GPS weighs me down, physically and mentally. I pick my way up the technical rocky climb with more rocks on my right and prickly pear cactus on my left. I’m on my mountain bike, riding a route with about 50 others, to raise money for the Arizona Trail. AZT is the cross-state trail from Mexico to Utah.
It’s called a Jamboree, but right now, it’s no party. The 50 riders are spread over time and space. My riding buddy Lee and I started late and we’re following the designated route, but might bail out early.
I’m way too much in my head, and not enough in my body. GPS is on my mind. Later, when I plug the unit into the tracking website I will see how fast I went, distance, competitively compare myself to other women who have ridden designation segments along the route. I have an outdoorsy GPS unit, no sleek pocket-sized cell phone clone is tough enough for me. My unit is made for mountain biking or wilderness hiking or whatever adventure the burly rubberized shell transmits through the palm of its aspirational owner.
I’ve stashed the bulky unit into my backpack’s exterior pocket.
So I wonder about how fast I’m going, where’s the top of this climb? And we reach two young women, one of whom holds records for the Arizona Trail and the Great Divide Ride—she’s been fastest across the state and across the continent. Oh, and she’s riding a single speed bike, no need for all those extra gears to make things easier. Intimidation sets in. They stopped to take pictures, we all chat. I watch them ride away, easily pedaling and picking their way through stone drop-offs and twists of this trail nicknamed “Ledge surfer.”
I take a couple pictures with my GPS unit, and continue riding and sometimes walking with Lee. It’s a big cocktail party of a ride, we meet up with people going both directions, chat, and I know I’m not going to be top ten of any segment.
Later in the ride, I reach for the unit again to take picture of a perfect Arizona winter landscape: saguaro cacti, red rock cliffs, deep blue sky.
My GPS is gone! It bounced out of my pack somewhere along the trail. So I’m mad because it’s expensive to replace, and I can’t track myself anymore. But that’s also a relief. Now it doesn’t matter how fast I ride because the ride will never be posted on the website.
Soon after, the Jamboree route designers catch up to us on the trail. They are also legends of bike-packing in Arizona and the Great Divide. Lee knows them well and we chat briefly as they bounce down another rocky trail that I am hike-a-biking.
But then, sweet relief: a flowing trail where we weave in and out of a cholla cactus forest, up and down small rubbly hills. I follow the orange backpack ahead of me and enjoy the ride, the late afternoon sun shining on distant mountain ranges across the valley.
I’m riding with my dream team of local mountain bikers, we’re all just biking. Just being.
We head back to the trail head, through a “snowbird” RV resort. It’s one hundred or so sardine-parked RVs from the Yukon, Wisconsin, Minnesota and the rest of the frozen north. We hit the asphalt road for the final couple miles to the trailhead.
I’ve forgotten about GPS, I don’t care how far I’ve ridden or how fast. I just spent six hours biking on awesome trails, outdoors in my beautiful desert, in the sunny January of the Tucson Mountains.
Here’s the Arizona Trail Jamboree 2016 map and gpx routes if you ever want to ride 25 or 35 miles east of Tucson.
Here’s link to a pdf of all the trails in Tucson Mountain Park
[PS: Another rider found my GPS unit on the trail, so I have it back, and my competitive spirit lives on.]