Zen On Dirt


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Empty on Adrenaline

We were pedaling up towards Starr Pass on Monday when Alexis dropped the bombshell on me, ‘The weather looks rainy for the weekend.’

‘How can that be? We’re in Tucson?’

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While I don’t really remember much from living here as an 8-10 year old, I was assured that Tucson had nice weather in the winter, all the time. It can’t be so, I decided of the impending rain. We continued our our ride, climbing Stonehouse towards Starr Pass where we debated the merits of Cat Mountain versus going to the backside and coming back on the wash. We’d decided that we’d had plenty of tech for the day in climbing Stonehouse. We’d both cleared lines we previously hadn’t, and I’d made some half-assed attempts on some rocks that seemed impossible a week earlier, but now seemed to hold some potential.

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Of course, the moment I let my guard down that we weren’t going to ride Cat Mountain, I promptly crashed descending Starr Pass, smashing my left knee on my bars. Serves me right for relaxing for a second. As luck would have it, it turned some beautiful shades of black and blue later in the night, and made sleeping uncomfortable, but didn’t seem to affect pedaling at all, which was a relief after all the issues I’d had with the knee earlier in the summer.

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On Tuesday, I did an energy assessment after determining that the weekend weather looked fairly dire. Do I have the energy to ride every day this week? Probably not. If I take today off, can I pull off good rides on Wednesday and Thursday before the rain hits on Friday? Most likely.

Of course, instead of taking the day off, I allowed myself to follow Scott up part of a trail that had a switchback that I was batting a pretty low average on. I was determined to try a different line, and figured that it could entertain me for a solid 20 minutes. When it went on the second attempt, I was halfway disappointed. What am I going to do now? I pedaled home in the daylight, a rare occurrence, while Scott continued on his first single speed ride.

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The single speed has proved to be great. For purely selfish reasons, it’s fun to see Scott struggle, somewhat, with stuff that he normally flies over. He also has to rest more, which gives me a chance to rest more.

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Under warm skies, we climbed Stonehouse and Scott let me hit the offending pile of rocks I’d tried with Alexis over and over and over. Pretty early on, I made it up and then bobbled out of the sheer surprise of making it. I decided it didn’t count, so I tried again, and again, and again. Finally, the stars, or more like my pedals and the rocks, aligned and I had my wits about me to keep pedaling over the top, straight into the next two sections of rocks that I’d also never cleared before. They, too, went cleanly. I buzzed off that adrenaline rush for a good bit.

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On to Cat Mountain where I’d spent far too much time working on the rocky bits by myself a few days prior. Apparently, the work had paid off because this time through took far fewer attempts. And the two sections that I’d given up on before went, with the security of a spot from Scott, but I’ll take it.

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With one more day to burn and a mountain bike movie premier across down later in the evening, we made the trek to Lemmon for the afternoon.

Up Prison Camp  (because if there’s trail, it’s against my moral code to take the road), and then up the  highway to Bugs. I grudgingly undertook the hike-a-bike up the steps, tried to ride some of the non-stepped part of the trail, fell off the trail, banged up my left knee, again, and then continued walking. The blood contrasted nicely with the still black bruising. At the top of the hill, I put my kneepads on.

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I used up my final shot of adrenaline for the week on a steep, rocky section of trail where once you go down the first little drop, you’re committed for the long haul. I’m still not really sure how I survived it…and declared at the bottom, ‘I really didn’t want to ride that.’

‘But you did,’ Scott pointed out.

‘Eszter scared.’

I remember riding the descent last spring and struggling with several of the sections, and declaring that I’d never be able to ride the section that I’d just unintentionally bounced down. It’s pretty amazing what five inches of travel and a big bike can do for confidence. Still, whenever we stopped, I felt the need to repeat the refrain, ‘Eszter scared.’

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Eventually, we made it back down to Prison Camp where I knew I didn’t have to be scared anymore. From there, it’s just fun. Chunky, Tucson, rocky fun.

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We beat darkness to the van by 5 minutes and beelined it to Trader Joe’s for snacks before the movie.

I wasn’t too concerned when we woke up the next morning to rain. While the legs could have kept going, the thought of scaring myself silly yet again seemed less than appealing. It was time to let the body recover, physically, mentally, and most important, adrenally.

This big bike stuff is hard. But I’m starting to fall just a little bit in love with it.

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AZT Memory Lane

With the Baja 1000 finally over, at least the time critical parts of it, Scott was ready to ride. Being a beautiful Sunday afternoon, I was also ready to ride (as I am on most beautiful Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday afternoons as well). We contemplated riding from the door, but decided that we can do that any day of the week, but we didn’t have time to drive anywhere far. We wanted to avoid the weekend heavy-use areas like Lemmon and Reddington. After my last encounter with rocks, I think Scott wanted to avoid taking me on anything that could lead to another complete melt-down.

‘Let’s go ride the stuff north of Colossal Caves,’ I suggested. While I’d ridden some of the stuff leading up to Colossal Caves in the daylight during a scouting trip last spring, the only time I’d ridden the trail north of it was during the AZTR, and it was fun, but it was the middle of the night. And generally speaking, a trail that’s fun to ride blind at night is sure to be a good time during the day.

It’s funny how many memories the AZT holds for me, even with my very few traversals of it.

We parked the car just south of the giant train bridge and the trip down memory lane began immediately.

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‘This is where I passed Moobs and Boatman peeing on the side of the trail. This is where Moobs passed me back.’

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We got to a rock that I’d looked at and said, ‘No way, no how’ when I rode the trail with Jj and JenJ last spring. ‘I think it’ll go.’ And to my surprise, it did, easily. It’s funny how perspectives change over time.

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Photo from Scott.

We passed the turnoff to Colossal Cave and delved into new visual territory for me. At the La Sevilla campground, I marveled at how short the trail seemed when I wasn’t in a hurry and could see where I was going.

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‘Here’s the faucet that Moobs and I spent an eternity looking for!’

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We continued on and I accused Scott of not warning me last April of the rocky sections that immediately followed the campground. ‘You said that it was all easy miles after La Sevilla! It’s not!’

‘I did too warn you. I laid out the trail when it was being built and I made it go over every rocky section that I could.’

‘Well, maybe I wasn’t listening.’

Turns out, I had every reason to balk at the rocks in the dark. Most of them took several tries to get over in broad daylight with an unloaded bike. Sometimes, when you’ve smacked your pedal for the umpteenth time, you wonder what the trail designer was thinking. Then it rolls smooth, and you realize the sheer genius of it.

After several miles of the swoopy trail that I remembered riding with Moobs and Boatman in tow, the moon high in the sky, the darkness warm and inviting, three sets of lights lighting up the hundreds of cactus, it was time to turn around.

All but one of the rocks went in reverse. What was that trail designer thinking again?

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Sooo close. Sooo awkward. Photo from Scott.

We stopped at the Colossal Cave ranch to see Hagan the cat. Scott claims to have a picture of her from 2005, I have several from last spring during the Jj and JenJ ice cream ride. She’s still queen of the ranch.

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Scott had some ice cream. I had a Larabar. I have absolutely no issues eating clean when off the bike…but man oh man, do I miss mid-ride ice cream breaks.

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We climbed back up the hill, stopping to let me session a rock that I’d said ‘never’ to last spring. Seven tries later, I was up and moving on in life.

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Photo from Scott.

And then the sky exploded.

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I’ve never been much of an evening rider…but the sunsets here make it worth having to carry a light on every ride I go on.

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It was one of those special rides, the perfect mix of playing on rocks, smooth trail, and fantastic memories, new and old. And I actually rode over some cool rocks…which was pretty neat-o.


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Egos and temper tantrums

Scott and I went for a ride on Wednesday afternoon out by Starr Pass.

‘Let’s go ride Golden Gate.’ Scott had suggested. ‘It’s got some tech, it’s fun.’

I should have know better. Still licking the psychological wounds of the Lemmon Epic (I’m slow, I’m out of shape, I can’t ride anything), I should have known better to go ride anything even remotely techy, at least with Scott.

LW had asked me in St George if it was humbling riding with him on a daily basis. Humbling, definitely. Inspiring, most of the time. Frustrating beyond all belief, occasionally.

It was a stupid little move that cracked me. Like many difficulties at Starr Pass, the move itself wasn’t huge, it was pretty dinky looking by most standards, but it had an awkward entrance to it and a funny corner after it. After my third failed attempt, I declared, ‘I suck.’

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Photo from Scott. Pre-temper tantrum.

‘No, it’s a tricky move,’ Scott tried to assure me.

‘No, I suck.’

‘Maybe when you don’t immediately get something, you should think ‘This trail is hard’ rather than ‘I suck.”

‘No, I suck.’

After the move went the next round, we proceeded to ride the rest of the way in silence. I’m good at acting like an 8 year old at times. Temper tantrums are my specialty.

The next day I went out solo, to try to convince myself that I could actually ride. To do so, I chose the easiest trails at Starr Pass that I knew of, which in the end, really aren’t that easy. But the chance to cruise around with no one watching made me feel a little bit better about myself.

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Maybe I don’t suck that bad after all.

Out solo again the next day. I had in the back of my head that I wanted to ride Cat Mountain again. It’d proven challenging my first time riding it with Scott when we first got to AZ, so I wasn’t sure if my still sensitive ego could handle it. But I found myself at the top of Starr Pass again and had no desire to turn right and end up riding the Yetman wash back, so I went left and started up Cat Mountain.

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Everything that I’d figured out my first ride went with only a handful of attempts. A new section went twice in a row. And while I lost a chainring tooth or two, a rock that was intimidating purely because of the cactus-ladden exposure very nearly went.

I cruised home, feeling pretty proud of myself.

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I feel like I went from being a pretty big fish in the ultra-endurance world to a very small fish in the Tucson tech riding world. While I’d love to be able to let go of all sense of ego when it comes to this, and really just accept that I’m learning…well, the Type-A part of my personality won’t quite let it go. I guess the best I can do is to minimize the tantrum-throwing, embrace focused learning, and start taking the knee pads out on a regular basis.

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Tucson riding – if it doesn’t kill me, it’s gotta make me better. And maybe I should work on that letting-go-of-the-pride thing, too.


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Readjusting

About a week ago, I emailed my withdrawal from the Iditarod for this year.

It was a decision that I’d made with 99.9% certainty about a month ago, but had a hard time of really letting go of the idea. I’d listed out the pros and cons: It’d be a big adventure, but it would be extremely hard on my body, I don’t know if I’d ever be able to justify the entry fee again and I’d be giving up my free entry to this years race, but the entry fee is just a fraction of what the race as a whole costs, snow riding can be fun, but riding on rocks is even more fun, you regret the things you don’t do more than the things you do, but if my body cratered and I could never ride again, that’d be a major bummer.

It’s cold and would involve cold weather training, and I wanted to be warm this winter.

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Getting to Tucson and going on a ride out at Starr Pass was the motivation I needed to finally make the decision final. It felt like a huge weight was lifted, not in the sense that I wouldn’t have to plan the logistics of a ride in AK and planning two months in CO preparing for it, but in the sense that the decision was final and I didn’t have to agonize over it any more.

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Sometimes hard decisions leave me feeling a little funny, wondering if I made the right choice. And then I go outside to feed the chickens some table scraps, smile at the sun, and think about what rock move I’m determined to conquer that day, and I feel pretty good about it all.

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I’ve spent the past several years always having a big goal on the horizon, big as in logistically big, financially big, life big.

While I have every intention of returning to racing next summer, there’s something to be said for having this extended of a period of time for dinking around, for riding where I want, what I want, and with who I want. And if all I want to do is sit in the sun and talk to the chickens, well, that’s okay too.

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It’s been neat to watch my body come around after the shitshow that it turned into after last spring. It’s like I can finally listen to it, loud and clear, and hear what it needs from me. It can tell me: Go ahead, ride hard today, or Go play on some rocks, your balance is dead on, or Let’s not take the sandhill from home day, the less hard way gets us to the same place.

 

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Come to think of it, it tells me the last thing every time I go ride.

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Maybe I’m giving up all my tough-girl points by living in the desert for the winter, but there’s something to be said for being soft for at least part of the year.


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Testing 1-2-3: Over the Lemmon CDO ‘Epic’

I’ve become super cautious with my health as of late. Since regaining the ability to ride for more than half an hour at a time, I’ve closely listened to the cues my body has given. Tired? Take a day off. Sleepy? Take a nap. Hungry? Eat something.

But I’ve been on the road to health for nearly two months now with minimal complications. I’ve run myself into the ground a time or two after long binges of riding in Salida and St George, but I’ve bounced back, taken a few days off, and continued along the trajectory of starting to feel like my old self. I’d started thinking about trying to do something bigger, maybe a race, maybe a long ride.

But frankly, I was scared. Shitless.

What if I didn’t have it in me any more. To be fair, I’ve been loving my 2-3 hour afternoon rides, but the thought of not being able to stretch 2-3 hours into 4-5 to 7-8 to even longer was haunting me.

Scott came home early last week: Chad’s putting together the Over Lemmon CDO ride for this weekend.

I’d seen videos of this ride that involves climbing 5,000+ feet into the sky up Lemmon and descending a trail down the backside into Catalina State Park and then cruising back to Tucson on the 50-year trail. They’ve been doing it for years and we watched the videos from the various rides. I got the stats from the previous year, 12 hours of moving time, 93 miles.

I hemmed and I hawed about going. Is it too much too soon? What if I crater in the middle of it? Ultimately, I decided that I’d have to do an all-systems check on my body eventually, and if things went downhill during the first seven hours of the ride, I could always descend the pavement back down Lemmon and cruise home.

The alarm went off at 4:15 am. We were out the door at 4:45, meeting up with Chad and Max across town at 5:30. I was scared, trying to remember what it was actually like to go on an all-day ride.

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The roads to the base of Lemmon were flat and easy. The first 5 miles up to Molino basin went easily in the early morning shade. The climb up Prison Camp was far more fun than when I did it during the AZT last spring. And then we settled in for 13 long miles of up. It’s been a while since I’ve pedaled that continuously for that long. It’s been a while since I’ve ridden that much pavement. A fact that my rear found it necessary to continually remind me of.

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A little bit of trail, then the final climb up to Summerhaven. I have to say, eating clean definitely puts a damper on mid-day ride breaks. While the others drank tallboys and ate ice cream bars and Slim Jims, I had a banana and some roasted sunflower seeds. While I appreciate feeling good, and know that nothing tastes as good as feeling good…it still sucked.

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More climbing brought us to the tippy-top of Lemmon, and then things started going downhill, literally and figuratively.

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Scott had warned me.

“There’s hike-a-bike, but it’s not like you’re ever going to be hiking your bike for 10 minutes at a time.”

“So what you’re saying is that I probably won’t be riding my bike for 10 minutes at a time either.”

“Yeah. That’s a good way to put it.”

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There were big views and fun trail for a while, and then my lack of skills go the best of me. Rocks and drops and loose dirt that the boys had no issues with had me hiking. Scott described a section as “a little steep and a little washed out” and I nearly had to scoot down it on my butt. Once down in the valley, the overgrown trail criss-crossed a dry and then wet creek countless times. While Scott had described 50% of the crossings as rideable, I batted a solid 0%.

On the bike, off the bike. I rejoiced at 100 yard sections where I could actually cruise. The boys rode most of it. Effortlessly.

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And then I cracked. Not physically, because really, there’s nothing hard about averaging 0.5 mph while walking your bike, but I came completely and totally mentally undone. Unfortunately, as I had feared, this occurred with a significant bit of trail, a long-ish rubbly climb, a descent, and the 20 mile pedal back to Tucson ahead of me.

I tried to hide it, and then I cracked in that department too.

“Please stop trying to be cheerful with me,” I’d told Scott. “Just keep riding and wait for me at intersections.”

I wanted nothing to do with anyone. I wanted to never go on a long ride again. I wanted to spend the rest of the winter riding at Fantasy Island.

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The climb went remarkably easily, we skipped the last bits of trail in order to beeline it home. We arrived after 14 hours and even from the comfort of our front room with a bowl of leftover curry in my lap, I still had nothing nice to say. My ass hurt, my hands hurt, my legs hurt, my skin hurt from the incessant scratching of everything prickly in the desert.

The next morning I woke up with DOMS in my legs. Too much downhill hiking. I couldn’t sit on my physioball for extended periods of time and took to doing everything I could standing up to give my chaffed skin some relief.

“That ride broke me,” I told Scott.

A day later, I was back on the bike. Feeling normal. Cranking up steep hills, feelings of fatigue gone.

I daresay my body is back, though jumping from three hour rides to 14 hour ones may have been a bit of a stretch, but my head? Now that’s a whole different story. Maybe I just needed to recalibrate my suffer-o-meter after a summer of dinking around. Maybe I just need to be happy with 3 hour rides. Or maybe I just need to greatly increase my skill set so I don’t have to walk my bike down from the top of the highest peak around.

Whatever the case may be, I’m learning that I still lack the ability to think things through in a rational manner in terms of what are and aren’t good ideas. But I’m okay with that because generally speaking, the greatest adventures come from the worse ideas.


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How to spend a week in Tucson

Life has settled into a happy little routine around here in the desert. After six months of wandering around Colorado, even I’ll admit that it’s sort of nice to have all my clothes put away in drawers, to have all my bikes in one place, and to wonder what happened to the bin of stuff that contained my extra pair of gloves, gray knickers, arm coolers, and passport. My hunch is that it’s sitting in Winter Park, but I really have no idea, nor will I know for a while. But asides from preventing trips south of the border until I go back to CO for some holiday time, I’m not too concerned.

I’ve always had this dream, that’d I’d be able to spend my mornings being ‘productive’ by most standards of society, and then spend the afternoons riding, exploring, doing ‘real-life’. I think this existence, at least for the next six months, might be the closest I’ll ever get to that dream. I’m not taking it for granted. It’s like the time period when I was working as a TA for the physics department at CU the first time around while not actually in grad school, working not a whole lot of hours, making enough to pay for rent and food, and having a ridiculous amount of time to do what I wanted.

Some people value money. I value time.

With my free time, these are the things I got up to this week.

After having my confidence shaken on my ability to ride bikes at all over the weekend, I asked Scott for the GPS file for a ride that I could just cruise on. No big techy sections, just fun trails. He sent me out over Starr Pass to the backside where everything turns golden as the sun drops in the sky.

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I saw my first tarantula in the wild. I got to add it to the list of AZ wildlife that I’ve seen: Javalinas, coyotes, quail, road runners.

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I don’t think I’ll even get tired of watching sunsets from here.

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On Tuesday I teamed up with Alexis for another Starr Pass area loop. I was in charge of getting us to the trails via Scott’s network of trails, Alexis was going to take over from there. Without a GPS, I have to say I’m pretty impressed with myself for navigating the network of random trails to get us to where we wanted to go.

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Who says I have no sense of direction?

Wednesday was date ride night.

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Scott took me to the base of a climb and offered me $100 if I could clean it on the first try. Apparently this is an offer that he’s handed out many times before and has never had to pay out. I rode all except for one move…and that was close.

To be fair, I did have Scott’s line to follow, which might have been cheating.

Alas, no $100 for me.

Added a new loop of trails to my Starr Pass database, tried in vain to have Scott help me pump up a tire that was losing air, but he insisted that he’d done enough by providing me with a mini bottle of Stans and a pump that actually worked.

There was some truth to that statement, as much as I hate to admit it.

Thursday was the Mi Ranchito ride. While normally a group ride, we didn’t get around to inviting anyone else, so it ended up being a Scott and Ez Mi Ranchito ride. Scott let me navigate after we’d planned out a route and I’m proud to say: Not a single wrong turn.

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The network of trails around there is as confusing as in Ned, so I’m more than a little proud of being able to recognize and navigate some of them. 

I was a little worried about being able to find Ez-approved foods at Mi Ranchito, but it turns out there’s plenty to eat. Staying away from the corn chips is pretty brutal though.

Friday I set out solo again with the intention of figuring out how to navigate to one trail head, ride trails to a second, and navigate home from there. I’m determined to put together an accurate map of the area in my head that I don’t need  a GPS for.

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Another beautiful sunset. Another section of rocks that I struggled on a week ago went cleanly in a quarter as many tries.

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All in a weeks work. There’s something special about this place, and I’m determined to never let it get old.


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How to bonk in 8 easy steps while surrounded by beauty

I’m really good at not bonking. This is because I love eating. I might even love eating almost as much as love riding my bike. I rode the whole Tour Divide route with only one bonk, and really, I forgive myself for that because while I did have half a jar of peanut butter in my pack, it was the last thing that I could even contemplate eating after crossing the Great Basin and running out of water.

But this weekend, I sent myself into a bonk that rivaled that of the one I was in when I decided it would be a good idea to ride the last 50 miles of the Iditarod trail from Nicholai to McGrath without eating or drinking anything. In fact, this one may have been worse.

So while it’s still fresh in my memory, I present to you: How to bonk in 8 easy steps.

1. Leave the house on a Saturday morning, in the middle of the morning, without making plans for lunch and having a two hour drive to the start of the ride. 

Normally, this isn’t a big deal. In Durango, all summer, we’d remedy this situation by buying a Zia burrito on our way out of town and surviving on the massive calorie bomb for the rest of the day. With my refusal to eat anything that could make me sick again, this was a recipe for disaster. We stopped at Safeway on the way out of town and bought some fruit, Larabars, almonds, and some quinoa and sausage for dinner. Scott bought a footlong Subway sandwich when we stopped for gas. I did not.

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2. Ride through beautiful colors for several hours, stopping often to take pictures and marvel at the beauty. 

When I’m riding along, I know how much I have to eat to stay fueled, but when we’re stopping for pictures every few minutes,  I have no concept of how many calories are being burned. So I assumed not many and didn’t each much. This was ideal since I’d only had a couple of handfuls of cashews for ‘lunch’ before we even set out for a ride.

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3. After having a snack at the car, go back out for another ride, one that involves continuous pedaling. 

Scott had found some rocks on Topofusion that he wanted to check out. I was a bit skeptical of the whole endeavor, but went along anyhow because I’d left my Kindle at home and sitting around camp with a bunch of rednecks in town for hunting didn’t really sound that appealing. Cruising the dirt roads, staring at the sky, made it well worth it.

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4. Instead of eating dinner, sit on the bumper of the van, watch it get dark, and talk about anything and everything. Snack on almonds to satiate the gnawing hunger. 

Like I said before, I really like eating. And I really like eating after rides. What we were talking about that was so important as to completely skip a meal (my second skipped meal of the day) is completely beyond me.

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5. Eat breakfast, but not much breakfast. 

We cooked up some eggs in the morning that I topped with an avocado and had some apples and nuts for breakfast-dessert. Scott also had a bowl of oatmeal and then a giant slice of apple pie at Annie’s Country Store. I had two freshly picked gala apples, which were delicious, but not terribly high on the calorie scale.

6. Pack whatever remaining trail food you have and pretend to forget you didn’t eat dinner. Eat most of said food in the first hour of a ride that you think will take <4 hours. 

I pulled out my banana 15 minutes in. I ate two of my Larabars at the top of the first climb. I insisted that we don’t do an out and back because we’d been doing too many out and backs for my style. I was out of food less than three hours in. It took up a hair over five hours to finish the ride.

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7. Be sure to bury one more bar deep in your pack so you don’t find it until the next day. 

Translation: Be an idiot.

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8. Keep riding, because when you’re in the middle of nowhere, that’s really all you can do. 

I haven’t been that deep in the misery cave for a long time. It was a little embarrassing how slow I was moving and I spent the majority of the time wondering what I was thinking with eating next to nothing and expecting to still be able to ride. The biggest shame was that we were going through a beautiful area in the Dragoon mountains with huge rock features, beautiful views, and fun trail…and there was nothing I could do to enjoy it to the level that it deserved to be enjoyed. Stupidstupidstupid.

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But we finished. Ate a lot of food. Chalked it up to experience. Really, an experience that I don’t ever need to have again.

The lesson: Do what you’re good at. Like eating.

It was still great to get out, to camp, to get harassed by a skunk while sleeping, and to see that there are endless really cool places hidden all over the state. I can’t wait for the next trip.