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.
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.