Wednesday, December 1, 2010

"The Day I Rode Em All"

From Centurion Photo's 2009

This article was published in the Spring 2010 issue of Mountain Flyer Magazine, words by Landon Monholland, Photography by Gregory Luck.

Also, here is a link to the promotionial website Greg put together before the ride so that I could push for sponsors.

Online link to article:

Video from Centurion day of here...

From Centurion Photo's 2009

It’s 4:30 a.m. on an October morning, and it’s raining. I’m attempting a ride known as the Moab Centurion: over 100 miles of Moab’s classic trails ridden together in one day. I’ve been obsessed with this goal for more than five years. The idea took root during the darkest days of my life, days in which I could only lie in bed, my broken back throbbing and a searing pain extending down my legs.

On this morning, I pedal out of Moab with that distinct, distant memory still sharp in my mind. It’s the catalyst that will drive me for the next 18 hours. I mutter to myself my mantra for the day: ride ’em all.

I’m excited to be finally underway. As I ride out of town away from my wife, Mary, and support crew, and the road tilts upward, I focus on keeping my pace well below “easy” as the road tilts upward. I want to be a tortoise today, to keep it slow, steady, and consistent.

When I first attempted this ride two years ago, I didn’t finish. I had ridden for 17 hours, yet still lacked 25 off road miles over some of the toughest terrain imaginable. I have no delusions that today’s ride will be easier; it’s going to be the most brutal, painful thing I have ever voluntarily attempted. But I’ve chosen to do this; I never chose to break my back.

I moved to Moab in the spring of 2004 to pursue my dreams of riding and working in "the Mecca." I quickly progressed from Midwest cross-country guy to Moab downhill huckster. I went from from being scared to death of a 1-foot drop to finishing at the top of our local races in a matter of a couple months. I competed at the first Moab Halloween Huckfest and was the first person to ever drop a motorcycle off of the famous Mushroom Drop.

To progress that quickly, I crashed a ton. My crash in the backyard of a friend's house is still known to this day as "the noise." My body made such a sound as I landed that people still talk about it. The discs in my back squished, or herniated, as my vertebrae compressed. One X-ray shows a piece of vertebrae very close to my spinal column. That was the day the doctor said, "You take a few more falls, and you are going to finish severing that spinal chord." His scare tactic saved my life.

I reach Slick Rock Trail, one of the most famous mountain bike trails. I’m glad to be off the road, onto something more brain engaging. It’s very dark yet, the rain has stopped, but the air is still misty and thick. I make progress quickly, knowing this trail like the back of my hand. I veer from the painted dots to avoid climbs and reconnect with them on the other side as the trail winds through the maze of petrified sand dunes. I’ve spent years leading visitors out here, I use this familiarity to my advantage, wasting as little time and energy as possible.

With my first trail finished, I climb higher, back on the road. I’ve dreaded this portion so much I planned the whole ride around it. It’s 10 miles and about 3000 ft of relatively easy climbing. A free rider at heart, I simply loathe steady pedaling. I need the mental stimulation of rocks, drops, and cliffs all mixed with a large amount of speed to keep me entertained.
From Centurion Photo's 2009

I arrive at the Porcupine Rim Trail. My buddy Keith is going to ride the next stretch with me. After a quick bite of food, we head out. He knows how hard I’ve trained and thus knows the rules: if he has a mechanical, a flat tire or simply can’t keep up, I will leave him. It’s not my style; but it’s the fact of today’s endeavor.

It’s still dark, but daylight is not far from us. As we climb the ledges toward the top, a glow begins to creep behind the La Sal Mountains. At the top, I quickly down an energy gel and watch the clouds boil in front of the peaks as the sun illuminates them from behind.
From Centurion Photo's 2009

As this legendary trail dips down, I say goodbye to my friend. I’m on a mission and ripping this gnarly descent is where I can make time. As I fly over the terrain I’m glad that I’m riding a bike with over six inches of travel, 32 lbs of mass, with thick aggressive tires. Below me the red sandstone walls of Arches National Park are reflected in the green Colorado River. I’m excited. I’m finishing my second of nine trails and I feel great.

I’m a little shocked at how quickly my first pit-stop goes by. My wife, Mary, and crew are all business, feeding me, lubing my chain and filling my water pack. Then, I’m back on the road again. The excitement I felt 15 minutes ago is now gone. Before me lies 12 to 14 more hours of riding. The mythical Gold Bar Rim towers above me in the morning sun. Over the next four hours, I will need to cross that monster or fall to my death. I wouldn’t be the first.
From Centurion Photo's 2009

On Gold Bar’s chunky doubletrack, I encounter a string of Jeeps. Luckily they’ve all stopped to “crawl” at one particular spot and I cruise by. Ahead are people in “redneck golf carts,” the ATVs with roofs and room for guns and beer. They seem like nice folks. As I pass, they exclaim how tough I am and how they can’t imagine not having a motor. Finally they come to a ledge so big they go no farther, and I am finally free of the noise and exhaust.

At the top of Gold Bar, I look down on the road I had ridden hours before, eat some food and remount for the most technical portion of the ride, the crossing of the rim. Seven hours into this adventure and I am beginning to fatigue. My food is dwindling, and I struggle to keep my caloric intake high enough to match the demands of my body. The rim is one long technical obstacle course: a four-foot drop, climb a two-foot ledge, pedal, pedal, a three-foot drop, up another ledge…repeat over and over.
From Centurion Photo's 2009

At the Portal Trail descent, my brain is foggy, and I am close to bonking. Over the last 20 years this trail has claimed three lives. It’s scarcely three-feet wide in some spots, and a 500 foot sheer cliff over ones left shoulder. I stop and clear my head, ingest my last energy gel and focus.

The fuzzy head feeling disappears, and I’m loving this trail. It’s frightening, exposed trails like this that so completely envelope my senses, leaving me with a sense of oneness with my bike. I ride the trail without a dab, and below me I hear my crew’s whoops and hollers as I roll into a much-needed rest stop.
From Centurion Photo's 2009

Pizza! My sweet wife brought me a pizza. I am savagely hungry and totally bonked. I’m also 45 minutes behind my estimated schedule so I have little time to enjoy this reward. Knowing better, I devour a third piece of pizza and remount for the next 12 miles of road.

I’m half done. Only half done?! I’ve ridden 53 miles in over nine hours, at roughly 5 mph. A dedicated friend, Tim, joins me now to pace me all the way back into town, and then to the Amasa Back Trail. His choosing to spend his Saturday riding pavement with me makes me proud to know him. Despite being twice my age, Tim can ride with the best. We chug along at a steady 12 mph, at this point, all I can muster.
From Centurion Photo's 2009

As we ride the back streets of Moab, I start to think dangerous thoughts. I could stop, get off this torturous saddle, take a shower and be proud to have ridden a massive ride. Luckily, I’m interrupted from my wayward thoughts by another rider. It takes me a second to recognize my friend, Ross Schnell, the 2009 Single Speed World Champ and 2008’s Downieville Classic winner. He’s found me at my worst and is telling me heart warming lies, such as "you're riding strong" and “you’ve only got a few trails left.” When Ross peels off, Tim and I push hard toward another ridge of red Utah rock.

It’s mid afternoon now, roughly 10 hours spent in the saddle. Amasa Back is before us and I see a rider cart-wheeling down “the stairs” of the trail entrance. My confidence rises as my pizza-filled stomach finally settles. We bound down past the poor guy spitting dirt and start up the ledge-filled rocky climb. My joy at being back on a trail and off of the road causes me to feel downright fresh, considering the 70 miles in my legs. Near the top Tim tells me, “Go, I can’t keep up.” And with that, I drop the hammer. The descent off of Amasa Back down to the river is a technical rider’s dream. With plenty of opportunity to fall off of a cliff, I thrive. As I bust out of the Tamarisk patch at the bottom, my crew is startled. My wife is still in town getting more food for this rest stop.
From Centurion Photo's 2009

The guys don’t know what to do. Keith hands me a bottle of water and I chug it down. I not only made up 45 minutes I was down, but I pushed ahead of schedule by 30 minutes. Just as I’m about to leave the parking lot, my wife drives up with shock written all over her face. I tell her to meet me at the bottom of the Moab Rim.
From Centurion Photo's 2009

The massive Moab Rim four-by-four trail is one mile long, 1,000 feet up, with a nearly continuous 21% grade. By now, my wife is set up and ready to do business. She makes me sit down as I eat a Subway sandwich, I tell her to skip installing lights on my bike, because I feel good enough that I can cross the rim in the two hours before dark.

I’ve ridden up this monstrosity before, but on this evening I simply resign to push my bike. As I push, Mary and our cattle dog Gus, walk beside me. Mary plays messages of encouragement from friends and family on our cell phone. She’s been blogging my progress between trails and, shockingly, lots of folks are following my progress. Despite the encouragement and my confidence, my knees are rebelling against this torture. With every step the top of my kneecaps ache. My resolve drives me on. I must ride ’em all.
From Centurion Photo's 2009

As we reach the top, I kiss my girl and pat my old dog’s head. I have yet another rim to cross, and I must get to it. Moab Rim is sandy. Since the chairlift was torn down in 2005, it has seen a lot less bike traffic, but plenty of Jeeps. The scarred road across its lumpy back is freakishly hard at this point. My bike computer ticks off the 80-mile mark. I can’t celebrate it, because every minute is consuming my remaining energy.
From Centurion Photo's 2009

The sun is sinking low, and it begins to have its fun with the alien landscape. The sandstone fins in the distance glow red as the last rays of sun creep up their bony backs. To the east a bank of clouds behind the mountains turns black as a summer thunder storm. I chug along, me and my achy kneecaps. Above me, pecked and painted on cliff walls, are the rock drawings of the Anasazi. I imagine what it would look like if the person who painted those symbols looked down and saw me on my bike. I let my mind wander to the artist’s world, trying to see it as he did. The setting sun sinks below a cloud bank above the canyon wilderness to the west, and with that it seems, the sun has set.
From Centurion Photo's 2009

But is it? As I trudge down the un-rideable boulders of Hidden Valley Trail, known among locals as “Barney Rubble,” the suns light suddenly explodes beneath me reflected off of the cloud bank building in front of the La Sal Mountains. The wind picks up and as I fumble to put on a jacket, the light show below me, like a switch, abruptly ends.

Below me is my crew, I can see them waiting, but it is damn difficult to get down this 1,000-foot goat trail. My poor bike takes the abuse. I use it as a crutch against the boulders, trying not to twist an ankle. I pedal into the parking lot with a tumbleweed stuck in my spokes, too tired to remove it. The storm is building with a stiff wind, but for once in my life it is blowing the right way—at my back for the last road section of this ride.
From Centurion Photo's 2009

I’m commanded to eat more food, given some warmer clothing, and have lights attached to my bike and helmet. It’s time to start toward the final trail of this journey, Flat Pass, a trail that’s anything but flat. Keith is going to ride with me again. With the tailwind, we make record time moving south out of Moab toward Kens Lake beneath the towering La Sal Mountains.

As we climb a gravel road, toward Flat Pass, a truck with flashing lights is fast approaching. Are we being pulled over? Yep, it’s a Division of Wildlife officer; he’s concerned that our bike lights are being used to spotlight deer. “Little late for a bike ride?” he asks. Keith answers for me since he knows I have very few words left. “He’s on a really long bike ride. This is the last trail. He’s been riding since four this morning.” The officer looks at us like we are crazy and drives away. Keith and I speculate that I am crazy, and what I’m doing does indeed, make no sense.

I‘m 16 hours into this now and before me is a seemingly endless gravel road climb. I am greeted by my wife’s friend Des. She hands me a chocolate chip cookie, pure caloric heaven. I munch it down and ask for another, slip it in my pack and surprise everyone by saying, ride ’em all, and pedal away.

Keith catches me quickly. We cross Mill Creek and enter into the infamous sand pits of Flat Pass Trail. The sand sticks to our wet bikes, grinding and crunching. The first slickrock climb looms before me, a vertical wall in my beam of light. The second major climb destroys me. My knees are aching badly. I struggle to maintain enough forward movement to keep my balance. Keith’s light is now far ahead and I fall to the rock in exhaustion.

I know I can’t stop, but my knees and legs are truly giving up, my entire body is shrieking in pain. I lay there, wishing I could stop, to just lay here and sleep for a while would be nice. But then a memory returns. The one from when I was also lying unable to get up. But it was on my bedroom floor, and my roommates were loading me onto a door, a makeshift backboard, and putting me in the bed of a truck. It’s cold, just like that day, the wind whipping around me.

Suddenly everything is very black and white. Either I give up, stop, lay here and possibly freeze to death, or I push out of this. Completing this has always represented, to me, the overcoming of injury. It was the obsession with this ride that drove me to regain fitness and mobility and I’ll be damned if I am going to stop with so little yet to go.

And so I get up, push into the pain, into the ache. The more it hurts, the harder I push. I regain Keith and then begin to lead him when the trail drops into boulder-strewn madness. The jeeps have left such scars that the drops are shockingly large.

At one point I look back to see Keith’s light in the distance behind me. I have no intention of riding alone, so I ease up. When he catches me, he says, “Might be a little embarrassing to get dropped after you’ve ridden for 17 hours.” We both chuckle and ride on. We are honestly having the ride of our lives, jumping and whooping, railing berms, enjoying the night.
From Centurion Photo's 2009

It was at that point that I knew I had won, the pain, the awful mental anguish of the years spent recovering from a debilitating spinal injury were behind me now.
As we crest the ridge that separates the wilderness of Flat Pass from the lights of Moab I celebrate achieving the most monumental goal of my life. My bike computer hits 100 miles and shows over 18 hours of riding. We both yell into the darkness. In four more miles, I will celebrate with my wife and friends, and forever tell the story of the day I rode ’em all.
From Centurion Photo's 2009

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