Zen On Dirt


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CTR Send-off

Not long after we got back from our Haflin’s ride, the true CTR madness began. First Jefe showed up before I could even jump in the shower, when I did finally get in and out of the shower, I heard Aaron’s voice in the mix. Then Jesse showed up to pick up his SPOT. Max returned from a taco’d wheel epic adventure and the backyard turned into a corral for CTR ponies. People drifted in and out all afternoon, CTR was the topic of discussion. I watched the minutes tick by, knowing that I could be ready to race in a matter of an hour.

I contemplated it. Seriously. Even though every rational cell in my body knew it to be a bad idea on so many levels. I was finally feeling good on a bike. I wanted to go make use of it. But I also knew that a CTR would end my feeling good on a bike for the rest of the summer, or longer. I knew I could put in a decent ride, I was intrigued with the reversed direction, I wanted to be a part of the race I hold so close to my heart, if for no other reason than it gave me the confidence, way back in 2010 when I was sitting under a tree somewhere between Silverton and Durango, eating a tropical dried fruit mix while yelling at the thunder, that I could do anything I set my mind to. Even if it was stupid. Even if it seemed impossible.

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We headed down to Carver’s to see more racers. I saw Michelle, who I’d met in Banff and learned that she’d started Tour Divide with no rain jacket or sleeping bag. She made it to Whitefish and retooled her entire bike to go on to finish the race in an impressive display of grit. I hung out with racers that I hadn’t seen since the finish of the 2012 race. I watched the minutes tick by…I could still be ready.

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Around 9 pm, with our stable of CTR races tucked into various beds, couches, and corners of the floor, I gave up on the idea. CTR 2013 wasn’t going to be. I was glad that the time to make a completely irrational decision had passed.

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Instead, the next morning Scott and I headed up to go ride, take some pictures, and watch the race unfold. Parking at Upper Hermosa, we climbed Bolam Pass, which turned out to be an entirely civilized climb compared to the Rico side of it. Within minutes of hitting the CT, we ran into a confident looking Jesse. We rolled up to the next meadow and waited, hoping to get pictures of the chasers. We waited. And waited. And waited some more. Nothing. I tool a lot of pictures of flowers.

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We lost patience and continued riding, constantly checking our watches for the time gap. 45 minutes. One hour. Hour fifteen. Then finally, Jefe, Matt, Neil, Jerry all in short succession. The race was on. We cheered for Max as he passed farther down the trail. Stopped and pondered life with PeteB. The climbed to the top of Blackhawk Pass where we could see long lines of riders pushing their bikes up the switchbacks. Some arrived at the top exhausted. Other exuberant. Other’s completely blown away by everything. We made bets on who would make it to Silverton and who would be the first rider to miss the critical resupply.

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When the chill got to be too much, we descended, seeing Grizzly Adam, El Freako, Aaron, and countless others. At Hotel Draw, Scott said he was going to head down to the car to keep his ride short while I went on to explore Salt Creek. Hoping for company, I tried, “You’re going to let helpless little me go ride the CT and some strange trail all by myself?” It didn’t work. I tried, “It’s not that far. It’s, like, 15 minutes to Coral Draw, and then another 15 minutes to Salt Creek, and once we hit Hermosa, it’ll be 15 minutes back up to the car.” These were all blatant lies.

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As a last resort, I tried, “What would the Universe think of you if you descended some stupid jeep road instead of riding the CT and doing some giant and awesome single track descent?”

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That one got him and we continued on. We heard stories from racers in the second half of the pack of a giant hail storm, thunder, lightning. We saw a tree that had been hit earlier in the day with 20 foot long pieces of tree strewn near the trail. We rationed our calories after discovering that we only had a pack of Mentos and a Kep’s Ball between the two of us with a trail with a rather dubious reputation ahead of us.

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Salt Creek was awesome. As promised, it faded in and out of existence, but with a little bit of local knowledge that we’d received, we followed it with great success. We found fields of daisies. Endless trail. Techy water crossings. Unicorn land.

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And we spit out and Hermosa with a single, 100-calorie Kep’s Ball to our name. We split it and pedaled the 45 minutes, I mean 15 minutes, up to the car in the fading daylight.

“How long is Zia open?” came the question as we neared the car.

“9. If we’re in the car and moving by 8, we have a chance.”

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One of the fainter portions of trail.

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The pressure on the pedals increased. 7:53 we were at the car. 8:02 the bikes were loaded, leftover muffins from CTR racers pulled to the front, and the Sportsvan was pointed towards Zia. After nearly 10 hours of riding, a frantic drive back to town to make it with seven minutes to spare, a Wahoo Fish Bowl never tasted so good.

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A part of me wanted to be out on Segments 22 and 23 right then, but I’m learning to control my FOMO and a warm dinner, a hot shower, and a soft bed wasn’t half bad either.

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Making Each Ride Count

Scott and I got into talking the other day about what we would do differently if we knew we only had a short amount of time to live. While the shorter time periods inevitably involved (especially for me) nothing related to making money and survival, and mostly focused on traveling, seeing people, and being reckless, there gets to be a time when ‘real’ life does have to factor in. A year to live? Maybe you could outrun the debt collectors and ride in the Alps, Africa, Australia. Eat sushi in Japan. Crepes in Paris. Chocolate in Switzerland. Five years to live? Probably have to work, but minimally. Ten? Now most people would think about settling into some sort of work routine, financial stability, and then maybe screw off for the last year.

I feel like summer in Durango was like giving me five months to live and telling me to squeeze every last drop of life out of it that I could. At the same time, I know there’s bike riding and racing beyond the five months here, so it’s probably not the best idea to blow myself to pieces at every opportunity I get.

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And so I find a balance, by mixing training with singletrack. Mixing recovery days working and sitting in the river with unexpected nine hour rides on 600 calories with some four minute intervals up Wildcat canyon on skinny tires and a Powertap to show LW that I’m not completely screwing off.

The best days are when I mix a legitimate ‘training’ ride with a ‘fun’ ride. The days when we can point at a map and say ‘that looks like the perfect hill for a workout, and just look at how much new trail that we’ve never ridden we get to descend! Days that involve cranking out an hour and a half of tempo up steep dirt roads (you can gain a whole lot of vertical in 90 minutes!) to the top of Haflins and then get scared silly while dropping 3,000 feet on steep trail.

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Each day here has been the opportunity for more exploration.  Each ride has been designed to see as much new trail as possible. There’s something to be said for knowing that our time here is limited. If I thought I had an infinite amount of time here to explore everything, would I have gone up a random dirt road to Haflins, hoping that it worked out for training? Probably not. If I wanted that guarantee, I would have pedaled skinny tires up 550.

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That road WAY down there – that’s where we’re going.

The part I like about this is: Had I come to Durango this May thinking that I really only had five more months to live, or five more months to ride (they really are sort of the same thing, aren’t they?), then up to now, I really wouldn’t have done anything differently. Well, I maybe would have skipped the 2.5 minute all-out intervals, those were pretty terrible for the soul, and the knee thing has been a little bit of a bummer, but I’ve seen more trail here than I ever thought possible, and gotten strong(er) while doing it.

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Maybe that’s the beauty of the vagabond lifestyle, the acknowledgement that nothing is permanent and each moment should be savored, while still planning on surviving for a relatively extended period of time.


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Rules of D-Town

Max came to town (we’re talking last Thursday, I’m a little behind with this blogging business) to try to acclimate for a few days before starting the CTR. We tossed around some ride ideas with him that evening for a Friday ride. We’d initially settled on a shuttle monkey ride of Engineer, because really, Engineer was the best descent we’d found thus far, and with a shuttle, it only entailed a 40 minute, 1,000 foot climb and then beautiful flowers and an endless descent. Plus, it goes up to nearly 12,000 feet, perfect for Max coming from 2,500 foot Tucson. And I had a 90 minute, relatively easy ride on the training plan.

But in the morning, I hemmed and hawed. Maybe we should do Animas Mountain instead, or Test Tracks, or Horse Gulch? I really didn’t feel like loading bikes into the car and driving, *gasp* 30 minutes to the top of Coal Bank Pass. Scott very firmly told me that we should go do Engineer. When you have guests in town, you show them the real goods, not just the fake goods.

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Yes, you can still see the cars in the parking lot.

So we went. Max fell over on the first rock on the trail and bent his derailleur, the first of many adventures/mishaps that he had during his 48 hours in Durango, which included taco’d wheels, broken springs in derailleurs, and a host of other hilarious events. Well, at least it was hilarious to me watching from the outside. He handled it all with an incredible amount of grace and calm (and then went on to absolutely CRUSH the race).

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So we rode. Max rode into the back of Scott’s wheel three times, which I guess is a record low. We did at “10 minute out-and-back” (Scott’s idea) where Engineer intersects the Pass Trail that turned into a 30 minute out-and-back to show Max the magic flower meadow (Scott: There’s a lot more climbing here than I remember) and then proceeded down Engineer Trail, for what I’m pretty sure is my 17th time down it this summer. I could do it 48 more times and I still wouldn’t get bored of it.

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Dry dirt turned into hero dirt turned into wet dirt turned into mud by the time we hit the meadow at the bottom. I took one look at my muddy legs, muddy shorts, and muddy bike, and knew that there was no way we’d ever hitch a ride to the top. I’ll pick up any reasonably safe looking hitchhiker, but I wouldn’t have picked myself up. So we sent Max down to the bottom of the pass and Scott and I pedaled the five miles up to the car.

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I looked at my watch when we got to the top. Three hours and change.

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It’s a good thing the rules of regular life don’t apply to D-town life. D-town rules state: Downhills don’t count in ride time, nor does retrieving shuttle vehicles. When the opportunity to ride more arises, always say yes. And never, ever, pass up a chance to ride Engineer trail.

Dunno. Maybe the rules of D-town should apply to real life.


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Little Elk Bermuda Triangle

During our first week in Durango when we were ‘living’ up at the Hermosa campground (sleeping in the dirt, watching sunsets, shooting stars, and stick fire flames, LOVE!) Tim Lutz happened to drive into the campsite next to us, fairly late at night. In the morning, he told us of his tentative ride plans and took off down Hermosa Trail. 12 hours later, as it was starting to get dark, we started to wonder if we should get worried about him as there was no sign of his return. Just as we were starting to seriously ponder where he was, he emerged from the woods, wide-eyed, with stories of trying to find a trail, losing a trail, bushwhacking, climbing over ridges to get back to Hermosa, and water purifiers that didn’t work. That was our first introduction to Little Elk.

The other day, I texted Cat about getting some dinner. ‘Just got back from a big bike adventure. I’m starving’ came the reply. She also, had gotten epic’d on Little Elk.

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I was intrigued. So two days later, after learning that Cat had the morning off and I had a much cherished ‘freebie day’ on the training plan, I sent the text: Little Elk tomorrow? River sitting this afternoon?

Scott did some preliminary preparation to increase our chances of success by doing a little Topofusion magic and drawing in what we saw of the trail from the satellite images. Some parts were…questionable. We had seven hours between our planned meeting at the trailhead and when Cat had to be back for work. What could possibly go wrong?

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To summarize: We climbedclimbedclimbed. It pissed rain on us as we made our way along the ridge to Little Elk. We flew downhill until we got to the meadow where Cat had gotten lost. We found a trail. We lost a trail. We bushwhacked. following the general GPS track. We found the cabin and a clearly marked (and defined) trail and continued to fly downhill on one of the best descents I’ve ridden in D-town so far. Once at Hermosa Creek, we put Cat on the front and she drilled it back to the car with me holding on for dear life on each of the upsy-daisies. Six hours. Big adventure.

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If you see this skull, you’ve gone the wrong way

As we were making our way down the bushwhack, it got me thinking: I have the best bike riding buddies, EVER! One of my first rides with Cat, we’d decided to go up to Scarp’s Ridge in CeeBee. I’d warned her that morning, looking at a map, ‘There’s going to be some hike-a-bike, is that okay?’ She looked at me like I was crazy. Cat is the goddess of hike-a-bike. And Scott…well, he thinks riding Oracle Ridge on the AZT route is ‘fun’. Fun if you thinking hiking a bike 3,000 feet down is a good time.

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Ummm…not really sure where the trail goes from here. C’mon GPS Man, do your magic!

There’s not many people I would con into trying to solve the Little Elk mystery, knowing that there was a greater than 50% chance we’d get epic’d, but Cat and Scott didn’t even take extensive convincing. And when we found ourselves in wet brush, dragging our bikes down towards the shiny roof of the cabin that we could see in the drainage, I knew no one would even flinch. I’ve taken other friends on rides like that…and had them never ride with me again.

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The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.

I feel pretty stinkin’ lucky to have bike adventuring partners like these. Adventuring partners who are okay with the trail being sub-par as long as the adventure is good. Adventuring partners who are even more stoked when the adventure AND the trail is good, as it was in this case. I feel pretty lucky to be able to have the fitness, the happy joints, and the freedom to put together a ride like that, and really, in the end, be no worse for the wear aside from some tired legs for a couple of hours and some hunger that can be satiated with a Wahoo Fish Bowl from Zia.

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Well, we found the trail. Eventually. Photo from Scott. 

We’re still not sure exactly where the trail goes. There are Strava files of one route, there’s local knowledge of another. We hit up portions of both and couldn’t follow either. I think in the end, we’ll just have to climb back up it and see where everything connects. But that’s an adventure for another day.


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Life as Bananagrams

There’s a really fun spin-off of Scrabble that I love playing called Banagrams. You basically take Scrabble letters, place them face down, everyone takes 7, or 21, or however many, and you have to put all your letters into interconnected words in front of you. When someone uses up all their letters, everyone ‘peels’ and draws another letter and the game continues.

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This is fun because a lot of difference scenarios can happen within any game. You can be the one constantly using up all your letters with a beautiful grid of unique and fun words, you can be the person who has an endless buildup of unused letters that become so overwhelming that while there could be hundreds of combinations of words, there are too many options to choose from so nothing happens, you can always be a letter or two behind the person calling ‘peel’ and then sneak in at the end to win, or, what tends to happen to me a lot, you get a pretty good grid of words going, using all sorts of good two letter words, and you build yourself into a tight spot that you can’t add to, can’t escape from, can’t rearrange at all.

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Completely stuck…and then the letters start piling up. There’s one thing to do at times like these: Take your whole damn pile of letters, as organized and perfect as they may seem, leave behind everything you’ve been working on, and start fresh. Or, if you have a couple of good words in there to use as a good foundation, keep those and get rid of the rest.

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A fresh slate. Infinite possibilities. A better sense of the big pictures of where to place the vowels and consonants. If there’s a pesky Z or Q to deal with, they can be built in using grace instead of scrunching them into a ZA or QI.

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I had to take a complete clean slate to life last fall and start building the words back up. It was wicked scary but I focused on the foundation.

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I’d nearly caught up to where I wanted to be when spring rolled around when I got stuck again. Broken body, suffering spirit. A part of me was tempted to sweep it all clean again, but then I remembered how good those foundations were. Instead, I carefully picked out the pieces that I didn’t like, the doubled up words, the dumb two letter words that were inhibiting more growth and spread them out.

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Keep what you like. Get rid of the rest.

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Get rid of what does not serve you, as they say in yoga.

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Wanna fly, you’ve got to get rid of the shit that weighs you down, as Toni Morrison said.

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You are never completely stuck.

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I’m back to building. Outwards. Upwards.

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My imagination is the only limit of the words I can come up with. An I’ve got a pretty good imagination.

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Draw of the alpine

I was completely wasted after the second six hour ride with Jj and Scott. I’ve learned over the years that if Jj says that’s she’s tired and wants to piddle pedal all day, then I should be prepared to ride damn close to XC race pace for at least three hours. If she says that her legs are dead and she’s packing a 5-Hour Energy, I know I need to be prepared to ride at XC race pace for however long the ride is. In Saturday’s case, it was six hours. I finished the ride feeling almost on par with finishing the the Iditarod. No, that’s an exaggeration, I hope I never have to feel that bad, ever again. I finished feeling on par with finishing a Vapor Trail, or maybe the AZT. Either way, I was tired enough that I could barely piece together the new pony when we got home. I’d put the handlebars on, and rest. Then pedals, and rest. Then wheels, and rest. Fine tuning got left till the morning. Any other task, besides building a shiny new silver Salsa pony would have been left till morning, but for somethings, I can rally.

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After Jj left in the morning, a distinct feeling of fatigue set in. Scott and I puttered around the house all morning and I slowly put some finishing touches on the pony. Tubeless wheels, grips, futzed with my derailleurs until I ran out of patience and offered to cook Scott lunch if he could make the new pony shift and the chain not rub.

The activation energy for leaving the house was starting to seem excessively high. But I had a new pony.

“We could go ride Horse Gulch,” Scott suggested.

I was abhorred. I brand new pony deserves a better testing ground than Horse Gulch! (Note how quickly I’ve become spoiled in Durango, Horse Gulch is awesome by any standards, but when there’s high country riding to be done…)

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We tossed some ideas around. We wanted to go back and spend time in the flower explosion up high but knew that we lacked the energy and motivation for steep singletrack or rocky trail. Then Scott suggested a backwards version of ride that Matt Turgeon had written about, or put on Facebook, or something. (See: Please Continue Instagramming Your Amazing Life). A new dirt road climb, Colorado Trail backwards through one of my favorite sections (which section isn’t a favorite section?  Oh yeah, Sargents Mesa), a new contour trail that we’d spied and heard about, and a descent down Engineer Trail for our…5th time on the trail in 8 days?

We loaded the bikes into the Sportsvan, drove to Durango Mountain Resort, and started up the hill.

“This hill is so much easier without bikepacking gear or when not doing a stupid long tempo interval!”

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The storms stayed put behind the peaks as we slowly gained, lost, and gained elevation up to the Colorado Trail where I prepared to experience my first downhill on the new pony. I hadn’t ridden a hardtail on actual trail in ages and I’ll ‘fess up to being a little bit scared. Pony ripped down the trail. I’m not sure if it’s the thru-axle, the geometry, or what, but she blew my mind on roots, steep chunk, and smooth, twisty trail. On the ups, she crawled over rocks like a dually would. I was immediately, completely, and totally in love.

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We pedaled and chatted. Commented on how the climb out of Cascade Creek wasn’t nearly as bad as we’d imagined and hit the contour trail with a couple of hours of daylight left.

It took us nearly all of that time to traverse the next three miles to the top of Engineer Trail, not because the trail was slow, but because we were presented with the most spectacular golden hour I’ve ever seen. When the Universe decrees ‘Stay and play in the flowers. Take lots of pictures.’ I’m not one to argue.

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When we finally lost the light, we bombed down the trail. Faster, faster, and faster, the bike hooking up in corners like nothing else, feeling completely stable at high speeds, I was giddy.

Then I crashed. Pony wasn’t about to let me get ahead of myself and kindly let me off with a speeding warning instead of a full fledge ticket, or a night in jail, which I probably deserved. We pedaled the mile on the highway back to the car in near darkness, lamenting the fact that Zia wasn’t going to be open for tacos to finish off the perfect trifecta of rides and Zia.

I go on a lot of rides, nearly one a day and some of them are pretty spectacular, but there are some that I know I’ll never forget. This was one of them.


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A final rodeo

I had no way of knowing that this ride was to be the Waltwork’s last rodeo. I knew I had new bikes in the mail, but without tracking numbers, I figured I had at least another half a week of nursing the ailing blue bike around the D-town trails. My brake bleed which I had performed myself had started to fail, the rear wheel creaked like nothing else (after many, many years of hard use), and there were some questionable marks on the carbon handlebars that had appeared after crashing about three hours into the AZT earlier this spring. I’d been holding out hope for new bikes all spring and summer, nursing the blue bike along after Lee had repaired a crack in the frame just prior to AZT.

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I’d hated the bike when I first got it. It was my first dual suspension and I had no clue how to ride it. So I didn’t. At least not much. I’d initially built it up with a $50 set of anchors for wheels and lugged it around, hating how sluggish it was with big tires, thinking I’d at least like it on the downhills. For a long time, I couldn’t do it justice on the downhills and while I had been assured heavy wheels would add to the stability of the bike, I couldn’t control it.  She rode me far more than I rode her.

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I didn’t consider it a race bike, too slow, too inefficient. That was, until I pulled the rookie mistake of letting my bottle cage bolts rattle loose on the hardtail and pulled the bosses straight out of the frame. While the frame was in for repair, I rode the dually. I bikepacked with her. I put some lighter wheels on her. I fell in love.

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I rode my second CTR on her. I raced Frog Hollow with her. I took her down to AZ last December and then again in April and then took her through the rocks and chunk of the AZT. For being the black sheep of my Waltworks family for the first half of her life, she put together an amazing second half.

We went out to explore a new trail on the east side of Hermosa Creek last Saturday. I’d grown accustomed to the incessant creak of the rear wheel to the point that I didn’t even notice it any more. What I didn’t cease to notice was how nicely she climbed, how she rolled up chunk and rocks and roots. I noticed how balanced she felt on steep climbs, front wheel staying firmly connected to the ground. On the way down, I noticed the confidence she gave me over rocks and rubble piles. I noticed how I knew exactly how she was going to respond to roots, corners, and ruts.

We rode for six hours, finishing exhausted, dirty, worked over, laying in the parking lot not entirely sure what our names were or what we were doing. We’d seen beautiful vistas, explored seemingly forgotten trail, and reveled in the beauty of the day…and eaten Swiss Cake Rolls that Kurt and Caroline had left us a week prior.

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And when we rolled up to the house late in the evening, there was a big brown box waiting on the stoop. A box with a new pony. A new pony waiting to be taken on adventures, to see the world, to go zoom.

When I unloaded the blue pony from the car to take the pedals off to put on the new pony, I felt like I was betraying her. She’d proved herself over the course of the day. She could do everything I asked of her. She wasn’t ready to retire yet. She may be creaky and her joints may need a little love, but she was still a wild pony.

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I told her it was okay. She was going out on top. And that she didn’t have to worry, she was going to get to keep all of her parts and she’d be going on plenty of adventures of the commuting variety, which is really where race ponies deserve to spend their retirement years. She was well loved, well ridden, and had done me proud. She’d done more than most ponies could ever hope for and done it well.