5. What was the most rewarding part of the AZTR experience for you? Sometimes it could be the most positive moment or overcoming the most negative experience. Maybe give us both sides of the coin, the real and the sublime.
This was the first bikepacking race I've done where fully committed myself to it and the process. In the past I have always given myself outs and excuses. Wether that was a time constraint with work or the desire to be back in a more comfortable environment. I have always let some noise from my daily life sneak in my brain and take over. I did more mental prep for this race than I ever have for anything else. Day one of the race I felt it all kick in. I made no compromise to get to the start, I finally was giving myself permission to do my best, to try my hardest, uninhibited. All I had to do was ride my bike and move forward, nothing else. That mental clarity gave me so much joy, helped me to have fun, not take myself too seriously and focus on engaging with the experience fully, no matter how hard it got. Something I would remind myself when things started to get hard, is that in those moments, the darkest most difficult moments, is when it really counts, its when you grow and learn the most. Touching the essence of the experience itself is certainly profound in more ways than one. For me that moment was on my hike through the Grand Canyon. Here is some reflection on that experience:
I thought I was dialed for the canyon, I thought it suited my strengths. “It’s just a hike, you’ve done this before, you can do it again” I told myself.
The Canyon had a different plan for me. I dropped into the Grand Canyon at sunset after riding all the way from Flagstaff starting at 3am. On the South rim I transitioned my bike to backpack mode. As I did so the magnitude of what I was about to attempt set in. I was scared. For the first time on this ride, I didn’t want to move forward. “You have to go, you’re here, you have to go” I repeat to myself out loud like a crazy person. I start the long walk down as the sun sprayed pink and orange across the sky. I recall my fondest memories of sunset in the canyon and use that to move me forward. It works for a while. Dulling the pain of my top tube jamming into my back, relieving the shoulder straps digging into my shoulders. Half way down, it’s dark, I’m hot, and I’m in so much pain. I’m stumbling, scared to slip off the edge. Positive thoughts have faded into desperate mind games to keep myself upright. Four hours in, I make it to Phantom ranch. My heart sinks as I read the sign that says all the water spigots are off north of Phantom. I fill up 2L of water and hope that will be enough. I can’t take any more weight. I read the sign that says 13.4 miles to north rim. I trudged forward. The river rages next to me, making me feel as though I’ve lost my ability to hear. “This will feel just like a dream in the morning”
There are demons in the canyon. I let them in and periodically they take control and I lose myself. Darkness takes over, there’s nothing I can do.
But somehow I come back, every time. I fight and I trudge. “Relentless forward motion works, it has to”. I reach the North rim 14.5 hours after leaving the south rim. I put my bike down and lean up against a tree and cry, I’m not the same person I was on the south rim.
For me the reward is less in the physical accomplishment and more in the mental growth. I truly believe these experiences make us better people and it gives us tools to create positive change in the world. I think thats pretty damn awesome!
6. Anything else you'd like to share??
I'm no expert on any of this stuff, these races and experiences scare the shit out of me. Choosing to go all in on something that is so big and so scary has been one of the most valuable things I've ever experienced in my life (and I'm only one race in so far). Cant wait for more!