Philosophy Desert Workshop & AZTR updates


The inaugural Philosophy Desert Workshop was conspired with two of my mountain biking grad school buddies (David Plunkett and Eliot Michaelson) – a spin-off on the Philosophy Mountain Workshop. We pre-circulate and pre-read six philosophy papers (from all areas of philosophy) and discuss them in the afternoons, over a period of three days. The setting (a serene desert location) and the setup (broad array of papers, pre-read required) encourages collaborative discussion among non-specialists. Participants come, because (a) they want to pitch papers to a general philosophy audience (and deeply engage with areas outside their main research areas) and (b) they want to bike, hike, etc. (Not all participants do b, but most do. In any case, b isn’t required!) The workshop is a way of countering two trends in philosophy: (1) increasing specialization (so, for example, “history people” like myself often find themselves mostly presenting papers to a history audience) and (2) hostile or aggressive conference environments (though I think this is getting better, at least in some circles). It’s basically an awesome place to present work one it trying to tailor to a broader philosophy audience.

Anyway, it seems to have been a success. The discussions were all great. All participants took the time to think deeply about areas outside their research specialties and also helped people working within those specialties re-think their projects and commitments. We also got away with temporarily squatting in the Peace gazebo at the Sedona Creative Life Center, where we were competing for space with time travelers, spoon benders, seance participants and vortex masters. No kidding! (When I was asked where the “seance” was, I had to fight duel urges to laugh and run away.)




(The tentative plan is to to continue the workshop each year. If you’re a philosopher reading this, please let me know whether you’re interested in participating. We really do not want this to be exclusionary, even though it is invite-only. Also, you do not have to be a biker, though it is possible you will be talked into hiking. :-))


We mostly stayed around Bell Rock, Cathedral Rock, Adobe Jack and the Mescal Trail area. I was really pleased with the diversity of trails we managed to ride, as well as the chance to spend time with old and new philosophy friends. Pictures (featuring Eliot, David, Will and Rob):



Except for fatigue-inducing allergies (I am seriously tired!), I feel great. (I’m getting an allergy shot today, just like I used to as a kid, growing up in the Southwest. I’m allergic to, like, every native species, and I do not need a Tour Divide repeat – i.e., riding blind in New Mexico!) The good news is that I feel strong physically. After a few days in Sedona (and some mild crashes), my technical skills seemed solid enough. My bike has been falling apart, but I think the good folks at Bikes Direct have finally (in record time) sorted every last thing out – new brake pads, new chain, brake bleeding, rebuilt wheels (the nipples disintegrated!), new tires, etc. Knock on wood!

I will try to post my setup before I leave (due to requests), but because of a much-anticipated talk I am giving at Northern Arizona University the night before the race and a much-anticipated talk I am giving at the University of Arizona at the end of the race, things are a bit crazy, and so I will likely post my setup after the race, with a discussion of what worked and did not work. (Notice – these colloquium talks are on the wrong sides of the course, which runs south to north! Also, they are two weeks apart, which means I really do have time constraints. Three out of the four women who have completed the race took around two weeks. But I’m okay with quitting, if I have to.)

Balancing my philosophy and biking commitments has definitely been challenging (these past two months), but I’m managing to manage. The good news is that I won’t want for things to think about during the race. Multi-day bike racing actually requires being able to (sometimes) retreat into your own thoughts. Having things to think about really helps. I recall hearing secondhand that Tour Divide record smasher Lael Wilcox thinks about books and movies. Part of what I love about the multi-day biking is having that time to let my thoughts flow – to see things I wouldn’t otherwise see. When I come back I feel as though I’ve had a mental shower. 🙂

I should say that the biggest difference this time around is – like I mentioned – my riding with only an emergency sleeping bag and super lightweight sleeping pad. I’m basically losing about four or five pounds by not taking my old sleeping bag and tent. I am also going to experiment with riding during the night and sleeping (outside) during the day. Lastly, I am going to sleep less. This is all an experiment. I may have to drop out. I just don’t know. I do know that I will try my very best. And I know I’ll love being in the desert. 🙂 I think the Grand Canyon hike (toward the end of the course) will be a huge motivator.

Anyway, hopefully I can check in here soon, and if not, you can follow the race via my public Facebook posts. I will try to check in here and there, but I don’t think I will have the kind of cellphone access I had during Tour Divide. The AZTR livetracker is here. I still need to register my SPOT, so I’m not yet listed.

Thanks for following along,





New gear

Arriving at my dad’s house in Arizona, I excitedly opened (or rather, my little half sister and brother excitedly opened!) some of the new items I am trying for the Arizona Trail Race. Thanks Milltown! Check it out:


I am really excited to try the Osprey Sirrus 24. I see Osprey packs everywhere now, and I’ve been wanting to try one. This sturdy day hiking pack will not only carry extra food/water but also my BIKE, if and when I hike through the Grand Canyon. I guess that aforementioned Analects quote will be one of my anthems – “The ‘Cry of the Osprey‘ expresses joy without becoming licentious, and expresses sorrow without falling into excessive pathos.” 🙂


My Bontrager/Trek multisport shoes. These are women’s specific. Because 1/4-1/3 of the trail will require hike-a-bike, I need shoes that can handle rough terrain! I’ll also need blister repair supplies, no doubt. 🙂


The Maxis Ardent (with EXO protection) seems to be the tire of choice for the rocky, cacti-strewn Arizona Trail, which eats tires for breakfast. EXO technology is “An extremely cut-resistant and abrasion-resistant material added to the sidewalls of select mountain tires. This densely woven fabric is also lightweight and highly flexible, ensuring that the performance of the tire remains unaffected.”


I am attaching two of these AA-battery powered Bontrager/Trek handlebar lights to my bars, as backup lights (in addition to a head lamp and iPhone light). Battery powered backups are a good idea, since my main light (a helmet mounted Exposure Diablo) has a limited burn time and requires recharging, via a wall socket or my AA-battery powered USB chargers. Plus, extra light in rough terrain is not a bad idea, especially since I plan to do a lot of night riding.


This final item may prove to be essential. Large seat bags (the norm for bikepacking) do not work so well with small 29-er frames (i.e., there is rear tire rub, as soon as the terrain gets tough). So, instead I am attaching a large dry sack on the platform of this lightweight Thule touring rack. So, bike bags are as follows: a top-tube mounted feed bag, a small frame bag (Revelate) and a handlebar bag (Revelate).

Now that I am potentially ditching my tent and getting the bike weight down to the low 30’s, I will have plenty of extra space for food and water. I’m packing super light. Part of the reason is just the sheer difficulty of this trail (the lighter the better). But also, I finally feel like I have enough bikepacking experience to narrow my supplies down the bare essentials and to forego a lot of conveniences. This is me getting serious, I guess. 🙂 It could be a total disaster, but, hell, I want to make good time. What else can I say? I do hope I can stay in a hotel here and there, but it won’t be a frequent thing.

I will provide more updates as the date (April 15) nears. I still have to get the bike all ready, log some more intervals and do some decent route planning, in addition to a philosophy workshop (this weekend in Sedona) and colloquium talk in Flagstaff the night before the race. The talk is definitely on the wrong side of the course. 🙂 The chances of my getting a lot of sleep right before the race? Slim to none. Oh well.