By Jayson Orvis
All it took was a glance. I just wanted to make sure that dude pulling for us hadn’t blown up our pace line with his murderous, 24 mph pace through Yellowstone Park. I looked back to the road just in time to see my front wheel suck into a little channel in the asphalt that poured over into a four-inch drop right into the worst boulder-filled shoulder I’d seen in a hundred miles.
I braced myself in a futile effort to “ride it out” and an instant later I was flying.
And, just like that, I ended my shot at “riding Epic” in 2011. After piling my tattered body into a SAG car, the other twenty-five riders continued on to Old Faithful, eager to complete the first stage of BoToBo – Bozeman to Bountiful. That’s Bozeman, as in “Bozeman, Montana” and Bountiful as in “Bountiful, Utah.” In five days, these cyclists would each pedal five hundred miles. That’s an “Epic Ride”: five hundred miles in five days.
For the past two years, Hearts and Bikes has staged Epic Rides. In 2010, it was from Salt Lake to Las Vegas (565 miles) in six days. In 2011, it was BoToBo from Bozeman to Bountiful. And, yes, every rider rides every mile. This isn’t a relay. It’s an Epic Ride: five centuries over five days.
An event this unreasonable could only come from the mind of a teenager. In 2009, Alex Orvis, my then-fifteen-year-old daughter, asked me, “Can you ride a bike from Salt Lake to Las Vegas.” That next summer, she and thirteen of our friends attempted that very ride, and Alex pedaled every one of the 565 miles, despite the fact that she’d never been on a road bike prior to
Earlier in the summer of that first year, as interest in the ride grew, Alex began to feel like the ride had potential to make a difference in the world. Lots of people were signing on to ride the 565 miles and it seemed like the event was begging for a cause. Alex
approached Hearts and Hands in Action, a non-profit that builds homes in the impoverished Navajo Nation. Alex learned that, not far from where her SLC to LV route coursed through Arizona, Navajo people were living in tar-paper shacks. Hearts and Hands had built over 20 homes on the reservation and was looking to raise money and raise its profile. Alex’s ride could do both.
Hearts and Bikes became an arm of the Hearts and Hands charity, and that year the intrepid cyclists burned up their Facebook pages raising money while they rode. Armed with enough cash to build one home, many of those same cyclists trekked down to the Navajo Nation that next spring and built a home for Grandma Virginia in the Lukachukai Village.
And so a strange marriage was born. Ride a bike 500 miles. Become an Epic Cyclist. Champion the cause of the Native American. It doesn’t necessarily make sense, but it works.
In mid-August of summer 2011, the cycle began anew. This time, we’d learned to ride in the more-temperate mountains of the Rocky Mountain west, instead of the scorching deserts. On the final day of our ride, twenty-five cyclists lined up in front of the Mountain Haven RV Park in Mantua, Utah. This would be the final push of this year’s Epic Ride. Many of the cyclists had ridden over four hundred miles in the previous four days and their burned-out quads paid homage to their commitment. Other cyclists had dropped in or dropped out. Some were riding fifty miles a day while they dreamed of riding the full, Epic Ride in 2012. One rider, me, was laid up in the RV with his arm in a sling and his brain full of Lortab.
While the riders pedaled out toward the highway in the dawn light, a giant support crew marshaled themselves for the day. Our “Kitchen Vixens” broke down the breakfast “fixens.” Chuck,
the Camp Master, pulled up tent stakes and helped RVs back out of their stalls. A train of six SAG vehicles hurried out of the park like motorized sheepdogs, eager to catch up with their cyclists.
Each of the last four days had begun much the same: eat oatmeal, check bikes, grab the day’s map and “wheels up” for the next century ride. And, each of the last four days our four Lotoja-veteran riders were joined by a cadre of new cyclists; men and women who had labored mightily since the beginning of summer to get their bodies ready for the Epic challenge – or as much of it as they could complete. These neophytes included a couple of redeemed mountain bikers, a pack of brand-spanking-new road bikers and one twelve-year-old girl.
Everyone was having a blast watching her go. She’d already “chicked” a whole bunch of grown men – leaving them in the dust. At the summit of Sardine Canyon, the last climb of the ride, she laid down on her handlebars, completely exhausted. She was our ride mascot and our tear-jerking inspiration, all rolled into one. As the days of the ride progressed, more mature riders would alternate taking her under their wing, pulling for her, encouraging her and coaching her. And despite a crash on Day One, she got stronger each day.
Every cycling event has it heroes. The Epic Ride seems to grow them in bunches. Where most rides are championed by the fastest, lightest, most-professional riders, the Hearts and Bikes Epic Rides are dominated by men and women with hearts of tempered gold. On this ride, everyone pulls for everyone to finish. And when you’re talking about 500 miles in five days, finishing together is the only victory that matters.
For more information about Hearts and Bikes and the Epic Ride coming up in August of 2012, visit HeartsAndBikes.com or jump on the Hearts and Bikes Facebook group.
This year, 60 riders have raised around $7000 so far, enough for about half a house. More donations are expected to bring the total higher.