Of the five most seriously treacherous decents I have done on my mountain bike, three are in Moab Utah. Two of those trails are on the list of most dangerous trails in the world by virtue of how many people have died on them. There is a significant possibility of getting maimed on these routes. I have a morbid fascination with these sorts of challenges but I have retired from this kind of riding, having spent a week in the hospital recovering from a crash on one of them.
The other is a trail we've done many times without incident. Porcupine Rim is part of an epic Moab test piece called the Whole Enchilada. It's also part of a mountain bike race we did last October. It's electrifying and terrifying every time, and really a small miracle we've always come home safe. And that's going down. We heard that someone had just succeeded in climbing up the trail a week before. It had never occured to me, ever, that someone would even form the thought to try something this improbable. And then came Braydon Bringhurst.
In absolute terms, does Braydon's achievement compare to Alex Hannold's Free Solo on El Capitan in Yosemite? When I watched the movie about that ascent, I decided it is was the singular most significant ahletic achievement ever. I'm a climber, but I can never really fully appreciate what Alex pulled off. Intellectually I understand it, but that's where it ends. Same sport: very different league. Tommy Caldwell, probably the greatest El Cap climber who's ever lived, and who was Alex's training partner for the climb, said that even he could not understand how Alex managed to climb the 884 metre Freerider route in 3 hours and 56 minutes with out a rope. That route is one of the longest and hardest routes on the planet, with a rope. Comparison is not the point. Comparison is the problem.
One of the downsides of living through the social media age is that we all get blasted with videos of people doing what look like insane things. It's easy to get densitized to these short, porn-like, video snippets and miss the point–miss the magnitude of one man's push through his own limits. It's hard for me to imagine anything more difficult than climbing up Porcupine Rim. I've been mountain biking for forty years. The crux of the decent and also of the ascent is a feature affectionally called "the snotch". It took me ten minutes to figure out how to walk down this the first time. Walk down it. I've never ridden it. The exposure is too severe. I would have said it was impossibe to ride up it, until I saw Braydon do it. My mind is now blown wondering what else I don't think is possible.
Achievement has to be a very personal thing, the resolution of a life long battle with our inner demons. I know I'm not capable of doing what Braydon pulled off: I am not willing to take the risk and put in the massive amount of work and I don't have his natural talent on a bike. Same sport: very different league. But I have enough to really appreciate that he does and he was and he did.
I think we are here to find out what we are capable of, to take the risk, put in the massive amount of work and do something meaningful with the talents we arrived on this earth with. All the good shit lies sometimes only a short distance beyond what we think we can do.
Feel free in the comments to let us know what the whole enchilada is for you. Your sport. Your league.