Zen On Dirt


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Goals redefined

Unfortunately, this is my third time getting knocked down in the past 13 months. This is my third time trying to rebuild my body from scratch, or close to scratch. This is my third time having to accept that the road back to Ez-land isn’t necessarily an easy one. But what I’m noticing with this lesson that I’m having drilled into my head over and over (I get it Universe, lay off now?), is that each tumble into the Abyss of Blah, I’m forced to redefine my goals. I’m no longer allowed to be the bike racer who makes up a large part of my identity with objectives and a plan to achieve that objective.

Instead, I’m forced back to the very basics each day: Today I would like to ride my bike. I would like to feel good while doing it.

And more than that, if I achieve the first two goals, I add on a third: I would like to ride my bike in a manner today that allows me to do the same thing tomorrow. 

It’s sort of like my tiered racing goals: Finish. Finish healthy and happy. Finish fast.

Regardless, something in the three handfuls of pills I take each each day seems to be working. Whether it’s the B Vitamins, the fish oil, the hormonal support, or the Emergen-C-like powder that I have to dissolve in my mouth twice a day (I like to pretend I’m Matthew Lee from Ride the Divide eating Emergen-C in Fernie, but I’m generally too focused on not sneezing it out out of my nose to have any semblance of bad-assery), I’m actually able to not spend my entire day on the couch. In fact, rides have been happening.

Scott had a new pony waiting for him out in Grand Junction, so we decided to make a weekend of the trip. I got out on one noteworthy ride at Lunch Loops during our two days and change there. I’d put some beefier tires on the bike and within 15 minutes, decided that I was never going to run skinny race tires ever again in my life. We rode up some trail and then down another one. I was half tempted to rally for another lap with a descent down Holy Cross, but the voice of reason, and a stomach wanting lunch, kept the ride at a nice hour and a half.

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Photo from Scott. I didn’t actually think I’d feel good enough to ride, so I left the camera at home. D’oh.

We awoke semi-early the next morning to try a lap on Holy Cross before the rains came, but when it started sprinkling as we reached the parking lot, I hightailed it back. I’ve done Lunch Loops in the rain. Not recommended.

Instead, we headed home, hoping we’d find some clear skies somewhere. Gunnison delivered and we snuck in another hour and a half of riding with some fun sessioning on the rocks of Hartmans before the skies opened up on us as we reached the car. Any day with a trip down Beck’s is better than a  day without.

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Day 3, I was still jonesing to ride. We opted for the classic short Salida loop of North Backbone, Backbone, and the un-named trails back to town. The plus side of knowing that I’m not out on a long ride and have all the time in the world is that I’m actually putting in a concerted effort to ride rocks that I normally wouldn’t.

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Maybe I’ll actually come out of this funk a better rider.

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I woke up on Day 4 still feeling good. I wasn’t going to argue with it, so after a day of working and having my eyeballs bug out from my head from too much time looking at the computer trying to put commas in all the right places, we headed out to ride Guts, the trail that I had crashed on in 2011 and knocked two of my teeth heinously out of place. What resulted was a trip to the ER, stitches in my lip, and two root canals. My bank account wasn’t happy on that one, but on the plus side, I’m buddies with an awesome Salida dentist who mountain bikes now.

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I love this place.

The 2,000 foot dirt road climb seemed easier than it was a week and a half ago. We didn’t set any land speed records going up it, but we made the most of enjoying the changing leaves and the shadows of the canyon. The contour trail was delightful as always, even better with beefy tires, and then we reached Guts. I stood at the top of the steep section where I had crashed and scratched my head at how I possibly could have thought I’d get down it safely two years ago. I pointed out the offending rock to Scott and told it I didn’t appreciate its location. Once I got past walking my bike down the steep and rutted section, it was a rollicking good time the rest of the way down. Turns out, it’s a lot more fun when you’re not convinced your front teeth are irreparably damaged.

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The loop took us three hours, only half an hour longer than it took our very motivated group in 2011. But it was a legitimate ride. Baby steps. Gentle, deliberate baby steps.

Tomorrow I rest, because with my first two goals achieved, it’s time to be kind to the body and let it recover from being so good over the past 96 hours.


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Ode to Health

Bodies are really funny. It’s strange to me to think that just five months ago, I laid down what I consider to be a pretty fast time on the Arizona Trail, and felt stupid-good 98% of the time out there. Now, I’ve ridden only a handful of times in the past month and each ride has laid me flat on my back for 48 hours afterwards. Oh how things change…

Mid-August, we finally made the trip to Salt Lake City to see Scott’s family. We’d been putting of the trip for one reason or another since June and we were rapidly running out of summer months to go visit. With recovery going slower than expected and Vapor Trail 125 still nearly a month away, it seemed like the perfect time to go. I had high hopes of riding a bunch of the SLC trails while there and getting my head and my body back on track.

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Between hanging out with family and visiting all the SLC restaurants featured in Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, we’d get out on rides. I felt absolutely terrible. Paid a visit to Utah Urgent Care to get some blood tests done, and then pretty much swore off the bike. I was miserable, and while I was doing my best to hold it together, I’m sure I wasn’t the most pleasant person to be around. At least I got to eat a bunch of good food…

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When the blood tests came back with slightly elevated TSH levels, which would potentially point to a dying thyroid, I made an appointment in Boulder to investigate further. I thought about how wonderful it would be to have energy again, to lose the 15 pounds that has been sticking around since Iditarod, and to stop losing enough hair to make me feel like I was going bald.

We drove back, stopping in Vernal to check out some of the trails that people had been making noise about. If I had any energy, I’m guessing they would have been more fun, but I was too obsessed with trying to see where the parking lot was and how much more we had to ride to actually enjoy them. We spent the night in the open desert where I was fully convinced that the sound of oil rigs in the distance were actually Indian drumbeats.

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Then back to Boulder via Winter Park to pick up all of our stuff. During our brief 24-hour stop, we went for a ride in search of a trail I had a vague memory of and ended up completely lost, but for whatever reason, I had energy and was stoked to be out.

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Packing would be a lot easier if we owned an Airstream…

Back in Boulder-town, I went to see the doctor describing all my symptoms. I described the last year of my life and his eyes kept getting bigger and bigger. I rode Tour Divide, and then I got sick with a parasite and was dying for two months, then I went through a rough personal life patch and moved back to Boulder, raced the ITI, gained a bunch of weight, raced the AZT, hurt my knee, and then cratered at Leadville. And I’ve pretty much sucked at life since then. He ordered a bunch of blood work (seven stinkin’ vials of blood) and adrenal testing, put me on some gut-repairing supplements, and a diet that pretty much excluded all food that is worth eating for two weeks.

Armed  with the knowledge that I was soon to be on the path to better health, we embarked for Salida for Scott to race the Vapor and me to give a talk at the Salida Bike Fest. To summarize: Having to sit out Vapor while still being in town and seeing it for the second time in a row sucked. Real bad. To make myself feel better, I went out for a ride but had to turn around 30 minutes in because I couldn’t fathom climbing another hill. I watched a documentary on Prince William and his new wife instead.

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With Scott recovering from Vapor, we had a few mellow days, one which included a ride with the Buena Vista High School mountain bike team. We made it 20 minutes in before the skies unleashed and we all went running back to the parking lot.

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By this time, Boulder was in full 100-year flood mode, my parents’ basement was flooded, and most roads were closed, so we hightailed it back to Salida instead. Scott volunteers to marshall for the Banana Belt race and I met him to help sweep and take down course markings.

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In an act of serendipity, Rebecca Barfoot posted something on Facebook, looking for a ride from Durango to the start of the Colorado Trail for a thru ride. We arranged to have her pick my car up, then pick me up in Salida. I dropped her off at Kenosha Pass since most of the Front Range Trails were closed/destroyed. It was definitely a little sad to visit a place that is so wrapped up in my history, knowing that for the first time in a long time, I wasn’t fit enough to embark on a CT traverse if I so chose. But I was hopeful, the doctor was going to tell me that I was an easy fix, and then fix me and I’d be ready to go for ITI in February.

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Unfortunately, it didn’t quite go like that. The first page of my blood work looked mostly fine, the good levels in green, the questionable ones in yellow, and the bad ones in red. He flipped the page and said my thyroid looked fine. A part of my heart sank, Is this all in my head and I’m actually not sick at all?

He continued on, going to a single red line in a sea of green, This is the value I’m concerned about. He explained that there’s an enzyme called homocycsteine that’s involved in the breakdown and conversion of B vitamins and I had way too much. He said that it was involved in mitochondrial processes, which would explain why I had no energy, and that if we could get my level lower, I’d probably bounce back.

Great! I exclaimed.

But he kept talking. It wasn’t my energy levels that he was worried about. He was worried that high levels of this enzyme are linked to all sorts of things that I’d never really worried about before, like heart attacks, strokes, and degenerative brain diseases.

Oh. Not so great…seriously?

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And then all of a sudden, being able to race the ITI in February stopped seeming so important.

I headed home with a bag full of supplements and the assurance that the doctor had had success in treating this before, though he’d never seen a level as high as mine. It’s definitely put me into a little bit of a tailspin at the thought that my riding, let alone racing, might need a serious adjustment in expectations.

Sort of makes me want to get a big bike and forget the whole endurance riding part of my life and move to rocky places and learn how to actually ride tech.

In the end, I’m scared shitless, but as far as I can tell, the only thing I can do to get better is take my pills morning, noon, and night, and be as gentle on my body and mind as I can. What an end to the summer…


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Return to Western Rim

Coincidences always make me laugh, especially those that I don’t really realize until long after the fact. Sometimes I don’t believe in the ability of the Universe to tell me things through coincidences, that they really are just that, matters of chance. And then other times I laugh at the irony.

After spending three days flat on my back after Leadville, feeling fairly close to death, Scott and I pointed the Sportsvan towards Salt Lake to visit his family. We’d been promising to come up since the end of May, but we’d never managed to make it happen, and it was starting to get to be end-of-summer crunch time. Eight hours seemed like a long drive to do in one shot, and I was really missing my dually which I had left in Durango, so we arranged to meet Cat in Junk-town with my bike. She went through the hassle of getting my keys and loading my bike in Durango, in exchange she got to drive my car to GJ for a river trip instead of her partially functional vehicle. Brilliant!

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And when in GJ, one must ride, so we pulled into our favorite spot in Rabbit Valley and laid the sleeping bag out under the stars with the intent of doing a sunrise ride on Western Rim. We actually got up before the sun, ate a quick breakfast, and headed out. I thought of how triumphant I would feel if a) my knee didn’t hurt and b) I finally started to feel better.

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Our Western Rim ride this spring on our way to Moab was the start of the downfall of my knee. My interval ride at Rabbit Valley on our way home from Moab that trip was when I first admitted that I had a knee problem.

I wanted to stand out on the overlooks on the rim, hold my arms up, and say ‘I’m healed! I did it!’

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Unfortunately, my knee started hurting pretty early in the ride, something that it hadn’t done since long before pre-Leadville, and I still felt like ass. D’oh!

The ride was still beautiful and it made me appreciate that even if everything hurt and each hill seemed completely insurmountable, I could still turn off the bike-racer in me and simply enjoy the view.

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We drove out of there, sore knee and completely exhausted, and I had the same sinking feeling that I had when I drove out of there last spring, that quite possibly my riding was going to have to be scaled back for a little bit.

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I hate it when gut feelings are right.


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Planning is Guessing

“Want to do a Trans-Colorado tour this fall?” I asked Scott yesterday. “Boulder to Grand Junction?”

“Ummm…sure! Should we end in Durango to pick up your car instead?”

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Post Leadville, climbing towards Searle Pass. Scott’s knee hurt after his Mt. Elbert ride. I didn’t argue over turning around, but it sure did feel good to ride trail again.

I had finally called it an end to my 2013 racing season, knowing that even if I figured out exactly what was keeping me from riding for more than an hour without being completely exhausted, I’d still be pretty much hosed for any thing else this year.

It was a sad email to write for a second year in a row, ‘Hey Tom, I’m sick. No Vapor Trail 125 for me.’

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Seeking inspiration on Winter Park trails that I’ve been riding for 15 years.

I’d gotten cheated out of fall riding last year from being sick. For the second half of August, it was looking like a repeat dud fall.

No mojo. No energy. I went four days without touching a bike and didn’t miss it at all.

I proposed to LW that I invoke a freebie day training and go in search of mojo. I was going to give Scott’s Wasatch 100 a try, figuring that even if I dropped out after eight hours, I’d still get a night of full moon riding. LW proposed that I get a blood test done instead.

“You shouldn’t be this tired two weeks after Leadville.” (And what she didn’t say was, ‘You shouldn’t have ridden that slow at Leadville either.’)

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This area was clearcut five or six years ago as part of Winter Park’s fire mitigation plan. I thought it was done for. It’s growing back, slowly but surely. 

Three vials of blood lighter with some quality people watching at Utah InstaCare, I’m delving down the rabbit hole of the healthcare system. Where I’ll end up, nobody knows.

But what I do know is that if I have any semblance of energy this fall, I’m going to milk it for all that it’s worth because summer is too short to be spent on the couch.