Schulties Road was seemingly in the process of converting back to forest — badly eroded dirt with broken chunks of pavement and loose gravel. My mind hadn't made the conversion from mountain bike to road bike, and I was descending way too fast for skinny tires. I somehow narrowly avoided a spectacular crash when the rear wheel skidded and slipped sideways, forcing me to throw down a shoe and drag the dirt at about 20 mph. (Thank you, platform pedals, even if you seem ridiculous on a road bike. I probably would have terrible road rash right now if I had been clipped in at the time.) After that, descending slowly with both rim brakes locked resulted in a blister on my right palm.
But I do love long rides all to myself. As the heat bore down, I slipped into a peaceful headspace, mapping out my Iditarod race report in my mind. Images of Alaska, of Beat, of ice and snow and many happy and harrowing moments filtered through the present like sunlight through the trees. Sometimes I'd come to after miles-long lapses, still rolling under redwood trees and thinking, "My, this is pretty. Wow, is it hot." I ran out of my gallon of water, just as I was climbing a short diversion out of Santa Cruz at mile 75. Coping with being out of water was easy; I just disappeared into ice dreams until I found a nice city park to refill my huge bladder and eat a sandwich. Most of the day passed like this, actually. I tend to do my best writing when I'm out on a long, solo ride or run. Sadly, it disappears as quickly as it comes, like scrawling thousands of words with an inkless pen. I suppose that's appropriate for a long ride — writing only for the moment, and nothing more.
My training ... er, practicing plan right now calls for two long rides a week, one (and sometimes two!) rest days, and three runs. Because I opt to run with Beat as one of our favorite couples activities, these runs are typically not short or easy. My overall volume of activity is pretty high right now, but it's working well. I'm feeling stronger and experiencing fewer nagging issues, with the exception of sunburns and bug bites.
Freedom Challenge, a 2,300-kilometer mountain bike race across South Africa that follows a similar structure, albeit slightly more supported, as the Tour Divide. My friend Liehann had signed up for this June's event and wanted company; he's from South Africa and has participated in the Freedom Challenge before. A plan to ride with him took the edge off some uneasiness I had about being alone in rural parts of Africa. The landscape looks incredible, stark and diverse. I've never visited Africa, and this route takes riders through some definitively remote spots that will undoubtedly provide unique cultural experiences. Plus, June is winter there, which means challenging weather conditions. Frequent rain, possible snow, temperatures ranging from 20F to 90F, horrendous mud ... just like Tour Divide! Freedom Challenge has more singletrack and more hike-a-bike sections as well.
I wrestled with it for a while but decided I couldn't justifiably turn down an opportunity to ride a mountain bike across South Africa for three weeks in favor of two days of grueling hiking/shuffling through the San Juan Mountains. Even Beat agrees, and has been amazingly supportive of the whole endeavor (he's even invented and is currently refining a little cue-sheet device to aid in navigation, which is a hugely daunting part of this race. No GPS allowed.) But Hardrock is a shot that only comes once in a lifetime, especially if you're me and don't plan to run qualifying hundred-mile races every year. I know I need to withdraw from Hardrock, but I can't bring myself to do so, as FOMO burns strong within. Schedule-wise I could participate in both, but would have no chance to acclimate to high altitude and thus almost no chance of actually finishing Hardrock. There's probably someone high on the wait list who will read this and start sending me thinly veiled death threats if I don't opt out soon. The culture surrounding Hardrock is funny like that.
Still, every day that I feel stronger on the bike, and every day that I spend more time staring at maps, and every little favor Beat does to help me get ready, have accumulated in zealous excitement about the Freedom Challenge. It's yet another amazing opportunity. I'm a lucky person, I get it.