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Life in the Desert

Finally, some sun! Thirty-eight hours and forty minutes of it to be exact. That’s 1,148 km and 10,000 m of climbing.

While I realise these numbers aren’t actually super impressive, each hour is a personal victory, every ride is an accomplishment, and every metre climbed is a step in the right direction.

This time last year, I was in Oxnard, Ca. It rained everyday, I hated my life, the last thing I wanted to do was ride, and my downward spiral was accelerating. I ignored my mental health and pushed myself to ride longer, further and harder. I made myself suffer on the bike perhaps as punishment for suffering off of it. This lead me to the incorrect conclusion that riding was my trigger, and that cycling caused my depression. I quit cycling when I got home.

 Apparently this place (Francisco's) has really good burritos. I'll go soon. 

Apparently this place (Francisco's) has really good burritos. I'll go soon. 

Something I’ve slowly been accepting is that I’m often sad for no real reason. While negative events will of course contribute to this sadness, the cause is buried deeper than in my experiences. By allowing myself to consider that it isn’t necessarily caused by one thing in particular, I can explore things more freely and risk having them go wrong, instead of not doing something out of fear that a negative outcome will trigger sadness. Riding in the rain, for example, or getting dropped, don’t necessarily have to lead to misery. Accepting that things can go wrong, and likely will, has allowed me to explore more things that bring me joy, and find that positive outcomes can often result from negative experiences.

The reason I’m saying this is that although this year it’s sunny and I’m enjoying riding much more thoroughly than this time last year, I’m still sad. I’m sad off the bike, not while riding, whereas last year I was sad 24/7, and blamed it on the bike and the lack of sun.

The few times that I’ve lived on my own have been difficult. It’s lonely, quiet and often boring. There’s no one to talk to when I’m sad, and as a result, I focus more on how sad I am than I would if there were others around. I don’t find the same level of joy in tasks such as cooking for myself as I would cooking for and with others. In an effort to curb the lack of motivation and energy living alone presents me with, I’ve done my best to make certain adjustments.

 I started today's rest day with a trip to the Botanical Gardens.

I started today's rest day with a trip to the Botanical Gardens.

I listen to upbeat music essentially every second that I’m home. I don’t like the silence of an empty house, so the music helps me feel less alone, but also gets me excited. It’s been one of the best sources of inspiration to get on my bike in the morning.

I’ve also been doing my best to get out of the house. Now that I have my blog and column, unlike this time last year, I actually have something to do other than ride. On rest days, I head out on my bike in normal clothes, slowly spin to a cafe, and sit there for hours sipping coffee, eating a cookie, and writing.

My camera is also a new addition to my self-prescribed depression-fighting arsenal. It motivates me to go on little walks and find something interesting. Walks are always recommended by everyone when it comes to being sad, but it’s especially hard to go for one when you have no one to go with. I’m regretfully not a very creative person, so the lens has certainly provided me with a new, slightly creative perspective.

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Now, a little more about the riding…

As far as I knew before arriving, Tucson is famous in the cycling world for three things: Mount Lemmon, the Shootout, and good weather. I’ve experienced all three in my first week and a half.

Mount Lemmon is a 35 km climb with an average gradient of 5% and an elevation gain of around 1600 m. The long, steady climb provides the ideal road for intervals, or just a steady ride. The climb takes you through several ecozones, including: Sonoran desert at the base, oak forest near the middle, and pine forest at the top. It’s a beautiful climb, offering stunning views, and the air near the top is crisp, fresh, and a pleasure to inhale (even if you notice the slight lack of oxygen).

So far this trip I’ve only climbed a maximum of 27 km of Lemmon, as I was tired and getting cold on my ascent, and still have several weeks to get to the top. The descent is a blast as well, but requires effort as the gradient is too shallow to provide a satisfying speed if you just coast. It’s pretty neat to ride a climb that so many pros have used for training over many winters.

 Following Conor (left) and MA up Mount Lemmon.

Following Conor (left) and MA up Mount Lemmon.

The shootout is a weekly affair. On Saturday mornings I’ve found myself in a group of ~150 riders, from weekend warriors to ex-pros to current pros and every kind of rider in between. It starts with a neutral ride out of town, but once you pass the last stop sign, the flag drops and attacks fly. Riders on triathlon bikes will attack in their aero bars, Travis McCabe of UHC will counter, and for the next 30 or so km the pace will fluctuate as riders respond to or initiate attacks. The peloton forgets the notion that riding two-up is pushing it on open roads, and we’ll ride from the sand to the yellow-line, six riders across.

The race ends on Sprint Hill, where riders who left in an earlier more leisurely ride will be waiting at the top to film the sprint on their cell-phones and cheer on their favourites as we sprint to the top. It’s hilarious - there’s a crowd awaiting the finish of a group ride.

 Mile 9 of Lemmon. Tourist, MA, Conor, Gabi, Alec, and Tim (left to right)

Mile 9 of Lemmon. Tourist, MA, Conor, Gabi, Alec, and Tim (left to right)

After the sprint we regroup before dividing as some riders head further south to ride up Madera Canyon for a 170 km ride, and others turn home for a 110 km ride. My first time on the shootout I did the long-loop, ignorant to the fact that I had chosen a long loop, and held on for my first 5+ hour ride of the year. This weekend, however, I was tired after a particularly depressive night without sleep, and opted for the short loop despite planning for the long one.

My shortened ride, which I at first considered to be a negative event, had an especially positive outcome. I rode 150 km, felt good at the end of the ride in contrast to how terrible I felt at the start, and exceeded my altered expectations of what I’d be able to accomplish that day. This was a solid example of my new-found notion that a negative event can produce positive results.

It’s been a lonely time so far, but the riding and weather have been solid. It’s nice to have some space to myself before the season starts, and the balance created through writing and walking has definitely helped. I’m looking forward to the next couple weeks of riding, and then some time at home before the season gets underway!

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