Zen On Dirt

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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.”


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


…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.


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.


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?


Down we went to Horseshoe Mesa.


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


Down to the Tonto where the flowers were still spectacular.


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.


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?


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.


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.


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.


The canyon varies between tight, tall, walls…DSC06871_resize

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


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.


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


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.


It was almost unbearably beautiful.


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.


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.”


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.


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


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


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.

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Canyons, Condors, Toads, Lizards, and Running


One of the most common questions we get asked is ‘Where to next?’

While on some level, we do wander around aimlessly and see what adventuring falls into our lap, there generally is a method to our madness. Or at least some event in the near future at a faraway place that we’re aiming for. In this case, we had about nine days between when we left Tucson on a hot-as afternoon and a date with my Best Bad Idea Adventure Buddy up in southern Utah.

Clearly, the most logical pit stop between these two locations was the Grand Canyon because cell reception is awesome, and it’s a great place to just chill and rest my legs in preparation for my big running date. #alternativefacts (Cell coverage stinks, WiFi is horrendously slow everywhere, and I can’t resist the allure of the Big Ditch)

We started with a little bit of a Big Ditch run warm-up the afternoon we rolled in. Scott forced us to turn around long before I wanted to citing rational reasons such as: I don’t want to get sore during my first afternoon at the Canyon. He’s a smart one, that boy. Still, a sunset run down below the rim is always a special event.


We went on a couple of exploratory rides from our campsite. The entire area is crisscrossed with lightly trafficked dirt roads. New connections were discovered, and we saw a horny toad, which is always a noteworthy experience. Little dinosaurs, they are.


Then Danielle and Nancy showed up from PHX. The goal: Lemonade from Phantom Ranch.


I’m not all that sure why I have such an obsession with running to the bottom of the Big Ditch for a $3.75 cup of ice-cold lemonade, but I do, and I’ve accepted it as such.


It might have something to do with the massive views on the way down South Kaibab Trail.


Or the semi-well manicured trail that is oh-so-runnable, most of the way down.


Or the chance to people watch at Phantom Ranch and on the trail.


Whatever it is, it was awesome to get to spend a day with Nancy and Danielle, and when we emerged from Bright Angel trail back on the Rim, none of us were wrecked. Which is always awesome.

But I was sore the next day. Doh! But luckily, I’m also a bit dumb, so when Scott proposed a 24 mile run on the Tonto trail a day later, descending the Hermit Trail, diving in and out of three drainages on the Tonto Plateau, and then climbing back up Bright Angel trail, I immediately agreed.

Because tapering. I was resting up for my adventure later in the week.

We woke up long before we’re used to waking up and took the Hermit’s Rest shuttle out to the far end of the road. If all went according to plan, we’d emerge from the Canyon just feet from the van. I love it when shuttles are easy.


We made quick work of the descent to Windy Point, down the Cathedral Steps, and onto the Plateau.


The Tonto was absolutely exploding with flowers and devoid of people.


The miles went surprisingly easily and quickly to Monument Creek, our first water stop for the day. Birds chirped. Lizards posed. Water flowed. Wind blew gently through the tress. Quite idyllic, if I may say so myself.


On to Salt Creek (too salty), Horn Creek (radioactive from Uranium), and Indian Gardens where we once again joined back in with the crowds of the Canyon. 20+ miles in by this point, we stopped to soak our feet in the spring, cool the core temperatures, and partake in my favorite Grand Canyon activity: People watching.


I’d love to say we walked out of there in a spirited manner, but really, it was more of a slog. But it was okay, because we were surrounded by other people who were equally on the Suffer Bus, so we had plenty of company.


We went for burgers and cake as the Maswik Lodge afterwards to celebrate. I was so impressed by Scott. He’s definitely spent a lot less time running than I have, and aside from nearly letting the wheels fall off the Suffer Bus near the top (I gave him my walking sticks, that helped), he pulled the route off with grace.


Then I committed myself to resting. Megan was showing up in two days and had decided that she also wanted to do a Canyon run before our main objective. Part of my resting routine is to take care of all of those pesky life chores that have to be taken care of even if you live in a Scamp. Chores like laundry, which can actually be done incredibly cheaply on the South Rim of the Canyon at the campground.

Laundry was also a good excuse to take a break from work that day, but when it was done, I was ready to get back to the computer screen to earn Fun Tokens. But Scott insisted that we go wander around at the rim for a little bit. We were at the Grand Canyon after all.

I relented, and I’m so glad I did.

Condor #87 was sitting at Mather Point putting on a show for any one who wanted to watch. With sub-500 condors alive, it’s a true treat to see this gigantic bird. I’d never had the pleasure, and here was one seeming to be completely content to sit on a rock and have it’s picture taken.


Except of course, since we’d only come to the Canyon to do laundry, the only camera we had was my iPhone. (There’s a life lesson here: always carry a camera, even if you’re just going to do laundry) Lucky for us, there was a #birdnerd who happened to be there with a spotting scope, and we got to get an up-close and personal look at the head of this giant bird.


He stretched. He dried his wings and let the UV from the sun kill bacteria on his feathers. He preened. And eventually he took off, dropping straight into the Canyon, not to be seen again.


What a special, special experience. Pretty glad I wasn’t actually that motivated to work that afternoon. I could have left the Canyon that night, completely content with the experience. But it turns out, I have a Best Bad Idea Adventure Buddy who was having FOMO from afar and wanted some Canyon time for herself.

I wasn’t about to object.



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Leaving Tucson

It always feels like we have to escape from Tucson in the spring. It never seems to be a ‘Oh look, here comes a five-day forecast with 90+ degrees, we should probably head north.’ Instead, there always (and I’m using a very, very small data set here) seems to be something that keeps us in the area for longer than we want.


This time around, it was a set of packages that we were waiting on. We generally try hard to not mail order anything, mostly because it’s a pain in the ass to figure out where to ship it, and then have to go pick it up, and there’s the whole ‘support your local businesses’, but Scott needed something specific and I had an on-line coupon and the need for a new pair of running shoes.

I guess we could have stayed at Parker Canyon Lake. It was a lot cooler there, but as it was, we were pretty much out of food, and there’s nothing that drives us back to civilization quite as fast as being out of food. Especially of the snack variety.


With hindsight 20/20, we should have just driven the 20 miles to Sonoita, got a few days worth of gas station food, and gone back out to Parker, but the draw of heading north was strong, and we found ourselves back in Tucson.

And it was hot.


Scott went down to the Huachuca Mountains to do some trail layout work on the AZT, I spent the better part of three days hiding from the sun, getting up early to ride, and wondering how I’d ever liked the heat. (I also needed a map of the Paria Canyon, a new case for my phone, to ship something, Bronner’s dish soap, you know, adulting things had to be done that are a lot easier to do in the Big City.) As it turns out, when you have a cool house to retreat to, heat is pretty awesome. When there’s no way to get out of it…heat is a bummer.


I may have to turn in my Desert Rat membership card, and I may have been excessively grumpy about having to stay in town. But my shift towards wanting cooler temperatures is pretty interesting.


But here’s the good thing. Even though I may have gotten a little mad at Tucson in my final couple of days, I still think it’s really neat. I’m still excited to come back next spring and eat Seis burritos, to drink Presta coffee when it’s cold, to eat/drink/slurp raspados when it’s hot. I’m excited to spend more time exploring the Catalinas, I’d like to spend more time birding. It’s really nice to be in a city where you can buy 99% of everything you need without having to mail-order.


As we rolled out with the setting sun for another night traversal of PHX, I waved good-bye to the Big City. Once we made it through PHX that night, we wouldn’t see another city of any appreciable size for a long time. And that’s pretty cool too.


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The AZTR Startline

I love the start of the AZTR.

Mostly because I’m not racing it. One magical run in 2013 was plenty, thank you very much.

But it’s still one of the few times of year when all of my friends come to me, and with the increased number of people who seem to camp before the start these days, it almost qualified as a party.

This year it definitely qualified as a party, because it was Schilling’s birthday and there was cake involved. And puppies. And a camp fire. Really, it was my favorite AZTR start to date.

There had been a lot of stressors in Scott’s life leading up to the race. Fires on Mount Lemmon on the AZT. Massive amounts of snow up north and unplowed roads. People signing up for SPOT rentals the day before the race. I guess the night before the start signals that everything has been set in motion and the option of calling off the whole thing is no longer a choice. At least not an easy one.

It’s like when you’re a racer. When it comes to the night before the event, all the work and training and planning has been done, now it’s time to reap the rewards and enjoy the ride.

We headed up to Parker Canyon Lake Wednesday night to see off the ITT racers who were opting to start a day early. Scott had encouraged as many as possible to start Thursday to help keep numbers down for the mass start and to help people avoid the junk show called Reddington Road on a Saturday Morning.


Jerry and Wendi were ready to go Thursday morning before we even had coffee ready. They are known early birds. Scott and I are not.

Since we were Scamped just off of the AZT, we were hoping to run into some thru-hikers. We called the first set of four over just as Wendi and Jerry were rolling out.


As it turned out, it was Southern and Data, two hikers who we’d met on the CDT a few summers ago. It took all of us a few minutes to piece together who we each were. Southern didn’t have his kilt on, that’s what I’m blaming it on. We fed the four of them a cup of coffee and sent them on their way. We’d been meaning to set up the Scamp somewhere on the AZT and be trail angels for a bit this spring, but like so many of our other plans, it never quite happened. Time is limited. Time is precious.

Next year.


Sol was the next to roll out. I was impressed by his Star Wars helmet setup. He had the weight of it calculated and had deemed that it was better than the wide brim helmet covers that are so popular among Tucson riders.


Martin and Pascal were the next to roll out. Martin used to live in Tucson but had since moved up to Seattle. He hosted us for a night during our PNW trip two summers ago and took us riding on some slippery and wet Seattle roots, which brought out the famous Scott quote of, ‘Does anyone actually enjoy riding wet roots?’

Scott hates wet roots.


Evan and Mark showed up mid-day. Evan and I had ridden together during a Death Valley bikepacking trip a few springs back. He’s working on a Trans-California route that’ll hopefully be part of a bike version of the Pacific Crest Trail. Mark is crazy. He’s finished the AZT 750 five times and is the only double Triple Crowner of bikepacking. That’s a glutton for punishment right there, and it makes me tired just thinking about it.


Wendi, while planning on riding to Sonoita with Jerry, slashed a sidewall five miles into the Canelos (that trail eats tires like nothing else) and blew out her tube, so she took a leisurely walk back to the trailhead. After taking her to go retrieve her car, I managed to talk her into a little mini run. More of a systems test for my foot than anything else. The foot passed the test. Woohoo!


By the time we got back, people were really starting to show up. Homegrown shuttles was making things easy by picking people up at the 300 finish, or the PHX airport, or from wherever and driving them down to both the 300 and 750 starts.


And then the Hansen’s showed up. With one-week old border collie puppies.

Earlier in the day, I had been trying to pawn off a pair of running shoes that I didn’t really use on Wendi. Scott had (jokingly) said, ‘If you get rid of a pair of running shoes, you can get a puppy.’

Me wanting a puppy, and asking for a puppy, is somewhat of a daily joke for us.

The shoes ended up fitting Wendi and I did a little happy dance for getting them a new home. And then the puppies show up. And of course, I reminded Scott that just two hours prior, he’d said I could have one.

I’m not getting a puppy, but they sure were cute.

The Hansen’s really killed it for start line awesomeness. They brought Scott and I burritos from Seis, then they had a laser physical therapy magic thing that they lasered my foot with, and then they gave me an electroshock therapy thing to put on my foot to help it get better. They also brought cake for Schilling’s birthday and donuts and empanadas for the morning.

But the puppies were the best!


Race morning was lots of fun. So much puttering. So much nervous energy. I kept waiting for that desire to race to come up…but it never did. I think this is a great sign for my growth and change as a human being.


One of the best parts of the evening/morning was getting to hang out with Alexis. I’m pretty sure she hasn’t been gone from AZ for more than two weeks at a time…even though she lives at the other end of another state. She’s definitely done more laps around the Tucson Mountain Park Big Loop this winter than I ever have in a season. She’d go on to win the 300 through some pretty miserable conditions on Day 2. I’m super-duper proud of her.


The 750 riders started filtering through soon after the 300 riders took off. Some blasted through, encouraged by a cowbell and general heckling. Some stopped to chat. It’s a long stinking race. This was Brett’s second time back, I believe. We had ended up carpooling up to Banff together for Tour Divide in 2012, he was one of the Wisconsin boys that we’d picked up in Whitefish to join our traveling circus. I hadn’t made the connection that one of them was Brett until this year when he reminded me. That was a funny trip…


Kaitlyn came through at some point. We made her hold the puppy, because puppies are awesome. If I were her, I would have hopped on my bike right there and then and rode off with that puppy.

Eventually, all of the riders came through…some with a higher level of hilarity than others. Some not knowing where the start was for the 750 and bushwacking along the border fence, some not knowing which track to follow on their GPS, some dropping their GPS within the first mile and having to come all the way back to the start to find it (someone had brought it back for them). There was much giggling involved.

Then, with the same swiftness that the circus had descended on Parker Canyon Lake, it disappeared, leaving Scott and I to watch the sunset from the quiet of the camp.


We watched the dots move along the track, knowing that everyone was out there having a pretty special adventure. It’s a pretty amazing thing that Scott puts together each year. Friendships are formed, memories are made, limits are pushed.

I’m just glad I get to be a small part of it.


Impermanence, joy, and birds

Note: I wrote this about a week ago when we were up in Madera Canyon bird watching. I couldn’t decide if I liked it, so I got busy with life and forgot about it. But I reread it. And I thought it was okay. So here it is. Along with bird pictures.

It was a hard week for the cycling community.

First, Mike Hall was killed by a car in the final 24 hours of the Indian Pacific Race down in Australia. MH was the best of the best in the long races. Tour Divide. Trans Am. His dots were amazing to watch going down and across the continent.

Then this morning, news of Steve Tilford’s death in a car accident came across the FB. Aside from all of his cycling accolades, he was evangelical about ridding cycling of doping, and I often found myself cheering when reading his rants about cheats in the sport.

I didn’t know either of them personally, but it was gut-wrenching to hear about their deaths.


The Broadbill Bully. Small but mighty.

Of course, whenever we’re affected by death, especially death that’s sudden and unexpected, there’s the realization that none of us are going to live forever, and we never know when our time is up.

It sets off a flurry of activity and life motivation. Make the most of each day! Carpe Diem!

Which is all well and good, and generally I attack my goal of carping the diem by going on an adventure which takes me to beautiful places and leaves me thoroughly exhausted and satisfied.

Except this week, I’ve pretty much sat on my ass, even though every cell in my body has be screaming to go do something big.


El Magnifico. aka The Lunk

You see, I’ve come down with a self-diagnosed case of Ouchie Foot, which started from Ouchie Shin, which was a result of Ouchie Calf, which pre-dates even that 50k that I ran back in January. In summary, I’ve been dealing with some level of pain running pretty much since we got back from New Zealand when I, once again, over estimated my running abilities and over did it. Most of the pain wasn’t really bad enough to cause a full system shut down, but it also wasn’t going away, especially this last iteration of Ouchie Foot.


The Lunk and the Bully

So I grounded myself for a week to try to let things get better. And then Mike was killed and I was reminded that I’ll never get this week back. And who knows if I’ll get one after it.

But you know what? It’s been a good week. I’ve been reading The Book of Joy about a meeting between the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu (excellent, I highly recommend it) where they spend a week talking about joy, what it is, what leads to it, how to maintain it in the face of sadness, adversity, struggle, and strife. There’s much talk about how joy comes not from our external situation, but how we react to it. Cup half empty or cup half full. Searching for the silver lining. Do we agonize over what we can’t do, or celebrate what we can?


I’m a sucker for a good looking turkey

Sure. I was hurt and was trying to stay off my feet. But that didn’t mean that we couldn’t go down to the humming bird feeders in Madera Canyon and watch birds go by. It didn’t mean that I couldn’t spend the time reading my endlessly growing book list. It didn’t mean that Scott and I couldn’t start rewatching Breaking Bad, starting from Season 1. It didn’t mean that breakfasts couldn’t take extra long, lingering with Scott over the last sips of coffee before even turning phones on to see what had happened in the outside world overnight. It didn’t mean that I couldn’t spend extra time working so that when I was better, I could spend less time working. It didn’t mean that the sky was any less beautifully blue, that our new 2-inch memory foam was any less comfortable, or that we couldn’t go out snipe hunting in Patagonia Lake State Park.


Osprey with dinner (Photo from Scott)

So I say screw carpe diem. That puts way too much pressure on to do “something” with a day. I say carpe joy. Whatever that happens to be that day. Maybe it’s going out to do something big and noteworthy. Maybe it’s laying in our reclining chair under an oak tree, enjoying the breeze and listening to Fred the cooper’s hawk that lives near our favorite campsite outside of Patagonia chortle and laugh to his hearts content (we think there’s a baby Fred in the tree across the wash! We hear it call when it gets hungry).


Soaring vulture

I’m still sad about Mike and Steve. But I’m glad they even existed in the first place. I’m glad that all of the people in my life exist, and I’m okay with the fact that none of us will be here forever. And I’ll keep working on finding joy, regardless of what life throws my way.


A Trans Catalinas Running Adventure

I’ve always had a fascination with skylines. When I was into backcountry skiing while living in Boulder, I was working on a project of skiing the peaks of the Continental Divide skyline above town. In Boulder, the classic skyline run (which I still haven’t done) is the Sanitas/Flagstaff/Green/Bear/South Boulder Peak traverse. There was the Tucson Mountain Traverse I did last year. Let’s not even get me thinking or talking about the Nolan’s 14 skyline traverse here.

And then there were the Catalinas that tower over Tucson. Ever since I started running, I wanted to do a traverse of the “front range” of the massive mound of mountains starting at Pima Canyon on the west, hitting up Mt Kimball, Ventana Peak, cruising over the top of Sabino Canyon, dropping into Molino Basin, and ending with a descent down Milligrosa on the east. It would be about 35 miles of not fast moving terrain and a good bit of vert.

Not really into death marches these days, I shortened the route to end in Molino Basin, which was a convenient pickup spot on the Mt Lemmon Highway, with a bailout drop down Esperero Canyon in Sabino.

And then I invited a bunch of my running girlfriends to join me in the adventure. And this could be considered pretty out of character for a version of me that existed in the past. I’m fully aware that my best chances of success on something like this involves going solo, the whole minimize the variables you can’t control thing. I’m not the type of person who needs external motivation to do something or finish something, I used to love solo adventures (and I still do, just not as many of them).

But when I looked at the Catalinas Traverse and the adventure that would be involved, I wanted to do it with others. Something about life and beauty being best when shared. And I needed Scott to run the shuttle for me.


In the end, I had two takers. Holly, who I’d met in Sedona last fall and gone on a run with after she and Josh camped next to us and then run into again at the Oracle 50k this winter, and Danielle, who was an old friend from Boulder and had recently moved to PHX.

Both were down for an adventure and didn’t ask for many details about the route. I made some mentions about sections of trail that no one ever spoke positively of and bushwacking. There would most likely be bushwacking. And that I hadn’t seen the majority of the route, so there would be some element of the blind leading the blind.



We cruised happily up Pima Canyon in the morning shadows, thankful that the sun was still well hidden behind the towering walls. We were exceptionally thankful of this once we got to Pima Spring and found it mostly dry. As a water source that I was relying on to top of water stores for the next many miles, this was greatly disappointing. It was flowing the whole way down the canyon a month ago!


We soldiered on with a slightly more conscious effort to not guzzle water. I knew we’d be able to find some water in Esperero Canyon if needed, but that would commit us to the shorter version of the route. Maybe we’d find some high on the ridge? (I know, good joke, right?)


Trail navigation went surprisingly smoothly considering the un-use of the trail and soon we intersected the main trail that heads up to Mt Kimball. Never pass up beautiful summit perch for lunch is my general philosophy, so we headed over to enjoy the big views of the Mt Lemmon summit, the Oracle Valley, Antelope Peak in the distance, and all the mountains to the north that I really don’t have a sense of.


Onwards. Once off the main trail that comes up Finger Rock canyon, we were back to overgrown, rocky, Catalina goodness. I worried that if this trail was in such sub-par shape, what would the trail past Ventana Peak, the trail that everyone speaks of with such dislike, be like?

We passed the time chit-chatting about anything and everything. Fun times back in Boulder. The PHX running community. Arizona living in general. Eating-weirdness among women endurance athletes. Relationships that end without being a failure. Girl stuff, really. The hours passed quickly until Lunch #2 at Ventana. The giant arch overlooking Tucson is pretty neat, and we could see the transition in the part of Tucson we were looking at. We were headed west, making good time, and having a ball.


The trail did get rough after Ventana, but no worse that it had been on the traverse over from Mt Kimball. We found a small water seep that would have filled our water stores if we were willing to dig out a little hole and wait for 24 hours, or more. Seeps can be frustrating. There’s water! And moss! But not enough to make a difference.

And water was getting low.


We entertained the idea of trying to complete the entire route, gambling on the idea that Sabino Creek would be flowing 3 miles up the trail, but I couldn’t guarantee it, and if we’d gambled and lost, all three of us would have been in a world of hurt. We even made it a quarter mile up Cathedral Rocks trail before we came to our senses and halted the potential death march in its tracks.

There’s bottomless horchata just six miles down the trail. Plus water at some point in Esperero Canyon. We were all still having fun at the time, but we could all see that another 10 miles could definitely turn a fun day into the mountains in to a slog back to the car.

We did a quick about-face and headed down. There was no debate to be had.

Bridal Veil falls was flowing nicely, cold and fresh. Water in the desert is absolutely fascinating and beautiful to me. Especially when it’s in the form of a waterfall that you can stand under. When you’ve been rationing water for the past 5 hours, it’s even better.


True to Catalina form, the trail down was rough, rocky, and rugged. And slow. I texted Scott that we were three miles out so that he’d know where and when to come get us. It took us well over an hour to get down, picking our way through endless rocks that pummeled our (my?) already sore feet.

I was pretty happy to see the pavement and to be re-immersed in the pavement walking crowd that is found on Sabino Canyon road on a sunny Sunday afternoon. After having seen two people near the top of Mt Kimball and four people on top of Ventana, we hadn’t seen a single sign of another human until the final descent down.

For a route that involved massive views of Tucson for most of it, it felt (and was!) amazingly remote and untraveled.


I wasn’t even slightly concerned that we’d finished at Sabino instead of Molino Basin. I don’t think Holly or Danielle were either. I guess in the end, it must have never been about completing a route or reaching a goal for me, and what a change that is from what used to be my goal-oriented personality.

Five years ago, I would have gone out and done the thing on my own.

I daresay, sharing the route and the time with friends led to a far more fulfilling experience.

And that’s pretty cool.