Years ago, I was driving through a blizzard in the mountains of Utah, when I saw a person standing in the road about thirty feet in front of the car. I was on a epic road trip from Virginia to snowboard in the Wasatch Range. Unable to sleep, I’d been driving for 12 hours straight.
Seeing the form in the road, I slammed on the brakes of my Volkswagen Golf, waking up my two traveling companions.
“What happened?!” one of them asked.
“Person in the road,” I said.
The three of us stared out the windshield into the whiteout. Snow. Nothing else. Someone else drove the final leg into Salt Lake City.
I later recounted this story to my friend Eric Brooks, a connoisseur of painfully long journeys, who on a whim once rode an old ten-speed bike from Maryland to Mexico.
When I told him about my Utah incident, he informed me that he’d long before coined a term for this phenomenon.
Once, while driving on a long road trip, way past the point of exhaustion, he’d seen a monkey in the road and, like me, come to a screeching halt. His crew stared out the front widow. Road. Nothing else.
He was the only one in the car who’d “Seen the Monkey.”
That phrase popped into my head when Eric sent me the telling photograph of him above, taken after this year’s Shenandoah Mountain 100, a grueling ultra-endurance mountain bike race through the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia.
Over the 100-mile course, the riders climb nearly 12,500 vertical feet. That’s about the same vertical rise as Mount Everest. That’s brutal.
“This race should be called Sufferfest 100,” Eric wrote when he sent in the picture. “It is very achievable course but you will suffer.”
This year, around 540 brave souls attempted the ride. The racers started at 6:30 a.m. and rode until they finished or dropped.
Eric’s brother-in-law, Kevin Carter, former professional triathlete and all-around animal, finished in 7 hours, 51 minutes.
My brother, Shannon, finished in 12 hours. He was spent before crossing the last mountain, but realized it would take about the same amount of time to go back as to go forward. So he went forward.
This was Eric’s third time participating in the race (he’s also ridden in the Leadville Trail 100, in Colorado) and he finished in 11 hours, 7 minutes. (He apologizes to his wife for his mental state at the second to last aid station, describing it as a “low point”…)
Congratulations those gentlemen and all the other riders. Eric, I hope you gave my best to the monkey.