It’s 1:30 a.m. I am tired but dogged determined: I am riding a rented BMC mountain bike in the middle of the Sonaran Desert, just outside of Tucson, Arizona. With the outline of the Catalina Mountains in the horizon in front of me, I stop and turn off the headlight to look at the unobstructed sky. I revel in the moment and think,” This is one amazing sensation.” Among the celestial constellations, the big dipper is vivid and clear; the air is crisp and I can see my breath. Life is good. But then, someone shouts from behind, pulling me out from my solitary musing, “on your right, buddy.” The cyclist blasts by, then another, and another—I am in a competitive race, after all, even if I am going at my own pace trying to enjoy the experience and the surrounding.
The first event of the race was the requisite captains’ meeting, a preamble citing the rules and giving a friendly message to the contestants—to be kind—to look out for each other out on the track: sensible advice for riding in the desert with hazards such as cacti thorns and sharp rocks inches away from the trails. In the corner of my eye, I see a toddler lying in the dirt. A woman in a vibrant blue, puffy down filled coat, holding in one hand a cork wrapped, paper coffee cup, and in the other hand a dog leash, turns to chastise her crying toddler and says, “That’s what you get for trying to ride the dog.” A comment that aptly describes my participation in the race. Like the indomitable dusty toddler trying to ride the dog, I was on the ground three times: I was run off the trail twice by aggressive riders trying to pass and fell off once all on my own.
The night was my favorite time to ride, but the day loops had highpoints too. Fueled with jelly beans, pretzels, and coffee, coffee, coffee, I made several daylight rides—each time accommodating the changing weather conditions. Mid afternoon in February the weather is pleasingly warm; sunless and dark, the temperature is cool. Riding during the day was amusing for the oddities encountered in the loop. At one point a banjo player was sitting on a rock, playing a tune; at another turn someone put a gnome at a table; rumor had it that women were also dancing near naked around a whiskey tree. The singular feature of riding during the day, however, was the numerous dead rodents on the trail. Packrats, perhaps, but nonetheless, they were plentiful. And, they would be mysteriously gone the next round. The desert is not static.