Zen On Dirt


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Leadville: Preamble, distaster, aftermath

I’d get a lot of weird looks when I’d tell people I was racing Leadville. I don’t blame them, it was about as unexpected at Jefe starting a blog and getting on Facebook, or Scott saying that the descent from Kennebeck Pass down to Durango was a little bit too much downhill singletrack. Generally, I tend to stay away from races that

a) have an entry fee

b) are a circus/are over-hyped

c) having non-technically challenging courses that are mostly on roads

I’ll tolerate one fail per race, but if I race has two strikes, it’s generally out in my book. But I had my reasons for Leadville and I put the race at the top of my priority list last fall when I sat down to plot my 2013.

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February riding in WP

Back in 2009, I was really good at racing 100-mile races. I’d won pretty much every 75-125 mile race in Colorado that summer and then went on to win 24-hours of Moab. I was flying high, every two weeks was a new race, a win, and loads of fun riding during the week and on off weekends. In 2010, I tried to redo my 2009 season and fell flat on my face. Fitness was elusive, getting skinny proving harder than I remembered, and the combination of everything that happened that summer left me wondering what had happened to Super-Ez. On the plus side, I’d slogged through the CTR, giving me a glimpse into the multi-day racing that would become my obsession.

Fast forward to post-Tour Divide last summer. I was tired. I wasn’t super inspired about any bike packing races, and more than anything, I missed being fast. Light and fast and being able to ride people off my wheel on steep hills. So I raced the Alpine Odyssey, got my spot into Leadville, and decided to get fast again.

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August riding in WP

Clearly, things did not go as planned. I knew back at the end of June that my preparation was no where near ideal when I was celebrating being able to ride two hours with tolerable knee pain, so when Leadville weekend came around, I didn’t have my usual racing confidence that I’d done everything in my power to be prepared. Well, I had done everything I could, except for maybe cut back on my chocolate consumption, but I didn’t exactly have a good hand to play. I was a little bummed about the situation, but determined to soak up the Leadville experience, and whatever would happen, would happen. I had faith in my muscle memory of how to pedal a bike quickly.

From the moment the gun went off at 6:30 in the morning, I knew I was in trouble. At the race dragged on, things didn’t improve. But things didn’t exactly go downhill either, just steady-state suck.

I’ve had bad days before on a bike. I just could have timed this one a little better.

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Zoom factor was lacking

Now, three days later, I still feel like I got run over by a truck, reminiscent of when I raced last fall with a parasite still living in my belly, which makes me think that something wasn’t quite right. But I also know that the only reason I wanted to race Leadville was to show up and be fast, so maybe when I realized that it violated all three of my ‘Stay Away’ requirements, and I wasn’t going to be able to go as fast as I know I’m capable of…maybe the heart wasn’t all the way in it.

Disappointed? Yep. Frustrated? Definitely. But more than anything, annoyed at the whole situation.

But to put it in perspective, on June 10, just two months before, my ride comments consisted of: Hour and a half ride in the morning, hour ride in the afternoon. Super easy. Knee felt solid. (Solid generally translates to Not great, not terrible in my book) So to be able to ride 100 miles with a good bit of climbing with no knee pain in a halfway reasonable time…I should be pretty stoked.

Still, I’m frustrated by the opportunity wasted. Scratching my head at what went so wrong. Figuring out solutions on how to fix it because the season ain’t over yet.

Bah. Leadville. I just wanted a good run at it so I’d never have to do it again.


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Playing Nomads

So, where are you guys from?

We got the question sitting at a Leadville coffee shop on Friday from a group of three guys who we were sharing a table with. Scott and I sort of looked at each other. ‘Around? Durango for a few months…Winter Park now…wherever the van takes us.’ They laughed, as a group of Outward Bound instructors, they seemed as homeless as us.

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I’ve never been good at that question. It’s always bothered me a little bit. Back in the Bad Old Days of endless weekend Ned rides with the 8:10 bus, I remember a final ride on a trail that would end up being closed shortly after when we ran into an older woman hiking. We pulled over, let her pass, and without a ‘Hello’, she said, ‘Where are you from?’ Dumbfounded by the complete lack of social skills, we said, ‘Boulder.’

‘Right,’ she said coldly and continued walking.

Now, I understand Ned folks getting upset with Boulder people coming up to ride trails, I’m not sure if the NIMBY mentality is nature or nurture, but I remember being really upset, ‘Why does it matter where we’re from?  Shouldn’t it matter more that we yielded the right of way? That we pick up trash when we see it on the trail? That we enjoy being out here and respect the environment?’

In CeeBee, the ‘Where are you from?’ question came often, because there, 95% of the population is from somewhere else. The answer of ‘Boulder’ always got the, ‘Ah. Right.’ response that drove me nuts.

I’m from Planet Earth. I’m part of the human species.

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Last week, scratch that, over two weeks ago now, Scott and I packed up our posh little existence in D-town (I’ll miss having the river within walking distance!) and moved up to the Hermosa campground for a few nights. I was ‘Special Guesting’ at a showing of Ride the Divide for a Texas High School Mountain Bike League camp, so we had a few days to kill in town. We found some of our old neighbors still up there: Constitutional Conservative was still making his daily rounds around the campground, HotBox was still hacking up a lung all night, every night. It seemed like 90% of the sites were there for the long haul. I had to wonder, where were all these people from? What’s their story?

Soon, after explaining that Swedish Fish and cashews really were power food, it was time to go north, both because I wanted to spend some time at altitude and because camping in Durango during monsoon season isn’t exactly a romantic notion. After a morning ride and splitting our belongings in half, leaving one car packed in Durango and putting everything essential in the van, and stopping to get Zia burritos one last time, we made it to Marshall Pass to camp under the stars.

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In the morning, we headed up the road, arguing about whether the Tour Divide route took the first or second turn up to Marshall Pass from Poncha Springs road. I swore it was the first and that it was where my track told me to go. Scott argued that he had the 2012 route on his GPS there and then and it said to take the second. We wondered if I would have to nullify my record if I had taken the shorter, but steeper route up. We then wondered what the actual ACA route said to do. (For the record, apparently my memory is faulty, because it turns out I did take the second turn and even got a SPOT dot on the longer route…memories are a funny thing.)

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And then we tore down Rainbow trail, which I’ve only ridden once on non-Vapor Trail legs nearly a decade ago. Oh my goodness, it was fun. Bikes are fun!

Lunch at Amica’s with Tom and we were headed north once again to my birthplace of mountain biking for a week or two.

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Where am I from?

Fantasy Land, apparently.


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Learning the definition of ‘Enough’

My life follows very predictable cycles, especially on the week to week scale. I gogogogogogo, and then I crash. I recover, and then gogogogogo, and then crash again. My crashes generally involve being in a completely foul mood, picking fights with whoever is unfortunate enough to be around me, view my life as a complete failure, etc. The worst part of the crashes is that I’m too tired to ride, which leaves me plenty of time to be the reigning Queen Bitch of the Amazon. I’ve accepted the crashes as part of living at full-speed the rest of the time.

But I don’t learn. Ever. I always think that my energy levels will last forever, that if I wasn’t thinking about bike racing, then I could ride for eight hours a day, every day, and that rest is for the weak. I always think that I’ll be able to control my Amazonian tendencies, smile and nod, and keep my ‘I’m tired’ torment to myself when I do find my irrational side taking over.

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We’re at the pink dot. What could possibly go wrong?

I knew my crash was coming, it was like watching a train coming at you when you’re trespassing and trying to duck through a train tunnel to access trail that you really shouldn’t be accessing. After the CTR spectating mini-adventure, I got tired. Maybe a bit grumpy. Then I rebounded, put together a set of intervals for LW’s viewing pleasure that left me scratching my head at where I pulled them out of, and the continued to add ‘extra curricular’ activities to my ‘training’, such as calling the Animas Mountain climb the perfect 1.5 hour ‘Work on your tech skills and easy pedal the rest’ workout, because it really is a solid hour of technical climbing…just not a whole lot of easy pedaling in between. The devil is in the details.

With our house sitting gig up, we aimed to go bikepacking over the weekend. A loop from Silverton to Telluride and back on some classic trails that we’d been itching to explore. Weather forecast looked…classic Colorado monsoon, but there was no way I was going to give up two bikepacking days on the schedule (staring down the barrel of a rest week and a pre-race week) on account of a little rain.

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We drove to Silverton crossing through a downpour, sitting in the Visitor’s Center parking lot, looking at the radar with BlueDot, watching the rain come down the valley we wanted to go up.  Eventually I declared, ‘We’re not getting any younger sitting here!’ and we took off up the valley. For the record, it wasn’t actively raining when we first left…it only started about five minutes later.

It rained. And rained. And rained. We’d planned on only riding for two hours, sleeping and then spending the next two days riding. As darkness fell, we found a questionable place to put the GoLite poncho tarp up (I’d bought the tarp for my first CTR, and then figured I’d never use it again…but life has a funny way of cycling things) and settled in to watch the rain.

It’ll clear by morning.

We woke up to the sound of increasing rain on the tarp, finding ourselves deep in a cloud. We ate breakfast, munched on chocolate, trying to decide what to do based on our limited viewing ability. We still weren’t getting any younger sitting there, so nearly 90 minutes after deciding that we should continue up on the off chance that it might clear, we started moving.

It rained. Our road turned steep and chunky. Treeline loomed. It kept raining. My jacket that ceased to be waterproof about the middle of Montana during Tour Divide provided no protection. I soldiered on.

C’mon weather, work with me here.

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Here’s your hat! 

I knew I didn’t forget it! It’s just unfortunate that sopping wet hats don’t really do much good. 

Scott was the first to make a rational statement. ‘We’re going to ride through all this beautiful country and not see any of it. We’re not going to be able to take the trail down to T-ride and we’re just going to be cold and miserable for most of it. Is it really worth going all the way over if we’re going to have to get a room and sit and watch the world go by?’

I felt my core temperature drop rapidly as the rational arguments were presented.

Ok. Down.

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Within an hour, we were dry and sitting at the Brown Bear Cafe in Silverton, watching the rain pour down, Scott drinking hot chocolate while I enjoyed my cup of bottomless diner coffee, dreaming of what could have been, while also imagining hanging out at 13,000 feet in a rain cloud.

Max asked me how I’d finished my first CTR (which was filled with torrential rain). I told him I was too stupid to quit. I’m glad that Scott’s around to counteract my stupidity sometimes.

And then I cratered. A ‘make-up’ ride for the failed bikepack ended in a compete breakdown and a return to the car covered in mud. Enough was enough.

I’m always amused when the Universe gives me exactly what I need, just not in the form I was expecting. With a complete shut down on a huge loop, I’ll just have to go check it out this fall when the colors are changing, the sky is bluebird, and the trails are tacky.

And maybe I needed a little extra recovery anyhow.


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Money is happiness?

Money is a funny thing. It’s been the cause of a good amount of stress and consternation in my life in recent years, largely because I had none and was lacking ways to make any. Living expenses had always been low, but racing, traveling, and eating ain’t cheap, and the past year has been spent digging myself out of a rather unfortunate financial situation brought on by a combination of Tour Divide, the job market in Crested Butte, and my utter insistence of not growing up and getting a real job with a real salary and a 401K and benefits and whatever else comes along with working for The Man.

Regardless, a few weeks ago I raised my hands in triumph: The Tour Divide credit card had finally been pain in full. (It wasn’t just the Divide, it was also my entire Spring Road Trip 2012, which was AWESOME, and then a good portion of the following summer where I was completely unemployed). Then my mom sent me some medical bills from being sick last summer and I hung my head. They never stopped. But within a week, those were paid off too and I officially had positive money, for the first time a really long time.

It felt sort of weird, to be completely honest.

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I’d love to say it felt like some huge weight was lifted off my shoulders, or I felt a huge sense of accomplishment, but really, I think that it just cemented in my head what a funny thing the numbers of a bank account really are. Sure, they were black instead of red, but it didn’t really change my internal happiness. I no longer had to worry about making credit card payments on time, but I still had to buy food, pay health insurance, and do all those things that grown-ups do. I still wasn’t going to be stoked on paying rent, nor was I going to start eating out every night or stop checking the Manager’s Special rack whenever I went shopping.

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I think what finally going positive did was allow me to see was that I now have a regular, reliable income that is based purely on how hard I work. I can always make more money. If I have enough money, I can walk away for a little while and go play. And that, more than any number in a bank account, is awesome.

It gives me the freedom to get up from my computer in the middle of the day, go pester Scott until he gets up as well, and go ride up Animas Mountain, eat some of my new favorite candy at the top, and rip back down the descent, giggling the whole way.

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Back in December, I made the intention of finding work that I could do anywhere, any time, and as flexibly as I wanted. I didn’t actually think it would happen. While I’ll never make enough to afford a big screen TV and sushi every night, I get to ride my bike where, when, and how I want.

And that is pretty stinking cool.