I burst into tears even before I hit the ground.
In the millisecond that I was airborne, between my bike and the rubble of the Canelo Hills, I knew that this flood of tears had nothing to do with the ground that was quickly approaching. I had already hit rock bottom, and actually hitting the rocky ground was only adding insult to injury.
I was trying to do something that I knew I was completely physically ready to do: ride fast on the Arizona Trail. I had a promising start on the route a month ago until I was stopped by breathing problems. With the breathing thing resolved, I was confident I'd be ready for another shot at the route. The problem was that I quickly realized that I was no longer ready for the mental demands of such an undertaking. To ride fast in an ultra is only partly physical speed and mostly mental focus to be efficient and sleep little. I was mentally exhausted. And I knew it. It just took starting the ride to realize it.
What is now many years ago, I was in one of those formative relationships that teaches you what love isn’t. That person lied incessantly. I was misled and delusional that I was helping him. And the little voice in my head that quietly tried to tell me to leave went unheard. It took fighting and finally me throwing his i-phone out the window, into a field of grass on the Navajo rez to realize something was terribly wrong. Months later, I resolved to forever heed the little voice in my head. I call it the voice of my heart. And not listening is living untrue to oneself. I think this is a formula for unhappiness and chaos.
But that little voice can be hard to hear. It’s especially hard when it conflicts with the agenda our head has created to reach the goals, dreams, and visions we have set forth..
And so, last week, when I saw the forecast for “cooler” weather in southern Arizona, my first reaction to the idea of restarting the Arizona Trail Race, was “but I’m not ready!!!” This reaction caught me off guard. Of course I was ready. I was ready a month ago, and now I should be even more ready. I had raced, won, and recovered from the Whiskey 50. I had adjusted my food to be even better, etcetera. So I reasoned away the little voice.
A few days before starting, I went out to ride my bike on a short trail with steep climbs. My legs felt horrible. They shouldn’t have. They were well rested, and felt fantastic just a few days before. But work had been stressful and I was living from morning to evening crossing things off long checklists.
Then, on the way down we got caught in heavy traffic. The little voice, out of nowhere, said “see, the universe is trying to halt your progress to starting”. I reasoned that away as well. That isn’t the universe. It’s all the people from Phoenix trying to get home on Sunday night after a weekend in the cool pines. This is just poor foresight.
Going to bed finally at 10:30 I set my alarm for 4:30 am. Six hours of sleep. Under normal conditions, this should be fine, especially considering I had ample sleep the past week. But it stressed me out. I tossed all night, anxious about how I needed more sleep. The little voice was getting its message out. But, in general, I hate waking up early. So, of course I wasn’t psyched, I reasoned.
Writing this, it’s all obvious. But it took riding 17 miles to realize that no matter how much I want to race the AZT, that I’m not ready right now. That it doesn’t mean anything that I was ready a month ago. That I shouldn’t have bothered to leave for the border. That I am exhausted. I need down-time.
This came in an epiphany as I descended the first hill past Parker Canyon Lake. I thought to myself, seeing the lake, I wish I was on a beach right now. This thought was quickly followed by my other voice, what?! Where did that come from? I hate sand. I burn easily. I never want to go to beaches!! …But lying on a beach sounds so…relaxing. And that was it. Rather than turning around and climbing back up to the trailhead, I decided to count on seeing Kurt at the pass 12 miles ahead.
In that moment of flying through the air I was crying because I was disappointed. I was disappointed that I wasn’t ready. I was disappointed that it took driving to Mexico and riding a few hours to realize what my heart was saying. I was disappointed that my work/lifestyle is so hard to balance with my personal life and goals. And I was disappointed that I was so distracted by this process that I was crashing in the Canelos.
Kurt had ridden out to take pictures and after a quick survey of the blood and tears sat me down for a pep talk. While I sniffed, he affirmed my reality. Even though my work is really engaging, meaningful, fun, and rewarding, it is exhausting. It comes with a lot of vision, responsibility, logistics, time, energy, and little rest – and I have been in the field or on the road since August. I’m very focused on my own goals and dreams. I rarely take downtime between trips. Yet, I need to be mentally rested, ready to focus and overcome challenge to enjoy an ultra. I don’t take enough time to recharge and recover. It’s like over-training, except it’s my head that is spent. And, it is okay.
After a lovely lunch with Matt Nelson at Seis, in Tucson (everyone’s favorite burrito, if you haven’t heard), we went home. I slept 12 hours last night, with ease. Today I’m grappling with how to take down time. The first step is not making lists or setting goals for the near future. It’s hard, but I think I’m up for it. And I know when I do go back to the border, I’ll be going not just with strong legs and a well-packed bike, but also with a fresh mind and happy heart because when it comes down to it, my goal is to have fun racing my bike across amazing routes.