Zen On Dirt


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Self-supported, self-reliant 100 miles in the Gila

So I rode the Gila 100 this past Saturday. I won’t say that I “raced” it, because really, I’m enjoying being retired from racing for 2014, and since I was the only gal dumb enough to get on the magic school bus for the 3:30 am shuttle from Tiger Mine Road to Picket Post, I didn’t really have any one to race, because I don’t race boys. Company policy.

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Magic School Bus

All in all, a lovely ride backwards on the last 100 miles of the AZT300 course, some of my favorite trails, none of which I’d had the opportunity, no, none of which I’ve made the effort to ride, without bikepacking gear. When I rolled up to the finish, Scott, Jeff and Nancy were there to greet me. It was circa 9:45 pm and they seemed almost more relieved to see me than anything else. Like, it was good that I survived. This surprised me because finishing times for this thing range in the 12.5 hour range for the fastest of boys to overnighters with bikepacking gear for others. I thought a 9:45 arrival time was downright reasonable for a motivated-pace ride.

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High in the Gila at sunrise with Erik

Turned out, there’s been some ‘drama’ out on course. People making questionable decisions, not in the realm of self-support, but in self-reliance. And frankly, sitting there in the dark parking lot eating a slice of pizza and hearing the stories of the day, which were still concluding as people were returning to their cars, I got a little angry.

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Yeah. They built a trail here. A most excellent idea.

I’d been thinking about the spirit of ‘self-supported’ racing in the past few days in the vein of ‘If you were going to make a movie on a self-supported race, how would you do it without affecting the outcome.’ Schrodinger’s cat-style. And the answer is, you can’t; you can just control to what level you’re affecting it. On one end, there’s what everyone would consider completely inappropriate for this, or any, I guess, style of racing – blatant support. Then there’s a situation where a film crew follows an event, not necessarily a specific person or group. Eddie Clark on the Divide-style. You can’t count on Eddie’s red truck to be anywhere near you, but it’s always a welcome sight. Somewhere in the middle is Ride the Divide-style, which clearly influences what happened out there, but had a fair chance of influencing nearly everybody’s race, for better or for worse (at least when the Divide only had 10 people racing it).

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We go there.

But the reason that having film crews, or professional photographers, or girlfriends/boyfriends/husbands/wives out taking pictures or film on an event like this bothers me is far more subtle: It influences decision making. It brings up the fine difference between self-support and self-reliance.

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Poppies! In January! By the Gila!

If you’re out in the middle of the desert and racing, and you know that there’s going to be a crew somewhere in the next six hours or at the next road crossing, do you gamble on skipping a 10-minute detour to go get water, knowing that if the shit really hits the fan, they’ll be there to bail you out? That you won’t die in the desert if you screw up. If you knew you were going to truly be alone out there, with no cell reception, would you skip the water stop to save on weight or time? Would you go light on food? In the same vein, if you have a SPOT on you and know that hitting the 911 button will get you a free helicopter ride out (as long as you bought the insurance), would you gamble on not bringing all the tools needed to fix your bike or not having enough calories to make it to the finish comfortably (or uncomfortably)?

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If I were a cactus, I’d grow like this too.

But more importantly from a ‘racing’ aspect, having a bailout, be it a film crew, significant other, willingness to push a SPOT 911 or call the sheriff, makes it safer to push yourself physically farther than you would on your own. When you’re out there in the frigid cold of AK (and without a SPOT), you’re acutely aware that a mistake – crash on ice and break a bone, knock ourself out on the ice, take a wrong turn and get lost – can have severely dire consequences, so you sleep when you have to in order to prevent poor judgement and carry a -40 degree bag. If you’re in the desert during the AZT300 and it’s 100 degrees down by the Gila, you’re acutely aware that if you ride too hard, your stomach will turn south and if you end up vomiting and dehydrated, no one’s going to come looking for you because your SPOT has stopped tracking for a few hours. If a  film crew sees that an individual they’re following has stopped moving, chances are, they’re going to go look for them. And there’s a safety in that thought and a willingness to push up against the physical limits of these races a little more.

I think the raw self-reliance is what draws a lot of us to the sport. That it’s not all about power-to-weight, or gear, or technical skills. There’s a huge element to keeping your body and mind happy, regardless of what happens out there, and that’s something that’s not necessarily controlled by genetics or time to train.

At the same time though, part of the reason that we build such strong friendships with the people we race against in these things is because we do rely on each other out there for safety. Shit happens. People run out of food in the middle of remote sections of the trail, so we share our food. People find themselves exhausted at 12,000 feet without a bivy or warm clothes in the middle of the night, so we escort them down to safety. People get hit by cars, so we hit our SPOT 911s. Each bikepacking race gets sent off with the sentiment of ‘This is self-supported, but take care of each other out there.’ When there are outside influences, this dynamic changes rapidly, and in my opinion, for the worse.

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Water caches are the best-est thing ever. Especially when someone drops two gummy bears in the dirt for you to find, and eat. 

Self-supported, underground racing, erm, I mean group rides, have been successful for this long because people haven’t really distinguished between self-support and self-reliance. It seemed implied. Many of these ‘adventure rides for time’ are so huge that they take considerable time and investment, and commitment, to prepare for. They’re scary, so you prepare for contingencies. You ‘race’ to finish. With the smaller events, you can show up without the months of planning that a Tour Divide or a CTR take. This is a good thing because it gives people who can’t take weeks/months off of work to train and ride across the country for a month the chance to do really amazing races. But it also, at least in this case, seemed to cause a situation where people got in far over their heads, and in my mind, made questionable decisions on how to get out. Disclaimer: I don’t know the fine details of the situations out on the trail, but it seems like excessive force was used to overcome them. We all have different perceptions of critical situations and I respect that. 

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Stopped to say ‘Hi’ to my favorite saguaro…

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…and then had to keep riding this trail.

I’m not against SPOTs. I’m not against calling for help when the situation is dangerous, dire, or you’re completely immobilized. I’m not against getting in over your head, goodness knows I specialized in it. But I do believe in doing everything in your power to get yourself out of the situation on your own, or with the help of other racers (that means asking for help when you need it). And I believe in making good decisions so you don’t end up in that situation in the first place. Like bringing enough food and water and riding in a sustainable manner. And if you do run out (of food, water, or energy), not panicking.

I’m not against making movies of events. I think Ride the Divide did more for the sport than it ever thought it would. The execution of it definitely rubbed some people the wrong way, but overall, I think the positive to come out of that film far outweighed the negative. I hope more films are made that emphasize the beauty and togetherness (is that cheesy? Community? Culture? I’m struggling for a word here…) that these events create, and not necessarily the ‘I want to go out there and win and break a record’-ness of them.

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We came from up there

The Gila course gave me a good, solid, honest beat-down. It’s brutal, beautiful trail from start to finish. Water is scarce, but reliable. It’s the remote desert, and it’s unforgiving. And while there are easy bail-outs in specific spots, once you commit to a section, you’re finishing the damn thing. I had a beautiful ride that started under moonlight and ended under the stars and I couldn’t have asked for anything better. It was exactly what I was hoping for approaching it as a long ride rather than a race.

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Goodbye Sun. See you in the morning.

But the take home message from this post, I guess: Make good decisions. If you’ve made a bad decision, do everything in your power to remedy the situation before resorting to calling for outside help. We walk a fine line with un-permitted  group rides/races and it would be a crying shame to have Tour Divide, CTR, AZTR, Stagecoach, TNGA, AES, COES, etc cracked down on because of the decisions of a few.

</rant>


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Trail Magic

Here are the facts: It was a Sunday afternoon. We went for a ride in the Tortolitas. We found Larabars and Larabar Alts on sale for $1 at Fry’s and bought nearly $100 worth. The check-out person was not amused. We rode up the main road, took a left and followed Wild Mustang to Javalina and then rode pavement, in the dark, back to the car.

What isn’t in the facts is the magic that we found out there. I was expecting just another Tucson ride, but we found so much more.

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We found smooth, contouring trail

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We found steep, rocky trails

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We found little, medium, and big mountains

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We found big views

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We found magic saguaros shooting rainbows into the sky

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We found plants that I couldn’t dream up even if I used every iota of my imagination

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We found textures in the sky that created the classic cactus silhouettes

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We found the most brilliant colors in the sky as the sun disappeared for another night

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And we got to ride our bikes through all of it

Neat


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Traveling Eyes

The first time I came to Tucson to ride, last Christmas, I’m sure my eyes were big as saucepans the entire time. It was such a new environment, I ogled every palo verde, Saguaros were the most amazing plants ever, the purple prickly pears had the most amazing color. I could, and would, just stand and stare at the landscape. Everything was new. Everything. And I soaked it all in.

But it didn’t take long for the familiarity to start to set in once we came down here for the winter. There was still the thrill of new trails, new mountain ranges, new restaurants, new events, but the landscape started to blend in with my psyche pretty quick. I saw, and felt, it happening.

I’m reading a book called On Looking: Eleven Walks with Experts where the author takes experts in different fields for walks through New York City and asks what they see. On the first walk, she take their two year old son, noticing all the tiny details that he notices.

Part of normal human development is learning to notice less than we are able to. The world is awash in details of color, form, sound – but to function, we have to ignore some of it. The world still holds these details. Children sense the world at a different granularity, attending to parts of the visual world that we gloss over; to sounds we have dismissed as irrelevant.

I take the same route out to Starr Pass every time I ride there. Well, at least for the first two miles until I decide what trailhead to aim for. I pass by the top of the palm tree that someone had cut off and dragged down into the wash without a second glance, all the individual Saguaros blend together.

Vacations are the adult exception. There, two things happen: we actually do see new places, and second, we bother to look. … Soon though, we acclimate. Familiarity begins following us around. Before we know it, we have become entirely accustomed to how that vacation spot looks. We have routines, we know the way – and we stop looking.

I’m acutely aware when I stop looking. Maybe that’s why I find myself more comfortable on the move rather than situated in one house, one city, one set of trails for an extended period of time. But there are advantages to staying put for some periods of time, like, Tucson is absolutely amazing right now. So over the past week, I’ve made a point of trying to see things more closely. I’ve stopped to examine the skin of cactus. I’ve found more crested saguaros on my daily rides.

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On Saturday, Scott and I sat eating breakfast, trying to decide where to ride. I was still nursing a bruised, swollen, and jiggly arm from my crash on Millie, an arm that had shut down riding for the past two days, so anything too rough was out. “TMP semi-big loop?” I proposed. The first ride Scott took me on last December, it’s a fine combination of trail for the first half and dirt roads and gas pipelines for the second half. It’s the classic, from-the-house loop we’ve been taking guest on.

“Backwards?”

I thought about it. We’d hit the Sweetwater trails fresh, which would be fun, we’d get the pipeline done and over with early, which would be a relief for the head, but we’d hit the trails with many miles in the legs already, and in my head, it seemed like the whole route would be uphill. But Scott seemed insistent, so I agreed.

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Not enough food for a five hour ride. Good thing Saguaro National Park sells decadent chocolate.

It’s pretty amazing the things you see when you ride a route backwards. You notice where the road undulates either upwards or downwards, you notice that one side of the gasline hills are noticeably steeper, longer, and looser than the other side, you notice that climbs that you’re dreading because they’re so fun to go down aren’t actually as bad as you think they’ll be.

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We finished the first half to Saguaro National Park in nearly the same time as we’d do it the opposite direction. I went through the remaining ride in my head, trail section by trail section. It seemed straightforward, if uphill. I was amazed at how easily the miles passed, and the downhills that I hadn’t even really registered as climbing the other direction, and vica versa.

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It was an entirely new perspective on a ride that, while it never seemed typical or ordinary, was becoming a predictable one.

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I know that I probably won’t spend the rest of my life as mobile and desperately nomadic as I am now, so it’s always good to know that something as simple as riding a loop backwards can make my eyes big again, noticing all the fine details that get washed out when our ultra-efficient brains decide that they hold no bearing on our day-to-day survival. Because really, the beauty of the world really is in the details.


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Managing Fear

I could say a lot about this ride we did earlier in the week, a 1:40 paved road climb up Mt. Lemmon, a 20 minute hike-a-bike for me, or a good, techy climb if you’re a motivated Scott or other freak-of-nature, and then a whole lot of downhill on Bugs, Prison Camp, Molino, and Miligrosa. In the interest on honesty, much of the downhill scared the crap out of me, even though I’ve worked up to a level of being able to ride most of it. It’s not non-stop technical riding, but it’s a constant barrage of moves that are right above my comfort level, interspersed with moves that are way far above my comfort level, and then a handful of things that are simply above my ability level.

I’ve been slowly improving every time we do a run down some section of these trails, making it my goal to ride one new section each time. I figure that at that rate, I’ll be able to ride the entire run, at least the downhill sections, by the spring.

But then there’s the sections that are right above my current confidence level…and those can cause me consternation when thinking about the ride.

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I found myself at the top of the hike-a-bike earlier this week thinking about the gauntlet I was about to run myself through. The first real rock garden is one that took me several runs to build up the confidence to do. The first time I rode it, it was accidentally on Scott’s Behemoth. I thought I was going to die. I’d ridden it on the Monsterfish the last time, but definitely without confidence. It weighed heavily on my mind. And then there’s the awkward little dip where I dropped my chain once and nearly went tumbling in to the abyss, and the tree squeeze, and the rocks into the switchback, and then the rubbly rock section after the second hike-a-bike, and the rock garden that I’d hit with too much speed the last two times and nearly went over the bars once and off the side of the trail the second time, and then the slick rock section that ends in a big rock if you don’t make the turn…and that’s just Bugs.

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But the thing is, between all these sections is beautiful, flowing, really fun, giggle-inducing trail that I’ve never really enjoyed to its fullest extent because I was too concerned about what was coming up next. So I stood at the top, putting my pads on, and decided that I wasn’t going to think about all the things that scared me miles down the trail, I was just going to think about what was 15 feet in front of me.

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It was an interesting mind-control game. To think about not thinking about something. And to try to make it natural so that I didn’t have to think about it any more. It’s something I definitely need to work on if I want to keep doing runs down these trails because otherwise my stress-level stays elevated for far too long as the trail doesn’t let up until the final climb out to the pavement on Miligrosa.

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I think it worked. Like most cases, most of the things I feared turned out a-okay and didn’t deserve the mental attention that I was giving them. They definitely didn’t deserve the worry that they were causing me on the pedal up the road. And they really didn’t deserve to detract from the sections of trail that were simply a low-stress, good time.

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Well, except for the case where I was going too fast, took the wrong line, and ended up sprawled on the ground, giving thanks to pads and helmets to letting me get away with what was actually a pretty bad crash with only a few scrapes, a headache, and a bruised ego.

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But what fun trails. What a perfect place to be at sunset. What a perfect place to be at moonrise. What a perfect place to be…especially after all the hard parts are over.


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Playing on bikes

Last Tuesday, Alexis rolled up to our meeting spot for our normal Tuesday Starr Pass ride.

“I read your blog.”

“Uh oh.”

Alexis was around for at least one ride where I was debating the merits of racing and had heard my list of pros and cons about the idea many weeks back. “How are you feeling now?”

I paused. “I feel good.” Elaborating, I said that for the first time in a long time, I felt like I could really just ride, instead of riding with a purpose. Ever since I started racing bikes in 2003, there was always a race on the horizon, even if it was the off-season, there was always improvement to be made, there was always something to train for. I had missed the days of being able to go out on rides with people without the thoughts of “how is this going to affect my training?” hanging over my head. It may sound silly, but when I’m invested in something like racing, I’m fully invested. It felt good to not be fully invested in racing and to start moving my investments in different directions. I was working on letting go with the ego associated with riding bikes.

It felt good to simply play on a bike.

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Saturday was the AZT Jamboree, a fundraiser for the Arizona Trail Foundation. Scott and I had scored a spot on the 10 am shuttle, the shorter 25-mile version of the ride, starting at Lake Road and ending at Pistol Hill. Most people opted for the 35 mile version but we a) didn’t want to wake up that early and b) didn’t want to have to futz with self-shuttling since the 8 am shuttle was full. We got quite a few comments asking what we were going to do after the 25 miles, because really, there’s no way we’d just be riding 25 miles on a beautiful Saturday.

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But we were. And it was glorious. While a group took off at a spirited pace, we hung back. Seven miles in, we rolled up to the TORCA aid-station where the mini-pizzas were just coming out of the toaster oven. And they had pickles!

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Just five miles later, we rolled up to the Gabe Zimmerman Trailhead where Matt and Serena had brought leftovers from a Beyond Tucson event over as an impromptu aid station. Pumpkin empanadas: Who knew they were like Little Debbie Pies, except a million times better. I had a bite of Scott’s apple empanada, but quickly swapped back. I have a problem with pumpkin.

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8 miles of smooth AZT later, we debated on skipping our ice cream stop at the Colossal  Caves Ranch. It’s a traditional stop on that section of trail, one that I’ve never missed, even if I wasn’t eating ice cream. “I really don’t need ice cream,” I said at the top of the descent.

Scott looked at me funny. “Yeah, I guess those empanadas did hit the spot.” He paused. “Want to split an ice cream? We’ve got to make this into a real foodie tour.”

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We descended down to the Ranch, scoring the last chocolate mint ice cream bar, eating it in the sun while petting Hagan the Cat, the other fixture of the ranch. It took a bit of effort to get moving again, to get back up to the trail and over the stinger climbs that followed. After clearing all the rocks on the Scott-designed section of trail after the campground, it was smooth cruising down to the cars where 1554 and hot dogs were waiting. The beer was better than the hot dogs.

I’d really missed the foodie aspect of bike riding. While I realize that it’s probably not great for me to eat empanadas and ice cream on a daily basis, or even a regular basis, it sure felt good to say that every once in a while, eating something really delicious probably wasn’t going to kill me.

We met Alexis and Caroline the next day to do a big loop on the western Tortolitas, including the still-being-constructed Ridgeline Trail. It was a loop that Scott and Lee had done backwards a few weeks ago and Scott had described the final miles of trail as ‘pretty technical.’

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We rolled easily up, and down, and around, turning west and stopping at the windmill where we had a decision to make. We could either continue on some ‘beautiful, Mark Flint-build single track’, or we could hoof it up the side of a mountain to connect to a trail that was in the process of being built. The hillside looked steep, rocky, and massively overgrown by all the prickly bushes that inhabit our green desert. We could see buckets and tools at the end of the trail high up on the hill. We opted for adventure.

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It took about 2 minutes of riding to understand exactly how worth it the 20 minute bushwhack was. Beautiful, beautiful trail. Well constructed, amazing views of Tucson and the Tucson Mountains, and for the most part, not a rock in sight.

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Then we crossed the wash at the bottom and started back up on the other side, learning what Scott’s definition of ‘pretty technical’ was. Differences in peoples’ perspectives are always funny to me. I was happy to have my big fork on more than one occasion, and I was even happier to have my hike-a-bike shoes on for others.

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We finished the day with classic Mexican food at Nico’s.

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Sun-toasted, tired, we made it home worked, but not exhausted after two full days in the sun. It reminded me of the reasons I got into the sport in the first place: Ride bikes with friends, eat good food, see cool new places. Don’t need a lot more than that to live the good life.


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Summer scheming, winter routines

LW sent me this the other day:

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It made me laugh. Mostly because it’s (mostly) true.

I’m someone who settled into routine very easily. Adaptable. I think people would call it adaptable. But I’m also a person who gets bored of that routine extremely quickly. In most cases. I could eat two eggs with veggies for breakfast every day for the rest of my life and never get bored of it (as long as they were different veggies every morning).

Routines have served me well in the past. Routines are great if you’re training to be a racer. Routines are great if you need to make money. Routines are great when you need to get stuff done. But as of a week ago, I took my hat out of the racer ring, at least for now. And really, that was the real reason I was trying to settle into any sort of routine because making money and being responsible have always seemed secondary to living life how I wanted to.

Scott and I started planning the summer high atop of Ripsey during bikepacking. Scott had suggested riding the Continental Divide Trail sometime last fall, but I’d shrugged it off as a) I’m too sick and b) If I’m not too sick to ride the CDT, then I’m going to want to race. I brought the idea up over a slice of cake. A fine combination of new trails for both of us, fine eating (Pie Town!), map-figuring, route planning, dirt-baggery of living off bikes for an extended period of time (also a new challenge), more eating (Rise and Shine cafe in Winter Park, the lodge in Platoro), some of our favorite sections of trail in CO (Sargent’s Mesa!), and a huge element of the unknown (lots of hike-a-bike).

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We immediately started scheming. We’d need some sort of internet connectivity so that Scott could work occasionally and that I could have the possibility of making a few dollars along the route. We’d need a route that passed through all of our favorite places so that we could see friends throughout the country, that stuck as close to the ‘official’ trail as possible without leaving us walking with bikes for days on end or encroaching on Wilderness areas, we’d need to figure out when to start, what sort of shelter to take, do we need a new stove?

My immediate reaction to this has been: Let’s go now. I want to go now. May is waaaay too far off. Think Veruca Salt from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I’ve been trying to quell this urge to hit the road immediately. Rationally, it’s easy. There’s tons of good riding around here. There’s a ton of snow and cold up north. There’s currently a fridge full of food in the next room that would go bad if I left tomorrow morning. But man, my feet are itchin’.

So the riding I’ve been doing to try to alleviate the urge to pack up sleepingbags and hit the road in a semi-irresponsible manner:

Starr Pass with J-Bake and Scott. Scott put a hole in his tire at the bead. Stans wasn’t cutting it. Neither of us had a tube. Luckily, J-Bake had a 26-inch one that saved the day.

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More Starr Pass with Alexis. We rode the main loop backwards with the new wash reroute. Totally blew my mind. I love how trails seem completely new ridden in the opposite direction.

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Rain tomorrow? Let’s do a big ride on the AZT. Reddington, Chiva, AZT, Milligrosa. Divine.

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What? No rain? What a surprise. I should probably go make sure that the Starr Pass trails are still okay. They were.

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Whew. I’m tired. But it’s 70 degrees out, so the least I can do is go ride to dirt and take pictures of a cactus. Yeah, that seems like a perfectly valid use of an afternoon.

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I’m working hard to be okay with staying stationary in Tucson for the winter. I feel like I haven’t really been in a single place without extended travel for solid 18 + months, so this is sort of new to me. I’d love to say that I like having all my clothes in drawers (i.e. organized), but really, they end up in a pile on the floor in the same manner that they end up in a pile in my duffle bag when I’m traveling. Home is where the heart is, and right now the heart is in Tucson, but there’s definitely a little part of it longing for the open road.

Soon. I hear Terlingua is beautiful this time of year.


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Grace in the Gila

I had texted Scott from the Freeman water cache: Sleeping pad fail. Headed home. Miss you. When the progress bar was at nearly complete, my phone shut off and for the life of me, I couldn’t get it to turn back on. This happens occasionally as it’s a phone made many many years ago. How I haven’t broken it yet is beyond me…but I assumed that the text hadn’t gone through as I headed back towards the car, sans music, which was really the real reason I was turning the phone on in the first place. After my endless bouts of 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall during the Divide without music, I’ve developed a low tolerance for riding dirt roads without audio stimulation.

When I got back to the car I got a text back: I could bring your other pad out to you and join you for more bikepacking. But I was done. My stomach had turned from my lack of sleep (or possibly the second Mountain House meal I’d eaten at 3 am) and I was nothing short of exhausted, so I drove home. Scott had planned on trying to track me down in the Gila before getting my text and most of his gear littered our living room floor.

“We could go back out tomorrow,” he proposed.

“We could.” I went to go take a nap, having no intention of actually going.

When morning dawned warm and beautiful, as it tends to do around here, I couldn’t resist. “Let’s go bike packing.”

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It didn’t take much to get ready. Swap out my useless sleeping pad for my more robust one, refill baggies with dried canteloupe and papaya, hand the fuel and stove over to Scott to carry in exchange for carrying breakfast, and I was set. With a quick stop to pick up water to stock the cache, as I’ve now taken two gallons from it between the prior day at the AZTR, and a stop to get burritos (never start a bikepack hungry), we were soon back out at Freeman, ready to ride.

The Boulders and Ripsey are possibly two of my favorite sections of trail on the AZT and I was a little disappointed when  I’d bailed on my ride right before hitting the good stuff. But now we were back with fresh legs, less weight for me, and the whole day to get to wherever we’d get to.

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Yes. It’s a bush in a fence. Why? I don’t know.

A tailwind ushered us along effortlessly. Sections that seemed to take eternities during the race passed quickly and we soon had Ripsey in our sights. My master plan was camp on the ridge, both for the view and sentimental reasons. It may be my single favorite place in AZ so far.

But it was still early when we got there. And windy. And as much of a sap as I can be sometimes, I preferred sleeping in warm spots rather than ones with gigantic views and excellent memories associated with them. Most of the time. And nights are long enough in the winter, the last thing we really needed to do was to tack on another two hours of daylights to an already long camp.

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So we continued on, filling up on water at the new water cache and avoiding the trip to the ADOT yard for the spigot in Kelvin. Then up the climb that nearly killed me during the race. While effortless might be a strong word to describe it, I wondered how I had struggled so. We made camp at the Golden Spike of the AZT, a beautiful overlook with the 7 lights of Kelvin to one side and the long stretch of valley with the Gila river on the other. Ideally situation for watching the last rays of the sun, and catching the first ones in the morning. It was also ideally situation to catch what was left of the wind that had blown all day, but I guess you can’t have everything.

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We ate dinner. Drank tea. Made plans for the summer. Where-oh-where in this big wide world should we go?

And slept. Semi-soundly. Listening to the wind make its way down the canyon hoping that it would continue to blow at our backs for the morning and then die for our return to the car.

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Breakfast. Pack. Ride. Three ingredients to the good life. Knee warmers came off 20 minutes in, even though I’d insisted on starting the ride with my down jacket on. I’ve been cold enough in my life that I don’t do cold any more. We rolled, effortlessly again, aided by the wind, down the river. Enjoying the morning. Enjoying the green in the desert. Enjoying each other’s company.

This trail was so hard during the race. I pointed out to Scott where I’d completely cracked and sat down in the shade of a leafless tree and threw a fit.

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A quick skip across the river and we were back climbing on dirt roads, anticipating the onslaught of a headwind as soon as we reached a reasonable elevation. But the wind never came. It went so far as to blow at our backs, just slightly, just enough to make it seem almost uncomfortably hot.

We collapsed at a gate crossing. Collapsed may be a strong word, but energy levels were dwindling and we were still 10+ miles from the car. I need to get in shape for this summer! How can four days of bikepacking wreck me like this? We laid in the sun, helmets over faces, half enjoying the warmth, half actually needing the break.

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“If we go back through Dudlyville, we can get dinner at La Casita,” Scott proposed from the shade of his helmet.

“Mmmm…La Casita. We should go.”

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And with that renewed motivation, we got up and finished the final 10 miles backwards on the Boulders with some semblance of grace.

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We finished with no water for the final 10 minutes and two bars and a small bag of cashews between the two of us. Tired. Hungry. Ready for Mexican food. It couldn’t have been a more perfect ending to the start of a new year.