Legend provided by Ron Monson, Alpine, Utah

In the spring time of 2008 my eighteen year old son started working on me to buy a road bike with him. I resisted as best I could, explaining that at 50 years old I had more activities (skiing, kayaking, climbing, mountain biking) than I had time — and the last thing I needed was another costly, time-consuming endeavor.

Well, if you knew my son, you would have already guessed that a few weeks later we bought a Cannondale System Six. Several weeks went by before I even got on it. Finally, one morning I decided to ride up Suncrest by our house in Alpine, Utah. I made it about one-quarter of the way up and turned around. My thighs were burning and lungs gasping. Still, I was intrigued by experience and started to incorporate rides into my fitness plan.  By the end of summer, I was feeling relatively strong and was doing 40 mile rides with some reasonable hills.

When a friend, Steve Bills invited me to participate in a 40 mile race I was somewhat apprehensive but still thought it might be fun. On race day I was nervous and intimidated, but quite caught up in the excitement of the event. By race end, although I finished somewhere near the back of the pack, I was completely taken by the whole experience.

A few weeks later I acted as support for Steve for his third LoToJa. This bike racing thing had by now taken me barn and all. I went home, circled the second Saturday in September on my calendar and started training for LoToJa.

By the middle of July 2009 I had over 3,500 miles on my bike (most with Steve) and we were solidly preparing for September.

On Saturday evening July 17, I got a text from Steve’s brother that Steve had been in a bad crash that day on his bike and was in the hospital. The next day, my wife and I went to see him. He was lying in a state of medicated stupor. He had broken his collar bone, his scapula, eight ribs and punctured a lung. From far away in his Percocet laden euphoria he croaked, “I am still doing LoToJa.” Steve’s wife Susie looked at me, grimaced and vigorously shook her head, no, no, no.

Ten days later he was on his trainer. Two weeks after that he was on his bike and we slowly made our way up over the point of the mountain chasing nervously after fitness that had fled.

On race day he was a little worried about bones that were not yet healed, screws that held plates that held bones, and lungs and legs that had not regained their pre-crash fitness.  A fall would be disastrous. Fitness was a concern, pain was constant. Susie wasn’t worried, she was terrified.  

The hills were tough, the straps on his bibs running over the screws in his scapula cut off the circulation to his arms. On Geneva Summit, we had to stop three times to adjust them and get the blood flowing so he could hold onto the handlebars.  

Every bump sent pain ripping through his chest, but without a word of complaint he kept pedaling. My knee started hurting coming off the summit of Strawberry and got worse as the day wore on. But next to Steve’s long list of injuries, I felt pretty silly even bringing it up.  

Everyone who has competed in LoToJa or any other event that requires the sacrifice of months of preparation and seemingly endless hours of competition knows what the inside of their heart and soul looks like.  No one rides 206 miles without staring deep and hard into those recesses.  Sometimes, because of exhaustion, pain, effort or injury you get turned inside out and those around you get to see what is lurking inside you too.  

I have looked unashamedly into Steve Bills heart and soul on the top of a 7,600 mountain pass, 110 miles into a bike race — a race that meant nothing to anyone except those that have paid the price in pain and sometimes blood to be there. I looked and I saw the best man I know and the toughest guy I have ever been around.