Zen On Dirt

Traveling Eyes

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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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


One thought on “Traveling Eyes

  1. My internal altimeter gets stuck when I ride a trail the same way over and over. Hermosa Creek N to S is descending until you ride it S to N. Then it just becomes confusing

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