To Flagstaff with Pain

I pedaled through a world that was somehow different. The sun was warmer, the clouds cooler. The blood coursed through my body with more power. Each breath was deeper.

For a while I feared that I had lost Paula. I was inside when she fell off the ladder. I heard it fall and went outside to find her on the ground, awake but unresponsive. She couldn’t see me and was moving uncontrollably. I ran for the phone, and came back out to try to comfort her as the ambulance arrived.

She fought them and screamed as they put the neck brace on and strapped her down. I looked in her eyes as they were about to load her. She saw me for a moment, a glimmer of recognition. “It’s going to be OK, these people are going to help you.” It only lasted a moment and she was screaming again. She was disoriented and had no idea what had just happened to her. Only that people had tied her down and she didn’t know why.

When I got to the ER the third question the lady at the front asked was, “What are her religious views?” What the hell are you asking me that for? “Is she going to die?” was all I could think.

When they let me back she was calm and the first thing out of her mouth was, “What a way to start a trip to Flagstaff, eh?” I was just glad to hear her talk.

Scans found 4 broken transverse processes in her back, a broken rib and some pooled blood. Hours and hours later she was sharing a hospital room with a drug addict, but most importantly she was standing and even walking, if slowly.

My brother Alan and the lovely Misty dropped everything and flew down to Tucson. It was really great to have them here, and it helped a lot. It also meant I could sneak out for a ride without leaving Paula alone.

Under the cloud canopy the temperature was cool, but exertion flushed my skin with heat. The sun set earlier than I expected. My perception of time is whacked. I wondered how I found myself out there, on familiar trails but with unfamiliar thoughts in my head. Was it catharsis? Purification? Escaping from reality? Appreciation for living life to the fullest, since it can be whisked away in a moment? Endorphin rush? Feeding an addiction that is only silenced for mere days at a time (only briefly after finishing the Grand Loop)?

Probably a little of all. And damn was it good.

I pulled out the Dave Harris mega light and put it on my head. I turned onto an unfamiliar trail and began descending micro-track. I walked down some, thoughts of head injury weighing on me. We don’t need another trip to the hospital.

By the time I reached the wash I felt like the world was coming in on itself. Actually, the light was just dying, and stepping down in power every few minutes. These batteries had gotten me around the Grand Loop, so it wasn’t shocking. I stopped to think if I had any recourse. Nope. Remounting I saw glowing eyes across the way. If I had full power available I could see what was behind the glowing eyes, but with dead batteries all I could see was eyes. I watched the eyes move to my right, continuously checking my position as I did the same in return.

Rain drops on hot skin. The light died completely, and would cycle on and off randomly. I slapped the blinky on my back as I pedaled behind the Resort Hotel, heading straight back for the trailhead.

Just as the light cycled off again, a large blur crossed the road in front of me. I got the light to turn on just long enough to make out another pair of eyes. Then everything turned grey and fuzzy. Out of nowhere a dust devil surrounded me. I closed my eyes and braced myself against the bike. It took forever, eyes squinted into walls of dust, just to ride the last 0.1 miles back to the car. So alive.

A few days later we were driving north in the Corsica. Three bikes, three computers, two cats and a few other odds and ends that would fit in our tiny Sedan. More than enough for the summer. Paula was the driving force to head to Flagstaff, despite the obvious problem of sitting in a car for four hours with a broken back.

She made it with the help of pain meds (which she had not been taking previously). We started settling in to Gnome’s shire, but as soon as the bags hit the floor I jumped on the computer to burn my eyes out on the Tour Divide Tracking System, aka Leaderboard. Getting it to work on a new server and under Drupal, proved more difficult than I had bargained for. That’s computers for ya. There was a lot to be done to set it up for the SPOT folks, as well. I worked late into the night and all the next morning as the race started!

Finally, I shut the computer off, grabbed a bike of choice and headed in a northerly direction. I had glanced at a trail map for a minute, but wanted to get lost more than anything.

I turned on my best AZT senses and followed my nose through downtown Flag to Buffalo Park. Somehow I found a dirt road that took me there, and gradually things started to seem familiar. Distant memories, though. In 2005 I pedaled through Buffalo Park before sunrise, on day five of the AZT time trial. I remember trying to see the edges of the meadow, but my lights could not reach them. I remember the meadow being empty, with freezing predawn October temperatures. So strange to be here with the sun shining bright and joggers and cyclists galore.

Right out of the meadow it gets surprisingly techy. Did I really ride this, loaded, and in the dark?

I saw trail junctions and followed AZT up lower Oldham, retracing my route from ’05. Again, did I really ride this? What fun.

I decided to let AZT exploration go another day, instead aiming for Mt. Elden. I followed difficult singletrack parallel to the road, dabbing at times, but happy as a clam to be where I was. Soon I was at upper Oldham. Climb trail or road? Trail please.

As is often the case when I go blind into a trail system, I don’t end up riding things in the usual direction. It was clear this trail wasn’t frequently climbed. But I was looking for something to really open up the lungs and burn some stored energy. This was perfect. It even felt good to push my bike up a few pitches, calling into service muscles that have laid dormant since being shredded on the Grand Loop.

Soon I was near the top, looking at an impressive view to the east. I have driven by down there many times and looked west, to where I now stood, wondering what it was like up there. Time to find out.

All the hard parts are marked here. Sunset was an absolute blast. Cold air rushing through the trees and gorgeous ridgeline riding. It was so lonely up there. Little did I know that the next morning would see a horde of racers blasting through.

Hobbit Forest forced a dab. Why am I riding the Lev when this is clearly Behemoth country? I kept taking random choices, spending some time on Brookbank trail before hopping back on the AZT to blast back into Buffalo Park as the sun neared the horizon.

Welcome to Flagstaff. One thing is certain — I’m going to miss this place when we leave.

Meanwhile Paula is doing really well. We went for an hour ‘bike path’ ride over the weekend, and she has started running (with a water jogger) in the pool. I can’t believe how fast she is springing back from the injury.

13 comments to To Flagstaff with Pain

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>