Not being a runner when I actually lived in Boulder, I had never run most of the trails that connected the peaks. I’d never run Flag, I’d never been up South Boulder, I’d never done the west ridge of Bear. And there was a new trail off of Sanitas that I hadn’t done either. So I was in for a day of new. Which was awesome.

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After a bit of a car snafu when trying to meet in the morning, in that my parents’ car wouldn’t start and Scott was in Taos with the van, we started up Sanitas and shared the summit with 15 of our very closest friends. That mountain makes me laugh. I love it.

We made short work of the new-to-me descent, took the Red Rocks trails over to Eben G Fine park, got some water, cruised to the top of Flagstaff, got rained on a bit up to Green, and then actually got to do some running on the way over to Bear, picking up more water that Jill had cached near the trail that morning.

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I love the top of Bear Peak. I skied off it once (not the rocks, but once it turns to dirt), it was silly. We knew that weather was coming in from the west, so we made short work of the descent and the climb up to South Boulder Peak.

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Those storms? Yeah, they hit us just as we hit the trees of Shadow Canyon. As it turns out the red smooth rocks on that descent are pretty slippery. The rest were okay. The roots were terrifying. Thunder boomed all around. Talk about timing!

By the time we got down into the open fields of the foothills, the rain had stopped, the sun came out, and puddles became a joy to splash through as we made our way towards our meeting point with Beat.

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While running the whole thing as a loop would have been sexy, after 22 miles I was pretty done and was stoked when Beat showed up with snacks and Jill gave me a ride back home. That routes been on my bucket list for a while, it was a lot less suffery that I thought it would be.

At some point in time, Scott did a podcast with Like a Bigfoot, that is produced by his “kinda cousin” or “step-second-cousin”. Chris just moved to the Front Range from Virginia and we were able to line up a Sunday afternoon run on Table Mountain. We all roasted in the heat, but it was neat to see something that I’d always driven by but never had stopped to check out.

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Coors Brewery in all its glory. Yuck. 

Jill and Beat invited us to join them on a running commute to their home at the top of Flagstaff taking an off-trail route off of South Boulder Peak. Of course, this route would also tag Green Mt and Bear Peak on the way over to S Boulder. Beat was very concerned about getting stuck in the dark the whole time. We assured him that we had headlamps while we dorked around at the top of Green.

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The traverse over to Bear didn’t take too long. The flowers were amazing. Scott and I wasted some time looking for a woodpecker who was going to town on the dead trees around the trail.

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Me being me, and since Scott had never seen the top of Bear Peak, I insisted that we had to go around the corner and scramble up to the actual top of the peak. Taskmaster made sure that we didn’t spend too much time admiring the view.

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We hustled off the top of South Boulder onto the boulder field that Beat insisted led straight to his house. It was slow going, but maybe faster going that trying to bash through dead fall.

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Don’t worry honey, it’s a shortcut!

We ended up getting rained on, but we did make it to their front door before it got too dark to see. I’d say we timed it all pretty much perfectly, and it ended up being a fun little adventure.

Finally, my parents were coming home from their trip to Peru. Huckleberry Hound was not only alive, but doing well, getting excited for walks, trying to spin around in circles like his little sister, barking to seem tough, trying to chase bicycles, and posturing at wanting to chase deer.

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And for Sparkles? She learned how to walk on a loose leash, sit and wait for dogs to pass without losing her shit (most of the time), and would sit and ignore squirrels and birds if the treats were good enough. No food in the world was better than trying to chase deer though…

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All in all, a successful trip to Boulder. We ran a lot. We finished re-watching Breaking Bad and caught up on Better Call Saul. I got to see a lot of old friends. And the dogs were pretty stinkin’ awesome, even if they take a lot of work and attention.

But best of all, I got to make new memories of Boulder. I wouldn’t want to hang out there all of the time, but as far as places to go to watch dogs, Boulder ain’t half bad.


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The Final Moab Countdown

We had two more days in Moab before we had to hitch the little Scamp up and head to Boulder to watch some doggies.

I was tres, tres, tres sad.

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I really love Moab. To the point that recently, whenever we play the ‘Gun to your head, you have to choose once place to live year-round, where would it be’ game, I tend to choose Moab. And that’s saying a lot, because I love a lot of other places.

There was added sadness because I knew that the Moab good weather window was closing, and that we probably wouldn’t be back until the fall.

And I still had so much I wanted to do!

I guess these are good life problems to have.

But finally, it was time to run the energy rope out as far as possible knowing that we faced a day of driving and three weeks in Boulder, where I’m generally more apt to rest and binge on Netflix. So the fact that I woke up solidly tired on Saturday and had two different activities planned didn’t really phase me.

Mel and I had been trying to hook up for a run for the better part of three weeks, so when we finally found a time window that worked for both of us, we jumped at it. I let her do the leading, because when in a place like Moab with endless wrinkles in the skin of the earth, there are lots of neat connections to be made, and locals known best.

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The funny thing is, Mel is actually a runner, versus me who is really more of a faux runner, and when we actually ran, I struggled something fierce to keep up. I kept telling myself that it was good training for life, or something.

But two things worked in my favor. Mel is pretty dismal at knowing where she’s going, which means we got to pause a lot and think about where we needed to go next, and she’s pretty into the adventure aspect of a run too, which means that running is punctuated by, umm, more technical moments.

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I was pretty amused when we got to the top of a slot and she asked me, ‘How are you with chimney-ing?’

‘I’ve never done it before?’

‘Hmmm. That might have been something to ask you before I took you this way.’

But, I was brave, and I shimmied myself down this tiny little crack without crying. I may have mewed once or twice. Scary…but awesome. I need more of this in my life.

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We went to go see some more petroglyphs, these pockmarked with shotgun holes.

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We paid a visit to giant holes in slickrock, 20 to 30 feet deep, most of them filled with water from the last storm that rolled through. Some even had little shrimpies swimming around in them.

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After one final wrong turn, we were headed back. What I had planned on to be a sub two-hour run ended up the better part of four. And every minute of it was awesome. Even the parts where I had to run.

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Meanwhile, Elliot and Katie were driving up from Tucson for the weekend. I was banking on the fact that they’d forget that Utah and Arizona are in different time zones in the summer and would show up an hour later than they had planned. It was good that they did, because I definitely wasn’t running ahead of schedule to get back to camp to meet them.

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I picked Scott up from his morning shuttle-ish ride on my way back up, and after shoving our faces full of food, we were ready to ride again, opting for a cruise from camp on a Navajo Rocks to Horsethief loop. Which if course, took longer than either Scott or I had expected.

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But we made it back before dark (barely) and Katie made the mistake of commenting on how there was no hike-a-bike on that ride. Bad move!

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Scott and I had ulterior motives for wanting to ride Barney Rubble and Hidden Canyon the next day. Sure, the riding is great and all, but more than anything, we wanted to try to scope out the route that we had missed from the Snake a few days earlier where we’d gotten cliffed out and couldn’t figure our way down. The hope was that we’d see the route better from the bottom.

It didn’t really work out for us, but it provided the motivation to get our bikes up the heinous hike-a-bike. DSC07936_resize

We were more than happy to be pedaling once we got into the actual valley. Pedaling > pushing. I’d heard rumors of big panels of petroglyphs in the area, but wasn’t entirely sure where to look. Luckily, we ran into a pair of hikers who Scott knew from somewhere, and they were on their way to check them out. We ditched our bikes and hiked up to the cliff face with them.

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There were several major panels, and then lots of little big horn sheep and figures dispersed between them. It was definitely worth the detour.

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I’ve run this route several times, but never taken a bike on it. Mostly because the hike-a-bike is one of the worst ever.  But I have to say, once up on the plateau, it is more fun to ride it than run it. That being said, I highly doubt that my times riding it will ever outnumber my times running it. That hike-a-bike…is a a big admission fee.

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The downhill was definitely more fun on a bike. Coasting is pretty rad, even if it is with your weight far back and both brakes on hard.

I’m not sure which was the prominent emotion when we finally hit pavement – relief or sadness. It was our last ride in Moab for the spring!

But damn, it was a good one.

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We finished off our time in Moab in fine fashion. Milkshakes at Milts. A giant double rainbow over the Scamp. Cocktails with friends.

Moab is a special, special place. I’ll dream about it until we get to go back. But until then…high mountains and cool temperatures.


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A Month in Moab

We spent just about a month in Moab this spring. Compared to the six weeks that we spent last spring, a mere four weeks seemed far too short. But what a four weeks it was!

The most interesting part of it was the simple contentedness that I felt while being there. I’d arrived on a pair of legs that could best be described as ‘trashed’ from a week-long running binge in the Grand Canyon, and three days on the Kokopelli didn’t help, and really, we didn’t exactly just sit around during Girls’ Trip to the Desert and drink cocktails…there was a lot of riding too!

Last spring, there was the intense desire to make the absolute most of our Moab time. We ran ourselves into the ground, on days that we were too tired to do anything, we felt almost a guilt for wasting a Moab day.

This time around, there were many days where we were simply happy to lounge in the desert, maybe go for a short ride around a mellow trail system if the motivation was there. But the desperation to cram in as much as possible wasn’t there, at least not until the end.

I think it’s a side effect of #Scamplife. If we follow good weather and always try to park in places with amazing things to do, we simply have to have the self-control to pick and choose our energy expenditures. We have to recognize what our bodies can do, when we’re too tired to really enjoy what we’re doing, and to embrace simply being in a beautiful place on the days where we sit around the Scamp working, reading, or puttering.

That’s not to say that we didn’t get in heaps of adventuring. We started out conservative, and when we had a final departure date set, we ran out the energy rope as far as we dared.

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Alexis and Denny stayed for an extra day after our Kokopelli trip. I declared that I was too tired to ride, and thus ended up riding Bartlett Wash, which seems to be our go-to for easy rides.

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Except the riding really isn’t all that easy, and trying to corral Scott back to the car is nearly impossible. But I tend to just find my perch at the top of the hill and let him ride laps until he gets tired. Which is never, for the record.

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Scott and Pete went for their traditional post-work lap of Ahab. I tend to come along and run because I know these rides end a Giliberto’s, and Giliberto’s has horchata, and I like horchata.

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We found ourselves at a new campsite that was relatively close to Canyonlands National Park. Or, at least it was closer than it normally would be from Willow Springs, so we scoped out a running/hiking loop down to the Murphy’s Hogback.

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Things would have gone a lot smoother if Scott would have remembered to put his running shoes in the car before we left camp (you have to remember one thing for running!), but even with the drive back to the Scamp, we still had plenty of daylight. Summer is great that way.

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Definitely easier to get to the Hogback on foot than on bike. We looped the route by heading down the White Rim road and heading up a trail following a wash. I’m not convinced that sand is any easier on foot than on a bike.

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I can’t run everyday (without hurting myself), so it was good to hookup with Julie for a quick Navajo Rocks spin. We were both feel pretty worked over from our respective previous activities, but managed to eek out a 5.3 mile ride followed by La Croix drinking in the parking lot while watching Fritz the Wiener Dog wander around.

Some days you’ve got it, some days you don’t. It’s all good.

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At some point of time, full moon came around and we were treated to an amazing show over the La Sals. File that one under Special Moments.

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Back at Kodachrome State Park, I’d picked up a book on non-technician canyon hikes on the Colorado Plateau. One of its suggestions in Moab was Hunter Canyon, and it made the claim that there was an old Indian route that you could use to exit the canyon and head over to Prichett canyon or come down Hunter Rim Trail.

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The trail was real nice at first…and as most traditionally out-and-back trails go, got fainter and fainter until we were faced with bushwacking or wading through waist-deep standing water that was laced with spider webs inhabited by giant spiders. The last half mile took us as long as the previous four. I was skeptical that we’d make it to the end and then find our way out.

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But we found the route out, scrambled up it with as little grace as we could manage (I’m glad no real rock climby people come on these trips with us…they would laugh), and figured our way to Hunter Canyon Rim trail by following a pair of bike tracks and then a two pairs of foot prints.

Because of course, we’d left the actual map in the car.

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The map would have been useful when we got back to the mouth of the canyon, saw our car several hundred feet below us, and wondered how and where this Hunter Rim trail was going to take us. Lucky for us, we only ended up with a couple of miles of dirt road running to close the loop…whoops?

Maps. Maps are awesome.

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Still being camped relatively close to Canyonlands NP, we opted for a day on the Syncline trail that circumnavigates Upheaval Dome, a giant geologic feature that was caused by a meteor hitting the earth a long time ago.

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Somehow I managed to lose a pile of photos from this day, which makes me a little bit sad, but I guess that just means that we’ll have to go back and take more pictures? It was beautiful down there, and for a main-ish trail in a NP, pretty empty.

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Our bikes were getting a bit lonely, so we used them to explore a canyon near camp that we’ve been looking at on maps for a long time but hadn’t made the time to ride down. It made a beautiful loop with Schaeffer’s Switchbacks on White Rim.

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Think you could huck it?

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I love how wrinkly the earth is in Moab. Nothing is far from anything else, as the crow flies, but the ins and outs are endless.

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A rock fell down a few years ago. Cars and trucks fit under it, so the BLM has decided to just leave it. We got to climb the Schaeffer’s switchbacks at sunset, which is the best time to do it because the La Sal mountains are lighting up, and everyone else has gone home. Never have I seen the place so empty.

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Scott had some work to do on a day that I didn’t, so I opted for a quick jaunt down the Alcove Spring trail in Canyonlands.

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I ate jelly beans with rock formations named Zeus and Moses before heading back up. I hadn’t been on a long-ish solo run in a while. It was nice.

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With time in Moab running out, I schemed up a plan to try to visit a giant snake petroglyph that we’d heard about. We’d heard of two different ways to approach it, nothing specific on either route, but I had a grand plan of using the two routes to put together a big loop, starting at Pritchett Canyon, which is famous for being the hardest jeep route in Moab. We watched the rock crawlers struggle for a while before they gave up and started hooking winches up.

Jeeping looks terrifying.

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The snake was rad. Somehow I convinced Scott to keep going up the canyon, even though we weren’t seeing much sign of human travel.

‘Footprints! I think I see footprints!’ was a common refrain. Clearly, people are wandering around back here, probably just as ‘lost’ as we were.

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How do we get down there? I don’t know.

Unfortunately, from the top, we couldn’t see the exit that several people had verified existed. Maybe we went north when we should have gone south, maybe we didn’t go far enough north, who knows. But after a while, we reevaluated our plan and headed  west down a valley of fins that looked broader than the rest.

We knew that there was a very real possibility that we’d get cliffed out and have to retrace our steps…which would have made for a very, very long day.

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There are a lot of canyoneering/rappel-required routes back here, and we followed several sets of footprints to cliff edges and proceeded to curse.

But then there it was! The little sneak up a gully, down another, and we were back on open ground with a clear line of sight of where we needed to go to get back to Pritchett Canyon. We were saved!

There may have been a bit of celebration and chugging of water that had been rationed for the past several hours and eating of the last of our food. We would have made it if we’d had to retrace our steps, but there might have been tears involved.

We spent the run back to the car trying to figure out what the second approach to the Snake looked like, where we’d gone wrong, and how to do it better next time.

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The fins. Scott called it “complex topography.”

We were down to our last weekend before having to head to Colorado to watch dogs. We were determined to make the most of it. The following three weeks would be spent in Bouder, in a house, so we might as well show up as tired as possible.


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10th Annual Girls’ Trip to the Desert

10 years.

It’s been 10 years since Megan invited me on the Annual Girls’ Trip to Fruita.

That’s almost a third of my life I’ve spent looking forward to these long weekends in the desert filled with riding bikes, drinking cocktails, and spending time with some of the most amazing women I know.

It amazes me how much things have changed over that time, yet how much they’ve still stayed the same.

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In those first years, we always went to Fruita. Now it’s Moab every time.

We used to all sleep in tents, with Megan and I choosing to cowboy camp whenever possible. Now our campsite is littered with Sprinters, the Scamp, and the ever present Heidi truck that can haul all of us and our bikes.

We used to go on massive rides, pedaling until exhaustion each day. Now we’re pretty good after about three hours. We spend our energy points wisely.

Going on an all-girls camping and riding trip used to be a really big deal. Now it feels completely normal.

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But it’s the things that have stayed the same that make this trip so special.

The flurry of emails beforehand deciding on meals to cook and cocktails to drink. The riding of bikes in amazing places. The telling of stories. The peer pressure I feel after every ride to take a shower even when I’m fully convinced that it’s far too cold out (which is pretty much anything below 80 degrees and sunny). The sharing of good book recommendations, a list which sustains me for months afterwards.

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It’s all just so easy. Meals get cooked. Dishes get done. Snacks are shared. Bikes are ridden. No drama. No stress.

We started off this year by joining the Tokyo Joes’ girls on their Porcupine Rim shuttle for Heidi’s birthday. 16 women strong, there was so much bike riding experience and power in this group that it blew my mind. From racers to advocates to team managers who launched some amazing bike racing careers to all-around badasses, it was a privilege of the highest order to get to ride with this group.

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Of course, it was still Porcupine Rim with all of the requisite silliness, but it was the most fun that I’ve had on that trail.

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Traffic jam on the Notch

We got real motivated the next day to do a big loop on some new and old trail in the Mag 7 area. We were still feeling good when we ran into a group of packraft bikepackers who were doing an overnight on the Green River shuttled by trails on their fatbikes. Kay knew Rick, and Rick knew me, so I got my annual ‘You’re Eszter, you’re famous.’ I swear, this happens to me once per year, and it’s always during Girls’ Trip.

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And I always get a load of shit for it.

Anyhow. I need a packraft. And some packraft skills. Because their trip sounded amazing.

In the end, we ended up getting nearly epic’d by that much pedaling. We got real tired-like. We are soft, and we embrace it. And we got a good laugh at thinking back to the days where we’d ride for 9 hours and get back to camp sunburnt, dehydrated, and completely whooped.

But we still dream big! We schemed up a following day of Flat Head Pass in the morning, and an Ahab in the afternoon, with Megan and I going for a Hidden Canyon run instead of Ahab. Megan is in training for a June ultra run, and she was real motivated-like.

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But after Flat Pass and a dip in Ken Lake, I thought for sure she’d relent and vote for Milt’s instead of more activity. Everyone else had given up the idea of a second ride long ago.

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But not Megan, and I wasn’t about to bail on supporting her motivation. So we had the other girls drop us off at Barney Rubble, set up our shuttle on the other side at the bottom of Moab Rim, and took off climbing after shoveling some food into our bellies.

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It was beautiful…and I’m sure there’s a lesson in this. Something along the lines of ‘Always say yes to adventure with friends.’

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And really, as long as we walked the up-hills, it wasn’t entirely all that painful. Or something. That’s a lie. Running is never easy.

And since we got milkshakes and tots at Milt’s afterwards, all was right in the world.

We finished the trip off with a lap around Ahab in the morning. Because what’s a trip to Moab without Ahab? (a lot safer?) I kid. I like Ahab. Sorta. Once per year.

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Eventually, most everyone drove off in their separate directions. Front Range. Montana. Durango. A few of us sat around drinking a round of cocktails at camp waiting for our men to show up from their own long-weekend adventures.

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Satisfied. Happy. A little bit sad that we’d have to wait another year for next time.

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Here’s to hoping for another 10 years in the desert filled with as many memories as the past 10.


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Three Days on the Kokopelli

Back in 2013, Semi-Rad.com wrote a blog post called ‘Make plans, not resolutions‘ which basically stated that instead of pulling the ‘Oh, I’d like to do this sometime’ or ‘Let’s get together someday’ BS that is so easy to do, one should make concrete plans, and then stick to them. The post really resonated with me, and since then, whenever someone says something along the lines of ‘I’d like to do this’ or ‘Let’s go on a trip together’ I don’t just say ‘Okay’, I say ‘Sure. Let’s set a date.’

And 9 times out of 10, once the date is committed to, the plan comes to fruition. Sometimes not in it’s original form, but something fun and memorable tends to happen.

So back in February when I was visiting 24-Hours of Old Pueblo and Rachel said, ‘Let’s go bikepacking’ and Beth said, ‘I’d love to do the Kokopelli’, I said, ‘Let’s set a date.’ We’d done three days on White Rim the spring before and had a blast.

After consulting with Alexis, we set a date for a three-day weekend at the end of April, ignored the direly cold weather forecast, took along our token male, Sean, and headed out from the Loma trailhead. Destination: Milt’s in Moab.

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I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with the Koko. After two completely disastrous attempts at going fast on it (Thanks mud, thanks stomach), I had a great three day bikepack on it with Bec and Becky last fall (Thanks friends!). But even with three days, it’s freakin’ hard. Billed as a “dirt road route” it never fails to hand my ass to me. Generally chaffed, hurting, and ready to never sit on a bike seat again.

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But I seem to keep going back. Because it’s beautiful. Because it’s remote. Because it actually is fairly entertaining riding the whole way, especially if you take single track options along the way. That’s another one of those added bonuses to not racing – taking the fun route is more important than taking the ‘real’ route. And largely because I have a quota of ‘Bad Life Decisions’ to make each year.

I jest. Koko is always a good life decision. Unless it’s rainy. Then it’s a very poor life decision.

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Our first day brought us through the fun single track of Loma, through the heinous hike-a-bike down to and up from Salt Creek, to Rabbit Valley where we picked up the first water cache that Alexis and I had dropped on our way to Loma, then onto Trail 2, Western Rim, up The Big Hill, and straight towards the La Sals until morning. Not really. Only until we found a nice campsite that was somewhat protected from the wind.

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The wind. The wind has the opportunity to make or break any Koko trip, especially in the middle miles from Westwater to Dewey Bridge. I’m not sure who had the Good Karma points stored up, but we got a ripping tailwind the whole way on Day 2. This is exceptionally amazing because the wind was blowing opposite of what it normally does in that area.

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We were very, very, very, very (very, very) lucky.

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Sand Canyon, I mean, Yellow Jacket Canyon, was beautiful as always. I love the contrast of the desert sandstone with the snowy La Sals. Surfing around in sand is always a lot of fun too.

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We picked up our second water cache at Dewey Bridge — so much better than trying to filter out of the Colorado River, and so easy to set up with a smidge of planning.

No one likes the next section of the route. It’s often called the Shandies, aka the Shitty Sandies. It’s a lot of up. It’s a lot of sand. And the bit of relief you get from the sand in Cottonwood Creek, you have to hike-a-bike out of. But it’s pretty?

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In my head, it’s the crux of the thing. Get up the Shandies, you get rewarded by a chunk-filled descent with amaze-balls views, and then you only have two more climbs which are even bigger to deal with before the final descent into Moab. (but we don’t talk about those climbs while trying to get up the Shandies)

Koko is rough!

We spent a freezing night camped above Rose Garden Hill and all had ice in our bottles in the morning. I’d spent the night rubbing my feet together trying to keep them from going completely numb. I don’t think any of us fared very well, and it was a relief when the sun finally made it’s appearance over the cliffs in the morning.

Water from Hideout, then heads down for climbing.

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Not really. We got a geology lesson from Alexis, found a fault line, spotted birds, and got our tired butts up to Polar Mesa. We knew the climbing for the day was almost over. A road closure on La Sal Mountain Loop Road would prevent us from doing the final climb to Sand Flats road. And in all honestly, I was pretty okay with that.

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Instead, we coasted down Castle Valley road (those towers are amazing!) and pulled together a fairly to mostly pathetic team time trial along Hwy 128, following the Colorado River straight into Moab. 15 miles, 1-mile pulls each, 3 pulls per person. At least it was entertaining for the most part…less entertaining when Rachel put the hammer down on her last pull and dropped all of us.

The Sand Flats finish to Koko is romantic for many reasons: the views, the massive downhill, but most importantly, because it goes straight to Milt’s. Our finish was less romantic, but still just as effective, landing us with a table full of milkshakes, fries, tots, and burgers in an incredibly reasonable (for Milt’s) amount of time.

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Scott and Denny met us with our shuttle vehicle that we loaded up with bikes and people for the trek back to Loma, picking up our spent water caches on the way. We schemed bikepacking routes for next spring. ‘Let’s make a spring bikepack an annual tradition!’

Yes. Yes we should. All we have to do is set a date.

Alexis and I were back in Moab before 10, thoroughly exhausted. I’ve never been so happy to have a warm and enclosed space to keep my toes warm all night.

Kokopelli. I always swear never again. But I’ll always go back. It’s just too special not too.


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Taking the Slow Road

We pulled up to a kiosk in Kodachrome Basin State Park in the middle of central Utah on our bikes, giddy with the discovery that the state park, which I’d spied on some advertisement in Kanab, opened many of its trails to mountain bikes. Another rider was there, loading up his bike into his truck.

“Have you ridden here before?” he asked us.

“Nope,” we relied.

“Well, me neither, but I just rode everything here as fast as I could. It took me about an hour and a half.”

“Oh.”

We really didn’t know what to say to him, so we left to go ride.

“Why is everyone in such a hurry all the time?” was all I could ask myself.

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We were surrounded by beauty, and I’m talking big beauty (they wouldn’t turn the place into a protected park unless it was far above average for beauty, and that’s saying a lot in Utah), and the defining characteristic of this guy’s ride was that he did it as fast as possible? I’m all for riding fast, riding fast is fun, but day-um, stop and enjoy the view sometime! Smell some flowers! Go skinny dipping in a creek! Take a nap! (Of course, I don’t know this guy’s story, and I should probably just be less judgemental about him, but I’m always skeptical about people who only measure their rides in numbers.)

Stopping to enjoy the view was our philosophy for getting across Utah on our migration to Moab this time around. While the fastest, flattest route is definitely through Monument Valley, we had three days before we had to be there, so why not see what there was to see on the way. So we took Hwy 12, Utah’s All-American Highway. Whatever that means.

It was a classic case of Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

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Once we left Hatch and our favorite alien diner, where we ran into a bike tourist who was raising money for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance by riding his bike to all of the national parks and monuments in the state (we traded him coffee and fries for his stories from his trip), we didn’t come into reliable cell reception until we were back on I-70 three days later.

It was great.

We spent the first night at Kodachrome Basin State Park, surrounded by towering red and white cliffs. Apparently camping at these parks is mostly by reservation, and we felt pretty lucky to get shoved into an overflow camping spot along with the rest of the Poor-Planners.

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Our drive the next day took us through miles and miles of stunning rock, including the Hogback which is a narrow strip of road with cliffs on either side and endless views of slickrock and canyons. We paused at an absolutely delicious cafe in Boulder City, UT, for lunch, just as a snow squall blew through the area. Every touring motorcycle group within 50 miles ended up there with us, and lunch was not a fast affair.

But who’s in a hurry?

We thought maybe we’d be able to sneak into a campsite at Capitol Reef National Park. Apparently national parks don’t reward Poor Planners, and we felt pretty lucky to escape the visitors center without getting run over/running over anyone.

Luckily, we were able to play I Spy and found a piece of BLM land not too far away to dump the Scamp while we went for a hike.

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To say that we lucked out with the campsite is nothing short of an understatement. National Parks campgrounds versus this…

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…I love me some amenities when Scamping sometimes, but we were pretty glad that the park camp site had been full for hours before we even thought about showing up. I’m sure there’s a ‘road less traveled’ lesson here.

And then on to Moab. Past Goblin Valley (next time!), past Green River (is it melon season yet?), and onto the highway that we know all too well, back to the campsite that is waiting like an old friend.

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We could have spent the rest of the summer exploring the sites of Highway 12, but Alexis was coming, there was a bikepacking trip to rig for. But I sure am glad that we took the slower route to Moab. It made all the difference.

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Grand Canyon, Buckskin Gulch: A Ten-Year Anniversary

Megan and I have been adventuring together for over ten years now.

Ten years. That’s a decade of life.

We’ve skied together, ridden together, run together, and from Day 1, there was no other woman who I’d rather play with in the backcountry. Before she came along, I pretty much only skied and rode with guys. Going out with only Megan (Oh did we have some good adventures! Like getting frost-nipped trying to ski 14,000+ ft Mt Bross on a windy day, or trying to link 100 miles of Nederland trails together during the YWRH 100) was the first time I realized that I could be just as strong and safe in the backcountry with another woman as I could be with men. Potentially more so. Women adventure partners were special, and Megan was the best of the best.

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10 years ago – 14,000+ feet. 40 mph+ winds. We froze ourselves. I don’t know if we’ve actually gotten any smarter since then…

Of course, my little mid-20’s brain didn’t fully absorb this lesson until years later, but I like to think that those first years of playing together laid the foundation for my current obsession with spending time in the outdoors with strong women.

When Megan mentioned that she had to be in Tucson for a week in late April, I immediately convinced her to spend a few extra days in the area for adventuring. Somehow, I also convinced her to come up to do a run in Paria Canyon, which happens to start in Utah…which is a long ways from Tucson, and when on the way to Paria Canyon, a Grand Canyon run on the way up seemed like a prudent idea.

We settled on a lollipop route down Grandview Trail and around to Dripping Spring. A trip report I read claimed 17 miles. Perfect. Scott mentioned something about the rationality of doing four nearly 20 mile runs in a week.

But who am I to think about such details?

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Down we went to Horseshoe Mesa.

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A little bit of extra credit mileage when we passed our turn because we were too busy gabbing.

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Down to the Tonto where the flowers were still spectacular.

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Around to Dripping Spring where we paused to give thanks for all that was good in our lives. And to drink some water coming straight out of the rock, too.

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And back up. When we finished the loop part, it seemed that no time had passed. I checked the GPS – only 9.5 miles, even with the extra credit. The look of sadness on Megan’s face when contemplating the fact that her Canyon run would be over in three miles was devastating.

Could we do another loop? Is that a good idea? Is that a real question?

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We dropped down to Cottonwood spring off of the other side of the Horseshoe Mesa, filling up on water on the briskly moving stream. The trail wrapped around the northern end of Horseshoe Mesa, and we ascended the same trail that we’d descended a few hours earlier.

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Now it was time to finish off the stem of our loop. Megan led, I struggled to follow. We paused in the shade to regroup. At the top Megan dumped a liter of water over my head to try to get me feeling better. It wasn’t until after I puked pretty much all of the water I’d drank during the run out over a wall (think drunk girl at a college frat party) that I started to feel better.

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Given that it wasn’t hot out, I’m blaming it on something I ate. Puking. Gross. Ew.

I spent the three hour drive up to Jacob Lake working on rehydration. We also stopped to see the nesting Condor that you could see from Navajo Bridge. The momma was sleeping in the cliff wall, volunteers from the Peregrine Fund had a spotting scope trained on her. This is the first time that Condors have built a nest and laid an egg in the wild in a location where humans could observe them without disturbing them. There was much excitement.

We met Scott up at Jacob Lake where he’d towed the Scamp while we were busy skipping around the Canyon. Scott’s the best.

An early morning and shuttle set up had all three of us moving just shy of 10 at the Wire Pass trailhead. We made it down the chockstone drop with some level of grace. (#alternativefacts) and we immersed ourselves in the depths of the earth for the day.

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The canyon varies between tight, tall, walls…DSC06871_resize

And wide openings where the sun warmed our chilly arms and legs.

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Megan said that it was a cross between walking through a sculpture and a cathedral. I think the description is pretty spot on.

We knew that there’d be water in the slot. Reports from a week earlier indicated that the deepest were only waist deep.

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Scott contemplating the Freedom Step. The step where you finally give up and get your shoes wet. 

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The pools started out ankle deep, then knee deep, and then finally we hit the waist deep ones. Jackets went on, feet went numb. Running the dry sections felt like running on wooden stubs.

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It was almost unbearably beautiful.

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Eventually, we emerged to Middle Earth, an open area after the “cesspools” where the sun shone strong. We welcomed the warmth to eat lunch by.

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We arrived at the “Boulder Jam” where “technical climbing skills may be required” shortly after leaving Middle Earth. Caroline, my beta provider, had said that it wasn’t too bad, and that there were fixed ropes attached. I think she may have also said that she would have climbed down the Moki steps even if the rope wasn’t there. Caroline is a badass.

We had two options for ropes. One with a smaller drop but a landing on a slanted rock and no steps carved in, and the main Moki step route. We futzed around at the top comparing the two options for longer than I want to admit. Finally, after watching Scott look all sorts of sketchy exploring differing body positions for going down the lower drop (we’re not climbers, clearly) I decided that the safest option would be the steps.

It was the scariest thing that I’ve done in a long time, and I was still shaking with adrenaline long after I guided Megan and Scott down. It was like teaching a yoga class. “Now left leg down, just a little farther, swivel to the right, now right leg down, reach around to the left…and now you have to jump.”

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Photo from Megan

It was exciting. It made me excited for more scrambling.

Relieved to have made it through the crux, we trotted our way out to the confluence of the Paria River and Buckskin Gulch and turned upstream.

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It was a long seven miles back. Lucky for us, it was real purdy as well.

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When things turned sloggy, we stopped in the shade to eat snacks. I try to minimize the suffering.

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We emerged at the White House trail head late afternoon, exhausted, exuberant, shoes and socks packed with sand. What an amazing place to spend the day. It was quite possibly the most beautiful day I’ve ever spent in nature, so it’s only fitting that I got to spend it with Scott and Megan.

I would have been real sad to see Megan drive down the road, pointed towards Tucson where she was headed to a conference to help save the world, or at least public lands, but I knew that I’d see her in Moab in under two weeks, and that made me feel better.

Ten years of adventuring. And each big one only gets better.