Zen On Dirt


Of Scamps and Tucson and Dogs

Our 2016 started off innocuously enough. We left Boulder on New Years, drove through the day, celebrated the warmth of the desert that night.

It’s the time of year where there’s stuff going on pretty much every weekend. Which is awesome. I love this time of year.

We started off with the AZT Jamboree, a fundraiser for the AZT Association. Normally, it’s a shuttle ride on some of the amazing sections of trail south of town, but after a week of moisture, the trail was deemed too wet, so the event was moved to Tucson Mountain Park, starting at a piece of BLM land, Snyder Hill, west of town that Scott and I had been wanting to check out for it’s free camping possibilities.

One could argue that this event was the start of the chain that has led to the slightly crazy dog sitting behind me right now.

Shannon and I split the difference between the 9:30 am start long-course of 35 miles and the 11 am start for the short-course of 25 miles by starting at 10:15 and riding 30 miles.


Aside from the riding and running into good friends all over the place, the highlight was definitely the empanada and espresso aid station put on my Matt Nelson/AZTA.


The BBQ lasted at Snyder until the sun set and the temperature dropped.

A few days later, Alice Drobna of Triple Crown of Bikepacking fame and her partner Ross showed up to ride some Tucson trails. Bend, OR, was too snowy, they wanted sun. We were happy to oblige, starting off by getting Ross stuck in the 4-foot culvert on the way to Robles.


I’m not sure exactly what they thought of our rocky-style trails, given that you have to look hard to find a rock in Bend, but we had a good time showing them around. And introducing them to Seis burritos.


Then my little brother showed up in Tucson for work. The text message conversation went something like:

Me: Can you run 5 miles?

Him: Iffy. I haven’t run more than a mile in a while.

Me: Perfect. You’ll be fine.

We took him to some of the best views in TMP, and then obviously to Seis for dinner. I should make a tee-shirt: My paycheck and hunger go to Seis.


Then we decided to go Scamping. Just one night, out at Gilbert Ray, a campground on the other side of the Tucson Mountains. Just a simple test run to see what we needed to learn more than anything. It was also a good excuse to run Wasson Peak from that side, otherwise a bit too far of a drive from town to justify.


I love that mountain.

We were treated to a spectacular sunset while we wandered the campground looking at other rigs. Our Scamp definitely looked pretty small…but it’s plenty big for us.


We slept so peacefully, we decided to stay out a second night, but without the $20 campground fee. We were, after all, still paying rent. But not having a busy road nearby or a rooster that wakes up at 3am next door was such a treat.


So we towed the Scamp over to Snyder Hill, the BLM land that many people use for boondocking just outside of town where we were a week prior for the Jamboree. This was second event that led to the dog.

We let the Scamp sit and joined Shannon for a long ride. She’s training for the AZT and I’m going to get fit chasing her around. This is my plan.


We got back and immediately spotted a small little dog, tail terribly between it’s legs, hip bones starting to gain prominence, looking absolutely scared shitless of everything and everyone.

I’m a bit of a sucker for dogs. Scott is allergic to dogs. While he went in the Scamp to work, I lured the pup in with pieces of cheese and Fritos. After two hours, she’d eat out of my hand. After three hours, she let me pet her.


She absolutely melted under an ear scratch and settled down onto a yoga mat next to the Scamp when we went to bed.

I could tell Scott was getting nervous at this progression of events.


Home sweet home. Scamp sweet Scamp.

We both hoped that she’d go home during the night to a family that loved her and cared for her, and would maybe give her a little more food so that she wouldn’t be scrounging around a camp-ish ground.

Within two minutes of getting out of the Scamp in the morning, she came running up, jumping like a Mexican jumping bean, so excited to see both Scott and I.

She followed us on a hike up to the top of Snyder Hill and through the campground where we asked around to see if anyone knew anything about her. A camp that had been there the week prior told us that she’d been wandering for a few days, and we were the closest she’d gotten to anyone. We watched her expertly look on the hoods of cars and underneath tables, searching for food.

We stayed at camp till close to dark, she never left our side. Either she liked Fritos and cheese better than her food at home, or she had no where else to go.


‘Surely she has an owner who’s looking for her,’ we postulated. We just had to find them. So we opened the van door, she jumped right in, and home we went. This, I guess, was the final step to the dog.

1.5 weeks later, she’s still sitting behind me. We started by filing Found Pet reports with Pima Animal Care Center and the Humane Society. We posted on Craigslist and the Pima Lost Pets Facebook page. We took her to a vet who couldn’t find a microchip. We waited. The Humane Society wouldn’t take her because she got stressed and nipped at the vet who was trying to vaccinate her. But, they did find a microchip linked to a local rescue. Phone calls and messages went frustratingly unreturned. After multiple phone calls, what we now know is that she was adopted out by a local rescue group a year ago when she was just a 6 month old puppy. A message has been left with the adopter, but as of this moment, 36+ hours later, I haven’t heard anything back.


Post getting rejected by the Humane Society. Please don’t leave me there, please.

This makes me a little bit sad, but I’m still holding onto that little bit of faith that someone out there loves her and misses her, and we’re going to find that person.


But until then, I’ve been having a pretty dang good time running with her and teaching her some basic manner. Walking on a leash is not her strong point, but she’s young, smart, and extremely food motivated. Also very easily overwhelmed and scared of strangers. This dog has gone through some trauma in the past few weeks, and all things considered, I’m proud of how she’s doing.




The difference of a year

Scott and I were heading out for a little run this afternoon, more for the sake of movement and getting outside than anything else, when a little thought floated through my head: This winter in Tucson is so much different than last winter.

Last winter we came back at the beginning of October, at the beginning of an October that was still hot, to a house that didn’t have AC. We’d just come off of the CDT and were, well, exhausted. Emotionally. Physically. I was a mess.

This year, we came back in mid November after several nights/weeks of uncomfortably cold camping, relishing the relative warmth of the desert. We’d spent the summer metering our efforts, backing off rides and runs when the fatigue started to mount. We came back motivated and energized to be in the desert.


Last year, I didn’t want to look at a bike. I didn’t ride at all. I didn’t miss it one bit.

This year, our bikes disappeared on our first night back, so aside from three fat bike rides I did (with varying degrees of success), I didn’t ride at all. I missed it terribly.


50-year trail is not recommended on a fat bike

Last year, I quickly ran my shins into the ground and dealt with some pretty severe foot pain so that I couldn’t run any more. DSCN5532

This year, I can put in 25-mile weeks on foot and have only flirted with shin pain. The retrieval of my bike and a week of riding has me back to running pain-free, which is awesome.

Last year we had some crummy neighbors. Scott referred to one of them as Shit-for-Brains, and Scott doesn’t say much bad about anyone, ever.


We have curved bill thrashers as front-door neighbors.

This year, we have much better neighbors. While we do live on a busy road, which is unfortunate especially at 7am when everyone decides that it’s time to go to work, and even worse when the road is wet, the compound that we live on is a huge piece of land and filled with birds.

But I think aside from all of these things, the biggest change is a different frame of mind.

Last year, I still felt like I wanted to have some sort of relevance in the world of bikepacking. I’d done my thing racing. I’d done my thing with the CDT. Shit, what was next?

That was sort of stressful as someone who’s had a history of doing one thing and then soon after finishing, planning the next bigger and badder thing. Anything bigger and badder than the CDT would have surely killed me.

Well, that need has sort of dissipated. It wasn’t a conscious thought, I just stopped caring about the type of bikepacking most people publicly cared about, either the type where you’re uncomfortable and not sleeping much and trying to go as fast as possible or the type where you pack everything plus the kitchen sink into panniers on an old antique bike with drop bars and go ride roads, and we went to go do our own thing. Semi-comfortable bikepacking. Hot springs included. We didn’t make it into either of the Top Bikepackers of the Year lists from Bikepacking.com or Bikepackersmagazine.com, but that’s okay. Others are picking up the flame of riding fast on established routes and doing big, hard routes in good style.

And while last year, the thought of others pushing limits may have made me feel like I was missing out on the race scene, or that I needed to put together another summer long suffer-fest, now, I lean back, raise a beer (or glass of whiskey), and do something else.


Like look at birds.


Like this Green Kingfisher. We think that this was the first sighting of a Green Kingfisher in AZ in seven years. Our report of it sent a flurry of people down to Patagonia to try to find it again. Look at the size of his nose!


I love the Acorn Woodpeckers!

Many of our days have been built around going somewhere to look for birds, and then recreating afterwards. It’s taken me to some new places, like Patagonia State Park, near where I had an ill-timed flat tire trying to ride my fat bike down Red Mountain. That was the end of riding that bike.


But we got to see a lot of beautiful birds and go wandering in places that had never even been on my radar.

I’d like to think that for the first time in a long time, maybe ever, I’m finding that sweet spot between staying fit enough that I can go do the things that I want to do, working enough that I don’t have to worry about money, and engaging in completely non-athletically related things where I get to learn and explore the world around me.


Snipe! We found a snipe!

I’ve always been one to get so caught up in one thing, trying to do it as well as possible to the exclusion of other things in life, that this balance thing really is pretty new and novel to me.


I may never be, or try to be, more accurately, the best at any one thing again, but I sure feel lucky that I’ve been able to open up my life to all sorts of exploration. And my guess is that we’ll do some pretty cool bikepacking again this summer, and we’ll probably be too lazy to submit it to anyone who’d publicize it, and we’ll miss out on those Best of lists once again.