Zen On Dirt

The AZTR Startline

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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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