Twenty-one years after Mike McElveen fell in love with mountain biking during a ride of the White Rim Trail outside of Moab, his son, Payson McElveen, took on the 100-mile challenge in an attempt to establish a new fastest-known time. Along the way, a film crew chronicled the project that had been on Payson’s mind since 2016. Sunday, the entire world will get a look at the White Rim through the eyes of the McElveens.
The documentary, “Standing Man,” will be added to Red Bull TV on Sunday. It is roughly 15 minutes in length and follows Payson during his record-setting 5-hour, 45-minute, 16-second ride of the White Rim Trail through Canyonlands National Park in Utah. The film is a project years in the making and inspired by Mike’s initial ride of the White Rim in 1998.
“This idea was first floated before I even signed with Red Bull in 2016,” Payson said. “We were first going to try to pull it off in fall of last year, and then it got moved to spring because of weather. Originally, the plan was a three- or four-minute YouTube-style video. But the storyline kind of grew and it ended up being a short film. It’s been worth waiting for and is a big opportunity for me, my sponsors and, I hope, the bike-riding community, period.”
Originally from Texas, 26-year-old Payson is a professional mountain biker who has called Durango home since first attending Fort Lewis College. He was inspired to attend FLC for its cycling program after years of racing as a junior with the support of his father.
The film takes its name from something Payson has written on the top tube of his bikes for races throughout his career and the note he had taped to his top tube during the White Rim challenge. It is in honor of Mike, who suffered from Ankylosing Spondylitis, which is chronic tissue inflammation found throughout the back, ribs and pelvis. The autoimmune disease created a loss of mobility for Mike and made it so that he couldn’t walk, let alone ride a bicycle, for years of his life until a medical breakthrough and diagnosis eventually changed his life and allowed him to get back to his active lifestyle.
“When we brought the idea to Red Bull, nobody had any idea about our family history with the White Rim,” Payson said. “That added storyline kind of took it all to another level rather than being a story about someone who rode a bike path for a while. It really became more of a storyline while the ride was unfolding and ended up being more of an emotional journey than I think either of us expected. The film crew picked up on what I had written on my top tube and was saying to myself, and it became the title of the film.
“My dad had so much pelvic and lower back pain that he couldn’t walk. The whole ‘Standing Man’ aspect comes from the fact that not too long ago, maybe 10 years ago, a couple of drugs came out that treated it. I have vivid memories going to visit my dad when he was working in the (emergency room) and waiting on patients from a wheelchair. Thanks to modern medicine, he was able to do his own White Rim ride on a full-blown effort a few days before I did. The story is also about a lesson for him in taking advantage of every day because of what he loved. His physical pursuits were taken away for a while, and he was always a very high-level athlete. To have that lifestyle swiped and then returned, that’s what it’s about.”
When Mike first rode the White Rim in 1998, when Payson was only 5, he completed it in three days. Two days before Payson’s record time set in late March, Mike completed it in 8 hours, 20 minutes. It showed how far he had come since being sidelined by his medical condition. Previous to that, he would routinely visit Durango to kayak from Silverton to Durango down the Animas River, and he competed at track and field at Rice University and made an Olympic trials in the pole vault.
When Payson completed his record ride, which weeks later would be broken by Durango teenager Quinn Simmons, Mike was there at the finish line to give him a hug.
“I went out there to kind of be there to watch it and be a spectator more than anything else,” Mike said. “It was also an introduction for me into the process of the way Payson is now living his life. It became really clear to me that he’s not just a really good athlete but that he has immersed himself into marketing, business and promotion and how skilled he is at that.
“It was kind of a difficult transition for me. Suddenly, we were building a father-son biography, and it came with some reflection on our history. Once it was time for him to ride, I reverted back to me and the feeling like I was watching him at a national championship or something. I was back to being my child’s No. 1 fan and supporter. I was overflowing with pride, and it became very emotional.”
Among the film crew were folks with Durango ties in Benjamin Kraushaar and Dylan Stucki. Payson is eager for all of their hard work to be viewed by the masses.
“The film crew we had was awesome. Ben and Dylan provided some Durango help, and they worked so hard,” Payson said. “The other guys I had worked with on other projects, but Dylan not so much. Seeing how hard he works during the whole White Rim project, I’ve reached out and tapped him for other opportunities I have coming up because he’s one of the best in the business. It was so fun working with everyone involved.”
Red Bull TV can be streamed online and has an app available on smart televisions and gaming consoles. It is free to download.