Zen On Dirt

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Rocks and Mindgames

Patience isn’t exactly my strong point. When I decide I want something, I’m not terribly good at evaluating options, pondering the rationality of it, or stepping back to see the big picture. When I came down to Tucson, I decided I wanted tech skills. Like, real ones, not just the ‘good enough to get by’ skill-set that I’ve been operating on for the past decade. Fast, chundery downhills have always been my specialty and have aided significantly in my ability to ride fast in race situations and a few seasons of cross racing has taught me to get on and off my bike in a speedy manner so that getting off my bike to get over something has been an efficient way to operate. But for a while, racing was completely out of the question, so efficiency and speed became less of a priority, or even an option. So, me being me, decided I wanted to get good at tech.

If I couldn’t ride fast or far, at least I’d be able to ride rocks.


So I embarked on a good bout of ‘Focused Learning.’ Go read The Talent Code, awesome book. Sure enough, the skills started to come around. Unfortunately, I was too busy always setting my sights higher to really be able to appreciate clearing everything on Cat Mountain, or riding one of the rocks on Bugs that scared me, or finally getting up the Goat Hill on my first try. In my head, I wasn’t living up to expectations. But I want to be able to ride all of Millie, I want Golden Gate to go, I want to clear Cat Mountain without any dabs or sessioning. 

This led to me being pretty hard on myself. I can see what’s possible on a bike by following Scott around, and I had convinced myself that if I just tried hard enough, I could get good too, in a matter of a few weeks.


Obviously, this didn’t happen, but luckily, a shift in perspective did. While I’d been completely non-commital on the racing front, I’d finally found my hook back into it. Do what you love. I like riding rocks, but I love bike packing. I like sessioning moves (on occasion), but I love long, uninterrupted rides. I like going downhill at the edge of my capabilities, but I love seeing how far I can really ride. I like returning to the same trails to work on skills, but I love seeing new places. I liked my 100 mm fork, but I love my 130 mm of extra squish that Santa brought for Christmas.

All of a sudden, I didn’t feel the need to scare myself silly on every ride. Rocks would always be fun, but I no longer felt like I had to make them my major focus in my little bike-riding universe. And there was something freeing about that.


The last time we went up to the Upper Loop on the 50-year trail, I had a bit of a melt-down. While I rode some cool stuff, I felt like I was in way over my head. Way over my head = I can’t ride my bike at all = I’m a bad person. Laugh, but you know we all do it.

We went back before Christmas for a quick spin around it with Reilly and Kimberly.

It’d been a good week of techy riding with several runs down Bugs, Prison, and Millie. I was riding better than ever before (who’d have thunk an extra 30 mm of suspension could do so much) and was hoping for a smoother run this time around.


As it turns out, once I take the pressure off myself to ride well, lo-and-behold, I ride well.

There’s got to be a lesson in there somewhere.

It was the most fun I’d had riding tech since…we’ll, since riding down Bugs/Prison/Millie the day prior.

Do I feel the need for a big bike so I can keep pushing my limits? Nah. But I probably wouldn’t kick one out of my bed for eating cookies.


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Differences in Perspective

We’ve had a steady stream of visitors here in our little desert paradise over the past few weeks, which has been great on multiple different levels. Firstly, it’s a great excuse not to work quite as much (not that I really can ever claim long work days, but it’s a great break from routine) and secondly, each visitor has brought fresh perspective on life, on bikes, and different ways to indulge in bike-love.

I’ve been enjoying the micro-adjustments that all these perspectives bring to my view of the world. I’ve been enjoying seeing how everyone takes their unique spin on the Dream Life and makes it work in a way that is sustainable and enjoyable for them. I’ve been enjoying having my perception of what is possible stretched, both on a bike and in life.


The Gypsies brought in an element of simplicity: Work for six months, travel for six months. One bike per person. Only enough belongings to exist comfortably. Eat fresh fruits and veggies from local producers whenever possible. Visit friends. Make new ones. See amazing places and truly go where the wind takes you.

Sometimes I wish I could strive for that simplicity. To have one bike that does it all. To be able to say that I’m done with skiing for good and get rid of all my ski gear that is languishing in my parents’ garage. To being okay with giving up my crockpot and food processor. I don’t have much,  but compared to their simplicity…sometimes I feel like I want too much.


On Monday evening, Reilly and Kimberly from Salida showed up en route to Texas. Living out of a Sprinter van, they were escaping the onset of winter in Colorado and spending a week making their way south before heading to their winter quarters in Terlingua. They showed up to an amazing sunset and we immediately headed out for a night ride on Starr Pass. Single jerseys and arm warmers caused a sweat in the warm night and the full moon made lights seem excessive.

They also had been working and saving for the past eight months in order to spend the winter riding in the south and enjoying the finer points of life. Their Sprinter was outfitted for everything needed for living. Room for four bikes, a big bed, electricity, water, a fridge. Room for books, packs, yoga mats, and still getting 25 miles to the gallon.


Kurt and Kaitlyn showed up by the time we’d returned, on a mission to spend a week riding around the Tucson desert. A plan for big rides getting ready for big adventures and races in the spring. To start everyone off on the right foot, we took them on our semi-big TMP loop out the front door the next morning.


It was nothing short of amazing that over the course of six hours, the only hiccup we had with six people was Riley’s encounter with a cholla. It’s rare to find a group ride that works so well, rolls so smoothly.

That night, my Spearfish got an upgrade. As a Christmas present, Scott had got me a 130 mm fork, a significant upgrade from my 100 mm. While we figured that I’d enjoy the extra cush on descents, I was more excited about being able to raise my bottom bracket by a significant margin to try to reduce the number of pedal strikes I’d suffer riding Tucson chunk. Lower bottom brackets in Colorado are fantastic for stability on Colorado trails but aren’t quite ideal for rock-crawling.


We headed to Lemmon the next day to test it out on Bugs and Prison, all while ticking off one of the three recommended workouts for the week to keep me progressing forward in the fitness arena. I’m pretty sure I giggled the whole way down.


Convinced that the new fork was set up well enough for group riding with minimal futzing, Scott and I joined Krista the next day to shuttle a car to the top of Bugs for a friend who was running up the trail from the bottom of Lemmon. After you drive a car to the top of Bugs, the best way to come down is Bugs/Prison/Millie. And so we did.

I first met Krista at the Teva Mountain Games in 2008 (?). She’d passed me on the last descent and some interviewer doing a film on something (Hey, it was a long time ago) randomly grabber her and I. When answering the question of ‘Where do you live?’, she answered, ‘Everywhere. We have an RV that we drive around to different races and live out of.’

It was immediate love/lust/envy.


After becoming a wicked good XC racer domestically,  she started racing XC World Cups, and after getting over wanting to do intervals and living the lifestyle that you really need to in order to compete at the highest level of XC, she made a full-time switch to enduro racing and promptly established herself at the top of that field in the US this past summer. And now I was going to follow her and Scott down some honest-to-goodness chunky trail. It was time to put my big-girl chamois on.


It was fun to see a different riding style. Slow on the ups, fast on the downs. And by fast, I mean warp speed. The few seconds that I’d watch before she’d descent out of sight were amazing, and even in short bursts, educational. We talked a ton about suspension set up, riding styles, and how she doesn’t miss intervals one bit. Aerobic fitness is secondary, skills and speed are king. I haven’t thought like that in a long time, if ever.

We followed her back to her house after the ride to get a tour of the RV that I’d been secretly envying for the better part of five years. Just another way to live a life while following dreams and riding bikes.


The new fork shifted my perspective on riding in just two rides. While initially I was hesitant putting it on the bike because the endurance weenie in me is used to people racing on rigid forks, or minimal suspension, I quickly started to see the appeal. Not only was I able to ride a lot more than I could just a few days prior, the stuff that I was riding on the old fork and feeling slightly queasy about felt smooth an in control with the added travel. With a minimal weight difference (I guessed wrong on which fork was which based on weight during a blind test), one has got to wonder if there are any disadvantages to having a bigger fork, especially on long rides. More suspension = less wear on the body = more energy. Or maybe more importantly, more suspension = more fun = go zoom.


Either way, I don’t see myself taking that fork off the bike for a while. And while I don’t see myself springing for a Sprinter Van to live out of for the summer, or living completely off the bike with no other belongings, I’d like to think I can carve out my own little definition of my Dream Life.


What if…

My motivator broke earlier this week. Coughed, sputtered, and ground to a halt. You want me to ride a bike? Really? No thanks.

This doesn’t happen very often to me, so when I come out the other end of the tunnel of irrationality, it’s always interesting to take a look back and think ‘I said that? Out loud? Wow.’ It’s almost comical, except that it’s not.


Things started going downhill on Tuesday when I woke up with the threat of a sore throat. Not overly motivated as it was, I took the day off, knowing that I had a pretty decent week of riding lined up on the training plan. I’d gone on a lovely ride with Alexis the day before, there was plenty I could do around the house.


After fessing up to LW that my motivation for racing was lacking, we’d settled on having me do some speed work during the week and then screw off and ride what I want on the weekends and non-speedy weekdays. Keep my options open in case the motivation returned. At the very least, it couldn’t hurt.


On Wednesday I went out to do some 30 second repeats on the cross bike. While that bike hasn’t seen a whole lot of use in its recent history, it has been extensively ridden and raced in the past…and I haven’t exactly taken the best care of it since then only thing I ever do on it any more is intervals. Turns out, when you haven’t replaced a chain and cassette in the better part of three years, they don’t exactly mesh well at high power. After determining that even my smoothest transition to speed wasn’t going to keep the chain engaged, I turned home. While I could have gone back out on a different bike, I didn’t.


No bikes got ridden on Wednesday or Thursday either.

And then I got my head screwed on straight again.

The only way I’ve ever been able to make ‘big’ decisions in my life is to make the decision in my head and then sit with the idea, unbeknownst to anyone else, and see how I feel about it 24, 48, 72 hours later. If after a couple of days, I still like the idea, I mention it to someone and decide if I like the way it sounds out loud. Once the decision makes it out into relative public domain, I’ve probably been sitting on it for weeks. To many, this makes me seem like I make rash decisions in many cases.

I’d been trying out a lot of ideas in my head the past few weeks: I want to be a racer. I want to not race any more and go ride in South America. I want to ride from Prudhoe Bay to Patagonia. I want to do more bikepacking races. I want to get a big bike and race enduros. I want to learn how to grow wings and float up rocks like everyone around here does. Maybe I should take up trail running.


I know pretty quickly when I’m faking a decision because I’m bad at faking anything for long. Once I realized that XC mountain bike racing involved lots of intervals and not much adventure riding, I quit that. Once I discovered that grad school would take actual commitment instead of just being a way to afford to ride my bike, I quit that. Once I discovered that road racing scared the crap out of me, I quit that.

Maybe that makes me a quitter. I like to think of it as a finely tuned system for keeping life moving in a forward direction.


As usual, I digress. The fact that the last thing I wanted to do was ride my bike all week while trying on all these images in my head was a glaring warning light. While I generally try not to place labels on things, especially myself, I was desperately searching for some sense of motivation to do the fairly non-painful workouts that LW had planned and not finding it. The beauty of bikes is that there’s always room for improvement in an infinite number of areas, and while all those areas are fun and worth improving in, (except for maybe road riding, I really don’t care to improve my road riding skills), nothing sparked the flame of ‘Ooooooh, I like that idea.’


And so on Friday I revisited an old idea. What if…

Friday I went out on a Starr Pass ride, music playing in perfect rhythm of pedaling, sun setting, land turning golden. What if…


Saturday I conned Scott into doing a tempo workout up Lemmon with a drop back down Bugs and Prison Camp.


Sunday I conned him into making the drive across town again for another tempo workout on Lemmon with a drop down Prison and Milli.

I doubled up on my core workouts to make up for my mid-week lapse.


What if I could do something really cool with my summer…


Global Fat Bike Day with Gypsies for a visit

I started reading Gypsy by Trade a couple of months ago. At the time, they (they being Nick and Lael) were mid-bike tour and hanging out in Ukraine. Knowing nothing about them, I sort of thought it was cool, as I’ve pondered a Euro bike tour in the past, but have been far too entranced by the landscape in my immediate vicinity to really do anything about it. Then they flew back to Denver and started working their way west, by bike and by hitchhiking, to ride the Kokopelli and then tour across southern Utah into Arizona where they did some amazing looking riding in the Sedona/Flagstaff area. I started following more closely.

They mentioned Scott in their blog as a source of AZT info, so I mentioned them to Scott. Apparently in the past, they’d exchanged emails, and I said how cool it would be to meet them if they made it all the way down to Tucson on the AZT.

As it turned out, Lael wanted to run the Tucson Marathon and they had plans to hang out in Tucson for a few days, so we invited them over.


It’s always fun to see different bike touring set ups. With my history, I’m used to checking out the lightweight setups, saddle bags made of cuban-fiber, sleeping pads made of Reflectix…minimalist. Even on our luxury overnight tours, lighter is always better (as I learned by taking both my heavy bag and heavy pad on the Gila Thanksgiving trip and discovering that I really could make my bike weigh a metric ton and still pretty much run out of food).

But I’ve never taken a close look at a bike that has everything for a six-month adventure spanning the world where racing isn’t involved. I can understand living off the bike for three weeks in a Tour Divide situation, so I can extrapolate that to a 30-day tour like Kurt’s across the Colorado Plateau, but I’ve never really tried to wrap my head around a tour that lasted half a year. A tour that had a start point of wherever the cheapest ticket to Europe could be found, and an endpoint of wherever they ended up when they decided to come back to the States.

It’s pretty cool.


They had to ride up to the Hilton to register for the race in the afternoon, so we spent the morning putting fat bikes together in honor of Global Fat Bike Day. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that not only was mine still in the car from when we pulled up to our home in Tucson, but it still hadn’t been put back together after it flew back from AK after the ITI. But I guess it makes sense, I had AZ trips to take part in during March last year, and AZT race to do in April, and then the bike didn’t make the cut for traveling bikes for the summer. Still, I felt guilty.

I felt even worse after I discovered that not only did it lack a cassette, it also lacked rear brake pads. I’m not really sure which bike benefited from those parts…


Luckily, we were able to piece together a cassette from Scott’s random parts bin and Nick had a spare pair of brakes pads, so we went out in celebration of Fat Bikes…and really, just bikes in general. What started as a 20 minute spin on the Pima trails on a variety of bikes behind the house turned into a loop of the little mountain which turned into a mini-loop on Starr Pass. No one had a pump, no one had water. It all turned out brilliantly.

With low enough tire pressure, even Starr Pass doesn’t seem that rough.


I went out for my prescribed tempo ride after we got back and Nick and Lael headed off to register and camp for the night. It gave me a good, solid 90 minutes of riding to think about what sort of things involving bikes excited me, what didn’t, and what sort of things I could do while paying the proper respect to my body.


Should I step away from racing completely and start riding south to Peru, like, tomorrow? Should I go ‘tour’ the Triple Crown? Should I buy an Airstream and make the summer a six-month road trip going from mountain bike destination to mountain bike destination? Should I suck it up and stick to the ‘goals’ I had laid out a month before as a ‘real’ bike racer?


Clearly, 90 minutes of riding isn’t really enough time to process all the options, but the beauty of the situation is that regardless of what I decide to do, here and now, there’s no better place to be than Tucson…except for maybe Peru. Or Australia. Or New Zealand.



A question of motivations

Sometimes I’m not very good at listening to my sub-consious. My intuition. My gut. Whatever you want to call it. Sometimes it takes my rational side to acknowledge the irrationality of my feelings and thoughts for me to admit that the psyche has been trying to talk, and I’ve been trying not to listen.

This happened during a Thanksgiving bikepack in the Gila Canyons. For a holiday based on being thankful for what we have, I couldn’t bring myself to muster any sense of internal joy. My rational side saw the beauty of the trail, the surroundings, the fact that I should be celebrating that I can do what I can do, that I should be thankful for my relationships. But while I told myself I should be feeling gratitude, I was feeling anything but. And I felt terrible because of it.


I feel like I’ve been telling myself a lot of stories about who I should be, or who I want me to be. Or maybe who I once wanted to be. The ego has a way of doing that. I want to be a fast bike racer. I want to be good at riding technical stuff. I want to make a decent amount of money and feel financially secure.

But as of late, other stories have been surfacing.


And the rational, habitual thought patterns really don’t like it when the sub-concious intrudes. When it says, ‘Hey, have you thought about this? What are your real motivations behind your stories?’

I’ve been finding massive doses of inspiration and bike riding stoke from people like Kurt dot Dirt, or Gypsy by Trade, or Cass.


In the past, whenever any one asked me why I raced, the answer was always easy: I’m going to have the greatest adventure, ever. CTR, Tour Divide, Iditarod…all huge objectives in a racing sense, but also in the ‘Let’s go see things’ sense.

Caroline came to town last weekend after our bike packing trip and we got to talking about racing. I laid out my plans for 2014: Whiskey 50, 24-hour Nats, Breck Epic, Vapor Trail, and a few others.


‘Why Whiskey?’ she asked.

I didn’t have a good answer. I came up with something about the competition, about wanting to be fast again, but the answers definitely make me feel like I was making up my enthusiasm, sort of like when you’re getting interviewed for a job that you really don’t want but know you need in order to pay rent next month.

I  let the feeling slide, knowing that I was coming off a big week of riding, and well, I tend to not make the most rational decisions when I’m tired.


I fretted about the lingering doubt long after the ride ended. If I don’t race bikes, what do I do? If I’m not a bike racer, who am I? Am I being completely irrational?

But then Scott brought a light of rationality to the situation, as he does so often when I work myself into a tizzy: You don’t have to make the decision right now.


And he’s right. I can keep going out each day and doing the work that will make me fast in April, and for the most part, I enjoy it. I’ll keep doing my core work, because I never want to have to deal with an overuse knee injury again. I’ll keep eating well, because I never want to get sick like I did this summer.


And most importantly, I’ll do my best to turn the stories off and make the most of each day. As a timely Facebook post came from AmyH: I’m just making this up as I go along. But I am sort of curious how I’m going to feel about this whole situation in two weeks.