On the counter of the Panguitch Lake General Store were items as valuable and sought after as gold: A snickers bar, red cream soda, chocolate milk, and a bag of Sun Chips. I was dirty—filthy dirty—hot and tired. It was Sunday, 10:30 AM. I had been riding since 6:00 AM, and had just completed a massive push from the flow of Thunder Mountain, through the barren nothing of the Hatch to Panguitch ATV trail, and over the riddle of Rock Canyon. 35 empty and lonely miles. It was day 2 of the Dixie Lite. A 170 mile, unsupported mountain bike race.
Surrounding me in the store were elk, deer and moose heads. Kitchy wooden signs, t-shirts and trucker hats. Maps, wildlife art, post cards, and copies of a book called “Remembering Panguitch Lake”.. The air was chilled. And so were the drinks lining the shelves behind the frosty glass doors. Endless options for cold, sugary, liquid replenishment and refreshment. I had stared in wonder at it all. A feeling of acute displacement had engulfed me. It had only been a couple of days, but already I felt detached from the everyday hum of society and civilization. From vacationing weekenders and relaxing locals. I was, quite literally, a kid in a candy store.
The clerk behind the counter looked at me with blatant and quizzical curiosity.
“Any good mountain biking around here?”
My mind raced in disbelief. I thought about the last day and half of riding. The Virgin River Rim Trail. Chimney Rock. Thunder Mountain. The Paunsaugunt and Markagunt plateaus. Grandview. The endless miles of forest roads. Ahead of me still awaited the Spruce Trail. And beyond that, waiting to be ridden on some future day, Dark Hollow, Bunker Creek, Scout Loop… and so much more.
“Uh. Yeah. A little.”
Outside in the shade I swung lazily on a wooden porch swing. People came and went. Tourists, bikers—the Harley kind—passers through, and road trippers with bored, sticky, restless children who seemed irritated at having to peel themselves away from their iPhones and PSPs. A small goat sat lifelessly on the porch. An odd pet, in an odd place. I lingered. And ate. I stared in terror at the mountain above me. The mountain I knew I had to climb. So tall. So far away. Covered in thick aspen and pine, I knew that once I did gain its summit, what followed was the deadfall laden mass that was once known as the Spruce Trail.
I closed my eyes and put off the inevitable ascension for a few more minutes.
In the weeks leading up to this ride I had continuously tried to convince myself that I was unfit to participate. “You’re too busy.” “No legs.” “Unprepared.” “Next year.” I sent off my regrets to Dave Harris and resigned myself—with no small amount of relief—to not riding the Dixie Lite. Not this year. And maybe not ever. And why would I? 170 miles of rugged, dusty, remote, and self navigated terrain is hyperbolic self indulgence. Exaggerated. Deliberate masochism, mingled with a narcissistic dash of overt confidence. Who do these multi-day riders think they are?
I was feeling good about my decision to abstain. After all, I had a long list of long rides behind me. I had nothing to prove.
And then came Dave’s reply:
“Gotta start somewhere. This is the perfect time and venue. I know you want to, so…”
I resisted the nudge.
“I tailor made this route for folks in your position— just wanting to get into the game. You will love the route. It will challenge you…in a good way.”
And I knew he was right. I did want to ride. And any excuse I manufactured to do otherwise was artificial and superficial. In fact, the stars had aligned themselves in such a way that not riding the Dixie Lite would have been a shameful display of self-condemnation and cowardly avoidance. I could not have asked for a better scenario: Perfect weather. Good company. And fitness. What good are good legs if they sit idly, itching and twitching to be throttled and flogged?
I was back in. If I was ever truly out.
I spiraled into the tunnel vision of preparation. Maps, gear, food, and pesky, taunting ambitions dominated my thoughts. In my sleep I saw GPS tracks and singletrack. And in my waking hours I plotted, schemed, and planned. And the buzz and mojo started to build and materialize into tangible, thick anticipation. Butterflies started to flutter in my gut. The bike came together—complete with a frame and saddle bag. And suddenly there I was, lying in the woods, staring up at the pine trees and moonlight, tossing and turning. Sleeping. Waiting.
Waiting for dawn, and the Dixie Lite.