The Pettit files, The most Excellent Miss Adventures of Jonny P~To Texas and beyond with T-Mac and sattelite radio
Have you ever seen the movie starring the ever so dreamy and talented Johnny Depp and Mary Stuart Materson, Benny and June? The enigmatic character played by Depp is mysterious, aloof and fascinated by everything around him. Turning the everyday folk of small town America on its ear and keeping them entertained where they once where annoyed by the antics of someone whom they thought was a couple oranges off from a full truck, and not only that but pulled at the heartstrings of love in Mary Stuart Masterson, a woman battered by life but won over by the way he poetically shuffled through the world and turned inanimate objects to life. Together they lived an enchanted life together, two kindred spirits bouncing in the cosmic universe on wanderlust magic and seeming less never ending fun journeys.
Enter Travis McMaster and Jonny P, which one is Benny and which one is June? I’d like to think that my 15 plus pounds would land me the male role, but in honesty it doesn’t matter, mainly because you couldn’t have one without the other, and the journey wouldn’t have lived its roll without the two rolling through the southwest landscape, riding bikes and crashing lonely college town bars, heading along the Mexican desert towards El Paso Texas for the Puzzler, perhaps the toughest 50 miler in the country.
The quandary of this trip was compounded by the after effects of my first 12 hour race, where I finished 4th with a 148 miles on a course I don’t like and defintley figured out what I can’t eat while riding and racing. The birth of this road trip was hatched by one sentence from the WTB rep and that of many more. “Hey, you wanna go to Texas” Me being me I said, “Yeah” Packed down and loaded up, we hit a taco bell before heading south towards Sierra Vista, for our first stop, and the home of one of the fastest single speeders in the country, and overall the nicest people on earth, Beto and Paula.
In the morning we made our way to the unique town of Bisbee, already behind schedule but we had coffee and once again enjoyed our time with Beto, walking around the quaint mining town and wishing the Bisbee Bicycle Brothel was open, a truly unique shop with more character than any I’ve seen in Arizona. Time would be something of a lost art on this trip, McMaster’s strong suit isn’t the hands of which tell it, but instead his massive enthusiasm and character for it, and while some are misguided I found our personalities and conversations we shared were more like one I would have with a lost brother, and to quote Forrest Gump, “Me and Travis like peas and carrots.” Truth be told he’ll always be my Jenny.
Blowing out of the mining town and southeast toward Mexico and the border states of, New Mexico and Texas, once again this time issue meant we where not to stay in El Paso, we rode some cool, super loose single and double track, surrounded by hills and gnarly sandy washes we took for miles, as the sunset behind us leaving us struggling to find the mighty diesel Jetta wagon before complete darkness. With daylight no longer an option, the promise of staying in a random college town proved to be interesting to the two oddities, so we bunkered down in Las Cruces, home of New Mexico State and by far and away the oddest college town I’ve had the pleasure of being drunk in. Walking towards the promise of food and drink, we saw not a soul walking or riding a bike, the shear quietness of the place was spooky for a college area, even campus was frightfully dead-strange man.
When you have two, somewhat attractive, outgoing guys, willing to strike up a conversation with anybody, the talks can get long and weird real quick like. Seems we both take pleasure in the abnormal, because let’s be honest, that’s the funkiest shit your going to find, the college girls and retarded frat boys are cookie cutter douche bags, compared to what you’ll find once you start scratching on the locals. Sure enough after the jugs of beer and multiple shots penetrated our blood the internal music begins to move the feet and stretch the feats coming out of your mouth. We stumbled onto, and into the Hurricane Alley, now I really hate walking and now were well over 4 miles deep hoofing it into the night, somehow after leaving the Irish bar, I didn’t give a shit about the distance to the next, so long as we beat last call.
The band was rocking, people where dancing, and I mean the band was damn good, our new friends followed us over and now we had a group of our own. After a certain point of the night or perhaps it’s a certain amount of booze, I get the nagging urge to dance, usually with no one in particular, and more often than not, alone, I just start grooving, and in this modern age of digitalism, Travis had it all on record, and has since made a montage of our experience. Like the night, the strangeness took over and somehow in the wee hours of the new day a conga line started, and I sure as hell aint’ gonna miss a conga train in New Mexico, I believe I may have been the first one to ever do some fist pumping in said conga line, but damnit I was having fun.
Like a prom queen I refused to walk home, in the process of hailing a cab in the dreary night, two rather shall we say “good eaters” offered us a ride in their “sports car” It was a beat up two door Saturn, both Travis and I are mildly claustrophobic, although mine was mostly cured in the tiny confines of a fishing boat a couple hundred miles off shore. While she rallied towards our hotel, we giggled in the backseat and made comments they had no idea what we were talking about, but to be fair to them, not many do, to us it was epic funny. Somehow we made it without a cop insight, and Travis made some food as I completely passed out.
In the morning we again mounted the road, only this time with some severe headaches and made the short journey to El Paso for late breakfast. If you’ve never been to a chain breakfast in Texas on a Saturday it’s a joke, everywhere we went was packed wall to wall with a line going out the front door, the only awesome part was that everyone had a mustache, skin-tight jeans and some form of cowboy boots. Then it was off to the race site to do a little riding and meet the minds behind the event, Travis had to do a little Rep work and I was just trying to stop the sledge-hammer on my lobes. Having recalled the days so far it seemed like a longer trip than just two days, miles of border patrol cars and helicopters “for the record, you can’t take a pic with them.” My mind was recapturing images from the night before and the distinct image and taste of Jagermeister comes to mind, I don’t like it and don’t drink it, but it seems Travis was excited to buy shots with some Jager in it, just to watch me squirm after it was too late and already down my throat, true friend.
We rode a bit of the course and to call it rocky is a gross understatement, its like the geologic gods decided to trust this part of empty hills near Mexico with the excess of every smooth buff trail from here to eternity, and that was only 12 miles of so of 50 we rode. Back in the satellite radio’d car of McMaster and we began a random search for a decent place to lay our heads, hopefully one with a pool and hot tub. We found one with a view of Juarez, and it sure was awesome…I’ve never seen this part of the world, but it’s commercialized and massive, hopefully my travels don’t lead me back here for a while. We ate dinner together alone in the lobby restaurant, watched a bit of football, then hopped in the heated pool, then off to bed, after watching the human centipede on T-Macs net flicks, horrible movie and I questioned the man more after watching bits and pieces of it.
We got up early and got to the race sight and even managed a little nap while the sun rose up from the west over the plains and shed light on the Franklin Mountains. There was a bon fire glowing and warming bagels, we pitched the WTB tent and readied ourselves for a fight. The gun was to go off at 8, a mass start with all groups starting together. The big guns toed the first row of the line, Travis was off to my right and I was locked in behind a water table. Dave Wilson, the mad man behind this event told us to go, and the herd shot out down the dusty, rocky road toward fates unknown, and punishment was to be dealt shortly with a heavy hand.
The first rocky single track weaves through a 4 mile area, super tight, so hopefully you get a good crack before the gutted jeep road, on this course there is no comfortable moment, even on the downhill. After the 12 hour race my legs didn’t feel bad, just didn’t feel any “pop” in them. I was riding in the second group, Beto, Even Plews, Cameron Brennerman and a handful of others motored on away from us. About 12-13 miles in you start the major climb, up over 7,000 feet, the base of it is technical super rocky climbing loose singletrack, at this point those fast starters were starting to dwindle and the strong resume there place at the front. Not 20 feet before you take a slight right hand turn to start the climb you go through a little whoop then up towards the elevations. It happens to fast, I felt my knee hit the shifter as hard as I could ever remember, I swerved when my flesh hit the bar, causing my front tire to turn wildly and of course hit a rock and I flipped over the bars, “Fuck, I broke my chain”. The mad scramble to find a link and watch the file of people ride by as I sweating, fumble for a quick link and chain tool.
I thought it didn’t take too long to fix, but once I tried to pedal off with the nine speed link in the ten speed housing, I pedaled up hill and the link fell apart, my heart begin to sink as I thought of one of very few of my DNF’s. I looked around like a school girl who lost her contact, looking for a bright shiny little hunk of metal amongst the thousands of rocks. Travis passed me and asked if I was alright and I responded yeah, I didn’t want my buddy to stop for me, I knew I’d get the beast up and running. The chain broke one link from the master link, not a good place at all, giving my thighs second thoughts every time I was going to power down. I was rolling again, behind masses of those that scooted by at the failure of metal. Up the climb I was trying to make up time, but it was tight and technical not good for passing. As I floored it by people I soon realized Texas people don’t like to be passed, after going shoulder to shoulder with one contestant he shoved me into a barrel cactus, the second time I’ll bleed on this day but surely not to be the last.
I tried not to blow up on the climb, knowing it was long and going over 7,000 feet, riding through snow on the open windy faces I was still passing hoards of people. Once at the top you shoot down a nasty bit of jeep open road, swooping through a couple fast loose turns the view turns towards the worst. Up ahead I see nothing but rocks about 6 inches deep by say 8 inches across and about a foot long or so, as far as my eyes can see. Scanning the surrounding fields there is no place to go, thinking certainly were not going over this shit I see a white dot of a helmet getting jack hammered over the stones, and said fuck it. You had to ride it at speed if you could, the slower the more out of control your were. It was sketchy and adventurous, I had no idea what I had gotten my self into, this seemed more like my wonderings around Bulldog canyon, nearly walking more than riding.
Past the first water station I didn’t stop, I was a pack mule loaded with two bottles on the bike, one coke in the jersey and a 70 ounce CamelBak. Off on a bit of super rocky but sorta fun single track. I’m nearly 6’2 and there wasn’t a patch as long as me with out a gnarly rock garden waiting for you to moan a tune over. I tried to keep my mind positive, back in the line of folks and trying to get around them when I could, I took unwise lines and was bleeding from knee cap to ankle bone pretty well now. Climbing up some prehistoric rock, nearly flat sorta Moab like, I saw what looked to be the jersey of my travel mate. He looked to be pissing and stretching his back at the same time, that had to be my bud. Once on my wheel we chatted for a bit, he passed me and I think we felt better seeing each other 1/3 through this war. He was riding strong and gapped me for a bit until another aid station neither of us stopped at, the bitch went up again, first on a double track then some interesting switch backs, that was the last time I saw my friend till the end.
Once over the brutal burden, I knew the 35 miler aid station was about 8 miles away, that 8 miles could have well as been 80. I came up on Beto and was sorry to see my bud pushing his bike, a deeply torn sidewall would spell the end of his day, but in true greatness of his character he didn’t have one bad thing to say, and instead at the finish pontificated on the journey, the toughness and the comradery of this event, stud. I had no idea where I was in this race, just kept pounding away and trying to stay positive, I recognized the jeep road that leads to the finish and was excited to see familiar sights, plus once there I only had 15 miles to go. I always equate mileage in the tens of miles to those it took me to get home. I grew up a bit out of town and it wasn’t easy to get home, so the 10-12 miles to get there was filled with some steep long climbs and beautiful sights. After acknowledging the mileage with that of back home I just thought of putting this fucker to bed.
Flying through the start finish area, I passed the jersey of a shop near ours and was glad to be ahead of him finally. I had to stop and piss on the fun single-track, then it was pass the spot where I broke my chain. The climb up this thing the second time made my legs feel like my calf muscles were going to wrap around my shin bone. I was still passing people and glad to know where a couple turns where, thinking the climb can’t go back to the top I knew somewhere on the jeep road it had to turn off. The climbing was slow and tough, and always, always up. I fixed my eyes to those in front, took a little solace from those suffering more than me, and offered encouragement to them as I passed, sort of win-win I thought. My right triceps felt detached and stiff, too much too soon no doubt, riding the absolute rockiest shit in the world it threatened to wave the flag and just leg go of the bars leaving the rest of my body to feel like it did, I could barely grab the bars or brake.
Looking at the mileage and around the bends I knew the last bit of jeep road leads to the first 4 miles of trail we took at the start, we would just ride it backwards. Nothing came quick enough, everything is bigger in Texas, including the length of a mile as it seemed they never ended. Finally at the start of yet another piece of rocky wonderland, I thought four miles, who fucking cares, either way I’m going to finish this thing. I squeezed by another couple riders, and about a mile from the finish a guy on a full suspension was carving up the stones far better than I, I asked him what age group he was and he said 19-29 so I let him by. Even after 50 miles of relentless beatings, your inner competitiveness takes over as you near the finish. The last half mile was freshly cut, ugly cactus strewn trail ripping open more of my flesh and painting the Texas ground red with my blood.
At the finish you ride through the tent and sign in, so people don’t have to look for your carcass out in the wilderness. Beto was at the finish, clean with beer in hand. I went to our tent, sat down, gathered some thoughts and some drinks cleaned up and wondered how my better half had fared. I chatted with the guys, ate some chilli and gladly drank a couple beers and a lot of water, about mile 42 I ran out of all liquids. In the hot afternoon sun the ambiance was thick and made everything worthwhile, the drive, this course, the new buds and crazy fucking boulders, I’ve never cursed out loud to a course, only myself, but while pushing my bike over endless rocks and screamed some expletives to the dryness and thought about gutting Dave Wilson once I finished. But once at the end, hanging with friends in the sun, the feeling of accomplishment was far greater than the adversity of what we just experienced.
McMaster came across the line and all we had to do was look at each other, nuff said. As it turns out, the guy who said he was 19-29 was in fact in my class and took the win 13 seconds ahead of me, oh well, what do you do. I finished 7th overall in a fairly stacked field, albeit a ways down, but also with the luck of breaking my chain. Travis got 3rd in the single speed, so the boys from AZ both podium at no doubt the toughest 50 miler in the country. We stayed longer than expected, knowing the drive home was going to be tough. A stop off at Carls Jr on the way out of El Paso I watched Travis wolf down the grossest chilly cheese fries I’ve ever seen. He went down in the rock garden and broke the bridge of his nose, so it was purple an blue, with chilly and cheese hanging off his chin, truly spent.
We took some pics of our trophies, cool rock statues with a chaining, I cursed the stone at first, but then was honored to have the Roubaix looking winnings in my closest, and I’m looking at it now as I write this and the flood of memories pours out way faster than I type, and yes, I have a table in my closet, don’t ask. We again spent the night at Beto’s and jetted out in the morning. I had a ride to do with Jimmy Mac and JK from Mountain Bike Action I didn’t want to miss and Trav was excited to see his kids before he left for Utah.
Pulling up to the shop minutes before I loaded up another bag full of dirty clothes to go ride I was a little sad this trip came to an end. So much had happen in the four plus days. We drove endless miles along the Mexican border, got pics with the border patrol helicopter dudes, rode our bikes in sandy washes in the sunset, got blissfully drunk in Las Cruces New Mexico, danced with the locals in a conga line then two days later podium’d at the toughest thing I’ve completed on two wheels. Just two nomadic souls on a somewhat purposeful path, the conversations, the laughs, the new people. The one seriously packed car with mountain bikes on top heading towards trails in the middle nowhere. If it wasn’t for Travis I would’ve never gone to Texas, and I’m thankful he’s as adventurous as he is. I’m excited for the next series, I know the greatest one so far will come in June with the Continental Divide Race, but I’ll never take for granted any adventure or place once thought unknown, the chance to stand someplace I never have is comforting and hounds me when I’ve been stagnant too long.
The next weekend was round one of the MBAA series, and to say the least there’s a story to tell, so until the next time, get some of your own~J