Zen On Dirt


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10th Annual Girls’ Trip to the Desert

10 years.

It’s been 10 years since Megan invited me on the Annual Girls’ Trip to Fruita.

That’s almost a third of my life I’ve spent looking forward to these long weekends in the desert filled with riding bikes, drinking cocktails, and spending time with some of the most amazing women I know.

It amazes me how much things have changed over that time, yet how much they’ve still stayed the same.

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In those first years, we always went to Fruita. Now it’s Moab every time.

We used to all sleep in tents, with Megan and I choosing to cowboy camp whenever possible. Now our campsite is littered with Sprinters, the Scamp, and the ever present Heidi truck that can haul all of us and our bikes.

We used to go on massive rides, pedaling until exhaustion each day. Now we’re pretty good after about three hours. We spend our energy points wisely.

Going on an all-girls camping and riding trip used to be a really big deal. Now it feels completely normal.

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But it’s the things that have stayed the same that make this trip so special.

The flurry of emails beforehand deciding on meals to cook and cocktails to drink. The riding of bikes in amazing places. The telling of stories. The peer pressure I feel after every ride to take a shower even when I’m fully convinced that it’s far too cold out (which is pretty much anything below 80 degrees and sunny). The sharing of good book recommendations, a list which sustains me for months afterwards.

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It’s all just so easy. Meals get cooked. Dishes get done. Snacks are shared. Bikes are ridden. No drama. No stress.

We started off this year by joining the Tokyo Joes’ girls on their Porcupine Rim shuttle for Heidi’s birthday. 16 women strong, there was so much bike riding experience and power in this group that it blew my mind. From racers to advocates to team managers who launched some amazing bike racing careers to all-around badasses, it was a privilege of the highest order to get to ride with this group.

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Of course, it was still Porcupine Rim with all of the requisite silliness, but it was the most fun that I’ve had on that trail.

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Traffic jam on the Notch

We got real motivated the next day to do a big loop on some new and old trail in the Mag 7 area. We were still feeling good when we ran into a group of packraft bikepackers who were doing an overnight on the Green River shuttled by trails on their fatbikes. Kay knew Rick, and Rick knew me, so I got my annual ‘You’re Eszter, you’re famous.’ I swear, this happens to me once per year, and it’s always during Girls’ Trip.

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And I always get a load of shit for it.

Anyhow. I need a packraft. And some packraft skills. Because their trip sounded amazing.

In the end, we ended up getting nearly epic’d by that much pedaling. We got real tired-like. We are soft, and we embrace it. And we got a good laugh at thinking back to the days where we’d ride for 9 hours and get back to camp sunburnt, dehydrated, and completely whooped.

But we still dream big! We schemed up a following day of Flat Head Pass in the morning, and an Ahab in the afternoon, with Megan and I going for a Hidden Canyon run instead of Ahab. Megan is in training for a June ultra run, and she was real motivated-like.

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But after Flat Pass and a dip in Ken Lake, I thought for sure she’d relent and vote for Milt’s instead of more activity. Everyone else had given up the idea of a second ride long ago.

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But not Megan, and I wasn’t about to bail on supporting her motivation. So we had the other girls drop us off at Barney Rubble, set up our shuttle on the other side at the bottom of Moab Rim, and took off climbing after shoveling some food into our bellies.

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It was beautiful…and I’m sure there’s a lesson in this. Something along the lines of ‘Always say yes to adventure with friends.’

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And really, as long as we walked the up-hills, it wasn’t entirely all that painful. Or something. That’s a lie. Running is never easy.

And since we got milkshakes and tots at Milt’s afterwards, all was right in the world.

We finished the trip off with a lap around Ahab in the morning. Because what’s a trip to Moab without Ahab? (a lot safer?) I kid. I like Ahab. Sorta. Once per year.

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Eventually, most everyone drove off in their separate directions. Front Range. Montana. Durango. A few of us sat around drinking a round of cocktails at camp waiting for our men to show up from their own long-weekend adventures.

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Satisfied. Happy. A little bit sad that we’d have to wait another year for next time.

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Here’s to hoping for another 10 years in the desert filled with as many memories as the past 10.


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Three Days on the Kokopelli

Back in 2013, Semi-Rad.com wrote a blog post called ‘Make plans, not resolutions‘ which basically stated that instead of pulling the ‘Oh, I’d like to do this sometime’ or ‘Let’s get together someday’ BS that is so easy to do, one should make concrete plans, and then stick to them. The post really resonated with me, and since then, whenever someone says something along the lines of ‘I’d like to do this’ or ‘Let’s go on a trip together’ I don’t just say ‘Okay’, I say ‘Sure. Let’s set a date.’

And 9 times out of 10, once the date is committed to, the plan comes to fruition. Sometimes not in it’s original form, but something fun and memorable tends to happen.

So back in February when I was visiting 24-Hours of Old Pueblo and Rachel said, ‘Let’s go bikepacking’ and Beth said, ‘I’d love to do the Kokopelli’, I said, ‘Let’s set a date.’ We’d done three days on White Rim the spring before and had a blast.

After consulting with Alexis, we set a date for a three-day weekend at the end of April, ignored the direly cold weather forecast, took along our token male, Sean, and headed out from the Loma trailhead. Destination: Milt’s in Moab.

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I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with the Koko. After two completely disastrous attempts at going fast on it (Thanks mud, thanks stomach), I had a great three day bikepack on it with Bec and Becky last fall (Thanks friends!). But even with three days, it’s freakin’ hard. Billed as a “dirt road route” it never fails to hand my ass to me. Generally chaffed, hurting, and ready to never sit on a bike seat again.

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But I seem to keep going back. Because it’s beautiful. Because it’s remote. Because it actually is fairly entertaining riding the whole way, especially if you take single track options along the way. That’s another one of those added bonuses to not racing – taking the fun route is more important than taking the ‘real’ route. And largely because I have a quota of ‘Bad Life Decisions’ to make each year.

I jest. Koko is always a good life decision. Unless it’s rainy. Then it’s a very poor life decision.

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Our first day brought us through the fun single track of Loma, through the heinous hike-a-bike down to and up from Salt Creek, to Rabbit Valley where we picked up the first water cache that Alexis and I had dropped on our way to Loma, then onto Trail 2, Western Rim, up The Big Hill, and straight towards the La Sals until morning. Not really. Only until we found a nice campsite that was somewhat protected from the wind.

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The wind. The wind has the opportunity to make or break any Koko trip, especially in the middle miles from Westwater to Dewey Bridge. I’m not sure who had the Good Karma points stored up, but we got a ripping tailwind the whole way on Day 2. This is exceptionally amazing because the wind was blowing opposite of what it normally does in that area.

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We were very, very, very, very (very, very) lucky.

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Sand Canyon, I mean, Yellow Jacket Canyon, was beautiful as always. I love the contrast of the desert sandstone with the snowy La Sals. Surfing around in sand is always a lot of fun too.

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We picked up our second water cache at Dewey Bridge — so much better than trying to filter out of the Colorado River, and so easy to set up with a smidge of planning.

No one likes the next section of the route. It’s often called the Shandies, aka the Shitty Sandies. It’s a lot of up. It’s a lot of sand. And the bit of relief you get from the sand in Cottonwood Creek, you have to hike-a-bike out of. But it’s pretty?

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In my head, it’s the crux of the thing. Get up the Shandies, you get rewarded by a chunk-filled descent with amaze-balls views, and then you only have two more climbs which are even bigger to deal with before the final descent into Moab. (but we don’t talk about those climbs while trying to get up the Shandies)

Koko is rough!

We spent a freezing night camped above Rose Garden Hill and all had ice in our bottles in the morning. I’d spent the night rubbing my feet together trying to keep them from going completely numb. I don’t think any of us fared very well, and it was a relief when the sun finally made it’s appearance over the cliffs in the morning.

Water from Hideout, then heads down for climbing.

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Not really. We got a geology lesson from Alexis, found a fault line, spotted birds, and got our tired butts up to Polar Mesa. We knew the climbing for the day was almost over. A road closure on La Sal Mountain Loop Road would prevent us from doing the final climb to Sand Flats road. And in all honestly, I was pretty okay with that.

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Instead, we coasted down Castle Valley road (those towers are amazing!) and pulled together a fairly to mostly pathetic team time trial along Hwy 128, following the Colorado River straight into Moab. 15 miles, 1-mile pulls each, 3 pulls per person. At least it was entertaining for the most part…less entertaining when Rachel put the hammer down on her last pull and dropped all of us.

The Sand Flats finish to Koko is romantic for many reasons: the views, the massive downhill, but most importantly, because it goes straight to Milt’s. Our finish was less romantic, but still just as effective, landing us with a table full of milkshakes, fries, tots, and burgers in an incredibly reasonable (for Milt’s) amount of time.

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Scott and Denny met us with our shuttle vehicle that we loaded up with bikes and people for the trek back to Loma, picking up our spent water caches on the way. We schemed bikepacking routes for next spring. ‘Let’s make a spring bikepack an annual tradition!’

Yes. Yes we should. All we have to do is set a date.

Alexis and I were back in Moab before 10, thoroughly exhausted. I’ve never been so happy to have a warm and enclosed space to keep my toes warm all night.

Kokopelli. I always swear never again. But I’ll always go back. It’s just too special not too.


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Taking the Slow Road

We pulled up to a kiosk in Kodachrome Basin State Park in the middle of central Utah on our bikes, giddy with the discovery that the state park, which I’d spied on some advertisement in Kanab, opened many of its trails to mountain bikes. Another rider was there, loading up his bike into his truck.

“Have you ridden here before?” he asked us.

“Nope,” we relied.

“Well, me neither, but I just rode everything here as fast as I could. It took me about an hour and a half.”

“Oh.”

We really didn’t know what to say to him, so we left to go ride.

“Why is everyone in such a hurry all the time?” was all I could ask myself.

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We were surrounded by beauty, and I’m talking big beauty (they wouldn’t turn the place into a protected park unless it was far above average for beauty, and that’s saying a lot in Utah), and the defining characteristic of this guy’s ride was that he did it as fast as possible? I’m all for riding fast, riding fast is fun, but day-um, stop and enjoy the view sometime! Smell some flowers! Go skinny dipping in a creek! Take a nap! (Of course, I don’t know this guy’s story, and I should probably just be less judgemental about him, but I’m always skeptical about people who only measure their rides in numbers.)

Stopping to enjoy the view was our philosophy for getting across Utah on our migration to Moab this time around. While the fastest, flattest route is definitely through Monument Valley, we had three days before we had to be there, so why not see what there was to see on the way. So we took Hwy 12, Utah’s All-American Highway. Whatever that means.

It was a classic case of Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

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Once we left Hatch and our favorite alien diner, where we ran into a bike tourist who was raising money for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance by riding his bike to all of the national parks and monuments in the state (we traded him coffee and fries for his stories from his trip), we didn’t come into reliable cell reception until we were back on I-70 three days later.

It was great.

We spent the first night at Kodachrome Basin State Park, surrounded by towering red and white cliffs. Apparently camping at these parks is mostly by reservation, and we felt pretty lucky to get shoved into an overflow camping spot along with the rest of the Poor-Planners.

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Our drive the next day took us through miles and miles of stunning rock, including the Hogback which is a narrow strip of road with cliffs on either side and endless views of slickrock and canyons. We paused at an absolutely delicious cafe in Boulder City, UT, for lunch, just as a snow squall blew through the area. Every touring motorcycle group within 50 miles ended up there with us, and lunch was not a fast affair.

But who’s in a hurry?

We thought maybe we’d be able to sneak into a campsite at Capitol Reef National Park. Apparently national parks don’t reward Poor Planners, and we felt pretty lucky to escape the visitors center without getting run over/running over anyone.

Luckily, we were able to play I Spy and found a piece of BLM land not too far away to dump the Scamp while we went for a hike.

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To say that we lucked out with the campsite is nothing short of an understatement. National Parks campgrounds versus this…

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…I love me some amenities when Scamping sometimes, but we were pretty glad that the park camp site had been full for hours before we even thought about showing up. I’m sure there’s a ‘road less traveled’ lesson here.

And then on to Moab. Past Goblin Valley (next time!), past Green River (is it melon season yet?), and onto the highway that we know all too well, back to the campsite that is waiting like an old friend.

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We could have spent the rest of the summer exploring the sites of Highway 12, but Alexis was coming, there was a bikepacking trip to rig for. But I sure am glad that we took the slower route to Moab. It made all the difference.

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Grand Canyon, Buckskin Gulch: A Ten-Year Anniversary

Megan and I have been adventuring together for over ten years now.

Ten years. That’s a decade of life.

We’ve skied together, ridden together, run together, and from Day 1, there was no other woman who I’d rather play with in the backcountry. Before she came along, I pretty much only skied and rode with guys. Going out with only Megan (Oh did we have some good adventures! Like getting frost-nipped trying to ski 14,000+ ft Mt Bross on a windy day, or trying to link 100 miles of Nederland trails together during the YWRH 100) was the first time I realized that I could be just as strong and safe in the backcountry with another woman as I could be with men. Potentially more so. Women adventure partners were special, and Megan was the best of the best.

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10 years ago – 14,000+ feet. 40 mph+ winds. We froze ourselves. I don’t know if we’ve actually gotten any smarter since then…

Of course, my little mid-20’s brain didn’t fully absorb this lesson until years later, but I like to think that those first years of playing together laid the foundation for my current obsession with spending time in the outdoors with strong women.

When Megan mentioned that she had to be in Tucson for a week in late April, I immediately convinced her to spend a few extra days in the area for adventuring. Somehow, I also convinced her to come up to do a run in Paria Canyon, which happens to start in Utah…which is a long ways from Tucson, and when on the way to Paria Canyon, a Grand Canyon run on the way up seemed like a prudent idea.

We settled on a lollipop route down Grandview Trail and around to Dripping Spring. A trip report I read claimed 17 miles. Perfect. Scott mentioned something about the rationality of doing four nearly 20 mile runs in a week.

But who am I to think about such details?

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Down we went to Horseshoe Mesa.

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A little bit of extra credit mileage when we passed our turn because we were too busy gabbing.

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Down to the Tonto where the flowers were still spectacular.

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Around to Dripping Spring where we paused to give thanks for all that was good in our lives. And to drink some water coming straight out of the rock, too.

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And back up. When we finished the loop part, it seemed that no time had passed. I checked the GPS – only 9.5 miles, even with the extra credit. The look of sadness on Megan’s face when contemplating the fact that her Canyon run would be over in three miles was devastating.

Could we do another loop? Is that a good idea? Is that a real question?

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We dropped down to Cottonwood spring off of the other side of the Horseshoe Mesa, filling up on water on the briskly moving stream. The trail wrapped around the northern end of Horseshoe Mesa, and we ascended the same trail that we’d descended a few hours earlier.

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Now it was time to finish off the stem of our loop. Megan led, I struggled to follow. We paused in the shade to regroup. At the top Megan dumped a liter of water over my head to try to get me feeling better. It wasn’t until after I puked pretty much all of the water I’d drank during the run out over a wall (think drunk girl at a college frat party) that I started to feel better.

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Given that it wasn’t hot out, I’m blaming it on something I ate. Puking. Gross. Ew.

I spent the three hour drive up to Jacob Lake working on rehydration. We also stopped to see the nesting Condor that you could see from Navajo Bridge. The momma was sleeping in the cliff wall, volunteers from the Peregrine Fund had a spotting scope trained on her. This is the first time that Condors have built a nest and laid an egg in the wild in a location where humans could observe them without disturbing them. There was much excitement.

We met Scott up at Jacob Lake where he’d towed the Scamp while we were busy skipping around the Canyon. Scott’s the best.

An early morning and shuttle set up had all three of us moving just shy of 10 at the Wire Pass trailhead. We made it down the chockstone drop with some level of grace. (#alternativefacts) and we immersed ourselves in the depths of the earth for the day.

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The canyon varies between tight, tall, walls…DSC06871_resize

And wide openings where the sun warmed our chilly arms and legs.

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Megan said that it was a cross between walking through a sculpture and a cathedral. I think the description is pretty spot on.

We knew that there’d be water in the slot. Reports from a week earlier indicated that the deepest were only waist deep.

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Scott contemplating the Freedom Step. The step where you finally give up and get your shoes wet. 

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The pools started out ankle deep, then knee deep, and then finally we hit the waist deep ones. Jackets went on, feet went numb. Running the dry sections felt like running on wooden stubs.

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It was almost unbearably beautiful.

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Eventually, we emerged to Middle Earth, an open area after the “cesspools” where the sun shone strong. We welcomed the warmth to eat lunch by.

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We arrived at the “Boulder Jam” where “technical climbing skills may be required” shortly after leaving Middle Earth. Caroline, my beta provider, had said that it wasn’t too bad, and that there were fixed ropes attached. I think she may have also said that she would have climbed down the Moki steps even if the rope wasn’t there. Caroline is a badass.

We had two options for ropes. One with a smaller drop but a landing on a slanted rock and no steps carved in, and the main Moki step route. We futzed around at the top comparing the two options for longer than I want to admit. Finally, after watching Scott look all sorts of sketchy exploring differing body positions for going down the lower drop (we’re not climbers, clearly) I decided that the safest option would be the steps.

It was the scariest thing that I’ve done in a long time, and I was still shaking with adrenaline long after I guided Megan and Scott down. It was like teaching a yoga class. “Now left leg down, just a little farther, swivel to the right, now right leg down, reach around to the left…and now you have to jump.”

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Photo from Megan

It was exciting. It made me excited for more scrambling.

Relieved to have made it through the crux, we trotted our way out to the confluence of the Paria River and Buckskin Gulch and turned upstream.

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It was a long seven miles back. Lucky for us, it was real purdy as well.

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When things turned sloggy, we stopped in the shade to eat snacks. I try to minimize the suffering.

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We emerged at the White House trail head late afternoon, exhausted, exuberant, shoes and socks packed with sand. What an amazing place to spend the day. It was quite possibly the most beautiful day I’ve ever spent in nature, so it’s only fitting that I got to spend it with Scott and Megan.

I would have been real sad to see Megan drive down the road, pointed towards Tucson where she was headed to a conference to help save the world, or at least public lands, but I knew that I’d see her in Moab in under two weeks, and that made me feel better.

Ten years of adventuring. And each big one only gets better.


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Canyons, Condors, Toads, Lizards, and Running

 

One of the most common questions we get asked is ‘Where to next?’

While on some level, we do wander around aimlessly and see what adventuring falls into our lap, there generally is a method to our madness. Or at least some event in the near future at a faraway place that we’re aiming for. In this case, we had about nine days between when we left Tucson on a hot-as afternoon and a date with my Best Bad Idea Adventure Buddy up in southern Utah.

Clearly, the most logical pit stop between these two locations was the Grand Canyon because cell reception is awesome, and it’s a great place to just chill and rest my legs in preparation for my big running date. #alternativefacts (Cell coverage stinks, WiFi is horrendously slow everywhere, and I can’t resist the allure of the Big Ditch)

We started with a little bit of a Big Ditch run warm-up the afternoon we rolled in. Scott forced us to turn around long before I wanted to citing rational reasons such as: I don’t want to get sore during my first afternoon at the Canyon. He’s a smart one, that boy. Still, a sunset run down below the rim is always a special event.

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We went on a couple of exploratory rides from our campsite. The entire area is crisscrossed with lightly trafficked dirt roads. New connections were discovered, and we saw a horny toad, which is always a noteworthy experience. Little dinosaurs, they are.

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Then Danielle and Nancy showed up from PHX. The goal: Lemonade from Phantom Ranch.

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I’m not all that sure why I have such an obsession with running to the bottom of the Big Ditch for a $3.75 cup of ice-cold lemonade, but I do, and I’ve accepted it as such.

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It might have something to do with the massive views on the way down South Kaibab Trail.

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Or the semi-well manicured trail that is oh-so-runnable, most of the way down.

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Or the chance to people watch at Phantom Ranch and on the trail.

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Whatever it is, it was awesome to get to spend a day with Nancy and Danielle, and when we emerged from Bright Angel trail back on the Rim, none of us were wrecked. Which is always awesome.

But I was sore the next day. Doh! But luckily, I’m also a bit dumb, so when Scott proposed a 24 mile run on the Tonto trail a day later, descending the Hermit Trail, diving in and out of three drainages on the Tonto Plateau, and then climbing back up Bright Angel trail, I immediately agreed.

Because tapering. I was resting up for my adventure later in the week.

We woke up long before we’re used to waking up and took the Hermit’s Rest shuttle out to the far end of the road. If all went according to plan, we’d emerge from the Canyon just feet from the van. I love it when shuttles are easy.

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We made quick work of the descent to Windy Point, down the Cathedral Steps, and onto the Plateau.

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The Tonto was absolutely exploding with flowers and devoid of people.

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The miles went surprisingly easily and quickly to Monument Creek, our first water stop for the day. Birds chirped. Lizards posed. Water flowed. Wind blew gently through the tress. Quite idyllic, if I may say so myself.

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On to Salt Creek (too salty), Horn Creek (radioactive from Uranium), and Indian Gardens where we once again joined back in with the crowds of the Canyon. 20+ miles in by this point, we stopped to soak our feet in the spring, cool the core temperatures, and partake in my favorite Grand Canyon activity: People watching.

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I’d love to say we walked out of there in a spirited manner, but really, it was more of a slog. But it was okay, because we were surrounded by other people who were equally on the Suffer Bus, so we had plenty of company.

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We went for burgers and cake as the Maswik Lodge afterwards to celebrate. I was so impressed by Scott. He’s definitely spent a lot less time running than I have, and aside from nearly letting the wheels fall off the Suffer Bus near the top (I gave him my walking sticks, that helped), he pulled the route off with grace.

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Then I committed myself to resting. Megan was showing up in two days and had decided that she also wanted to do a Canyon run before our main objective. Part of my resting routine is to take care of all of those pesky life chores that have to be taken care of even if you live in a Scamp. Chores like laundry, which can actually be done incredibly cheaply on the South Rim of the Canyon at the campground.

Laundry was also a good excuse to take a break from work that day, but when it was done, I was ready to get back to the computer screen to earn Fun Tokens. But Scott insisted that we go wander around at the rim for a little bit. We were at the Grand Canyon after all.

I relented, and I’m so glad I did.

Condor #87 was sitting at Mather Point putting on a show for any one who wanted to watch. With sub-500 condors alive, it’s a true treat to see this gigantic bird. I’d never had the pleasure, and here was one seeming to be completely content to sit on a rock and have it’s picture taken.

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Except of course, since we’d only come to the Canyon to do laundry, the only camera we had was my iPhone. (There’s a life lesson here: always carry a camera, even if you’re just going to do laundry) Lucky for us, there was a #birdnerd who happened to be there with a spotting scope, and we got to get an up-close and personal look at the head of this giant bird.

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He stretched. He dried his wings and let the UV from the sun kill bacteria on his feathers. He preened. And eventually he took off, dropping straight into the Canyon, not to be seen again.

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What a special, special experience. Pretty glad I wasn’t actually that motivated to work that afternoon. I could have left the Canyon that night, completely content with the experience. But it turns out, I have a Best Bad Idea Adventure Buddy who was having FOMO from afar and wanted some Canyon time for herself.

I wasn’t about to object.

 

 


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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.