Zen On Dirt


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A week away

After Old Pueblo, I’d decided that my shin splints had healed up enough to start running again. I didn’t actually feel like running all that much, I was pretty stoked on riding bikes at the time, but I knew that I’d put some good work into building up some running adaptation and I really didn’t want to lose it because I definitely have some running plans for the summer.

So for a few weeks, I got my running shoes on and my butt out the door two or three times a week for little three to five mile runs. After the first two runs, I could run without getting sore. After a couple more after that, it became fun again.

Then I got the call from my parents. Could you come watch the dog in Boulder for a week?

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My dad was headed to Germany. My mom was headed to DC. My Boulder-based brother was headed to California and Huck, well, Huck is a bit of an ornery 12 year old hound dog with a fear of men, a habit of biting people in the calf, chasing bikes and runners, and trying to kill any golden retriever he comes across. He’s a sweetheart. Seriously.

But, putting him in a kennel would have sucked for everyone.

I think when I offered to fly up and work in Boulder for a week, my mom finally saw the value of the fully mobile job.

I flew with a carry-on and my computer. No bike. No half-dozen pairs of bike shorts and jerseys. No clothes to cover any weather situation. I did pack a pair of pedals and shoes and helmet, you know, just in case, but I was able to go up there with no actual intention of riding bikes for a whole week.

I remembered back in the training days when a week off the bike would have seemed torturous. It would have ruined all of my race training plans. I would have lost all of my fitness.  I would have paid the fee to fly the bike, or just driven, just to have two wheels to spend my days on. But no, a pair of running shoes. Some shorts. A shirt.

Five days in Boulder was actually pretty okay. Especially when I was ready to embrace my alter-ego as a trail runner. Variety is pretty awesome.

The flight from Tucson to Denver is as scenic as it gets. Our house is in the upper left neighborhood. Tumamoc, my ‘let’s get a ass-kicking in 40 minutes’ run is the switchbacks up the hill in the upper middle, our Pima trails are to the left of the baseball diamond and track, then underneath and across the road, the Greasewood trails, to the bottom center, the closed off road/bikepath through the neighborhood, and the bottom right, the Behind the School trails that take us over to Starr Pass Blvd.

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And then you fly over Reddington Pass, the AZT, and on into Colorado over the Collegiate Peaks, Salida and Beauna Vista, a flyby of Pikes Peak, and then the suburban sprawl that is the Front Range of Colorado. No work was done on the flight. Nose prints were left on the window.

My second day in Boulder started with some clouds and proceeded like this. The bad weather definitely increased the chances of a solid rest week. I should be grateful. Plus, any moisture that keeps Colorado from burning down this summer is welcome in my book. Huck and I timed our walks between the squalls. I spent the rest of the time looking out the window and shaking my head.

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The Southern Sun was visited. I rode my dad’s townie across town, seeing which restaurants had changed, what things had stayed the same. Double chocolate stout on nitro was consumed. As well as nachos. The ride home, as like most rides home from the Southern Sun, was not done entirely sober. The more things change…

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Once the weather cleared, I actually got motivated enough to do some running.

A run up Sanitas left me in a conga line of people to reach the peak. I’ve never been one to complain about busy trails…but even I got frustrated with the non-stop line of humanity. Do you people not have jobs? My personal trail system by the name of Starr Pass/Tucson Mountain Park has left me spoiled, big time.

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The next day, I thought things through and went to a lesser known trail recommended by Kurt from his running days. Given that it was a beautiful Saturday, I figured Sanitas would be an even bigger zoo than it was on Friday afternoon. The Hogsback was a total win. A handful of people. A perfect 6 mile lollipop from my parents house. Some quality uphill to remember that I no longer lived at altitude. And a sprint back to the house to make sure I didn’t miss my flight home.

Home. Home to my love(s). To my spinach plants. To Alexis and I’s pit flower from Old Pueblo. To my bicycles.

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And Scott. Home is where Scott is.

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Home is where the heart is, and right now it’s pretty stoked to be in Tucson.

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When no plan is the best plan

Earlier this winter, I found myself looking for some sense of stability in my life. Burnt out on riding, touring, and racing, I saw no point to our somewhat nomadic, gypsy lifestyle. I wanted to build planter boxes that I could grow spinach in instead of my little pots. I wanted a stable home so that I could talk Scott into letting me get a dog. I even started looking into potentially more “grown up” jobs. That last idea got squashed pretty quick when I realized that normal jobs expect you to keep normal hours and to work on a regular and consistent basis.

I found it interesting that the freedom to do what I wanted and to not make plans further than what was for my next meal no longer held a high importance to me and I had these weird urges to nest and make a “home”.

Luckily (?), this phase passed and this past weekend in Sedona highlighted the beauty of flexibility and not having a plan.

Becky had sent a message asking if I wanted to come to Sedona during her Spring Break and ride bikes and race the Arizona Endurance Series Sedona Big Friggin’ Loop. She didn’t have to twist my arm very hard.

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I went up with no plan other than to ride bikes. Camp. Hopefully eat some good food. And then go on a long, fitness-test ride on Saturday under the pretense of racing. Sometimes no plans are the best plan.

By the time I drove through the rain in Phoenix, found Becky at the Bike and Bean, and drank a cup of coffee, a light rain had started to fall the valley of red rocks. It’ll pass, we declared as we pedaled up Slim Shady. We made it all of a mile and a half before seeking shelter under a tree, the Rain Tree as it would be known for the rest of the weekend, to check the radar. Things were not looking good so we retreated to the shop.

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I have to say, Bike and Bean is one of the coolest shops out there, and we spent not very long being completely entertained by people who worked there, used to work there, and semi-worked there, until Bama unexpectedly showed up, his buddy Andy in tow, as well as whiskey and pizza. Rain didn’t have to be a downer when there was whiskey and pizza involved.

The sun eventually came out and our crew of five, with the addition of a Sedona local with mad skills, rallied for a Highline run. The trails were tacky. Highline, pretty stinking amazing.

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We made it back with just enough time to load bikes, head out to Beaverhead Flats, and find a nice little campsite where setting up Scott’s “self explanatory” tent proved to be less than self explanatory. I guess it’s sort of like when he says something is mostly rideable…you have to ask *who* it’s mostly ridable for.

Bama and Andy (and Larry the dog) came and joined us and we talked bikes until all the moisture from the passed storm condensed on us as the temperature dropped, creating a seriously dewey situation and sent us to bed.

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Day two brought a ‘Lunch in Sedona via the long way’ ride. Park at the Bike and Bean. Ride trails north. Eat roasted sweet potato and mozzarella sandwiches in Uptown Sedona. Ride trails back. Try not to turn it into too long of a ride.

We found Bama on the porch of the Bike and Bean on our return many (too many?) hours later. We joined him, and along with Nick and Tracy, wasted away an afternoon watching the world go by. I used to be a master porch monkey. The skills came back pretty quick. There was never a shortage of people to talk to or things to watch.

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Nick and Tracy decided to come out and camp with us as the sun was sinking, and we went to bed at a reasonable hours in anticipation of an early-ish race morning.

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Seventy some-odd people gathered in the parking lot of the Bike and Bean. I saw most of those people never again once we rolled out, but I did get to spend some quality time riding with Kurt and Kaitlyn and El Freako No Longer From Rico for a while, then Hunter and Lenny, then Jerome. When a semi-pro, semi-slick, 10-year old WTB Exiwolf that had been pulled out of retirement decided to threaten to have a hernia instead of just refusing to hold air, it was time to stop and put a tube in. The added tube seemed to add just enough structural integrity to let me limp the final nine miles of trail back, with each descent bringing a ‘She’s gonna blow!’ She didn’t. How? I’m not sure. (The lesson which I’m sure I won’t learn here: Don’t try to race 50 miles on bald and blown out tires). 

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Pizza and beer awaited at the end, like any good AES event.

I sat there, eating my fifth slice of pizza and sipping my beer, reflecting on the three days. I’d thrown a duffle bag of bike clothes together Wednesday night not even sure if I was going to drive up Thursday because of the rain. We’d had no ride plans. We had no hanging out with friends plans. We had no camping location plans. We had no ‘find an awesome shop and make it our second home’ plan. But it all fell into our lap beautifully, in a way that it never would had we had any semblance of a plan or goals.

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When stuff like that works out, it’s a good affirmation that I’m doing something right.


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Camp Tucson – The backyard training camp

The idea of Camp Tucson was a thinly disguised pickup line used by Scott several years ago as a way to poke and prod into my current life situation and lure me down to the desert if possible. I’m not really sure how well, ‘Come get your ass kicked three days in a row on some of the rowdiest, remotest, and most fun Tucson trails and then stuff your face with good food’ would have worked on most girls, but it sure worked on me. Ironically, the first year of Camp Tucson I was busy recovering from the Iditarod Invitational so I had to skip the festivities (I did indulge in the eating), but it did inspire and lead to the idea of racing the AZT 300 that year, one of those extremely poor life decisions that I don’t regret one bit.

The third edition of Camp brought back all of the classic rides and the anti-bonk breakfast at Bobo’s but had the addition of  two different dinner spots.

Third edition also brought the newly minted tradition of the Camp Tucson Prologue when Alexis and Denny showed up from muddy Logan, UT, on Wednesday, ready to start enjoying the food-rich Tucson early and ride on Thursday. Sweetwater it was. New trails. Old trails. New dinosaur friends.

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Good fun.

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12 intrepid souls showed up for Day 1. Reddington, AZT, Milligrosa. Climbing. Fun trail. Chunk descending into the sunset. Several people have showed up to Camp in years past declaring intentions of riding the AZT 300 and then changed their minds after Day 1. It’s a doozy.

Scott actually took me on this ride as Date Ride #2 back in the day. I have to say it was a brave and bold move on his part.

As predicted, the boys took off.

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As can now be predicted, after a while I took off after them. Every time I saw them coasting a flat section along the Italian Trap rollers, I doubled my efforts. I watched the gap drop, taking rough time splits at the crest of every hill, knowing that I just had to be close enough to close the gap when they got to the gates in Italian Trap before they got them opened and closed again.

The legs asked, ‘Ez, I thought we’d retired from suffering.’

Ez said, ‘This isn’t suffering. This is fun.’

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The plus side to catching them as the gate was closing, I had people to ride with/chase the rest of the ride. The downside, I’d completely blown my game plan of taking it easy on Day 1 so that I could feel good for the rest of the weekend. Totally worth it. Scott’s bike exploded at the top of Millie, so I even had someone to ride/hike the chunk with and pedal the glorious tailwind-aided pavement miles back to the Circle K.

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Dinner was consumed at Time Market. Dessert at B-Line. Tucson is a foodies paradise.

Day 2 brought the game plan of ‘I’m going to try to ride the whole loop, but if home starts to look more appealing than riding at any time, I have no shame about turning home and eating watermelon.’ The TMP big loop starts with some semi-chunk on Robles, some ‘challenging’ riding on Cat Mountain, a nice once-a-year hike-a-bike over Golden Gate, west side cruising, Saguaro National Park Dirt roads, a little bit of Sweetwater, and a finish up the Stonehouse trail back to the Genser Trailhead in Tucson Mountain Park.

I rode at a reasonable pace through the top of Cat Mountain, watching the boys blast off. To have that power…and the poor decision making skills to ride that hard at the start of that long of a ride.

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Eventually, my self restraint ran out. It was time to ride. Down Cat Mountain. Through the dips. Over the Golden Gate chunk. the 30mph winds kicked in, making the west side a hoot. When I rode the two stairs down into the wash and the three steps out of it right before turning onto Cougar Trail, I knew the day was going to be a good one. Aside from the chapped lips. The wind was doing a number on me.

If only I had the power to catch Scott…he always carries chapstick.

Rolling up to the visitors center, I was surprised to see bikes. And jerseys I recognized. The sweat stains on Scott, Kurt, and Aaron’s jerseys showed the fierce battled that they’d engaged in during the past four hours. None of them seemed to have the motivation to move. Given Scott and Kurt’s history of blowing each other to pieces, I found it funny. Aaron just happened to be the unlucky one to train up with them.

But chapstick. Sweet chapstick.

I left first, determined to be a good rabbit. It took Kurt a while to catch me. Then came Elliot.

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Kurt is officially one of the worst people to draft off of. Width. There needs to be width. 

We paused on the gas line to let a quickly closing Scott, Aaron, and John catch up before taking a new wash route out of the gas line and to Sweetwater. I dare say it was a civilized pace the rest of the way. Up the Stone House. Down to Genser. First TMP Big Loop completion ever for me. Yay!

I went to bed after a Seis burrito feeling like I’d been hit by a truck.

When a Bobo’s anti-bonk breakfast couldn’t cure the big-ride hangover the next morning, I knew it was time to throw in the towel. 84 miles of battling the wind in the Santa Ritas didn’t sound like a good time. Luckily, Scott was on the same boat. As was Alexis. And Elliot.

Fun group ride time!

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Laugh.

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Then ride.

During moments of feeling okay, I’d think, ‘I should have done the loop.’ Then the road or trail would turn up and I’d say, ‘Nope.’

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Mid-ride geology lesson

Later that afternoon, after eating cheesy tots and burgers and Lindy’s on 4th, we watched the sunset while eating watermelon. ‘You know what makes me really happy?’ I asked Scott and Alexis.

‘Not being on your bike right now?’ Scott replied without even thinking.

‘Yes.’

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Two days of wicked hard and fun riding. One day of really fun and somewhat easy riding. Lots of good food. Lots of good conversations with people. A strong reminder that sometimes suffering is fun. That riding fast is fun. And that long rides are the best rides. And that long, fast rides are even better. And that when inspiration hits, go with it.


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Desert in the Springtime

Scott and I went out on a little 3-ish day bikepack in the Gila Canyons this past week. March is Gila Canyons season and this trip, minus the heinous wind that sent us scurrying for the car on the third day, measured up to all of the great Gila Canyons trips of the past.

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You see, March is flower season at 1,300 feet next to a river. The poppies were in full bloom.

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As were the purples. Dotting the side of the trail every which way you looked.

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Flowers are great and all, but saguaros are my favorite plant in souther AZ. Prickly pears I can take or leave. Cholla I could do without. Catclaw can take a hike. But the mighty saguaros…it’s love. I especially like the ones with fancy headdresses.

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If I were this saguaro hanging out in the Gila Canyons, I’d be giving life two thumbs up, too.

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Sometimes rocks get jealous and like to pretend that they’re saguaros too.

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A golf course in the desert. Good for one month per year. Great views are an added bonus.

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Temperatures warm enough for light sleeping bags also mean temperatures warm enough for snakes. This bull snake was a beauty.

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Some saguaros want to give you a high-five. Or maybe catch a baseball.

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Others like to pretend that they staked a man and put his skull up for a warning.

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This tree got confused on which direction was up.

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Baby saguaro! Field of poppies! These are some of my favorite things.

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Saguaro. Ocotillo. Boy. Cholla. Desert sunset.

It’s a pretty special place to be.