Ten on Zen

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By Lukas Brinkerhoff — Why? To rip your legs off and self-flagellate with them.

My legs are burning, my hands are tingling, and my lungs are screaming as I struggle up the climb for the third time. I’m less than 12 miles in, but these aren’t regular miles. They are punctuated with punchy climbs that on normal days are 50-50 moves and on days like these are a solid maybe on the first lap and then you walk. The downhills are fun when you are just out for a ride and only doing them once. Start lapping this stupid thing and they start to hurt as well. The chunky sandstone, loose corners and steep grunts make this a very hard sub-6-mile trail.

But as these things go, this isn’t my first rodeo, and this isn’t the first time I’ve headed up this climb for a third time. Nah, this is the third time I’ve started this climb for the third time. And this year feels different. The hurt that is creeping in is as much an old friend I’ve come to say hi to as it is a fear I’m attempting to avoid. This time, as the pain starts to settle, I already know what is in store and I’m giddy for it. I turn and look north. The sun is still relatively low in the sky casting light across Pine Valley Mountain and the layers leading up to it are as much a part of me as this trail I am heading up. I can’t help but smile, mentally wave to my mountain, and then I check back in with the hurt knowing that this is going to be good.

Two riders on the Zen Trail in Southern Utah during Ten on Zen. Photo by Heather Gilbert

Ten on Zen is a personal challenge. The idea is simple, ride as many laps as you can around the Zen trail in ten hours. Why? Well, the whole self-flagellation thing mentioned above plus to enter the pain cave and go spelunking, see what you can find. To discover that unknown part of your physique or psyche that you didn’t know existed and to be ok with it. To understand that it is a pilgrimage, and you will not come out the other side the same.

Doing one lap clean is a challenge for most riders. Doing two laps is considered by some to be masochistic, but we aren’t here for mere physical pain. No, this is about getting past that and finding your place where everything else fades. The trail is just the pill you swallow to find it.

We call it Hell Hole. It’s the entrance to Lower Zen and one of the steep, grunty climbs that are characteristic of the trail. It’s my 5th time heading into this climb and as I round the sandstone boulder, I see something move. It scares me, my adrenaline goes through the roof and for a nanosecond I’m not sure what is going to happen. Then my brain returns to reality, the rock that moved did, in fact, not move and I start giggling. I have arrived.

Everyone has a pain cave. The entrance to which is found differently, but there is an entrance, and it is a journey in and of itself to get to the door. The first few times to that entrance can be terrifying. The unknown of what if, of the demons that reside within, of the possibility that you will not make it, all reasons to avoid stepping inside. However, once you learn how to get there, you can not only become comfortable with that front door, but you may start to crave crawling to that spot specifically to get inside.

Once inside, you can learn to hang out, even enjoy the euphoric break that often coincides with this place. It is not uncommon to experience minor hallucinations like rocks moving, smiley faces on the trail or animals appearing that aren’t actually there. Time travel is another piece, a complete flow state that you awake from to find you just rode the Jacker Stacker and yet, have no memory of it. Your physical location is your only clue to what you have just done.

Ten on Zen will destroy you. It’s been described as “harder than True Grit 100,” “the hardest thing I’ve ever done on a bike” and “the most challenging, yet amazing ride.” It’s certainly a harsh pill to swallow.

This past edition was the third and it was well attended. Course records have started to pop up as riders put in Homeric efforts and this year was absolutely bonkers. First, Josh Onarheim came out a day early and knocked down 11 laps besting the course record by 1 for geared bikes. On the singlespeed side, Millard Allen stomped down 9 laps putting 2 more on the previous record. Each year has shown a progression of what can be done, and we may be approaching what is physically possible.

For most, making it all ten hours isn’t realistic and the whole thing kind of unwinds around hour 7 or 8. This is when the Mooseknuckler Alliance hosts the Beer Lap. The Beer Lap is the agreed upon last lap for the “peloton” or the mid-pack group. This consists of a slow climb back to the overlook with the motivation to get back to the top being the beer in your back pocket. Once at the top, the adult recovery drinks are popped open, and everyone enjoys just sitting in the sun.

And then the devotees crawl back on their steeds. No one is looking forward to that last downhill, but it’s not a pilgrimage if you don’t finish.

There is a high level of euphoria as the group sits around the parking lot enjoying the fading sunlight sipping on whatever and laughing about what has been done. Everyone hurts. Everyone understands what has happened. It’s horrible, strange, and wonderful all at the same time. As high fives and stories are exchanged, there is a commitment from everyone to do it all again next year.

Every religion has its pilgrimage, this just happens to be ours.

Notes:

Ten on Zen – 2023

  • Sunday, January 8th
  • 8 am to 6 pm
  • Meet at the bottom ready to roll

Zen Trail Info

  • 5.8 miles
  • Double Black Diamond
  • Located on the West side of St. George

Directions:

  • From I-15, take the Dixie Drive exit and head west.
  • Turn left on Canyon View Drive.
  • Follow Canyon View to the end of the pavement.
  • Continue west on the dirt road and then head north to follow the dirt road to the valley.
  • The trail start just south of the Gap which is the canyon that splits the mesa in half.

 

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