I've learned that you can't ride away from your problems. At best, a ride gives you an opportunity to sort through feelings and issues. Upon the conclusion of your ride, if you're lucky; you've found catharsis and epiphany. Lately, my rides have not given me either and have just been more time to spend inside my head....a place I had a serious need to get outside of, a place I've been living in for the past 9 days....a place I desperately wanted to escape, but was failing completely. One way or another, I'd beat it out of me.
Plans were made to pull together a bikepack which would take me 120-140 miles up, over and around 4-Peaks using nothing more than dirt roads, singletrack, desert washes and just a few bits of pavement to connect the dirt bits together.....all from my house....all in 2 days. Ambition sometimes eclipses reality. A reality that dictated to me that my previous week was spent in an emotional hole, physically spent from sitting, resting and attempting to sleep in various hospital chairs. Inactivity is the bane of my knee's existence ...and was going to let me know about it, despite my ambitions.
Checking my setup the day before....everything was in it's place and locked down.
Heading out under clear cool skies, the sun felt warm....perhaps a bit too warm, but I pedaled on, quickly making work of the singletrack from my house. Hawes, Twisted Sister and Wild Horse trails flew by as I viewed back from where I came...perhaps a mistake to look back at this point in the trip.
Making my way past Saguaro Lake, 4-Peaks began to come into focus....no longer the one-dimensional profile towering on the skyline, canyons and ridges began to appear lending reality to my progress...yet it was still so distant across the deceivingly flat bajada I was yet to cross.
Nearly out of water and 30 miles in, I found a seep and proceeded to dig a hole to let it slowly fill up so I could filter water. This rest was rewarding as I spent 15 minutes pumping, yet the sun just beat me down in this wash, devoid of shade, in this sandy pile of reflection; my only companions the bees swooping down on the water and my thoughts which swarmed inside my head.
Foreboding thoughts then crept in: The first sustained climb up 4-Peaks was now upon me....or I, upon it. Up to this point, I had allowed my mind to wander and rehash the events that have defined my existence since my wifes hospitalization. Fears, doubts, worries....I wanted to work through all of them. I talked to myself as I rode higher and in the process, paid little attention to conserving my energy on the climb. I'm quite certain in hindsight, it was here on this climb, where I began digging a hole much deeper than I am tall.
Cresting the climb in exhaustion, a climb spent in the sun directly overhead, heating every rock cliff off to my right; I was bitterly baking from the radiant heat, lack of breeze....and my first flat tire. The sound of sealant and air spraying out of my rear tire brought me back to the present. I was only able to stop the air loss after holding my finger over the gash and letting the Stans fluid coagulate within the rift punched into rubber. Still baking in the sun, I peered ahead at 4-Peaks as I pushed off with my worries once gain, still holding winters snow on it's protected north aspects....me, dreaming of cool breezes and pine trees.....
Then the second flat happened, again...my Stans fluid was not stopping the flow of air from the puncture. At this point, I pushed over the bike, pulled out two tubes and proceeded to use the pliers on my multi-tool to pluck every cactus spine from the inside of the tires and install tubes. I was now out of tubes....out of options, out of mental strength....exposed. Here I was at mile 35, crunching numbers, trying to justify how I could complete this ride in the time I had.
And then my knee pain began, just as quickly as my reality came into focus - my bid for the circumnavigation would have to be abandoned. Resolved to make lemonade out of this lemon...I continued to climb until I could find a stopping point with clear sight lines of 4-Peaks for Sunset and Sunrise.
Crossing a creek at mile 40, I spied a ridgeline up ahead and resolved to spend my night there.
With good access to the running creek about a mile away, I quickly escaped behind a boulder on the ridgeline for some shade and a Don Miguel burrito.
From here, I had an uninterrupted view of the peaks.....and I melted into the rock.
I sat and stared at the mountain until the colors began to appear and the shadows grew long.
And then I wept. Wept for feelings which I had not allowed myself to fully embrace the previous week. Feelings placed into a locker because I was in survival mode, feelings that would render me useless in my efforts to ensure my wife's survival. For 20 or so minutes, I wept and I snapped shots of 4-Peaks as the falling sun transformed the landscape before me.
Looking back behind me from time to time, I spied the warm glow of a fading sun on the objects which brought me to this place....
.....and stick figures on the skyline, awash in the glow of another day.
Falling asleep under clear and cold skies, between two boulders; I drifted off to sleep in a complete state of mental exhaustion, peering up at the milky way, counting satellites flying overhead.
The next day began with Venus rising over 4-Peaks, framed by ink black and pale tangerine......
The following minutes exhibited a transformation so beautiful; I'll just let the pictures talk....me, shooting this from my bag in wonder.
As in the sunrise, my ride out was constructive in much the same way that the previous day's ride had been destructive. Putting in some Jerry Garcia Band for my return....I poured out of the valleys and canyons with a renewed focus, having found beauty again after 9 days of suffering.
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