Zen On Dirt


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Annual Girls Trip…now to Moab

Back in 2009, my new friend Megan invited me to an annual Girls Trip to Fruita. I don’t remember being too hesitant going on the trip, after all, after 3 short months of a friendship based on backcountry skiing, any friend of Megan was a friend of mine. Anyhow, the trip was a fabulous success and every year since, the five of us have reserved the same camp spot in the same campground  in Fruita, done more or less the same rides, and drank the same mojitos and margaritas while trying to bum beers off of as many man-neighbors as we could.

Last year, we branched out and did Moab. This year, we decided that Moab needed another visit.

I’ve written plenty about these trips, after all, they’ve been going on for 7 years (actually 8, but I wasn’t there for the first one).

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I could go on about how each of us has something that we’re really good at compared to the others. Kay will launch herself at any power-move uphill, Megan and Shenna will billy-goat down any sketchy downhill, Heidi will drop all of us when it comes to anything high-speed. We all get to be pushed, we all push others. It’s rare to put a group of girls together like that.

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This is what happens when I tell them to ride in a line. Total photo-fail.

I could go on about how there’s never any hurry. This trip, we spent 45 minutes waiting in line to get milkshakes at Milts, and no one seemed to care. Dinner is always a leisurely affair, started with at least one drink, sometimes two.

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I could go on about how we’re all flexible with whatever happens. This year, we planned on heading to Fruita after two days in Moab, but when we decided we were having way too much fun, we decided to stay. Heidi found us a backyard to camp in, The Compound, where we shared drinks and laughs with a crew coming off of a backpacking trip. Nothing like playing Cards Against Humanity with a complete group of strangers and laughing until you can’t breathe.

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Running? Yes! We run too.

I could go on about the food. Everyone brings a dinner and/or breakfast. Thai elk lettuce wraps. Breakfast burritos. Kay’s famous flourless chocolate cake. And sandwiches for rides. I’ve yet to come back from one of these trips without my jeans feeling a little tight.

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And then there’s the riding. Day in a day out. Tired legs be damned. Never too fast, never too slow. Always entertaining.

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I had to leave a day early this year to fulfill my civic duty, in the form of reporting as a juror in Boulder Monday morning, and it just about broke my heart. This trip is such a bright and shining part of my year, that the idea of missing even a single ride is horrible.

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But as a drove north on the highway watching the red cliffs of Moab fade away behind me, I knew it would be okay. Because in just a year, we’ll be back. Another year older, perhaps another year wiser, and another year’s worth of stories to share.

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St George – Fighting soreness on red rocks

Every road trip I take, I hatch the same plan: Go to a cool place, ride three to four days there, move to next cool place, ride three to four days there, move to the next cool place. Rinse and repeat.

Every time I find a cool place, I realize that three to four days isn’t even remotely enough to scratch the surface. It’s enough time to go do some of the ‘classics’, but the beauty of a place and of its trails and of its landscape are often far off the beaten path. Places you don’t go to unless you have some time to spend in a location.

Unfortunately, this traversal to the north had a fairly strict schedule that I had to stick to. We arrived in St George on Saturday and I was set to leave Thursday.

You can do a lot in St George in four days, but we also arrived with trashed legs from our Big Ditch adventure, which put a damper on things. But I approached the week with the motto: You can rest when you’re dead, and hoped for the best. The big goal was to be recovered enough to go running in Zion before I had to leave. It had been 15 years since I’d last been and had looked at the towering cliff walls every time I was in the area, wondering what was in there.

And then there was Gooseberry Mesa, and Little Creek, and Guacamole, and Zen, and Bearclaw Poppy…

Maybe I could do two-a-days?

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Sunday, LW and DH invited us out to ride Suicidal Tendencies. I couldn’t resist. I probably should have given the state of my legs, but knew that it was possibly the one time I’d get to ride with the Dos Epicos.

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Maybe it was the mellow pace, maybe it was that we gabbed the whole time, maybe DOMs is just mental, but the riding didn’t hurt nearly as bad as it should have.

I did take care of all of my standing up chores as soon as I got home, knowing that once I was down, I’d be down for the day. I was…to the point of going down stairs backwards.

Monday, I conned Scott out for a short ride. Spin the legs, I coaxed, we’ll feel better.

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The beauty of St George is the variety of riding available right from town. Scott found us some rocks. And some downhill hike-a-bike. Exactly what the doctor ordered.

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But it was all stuff I’d done before. I longed to get out to some place new. To do something long. To see where all of the squiggly lines on the map went. But that would have to wait…wait until i could actually stand on my pedals for longer than 30 seconds without experiencing complete muscle failure.

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Tuesday – still sore. Battling tight calf muscles and achilles tendons. Soreness that felt like it would turn into injury if not respected. Not to worry, there was high desert cruising to be had on new trails on the JEM system with Scott and Scott’s dad.

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It was lovely, but standing in the shadow of Zion left me thinking, Tomorrow? How about it little leggies, tomorrow?

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But after being wrecked after 3 hours of riding, we knew a biggish run was not to be.

But here’s the beauty of being flexible and finding joy in most things: There were still bikes to ride in St George.

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Wednesday, we went out on a ‘more sparkly’ group ride with LW and DH, meaning that a fair amount of focus was employed to actually keep up.

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Take the waterbottle out for the picture. It’s unsightly. So pro. 

And like that, my trip to St George was over. A short run on Thursday morning and into the car and out of town. I didn’t get to ride all the places I wanted to ride. I didn’t get to run all the places I wanted to run. We started talking about what time of year to return for a full month to really start to explore the nooks and crannies of a place.

As I drove, I made mental notes of all of the places I wanted to visit along the I-15 and then the I-70 corridor. Oooh, Capitol Reef. Oooh, Escalante. So much public land, so little time.

And I thought back to the week where I got to ride with some of my favorite people on trails that I already knew well, and thought, That wasn’t half bad either. 

Flexibility. It’s awesome.


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A Grand idea

I’m known for having big ideas. Sometimes, they turn out awesomely stupid. Another times, stupidly awesome.

Running the Grand Canyon had been on my Stuff to do this Winter list since we hauled our bikes across it last spring during our AZT tour and it nearly killed me. Really, earlier in the winter when I was still pretending to be a runner, I wanted to do Rim to Rim to Rim, but with age and experience (and a bad case of shin splints), even I’ve learned the difference between a bad idea and a really bad idea. Scott and I had been pretty consistent with our 4-5 mile runs 2-3 times a week for the past month, what could possibly go wrong with a 17-mile trip with ~5,000 feet of elevation drop, and then gain?

To be honest, I was a little surprised Scott agreed to a south rim to river to south rim trip. He’s generally the more logical one of the two of us. But when he said yes, I wasn’t about to try to talk him out of it.

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AZT exhibit at the Grand Canyon Visitors Center. 

We left our little camp on Schnebly Hill in the morning and made it to The Place in Flagstaff just as they were opening their doors for breakfast. Fully bellies and another short drive, we were ready to pay to get two cars into the National Park. Scott bought an annual parks pass, which will pay itself back going to Glacier and Olympia National Parks later this summer, but $105 between the two of us. Ouch.

I used to hate the crowds at National Parks. I used to not like big party bike races. Now, I embrace being part of the circus. It’s not every day, it’s not going to kill me to deal with people on trails every once in a while. And it’s the Grand Canyon.

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We managed to find two parking spots near each other, discovered that we could find everything needed for running in the cars, and ran to catch the shuttle bus to the South Kaibab trailhead.  Amaze-balls people watching.

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And then down.

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And down.

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And stop and take a picture of a flower before going down some more.

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Look at those achilles tendons!

The crowds weren’t too bad. Neither were the mules. Mules are amazing athletes.

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But the heat…that was something special. 100 degrees forecasted for the bottom, we were pretty glad to be doing no aerobic work as the sun beat down on us late morning/early afternoon.

We made it to the river in around 2 hours, which I think is pretty good for the million photos we took, and bathroom breaks, and really, not being in too much of a hurry. I can only imaging how fast people who can actually run the more rubbly and technical sections can do it.

Instead of heading straight to the cantina for lemonade, we stopped to dip our legs and tootsies in the river. So cold. So good. With cool legs and warm bodies, we headed up to Phantom Ranch to waste away a few hours until the sun lost its intensity.

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I was impatient. After two lemonades and snacks, I was ready to go. No, Scott said. It’s hot. We’ll roast. I pouted and read a National Geographic. We went down to Bright Angel Creek and soaked the toes a little more. When the sun goes behind the cliff, we’ll go, Scott said. But I wanna go now, I whined. We stayed put. Scott is the more logical of the two of us.

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The best $11 ever spent on food. Refills on lemonade were only $1. And the summer sausage, so salty.

Finally, with bladders full of water, we cruised across the bridge and pointed for Bright Angel Trail. The sun was firmly behind the cliff making for a lovely running temperature, especially with shirts soaked in river water. The legs felt surprisingly good and I was amazed at how much of the up we could actually run. Or jog. We’ll call it jogging.

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When we got to the top three hours later, I thought maybe we’d gotten away with stupid. The legs felt ok. No blisters. Minor chafing. Maybe? Are we runners?

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Indian Gardens. So green. So awesome. 

A quick dinner at the lodge (They have a fajita dish there for $15 that has 2,100 calories. I almost got it.), we made our way to the super-not-so-secret free camping right outside of the park. A nearly full moon illuminated the canyon on our drive, casting ghostly shadows down into the depths. We threw sleeping bags out and fell asleep hard.

Halfway through the night, we woke up and discovered, No, we hadn’t gotten away with it.

DOMS. Shoot!

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We spent the morning touristing the rest of the Canyon, we did, after all, pay $105 dollars to get in with both of our cars, hobbling from view point to viewpoint and eating a fairly to mostly yummy breakfast burrito before heading east, north, and then west to Jacob Lake Lodge.

Jacob Lake Lodge means one thing: Cookies. And if you’re snoozing, you’re going to be losing.

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We drove the rest of the way to St. George that afternoon, giggling at the fact that while yes, we were sore, we’d totally pulled off a really fun little adventure on our way north. This may have to become an annual tradition.


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Leaving

It’s funny to me that sometimes the things that are the best for us are the hardest to do. Like flossing. Flossing is good for you. Flossing is a royal pain in the ass.

But really, it’s the the difficulty I have giving up our Tucson home in the summer that fascinates me.

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One last girls single-speed ride. One last rattler. 

I know that wandering makes me happy. I know that new experiences, new places, new people, and a whole lot of unknown make me happy. I know that all it takes is leaving the house to make these things happen, but sometimes I struggle to make that first step. Especially when Tucson is so awesome.

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Making it to Seis on a Tuesday night ride with daylight to spare? Unheard of!

We spent last week going through our belongings and packing up our house. Each item was examined: Do we need this for the summer? Yes? Put it in that bin. No? Do we need this at all? No? Put it in the trash. Yes? Into the storage bins. 

Several times, we threw up our hands. Why do we have so much stuff? Which is pretty funny because we really don’t have much stuff at all.

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Who can ride a slowly leaking tire the longest? Who can pump up said leaking tire the fastest?

Several times I wondered if it was worth it. Why didn’t we just sign a year lease someplace, or take the plunge and buy a place, settle in and then just take trips? We could just leave all of our stuff here, if we forgot something, no worries, we’d be back in a day or two, or week or two.

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Somebody is all smiles about his new bike. And matching shorts and helmet. 

Girls rides would continue. Several trips weekly to Seis would continue. Life in Tucson is easy. It’s grand, really. I love it. There are endless mountains to explore. The riding is second to none. It does get hot…and Scott’s allergies leave something to be desired.

But the call of the road… Try as I might, I can’t ignore it, and right now, I have the chance to answer that call completely and totally. So many people tell us to enjoy this lifestyle while we can. Life situations change and maybe someday we won’t be able to pack all of our belongings into a small storage space and point two cars north each summer. But right now we can, and for that, I’m grateful.

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Try as he might, he couldn’t destroy his big chain ring…or get up the step. 

The stress and anxiety associated with the last day of a lease never gets any better. The last minute packing. The scrubbing, cleaning, and dusting. Loading the cars in a way that we can find what we’ll need in the immediate future. Looking at the two halfway packed cars and asking, Is this really all we need for six months of living?

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Dylan getting ready to set off for the CDT tequila-tree style

The white-knuckled driving through Phoenix after waving good-bye to our little barrio house did nothing to ease the stress. It wasn’t until we pulled onto a dirt road just outside of Flagstaff and threw out our sleeping pads and bags out under the stars that it sunk in.

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Freedom.