Fifty Miles for Fifty Years
By Jay Bartlett
Having turned fifty one years old at the beginning of the year, I did some reflecting on my time in the sport of mountain biking. It wasn’t a soul searching trip down memory lane, or anything so profound. Just a look backwards at some great times. Judging by the sheer hours I have spent riding my bike, mountain biking is certainly high on the list of favorite things in my life… Perhaps, I’m looking at it too profoundly now!
Something I noticed standing out in my memories is the abundance of mettle-testing situations I have put myself in. Whether it be the seven times I’ve ridden the fifty mile True Grit Epic, climbing Seegmiller Mountain (It’s the highest peak looking south from St. George. There’s a road up there. A steep, tough road…), or riding sixty-plus miles to the Mount Trumble school house on the Arizona Strip, I seem to gravitate to the “I wonder if I can ride that far” challenges. I’ve never been the fastest racer. I’d much rather ride for fun than train that hard. The only races I’ve won have been small affairs—but that’s okay. I found other ways to challenge myself. In races, I race the clock, not necessarily other competitors, seeing if I can finish within a certain time, so the idea of putting in big miles for the challenge of it all fit in perfectly with my “racing myself” mentality.
For my fiftieth birthday I decided it was high time for a challenge. It wouldn’t be the biggest or toughest ride of my life, but it would be a challenging celebration of my half century on this big blue marble by riding a mile for each year.
I started out wondering if I chose the right weekend to even make the attempt. It was January, and cold. Thirty-two degrees cold. I was nursing a sinus infection, and it had rained recently, so there was a chance of muddy trails that would end my day. Give it go, I thought, and headed from Washington City onto Prospector Trail down to Red Cliffs Recreation Area, then back up through Church Rocks. This is a red and white slickrock postcard kind of an area, so it was buoying to ride through. As I headed through the culverts under the freeway, I thought about how far I still had to go; a common occurrence on long rides. It’s part of the mind games you have to play when you challenge yourself.
Next I found myself riding the Virgin River path from the Telegraph trailhead to Man’o War road in Bloomington (a good ride in itself) with a lunch break at Confluence Park (this wasn’t a race, after all). Next, I hit the trailhead on Navajo drive and headed up the ever-classic Green Valley Loop to Jay’s Wash, across Stucki Springs and Fenceline to the Rim Trails in Santa Clara, then retraced my tracks back (again, at twenty miles, a good day’s ride itself).
I finished with fifty three miles. Enough to not do it again for a few years?! Was it easy? It wouldn’t be very challenging if it was. It was cold, I didn’t always feel great, and, at times, it was a long day in the saddle. On the other hand, it was a beautiful day (the desert was gorgeous) there were times when I felt great and alive, and there was joy and accomplishment that overrode the feelings of pain and effort. Perhaps these are the very reasons I challenge myself this way. A big ride mirrors life in many ways. They both have their ups and downs (physically and mentally) and both will certainly test your mettle!
Do I recommend this type of ride for everyone? Nah, we all have to find our own challenges. All I’m saying is find your challenge and chase it. The only person you have to impress, is you!