All my good ideas are born in the field.
Take, for example, this photo:
This moment was hatched in my mind as I was rocked to sleep on a raft, under the stars that bridged the narrow gap between the north and south rims of the Colorado River just a week or so ago.
It is to capture the essence of my Wilderness Leadership semester group. As this is the second of a back-to-back field semester, I feel particularly blessed to have been dealt a group of spectacular students. They’re all the things we as educators want: motivated, committed, supportive, bright.
But beyond that, they’re all really unique, quirky, hilarious humans that are pretty dang fun to be around.
And so as my other brilliant idea of the year, also born on a field trip, is approaching…it is this group that I can largely thank for an 8-month goal becoming a reality.
And that brilliant idea is to race the Arizona Trail (AZT).
Back in September, on field course number one of a seven course year, I found myself inspired by the places we went on Geology through Bikepacking, and even more so, inspired by 9 student’s collective stoke on bikepacking.
And so, pedaling along the Kaibab Loop with our students ahead and Kurt alongside, I announced that pending my energy, head-space, and stress levels from field course 5,6, & 7 (Wilderness Leadership), I was going to tackle the whole AZT.
Since then, life has been pretty normal.
We went to Japan to ride in Single Speed Worlds. We were there for 4 days. Fortunately, we spent the better part of the trip getting to the race.
I landed on my feet in the canyons of Utah, nearly running, in the field with the Adventure Education Semester.
The fall semester wrapped up, and Kurt and I high-tailed it out of winter for a month of pedaling around northern Patagonia.
I spent most of that trip in a dream state that I was a cowgirl. And while we pedaled a lot, we also rested a lot.
Pedaling hard and resting harder paid off, as shortly after returning home I kicked off the spring semester with a solo effort at 24-hours of the Old Pueblo.
It went well.
And then I stuffed 11 students with varying levels of head-colds into a van and drove north to the Tetons.
We winter camped and towed unruly sleds around, all in search of the perfect turn.
While the snow was pretty awesome, most other things were pretty adverse, uncertain, or downright hard. And in that, our Wilderness Leadership family formed.
I got home to spring break to discover that backcountry skiing/winter camping didn’t promote recovery from Old Pueblo, and I was pretty darn worked. So rather than start in on my only block of harder riding of the spring semester, I prioritized playing on the Horsethief and enjoying the company of Kurt, my mom, and the Tour Divide Training Camp participants.
Since spring break, the Wilderness Leadership semester has been on the gas - full steam ahead. We jumped right into the Grand Canyon in pursuit of one of my other “great” ideas: to link together Brahma and Deva temples in a 3-day loop. While neither group succeeded in the link-up, each got their fair share of walking and time elevated among the towering choss Gods of Grand Canyon.
Our Grand Canyon trip rolled right into our Joshua Tree trip, which then rolled right into our rafting segment, a 3.5 day trip down Diamond Down, and a 3.5 day trip down Cataract Canyon, with a launch on the Green. (It's also thanks to my co-instructor of that segment that I have all these fantastic photos from the river and post river AZT prep - check out West Howland Photography for more.)
And now the Arizona Trail Race starts on Friday and my students will role into their practicum section of the semester on tomorrow (with other instructors to supervise). They're ready. And I'm ready.
Eight months has passed since my initial inspiration to race the Arizona Trail in full-length style. My only initial hesitation then was knowing it would be hard to spend much time on my bike after Old Pueblo and on top of that, the innate fast paced trips, quick transitions, intense group dynamics in field semesters, and stress of solo-proctoring the semester would likely take a toll on my energy and confidence going into a race.
But now, with only a day to go – which is hardly time to prepare any further, but plenty of time to stress out and wig out. I’m unwaveringly excited and committed.
While I haven’t spent a lot of time riding lately, I know I haven’t spent too much time riding. My legs are twitching with energy. And sleeping outside most nights in 2016 has me well rested and tuned into the rhythms of the Southwest.
Backcountry skiing, backpacking, climbing (a pitch!), scrambling, and rafting have surely done something for me, too. If not increased fitness, I’m at least not burnt out.
And after three days of futzing, my bike and kit are mostly ready.
The new Spearfish is packed with just what I need, everything stuffed into the micro-sized bags that Eric (Revelate Designs) and Kurt have crafted for my little steed.
Food is in an unruly heap, ready to be stuffed into my frame bag.
I have a system for sherpaing my bike across the Grand Canyon.
A plan for my extraction from the Utah boarder is in place. And there's country-music playlist to help get me there.
And most importantly, I’m happy. My group and our journeys this semester have left me laughing a lot, inspired a lot, feeling fulfilled by my work/life, in love with the Southwest, and all of those things together put my life and goals into perspective.
I’m ready to ride through the Sonoran desert and Basin & Range down south, through the Central Highlands and hike up onto the Mogollon Rim, cross the San Francisco Volcanic Field and make my way through the grasslands of the Coconino Plateau, to the Grand Canyon - negotiate the 1.4 billion years of geologic time to the Colorado River and back- and finally traverse the northern reaches of the Kaibab Plateau. I know I can go fast pending the uncontrollable agrees with me, but even more so, I’m just really, really, really excited to trace the route that spans my favorite state that I have spent the better part of my twenties exploring, living, and loving.
And as I sit here suddenly worrying I've spent too long on this blog, and should resume packing, Kurt is just beginning packing for his 8th start on the AZT300. This time he'll ride south, planning on taking pictures of the oncoming race, and excited to spin his plus-size tires of the Pony Rustler (named "giggles") along the chunk and chunder of the Arizona Trail.
Follow our rides at trackleaders and look for the pink KB dot and yellow KR dot.