Zen On Dirt


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Silly goals, photos, movement, and 2016

Back, many many years ago, or at least seemingly many, many years ago, I had a streak going of 20+ months of skiing at least one day each month. It basically started from a massive winter with 150+ days of skiing (the key was only taking classes that were on Tuesday and Thursday and well, prioritizing skiing over studying) and having lots of friends stoked on sliding on white stuff as much as possible.

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Early October found us on a little permanent snow patch above Nederland. It was maybe 15 turns long, if you made tight turns, sun cupped, and all in all, silly. But, we were determined to ski in the midst of summer, so we took the dogs up there, hiked in, skied a few laps, and called it good. Well, Huck caught his foot on a ski edge and ended up at the vet, so we called it mostly good.

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Of all the skiing experiences I’ve had over the years, this is one of the most memorable ones.

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I bring this story up because I read a post by Joe Grant over at iRunFar.com recently. Joe seems like one of those really cool people I’d like to meet someday, a well-known and super-fast ultra runner based out of Boulder who also lined up for the CTR this year with a rigid bike with drop bars, and finished pretty quickly, IIRC. He wrote about how after many years of ultra running, this opened his eyes to a new way to see the world, the same way that, coming from a bikepacking background, running has opened up my eyes to new ways to explore the world.

His post was mostly about his project of taking one photo a day and posting it on the Instagram, as a way of documenting daily life. But he also talks about his previous year’s resolution of running a mile every day, regardless of the speed, conditions, locations, or circumstances. It’s worth a click, I promise.

Putting yourself in these arbitrary situations that come with keeping a streak alive, or trying to thru-hike a long-distance trail, or just trying to achieve some arbitrary goal that only you care about, one that can seem completely absurd to the outside observer, you start having some pretty unique and memorable experiences that you wouldn’t have otherwise. And these funny ones are the ones that stick in the memory banks.

Like skiing the Caribou snow patch in October. Or sleeping in grizzly country during Tour Divide with a group of guys who pissed around the perimeter of our camp to deter the bears. Or hanging out in a hotel in Babb, MT, for three nights while an early snowstorm raged so that we could cross into Canada and hike to the terminus of the CDT the next day.

The experiences that matter.

Joe goes on to talk about that when you make a tradition of something, be it taking a photo a day (we all take photos everyday, but how often do we think hard about that photo) or running every day, it elevates it above the random things we do in every day life, a sentiment that I really appreciate. It turns it into ritual. Art, maybe. It gives it a certain level of importance.

Anyhow, I’ve enjoyed his photos.

And I like the idea of daily movement.

And I like the idea of sharing daily movement.

But I have no desire to run every day.

But, I also have a bike.

And imitation is the highest form of flattery?

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Anyhow, I’m going to put forward a streak goal for 2016. A mile of movement and a photo of what I saw. Every. Damn. Day. I’m going to go post it over on the Insty (follow along at ezthenomad) because even after querying everyone from high-school kids to my brothers to my social-media intelligent friends, I still don’t fully understand the point of The Instagram versus The Facebook. And this seems like a good use of the Insty. I think. Anyhow.

I’m hoping that I’m going to get myself into all sorts of cool places that I wouldn’t go necessarily motivate to go otherwise. And hopefully, next December 31, I’ll have a pretty cool set of pictures of all the places I’ve been.

A collection of photos and set of experiences that I might not have if I don’t make some silly and arbitrary goal. So here’s to 2016 and the big, wide world there is to explore.

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Moab: Lessons in living

I don’t think that when my parents let my little brother, Andras, put a fencing mask on at the Boulder Creek Festival, somewhere on the order of 20+ years ago, that they thought he’d take it as far as he did. It was one of those booths where they’d give you some semblance of protection and let you dork around with fencing equipment.

At the time, with -2% body fat, swimming as an 8-ish-year old wasn’t cutting it for him (he’d swim a lap and have to get out, shivering and blue), so they signed him up for fencing. I, as a sister 4 years older, was glad to no longer have my brother hanging around the pool with me.

At age 18, he won Elite Nationals.* From what I understand, he finished 2nd at Olympic Trials in 2008, missing the sole spot, got a full ride scholarship to Ohio State, missed out on the 2012 Olympics because of, well, life, switched weapons from foil to epee to have a better shot at Rio, moved from the fencing hot spot of New York (He told me he thought he’d meet some nice New York girl. I laughed at him.) to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, and then when all was looking good for a solid bid to go to Rio in 2016 on an individual spot, he tore his groin muscle. And then broke a rib soon after that healed.

*The actual facts of what happened may be slightly different.

For the past year since the muscle tear, things weren’t looking good for Rio. When he bought a Santa Cruz Nomad this past spring (he liked the color scheme better than the Bronson, good way to choose a bike), I knew he had all but given up hope for the team qualifying for the Games and seemed ready to move on with life.

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He was more than happy to hang out a bit in Boulder while we were there last and ride.

He was having a hard time choosing a direction. Options consisted of putting his MBA to good use and opening a coffee shop, or taking some time to travel.

While to many, being a full time athlete getting to eat at the OTC cafeteria every day and being able to focus fully on training and competing might seem like a dream existence, it’s wicked hard. You have to be 100% dedicated to being an athlete 100% all of the time. Even during the off-season – don’t get hurt, don’t get fat, don’t get too out of shape.

I, of course, much to the chagrin of my mom, encouraged travel. I figured he deserved a solid vacation after 20+ years dedicated to a sport. And anyhow, I always encourage travel.

When Scott and I found ourselves in Moab at the same time that I knew he was coming back from what was his final World Cup in Switzerland, back in October, I texted him, on a Tuesday, ‘You should come ride with us in Moab. ASAP.’

He texted back, within minutes, ‘Ok. I’ll be there Thursday morning.’

I wanted him to see Moab for two reasons.

One – because the riding is amazing. He’d only been riding in the Front Range, which, well…often leaves something to be desired, and I knew that he’d love the red rocks.

And two, if there’s one place left that seems to truly embrace dirtbaggery, thanks to the climbing culture, and the idea of living simply for the sake of the pursuit of happiness and fun, it’s Moab. Main street is a parade of camper vehicles, ranging from clapped out RVs that may not make it out of town to high-end Sprinters and Earth Roamers. ‘Camping’ is celebrated. Food is (relatively) cheap.

I knew he was talking about an impulse ticket to New Zealand and a year-long work visa, and I wanted him to see as many alternative lifestyles as possible.

When he arrived from Colorado Springs, he commented that he liked the stretch of highway with the ‘big cliffs’.

‘Glenwood Canyon?’ I asked.

‘Yeah. I didn’t like Grand Junction much thought. And there’s really nothing to Fruita.’

Then it dawned on me. ‘Have you ever driven I-70 west of Summit County?’ (For reference, Summit County is less than 90 minutes away from Boulder, where my family has lived since 1992.)

‘No. I know that the airport in Turkey looks like, but that was my first time driving I-70. The speed limit goes up to 80 mph in Utah!’

Wow.

First stop was Hymasa/Captain Ahab.

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He adjusted quickly to the style of riding, hitting stuff with a level of gung-ho-ness that is only seen in someone new to the sport. Someone with a bunch of strength and explosive power.

Grace, well, he’s working on that.

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We spent a day at Arches National Park.

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Where I discovered he has the same crippling fear of heights that I do.

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We rode Navajo Rocks, where we got our slickrock off-camber on.

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And practiced wheelies.

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We went out to Sovereign to practice uphill tech riding. Scott told him that all the girls go for boys who can ride techy uphills.

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We went swimming up Mill Creek, even though it wasn’t particularly swimming weather, other than the fact that the sun was out.

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And we spent a good amount of time at camp.

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Just being.

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Watching sunrises over Arches.

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We had a schoolbus for a neighbor. Residents of school buses are called Skoolies. This pair had a few dogs, a few cats, and most notably, a friendly goat named Rosie.

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We slept outside under the desert sky with huge views in all directions. Oats and coffee for breakfast. Mac n’ cheese, hummus, veggies, for dinner. A whole lot of outside time in between.

We spent our last morning trying to ride Slickrock in gale-force winds. After the practice loop, we surrendered to burritos in town, exhausted from nearly a week of riding. The forecast called for snow that night – our timing was perfect.

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Scott and I pointed the van north towards Salt Lake, Andras pointed his car back towards the Front Range.

A few days later I got a text from him, ‘I got my work visa for New Zealand and a plane ticket for February 2.’

Whether or not a week of living in the sands of Moab with others who’ve put aside the conventional lifestyle, at least temporarily, had anything to do with the decision, I don’t know. But I have to think it helped something.

And I’m a proud big sister. Now I have a real excuse to visit New Zealand.


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Sorting a shed of stuff

All summer, but especially as our return to the desert was imminent, I had one major stressor associated with Tucson. And it wasn’t the fact that we didn’t have a place to live.

It was our shed of stuff.

When we’d moved out of our place last April, our landlord had let use the shed in the backyard of the property as storage as a Thanks for being good tenants. It wasn’t a huge shed, but we’d packed it pretty full. As usual, we hadn’t done a thorough comb-through of the stuff we put back there as our move-out date approached. Scott had some boxes back there that hadn’t been moved back into the house for three years.

After seven months of living in the van with whatever belongings had made the road-trip cut and feeling that I’d lacked nothing, I halfway wished the shed would just burn down.

But, Scott’s big bike was in there, so it’s probably a good thing it didn’t. Especially after our other bikes got stolen.

When we found our little house to live in, we bought Lee a burrito at Seis in exchange for helping us move our stuff out of the shed with his flatbed trailer.

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As we moved boxes and boxes of dusty, musty stuff out of the semi-leaky shed, I asked repeatedly, ‘What is this stuff?’

We’ve spent the past three weeks sorting through all of our belongings with the goal of moving into the Scamp sometime in January. We don’t believe in having monthly payments if we can avoid them, except for health insurance (yes mom, I still have health insurance), so we didn’t want to have a storage unit that we could, once again, pile crap into.

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Tumbleweed got some new curtains!

Sorting has been interesting, especially watching Scott. He had to go through the process of culling that I went through three years ago before I mobilized myself to move to AZ. For years, he had a house. For years, papers and memorabilia accumulated. Each summer, since no longer owning a house, he’s had a convenient and easy place to put the boxes of accumulation without much thought.

Sorting through stuff, especially potentially sentimental stuff, with the idea of reducing belongings is pretty low on the fun factor scale. So it never happened.

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While I had to go through my clothing drawer (I tried on shorts from highschool that still fit, but axed them to Goodwill after Scott made a Meh face at them) and try to cut it in half, Scott was going through school assignments from when he was an undergrad.

It made me appreciate the culling that I’ve done on a regular basis.

It’s also made me think hard about the amount of stuff we buy. In the past decade or so, everything I’ve bought has been with the thought of ‘When I move next (which was a yearly thing for a while, and then a six month thing for a few years, and now will be a permanent thing), am I going to want to haul this along?’

Getting rid of stuff during each move was so much more emotionally painful than choosing not to buy it in the first place. I held pretty strongly to the ‘If I haven’t used it in a year, it’s gone’ rule.

I’ve definitely have bought less and less as the years have gone on. Which means that not only do I not have to deal with the stress of moving/storing stuff, but I don’t have to earn the money to buy it in the first place and can spend my money on more important things, like Avo breakfast burritos at Seis, Seis-style, of course. This is winning in my book.

We used every item that we had in our van this summer, from multiple sleeping bags to cords and chargers to books on edible berries to our first aid kit. From town clothes to camp clothes. From cups and bowls to knives and forks. Nothing was in excess, yet nothing was missing.

There’s something beautiful about the simplicity about that level of stuff.

On a side note, I fully appreciate keeping some level of photos and memorabilia. We’ve had several moments of hilarity as Scott’s unearthed photos of mountain biking or computer camps in the 1990’s.

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Luckily, we both have parents that are willing to turn a blind eye to a bin or two of stuff squirreled away into the dark recesses of their houses. And for that, even minimalistic grouch me, is thankful. Plus, I’ve been able to hold onto my backcountry ski gear, which I really hope I get to use to get up some peaks this spring.

Two large loads have gone to Goodwill. I’ve found a new home for my fatbike where she’ll actually be used more than once a year. And once we take “memorabilia” to Boulder over Christmas and a load of bike stuff to Bicas when we get back, we’ll be ready to hit the road.

With no stupid shed of ‘stuff’ to deal with when we get back.


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Limited Bandwidth

Over the past few years, I’ve always said that I’ve lived the best version of myself while on the road. I attribute this to:

A) A constantly changing landscape and lack of routine keeps me mentally active, thinking, learning, and exploring during most waking hours.

B) Lots of outside time.

C) Fairly minimal time on the Internet. Any time that we spend at a local library or coffee shop is spent working, not dorking around on The Facebook or watching YouTube. Camp time is generally spent reading or talking, not looking at phones.

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Sometimes camp time is spent working. The view isn’t so bad. 

When we do go inside to a place of steady residence and unlimited bandwidth, I feel like my best self flies out the window. Sure, I could say that while I have access to Internet and shelter, I’m still going to read in the evenings instead of clicking on stupid links or that I’m going to spend the majority of the day outside, but I don’t. Call it lack of self-control, will power, or taking the easy way out, but four walls and an Internet connection leads to a lot of time doing things that afterwards, I don’t find terribly fulfilling.

For this winter in Tucson, we’ve rented a small little house (I’m talking ~400 square feet) from an old landlord of Scott’s (he lived in the house next door when he was last homeless-ish several years ago) that shares a compound with some pretty cool people.

And knowing that we only wanted to be here until we bought/outfitted a trailer, we didn’t sign up for Internet. This means that any browsing or working we do from here, we do by tethering off of our phones, with limited data.

And it’s been a pretty cool experiment.

We go to Seis 10 minutes down the road for coffee and burritos and wi-fi a couple of times a week to work, but home time, our Internet hours are restricted.

When I work here, I don’t keep Facebook open in a tab in the background (A terrible habit, I know), and as a result, I finish my shit in half the time and then get to go out to play sooner.

Every time I go for my phone to open up Instagram or check email, I force myself to have the thought, ‘How critical is this button push? Do I really care?’ Turns out, most of the time, I just put the phone down.

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My brother in Moab earlier this fall. Look up! He learned quickly and is moving to New Zealand for a while and planning on buying a camper van. He’s started a blog here. 

It’s brought a pretty high level of awareness to Internet usage on a day-to-day basis.

Which is good, because any exercise that brings awareness to day-to-day life is a positive thing in my book.  And I like to think that the less time I spend staring at a screen, the better.


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A new trailer.

I’ve gotten a little bogged down mentally with being behind on this blog. I’ve found that if I don’t write about an event or trip soon after it happens, I lose the human experience aspect of writing about it. I have no interest in writing about where I went or what I did. That bores me to tears. But the human experience, I’m fascinated by the human experiences I have.

But, I forget the experience that I’ve had as a human as time passes, or at least I become less motivated or inclined to share it, so as something fades farther and farther into the rearview, it becomes harder and harder for me to write about it, at least in a manner that’s interesting to me.

So. All that to say that I’m declaring blog bankruptcy (more for myself than anyone else) for everything that’s happened since getting to Moab in October to now and starting fresh today. Declaring it publicly, blog-icly, makes me feel better about it.

Why today? Something very exciting happened yesterday.

We bought a 13 foot fiberglass trailer. Meet The Tumbleweed. Or Scampy.

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We’re planning on moving into it full-time sometime in January once the holidays are over. From there…the horizon is limitless.

I’ve been talking about moving into a trailer since my friends Bama and Tanesha  bought a 32 footer to live in in Portland. (He gave an AMAZING interview here, go read it. Seriously.)

This idea was further cemented when  watching 23-Feet, a documentary on traveling the west in a 23-foot Airstream, on an outdoor screen at Absolute Bikes in Salida in the spring of 2011, which funnily enough, is the first time Scott and I really hung out, back in previous lives. I pointed to the Airstream, which they had on-site for the film and said, ‘That. I want that.’ speaking more about the simple, minimalistic lifestyle rather than the Airstream. (Though it’s still on the life list to live in a Airstream someday)

Whenever Kacey Musgraves’ song My House came on the shuffle, I’d turn it up and sing along.

Who needs a house upon a hill

When you can have one on four wheels?

And take it anywhere the wind might blow

Anyhow. After months of talking about it and hemming and hawing about the pluses and minuses of trailer life, we found a trailer that had all of the features we wanted, was in Arizona, was light enough to be towed by the van, and was within our price range.

After looking at it, we went to a cafe in Bisbee to talk it over.

We concluded that we weren’t really making a decision on whether to buy that particular trailer or not, but if we wanted to take a stab at trailer life at all, because really, the little trailer was pretty close to perfect for our needs.

After years of looking at trailers around the west and wondering what it would be like to have one, we decided that the only way to know was to try it ourselves.

Our friend Lee helped us tow it home yesterday. Today, we transferred the title and got plates.

As I always say, Something is going to happen.