Knowing what you want to do is sometimes harder than actually doing it.
Where do I want to focus my MTB energies? It’s something I think about often this time of year. There are so many directions I can go, and they *all* appeal to me. It’s one of the best things about the sport — the diversity and options:
- Go chunk-crazy, maybe get an actual big bike, or bolster the ones I have? Bend my moral code and start shuttling trails, maybe race enduro? Wear armor, lots. Skills, skills, skills.
- Go short, do speedwork (which I do enjoy, on a limited basis), ride hard on local loops and kill strava times. Earn a ‘Pro’ license, just to say I did it.
- Ride singlespeed, making old trails new and challenging, maybe race some on it too — that idea is intriguing.
- Competitive bikepacking. Come back for redemption and slay the AZT 750. Do short trail runs and carry my bike around on my back.
new trail – Ridgeline in the Tortolitas
- Race many of the enticing new routes popping up in ID, CA, or ones I haven’t ridden like TNGA. New trails, new country and dealing with unknowns while trying to go fast.
- Pick up a packraft and start map dreaming. There are still routes waiting to be conjured up and attempted, with bikes and boats. I sorta almost know how to paddle. Can learn.
- Ride the triple crown – try to really nail it on sleep and nutrition, going for the fastest overall time for AZTR/TD/CTR and see if I can do it without being shattered by it. Enjoy lots of time out on the bike, even if non-negligible suffering is a near constant.
- Dust off the fat bike and head to Nome. Unlikely this winter, but it still has serious appeal.
- Strike off and tour around by bike, gypsy by trade style. Spend a good chunk of the year traveling, riding trails, seeing friends, and working by laptop.
- Travel to foreign places and explore new routes. Peru’s Great Divide has been calling me, in particular. The Kiwi Brevet and New Zealand are starting to look likely this winter.
- Bike-safari with the sports van and/or airstream trailer, setting up camp in cool locations. Ride killer trails by day, compute at night and snuggle up in a cozy portable home.
- Just ride trails and roads, and simply be. Be outside. Smile at the sun. Ride with my love and my friends. Camp under the stars. No competition, no breaking of new ground or new limits. From some angles the ‘will to win’ is a weakness.
- Set off on a huge bikepacking trip, riding a route no one has really done or attempted (I have one in mind..). Do lots of map work and see how it materializes on the ground. Big adventure and lots of hike-a-bike, and living off the bike.
And that’s just what came off the top of my head this morning. There’s plenty more. Isn’t mountain biking grand?
Maybe not. There’s an idea in psychology that having too many options is actually bad for us. You can be paralyzed by indecision, worry about regretting your choices (unfulfilled potential?) and be overwhelmed by options and a sea of unknowns. I know, life is tough, right? The brain is barely (or poorly) set up for evaluating uncertainty and probability in even relatively simple and constrained situations. How do we choose the most life-optimal option when there are so many choices and so much uncertainty?
I wouldn’t say I struggle with it, but it does keep me pondering at times. From my view, having too many choices is a good problem to have. It may force you to take a step back and evaluate what you are doing and where you want to go more often, but I see that as a good thing (along the lines of ‘an examined life isn’t worth living.’).
Taking that step back, having a wealth of options, all of which are appealing and will likely lead to good things, is a very fortunate place to be. It leads to a huge sense of gratitude, for everything I have, the life and opportunity I was given and have created. I realize that so many other people are not so lucky. They have far fewer options, even if the lack of options is self-imposed (we only have the options we give to ourselves).
I run into this ‘problem’ a lot. Being self-employed, I can work whenever I want and on whatever I want. The options really are limitless. It’s a great place to be, but it does have its downsides. Occasionally I wish someone would take the uncertainty out of it, and that I could just be done at 5pm on a Friday, leaving work and everything else behind. But only occasionally.
Being self-employed and on the computer, I can also live pretty much anywhere. That generally means I follow good riding weather around, and always follow good trail around. But I don’t have to do either of those. Occasionally I think it’s nice to have some hard constraints that tell me I have to be in certain places at certain times. But only occasionally.
This is mainly a mountain bike diary, so, back to riding. What should I do with 2014? Undoubtedly this topic is on my mind partly because it’s been on Eszter’s. I may be thinking about it now because she has been, but it also may be that my uncertainty and many-options-in-life style is rubbing off on her, too.
Underlying all of this is an internal debate about competitiveness. To race or not to race? And if if I’m going to race, how seriously do I take it? I have great respect for principles like hard work and determination. I enjoy the satisfaction of a long term payoff for an investment. But I have also seen the cost of hyper focusing, doing too much, and an unbalanced lifestyle. Life is too short to be burned out or to be spending six months recovering. I think I am starting to settle on a practice of sustainable ‘training.’ I’ve always had the suspicion that you can get 80-95% of the performance from something like 50-60% of the effort. By effort I don’t mean time spent on the bike or actual effort when riding fast or ‘training.’ I still like riding a lot, and riding hard (at times). I mean the actual overall effort that ‘training’ entails. Everything from workouts, to diet, to rigid scheduling, to focus and (perhaps most importantly) mental energy. You only have so much mental energy to give in life, and focusing everything at training doesn’t leave much for everything else.
striving for perfection – actual tool being used by the Ridgeline Trail crew!
Or maybe I’m just making this all up. Maybe it’s just an excuse for not completely applying myself. I do feel the urge to do just that at times. See exactly how far I can take it. Maybe get my name to show up a few more times on a webpage that only I check (and that I maintain!). But what does that really mean? What does it mean to be the best (in the world, even?) at one given time? A noble goal, or a means to an end? Do we really have to give it 100% of life resources to have it be a laudable achievement, to get there at all, or to have ‘given it our all’? You can still give it your all once you get out there. Isn’t it more about the experience? Isn’t life about the experience? Racing can be a means to an end. A way, a crutch perhaps, to give riding bikes a little bit more meaning. A concrete goal, a way to limit the options and uncertainty (quite literally in the case of following a red line from a GPX somebody else put together).
I don’t have the answers. I am just asking the questions. I do know that, to me, life gets a whole lot more interesting when you have a goal, when you’re doing something new (going where others have not gone before), or are applying yourself. But life is also a lot more interesting when you do many things and strive for some kind of balance.
The answer for what I’ll do this year, on the bike, is uncertain. But I am certain it’ll be some mixture of the above options, and I’m sure it will be good. And one thing is most certain: I will keep riding bikes as long as I’m able.
For the Thanksgiving ‘break’ we opted to skip traveling by car or plane, going for travel by bike.
Paying thanks to the beautiful world we are so lucky to live in.
And the amazing bodies we have to experience it with.
For the perfect weather, the warm sun.
For the complicated symphony of conditions that had to come together, for us to be here, and now, together.
For remote singletrack, just outside wilderness.
None of these things are to be taken for granted, ever. Though all are, at one time or another.
For the perfect balance of sun and dark, the rhythm of the cosmos.
thanksgiving dinner – fish tacos
We dined on tacos, and enjoyed a rare ‘wet’ camp, just above a reliable desert seep.
Camp’s sunrise view, time to get out there!
The AZT was crowded in the morning! Saguaros throwing elbows, trying to muscle their way into a better view of the day and the Gila valley.
The first morning on a bikepack is my favorite. No gear decisions to be make, no bikes to load in cars. Nowhere to hide, hermit away. No computer to ‘check’. Just pack up what little you have, try to convince yourself that what little you ate for breakfast is anywhere near enough, then get on and start pedaling, into the morning, into the world.
We crossed the mighty Gila, inches deep in November.
En route to a playground.
Of strange and wonderful rock.
This is the place.
I dropped the gear. Dropped the saddle. Eszter opted for a nap in the sun.
I opted to pedal through one of my favorite landscapes anywhere. I only scared myself a few times, and limited myself to only a handful of times hitting my favorite drop into kitty litter / moonscape landing. Brilliant.
Pondering life direction and collecting shells at a lower crossing of the Gila.
Approaching the Box, the Eszter diesel purred into action, settled into gear.
Once going, almost nothing can stop it. Not even a big old hike-a-bike in the 80 degree afternoon sun. The legendary Orphan Boy climb, ghost of AZT 300′s past.
I just had to try and hold on for the ride. Eventually, back on the AZT heading towards Picketpost, there was enough downhill and enough switchbacks that I caught her. “Can I have a fruit bar?” I was fighting off a good little bonk. Scott diesel sputtering.
Giant plates of Greek food were our reward in Florence. Chance of bonk, zero percent.
Another theme of Thanksgiving, for whatever reason, is abundance and gluttony. Caroline came fresh off the Flight of the Pigs ride in Phoenix, and was looking for a few good rides. There’s an abundance of such things in Tucson, and though our legs may not have been fresh, gluttony was the name of the game. Mmmm, ride binge.
We took her on a version of the TMP ‘Big’ loop, from home. Something we had yet to do since arriving a month ago.
Nailing rock stairs!
Lots of classic Starr Pass chunky rubble for the first half.
And some of my favorite roads, through Saguaro National Park, on the back end.
Maybe a silly gasline climb or two. Ok, maybe a dozen+.
Mi Ranchito was the recovery weapon of choice after 5+ hours of pedal time.
AZT called us the next day.
Maybe it calls every day?
Smooth and reasonable, good for tiring bodies.
Or is it? Time to session some rocks! Yeah!
Ez and Caroline found some good ones, giving them many tries. Making progress.
And nailing them! YES!
Meanwhile, in the back of my head, was a rock that quietly minds its own business as many an AZT user passes through. I made weak attempts to roll up to it on the way out.
On the way back, inspired by the persistence and spirit of the girls, I had to give it a good, good effort. And it went, on a bike with only one gear. That really surprised me.
Ice cream AZT rides are quickly becoming a favorite, and even better when they end with another round of tacos at the Ranchito. It was a gluttonous and very tasty four days of Thanksgivin’.
Backtracking to pre-Thanksgiving rides. We finally got out to the 50 year trail, giving the upper loop a go with Ez on my Behemoth and me on the singlespeed.
Such a unique area, and one that deserves more of my attention. Climbing was fun on the little bike, but the way down was a little limiting or at least intimidating.
Climbing the goat hill up to the wash.
On yet another precious evening Starr Pass loop. So lucky to have it so close.
Abbreviated Techy Taco ride with Chad and Rob. I locked Eszter out, so I sprinted up and back the main trail, then made tracks for home. Going down the usual climb was really hard! Loved it.
Techy make up day, on a tightly cholla’d Wagon Wheel trail. Goodness me is that trail ever challenging and such such fun.
Not to mention evening views to die for.
Dropping down hooligan, blinded by the red light in my eyes, holding on to the edge of the trail, tires and rocks sliding, coyotes in the distance, cholla in the knuckles, life in the heart.
For a week or so, my monitor looked like this. The biggest event in trackleaders history rolled out last weekend. There were nearly 300 SPOTs in play, and as many supplemental data loggers. Hundreds of thousands of pageviews. A brand new full screen interface developed and put to the test. Late nights that ended at 3am. New penalty and speed monitoring code implemented and subjected to a trial by fire post-race, ultimately deciding the winner in several big classes. Getting the server ready for a slamming, and hoping good programming would save us.
There were some hiccups along the way, but overall, it was awesome. It’s one of the most challenging events anyone has ever tracked, and I think we nailed it.
proof that I did ride with Scott Taylor while he was here
It was a rough week, though. I appreciate the patience of those around me, who are not used to me being glued to the computer and showing signs of stress, too. We had house guests in the days leading up to it, and I was only able to get out to ride with them once. They had some good adventures around Tucson without me, of course.
solo sunset, much better than a computer screen
I got out to ride almost every day, even if it was only on the local trails and only for an hour at sunset. What a relief, and what a fortune to have beautiful weather and dirt right out the door.
A few rides were longer, like this afternoon when we went for Golden Gate.
Eszter claims she threw a techy tantrum. I knew she was riding well, and is getting the hang of Tucson riding very quickly.
I was just happy to be doing something besides Baja. Outside, in the sun, on trails, with my love, even if she isn’t having the best day. Soon I’d be back in the fray of emails and trying to do the work of multiple people at the same time.
And at long last, the event was over, the penalty software had been tweaked to suit, and awards were held. Matthew finally got some sleep in Mexico.
The afternoon was perfect, so we headed for the Arizona Trail.
Much of it was new-in-daylight to Eszter, and it’s one of my favorite pieces of trail anywhere.
After riding in the Tucson mountains for a week+, the AZT seems downright smooth and easy. It was so nice.
Except for the odd challenging sections. Just below this is a big rock I’ve ridden a few times and goaded others into attempting, too. I couldn’t get myself to do more than put my front wheel on it today though. It just looked all sorts of wrong — like a terrible idea to attempt. Next time.
ran into Aaron T. out there
The only downside to riding out there is you pretty much have to ride out/back.
Very minor downside, especially if you’re lucky enough to be there for the golden hour.
We were in the right place at the right time. Right where we were supposed to be. The evening unfolded sublimely in front of us.
I had the brilliant idea to turn my Leviathan into a singlespeed. I always knew that at some point in my life singlespeeding would make a lot of sense. I think that time may be now.
I have a bike available for the first time, and it sure makes the local riding a lot more challenging, serving as a good equalizer.
We had a brilliantly technical ride on Stonehouse and Cat Mountain, where Ez cleared a bunch of new lines, and I shocked myself at what would ‘go’ on the single. Lots of it took multiple tries and an adjustment of attitude (I am a sit/spin granny gear type of rider, so SS and momentum are the antithesis of my style).
It was big fun. We were both riding huge waves of rock-fueled crack as we pedaled back home and the cloud blanket was highlighted by the sky painters. We changed clothes, hopped on the basket bikes and finished the day off with carne asada at the Ranchito. Livin’.
I’ve been reviving the Behemoth, and with big rain coming on the weekend, we thought it wise to ride something higher. We busted out the knee pads, climbing Prison and the highway, then hit Bugs. What a seriously fun trail. Eszter scared herself pretty good on one set of steep water bars. I floundered on the uphill steps, claiming singlespeed torched legs or some other lame excuse.
One thing is for sure, those trails are silly fun to ride on bikes with lots of suspension. Also for certain, we needed some rest, so the two days of solid rain that have followed are a blessing. We wouldn’t have been able to resist riding otherwise. It’s just too much fun here, and I have a lot of computer time to try to balance out.
Oh-dark-thirty start, riding straight down Speedway
Riding down the backside of Lemmon has always been somewhat of a dubious prospect. Adventure trails, every last one of them. They’ve all epic’d more than a few mountain bikers.
And that’s if you shuttle them. We were up early, on a perfect day.
To climb the mountain.
By trail and by inclined plane.
It’s a fair bit of work to climb six or seven thousand feet in one push.
From the dusty desert basins to the pine covered crags.
Summerhaven snack break — the tallboy didn’t treat Chad so well
There’s really no ride quite like it — anywhere.
But it’s not a ‘girlfriend ride’, by any stretch or interpretation of the term, as lame of a term as it may be.
Even the shuttle version is not, so don’t even think about telling your girlfriend you think it’s a good idea that she come along for the all-day pedal version.
going down! waaaaaay down
Unless your girlfriend is a total badass on the bike, master of so many long and difficult rides.
Record holder of pretty much every long distance MTB record worth holding.
But even then, it may not be the wisest course of action to have two of the fastest and most skilled riders, both well versed in backcountry Lemmon travel, along for the ride. Hmm, maybe make that three.
“All unhappiness comes from comparison.” — Steve from Oregon, who arrived shortly after the CDO epic.
fall color soup, yumm, and creek crossing 31 of 45
We climbed and rode trails to the top just as fast as last year’s boys-only CDO epic.
Everyone rode well on the way down. It’s not easy riding, and Eszter was riding more than I thought she might. She got frustrated with herself, and I was sad that she wasn’t able to enjoy the day and the beautiful place we were in more fully. But I understood the reasons.
We got to enjoy a ripping descent down ‘the Gap’ — far more fun than I remembered, especially on the Mammoth. There was much airtime, and hooting and hollering.
The return ride on pavement was long and a little tedious, maybe a little unsafe as darkness fell. But in the macro view, it was a fantastic day to be outside and on the bike. I had finally kicked my lingering cold / sinus infection and was feeling good.
It was Eszter’s biggest ride in a long time. That was so cool to see. We were both keeping a good clip back into town, moving into hour 14 of the ride. She bounced back from it quicker than any of the boys on the ride, riding all over the place the following week.
Health and the ability to even seriously contemplate joining a ride like this are two things not to be taken for granted. I’m glad she decided to come along.
back in the land of the saguaro!
There has been SO much to see and do in Tucson.
First up, the Tucson mountains, right out the door.
I navigated us towards some good rocks to play on, but I don’t think either of us were quite ready for it.
The Tucson Mountains are a unique style of riding. The first time up Cat Mtn I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was riding on a slippery surface.
Which of course, I was, but not as slippery as it seems, with Colorado eyes.
It’s been so fun to show Eszter around, through the many twists and turns of the trailsystem. Seeing the trails through new eyes.
Seeing which parts are challenging for her.
And which parts aren’t at all.
She’s already picking up both the riding style and the memory map needed to navigate around out there.
Yep, unique riding style.
Unique beauty, and beautiful weather to match. We are in the right place.
A warm weekend and the desire to go somewhere new with Eszter brought us to the Galiuros and a spot I’ve long wanted to visit.
This time of year, in particular. I had heard from Abe Gold that colors were at their peak.
Eszter was skeptical there was any fall color to be had in Arizona. As we climbed up the 4×4 road towards Ash Creek, I couldn’t blame her. It’s a nice Oak Forest, but it was dry, and warm, and the mountains ahead showed no signs of color — not even the slightest hint. I tried to make the case that the light areas on the top of Mt. Graham were actually groves of yellow aspens, but it was hard to tell from so far away.
Subtle hints of changing trees led to outrageous color. Reds, pinks, magentas, yellows, greens, oranges, and everything in between.
Trail following error! No problem, just slide down the red maple slide!
Back to the trail!
Though you can ride the first 4 miles of the trail, we eventually hit the wilderness boundary and flipped it. With colors like these, it wasn’t a shame at all to have to do a dreaded ‘out and back.’
After a brief rest back at camp, we headed out again. Empty TD-esque dirt roads were the main surface. We went in search of open rock, instead of fall color, this time.
We did find the rocks I had spied in TopoFusion, just off High Creek, but there wasn’t too much to play on. We also couldn’t follow the road out of the rock area, and knowing that further connections on the loop I had drawn were even more dubious, we flipped it.
“I think this is the most continuous pedaling I’ve done in weeks.” Hmm, maybe a little bit too much rock monkeying and sessioning. Balance, balance.
It was a gorgeous evening for a pedal, with golden light showing us the way and paintbrush clouds showing us the curvature of the earth. As we settled in for sleep under the stars I would have put the likelihood of rain at less than zero percent. About an hour after falling asleep a skunk came by to check us out. He got within a couple of feet of me and just stared, sniffing. Not long after that I noticed I couldn’t see the stars anymore. Must be the moon washing them out, I thought. No way it could be clouds. The next time the skunk came by we felt a couple little sprinkles. Skunk and rain? Time to hit the back of the van.
It was a good thing, because it rained steady for a good half hour or more later that night. Thanks for waking us up, Mr. Skunk!
It’s a bit of a drive to the Galiuros, but I figured it was the perfect chance to also ride in a rarely visited but favorite mountain range of mine – the Dragoons.
The Cochise Stronghold trail cuts right through the heart of the range, through rock spires, hoodoos and incredible formations.
It’s easy to see how the Apaches were able to defend themselves here for so long.
It’s been 8 or 9 years since I’ve ridden here. For shame on me!
We debated about flipping it and just riding the singletrack out/back, but we’d done two out and backs the day before. It’s loop time!
The loop is a healthy ride, and neither of us really brought enough food.
We were both low on food, but I had eaten apple pie at Annie’s country store for breakfast, and also a subway sandwich the day before. Eszter’s calorie stores were already running low when she started the ride. So she bonked, pretty hard. At least we found dragon caves and saw rainbows.
mmm, fun hike-a-bike
Unfortunately I didn’t remember much about the return trail, nor had I ridden it for nearly a decade.
a fair bit of downhill HAB, everyone’s favorite!
To say the condition of the trail had deteriorated would be a gross understatement.
Had Eszter not been super-bonking and me fighting off a mild bonk, it probably wouldn’t have been that big a deal. But it wasn’t good timing.
She soldiered through it, impressively so. I’ve been there, and it’s not a particularly fun place to be.
Return of Tuesday meant a return to the Techy Taco trails for me.
What an absolute hoot.
You forget what a rocky trail really is. These trails quickly remind you that everything in CO that seems rocky…. well, it really isn’t.
The evening light, tricky moves around every corner, good friends.
It doesn’t get much better than that.
I had a pretty good first run at the place, at the trails I know so well. Chad was riding like he owns the place, and he pretty much does. A 100% clean run still eludes us out there. Maybe sometime this winter someone will crack it.
And finally, a hot date night Mi Ranchito ride. It was warm enough to break out some serious sweat. I followed Ez around as she zoomed through the desert, hitting turns and impressing me with how quickly she has picked ‘things’ up out there.
The tacos were just as delicious as I remember. Ah, Tucson. Look for the Ranchito ride to come back as a group ride for the rest of the winter!
On tap for tomorrow, the next in our early November tradition:
CDO Epic – 11/3/12 from Scott Morris on Vimeo.
The from-home, Lemmon Epic. Can’t wait, can’t wait, can’t wait!!