Headed back to the old Grand Loop in a few days, 360 self supported miles through Western Colorado and Eastern Utah. Route almost killed me in 2006, it was my first bikepacking race and it was so hot, there was no GPS track and I carried 100% of my calories, heavy pack! I got worked out there, it was hard, but I learned so much and fell for this crazy pursuit. Went back with a few folks in 2009 and the route was amazing, I was much better prepared, didn’t get lost that much, and it was cooler and actually a bit wet. I felt so much faster without all the mistakes and was able to appreciate the beauty out there. 2009 was so amazing and yet I still haven’t been back, well I seem to remember that the Grand Loop is also a wicked, mean ass kicker.
Well some crazy soul is bringing the event back, and how could I say no? Well lots of reasons, but the chance to race so close to home on such an iconic route is hard to pass up. I got the bike set, the gear sorted and packed, a good bit of my food is packed and I have done a bit of route study. My stuff is ready to go. The rider may not be as sorted and prepared as my check lists may indicate, more like a check light going off. Life is full of a wild child, a wild dog, a busy wife, and a house and yard. After 4 years I am still amazed at the energy it takes to keep up with all that, most weeks I am so busy with all the things I don’t take the best care of myself. Been trying to do a little less rather than force more, so I have been not riding that much. I still feel such a strong pull to get out there and see what I can do, so ready or not here I come!
One year, 12 months, 365 days sober! Almost can’t believe it. I tried before in the past to give that shit up, this time I really did it. Seems like much longer period of time, and it also feels like just the start. It has been hard, really hard sometimes. I have felt a desire to drown my sorrows, my pain, my discomfort in numbness over the past year. Yet 365 times I chose to be strong and resilient in my path forward. It is challenging to not go “there” when things seem overwhelming, or you just want a god damn break from all that thinking and feeling. That is what would always get me in the past, feeling overwhelmingly sad and just wanting it to stop.
I have gotten better at talking, I stumbled and minced my words much more before. I feel less awkward when having a conversation. Funny thing is I have even less desire to be social, in retrospect going out and going to parties was tolerable cause it was somewhat acceptable to get blasted. I am finding I much prefer interactions with others in a one on one scenario, rather than in a room full of noise and many conversations. I have never been much of an extrovert and now I am hard pressed to see much reason to go out, it is especially weird being one of the only sober folks.
Think I am a better person, also a better parent. I feel in touch with what is happening in my brain and not letting it come out in guiding my child. We all pass on some of our worst bullshit to our kids. Clouding our minds makes this distinction so much harder to make, I can see so much more clearly now than when numb. I am not trying to judge, but holy shit it is easy to bury things and redirect things when you can mask it over in your mind.
So much has come to light being sober, (funny that we have to label the experience of not being under the influence.) There was some heavy foreboding before I made this choice, there was a lot I was not dealing with, not recognizing in myself and my life. In fact I was drinking and smoking to keep those realizations further away from me. There are moments when I have so much regret for not making this change earlier in life, I tried a few times, but never made it stick. Looking back, I feel like much better things could have happened, that I would have made more of some opportunities that I passed up. That energy is in my head and I am using to stay the course and work to make things happen now.
Temptation is everywhere in our world and it was difficult to say no over the past year, I mean I work in a bike shop where folks tip me with beer and we serve alcohol. Everyday we have choices and I have zero regrets in mine. As hard as it continues to be at times, I have less and less desire to numb myself with everyday of going forth on this path. The struggle to be sober is less of a fine line, after a year it feels very normal.
I am not here to brag or preach. It is honestly embarrassing to me that I was such a mess and was wanting to change for so long. I am saying this to support someone who might want to change their own path, You Can Do It! It can be hard, but we are stronger than we think, do not limit yourself to the habits of the past. We can change our ways and still be ourselves. Give yourself a chance, have faith in yourself and what you can do and it gets really does get easier after a while. Find other things to do, read, draw, create, exercise, play music, sing, write. So much good you can let out and almost nothing is actually better when fucked up, I know I used to think and act like it was. I am more creative and have a lot of fun without the drugs and alcohol getting in the way. Also, not having a hangover for a whole year is worth it alone. Stop poisoning yourself to get through the days, go out and live for yourself instead.
You have only been gone for a for a short time and I miss you so much. Your following eyes watching me as I move about the house, the click clack of your nails on the floor. The last couple months of your life were a challenge, but you were always a bit of work. It was so hard to watch you wither away, losing all that muscle that carried you blazing fast through the sage. Everyday I tried to keep my frustration at cleaning up your urine and poop to myself, as the meds messed up your system as they also gave you some comfort. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye and I was hopeful that you would get strong again.
You came Ito my life almost by accident, I wasn’t looking for a pitbull mix, I wanted another cow dog. They called you a border collie mix, that will always make me laugh. You were in a kill shelter and needed a home pretty badly, so through lots of efforts from lots of people you ended up coming home with me. You were a Pit-Bull-Dozer, strong, aggressive and fast. You caused me lots of heartache and trouble, breaking out of the house and ending up in doggy jail, I had to save your life again begging the judge to let me take you home. You got skunked, quilled by porcupines, and disappeared on walks all the time. You required a lot of attention and alert eyes to keep you out of trouble.
I will always remember that look in your eyes the first time I let you off the leash to run. It was pure joy. I could hear every part of you singing with happiness as you ran, sniffed and, explored. It was wonderful to behold and you were always that happy when we were out walking. We shared that love of just being out there moving through the landscape, I miss it so much. We were wild and free and happy just hiking through the sage.
I hope I gave you the life you deserved and all the love you needed. I will always hold a place in my heart for you and I will forever remember your happy running face, your satisfied body in a sunbeam, and the gregarious way you lived.
It has been 9 months of sobriety for me, the hardest stuff I do these days is a little too much strong black coffee. For the most part living clean and staying straight headed has been great. I don’t miss how alcohol or THC made me feel, never having the spins or a hangover is pretty amazing. It was a shift my mind and body were yearning for many years, and I am glad I made the change. While I feel like I am not going back, it is hard, somedays it is very hard.
Being a parent is another path I am happy to be on, I love being a dada and spending lots of time with my daughter. It is truly amazing being there as someone that was once a baby becomes a full fledged human, learning, exploring, creating, laughing, crying, screaming and all those things we do. She is an incredible person already and I am so lucky to get to be with her as she grows. Parenting is the best and the hardest job all at the same time.
It has been quite a challenge to parent and stay sober. I don’t think it is only my experience. For me, in order to stay successfully sober I need to fill the void left behind from not numbing yourself with something else, something that actually fills that place and makes you feel good. For me that something has always been exercise, especially riding. When you are a parent you can’t just slip to the door and go hammer the pedals till you feel good, but you could pour yourself a drink or sneak outside for a smoke…. So often you only get 2-30 minute windows to do something that isn’t a playing a game, making food, cleaning something up, or wiping a butt. Just enough time to numb yourself, but not enough to do much else except look at insta or ponder what you have done to your life.
These are the choices I have made and while some of my naive expectations didn’t come true, I am sticking to them. Cause life is better sober, and I am so proud of the daughter I am helping to raise. I write these words to clear the air in my head and to maybe warn those thinking about children, you think it will be like this or you will be like that, it isn’t easy or cut and dry. There are times when you regret it (and cry inside feeling this) and times you can’t imagine doing anything else, often in the same afternoon. More often you will spend more time washing dishes than pursuing your own interests, it isn’t all bad, but some days it is easier to swallow the others.
Things have been feeling pretty heavy lately. I put a lot of pressure on myself in my run up to the AZT800 and the aftermath of that experience left me wondering a lot about my life choices. When you spend so many years pursuing a passion it can feel like a failure when the result isn’t what you hope for. I have learned a lot about myself and my mindset through this chunk of experiences. Perspective change is a wonderful thing. I learned about a week ago that an old friend that I have known for 20+ years took their own life. It has been so hard to digest all the thoughts and feelings this brought up. Although we were never close, I have felt incredible guilt for not being more present in their life. What if, right? I have also felt so much sadness and darkness pondering the suffering it takes to take that action. While we weren’t besties, I knew that guy, I think we shared much on the inside. I also allowed myself to imagine the relief from all that suffering that mind must have felt leaving that body. Not to condone this path, but who are we to judge if someone is hurting that much!? On top of that my dog has been declining lately. He was such a strong, happy and super athletic boy not that long ago. He has lost so much weight and looks so sad and depressed it is hard for my heart to handle the disparity between now and then. We got some palliative care for him and he is on a bunch of meds to ease his pain and brightened those eyes. So far there is some improvement, so very grateful for the caring help of some talented animal folks. It has been really hard to digest all this. We can not live without loss, but it sure does hurt. I went for a little bike ride with Rach today. It was a nice ride, we had smiles on our faces, we joked and laughed, it felt great to pedal the trails. Riding bikes is simple, but so lovely. I feel very lucky to have found something that I feel so passionately drawn to. Despite the rough spots I can’t wait for more. I am incredibly grateful for my little family, my wife and daughter have become such a big part of my life and my desire to be a better human. I love them so much. I am also grateful for the wonderful communities I get to be a part and the support of good friends in my town of Gunnison and in the rad world of bikepacking.
The past month has been full of heartbreak and deep thinking, but also powerful realizations and pure love. With all this I am getting through this heavy shit, for that I am grateful.
I finally stopped putting the Arizona Trail Race 800 on the back burner on October 20th 2022. I let this very intimidating ride slip past me year after year, honestly I was scared and that fear made it easy to keep it from being a priority. I also realized that I am not getting any younger and these hard rides are much more of a serious endeavor for this mind and body to pull off, it was time to shit or get off the pot. So I got clearance from the family, got the time off work, and did the homework. Amazingly I was there at the Mexican border for the group start with 17 others taking on the 800 and 24 more riding the 300. It was a joyous moment starting such a big adventure with this wild bunch of the bikepacking community on a gorgeous sunny Arizona morning.
I was feeling pretty amazing that first day, it felt so good to be doing this and not just thinking, planning, stressing out about it, I was finally here! I even stayed in a happy place as things started to fall off the dream pace I had set out to ride. I had pinned the idea that I was going to set a new record in my head, an idea that turned out to be a bit much to chew. I had ridden the AZT300, basically the first 300 miles of the 800 in the spring of 2021 and it was fast and fun, I had high hopes of being able to get close to those same time splits and keep that going all the way to Utah. The reality on the trail was something else. The trail was incredibly overgrown, something I knew would be the case, but it was far more of a factor than I imagined. The inability to even see the trail in so many places, combined with some GPS issues I was having made for lots of missed turns and that made for lots of frustration.
Because of this I didn’t sleep the first night, I wanted to catch up on those time splits so bad. I knew I wasn’t being smart making that choice, this ride was too long to blow through the first night without rest. I also didn’t quite catch up to those dream splits, double ugh. I also had a few things that I was forced to take care of that were costing me time. I had crashed on the first day and got a couple gashes on my knees that proved to be difficult to bandage, so I had to stop several times to keeping taping them. My shorts exploded at the seams and I had to ride in long pants, hot, or my underwear, exposed! My GPS was still not optimal and giving me fits. My shoes were shedding rubber from the toes and I was stopping to glue them back together. I was having some digestive issues that were slowing me down and causing me to have to stop a bit too often. It was also HOT and it was kicking my ass trying to keep the train rolling through the heat.
I did keep it going and in reality was doing a good job moving along the course, but in my head I was failing and that was a hard thing to reconcile and recover from. I slept the second night just after Oracle Ridge, but only for a couple hours, those damn splits haunting my dreams. I pushed pretty hard that third day from Tiger Mine to the Gila, an amazing section of trail through a huge chunk of the Sonoran Desert. It was a hot day, I was still dealing with all the things, but I was managing it pretty well and making good time. I love this section and it felt good to be cruising out there. I hit the Gila River after about 2.5 days of riding and pushing, I was worked and took a nap before the big traverse of the river and the huge climb out. It was great to see this section in the light, amazing geography back there that I missed last time riding it all in the dark.
I passed through Picketpost the end of the AZT300, crazy that I was the second finisher of the 300 as it felt like the slowest ride in my head. I pushed on to get to more food and water at Queen Valley, and then on to Apache Junction for a full resupply. The route seemed so long and so much slower from Picktpost to Saguaro Lake, I was realizing I was quite optimistic when plotting out this ride! It was on the Jacob Crosscut Trail outside of Apache Junction with a bike loaded with food and water that I hit the wall. The trail is filled with loose rocks that make pedaling next to impossible, but I kept trying and failing to get anywhere. That seemed to be the MO for the whole section; slow, out of the way trails that seem to go everywhere but where you are trying to go. It was torture for trying to catch up on those damn splits.
I got to Saguaro Lake just after sunrise and looked for the “water spigot”, after riding around the area I found a spigot and filled up and rode on. Later when I took a drink of water I realized the water I took was non-potable and tasted like chemicals, it was disgusting. I kept riding hoping I would find some decent water, somewhere… The Four Peaks section is huge, a gigantic climb through a sparse landscape of little shade, and no water. It was getting hot as I climbed, around every corner the road revealed itself to climb more and more. I was getting desperate, my mouth still tasted the chemicals of the shitty water I filled up on, when I saw a bottle of water in wash. I stopped, walked back and sure enough there was a 12oz bottle of water unopened and intact. A miracle that I cherished and that kept me going and thinking positive, but soon enough I was so thirsty again and the route kept climbing. My eyes were now scanning the edges of the road for another miracle, and there it was, another 12oz bottle, unopened in the ditch half covered with dirt. I almost couldn’t believe my luck, I might just make it.
I did mange to keep climbing the seemingly endless climb, this section is a bit heartbreaking, it never stops going up. When you are out of water and wanting to get somewhere it feels like torture, in fact the decent to Bolder and Sycamore Creek is rough, overgrown and slow. Finally I got to Sycamore Creek and rinsed out my bladder and bottle and filled up, yes back to full capacity! Then I plugged away at getting to Payson, another section that was much slower and more difficult than I ever expected. I got so turned around a few times in my exhausted state, it was so weird to be alone, delirious and confused. I finally stopped and slept, now it was getting quite cold at night and my minimal sleep set up was quite a bit less than adequate leaving me shivering a good bit of the time I was stopped. Still the trail ended and I was to Jakes Corner, the store was closed, but I was solid on food and water and set out for Payson. In my sleep deprived state I missed a big turn off the highway and climbed a long way before I stopped along the busy highway to eat and noticed I was way off the track. I was able to laugh it off and reverse direction back to the route, which is amazing considering how much of a mistake it was, I did feel like such a dumb ass adding so much climbing and time going the wrong way.
I made busy Payson, mailed a few things home, and filled up my food stores and water and set out for the big push along the Hi Line Trail up to the Mogollon Rim. Here again the AZT800 surprised me with how difficult every section seems to be, the 20 miles from Payson to the Hi Line Trail was a huge climb, lots of B roads and intersections and finally the infamous Hi Line. Hi Line is being transformed into a whole new trail and sections of it were actually great, but some old rough and overgrown sections were still there and I was again feeling totally cooked and was having a hard time riding my bike and ended up pushing for miles and miles even after taking a nap. I was so tired and fried, but I just kept stubbornly pushing till I made the top of the Mogollon Rim and a big change in the terrain.
The AZT was now amongst the Ponderosas and the tall grass, the trail was at times fast and flowy and sometimes steep and techy. It was a rollercoaster of feeling great and making good time and then immediately grinding along feeling slow and going no where. So much trail and road was out there, it was so hard and also so beautiful. Once past Mormon Lake the trail is amazing, fast and rideable and so pretty with the oak trees glowing orange, red and pink. Suddenly I was just outside of Flagstaff eating my first sit down meal, refilling my food and water and actually feeling like might be able to finish this crazy ride! I pushed on trying to keep the train a rolling deep into the night, instead just after sunset as the air got really cold I was feeling terrible. My stomach was in knots, my pulse was pounding in my throat so I found a good spot to hunker down and try to stay warm enough to get some rest. I awoke at 12:20AM with an intense need to relieve my bowels, I shuffled up the hill, dug a hole and then pooped for almost 40 minutes. It was disgusting and left me feeling drained, empty inside and wondering what to do next. I considered heading back to Flag, but instead I just packed up and kept going forward on the route.
Luckily I felt better as the day went on, but it took a long time to trust a toot to be just that and not accompanied by more! I tried to keep some power on the pedals, but it was hard to find that energy. Still the miles were disappearing behind me, at times painfully slow, but eventually I was in Tusayan for what would be my final resupply. I pedaled my heavy bike up to the South Rim just as the sun set and then proceeded to strap it to my pack and drop into the Grand Canyon. As I shuffled down the South Kaibab Trail I felt so happy, I wasn’t thinking or stressing about this crazy part of this race, I was Doing It! By the time I made it down the the Colorado River my whole body felt destroyed and I was having a hard time keeping my eyes open, I had been moving for 21 hours straight already and had the entire climb out still ahead of me. There is no sleeping in the Canyon without a permit so my only option was to keep moving till I made it to the North Rim. I can say that the next 12 hours were some of the hardest of my life. My pack was cutting into my shoulders and hips, my head was a mess, my eyes wouldn’t stay open, and my legs were so tired and tight. The climb is so incredibly long and was soon filled with Rim to Rimmers, hiking and running the Canyon. It was nice to have company, but also exhausting explaining over and over what the fuck I was up to!
Finally I made it to the North Rim, I sat down and felt like I was done. I was so deep down tired and exhausted physically and mentally that I really felt like I finished, having all the rim to rimmers around made it feel even more like a finish line. I put my bike back together and ate some food, I googled resupply options as I didn’t have much food left, eating was how I got through the Canyon. I couldn’t see myself going off route for food, I looked at the remaining route and somehow thought it would be fast, I would be fine with the tiny bit of food I had. I got on my bike and rolled away feeling lost, confused and like I forgot something important. Oh how right that feeling was!
The last 70 or so miles were absolute hell for me. I tried to go fast but ran out of steam so quickly every time. I was so tired I wasn’t sure what was going on, where I was really going, I was such a mess. I tried, I dug deep and deeper, I took bunch of little naps, still I was fried beyond finding any sort of composure. I ran out of food, my water froze solid, my feet and hands were so cold. Somewhere around the turn for Jacob Lake I called my wife who was picking me up at the finish to just come get me, now. I didn’t care about finishing, or even winning this damn race. I just wanted to be done, I had nothing left to keep me pushing or riding my bike. Rachel refused to fetch me and said she would see me at the finish. So I kept moving, napping, crying and struggling my way to Stateline Campground, it took forever, it took everything I had and didn’t think I had left to get there. It wasn’t till I saw Rachel riding up the trail with a rainbow tutu on that I knew it was actually going to end, that it was over.
Since then I have been eating and sleeping every chance I get. I am back to work, back to being a full time dad. It is almost like things are back to normal, but I am still deeply effected by this ride. It shook me, drained me and crushed me. I feel unsettled, normally I would probably turn this into how to do it better next time, but I am not sure I want to ever do that again. It has only been a week since I finished, crazy how it feels like a dream, but not sure it is a dream I want to have again.
This morning I am leaving Gunny to head to Arizona. I am so excited for this time and opportunity, I am getting so close to starting the AZT800 on Thursday. The AZT800 has been on my must do list for 11 years! I just kept putting it off for one reason or another, it is ironic that now that my life is crazy and over filled that I am finally taking it on. I have been in much better shape in my life, but I have a chance to do it, so here I go. This might be the hardest ride I have ever done, that is both exciting and terrifying, not a bad combo really for an adventure.
I am also feeling a lot of other emotions as I pack up my list of things. I will miss my family so much! Oh my it is crazy how much I love them and how special it is to spend so much time laughing and playing together. My daughter is growing and changing everyday and it is going to be wild to be away from her the longest I ever have been while she is evolving so much. I will miss her beyond words. On the other side of things my dog is getting quite frail in his rapidly aging body and I am having a hard time leaving him. Oh it is so hard to hug them all and know I am leaving for two weeks.
All that being said I am looking forward to some time alone. In my everyday I am always putting family, chores, even work before myself. It isn’t always healthy, but it is how I operate. So while I am feeling a lot of mixed emotions, I am also excited to spend two weeks pondering all the things, centering myself, and continuing to evolve as a human. All while trying to cover 830 something miles of Arizona as fast as I can. I am filled with all these feelings and it is a wild ride in of itself, and it feels good to be alive.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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!
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.