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The "Deathly" Biking Adventures of Monte Butler

Michael Skinner, December 1, 2008
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When he isn't cycling, Monte Butler is a professor of social work as well as the social work program director and the chair of the psychology and social work department.

Most people would pass on signing up for events with "death" in the title. For Monte Butler and his bicycle though, "death" is not a problem, whether it's competing in the "Death Ride" tour of the California Alps or going from Death Valley to the top of Mt. Whitney in one day.

Monte has been cycling since he was a sophomore in high school, and during his summers he takes part in various events. He was already starting to take on bigger cycling challenges in 2004 when he feel and broke his hip on the 98th mile of a 100-mile ride. When the pins were removed from his surgically repaired hip, Monte jumped straight from physical therapy to riding 200-mile events called double centuries. In the summer of 2006 he rode seven such events, earning a special cycling jersey which hangs in his office to commemorate his completion of over 1,000 miles of double centuries in one season.

The summer of 2007, he felt he was in good enough physical condition to take on several challenges for the first time - including the one that he had been training for when he broke his hip, the tour of the California Alps, known among riders as the "Death Ride" because of its demanding 129 miles and 15,000 feet of vertical climbs spread across five mountain passes, all of which takes place 5,000 feet above sea level. It is a grueling event that represents a serious accomplishment for amateur riders. "It was kind of a saga, trying to pull it off," he remembers.

Monte was successful in meeting his goal of finishing the Death Ride before dark. The Death Ride is not a race, however, and no time is kept. Most might think that was enough death-defying for one summer, but not Monte. Besides another grueling race or two just for fun, he also decided to tackle what he calls "the hardest thing I have ever done."

This "hardest thing" was the combination ride/climb that took him from Death Valley to the summit of Mt. Whitney. "It was Roy Benton's idea, actually," Monte says. "I had seen an elevation marker from the top of Whitney and I thought it would be cool to have one, but I wasn't going to get one without having earned it in some way. That's when I talked to Roy and he suggested the ride."

Monte, Roy, and Rico Mundy started together in Death Valley at around 7 p.m. in 118 degree heat. Because of time constraints, Monte was the only one who finished the whole 135 miles to Whitney, riding all night under a full moon to make it to the Whitney Portal by the next afternoon. There he met Roy, who had caught a ride to the mountain, and the two started climbing up the mountain with Roy, an experienced climber, often going ahead, scaling and re-scaling the cliffs to find the best path for the two to ascend.

Monte remembers the challenges vividly. "We were really tight on time - that was the biggest worry. We literally got to the summit as the sun was setting."

During the journey, which lasted just over 34 hours, Monte took only short naps to recharge and ate carb-filled gels and bars to fuel up. "If you take the whole package," he says, "it's the hardest thing I've ever done."

Having achieved three such lofty goals in one summer, Monte feels content. He says that he wants to continue to be able to ride a double century or two a year, but he believes this summer will have been the most prolific of his biking career. "My goal since I was a freshman here, when I got my first expensive bike, was I wanted a sport that I could retire with. If I can keep doing this until I retire, I'll be happy."