Riding Fixed, Up Mountains, with Pros – Episode 9: Mt. Graham

 words and images by Jeff Olsen

It's no shocker that we're more connected to each other's personal lives than we can remember from ever before. Are we addicted, or do we like it? We love to lurk, and we privately gather more personal information about those close and strange than effectively possible IRL. Maybe naturally, but most probably because we're all nearly accredited PIs; we've put in the 10,000 hours of judgment – we're masters.

If you haven't already, please get yourself acquainted with The Internet's favorite cyclists: Eric Marcotte and Chris Tolley. I'll admit I've already done my research about these two. I've made my judgments and I'm wildly entertained. There's age-old lore that advises not to meet your idols, and it's exactly because we demand them to measure up, pound for pound, to the heavyweights we've internally sculpted them to be, whether it's subconscious or we're totally aware of it.

Chris Tolley might be my very favorite internet personality. You better believe that abrasive outpour flows while the camera's at selfie distance or nowhere to be seen. I'm convinced that he's compelled to entertain satellite CCTV and God alike; there's no audience too small or insignificant. Everybody's watching.

Dr. Eric Marcotte is somewhat of AZ's hometown hero pro cyclist, and I'm #jablessed to call him my chiropractor. About once a month he restores and enhances my spinal health, to which the well-being of each moving component of the body hinges on – and the physical adjustment is only the beginning. I'm not one of those, "I avoid the doctor" bozos, but I simply haven't benefitted from doctors, ever. Physical therapists, yes, an MRI image, yes, doctors, no. I've been prescribed a steroid for jock itch from my primary-care physician (since infancy) that went away in three days when a lady at CVS told me to buy athlete's foot cream. Bless her always. Marcotte's practice both professionally and in his personal life is centered on education and preventative maintenance: the "WHYs" and "HOWs" that are overwhelmingly void in our healthcare. Bless him always.

I'm not going to apologize for TMI because that was important. But back to lurking... There's a meta cliche that I get a kick out of while lurking around IG when I read prefaces to captions, stating that words like "epic" and "genuine" are misused, overused, and cliche, i.e. "OMG I don't toss this word around lightly, but this iced latte was epic. Such a genuine experience." Well, I'm gonna do it too... Chris Tolley and Eric Marcotte are "enigmatic", and I don't toss that word around lightly. I'll tell you why...

Here at Riding Fixed, Up Mountains, with Pros we like to play a game called "Chill or Not Chill". It's an agreeably disagreeable game at objectifying something almost entirely subjective: Is it "chill"? Now, Merriam-Webster's informal, North American definition is:

chill (adjective): "having a laid-back style or easy demeanor"

So why "enigmatic"? Well, let's get back to Merriam-Webster for this one:

enigma (noun): "an inscrutable or mysterious person"

I can only begin to ponder without any definite conclusion if both Tolley and Marcotte, and in incredibly polarized ways, are VERY chill or VERY not chill. Mysterious, inscrutable, entertaining, and unwavering? YES.

In Episode 9, we travel to Safford, AZ, home of the Arizona State Hill Climb Championship on Mount Graham that twists up more than 6,000 ft of elevation gain on what appears to be the wet dream of a civil engineer. It's not ironic at all, in fact quite foreshadowing that the road starts at Arizona State Prison Complex because punishment will ensue; that's a certainty. If a horizontal axis is drawn from "not chill" on one extreme end to "chill" on the other, the polar ends of the vertical axis are Chris Tolley and Eric Marcotte. We just have no idea what's gonna be chill or not chill...

If you've been with us for a while, you know about our love affair and sponsorship with The DGC. Dodge shit the bed on a Monday, and our introduction to the Toyota Sienna is far from a good impression. Not chill.

We honor Marcotte's political due diligence before heading out of town. As the Unofficial, Self-Appointed Mayor of Whole Foods, it's an absolutely perfect time for him to introduce Tolley to his first Whole Foods salad bar assembly.

"I basically pay them to be my refrigerator." -Eric Marcotte

Very chill moves, both of you.

About an hour outside of Phoenix, chilly boys want a taste of Southwest Miami. Marcotte's donned more cotton textile than he's ever worn in his life, and poses for the landmark event. However, Tolley's outfit is relatively subdued. He's typically draped in silk or mesh, usually head-to-toe in the post-apocalyptic gothic grunge garb of Rick Owens.

The choice to deliberately dress in all black items is theoretically chill. It's an anti-choice – seems chill. But goths are literally the most not chill. Goths are more not chill than "let me speak to your manager" Lindas.

We arrive at Safford Inn and get settled. With Tolley's collected snack selection from AM/PM, he lures Marcotte back into their room. It's not even sunset, and he's eager.

We follow them in and quickly see through Tolley's treat temptressness, and it's his first opportunity to compare #quadgoals. Kinda chill, but wish he'd just be honest with his intentions.

Official BTS right here: we take the scouting opportunity to shoot the rollerblade dream sequence towards the end of the episode. Marcotte was dressed back at the hotel, but Tolley's gotta undress outdoors. I get that, and I think it's chill.

Do you even chill?

Sportsmanship costs you nothing. Tolley's very first time on blades was ungraceful and endearing, and the sweetheart inside Marcotte let him win the practice race. Would you look at the accomplished satisfaction on that face? Epic chill.

So much neature and wildlife to scream about the whole drive up. There's still snow everywhere up at 9,000 ft. Don't make me say it.

Bike building commences after a Safeway snack stop. We don't need to sick brag about it but I will – our shoot day snack selection is the most dialed always. Please reference Episode 5 if you need a refresher.

One builder is chill and the other is not.

I haven't seen Eric eat anything since this afternoon at Whole Foods. It's 10:45pm, and after we tuck the boys in to wake up before sunrise, I'm finally on a first name basis with them. Chris is about to fall asleep and can't help but offer the last of his bed snacks to Eric. The concern is nearly maternal. It's sweet and chill like an iced vanilla latte with your bestie.

Fun fact about Safford: they refuse to groom their palm trees.

I think it's kinda chill 'cause I also hate yard work.

It doesn't matter how seriously you take your limbering up.

To avoid injury might seem like you care too much: not chill. But I assure you that flexibility is very chill. You know those 90-year-old Grannies that can push a shopping cart like a boss? Namaste.

Dear Toyota,

How on earth in your coveted Japanese genius did you not get the memo? You should have generated the memo. Stow 'n Go® Seating and Storage System provides more than 140 cubic feet of free space when the second- and third-row seats are stowed. The Dodge Grand Caravan makes me proud to be an American.

"Only premium fuel in the hot rod, only premium" -Eric Marcotte

There's something on Eric's mind, and I think it's Tolley.

There's something on Tolley's mind, and I think it's Chris Tolley.

Or maybe it's that one gear?

Chris asks nicely if he can get back in the van, but his request is denied.

The climb officially begins on Arizona State Route 366, aka Mount Graham Road, just beyond Safford's Arizona State Prison Complex and St. Paisius Orthodox Monastery. Tolley's already talking about the descent, and it's both chill and not chill as the thought of him as a prisoner or a nun.

According to Amnesty International, a London-based, non-governmental organization focused on human rights, in August of 1995 at the Safford unit, 600 prisoners were forced to remain handcuffed outdoors for 96 hours, requiring them to urinate and defecate in their clothes, and in the intense heat many suffered severe sunburn, heat exhaustion, and dehydration.

*Both Marcotte and Tolley were not handcuffed at any point during this trip.

Tolley: "Can't wait to go down this thing."

Marcotte: "And I'm glad I have the brakes."

Tolley: "Gotta stay true to my roots: No brakes. Can't stop. Don't want to either."

Marcotte: "See I don't have the ego when it comes to that stuff."

Tolley: "I think that's where our similarities end, man. I'm all about ego. I don't know what point I gotta prove, but it's everybody."

Marcotte: "I've let that go a long time ago."

Tolley: "I'm still young, haven't hit 30, man."

Marcotte: "Dirty 30 maybe changes you."

Tolley: "Yeah, maybe after today."

The United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service claims that the 28-mile entirety of Mount Graham Road, from Sonoran desert to alpine forest, is the ecological equivalent of driving from Mexico to Canada.

Tolley: "You're pretty stoked on nature, aren't you?"


Tolley: "Neature, how bout that? What would you say your spirit animal is?"

Marcotte: "Right there, baby! I see things from ABOVE... You know I'm doing the right think when I got my Red-tailed Hawk."

Tolley: "I'm more of a Wolverine. Alone, trekking through mountains... Days on end, not seeing anybody."

The predators are about 20 miles and 5,000 feet of elevation gain into the ride, and they must be hungry.

I said that our snack selection was dialed, but "premium fuel" is rather subjective.

Marcotte: "No dude, that would be, 'off brand'".

Eric's podcast is called OEM Sessions, an acronym for "Organic Eric Marcotte". Seeing is believing, and Eric hasn't eaten since Whole Foods yesterday.

Male Red-tailed hawks provide most of the food for the female and young while she broods. Estimated nesting success is typically 58-93%. 

The wolverine has a reputation as an insatiable glutton. Additionally, successful males will form lifetime relationships with two or three mates.

The origin of suction cups dates back to the third century before Christ. Hippocrates is believed to have invented a procedure in which gourds were used to suction "bad blood" from internal organs out to the surface.

On May 25, 1981, Dan Goodwin, aka SpiderDan, scaled Sears Tower, formerly the world's tallest building, with a pair of suction cups. He went on to ascend Renaissance Tower in Dallas, Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles, World Trade Center in New York City, Parque Central Tower in Caracas, Nippon TV Station in Tokyo, and Millennium Tower in San Francisco.

Our follow footage simply could not be without the historical contributions of Hippocrates and timeless inspiration from SpiderDan.

Mount Graham is the highest peak in the Pinaleño Mountains, one of the many mountain ranges in southeastern Arizona now affectionately referred to as "Sky Islands", because they're surrounded by seas of radically different arid environments than the tall, lush forests that grace their slopes. 

At only 500ft from the End of Pavement, Eric launches a surprise attack, and Wolverine is well fed but insatiable... also well-geared.

Eric will however have his redemption on the blades, a domain where Chris is but a budding cub.

Marcotte: "I'm gonna drop him."

Tolley: "I'm gonna stick to road sprinting."

Tolley"Swap my cogs 'cause I wanna go fuckin' FAST."

His claim is that somebody threaded a fixed cog onto the freewheel side of his hub. It's so seized that not even his innermost 40-breaking power can pry that thing loose. It's on there for good, and after lengthy deliberation he's gonna **descend brakeless with no lockring.


Marcotte"I'm glad I have these [brakes]."

This is as close as I can believe Eric gives his blessing. Chill, I guess.

Two "Tolley Tips" before we wrap up:

"Put your dick on the stem."

"Hold it until you blow it, alright."

We've got a long drive back to Phoenix, and need to reassemble the interior of the Sienna. Forever blessings to Safford Inn & Suites for permitting the storage of our seating that was not, and needs to be engineered into all modern minivan design. Dodge and America, bless you always.

Until you can step up and Stow 'n Go, Toyota, never again. 'Til next time!