Mongo's World Record Ride Journal
AS THE 21st century dawned, I had an odd ambition. Alone among the inhabitants of the planet -- or so it seemed to me then -- I wanted to climb more vertical feet on a mountain bike than anyone had ever climbed before.
I had set the World Record for climbing on a mountain bike the year before with a little over 300,000 vertical feet and I believed I could smash my own record if I didn't get injured (a daily risk where I rode) or diverted into something else (see below).
So from the very first day of the year, I kept a "Ride Journal," which tallied my "verts," or vertical feet climbed, recorded random thoughts and observations, and included one or more photos from the day's ride. I tabulated my verts with a Suunto altimeter watch.
My goal was verts, but the best part of the quest for me was the wild places it took me, from the shores of Hartstene Island to the high Sierras. This was also the year that I fell in love with Galbraith Mt. in Bellingham, WA. Along the way, I found coyotes counting coup on humans, had my helmet smashed at high speed, and learned the Mystic Secrets of the Mud Masters.
My Y2K Ride Journal also contains my discovery of many climbing breakthroughs featured in Mongo's Guide to Climbing, such as how to get more than one virtual gear out of every mechanical gear, steering for your rear wheel, and why it's generally best to get high early when climbing through corners
Three hundred sixty-five days and 220 rides after I started on New Year's Day 2000, I reached my goal -- 404,000 verts, or the vertical equivalent of 13 sea-level-to-summit ascents of Mt. Everest in a year. A new World Record!
IT TURNED OUT that I wasn't alone, though. I was just the first, and my 404,000 verts soon set in motion several other maniacal climbers, bent on climbing more.
Eric Durak of Santa Barbara, CA, was the first to come to my attention. A noted fitness professional and creator of Medical Health & Fitness, Eric set out in January 2004 to climb 500,000 verts on his road bike in a year, an adventure he recounts in his book, 98 Miles High.
On October 22 of that year, I got an out-of-the-blue call from Eric (who I did not know and had never talked to before) informing me that he had just reached 405,000 verts for the year. Eric ended 2004 with 503,000 verts, for an apparent World Record for climbing on a road bike.
But Eric didn't know about Jeffrey Alden, a retired attorney from Portland, OR, who also dedicated 2004 to breaking my record. "You were my rabbit," Jeffrey told me later, "always out there ahead of me, pulling me along." Jeffrey passed the 404,000 vert mark on September 2, six weeks before Eric, and went on to pile up a Herculian 2004 total of 577,400 vertical feet, or well over 100 vertical miles climbed on his road bike!
And Jeffrey Alden was just getting started! In 2005, he made his goal 700,000 vertical feet climbed in a year, and it looks like he'll get it. As of this writing (late October 2005), he already has a 2005 total of 648,000 verts, which I personally find absolutely astounding. Stay tuned, I'll report Jeffrey's grand total right here as soon as it's available.
So right now -- five years after my original Vert Quest -- Jeffrey and I each share a piece of the record, each with our own asterix. Jeffrey holds the World Record for climbing on a road bike; I hold the World Record for climbing on a mountain bike.
Both will be broken, of course. In fact, they may already have been broken by some unknown rider who is tracking the record like a sonar-guided torpedo in his or her personal Ride Journal.
Nonetheless, I am proud of what I accomplished on my bike in the year 2000, and proud too of cyrstalizing an idea -- the "Vert Quest" -- that has drawn even greater things out of other people.
AND SO IT came to pass. After holding the World Record for climbing on a mountain bike for over half a decade -- 1999-2004 -- my mark of 404,000 verts was broken, no utterly teed up and smashed like you'd smash an old pumpkin with a golf club. I don't have all the details yet, but it appears that Mark Wier notched over 1,000,000 verts in 2005.
This an absolutely stunning physical achievement, period. Mark Wier has shown what a world class pro rider can do, and let me tell you the results are off the charts. But even as the fully deserved hosannas for Mark Wier fill the air, I can't help wondering who's next, because it's a whole different game now. Ladies and gentlemen, the pros have arrived.
LOOKING BACK, it's tempting to treat the year described in this Ride Journal as a simple march to maniacal glory, but that isn't the case.
In fact, there were a lot of other things going on in my life in the year 2000. Y2K was also the year that my ex-wife and I split up and sent our daughter away to a wilderness treatment program in Utah.
Close readers of my Ride Journal will find these stories running under and through the main saga, although they are only glimpsed in the distance, like the silver flash of a fish turning in a hole.
So in addition to great personal achievement, 2000 was a year of tremendous personal failure for me, ending with a thunderclap -- BAM BAM -- as my daughter left for Utah under police escourt and I reached my vert total on the last two days of the year.
In retrospect, I wish I'd taken some of the energy I put into grabbing verts, and put it into helping my daughter when she needed it so badly. I also wish I'd had the energy to look directly at my problematic relationship with my wife a little sooner.
In one sense, my Vert Quest pales in the context of the larger story that played out for me in the year 2000, but in another sense the two are directly connected -- part of the same thing, even.
I think people -- like oysters -- often try to wrap their most painful experiences in something shiny, thereby transforming them into pearls.
-- Bruce Brown