I set a lot of goals. I make a lot of lists. I plan my days and weeks. I daydream a lot. It’s my way of looking ahead and manifesting my future. Inherent in that, there are things that don’t happen. And most things don’t happen the way I plan or dream. But things happen. And I learn. I grow. And I continue to dream, list, envision, and pursue.
I'm not saying that process is easy. It's easy to get hung up, eddied out, and lost in the transition between letting go of a goal/dream/vision and the learning/growing/refocusing phase.
On Sunday, I called my best friend, in tears, asking what I was supposed to learn from the situation I was in.
Last weekend I started the Arizona Trail Race (AZTR). It started off beautifully. I paced myself. I was fairly efficient. I moved my bike gracefully along the AZT chunk. I stayed on top of my calories and hydration. I didn’t get sunburned. My legs felt amazing. And I was loving it
Then, somewhere around sunset the second night, I started to struggle to take a full breath. I’ve never had breathing problems outside of a cold, so I was uncertain of what caused it. The tightness in the top of my chest continued all night, persisted through my sleep and into the morning.
Leaving Freeman Rd, chasing Joe Grant into the vastness that is the Sonoran Desert, my chest tightened more. Stopping to force some air into my lungs, I watched Joe swooping through the cholla forest with the southern Superstitions far in the distance. I realized that I had no idea why I couldn’t breathe right, I had a long ways to go with little opportunity for help, should I need it, and I would be setting a horrible example to push a medical condition just for a race. Drawing on his career of mountain running, he had wisely advised me to be careful with breathing problems, and monitor the condition. I reminded myself that I’ve made a career of teaching people to be leaders in the backcountry, including developing sound judgment, intentional decision-making, and self-awareness.
The probability of my chest further tightening was uncertain -it was probably low…but I wasn’t sure, nor did I have any educated way of knowing. The consequence of my airway tightening further was high, and one I had no desire to explore.
That reasoning left me wallowing under the shade of a mesquite tree and ocotillo shade structure at the Freeman cache. In those 12 hours I heard a number of riders pass, I continued to not breathe well, and it wasn’t until the graciousness of Jennifer Hanson and her gift of a kombucha and bag of potato chips that I extracted myself from my sulk and started to think forward.
A few days have passed since pulling the plug on the AZTR. Emotionally it was hard to scratch. I invested a lot of time, energy, and heart into racing the AZT this year. I’m still bummed to think of what I'm missing right now, but I remind myself that I set out to ride fast pending the uncontrollable aligns in my favor. It didn’t this time. That’s life. And like the rest of life when things don’t go as planned, I can reflect and learn, and use that experience as a stepping-stone.
In this case, I’m starting to see this as an opportunity. I could refocus, ride the wave of all I’ve invested thus far, and restart the AZT in May. The semester ends in two weeks, and beyond that I don’t have any plans set in stone until July. Rather than a race cut short, last weekend is starting to be remembered as a training ride. Amazingly, it didn’t tax me too much. Just a few days later my legs feel great and after sleeping and resting hard the past few days, my energy is up. Hell, my bike could just stay packed and the border isn't that far away...
And in thinking forward like that, I have new opportunities rather than lost dreams. I have another month to prepare. I can tweak the set-up in the slightest of ways like pack quesadillas instead of pizza, bring a jacket that zips up instead of pulls over, etc.
In May the heat will be a challenge at the low elevations. But living in Arizona, with a flexible schedule, and Kurt who is amazing and has offered to shuttle me around the state, I think I can swing it. Thinking about it the past few days, I can't think of a reason not to try again as long as my chest/lungs are resolved.
Until then, I have a field-semester to wrap up in style and the Whiskey Off-Road is about to be in town. Today I pulled my gears off my hardtail should I feel inspired to race around Prescott next weekend. We'll see how my breathing improves.
In every struggle there is a silver lining. I hoped to be carrying my bike across the Grand Canyon around this time. Instead I'm home alone for a few days in the solitude of my house while Kurt guides his students through the geologic time of the Grand Staircase. I don't remember the last time I carved out a few days of quiet alone time. I'm notoriously challenged at slowing down, sitting still, and making space to just be here.
I've been "on", and going - traveling around the West while teaching and flying to far-away countries to bikepack - since August. Nine months later it's time to practice patience and breathe in place.
Fortunately, I love our home. I'm now soaking up these days to live at my own pace - drink coffee slowly, stretch in the sun, listen to the birds, read, write, work from home, clean the house beyond just moving stuff from one trip's bags to the next, learn to drive my little moto, and relax.
I know I was ready for the AZTR last week. But now maybe I'll be even more ready come May.. Until then, I'm going to slow down. And should the AZT stars align for me, I'll welcome the solo traverse of Arizona, and commit to slowing down again after the ride. By then it will be time to start looking for swimming holes in which to float the heat of the day by....