AZT 800

I just signed up to race the Arizona Trail 800. In exactly one month I will attempt to ride from the Mexican border all the way north to the Utah border. 836 miles of Arizona trails and roads, so much desert, so many mountains, millions of rocks and cactus. I am super excited, this has been on my bucket list for at least 11 years and it feels really good to be on track to make it happen. I am also equally terrified, this ride is huge, very hard, very hot, and includes taking apart my bike and carrying down and out of the Grand Canyon, then putting it back together and riding it the rest of the way!

practicing

On top of this being one of the hardest rides of my life, I am not in the best shape, there are so many things that have priority over training, riding, hiking, etc. So this is going to be very hard, especially since I am still a bike racer in my mind at least so I want to do it as fast as I can. It is going to hurt! It is going to be glorious!

While I have been trying to get prepared all summer, I suddenly have a lot to do in the next month. Rebuilding everything on my bike so it has a chance of smashing all them rocks and still roll the whole way. Finalizing the gear will take me from 95 degrees to sub-freezing somewhat comfortably, plus getting my system for carrying my bike and all that gear 21 miles down and up out of the Big Ditch. There is always the dilemma of how to keep the lights burning for all the night riding, how much water to carry, where can I get food, and how long is this actually going to take me? Plus how to make sure my family is all good while I am gone for almost 2 weeks is a big part of my planning as well. So Much To Do!

All the unknowns are exciting too. Most of my recent ultra’s have been the CTR and the Gunny Loopy Loop, both are so familiar and local that it is pretty easy getting dialed. While the first 300 miles of the AZT800, are somewhat known, the rest is 100% new, that feels fun and fresh. Plus I know a whole crew of fantastic folks that are planning on being at the Group Start, October 20th, it is going to be a party at the start! In fact I am still not sure how I am getting from Gunny to the Border for the start, yikes! Let’s all hope the next month is productive.

I plan to ride my Why El Jefe

Lessons from the Loopy

Had the privilege of riding in the 5th Gunny Loopy Loop over Labor Day Weekend. It was a hot sunny weekend in the mountains, but it was anything but a walk in the park. I took on the Biggie loop, 307 miles, 40,000’+ vert and while that might sound hard enough in numbers alone, there was much more to the Loopy than that. Some of those miles were just wicked! Steep, loose, with more rocks than you can imagine. It went from very physical hike a bike up, to super demanding descending that required a lot of work and focus.

My Why Cycles El Jefe on Carbon Creek Trail

Day one from Gunny thru Crested Butte and a bit beyond was 120 miles in about 19 hours, it was fairly fast, but so hot. I slept about 3 hours and got going at about 3:15 in the morning. Day two thru Taylor Park and up into the alpine odyssey portion of the route was more like 70 miles in about 20 hours, so much slower, so draining. My whole being was worked, body, mind, spirit were pushed to the limit, I slept about 3 more hours and got going again at about 3:30 AM. Day three I was actually feeling a bit better, guess I got a knack for getting my ass kicked after all. I managed to finish the route with about 110 miles in just over 24 hours, with just a 10 minute nap on top of Fossil Ridge to keep my legs and eyes from wobbling so much. I did the whole thing 3 days, 2 minutes, my goal was under 3 days, so I was damn close.

Timberline Trail

I experienced so much out there in that time. There is so much exposure to your thoughts, feelings, and emotions in a ride like this. After day one I saw no other racers, I spent almost all of those moving hours completely alone. It was filled with so many ups and downs, radical ones too. I had bleak moments of wondering why I was still going out into the mountains with an ultra light kit, taking on huge days, suffering immensely. I really thought at times that I didn’t have what it took to do this stuff any more, I wanted to quit a few times as my knees, hands, and feet screamed at me on climbs and descents. It hurt quite a bit and I didn’t sleep all that much. I kept thinking, who was the mad man that created this wickedly nasty route anyways?

top of the “Intercept”

It was so intense, so difficult, and down right brutal, but that also became a source of some of the magic I experienced out there too. I marched on through the pain and deep moments of doubt, on the other side of that I found much light, laughter, and joy. I found the truth that, for me especially, doing hard stuff is good! It makes me happier, more satisfied, more content with the things that were troubling me back in everyday life. I could see solutions and possibilities where I only saw deadends. My head was full of ideas! I also appreciated what my mind and body was somehow doing, it wasn’t a source of depressed disappointment, it was amazing in its capacity to do this crazy stuff and to do it with very little training, so few miles.

CDT sunrise

I finished at 4:02 Tuesday morning, 3 days and 2 minutes I was out there traveling under my own power from mountain to mountain, it seemed so much longer. I rolled home, ate some food, took a shower, crawled into bed and slept a few hours. I got up with my family, made some food, ate some more, started some laundry and went back to sleep. I got up in the afternoon feeling groggy and sort of useless, although I did manage to do some chores. Since then it has been back to the usual routine, work, chores, eat and sleep. It is hard to describe how strange it is to go from that place of intense, raw, exposed emotions and the acuity of my awareness to everyday life. I haven’t forgotten much of my thoughts and experiences and ideas that I had out there, but they are less in the foreground as I assimilate back into the reality of being a father, husband, worker. It is not bad, but I can still feel the call of the wild!

2022 CTR Fills Up, man I am tired

On Thursday, July 14th, Tracking registration opened up for this year’s Colorado Trail Race, it filled up in record time, just over 6 hours. It has been a slightly hectic run up to the race. I have gotten so many emails, messages and texts. The past few weeks I have spent part of my mornings, my lunch breaks, and some of every evening trying to get back to everyone that contacts me. Answering questions, writing and editing posts, sharing links, doing my own research, and making lists of names. It feels like a lot somedays!

There are lots of experienced riders including a talented women’s field showing up. I am stoked on all that. Despite the accusations of being a “gatekeeper”, nothing could be farther from the truth. I am always encouraging and supportive of folks wanting to take on this ride. When it comes to the Race, it just has to be done within the rules and within the ethos set forth, and I am always willing to be helpful in defining and explaining that as well. As a race director I get really nervous about setting a whole bunch of people with the intention of going as fast as they can, loose on the Colorado Trail. Many of these folks I know nothing about, I just hope that all the info out there has the majority of them educated enough to know how hard this ride is, what the rules are, and that they are prepared.

I will admit it was really hard to not be signing up to race as well. I love the CTR beyond words and it is always hard to sit it out. It really hit me on Thursday morning when I opened registration for Trackleaders. It hit me that I was not racing, also that I am not ready for the ride this year. Life has got me so busy and distracted with so many things other than riding my bike and doing big hikes, that I am really not in the kind of shape needed to have a good CTR. That was a gut punch that I am still feeling. I have managed to pull off a few big rides in the past few years, but I am drifting farther and farther from that ability, as I seem to get out less and less. So all you out there touring or racing the CT, get some of that amazing goodness for me!

2022 Fossil Ultimate and Underground Racing

This year’s Fossil Ultimate was amazing. Not sure if the planets were aligned or what, but everything went so well. The most riders in the three years of this event showed up, the most women lined up, and everyone finished. Not only that but many riders expressed so much joy and stoke after what is got to be one of the hardest 60 miles of bike riding. We have a new men’s and women’s FKT of the course as well as a new single speed FKT. It was also so beautiful out there, the recent rains have made the flowers pop, the grass so tall, and the trails tacky and dust free. So many thanks to this year’s crew, what a bunch of bad asses, I am proud of you all!

I have to admit I was nervous about this event and the other events I have a hand in. This year’s Tour Divide was a mess and I am honestly worried about the state and future of these amazing underground races. Not to point fingers or place blame, but I wonder if the glory of suffering on the bike has eclipsed the reality of actually being out there getting your ass kicked. Seems like there are a lot of folks inspired to experience the magic of being out there on your own, experiencing the highs and lows of the mountains and deserts. That is a great thing, the more folks getting out there and loving the natural world the better, the issue is when folks without much experience skip a few steps and take on the “hardest” races.

There are a few races, like the TD, the CTR, the AZT, that exist only because they are “underground” events. These can not continue if they become problematic, or a burdensome on the places and communities they pass through. If rescues, poor behavior, and increased impacts become part of these unsanctioned, un-permitted, underground rides, they will cease to exist. Land Managers will take notice of more impacts and Group Starts, that almost everyone wants to be a part of, will be a thing of the past. It happened with one of the OG underground races, the Kokopelli Trail Race, it got too big, got noticed by the powers that be and is now more or less ITT only.

As a “Race Director” I am very cognizant of this careful balance. (It is not an easy job and RD’s of underground races do not get paid to deal with all this stress.) And to answer the question, making these races official and permitted would be next to impossible and not what the spirit of all this is about. These routes, these challenges or races were created to give folks a chance to get away from the standard race format. It is a chance to really test one’s own abilities, outside of team/industry support. Sure the rider with an industry sponsor might still have a nicer bike, but within the ethos of underground racing, once the clock starts, they are as much on their own as anyone else. The rider with the ability to adapt to conditions, the rider with the most grit and determination is the stronger racer indeed.

The bottom line is these special events need the participants to be fully on board with what makes them possible, and that is keeping it as underground as possible. That means taking responsibility for yourselves, being prepared, having good risk management in place, being capable of 100% doing-it-yourself, minimizing our impacts, and being nice out there! These are absolutely key to the future of self-supported, un-sanctioned bike racing. These events are amazing opportunities to learn, grow and explore, but if we are not all on board the Group Starts will be a thing of the past. Riding self supported is a great experience and really does minimize impacts and the knowledge and skills translate into all parts of life.

Yesterday the Fossil Ultimate was a great example, folks got to have an amazing experience without it costing a dime and they all took great care of themselves out there. It made me think that maybe the CTR needs to have qualifiers? I am considering such a thing. I am not looking to create barriers to folks expanding their experiences, but one should be ready and tested before taking on the Colorado Trail. For now I am trusting that riders are vetting themselves, that they are committed to being capable. The Group Start is limited to 74 riders and there will be more than that many folks looking to be there, so if you are taking one of those slots please be sure you are prepared and committed to the ethos of this ride.

4 months sober

Coming up on 4 months of being sober. Not drinking and smoking is getting easier and that is pretty great. My head feels clear, I am much better at speaking my thoughts, and better at work. I am so grateful I made this choice and stuck with it. Life on the other hand hasn’t gotten easier, I really thought it would without the chemicals. I really thought I would have more time and energy to do other things, mostly riding my bike and hiking, but also reading and writing. I really thought the clarity would make everything better, in some ways it has, but in some ways I feel like I am not having enough fun. Being sober is great, but it isn’t as “fun” as being stoned or drunk, going out or being at parties feels weird! Sometimes the days seem without any relief, just chores, parenting, work, more chores and more parenting. It feels exhausting. Most days I get so little time for myself.

I really can feel that tiredness too. I have been trying to get up earlier to create more time for myself. More opportunities to ride, stretch, write, think, but I am so worked I just go back to sleep. As it is, I am only riding once a week, sometimes twice. I also don’t read, I don’t write, draw, or create.( I am writing this while making breakfast!) It isn’t enough for keeping positive mental state, it isn’t enough to keep me on track for any of the races I was hoping to do this year. I feel like my bike world, (my own personal world) is falling off big time and this further crushing my spirit. I am really missing this part of my life. I love being a dada, but I am losing myself and so much of what I love about life. It really freaks me out and I am wondering if I will ever get that part of my life back.

It is interesting to me that I am more aware of what makes me tick and what upsets me, being sober. The other side of that is, I am also aware that the things in my life that I am struggling to deal with, are the reasons I wasn’t sober. Drowning your sorrows is an old saying that really resonates. It makes me sad that so many folks are in that place. I am sad that I was for so long, I really am stoked to be sober, I just really wish the rewards were greater on this side of things. I am still working at it and hope to get there, and at least I can see more clearly. None of this life is easy, that I am accepting more and more everyday. I am also trying to accept it with grace, that is still a challenge.

3 months and counting

Just hit three months of Sobriety!

It really does get easier. Something about the habits getting interrupted really makes it less of a hair trigger kind of choice. I used to get frustrated and go straight to getting numb, it was so easy. It feels good to be clean and sober, but it still isn’t easy. Things I have noticed is how much clearer my thoughts are, how much better I am at talking, I am better at my job, I am a better parent too.

Also things haven’t gone as I had hoped, I really thought when I got sober I would have more time, or perhaps there would somehow be more opportunities to fill the void left from being numb with other more positive things. I envisioned riding my bike, being outside more as taking the place of the chemicals. I am still trying to make that happen, but that is one reason why as a busy parent it was so easy to get into the bad habits to begin with. You are kind of stuck around the house, and it is so easy to get numb when you can’t do a whole lot else. Again it was easy.

That was one part of my choice to be sober, I wanted to stop always looking for the easy way through. I love doing hard things, so why was I taking the path of least resistance in everyday life? Turns out life is hard, parenting, being a husband, is super challenging and I am often at my wits end just doing the everyday stuff. I really didn’t want those feelings and it was kind of nice to make them feel more remote, less sharp, muted. That also didn’t help deal with any of what was causing life to feel hard, I am not suddenly full of solutions, but I am no longer hiding them from myself.

Growth is painful, difficult, and a long road sometimes. That is another thing I have committed to with this choice, to try and be the best I can be. Not just on the bike, but in everything I try to do. Everyday is a choice, I am choosing to evolve as much as I can. It is very sobering to say the least, but I hope my life is worth the effort.

18 Hours

my El Jefe

I will admit that as much as I love bikepacking, and camping in general, I don’t get out that much. In fact I probably do as many bikepack races as I do regular bikepacking trips. There are a lot of factors in that equation, but mostly it comes down to time. I am aware of that deficit and I am working on getting out more whenever I can make it happen. Thankfully I got to do just that this past Sunday evening, Grandma was coming to town and we hatched a plan to get me out!

the ole Gunny Spur of the CT

I spent Sunday morning getting my gear in piles, my bags on the bike, food prepped, in between doing a few chores and hanging out with my family. Finally I got the bags packed, bottles filled and at 4:30 in the afternoon I started out of town and climbed up into the sunny sage covered hills. It was fairly hot, but the breeze was blowing and it felt great to be pedaling. I took it easy, and kept reminding myself to keep taking it easy, as I climbed higher and got farther away from town. Signal Mesa was quiet with only one motorcyclist passing me along a stretch of dirt road, he was super kind and even held a gate open for me as we leapfrogged briefly.

Snow….but not enough for mid-May

After just 2 hours of pushing and pedaling I was getting into the aspens, most of our spring riding season we are kept in the sage for wildlife closures and it is always special to get up into the forests. Flittering in between sage, aspens, and dark timber, is a magical zone that I cherish. There was water flowing, a few patches of snow in the deeper trees, barely any human tracks to be seen. Elk jumped away at the sound of my shuffling feet, grouse fluttered and grumped as the sun slowly set. I had no where to get to, no destination in mind, I was just wandering about loosely looking for a place to camp. I walked about watching the elk and then moved on, giving the elk a bit more space, finding a nice spot in a stand of aspens.

Tidy Camp

I built a small fire, cooked my dinner and listened to the incredible quiet of this place. It was so fantastic to feel so relaxed. No hustling, no sleep deprived pushing to get “somewhere”, no where to be but here. I find myself often missing the call of adventure and the drive to race, but I also often forget how perfect just being outside, traveling under my own power can be. After eating my simple dinner, I remembered that there was a lunar eclipse happening! I went for a short stroll just as the moon slipped out from behind a cloud. It was so freaking cool. What a show! Watching the light and color change on that giant rock made me feel so small, so lucky, so grateful, and also made me think deeply about so much all at once. I later crawled into my sleeping bag with many thoughts to digest.

my phone does this no justice

In the morning, I made my coffee and breakfast in the comfort of my bag. Without any thought about speed or urgency, I had my gear all packed up, my fire totally drenched, and my little camp erased of my occupancy. I took the longer, slower way home wandering about, taking roads I haven’t been on in a while. I took lots of pictures. I felt awe at how beautiful this world is, how wonderful it is to have such an expansive backyard. I also felt a bit of shame in my humanity, and wondered are we really going to destroy this incredible planet we call home? It is a deep and loaded question and I often am confronted by the potential reality in it. I want my daughter and her possible children to have this opportunity to explore and marvel at this amazing world. I really do wonder if the selfishness of us all is going to change all that?

big country

Eventually the roads and trails led me back to town and my driveway. It was great to be home with my family. I drank more coffee, ate more breakfast, and shared tales of my time in the woods. I can’t wait to head out and do another quick overnighter, it was so incredibly satisfying. I also encouraged my wife to make plans to do something herself, as well as scheming on how to pull off taking my whole family out there on bike. I would also like to encourage everyone to look for opportunities to get out there, under your own power, without any huge goals or destinations, just go. It is so good for your brain, mind, soul, and is fantastic practice for bigger and perhaps loftier goals. It is also a great chance to reflect on ourselves and our place in this world, I know I have much still to digest. Happy Trails!

popping!

Story of an FKT

In 2012 I competed in the Colorado Trail Race. During my planning for that year’s race I got a bit obsessed about the current record holder’s time of 4:03:20. While I had completed a few CTR’s by then and had managed to go sub-five days, Owen Murphy’s time seemed impossible. I stared at his time splits over and over again, eventually taping a photo copy of them to my top tube for the ride. I was just off getting 2nd place in the Tour Divide the year before and I thought that level riding was outside of my grasp, I thought that too was impossible. The 2011 TD gave me the confidence to see what I could do out on the CT.

I trained harder than ever for the CTR, I rode a lot and smart, I hiked a lot, I ate very well and tried to get good rest. I prepped my gear and bike perfectly. I was so ready physically and mentally, and I was hungry for that suffering. I started the race in my usual fashion of just plugging away, trying to not make mistakes and keeping the throttle on as much as I thought I could sustain. Still I was walking when it got hard, trying to save my legs. One thing I noticed studying those previous time splits, was that in the second half of the ride I wasn’t that much slower than Owen. My goal was to keep it reasonable, then go all out at the end.

Somewhere around the dreaded Cochcetopa Hills I kept doing my math, I did it a million times in my head, it looked like I was almost even with the record splits. While only just over half way through the race, I gave it everything I had. I rode stuff I always walked in the past. I walked as fast as I could when I could no longer sustain riding. I didn’t take many breaks, I didn’t sleep. I got deeper into a zone I had experienced before, but not quite like this. I was all out crushing myself.

In fact I turned myself inside out in that last 200 miles. I went so hard I didn’t know who I was at times. I would think of someone I knew and then I would be thinking from what I thought their perspective was, thinking about their kids, wife, dogs. I would realize this and it was bewildering and unnerving to say the least. I had only me to check on my mental and physical state and I wasn’t really too trustworthy just then. I hadn’t seen another racer in a while, and I wasn’t making eye contact with too many hikers at this point as I knew I was twitchy AF. I just stared at that tiny line on the GPS that was the route and kept moving forward.

I rode the last section from Silverton to Durango almost completely in the dark. It was so hard to keep my eyes open, my bike on the trail, and my head from imploding. I don’t remember all that much, what I do wasn’t much fun at all, it was dark and scary. I rolled across Ethan Passant up on Indian Trail Ridge. He was laying in the trail, also delirious. He asked if I wanted to pass?! Will never forget that. I told him to get up and lets get off that 12,000′ storm magnet of a ridge. We eased down Sliderock trail and then Ethan started to ride hard again till we hit Flagler Creek, he stopped, laid back down and proclaimed he was taking a nap. I looked at my watch, took in the warm low elevation air, (I felt much better about leaving him here at 8,000′) and told him I was gonna wrap it up. Swear he was asleep in seconds.

I punched it up that endless last climb half convinced I could see Ethan and Jesse just behind me and I went hard. I stayed on the gas all the way down that also seemingly endless decent, repeating “no crashes, no mechanicals, no crashes, no mechanicals”. I rolled into the end, the dark and quiet Junction Creek Trailhead. I looked at my watch and it was 5:38:AM, I did It!!! I broke 4 days, just barely but I did it! I gently sat down on a parking curb, ate my last rice crispy bar and drank my last few sips of treated water. There was not a soul awake or around. It felt strange and almost empty. My washed out brain wondered if my spot tracker kept tracking, would anyone believe me, there wasn’t a single witness to this crazy ride that I thought was impossible.

Later a couple folks sleeping in their respective cars waiting for their family or friends to finish, awoke and chatted with me. After over an hour my friend Mitch pulled up out of no where, threw my bike in his truck and took me to his house for a shower and my first breakfast. I was a shell of a human and reality wasn’t connecting with my brain, but my body was starting to hurt something fierce, but I was saved!

My FKT only lasted a one year as the course changed the following year to include the Tarryall Detour, a longer and harder route. When I think about this effort I am still proud of how hard I worked and focused on something I wasn’t sure was possible. As it goes with any record or FKT, it was beaten and on a harder and longer course, in 2015 Jesse Jakomait broke 4 days, 3:20:44, going north, and 2016 Neil Beltchenko broke 4 days, 3:19:50, going south, amazing efforts and no one has touched those numbers since….

2 Months Sober, Goals on the Horizon, and Living Now!

It seems like so much longer than 2 months without anything harder than coffee and it has not been easy! Still I am so thankful for this turn I took on the path of my life and am happily staying true, but it is hard. There is no off switch for the brain, no little reward for gettin through a hard day, rough week, or a shitty night. The other side to that is I am far more connected to my emotions and where they try and take me, I am processing rather than covering up or putting away my problems. That all feels really good, really solid, and setting the scene for good living.

Part of that good living has been putting some goals on the horizon and blocking the dates off on the calendar. I was on the fence about the CTR this year, it was conflicting with a family vacation and work and after 9 finishes it was hard to make it a priority in my busy life. The other day I was checking out the routes I made for this year’s Gunny Loopy Loop and realized that was looking too good to miss! So I am aiming to ride the Biggie Loop and that is going to be great prep for my next goal, the AZT800. The 800 has been on my bucket list for way too long, over a decade, and it is time to give it a go. A lot of my why for not lining up yet for the 800 has been fear, and it feels good to know I am ready to face that and give it my best.

Another part of my life is appreciating the wonders of what is right now. A lot of that is spending this spring and summer doing rad stuff with my family right here in and around Gunny. We are putting more emphasis on getting outside, going camping, hiking, Bikepacking and the like. My daughter is blossoming and I am so excited to show her more of the wonders of being outside, moving our bodies, and exploring both of those awesome things!

Salida 720 done and so done

Yesterday I rode for 11.5 hours in the Salida 720 bike race on the Arkansas Trail system right on the edge of the great town of Salida, Co. Like most races in the last 3 years since having a child, I went in to it extra nervous as I was undertrained and under-rested as usual! Plus this course had a reputation of being techy and hard, that didn’t stop me from signing up to race my Why Cycles El Jefe single speed, cause I am that guy.

This race fell right on my birthday and that motivated me to not only race, but use the event to raise money for local food security through the Mountain Roots Backyard Harvest Boxes. I have a thing about eating, (I love to eat!) and have had to chose between eating good food and paying bills in the past and wanted to pay it forward! The Backyard Harvest Boxes are locally grown fruits and veggies that are sold weekly throughout the growing season and the 100% of the money I raise will go towards buying as many as possible. I am competitive while racing, this pushed me even harder to try and get as many laps as I could to raise more money.

I was trying pretty hard to get 8 laps, the rules state that riders can’t head out on their last lap after 6:PM, or hour 11 of the race. That meant doing each lap under 1 hour and 35 minutes. I was doing pretty good until lap 6 when I just hit the wall, my hands just couldn’t handle the pounding and my back started to seize up and my times slooowwwed down a bit. I got in a solid 7 laps and managed to win the solo single speed class and put in the second best solo ride on course! I also raised over $1500 for local food security, so much winning!!!

Today my hands are still so sore, my legs and back are too. So long as my body can handle it, I am going to keep trying to pay it forward with every big ride or race I do. I have a long list of things I want to help out and I am very excited to keep it up, so stay tuned for more opportunities to #ridewithjefeb and we can do our best to make a difference.

Link below for anyone wanting to give to this round of helping other’s out!https://mountainrootsfoodproject.app.neoncrm.com/np/clients/mountainrootsfoodproject/donation.jsp?campaign=16