Zen On Dirt


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Bikes on the CDT – Summer 2015

For a long time after last summer, I was firmly under the impression that anyone who wanted to undertake the Continental Divide Trail on wheels was mistaken. It was so freakin’ hard.

But lo and behold, there are not one, not two, but three people riding their bikes on the CDT this summer, two of them attempting a full thru-ride.

Firstly, Iohan Gueuorguiev got one of the Blackburn Ranger sponsorship spots and mid 7-year round the world expedition, is trying the route north to south. Based on quick internet  and bikepacking.net searching, he’s got a fairly high tolerance for BS and is planning on riding the Canadian section as well. He’d done a lot of the GDMBR and wanted to step it up a level.

Secondly, Dylan from Alaska, is headed out this afternoon. He flew into Tucson a few days ago, and we dropped him on a Greyhound bus early this morning headed to Lordsburg. As one of the original members of the stumblefutzing expeditions on Alaska’s Lost Coast, one would think that the BS that the CDT doles out would be nothing for him.

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We insisted that he come out and do a final Starr Pass ride with us, putting him on Scott’s Leviathan. He said it was the longest time he’d ever ridden a dually, and halfway through the ride when it clicked for him  that they can be point-and-shoot machines, he claimed that while entirely useless in Alaska, he might have to get one.

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And lastly, Steve Spanogle from down south is doing part of what I’d consider a dream trip. He has twelve days of support and is riding a bike on all the fun sections of the the CDT from Silver City north and hiking all of the Wilderness and sections that you really don’t want a bike for. I’d love to do something similar on the Colorado Trail someday…He’s going to be out for 12 days and I think is about half way done with his trip right now.

We got a good bit of beta from Steve about the “trail” south of Lordsburg before our trip last year, a lot of which gave us the confidence to actually attempt the sections. So that’s really cool that he’s getting out there on wheels himself.

It’s a small step in a positive direction for getting people excited to ride the trail. Hopefully we’ll get updates from the thru-riders throughout the summer.


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The final weeks

The end always sneaks up faster than I think it will. Back in October, November, December, even January and February, it seemed like winter in Tucson would never end. I could always put off the motivation to drive up and ride Ridgeline because I had plenty of time. There would be endless Starr Pass rides. No need to get Seis burritos now, they’ll always be there. Ok, that last parts a lie. Whenever there’s even the slightest reason to go get Seis burritos, we go get Seis burritos. 

But now I’m sitting here with only three days left till our lease is up and anything that doesn’t fit into our cars goes into storage for six months and we point north, and I ask myself, where did the time go?

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I guess it’s a common life question, one that receives serious thought due to picking up and doing something completely different every six months. Each half-year becomes a very finite time period, instead of month rolling into month, year into year, I’m forced to stop and think, what did I do with my last six months? Was it worthwhile? Was it fun? What will I remember about winter of 2014-15?

Lots. I’ll remember lots.

Heck, just the last nine days, I’ll remember lots.

I’ll remember shrieking like a small child when trying to pass a rattle snake that Scott had already pissed off. There’s a primal fear associated with the sound of their rattle, one that can’t be reasoned out of knowing that I had plenty wide of a berth that it couldn’t get me, and that it was cold out and it couldn’t move fast even if it tried. Snakes, I will not miss this summer.

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We spent a lovely Sunday morning riding a lap of Cyclovia, the semi-annual celebration of human powered transportation. Several miles of city streets are shut down and taken over by bikes, walkers, adults, kids, vendors, music, and people looking to have a good time. The sheer number of cyclists who come out, all shapes, sizes, and ages, always makes me smile. Usually we get some ice cream, but this time we were aiming to pick up a Seis breakfast burrito on our way home. Life rule: When given the chance to get a Seis breakfast burrito, get a breakfast burrito.

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Drum bike!

Shannon’s birthday ride came just two days later. We’ve started a girls single speed ride on Tuesdays out at Starr Pass. Most weeks, we ride as long as possible to end up being those customers who show up at Seis five minutes before closing asking for burritos. This time, Shannon got off of work early, giving us plenty of time to toodle around on bikes and make it to Seis with daylight to spare.

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The desert is so damn green right now. I’m going to miss it. I’m also going to miss our girls’ ride. Though I’m really looking forward to riding trails that aren’t filled with rubble. And climbing big hills. We don’t have big hills on this side of town and I sort of miss them. I’m going to miss Rufus, our semi-tame stray cat who comes by most every morning and sometimes at night.

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On Wednesday, fully aware that I should probably be a good bike racer and rest up for Whiskey 50 weekend, I hijacked Scott and Chad’s techy taco ride and hauled them up to Ridgeline instead. It really would be my last viable chance to ride Ridgeline this season, and I would have felt really bad if I’d skipped the freshly completed trail entirely. Rest be damned, I can rest when I’m dead.

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We made good time up and around. I nearly ran into two javelinas getting it on, which was actually a little unnerving because they are mean little piggies, and I figured that they probably weren’t too stoked with the interruption. Luckily, they ran off snorting in different directions.

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We made it back with only 20 minutes of riding by headlight, not bad for a post-real work day ride. Having hijacked the ride and pushed my agenda on it, I felt it was only fair to relent to a trip to In-and-Out burger. If someone could enlighten me on what’s so great about In-and-Out, I’m all ears, but I’ll admit, it did the trick. Hungry belly no more.

And then we went up to Preskitt so that I could race the Whiskey 50 on my single speed, one of those ideas that seemed like a good one when I was stoked on racing after 24 Hours of the Old Pueblo. Every time I race, I debate whether there’s a better way I could be spending my weekend, and the ‘resting’ time leading up to it, and the ‘recovery’ time after it. I’ve come to the conclusion that racing is simply a good time, and as long as the rest/recovery sacrifice isn’t too great, is well worth the effort.

Plus, it’s a great excuse to stay in shape enough so that I can ride with people instead of fiddle farting around at normal Ez pace.

Unfortunately, the weather didn’t fully cooperate for a weekend full of festivities, showering us with rain and hail multiple times per day. Luckily, we got to stay at Kurt and Kaitlyn’s little cabin in the woods, where we even convinced them to build a fire one night and got the place roasting. The weather seemed to mostly hold off for the actual racing, including the pro crit Friday night.

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Race day itself turned out to be perfect racing weather and fun racing. Kait walked away with the win and a trip to Japan for single speed worlds, but I reached my goal of making the top five and getting one of the neat little whiskey flasks, perfect for bikepacking.

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Photo from Kurt

A part of me hates getting beat. The same part of me knows that I didn’t put in the work to be at the top of my game. It’s an interesting place to be as I work towards learning how to race for fun instead of with 100% commitment. Interestingly, my usual post-race internal dialogue reel of ‘Next year, you’re going to train, and eat right, and do all the intervals’ only lasted for about 36 hours. The whole time I smiled at the little voice – I know you well. You’ve helped me achieve a lot. You’ve helped me reach nearly every bike racing goal that I set. I devoted much of my life listening to you, and it was worth it. But now, I’m going to go eat a donut. There is nothing left to prove. 

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We came home in time to host a Christina who was looking for a last minute Warm Showers place to stay after getting stuck in a hailstorm outside of Lordsburg on her cross-country bike trip and hitching into Tucson. She’d been fighting headwinds for the past several days and was pretty excited to be nearing California where she wanted to get on the Ellen Show.

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I’d love to have a tally of the number of nights we had guests this winter. I’d put it pretty close to 40-45% if I had to take a guess, and I love that.

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Leaving to explore the world. We’ll be following soon enough. 

As we head out for a summer of adventuring on bikes and on foot, it’s fun to look back at all the new people I’ve met in the past six months, the new experiences I’ve had, the self-reflection time, the good times and the bad. It’s also a good time to sit and think about the next six months. There’s going to be some traveling. There’s going to be some racing. There’s going to be a long bikepacking exploration trip on another National Scenic Trail. There’s going to be a whole lot of fun.

I’m ready to get this house packed up and venture into something new.


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Pie Town Bikepack – The perfect fusion of the CDT and GDMBR

Last summer, we stood at an intersection of the CDT just off of Highway 12 in New Mexico. To our left, newly built and signed CDT that would take us to Hwy 60, 13 miles outside of Pie Town. To our right, the Ley map suggested an alternate route going to the Mangus Mountain Lookout and then hooking up with the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route 12 miles outside of Pie Town, leading to pie via dirt. We looked left at the smooth, flawless trail that disappeared over the hillside. We looked behind us at Wagon Tongue Mountain that had ended up having a spectacular descent down it, but not before a fairly excessive amount of cross-country BS. We looked at our minimal food stores, knowing that the CDT had 30 miles of unknown quality trail and a highway ride to Pie, versus the Ley route had a fairly established dirt road and 2-track route to Pie. We went with Ley, somewhat reluctantly.

When Silver City plans started to come together last week, it seemed like a given that this new section of trail would have to be explored. Anyhow, Scott desperately needed time away from the computer, and I’m an easy one to talk into  going on an adventure.

We decided to ride the mysterious CDT north from HWY 12 to Hwy 60 and cruise over to Pie Town, spend the night at the Toaster House, eat breakfast and pie at one of the cafes in the morning, and then ride the GDMBR and Ley route back to the van the next day. An easy overnighter with minimal gear given that we’d get to spend the night inside.

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We got a nice and early Scott and Ez start: 8:45am. But who’s in a hurry?

The first mile of trail was smooth, freshly built, and clearly used more by cows than humans. Our tires cut a clear layer through the dust. We kept waiting for it to go to shit, as so many trails we explore tend to do. Mile after mile, smooth, gradual trail, climbing to the pines.

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It did eventually go to shit for a short period of time, but quickly changed its mind and went back to smooth, duffy, pine-needle covered trail, wending its way through the woods, sometimes so faint, we had to use our spidey-senses to follow it.

And then it would turn to crap.

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And would get good again.

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And get crummy.

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And flow beautifully through the landscape.

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Yeah non-motorized trails!

All in all, typical CDT, better than average in my book.

We enjoyed a full lunch at the top of a climb. Cole-slaw and a sandwich (Hatch green chile, avocado, tomato, red onion, banana pepper, green pepper, and mayo on home-made grilled bread, yeah, drooooool) and some iced tea. Because we’re civilized and all.

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We reached the north trailhead surprisingly quickly. 30 miles in just over seven hours is pretty good CDT pace…

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We saw a freshly signed segment of cross-country trail across the parking lot. It looked bush-wackable. We had daylight to spare. We looked right at the road that would take us to the highway. We looked left at the trail. We went left.

We’re such suckers.

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After a mile of bouncing along on a tussocky field and seeing nothing to indicate anything would change in the next six miles, we waved the white flag, took a right, and made our way back to the dirt road.

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Dirt to pavement and to the closed-for-the-night Top of the World store, complete with alien statue.

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Pavement to Pie Town.

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We met Jay and Mary who were touring the GDMBR north-bound, just recently arrived at the Toaster House. They’d made it to town to hit up the Mercantile before it closed and bought all of their mini pies. They were nice enough to share a peach pie with us to complement the frozen pizza that Nita stocks the Toaster House freezer with.

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It was their first bike tour together (Jay had done Trans-am 10 years prior) and mentioned that they’d learned a lot in their first 400 miles. Broken spokes and a tight schedule were going to end their trip in Grants, but it seemed to me that they had the touring bug. It’s always fun to see people getting into the scene and figuring things out.

Breakfast was eggs, bacon, potatoes, and of course, PIE. New Mexican apple for me, Blue Moon (blueberries and peach) for Scott.

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Bellies full, Jay and Mary headed north, we headed south.

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Every time I get on the GDMBR, I thank myself for talking myself out of racing the Tour Divide every year. I’ve developed a complete intolerance to wide dirt roads, regardless of how remote or quiet. We saw two cars and one ATV during our 30 miles on road…the most continuous road I’ve ridden since riding into Canada last September. I only whined a little bit, I swear.

The 30 miles went quick, and we knew that the last 10 miles of CDT that we’d started out on the day before would be ‘mostly rideable’ in the opposite direction, so we cut over on a small forest road and rejointed the CDT. My smile returned.

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There’s something about trails…

A brewing storm kept us honest and moving as we made our way back to the trailhead, noting the improvement in the trail firmness with only two sets of tire tracks on it. More people need to get out and ride this!

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Mid-afternoon, we were back. 30 miles of new CDT checked out – some of it will definitely make it into our recommended route for the two intrepid adventurers who are ready to take on the route this summer.

It took me six months of recovery to forget the brutality of the trail as a whole, but with four days of riding on it with fresh legs, I’m fully ready to sing its praises and convinced anyone with mountain bike skills and a tolerance for BS to take a serious look at the route. It’s well worth the effort.


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CDT Trail Days

Silver City is one of those magic places. One of those places where no one really expects you to act like a grownup. One of those places that has an eclectic mix of old hippies, college kids, outdoorsy people, miners and ranchers.

And an amazing bike community.

This year, it hosted the first annual Continental Divide Trail Days festival, part expo, part talks about various trail subjects, part general kick-off to trail season. Scott and I were both a little shocked when the CDT Coalition invited Trackleaders to come set a booth up at the expo and promote the long-trail tracking that they offer to hikers.

Surely they knew that if we were there, we’d talk bikes on the trail to whoever would listen.

When we discovered that Gila Hike and Bike was hosting a group ride on the CDT in conjunction with Trail Days on Sunday, we were sold. Any chance to support bikes on the trail, we were in. Plus, we had a little bikepack we wanted to go on in the area, but that’s a different story.

We finished up work Friday afternoon, set an absurdly early alarm for Saturday, and pointed the van east towards the Land of Enchantment.

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The expo was set up along the Big Ditch Trail and had a handful of booths. For a first-year event, they had some good stuff. Hikertrash was selling t-shirts and hats, Sirena and the Arizona Trail Association had a booth set up, the lady across from us was from a historical trails organization dedicated to keeping the history of old routes, think Lewis and Clark and Oregon Trail, alive. Talking to her sparked some ideas for sure. We got to meet the great Jerry Brown, GPS track-keeper of the CDT and other long trails.

Scott set up a fairly to mostly janky booth, but really, given that we’d decided to go somewhere on the order of 48 hours before departure, I’d say it was pretty good. Talked to a lot of hikers using SPOTs, the Grant County Search and Rescue booth was just across, so they wandered over to talk unit reliability. One random guy informed us that ‘Those devices don’t belong anywhere in the Wilderness’ followed by ‘You rode the trail? Did you do the Wind Rivers?’ ‘No, that’s Wilderness.’ ‘That’s like going to Paris and not seeing the Louvre!’ I wanted to reply, ‘That’s okay, the best part of Paris is the street-side crepe carts, not the tourist-infested sights’ but I figured this guy was grumpy enough.

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I got to man the ATA booth while Serena went for a walk. It was all fine and dandy until a reporter from Las Cruces came over and started asking questions. After correctly answering a few questions (The trail is 800 miles long. It goes through the Grand Canyon), I eventually had to punt and ask her to come back when Sirena was back.

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This is my, ‘Oh geez, come up with something good, she’s taking notes!’ look

When all was said and done, we moved on to Goal 2 of the trip – Ride bikes.

We’d gotten the recommendation to ride Cherry Creek to the top of Black Mountain and flip it, skipping several miles of CDT that we could also use to descend back to the car. Take Cherry Creek, it’s better trail, they urged us.

I’ll give you one guess which trail we took back down. Rubbly in parts, but all in all, a fairly low BS factor, given that it is, after all, CDT. We’d had to skip this section of trail last summer due to the Signal Peak fires, which have still left some areas of CDT closed.

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The next day, we met up at the Hike and Bike for an amazingly reasonable 11am ride time. Martyn was leading the ride, his two kids in tow, and Cat showed up as well, which worked out well for us as we’d get a personalized tour of CDT South, as the locals call it.

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At the trail head, Martyn, nearly ready, told us to ride ahead since he’d be moving slower with the kids. Cat took off. The kids took off after her, deaf to the calls of their dad to wait. Scott and I shrugged and took off after them. Those kids can shred!

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I asked Addy how long he’d been riding. He very matter-of-factly told me that he’s been riding since he was three, and he’s seven now, so he’s been riding for four years. I was impressed. He didn’t want to stop at the three way where our slightly-more-grown-up group would split up from the really-not-grown-ups.

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I sure hope our ride isn’t over yet

Cat, Scott, and I continued on to freshly built trail, newly designated as CDT, built by the local mountain bike trail building gurus with mountain bikes in mind. It was glorious.

We paid a visit to a trail section called ‘Where unicorns are born’ before looping back on old CDT to the Hill of Death that led to the Meadow of Life. I love the trail names in Silver.

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It was the perfect little ride on new CDT. Big thanks to Cat for the tour! It’s neat to see mountain bikers taking care of and building CDT. The more people who love that trail, the better.

We finished with a quick stop to the grocery store for some bikepacking grub (does anyone else get embarrassed by loading up a cart full of crap instead of good food and taking it to the checkout?) and pointed the car out of Silver. There was much left to ride, and we’ll be back, but we had more CDT that needed exploring and a favorite house in a favorite NM town that needed a visit. And pie, pie needed to be eaten.

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We made it to our remote trailhead in time to watch the sunset from the back of the van. NM might even have AZ beat for sunsets. I’ve yet to see a dud. Sleep, then ride. That was the plan, and the plan was good.


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Watching the AZT

Sometime around 15 months ago, I declared my retirement from racing, at least temporarily. I’d spent the previous two years battling injuries, sicknesses, metabolism issues, food and body image issues, and a sputtering motivator and it was time to move on.

Last year, the Arizona Trail Race went off, but fresh off a tour of the whole route, I waved and took pictures. I watched Tour Divide from our own Continental Divide Trail tour. Colorado Trail Race, well, I pushed myself so hard on my second run at that that I still haven’t recovered an interest in racing it again. I figured I could fade off into bikepacking racing retirement and never have the urge to push sleep deprivation again.

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I’d even told Kurt so during Camp Tucson. We talked about a new study that claims that lack of sleep is essentially poisoning your brain. I told him that I’d been enjoying keeping my fitness level fairly high and not blowing all my fitness credits in one go.

But after Camp Tucson, I realized I was sitting on some pretty good fitness and motivation. What to do with it, I pondered. Maybe I should race the AZT. I have a love affair with the route. Minimal research (as in none) would be required. I knew that with all things being equal to 2013, I could go faster just by fine-tuning some logistics. Finish by sunset? Possible. It’d be fun.

Going into the Sedona Big Friggin’ Loop, I had my heart set on it. Recovery be damned.

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After the SBFL, I woke up sore and tired. AZT would make this a bazzillion times worse. And that’s if you don’t walk away with an injury, like, oh a torn quad muscle tendon and tendonitis in your hamstring like last time. Last AZT essentially took me out for the rest of the summer, and that sucked.

After 48 hours, I was back to my normal self. Wanting to run. Wanting to ride. Feeling good. Oh yeah, this is what it feels like to race and not blow all accumulated fun credits in one go. 

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So I abandoned the AZT idea in a fairly emotionally graceful manner.

But man, when people started to come by the house to pick up SPOTs from Scott on Thursday before the race, filling our house with nervous energy, I thought, I could still get my stuff together.

The AZT is such an amazing event. Such a beautiful route. So much has to go right for a fast run. There’s so much potential for things to go wrong. The mental game, the physical game, it’s one giant puzzle. I so wanted to partake. But the recovery. Woe, the recovery.

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Human beings forget pain. But I haven’t forgotten the after-effects of that one.

We took Alexis and Adam down to the start on Friday morning. I made the rounds, talking to nervous racers, talking to Chrissy who’s also taking a year off of racing for a full-body reset, watching the excitement. I wanted to be a part of it. I was glad I wasn’t.

I spent the weekend dot-watching whenever I could. Cheering for everyone I knew out there. Knowing all of the sections and the conditions people were most likely experiencing. Oh, they’re baking on the Molino hike-a-bike. Oh, Oracle Ridge. Party at the Freeman water cache!

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To pass the weekend, Scott and I headed up to race the Prescott Mini MonsterCross, another Arizona Endurance Series event. It was 60 miles of amazing singletrack encircling Prescott, this iteration of the route put together by Kurt. After seven hours of chasing, catching, and then gapping El Freako No Longer From Rico, the riding was over. We sat in the Costco parking lot in the shade of cars eating pizza, drinking soda, and shooting the shit as people finished.

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It doesn’t matter how fast I go, I just have to beat Hemperly. 2-0 for AES events this year. 

48 hours later, I’m feeling pretty good. I want to go ride. I want to go run. It’s easy to sit here and say I made a good life decision this year about not lining up for the AZT, and I feel like I did. But hell, the draw of these things still exists, for better or for worse.