The Whole Enchilada:
Hannah Otto's Fastest Known Time
Words By: Hannah Otto
When my alarm went off at 4 am I had already been awake in bed for at least 10 minutes.
My brain woke me up thinking about the massive undertaking I had in front of me for the day. In fact, I don’t think my brain stopped thinking about it all night long.
As my feet hit the floor and I started to go through the motions to prepare for the attempt, I was nervous.
I was way more nervous than I thought I would be. After all, I do hard things all the time. I race my bike against the best in the world and today I would be riding completely solo. I should be less nervous, right? But I wasn’t.
I had been dreaming and planning to standardize the route and to set the fastest known time on The Whole Enchilada Trail (climb and descent) for a few years.
It took a lot of planning and a lot of pieces to fall into place to finally be ready for the full attempt. Things such as weather, race schedules, road openings, film crews, and more all had to be perfectly aligned on one day for this epic route. It takes an enormous amount of planning to pull something like this off. What’s even harder than all of the things you have to get right, are all of the things that you have no control over at all.
I planned the route to start in town, in Moab, at the last left hand turn out of town.
I picked the quietest roads out of town for safety reasons and so that anyone else in the future who attempts this route has a safe and clean run at it, without having to worry about traffic or stop lights. The route then climbs from Moab up to 11,200 feet to the top of Burro pass, descends down Hazard, Kokopeli, UPS, LPS, Porcupine Rim, and ends just as you exit the trail into the tunnel and pops out at the Colorado River. The whole route is 55.27 miles and boasts over 8,000 feet of climbing.
I had a knot in my throat as I pushed off, turned left, and officially started my attempt.
The moment I pushed off I knew I was entirely on my own to push myself, problem solve, and get myself back to town. On this route, on these trails, I felt like anything could happen in between.
As I began climbing the road, I would occasionally steal a glance up at the La Sal mountains to where I was headed.
I would experience a moment of total awe before readjusting my focus back to the task at hand. Very shortly after starting the attempt, a big head wind greeted me, and I was forced to stay calm and present. As the minutes and hours ticked away on the climb, I stopped looking up at the La Sal mountains and started looking inside myself. It was both a daunting and magical feeling to be out there all alone. It felt like it was just me and God out there. I went back and forth between praying for strength and praying prayers of gratitude for the world around me.
The climb was taking longer than I had guessed it would, even though my power was higher than I planned.
It was harder than I thought it would be.
For the entire final hour of the climb, I was maintaining hope that somehow it would just level out a little bit, but it never did.
The final 2 miles of the climb are singletrack and the higher I got the colder it got, and the terrain started to change as well. The ground became soft and muddy. The mud was sticking to my bike and dragging me backwards. I was wobbling, grinding, and completely exhausted as I finally yanked myself over the summit. There were a few people at the top who had taken the shuttle early in the morning. They were enjoying the view. I put my dropper down and sprinted into the descent.
I felt a very brief moment of relief as I began the descent, but it was brief indeed as I immediately remembered just how far I had to go and how quite possibly the hardest parts were still ahead of me.
The Whole Enchilada descent requires complete and total respect of the trail. If you start to take any moment for granted that’s precisely when you’ll make a mistake.
Burro trail greeted me with icy tree roots and slippery golden aspen leaves. I continually reminded myself that the fastest way to ride the trail was minimizing mistakes. When I exited out into the meadows of Hazard County, I started to find my flow and railed the corners. Kokopelli trail was potentially the fastest part of the entire route. I felt like I was flying and often visualized the soft landing of a butterfly as I tried to just barely skip across some of the particularly sharp rock gardens.
As I entered UPS, I knew I was entering the hardest parts that would require the most focus.
As I navigated the rock ledges in UPS and LPS I entered the flow state. I suddenly felt like I remembered every rock and line that I had practiced in the days leading up to the attempt. In practice I had ridden the trail on my Firebird to gain confidence and feel the speed on the trail then I did the attempt on the Mach 4 SL. I felt like I could place the bike exactly where I wanted it on the trail and we had all become one unit – the bike, the trail, and me.
With 10 miles to go I looked at my time.
If I could do the final 10 miles in 1 hour, then I could still break my goal. All the way to the finish I was repeating to myself, “no mistakes” and “respect the trails” and “smooth is fast.” When I made it through the final technical feature, I couldn’t help but feel overjoyed with emotion that I had made it and without any mishaps or mechanicals. I crossed the finish line in 5 hours 50 minutes and 38 seconds. The previous fastest time on that particular route was 6 hours and 47 minutes (for men or women).
For me, this wasn’t about the ‘competition’ of it.
I was racing myself and I was thinking about all of the times in my career that I have raced myself. My goal in this sport is constant improvement and that’s how I feel I’ve managed to gain success in this sport. It’s not about comparing yourself to others. It’s about comparing your current self to your previous self.
One thing I love about Fastest Known Time attempts is that you’re out there all alone, challenging yourself.
They really encourage a rider to hone their own skills. In mountain biking there are so many different areas that allow for improvement. It seems like there is no limit on one’s ability to continually best themself. I encourage everyone to go out and try. Keep marking improvement and being better than you were yesterday. Go get your own fastest time.
Go to Competitive Cyclist’s Youtube channel to watch the video
Photography: Re Wikstrom/Competitive Cyclist