Zen On Dirt


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Leaving Tucson

It always feels like we have to escape from Tucson in the spring. It never seems to be a ‘Oh look, here comes a five-day forecast with 90+ degrees, we should probably head north.’ Instead, there always (and I’m using a very, very small data set here) seems to be something that keeps us in the area for longer than we want.

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This time around, it was a set of packages that we were waiting on. We generally try hard to not mail order anything, mostly because it’s a pain in the ass to figure out where to ship it, and then have to go pick it up, and there’s the whole ‘support your local businesses’, but Scott needed something specific and I had an on-line coupon and the need for a new pair of running shoes.

I guess we could have stayed at Parker Canyon Lake. It was a lot cooler there, but as it was, we were pretty much out of food, and there’s nothing that drives us back to civilization quite as fast as being out of food. Especially of the snack variety.

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With hindsight 20/20, we should have just driven the 20 miles to Sonoita, got a few days worth of gas station food, and gone back out to Parker, but the draw of heading north was strong, and we found ourselves back in Tucson.

And it was hot.

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Scott went down to the Huachuca Mountains to do some trail layout work on the AZT, I spent the better part of three days hiding from the sun, getting up early to ride, and wondering how I’d ever liked the heat. (I also needed a map of the Paria Canyon, a new case for my phone, to ship something, Bronner’s dish soap, you know, adulting things had to be done that are a lot easier to do in the Big City.) As it turns out, when you have a cool house to retreat to, heat is pretty awesome. When there’s no way to get out of it…heat is a bummer.

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I may have to turn in my Desert Rat membership card, and I may have been excessively grumpy about having to stay in town. But my shift towards wanting cooler temperatures is pretty interesting.

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But here’s the good thing. Even though I may have gotten a little mad at Tucson in my final couple of days, I still think it’s really neat. I’m still excited to come back next spring and eat Seis burritos, to drink Presta coffee when it’s cold, to eat/drink/slurp raspados when it’s hot. I’m excited to spend more time exploring the Catalinas, I’d like to spend more time birding. It’s really nice to be in a city where you can buy 99% of everything you need without having to mail-order.

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As we rolled out with the setting sun for another night traversal of PHX, I waved good-bye to the Big City. Once we made it through PHX that night, we wouldn’t see another city of any appreciable size for a long time. And that’s pretty cool too.

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The AZTR Startline

I love the start of the AZTR.

Mostly because I’m not racing it. One magical run in 2013 was plenty, thank you very much.

But it’s still one of the few times of year when all of my friends come to me, and with the increased number of people who seem to camp before the start these days, it almost qualified as a party.

This year it definitely qualified as a party, because it was Schilling’s birthday and there was cake involved. And puppies. And a camp fire. Really, it was my favorite AZTR start to date.

There had been a lot of stressors in Scott’s life leading up to the race. Fires on Mount Lemmon on the AZT. Massive amounts of snow up north and unplowed roads. People signing up for SPOT rentals the day before the race. I guess the night before the start signals that everything has been set in motion and the option of calling off the whole thing is no longer a choice. At least not an easy one.

It’s like when you’re a racer. When it comes to the night before the event, all the work and training and planning has been done, now it’s time to reap the rewards and enjoy the ride.

We headed up to Parker Canyon Lake Wednesday night to see off the ITT racers who were opting to start a day early. Scott had encouraged as many as possible to start Thursday to help keep numbers down for the mass start and to help people avoid the junk show called Reddington Road on a Saturday Morning.

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Jerry and Wendi were ready to go Thursday morning before we even had coffee ready. They are known early birds. Scott and I are not.

Since we were Scamped just off of the AZT, we were hoping to run into some thru-hikers. We called the first set of four over just as Wendi and Jerry were rolling out.

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As it turned out, it was Southern and Data, two hikers who we’d met on the CDT a few summers ago. It took all of us a few minutes to piece together who we each were. Southern didn’t have his kilt on, that’s what I’m blaming it on. We fed the four of them a cup of coffee and sent them on their way. We’d been meaning to set up the Scamp somewhere on the AZT and be trail angels for a bit this spring, but like so many of our other plans, it never quite happened. Time is limited. Time is precious.

Next year.

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Sol was the next to roll out. I was impressed by his Star Wars helmet setup. He had the weight of it calculated and had deemed that it was better than the wide brim helmet covers that are so popular among Tucson riders.

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Martin and Pascal were the next to roll out. Martin used to live in Tucson but had since moved up to Seattle. He hosted us for a night during our PNW trip two summers ago and took us riding on some slippery and wet Seattle roots, which brought out the famous Scott quote of, ‘Does anyone actually enjoy riding wet roots?’

Scott hates wet roots.

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Evan and Mark showed up mid-day. Evan and I had ridden together during a Death Valley bikepacking trip a few springs back. He’s working on a Trans-California route that’ll hopefully be part of a bike version of the Pacific Crest Trail. Mark is crazy. He’s finished the AZT 750 five times and is the only double Triple Crowner of bikepacking. That’s a glutton for punishment right there, and it makes me tired just thinking about it.

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Wendi, while planning on riding to Sonoita with Jerry, slashed a sidewall five miles into the Canelos (that trail eats tires like nothing else) and blew out her tube, so she took a leisurely walk back to the trailhead. After taking her to go retrieve her car, I managed to talk her into a little mini run. More of a systems test for my foot than anything else. The foot passed the test. Woohoo!

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By the time we got back, people were really starting to show up. Homegrown shuttles was making things easy by picking people up at the 300 finish, or the PHX airport, or from wherever and driving them down to both the 300 and 750 starts.

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And then the Hansen’s showed up. With one-week old border collie puppies.

Earlier in the day, I had been trying to pawn off a pair of running shoes that I didn’t really use on Wendi. Scott had (jokingly) said, ‘If you get rid of a pair of running shoes, you can get a puppy.’

Me wanting a puppy, and asking for a puppy, is somewhat of a daily joke for us.

The shoes ended up fitting Wendi and I did a little happy dance for getting them a new home. And then the puppies show up. And of course, I reminded Scott that just two hours prior, he’d said I could have one.

I’m not getting a puppy, but they sure were cute.

The Hansen’s really killed it for start line awesomeness. They brought Scott and I burritos from Seis, then they had a laser physical therapy magic thing that they lasered my foot with, and then they gave me an electroshock therapy thing to put on my foot to help it get better. They also brought cake for Schilling’s birthday and donuts and empanadas for the morning.

But the puppies were the best!

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Race morning was lots of fun. So much puttering. So much nervous energy. I kept waiting for that desire to race to come up…but it never did. I think this is a great sign for my growth and change as a human being.

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One of the best parts of the evening/morning was getting to hang out with Alexis. I’m pretty sure she hasn’t been gone from AZ for more than two weeks at a time…even though she lives at the other end of another state. She’s definitely done more laps around the Tucson Mountain Park Big Loop this winter than I ever have in a season. She’d go on to win the 300 through some pretty miserable conditions on Day 2. I’m super-duper proud of her.

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The 750 riders started filtering through soon after the 300 riders took off. Some blasted through, encouraged by a cowbell and general heckling. Some stopped to chat. It’s a long stinking race. This was Brett’s second time back, I believe. We had ended up carpooling up to Banff together for Tour Divide in 2012, he was one of the Wisconsin boys that we’d picked up in Whitefish to join our traveling circus. I hadn’t made the connection that one of them was Brett until this year when he reminded me. That was a funny trip…

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Kaitlyn came through at some point. We made her hold the puppy, because puppies are awesome. If I were her, I would have hopped on my bike right there and then and rode off with that puppy.

Eventually, all of the riders came through…some with a higher level of hilarity than others. Some not knowing where the start was for the 750 and bushwacking along the border fence, some not knowing which track to follow on their GPS, some dropping their GPS within the first mile and having to come all the way back to the start to find it (someone had brought it back for them). There was much giggling involved.

Then, with the same swiftness that the circus had descended on Parker Canyon Lake, it disappeared, leaving Scott and I to watch the sunset from the quiet of the camp.

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We watched the dots move along the track, knowing that everyone was out there having a pretty special adventure. It’s a pretty amazing¬†thing that Scott puts together each year. Friendships are formed, memories are made, limits are pushed.

I’m just glad I get to be a small part of it.


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Impermanence, joy, and birds

Note: I wrote this about a week ago when we were up in Madera Canyon bird watching. I couldn’t decide if I liked it, so I got busy with life and forgot about it. But I reread it. And I thought it was okay. So here it is. Along with bird pictures.

It was a hard week for the cycling community.

First, Mike Hall was killed by a car in the final 24 hours of the Indian Pacific Race down in Australia. MH was the best of the best in the long races. Tour Divide. Trans Am. His dots were amazing to watch going down and across the continent.

Then this morning, news of Steve Tilford’s death in a car accident came across the FB. Aside from all of his cycling accolades, he was evangelical about ridding cycling of doping, and I often found myself cheering when reading his rants about cheats in the sport.

I didn’t know either of them personally, but it was gut-wrenching to hear about their deaths.

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The Broadbill Bully. Small but mighty.

Of course, whenever we’re affected by death, especially death that’s sudden and unexpected, there’s the realization that none of us are going to live forever, and we never know when our time is up.

It sets off a flurry of activity and life motivation. Make the most of each day! Carpe Diem!

Which is all well and good, and generally I attack my goal of carping the diem by going on an adventure which takes me to beautiful places and leaves me thoroughly exhausted and satisfied.

Except this week, I’ve pretty much sat on my ass, even though every cell in my body has be screaming to go do something big.

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El Magnifico. aka The Lunk

You see, I’ve come down with a self-diagnosed case of Ouchie Foot, which started from Ouchie Shin, which was a result of Ouchie Calf, which pre-dates even that 50k that I ran back in January. In summary, I’ve been dealing with some level of pain running pretty much since we got back from New Zealand when I, once again, over estimated my running abilities and over did it. Most of the pain wasn’t really bad enough to cause a full system shut down, but it also wasn’t going away, especially this last iteration of Ouchie Foot.

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The Lunk and the Bully

So I grounded myself for a week to try to let things get better. And then Mike was killed and I was reminded that I’ll never get this week back. And who knows if I’ll get one after it.

But you know what? It’s been a good week. I’ve been reading The Book of Joy about a meeting between the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu (excellent, I highly recommend it) where they spend a week talking about joy, what it is, what leads to it, how to maintain it in the face of sadness, adversity, struggle, and strife. There’s much talk about how joy comes not from our external situation, but how we react to it. Cup half empty or cup half full. Searching for the silver lining. Do we agonize over what we can’t do, or celebrate what we can?

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I’m a sucker for a good looking turkey

Sure. I was hurt and was trying to stay off my feet. But that didn’t mean that we couldn’t go down to the humming bird feeders in Madera Canyon and watch birds go by. It didn’t mean that I couldn’t spend the time reading my endlessly growing book list. It didn’t mean that Scott and I couldn’t start rewatching Breaking Bad, starting from Season 1. It didn’t mean that breakfasts couldn’t take extra long, lingering with Scott over the last sips of coffee before even turning phones on to see what had happened in the outside world overnight. It didn’t mean that I couldn’t spend extra time working so that when I was better, I could spend less time working. It didn’t mean that the sky was any less beautifully blue, that our new 2-inch memory foam was any less comfortable, or that we couldn’t go out snipe hunting in Patagonia Lake State Park.

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Osprey with dinner (Photo from Scott)

So I say screw carpe diem. That puts way too much pressure on to do “something” with a day. I say carpe joy. Whatever that happens to be that day. Maybe it’s going out to do something big and noteworthy. Maybe it’s laying in our reclining chair under an oak tree, enjoying the breeze and listening to Fred the cooper’s hawk that lives near our favorite campsite outside of Patagonia chortle and laugh to his hearts content (we think there’s a baby Fred in the tree across the wash! We hear it call when it gets hungry).

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Soaring vulture

I’m still sad about Mike and Steve. But I’m glad they even existed in the first place. I’m glad that all of the people in my life exist, and I’m okay with the fact that none of us will be here forever. And I’ll keep working on finding joy, regardless of what life throws my way.