Zen On Dirt

Playing on bikes

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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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