Zen On Dirt


Scared of heights

So, I have this fear of heights and exposure.

I used to be okay with them. I used to rock climb when I was younger. I was a fairly adept ski mountaineer-type for a couple of years. I walked ridges with ice axes. I climbed up what seemed like near vertical walls of snow. I was perfectly okay with making turns over no-fall zones.

Then I had some close calls. People I was skiing with had some close calls. All of a sudden, I wanted nothing to do with steep slopes, ridge lines, and places where I couldn’t make a mistake. And I didn’t like avalanches, so I stopped skiing.

I knocked on the door of Team Vertigo and they happily gave me a membership card. Riding has been a great way to stay away from exposure for the most part. But, wanting to face the fear, and get it under control, has been on my to-do list for a little while now.


Last week, when I looked at the route description of Picket Post mountain, I immediately declared it as something I didn’t want to do myself. Scott wanted to race the Picket Post Punisher on Saturday, and, well, I didn’t want to spend the weekend at home alone (Shhhh, I have FOMO, plus we wanted to see our PHX friends) so I started searching the Internet for runs/hikes to do in the area. The obvious one was the hulking mass of Picket Post, an old volcano that marks the end of the AZT 300.

The descriptions said something along the lines of scrambling, route finding, rocks. Yikes. 

“How about we both climb it on Friday, then I’ll race on Saturday,” Scott proposed.


All the descriptions we read said 4-5 hours and we wondered how a 4 mile hike could take that long. It became obvious as we crested the hill on the highway and got our first ‘we’re going up there’ look at the mountain. It’s funny how you can go by a mound of dirt and rock dozens of times and never really get a grasp of how big and steep it is until you decide you want to go up it.


With five hours until dark, we packed headlamps and jogged up the trail. The first mile went easily, and then the trail went up. We were immediately faced with a slab of rock that looked to be a show-stopper in my eyes. Scott found a way around the side.


We continued up. And exposed rock traverse had me saying that I was going to turn around. After having Scott go ahead and confirm that the trail looked better up ahead, I found a way to scoot around it.

Not long after, I declared DONE again at the base of a rock and after a fair amount of coaxing and ‘We can go back if you want’ I figured out a way up.


This went on for seven or eight different scrambly parts. Have I mentioned I’m not so good with rocks and airy traverses?

I just about peed my pants several times, but eventually, rock turned to dirt and trail took us easily up to the mailbox at the top of the mountain. We read through the peak register, a 75 year old had been up the day previous. So much for feeling brave…


We started down after a brief stop for a snack. It had taken nearly two hours to get up with all of my sitting on rocks and saying I wasn’t going to go any farther. I was terrified of the descent. There were at least six places I could think of that I wanted nothing to do with.


The first went easily, scooting down sticky rock on all fours. Steps that seemed like a giant reach on the way up seemed relatively easy to lower down the other direction. The airy traverses, though only a few steps, sucked just as much going down as up.


When we got down the last rock face that I’d initially balked at, I looked up at it and said, ‘I was scared of that?’


Look, I’m a saguaro with really flexible achilles tendons

We jogged back to the car in the fading light to find John Schilling waiting for us, with a beer for me. We sat and talked, watching the sun set over the Arizona desert, marveling at the light show.


So I’ve got some Shoot for the Moon wish-list items for the summer that’ll require me to get over this fear of exposure. I’d say this little outing was a solid first step, but hell, if anyone out there has some good ideas on how to speed the process up, I’m all ears.


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Placing meaning

I did a fair bit of riding last week.

This was for two reasons, 1) I got a new Salsa Spearfish and it’s pretty sinful to have a new bike sitting on the corner without riding it, and 2) I did stupid with running earlier in the week and was nursing hurty feet, so running was out of the question for a little bit (Hey, I’m a slow learner when it comes to moderation, leave me alone).


Unfortunately, there’s no easy riding around here. What I wouldn’t give for some smooth, flowy, swoopy, low-stress trail…but I live in Tucson, and no, I’m not going to drive to Fantasy Island.

I found myself bobbling all sorts of rocks that I could ride last spring when we left. I found myself avoiding certain loops because I knew there was THE move, that I knew I could ride in the past, but didn’t really have a whole lot of confidence in now, even with a new bike.

I often ended my rides feeling a little like this.


When we came to Tucson last fall, I was gung-ho about trying to ride everything. I’d go back and try a move over and over and over until I got it, and I’d say that I got to the point of advanced-beginner, at least compared to how the rest of Tucson rides, or at least the rest of Scott’s friends who live in Tucson who I’d ridden with.

But now, I’d look at a move, fumble it, and say, ‘Meh’, and move on with life and try to not let it get to me. It was a little bruising on the ego.


It got me thinking about placing value on things. Things in this world are only important because we, as individuals, place value on them. Expensive jewelry, clothing, or wine, means nothing to me (But 2-buck Chuck from Trader Joe’s…now there’s a great value wine! Just kidding, sort of.), while the vast majority of the population would beg to disagree. Being able to get on dirt within a quarter mile of my house makes all the difference in the world to me, while someone in the middle of New York City probably doesn’t give a damn. Some people put value on their toys and stable homes, I put value on being able to move all of my belonging into a shed within 3 hours and be free to travel.


Some people place value on being able to ride tech well. Some people just want to be able to pedal all day. Others just want to survive a 15 mile ride. I personally just want to be able to survive a 15 mile run right now.

Values shift. We all know that. And it’s a theme that’s coming up over and over in my life as of late. And it’s hard. How do we take something that we placed as a top priority for the past 10 years and say, ‘I still love you, and I still value you, but you’re going to have to sit in the corner temporarily because I have other things to do.’


And then there’s the subsequent issue: What do I want to place value on now?

When there’s a whole world of possibilities to choose from…and in all honesty, more things I want to do and places I want to see than I know I can fit into a lifetime, how do you choose?


But here’s the cool part. My guess is that whatever my next obsession ends up being, it’ll probably involve riding bikes, being in the mountains, and spending time with amazing people. And how can you go wrong with that?

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This running business

We’ve been running more than riding for nearly a month now. We are still, knock on wood, injury free.

Statistics to date:

Crashes/bloody knees – 2

Runs that left me obscenely sore – 1

Number of mountains climbed – 1

Number of runs that have me wishing for my bike for the first 5 minutes – All (seriously, does the first 5 minutes ever get any better?)


The last time I ran with any regularity was back circa 2008 when I decided to race cross for a season. I got to the point where I could run for an hour at a time and not hate life. Since then, it’s been pretty regular – Hey, it’s off season, I’m going to run – for two weeks, and then I’m back on the bike because running hurts.

But right now, I’m a little burnt on big bike rides. There. I said it. I’ve been loving going on little hour spins around the neighborhood, but the desire to go ride for hours and hours and hours on end hasn’t really been there. Nor has the desire to push my bike or deal with any bike related BS, including but not limited to: Flat tires, brakes the need to be bled, shifting that has stopped shifting, and squeaky chains.


Big surprise, I know. I feel a little guilty about it, though. And then Scott reminds me that I don’t have to ride my bike 365 days a year. In fact, if I don’t want to ride a bike for an extended period of time, that’s okay too!


There were a lot of times this summer that I wished I didn’t have a bike with me, namely across the entire Montana/Idaho border section of the CDT. I was walking more than riding, and we were cover the same distances as the hikers. Demoralizing. And then there were the areas closed to bikes…namely the Winds and Glacier National Park. The trails looked absolutely spectacular from the pictures we saw on the Facebooks, and as we rode by (or thru for Glacier), we pointed and said, we want to go there.

So I think that’s really where this mini running obsession has come from. A means to go see all those spots that we couldn’t go see on our bikes. As a way to go see all the places around Tucson that we can’t go see on our bikes.


We’ve been ramping up our milages and elevation gains to the point that we consider ourselves advanced beginners on foot. We were able to run Wasson Peak, a nearby Wilderness area mountain, that entailed 2,000 feet of up and down.We weren’t sore the next morning, which was cause for major celebration.


It was a bit of a breakthrough. Mountains were fair game. And mountains were what we starting this silly little venture for.


And riding bikes has been great to break up the week, because I definitely don’t have the muscles to run 6 days a week and I don’t function well without exercise of some type. And riding bikes is fun. But so is running.