Zen On Dirt

Moab: Lessons in living

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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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