In 24 hours, my assignment is to complete:
47 rock climbs, on sight
47 miles of on sight single track on a rigid single speed
47 miles of road on a fixie
47 kilometers of running
My retirement this year was brief as I was coerced into a new assignment by the Dragon’s and Pope’s of the world. Told I was the only man who could do it, I was forced into an accelerated training program (see older blogs). The majority of the great unwashed were incredulous. As one group of climbers put it during our training,
“Forgive me for sounding negative, but isn’t that physically impossible in 24 hours?”
As Bob put it, “you have a way of describing the indescribable.”
How’s anyone going to recognize you without your disguise?
With training completed it was time for the finer points of the challenge. In California, Deb and Bob rounded up all of the 70s clothing they could find. I found a few gems at the DI, along with some fine dining items, such as crab meat cocktail, broiled steak, and French onion soup. Ben found the elusive horizontal-striped tanks at a clearing house for Russian special forces garb—sure, it wasn’t American, but as long as our side has Dragon's and Pope's working for us, how bad can the other side be? After loading our vehicles with gear, Wild Turkey, and plenty of Oly, we made plans to converge near Zion National Park, the site of this year’s challenge.
Two of the American members of our party had unfortunate accidents. Josh was scavenging for microfilm in the back allies of China, whereabouts unknown, and Reed was sick. Our ground man, Ben, was working in LA but would be flying out in the morning. With Deb, who considers climbing the biggest nonsense, only in support for fashion and food, our challenge party was now two strong; no problem with that (wait—wrong movie). We spent the preceding day going over maps, calculating distances, finding a plan that was acceptable and drinking beer. I had a lot to do but can always go for a beer.
The weather wasn’t cooperating. It was unseasonably cold but that was fine because we had plenty of denim. The real problem was the wind. It could pin us down out there; not allowing us to cling to the edges and forcing us down into the gut of the chute. Bob was un-phased. “Good weather, bad weather; now or later; any time is good for climbing.” He suggested we leave immediately. I countered that we needed time to finish our drinks, “I’ll have a Wild Turkey on the rocks.”
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Reed wasn’t the only one sick. I’d been under the weather for a few days, which affected our planning. I didn’t have the time or energy to calculate a realistic food and drinking plan for the challenge. Not that I needed to make this harder. Given my condition, I didn’t think I had a realistic chance at making the challenge, but I would continue on in style. Bob added, “We must give them a good show, Hemlock.”
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My turn in the barrel
Here’s a slideshow of the events unfolding. Worth watching for the music alone, which has me pining for George (as if I’m ever not pining for her.)
In order to make my first move before the sun un-freezed the rubble, I had set my alarm to begin at 3am. Unfortunately, many of my friends had my challenge dates wrong and kept calling to see how it had gone. I finally got a little sleep when I was awakened by a call at 1am, “you’d be well advised for having a good reason for making this call.”
Not able to get back to sleep I got up, dressed in proper climbing attire of jeans, denim shirt, and belt, and readied myself for an assault. Tuco stood at the door, wanting to join in, and looking pretty bummed as I left. My official challenge start time was 2:05.
I jogged at an easy pace down to the trail head. There was no wind, a full moon, and conditions were actually pretty ideal. The trail was lit up well enough that I didn’t need my light. At a little after 3am I’d already covered more than 6 miles when I got my back-up wake up call from Romney—a condemned man’s last wish. From then on I was alone with my thoughts in the desert.
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The run went amazingly well until about mile 15, when the pounding on the slickrock began to bother my feet. I had expected this but, still, it was pretty early for things to start unraveling. By the time I was running on the pavement my feet were hurting pretty well. With a long day ahead, I slowed to a walk and sent out an “in progress” text for someone to post on the Million Dollar Body and WOWY web site. Of course, we hadn’t organized this too well so I had no idea who might do it. My sister ended up coming through and posting updates all day long. In the end she was so excited that she wanted to write an op-ed piece for the NY Times. I laughed out loud at the absurdity of this, as this esoteric pursuit of madness seemed way too out there for mainstream. But, then again, they did employ Judith Miller. Art is for the cultured. The majority of the great unwashed do not fit into this category. And neither, I’m sorry to say, do most of you.
On the fixie my legs, sans any pounding, again felt great. Assessing the progress, I was ahead of schedule. I’m run somewhere between 18-20 miles (I’d forgotten Bob’s pedometer and we going to the maps’ stated trail mileage, which varied). This meant that I only need 10-12 at the end—huge. Things were going swimmingly until I realized how steeps some of the hills I’d plotted were. I chose a bike path because it would be safer in the dark and one took a series of short chain break-type climbs there were ugly on the fixie. This would cost me later, certainly. I finished my mileage goal and then made another diversion It was dark—and now very cold since the wind had picked up and the moon set—so I called Bob to allow him a bit more rest as I ticked off some more easy mileage on Rae Dawn (the name of my ’84 Team Shaver Sport Allez). It’s a lot colder and 20 mph than 5 mph and by the time I’d finished my 27 miles I was absolutely frozen. I ordered some French onion soup but Bob handed me a coffee. I said I’d do better tomorrow, to which he replied, “Tomorrow? Oh, no, me Bucko, you’re going out again after breakfast.”
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Hippie bike riding is fun, especially on good single track, and we rolled along for a while enjoying the Bear Claw poppy trail, especially the “bike park” section, which enticed us to ride an extra loop on new trail. We could have done all of our mileage here without covering any redundant ground, which may have been a good decision in the end. Instead, we went adventuring out towards Stucki Springs and then back over a super steep (walking only, and hard walking at that) jeep trail into the “competition area”, where we encountered our first stumbling block.
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We heard what sounded like a canon and saw a couple of hicks firing some sort of large gun right into our intended bike course. This seemed insane as this is a fairly major riding destination. But, hey, this is America, and we’re free to shoot stuff when and wherever we want. Fuck yeah!
So we took off down some nasty loose fire road, then out past awful dust choked ATV-filled post apocalyptic landscape, over some deep sand, and out past the Moe’s Valley bouldering area before climbing back to the car. With 24.5 miles down, I was ahead of schedule as the challenge moved towards its technical crux, the climbing.
Supposing you can’t cling to the edges?
It's hard for most people to realize how hard the climbing part of a challenge is. When you're riding or running, you can always take another step or turn the cranks. If climbing, you can get to a point where you can't hang onto anything and will never recover. I wanted to climb all the routes on sight so I had to choose an area I’d never been. I’d heard the Black Rocks were “hard” for the given grades but it certainly didn’t look hard. It took my 4.5 hours to do 47 routes in the gym, and I needed to go that fast outside. I could not afford any mistakes, so when Ben called to say his flight had been delayed (of course, it was Vegas) it was a major blow to our chances because having someone to clean and scout as well as belay was huge.
We began climbing in the sun and after 6 routes my challenge nearly ended. I was overheated, dizzy, my feet were frying on the slick black rock, and the guidebook was way off, forcing me onto un-known terrain and slowing the process. The climbing was, indeed, fairly technical, meaning that I couldn’t just run up stuff quickly. We walked over to the shady side to cool down and re-assess the possibilities.
Conditions were better in the shade but after knocking off 4 more routes, all of which were tricky, technical, and slow, I was too far behind schedule. With the guidebook being off and no support to sort it out, there was no hope of doing 47 on sights fast enough. I was cooked and each route was requiring way more concentration than it should to just hang on.
Bob, the ground man, came up with a plan. I could do four routes seven times each. By on sighting all the others I’d have 23 on sights but 47 climbs total. I’d be getting the same mileage, all the exercise I could handle, and, most important (if my arms and feet held out), still be in position to finish the other events. Since this option would maximize the pain I would still have to endure it was accepted. Of course, the ground man always has the last word on the ground, so I had no choice. It’s always like this.
Ben then showed up, which greatly added to the energy of our team. With an extra person to handle the wet work, the pace increased rapidly. My skin was killing me, my arms and feet were cooked, but I mustered up enough from experience to barley scrape my way up each route. Any fall would be disastrous as I had no extra skin or fitness to spare. The climbing was also pretty boring, which reminded of belaying Ben on his challenge as he was climbing through the night, muttering over and over, “I’m not going to do challenges like this any more.”
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With the added help we managed to finish the climb with a perfect Eiger Sanctionian mantel on to the summit.
“Want a beer?” said Bob
“If you hauled beer out here, you’re crazier than I thought,” I answered.
“I may be crazy, but I’m not stupid. I didn’t haul it out here, you did. It’s in your pack.”
“I oughtta throw you off this rock.”
I don’t think so, but we will continue on with style.
The fixie had a flat. Usually no biggie but its old school rims were a pain to change and, with the sun waxing, I needed to get going. I had to ride through St. George traffic en route to Hurricane and the more light, the less my chance of being hit. There was some air in it so I knew it was a slow leak, so I pumped it up and took off, hoping for the best.
Again, I felt good on Rae Dawn. This may have been pure adrenaline as I hammered with all I had left through traffic trying to make it through Washington before it was totally dark. I had a few close calls, mainly with trucks turning in front of me, but was out of town before I lost all light.
The road to Hurricane, again, wasn’t perfectly suited to the fixie. While Hurricane is only a few hundred feet higher in elevation, the terrain in between is never flat, which is the preferred medium for muscle-saving fixie riding. Regardless, the tire was holding—barely—and I was making good time. I was going to reach the final trailhead with enough time to finish, as long as nothing gave out. Of course, this was more than a possibility; it was likely.
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The first section of the trail concerned Bob and I the most. It had a long climb to start, which could be very slow, and we hadn’t ridden it before. The climb went okay. With some time in hand I walked when the angle forced me to dig too deep. I was riding scared but there was still a ton to do. Then we got lost, which wouldn’t be the last time.
A quick map check and we were soon back on track on the fun, winding, and smooth (nice by this point in the day) Gould’s Trail. When we hit the Jem trail, which Bob had ridden, I though we had it in the bag.
10 minutes later we were lost and backtracking to the first trail junction to call Reed for beta. We, apparently, were actually going the right way so we’d just cover some extra ground for no reason. 5 minutes later this mattered little to us as we were flying down the trail and ticking miles almost effortlessly. Then we made a fateful error.
Our next trail rode along the rim of the Virgin River canyon. Bob had said earlier, “If you error, err to the left.” However, 24” to my left was a sheer cliff edge and a massive void. I was thinking that he’d not only got his directions wrong but that he under whelmed the potential. This was creepy riding for someone in my state. I focused my eyes firmly on the trail and the rocky obstacles, saying to myself “I’d never fall on a trail like this” In the back my mind, which I was fighting to keep there, was the more rational “in your current condition you wouldn’t be surprised to tip over on a road bike.” I was relieved with this section was over, until…
“Get out the map. I think we’re screwed.”
“I’d rather screw Montaine’s wife. She’s a real brick shithouse.”
We were, indeed, screwed. Somehow we’d missed our turn, by miles. Not only that, we had no idea where this had happened. This meant that, for one, we had to re-ride the canyon in the opposite direct but that we also were going to need to find the trail. And Bob had zero idea where it was. Never, in all my years of challenges, had moral gone from so high to so low so quickly. We rode on in a foreboding silence.
We finally found our trail but it not only took backtracking, but a failed attempt on a jeep road, a lot of searching around, and nearly making what would have truly been the end, a cross country hike a bike because “it’s got to be along this rim somewhere.”
And the trail was no prize, either. I’m sure it’s gorgeous during the daylight but at night, when tired, on bikes with no suspension, this trail friggin’ sucked. It was strenuous and, while never highly technical, moderately so the entire time. The canyon was never as close as on our detour but the rocks were much larger. Many times I was forced to walk out of pure exhaustion as I couldn’t be bothered to torque enough to keep my wheels creeping over the rocks. The next seven miles, in Bob’s words, were “the longest trail in the world.”
I didn’t know if the challenge was over—other than the challenge of getting back to the car while our lights still worked—but I was calculating how to make up for the detour. I figured whatever I was walking with my bike could currently be “running”, since walking with a bike is harder. I then started to calculate other places we’d walked, like the approach to the climbing area, since, as Ben stated, “once the challenge starts the pedometer is running.” I figured that if I could we could get out with enough time I could reduce my run to 7 or 8 miles.
If... The longest trail in the world felt even longer. It was awful. We were both destroyed. So much so that even our wise-cracking banter ceased as I cursed the trail and its never ending sea of rock.
dirty, evil scheming…
At the car, Bob cracked “the best tasting beer of my life” while I hopping in Ben’s van, munched on a frozen burger (I needed the densest and saltiest calories I could find, frozen or not) and tried to warm up. It was freezing, I was so tired I was starting to nod off, but the challenge wasn’t finished. Ben said, “7 miles; that’s a piece of cake,” but I was pretty hobbled and we didn’t have a lot of time.
Bob was done and wanted a plan that meant he could go back to our motel. So with two runners and one support vehicle, we figured he could just drop us off and we’d run back to our support. He took us out into the frigid desert void and dropped us off a little over three miles from Ben’s van. Then he was gone. “You’re not going to leave me out here. Kill me, but don’t leave me out here!”
The run, or shuffle, was terrible and seemed to never end, but at least I warmed up. At Ben’s van, I gave him my jacket and kept on running towards town. Ben then went down and made up a course that would get us our last three miles. When he met me in town I was limping. “Now who can climb with a limp?”
The last 3 miles should have been a spectacle but no one seemed to notice. Ben thought the cops might think we’d escaped from prison. Who else would be running at 1:30am in jeans, denim shirts, and belts? I walked a bit but we kept an eye on our watches and ran enough to give me a cushion should I suddenly cramp. Of course, the official clock, my phone, was in the van so we had to make it with a little time to spare just in case. We kicked it in over the last quarter or so miles and finished by touching the Chum’s “world headquarters,” which seemed just silly enough to fit into our itinerary.
Extravagant but effective
I’ve tried to always be both. My file will now be placed on the inactive list. I’d like to thank those who helped make this challenge possible: Ben, Deb, Ratso, Lynn, Romney, Misty, Reed, Kristin and, especially, Bob, who pretty much none of my challenges would ever have happened without. Yeah, well, maybe someday we’ll do some more climbing together.
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