Play hard, get hurt

That’s just the nature of it. You play hard, sometimes you get hurt.

I’ve been having a pretty incredible streak of strong health and good luck lately. I haven’t been sick for over a year. Haven’t had a crash or other injury for even longer. I’ve felt stronger and stronger the more I ride. Even allergies have been a non-issue, despite the overabundance of pollen in the air this spring. I’ve had to pinch myself on multiple occasions. Can a guy really be this lucky?

For a while now I’ve wondered, in the back of my head, when the streak might end and, how. I got my answer this past weekend at the AES Prescott Monstercross Race.

photo by Eric Nelson

After a few miles of neutral rolling on pavement, the group hit ‘the Dells.’ The Dells were a last minute addition to the route, featuring some of the most brilliantly technical trail anywhere, and lots and lots of rock.

just look at all that rock

There was only a hand drawn GPS track for this section, so my plan was to stick with the locals, Dan Hight and Eric Nelson. Both are strong singlespeed heroes who ride the Dells often and know the lines (and race route) by heart.

I was able to keep Dan in sight, while alternating between following Eric and and being coached by him. His love for this area was as plain as the day was bright, and it was equally clear how excited he was to show it to other like minded riders. A like minded rider I was — so much fun that it was easy to forget we were ‘racing.’ Favorite quotes from Eric included, “don’t follow my line!” before hopping up on a boulder across a narrow bridge to an even steeper roll out. And numerous, “take this turn wide!”, “up and over that rock!”, “off camber rock on the left!” pointers.

Too funny. At one point he started prepping me for a steep and complicated climb that he thought I might be able to clean. Both he and Dan jumped out of my way as Eric continued with the pointers. It was a toughie that sent my heart rate to the roof, but I made it. I heard Eric say to Dan, “see… I told you… best technical climber ever…” I laughed when I heard that (as if…). I reminded myself that I’m not invincible as I approached the next downhill, and quickly dabbed on a rock switchback that looked questionable. Eric and Dan passed me as I walked my bike down to the next creek crossing.

I heard Chad and another rider coming up over the climb and yelled, “did you clean that one Chad?”, in my best heckling voice. Right about then, while still walking the bike, I slipped on the rock and landed smack dab on the outside of my left foot. It knocked the wind out of me for a moment, but I kept walking, thinking “walk it off, walk it off.” The thought of serious damage went into my head, but I kept walking and it seemed functional.

It’s interesting that my other major mountain biking boo-boo was also related to heckling another rider over not cleaning a section. I smacked my face into a boulder on Mt. Graham after making fun of my brother for dabbing on a section. And here I was harassing Chad. Of course Chad deserves any and all harassment, as we all know, but I can’t help but try to learn some humility from these incidents.

Now, to only point to these negative results would ignore the thousands of times I have heckled or otherwise poked fun at my friends, only to continue riding happily and be rewarded with laughter, camaraderie and more fun adventures. So I am pretty sure there isn’t a causal relationship. 🙂

photo by Eric Nelson

I had to take a few deep breaths before trying that crossing, and I can see in the photo how timid I was feeling. It was a good test though, as the ankle was painful but not unstable. I made it across without issue and proceeded to walk up the next hike-a-bike.

Riding felt good. Dismounting and hike-a-bike… not so much. And unfortunately this area held plenty of hike-a-bike.

photo by Eric Nelson

And more stream crossings. I was still really enjoying all the trail, but was moving slower and trying to be careful with the ankle. Dan got a large gap, and when I hit the next pavement section I had to pull out the cues to try to figure out where to go.

I now have a pretty good appreciation for folks that don’t have a GPS track and are trying to race by cues. It’s really hard. I followed something that pretty closed the matched the cue description, but doubt led me to stop and have a look around. Sure enough I saw Chad, Aaron and Eric zooming down a different road than what I was on.

Eric led us to the next section of trail, where Chad and I had fun cleaning steep slickrock climbs and hopping ledges. We’d pause a moment at confusing spots only to hear the Eric from behind, like a voice of god (as Chad called it), telling us where to go next.

Eventually the Dells were over. I sighed in relief, ready to finally test the ankle on some steady pedaling. After some confusing bike paths and more ‘voice of god’ help, my path finally converged with the GPS track on my screen.

It was go time. I kicked it into high gear, feeling fantastic, and caught sight of Dan as he was wrapping up a climb.

Dan Hight, 1st place

What followed was incredibly fun riding through the Granite Basin area. The ups were never very long and the downhills were fast and seemed long. Dan is a very skilled bike handler — no way I could match his speed on the downs, but it was becoming apparent that he was getting tired on the uphills. It was nice to follow behind him, though, because I was beginning to fear dismounting and hiking. Watching him I could tell if I had a chance of cleaning a climb or not. If he got off I’d do the same, at the same spot, not wanting to risk an errant dismount.

I was having a blast and feeling strong, but the internal debate of whether to continue on the ankle was eating me up. Eventually it got painful enough that I knew the answer. At the next major road crossing I was done. Dan let me go on a steep climb and I got a bit of a gap on him. He was relieved to see me at the next crossing where he stopped to tell me how best to get back on roads, then wished me well.

I pulled my shoe off and was happy to not see any black/blue, but I did see swelling. I took some ibuprofen, waited for my friends to come by so I could cheer them on, then got to pavement mashing. Strangely I was really happy riding through town, even as I worried about my ankle and got buzzed by traffic. It was just such a beautiful day, and the wind felt good. I had already accepted it, knowing that my luck couldn’t last forever.

After, I walked around far too much, finding ice/wrap, going out to wait for the first rider (Dan) on the course and getting pizza for the finishers. Stupid stupid stupid, but it didn’t hurt that much and I figured it was just a minor sprain that I had played very conservatively by dropping out, thinking ahead to the AZT race.

By the time we got back to Tucson later that night, my ankle was in pretty bad shape. Click here if you want to see what it looked like. Warning — it’s a fat and ugly looking foot — I’m not going to post it here, inline.

So now I am applying RICE and doing everything else I can think of to minimize the swelling. I am hopeful that I’ll be riding (roads) soon, but we’ll see how it goes. I was about to start tapering for the AZT, anyway, so it is somewhat good timing, but I am not so sure a race like the 300 (and especially not the full AZT race with the Grand Canyon hike) is such a good idea — plenty of hike a bike and opportunity to re-injure it, even if I can tolerate the pedaling. In fact, I already bailed on the full AZT over on the thread at We’ll see about the 300.

And so the streak ends. Play hard, get hurt. I’ll accept it for now.

12 comments to Play hard, get hurt

  • That is ugly looking! ICE ICE baby! Heal up soon…

  • Great write up.

    First: Get an Xray man.

    Second: I don’t know how you guys survived the drive back to Tucson. I was sooooo sleepy after this thing. I barely got my kids to bed, then passed out myself at 8pm. I never could have made a drive following this event.

    Third: Seriously good work on that tech climb. I can clean it routinely on the FS bike, and sometimes on the SS, but certainly did not my first time riding it, on sight!!! Here is a vid of SuperDan cleaning it for your enjoyment.

    Finally: I am so glad you enjoyed the Dells. You guys need to get out here for a weekend of just tech riding fun this summer. (once the ankle heals).

  • Chad

    Dells in May sounds tempting…

    Heal up soon, we would hate to not see your blue dot during the AZT 300.

  • […] the lakes, play golf or take in the World’s Oldest Rodeo.   See Scott’s article at Play hard, get hurtIt is an excellent recap with gorgeous pictures of the new trails in Prescott’s Granite Dells […]

  • Chad

    Wait, you did not ride across the metal bridge?!

  • Heal up quick Scott. Not just for your sake but for your readers’ sakes too! Not sure how long we can go without pictures and stories from your epic adventures. Chad will just have to double his miles and post twice as much while you RICE. He can do it, right?

  • DH

    Well crap. I bet that fat ankle doesn’t keep you off the bike for long. As for hiking, that’s a different story. Heal up fast!

    And yes, your technical climbing prowess is world renowned by now 🙂

    So let’s see…if you don’t do AZT you’ll be ready just in time for a full assault on your favorite ride – Grand Loop. Or, maybe I can get my act together and pull a sweet route together for mid to late June up here.

  • Sorry to hear about your injury. Hope it heals quickly … looks like it was an awesome ride, while it lasted!

  • Komit

    Eric Nelson’s friend here….pretty stellar looking ankle. I’ve had a half dozen of those from football in HS and College. If you really want it to heel very quickly….regardless if its been a few weeks…get a bucket and fill it with ice, put cold water in it…put your foot in it for 30 minutes. Do this 3 times a day…it is amazing how good it works. I have had a worse looking ankle than yours and been on the field playing in 2 weeks. The slush’s hurt…but they work. Make sure the bucket goes up to at least mid-calf. Regular ice cannot possible cover all the areas that need attention with a “sprain”….so much happens with muscle and other tissue. I can turn my ankle trail running…put it in a slush for a few hours the same day and be back out the next day. Blessings…Eric loves riding with you! John Haley

  • Dang Scott, ouch! It’s a PITA when we “finally” get hurt after a long good spell huh? Take good care of the ankle. Prior to the current break, I sprained mine good. I was riding again very soon but walking and full healing takes a while. Lots going on in the ankle and it takes a while to fully heal.

  • That sucks man, I hope you get well soon! I hate dealing with injuries. I’m currently just recovering from an upper back strain that has been plagueing me for weeks. Finally feeling like I’m healed up again.

    Hang in there, it’ll get better!

  • […] on some challenging riding on new trails in the picturesque Granite Dells area of Prescott: Play hard, get hurt. Also see Scott’s follow-up article Prescott Monster Redemption and Scott’s precursor to these […]

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