I texted Scott that I was scratching from the outside of the store in Summerhaven. I’d already been up there a while, weighing my situation through a stream of tears steady enough to inspire a concerned check-in from a passing Mt. Taylor Hot Shot crew guy on his way both in and out of the store.
Are you okay? He asked. I nodded, likely looking pathetic. I was crying, holding my phone, I wore gold shorts, my legs were filthy, and my tears had streaked through the 30 hours of dirt and salt on my face. Blood dripped from my nose; a product of the dry air and allergy induced sneezing. Are you sure you’re okay? He asked again, 5 minutes later, on his way back to the engine. I guess he was expecting whatever my problem was to resolve itself in the time he bought coke and chips. I nodded again and muttered thanks.
When I rolled into Summerhaven I caught Pete Basinger, bringing him and me into a tie for 2nd in the overall 300. I was racing the 750, and at the time was leading the overall race by a comfortable margin of hours. While I stopped there, Pete went on to win the 300. I never actually got to talk to him, as I had other things on my mind, but we waved and I hope to see him again next year. This year rather than turning to start down Oracle Ridge, I was wondering why I was on Mt. Lemmon in the first place, not at home.
Three days prior I stood in my kitchen throwing a mini temper tantrum. I didn’t know if I should start the AZT. On one hand I had been planning for this event for months. On the other hand, my knee had been hurting for over a week prior, and despite my best efforts at resting and healing, I wasn’t convinced it would withstand the demands of 750 miles. In fact, I was pretty sure it wouldn’t. I also felt guilt and doubt about leaving my students, and I worried that I didn’t have time to focus on racing. I tossed around the idea of changing plans to race the 300. But I didn’t. Instead, in true fashion of someone who really has to learn things the experiential way, I signed up for the 750 and drove to the border.
Day 1 went smooth. I didn’t ride too hard, I relished the descents with a dropper post, and I thanked whoever invented dispensable ice so I could keep an ice-water drom in my pack to help with the heat of the afternoon near Sonoita. I enjoyed the intermittent company as I worked my way through the field, and moved forward toward Tucson. I slept for two hours just past Saguaro N.P., and wrote off the early morning knee pain as post-sleep soreness.
But it lingered. As my knee pain persisted through the day, the other aches and ailments of ultras rose. Why am I out here? I wondered. I didn’t know. I had not taken the time before heading to the start to focus on why I’m racing this race. As I worked my way up Mt. Lemmon highway I tried to focus on what was going well. It always gets better. I reminded myself. But my knee might not…and I have to go backpacking for work a week after I finish this race, I reminded myself. I can’t be broken and unable to work. I also need to be able to ride another day, and race another day. I love powering my own exploration too much to sacrifice my strong, capable, and healthy body for one ride. I became frustrated. I didn’t have the mental focus or commitment I needed. I didn’t believe my knee was okay. I didn’t believe it was worth it. Suddenly, I didn’t believe I wanted to be racing ultras. Then, a wave of fast, warm air rushed past my face as the corner of a car came into my side view. I swerved right, deeper into the paved shoulder. The side mirror whizzed by my left side and the car swerved left, toward oncoming traffic that then blasted their horns in defiance. I shook, adrenaline pumping through me and I thought of the loss of Mike Hall last week.
Why? I asked myself again. I’m trying to do something great, I reminded myself. But now is not the time. Great things take the alignment of all the pieces. Some of these we are responsible for putting into place, and some things we need the alignment of the stars…or the things we can’t control. Riding up Mt. Lemmon Hwy, while from the perspective of the trackleaders.com onlookers I was flying my way to a great ride, but in my world I realized this time wasn’t my time.
I spent the last couple of days at home moping. I have a hard time not being focused forward, and stopping mid-journey toward a hard sought goal is so hard for me. I’ve been at a loss of what to do, and despite knowing better, playing the woulda-coulda-shoulda game. But today I stopped that. I realized I am someone who has to try. I can’t listen to others, and not all my decisions are rational. Had I not started, I’d be moping about not starting. Had I not stopped, I may be causing further knee damage. Or I may not be. I won’t know, but I tried and feel like I made a pretty good decision, for the knee and for my sanity. I learned that I cannot race while immersed in teaching field courses. I put all of my focus and energy into those courses and my students, and while I would like to think I could simultaneously pursue personal goals, I can’t do both and do an exceptional job at both. I owe it to myself to separate the time for teaching and the time for racing. I also learned that uncertainty over the decision to race, just two days before a race is not a recipe for success - whether from my body, mind, or heart. This is a reiteration of my lesson from 24HOP this year. Hopefully that lesson has sunk in as it is one I am tired of re-learning. Ultimately, how and why I race is important to me and this time around while I tried, neither the how nor the why were right.
I think now I can say I’m happy I started. I got to spend 30 hours riding in the desert. I rocked gold shorts. I got to hold a puppy at Parker Canyon Lake. I got to see familiar faces and make new connections. I found a lost i-phone and located the grateful owner of it. I got to ride among other inspiring people that are out there for their own personal challenge and adventure. I smiled a lot. I felt affirmed in my capabilities as a mountain biker and athlete. I saw a snake, two red-tails, 6 poorwills (which remind me of riding with Joe Grant last year), and blooming cacti. I felt alive, joyful, and inspired. While it was a fleeting experience, and not the one for which I set out, I feel more aware now of what I can do and what I need to do to do it. And, I tried.