Wednesday, August 3, 2022

The GWO Tour 2022 - Crested Butte, MOD's Happy Place

When someone we know passes away, it seems fair to think that the world should stop. That trains shouldn't run. That commerce should shutter. But we know that's not possible. So it's up to the friends and family of the dead to stop. To slow down and acknowledge the loss. And then somehow, some way, create new memories for those still living on.

Last year one of our cycling friends ended his battle with colorectal cancer. We had the opportunity to have some last words with him not long before his final day on earth. Mark Savery was only 50 years old. And when his widow, Anne, asked us earlier this year to join in the celebration of life that she was organizing in Crested Butte, Colorado, the answer was an absolute yes. We felt honored being asked.

So the next stop on the GWO'22 tour was Crested Butte. Since friends were heading west to also take part in Mark's celebration of life, I was able to go back to Nebraska with the Eybergs to see Mom and my step dad for a few days in between. Ryan went on to CB without me so he could get caught up on work before I returned with Eric O'Brien, aka, EOB and his daughter Abbey (AOB). I wasn't even sure if I would be returning to be honest. By that Wednesday, mom was improving and had one of the best days that I'd seen since this whole thing started. I felt I could head west secure in knowing mom was showing more signs of improvement in many ways than physical.

EOB picked me up bright and early so we could swing through Lincoln to grab Abbey. After a tour of her new digs and a coffee stop, we pointed the minivan towards Colorado. Eleven hours later we were at our campground - the same one as last year. It was close to sunset and we only had time to set up camp and eat a bit before turning in. The next day was going to require a visit to the doctor.

No, not that kind of doctor. Abbey, who has ridden in CB a couple times with Eric, had yet to ride one of the classic routes: Doctor Park. It was one of the first rowdy descents Ryan and I did when we were here for the BME Enduro many years ago and it remains a favorite. But it's a haul to get to the top. We did it as a loop, starting just down the road from our campground (which we broke down b/c we eventually moved to one closer to town). We gradually climbed a dirt/gravel road for an hour to the "start of the climb" as we like to say. But first, we had to cross Spring Creek, on foot, as it was too deep to ride. It wasn't as deep as some prior years but walking barefoot on river rock sucks! I wish someone would build a bridge! But then, what's the adventure in that!

Once over the river it was time to get up to the woods, which required another hour of moderate to steep climbing on single track and gravel roads. It's a real soul crusher when you're from sea level and especially when it's your first ride of the trip (sorry OB's)! But we were in the area and wouldn't be back so it was out of convenience that we began the trip doing that trail.

Finally at the top, contemplating why we do this to ourselves, whilst fighting off biting horse flies, Ryan lead us to the swoopy bonus loop that flowed through meadows of mountain flowers. Colorado has had a wet summer thus far and the flowers were in their height of color. The bonus loop put us at the true start of the descent where Abbey chased Ryan and EOB and I followed. 

Doctor is a mix of fast, narrow single track between rocky technical segments, all below an aspen and conifer forest. There's history with EOB and this trail but I'm happy to report he put that demon to bed, riding sections faster than he had in the past.

Finally, near the bottom, we had to navigate a set of tight and loose switchbacks before reaching the parking lot and the rushing cold water of the Taylor River. Everyone got down safely and with wide smiles. Abbey was full of giggles and that made us happy! We celebrated with margaritas, tacos & fresh guac at Bones and then coffee from Camp4. It was an awesome first day on all accounts in CB! 

Day two was an even bigger day. Teocali Ridge was on the docket and everyone was new to the ride. It's one of the first mtb trails built in the area and she's a brute! The ride starts on ranch roads that turn to double track and eventually single track. The grade is easy until it's not. And it's obvious when the not part starts! 

We met Matt & Jill Tilinghast at Brush Creek trailhead. Ryan talked the remaining "fast guys" into leaving an hour later, on bikes, from their condo, with the guarantee they'd still catch us. 

The flowers again were a sight to behold. I couldn't get enough! At the junction where the real climb starts, we posed for pictures and refueled for the grinding effort ahead.

The arrival of the fast guys was both perfect and maddening. They caught us on the longest, steepest part of the climb, which they spun up, while a few of us saps were two-footing it along the way. At the top, everyone celebrated the effort. Ryan suggested we take a group photo honoring our friend and so he and I gathered up some rocks to spell out his nick-name, MOD. We huddled around the display and gave gratitude to Mark for bringing us together on this day, in this amazing place.

Then, we descended. 

Roadies, a former tri-athlete, a rigid fork, hard tails and full squishes, lycra-clad to baggy-bearing-we all took to the single track like we were getting away with something. It's a classic Colorado descent, complete with roots, rocks, and loose switchbacks among the aspens. Add in some loose exposure, of which EOB had a personal introduction, losing his Garmin and some skin in the process, and it's definitely a helluva good time. The last mile or so winds through an overgrown meadow where site lines are for woosies so you just ride on hope and a prayer, all the while laughing aloud like a hooligan. When the Tillinghasts arrived, Matt had EOB's Garmin in his hand. All was well again. 

After high fives and chit chat, some wanted more miles, so they made their way to Strand Hill. The rest of us, on the other hand were ready to return to the parking lot. Jill had taken a tumble on the trail and again on the gravel road but she was in good spirits, none the less. At the parking lot, we hunkered down for some shade until our posse of riders arrived. Ryan peeled off the group, and the rest continued back to their condo. We spent the remainder of the afternoon gorging on pizza and coffee and then walking it off around downtown. Later at camp, we bathed in the river to clean off the remains of the day.

There's just something magical about being out in the woods on bikes, with friends. It's unbridled joy. It's ridiculously fun. It's also healing.

And the healing vibes continued later that evening gathered in a former train station, now a converted event space. There, we ate and Anne spoke about Mark and thanked us all for taking the time to share in Mark's memory and celebrate his life. Through stories told by his friends from when he was in his late teens and early twenties, we learned he was a perfectionist from the start, pushing his team and teammates to success on the bike. His confidence was off the charts and so the nickname MOD was born, obviously a sarcastic moniker for the "most modest" guy on the team. Our good friend Rafal took us back with him and of his time sharing in Mark's Masters World Cyclocross win, and how much it meant to part of that special time. EOB spoke to Mark's generosity when it came to sharing the sport with kids; his own daughter being a wonderful example of Mark's time and dedication. A world champion, later pitting for a teenager, spoke volumes of how much Mark cared. Anne finished the night by passing out small gauze bags with a sticker and patch memorializing Mark in the image of a buffalo, a creature Anne said, that he felt a connection to. The design was done by Jesse Peterson of Lincoln who has done may cycling logos in Nebraska. Also in the bag, was a little bit of Mark and we were invited to spread his ashes if we wanted to. It was a beautiful and sad moment all in one. A few were crying, many were stoic. Anne was a champ throughout it all, and was so graceful and so grateful, though there was no need to thank us. It was our turn, actually, to thank her for giving us this opportunity to share some wonderful memories and also to say goodbye to our friend.

Photo credit PCakeAnnie

The next day, Saturday, everyone who was there to celebrate Mark, met at the Judd Falls trailhead up Gothic Road, including those who didn't have bikes and would be hiking up to the falls while the riders rode up to Trail 401. We pulled in next to a guy sitting on his tailgate. When we exited the minivan, he looked at us like he knew us and Ryan greeted the "stranger" politely and the guy was like, "You don't recognize me, do you?" He was of course in a flat-brimmed cap and large sunglasses with a beard. I thought it was Dave Chase but to our surprise it was Mitch Kline, former Lincolnite who's been living in the front range for 15 years. It was a wonderful surprise and reunion. Mitch is well-known for his photography of live music events and just a cool guy to be around. As we all suited up for the ride, Anne came around and gave out hugs to everyone. Then, we gathered up for a group shot. All 30 of us somehow managed to get into the frame. 

401 is the classic of the CB classics. The trail starts at Schofield Pass but to get to it we had to ride about 5 miles up the service road. Once at the pass, someone stuck one of the memorial stickers on the famously stickered pass sign.

As all CB rides do, the trail started up a steep grade. It wasn't too technical, just steep so I rode from switchback to switchback, catching my breath at each corner. Abbey and I stayed together and we made sure to take in everything. I reminded her to always look back from where she came, in riding and in life, to get a good view on things.

At the top of the climb, again, friends gathered. There wasn't any formal ceremony but instead a knowing that we all were there with a task: to honor Mark in one of his most happy places. We were all sorta mingling about when Anne went off alone, to a patch of tall grass, her back to us, facing the western horizon. With arms spread, she looked like an angel, scattering Mark's dust to its sacred place. Their sacred place. Though I felt like I was intruding on her private moment, she was, in all actuality, helping us. For some this was a hard moment to face. It was in seeing her courage, of being so raw, so vulnerable among everyone and everything around her, that we all found our own. Ryan and I went to a spot, and said a few words before taking turns spreading Mark's ashes. After doing so we were sort of numb, unsure what to do or say next. We took some photos and then I think someone said it was time to saddle up and everyone slowly made their way to their bike. 

There is a short section before the trail opens up to reveal the beauty that is Gothic Valley. Before dropping into this amazing ribbon, I always slow for a brief second, to breathe in the air, and to take a moment to give thanks to whatever entity allowed me to be there. This time, I said thanks to Mark. 

Photo Credit

The ride was rippin' fun. The tall vegetation kept everyone honest. I did hear later that Nate Woodman blew a corner and landed in the flowers. He was riding around Ryan and the story went that Ryan had flatted and to pay tribute to a legendary story involving Nate and Mark, Ryan threw his glove and Nate retrieved it. But only once. ;) 

The first segment of 401 ends at a point where one could bail and take the road back. None of us did that, of course, so we continued on. Not too far into the trail, the triathlete, Brady Murphy, blew his hub apart (not his fault, actually) and instead of bailing, he started running. And when the trail went down, he hopped on the bike and coasted. He did this for most of the way until the next bail out point. Amazing!

The final pain came as we climbed up to Judd Falls. Jen Bebe, of Relish fame, arrived and EOB wasn't far behind so Ryan classically Rick Rolled him as he exited the trail.


We all joined in of course. A couple turns later we were back at the parking lot with the others, buzzing with all that had transpired.

The next day we all dispersed. We said goodbye to the OBs and our new friend, Lindsay who camped with us. We went into town with the plan to get some fishing intel and I got a text from Jen and they wanted to know if we were riding. Welp, we were now, so we made our way back to the van to meet up with Jen, Paul Chapman and crew. From there we drove to Strand Hill. It was another pay to play ride, but the pain on this trail is short-lived compared to the others and the descent is fast and much less technical. When a few wanted more, taking a bonus loop, Ryan, Jen and I took the classic route through rolling ranch lands with 360 views. It was the first time riding with Jen after many years of saying we needed to! And like Jen said, it was a great first ride! 

After the ride, we headed back to town, to hit up the fly shops for some intel. We bumped into Anne who was doing some shopping and just a-buzz with everything. She cracked for just a slight second, claiming fatigue. It's Ok Anne. You can cry now. :)

The fly shops told us about fishing up the Slate River so we headed up and beyond the area where Lupine trail starts. Like Gothic, this was a wide glacial valley, cut by the Slate River. The longer we drove, the more beautiful it was. Unfortunately the rain kept us from fishing so we just did some sight seeing, discovering an area we'd never been to before, that had some pretty cool remote camp grounds and areas to fish. After coming to a dead end round about we went back the way we came but then turned up Washington Gulch road and the start of 403 Trail. We raced it some years ago and I didn't recall any of the road we apparently road up, only a view of the valley. 

Seeing that the rain wasn't going to give us any more play time, we headed back to camp. It was less full and the rain had stopped. We went for a short hike up Cement Trail giving us an excellent view of the campsite. 

The next morning, our last in CB, was spent fishing the East River. The fly shop told us about the steep descent to get to it but we had no idea that it meant several hundred feet of elevation loss down what looked like a road caused by an avalanche. It had been recently graded and was kinda muddy from all the rain. It was tough finding the trailhead to begin with since it started in a construction zone. But once on it, it was obvious. At the bottom the river snaked back and forth at a gentle pace. Two other fisherman already had poles in the water so we knew we were in the right place. We waded in the water and cast for trout. Ryan got hits right away but my line never got a tug. 

By early afternoon, it was time to return to the real world. I had to be on a zoom call. The hike up the road wasn't as bad as I was dreading, having dried a bit, thus allowing our boots a bit more purchase with each step. 

Though the hike was long, it gave us time to contemplate the last few days playing bikes with people we love and some we haven't seen in a very long time, all connected to a certain person and the outdoors. To be able to play it back, like watching the good parts of a highlight reel, was salve to our souls. For those closest to Mark, we forced our worlds to stop so we could focus the days remembering him and all he was. For Anne, new memories were made, and those new stories will forever include him, as it should be.

On July 23, 2022, thirty old and new friends, from all across the US, came together, in a magical place and descended a mountain, on bikes, to honor their friend, teammate and husband. Tears and heartache were replaced by joyous shouts of revelry. 

Loud enough so even Heaven could hear.

Mark Savery 1971-2021

Thursday, July 28, 2022

The Great Wide Open 2022 - Bikes & The Black Keys

In early 2020, we texted our friends, the Eybergs, about seeing the Black Keys at Red Rocks. Being one of our favorite bands from their early days to now, we knew they'd jump at the chance to come with us. But as the world shuttered and concerts were cancelled, it wasn't until we were actually on our GWO Tour 2020 that we received the final update: the show would not go on.

Fast forward to 2022 and this time we get the text from our friends in Dillon: "Wanna go see the Black Keys at Red Rocks" in July? Hell to the yes! I think they had already asked and heard from the Eybergs who were also a Hell Yeah. A few panic hours of Lauren and April online, refreshing the ticket window, and the plan was set. The Drop Out Boogie Tour was to be our first stop on the 2022 GWO Tour.

But first home. We stayed at Ryan's parents' place. As I described in the previous post, mom had fallen and broken her hip. Our short stay home was full of visits to the hospital and then long days at the rehab facility. In between were some memorable moments with friends who had thrown a little welcome home gathering and boy did we need all the hugs. We had a good ol' fashioned 4th in the driveway of Ryan's parents, complete with decades old black cats and bottle rockets (no fingers were blown off). We visited the new downtown mall, which was full of people despite the crushing heat. 

When it was time to leave, it was tough. I felt mom was in good and capable hands but she never left my thoughts. Though I tried to have fun, knowing she wasn't, really tugged at my heart. I checked in almost every day to cheer her on and stay in touch with her nurses. My brother Jim and her husband were doing the heavy lifting and I'd eventually return to give them some relief. In between that time, I took to the mountains for some salve.

Prior to the Eybergs arriving in Colorado, we stayed a few days up the hill from Morrison, which is at the entrance of the Red Rocks venue. The little town had a handful of restaurants that we sampled and Bear Creek flowed fast along the town's banks. We spent a few days working in a condo and rode the local Bear Creek trail system after work. Aside from one ride in Omaha before we arrived, these were the first with some elevation and my tender lungs let me know it! The trails were dry and loose, a mix of tech and easy peasy pedaling. An out & back trail, we never completed the whole thing, opting instead to ease our way into riding after being off the bike for so long. There were going to be plenty of long slogs to come. No need to rush it. 

On the evening of the second day, after another ride around Bear Creek, we drove up to Evergreen to see what there was to see. We ate at a nice little outdoor eatery and then took a stroll. I was surprised. It definitely had that summer mountain lake community vibe and I was digging it.

By Wednesday of that week, it was time to check out of the condo and check into camp with the Eybergs, not to far outside of Morrison. Sort of urban camping, with a Home Depot on the distant horizon. But it was close to the music venue and we'd be getting back late. After a comical errand of meeting a mobile locksmith to remove the locked padlock from the bike cable for which we didn't bring they key, then getting groceries and a big lunch, we finally met up with April & Todd. From camp we drove to Red Rocks and parked on the road until Andy & Lauren arrived to pre-game.

The venue was everything I'd imagined; a sloping amphitheater with slabbed cliffs on either side. A zillion stairs took us to the GA section and we sat on a long bench, almost dead center. Better access to the bathroom and the libations up top, I was told. The opening band was pretty good, their wardrobe looking like they robbed a Goodwill prior to. Band of Horses played next and sounded great as well. But the true fun began when Dan Aurbach and Patrick Carney took the stage, with their band, blasting that classic bluesy rock sound. They ripped through all the classics, with barely a break, and added the newest release, Wild Child, to the playlist, even inviting Nathaniel Ratliff out for a tribute song. Towards the end of the set, the full moon gave us an encore as it rose up through low clouds and hung like it was just another one of the crowd, enjoying the show. With a light breeze and views towards Denver and beyond, it was an escape I fully enjoyed.

The next day we headed for the high country. I had booked a place that had two sites next to each other and were only 1.5 hours drive. Though they were next to the South Platte River, the campsite itself was but just a small circle drive with hardly a lick of shade. I think it was mainly used by folks coming to fish who would be on the water all day and not frying like an egg on land. We arrived early and had to wait for the previous campers to clear out. Once we set up camp, and stuffed our faces, we headed for the first ride of the weekend in Buffalo Creek. We'd been there once before and knew it to be full of amazing views and interesting terrain amongst large boulders and pine. The trail head is a memorial to a fallen rider and has everything a mountain biker needs from a bathroom, to drinks and snacks, to a tool station. The ride was toasty by mid afternoon but we didn't care. We were in the mountains riding bikes with friends. Though we were out of cell signal most of the time, I did get a signal at the end of a driveway off the highway. I was able to make calls home to check on mom. It was rough back home and I was going to have to make a decision to go back.

But before I had to make that decision, we had some fun to partake in. The weather stormed each afternoon, cooling the air down. In between Ryan fished and I took hikes along the river with our friends. I don't recommend doing that in sandals on gravely trails! 

Day two was a similar ride in another part of the same trail system with wide open views and fun rock rolls. 

After returning to camp but not yet tired enough to sit around, we headed back up the road to hike an area called Cheeseman Canyon. Ryan brought his Tankara rod as the area boasted miles of gold medal water. The Eybergs were gracious to allow us some fishing time but eventually they wandered to higher ground to see what there was to see. By the time we made it back to the truck, fishless and frazzled, ours was one of the last vehicles in the previously full lot. Like we do, we packed it in with fine people who appreciate what that means.

Day three, we were up early and on the road to the next trailhead. Starting from an area very popular with campers from Denver, we climbed a bit more than previous days and descended some excellent flowy CT terrain with steep rock rolls thrown in here and there. When we got back to the truck, we drove to a second trail head where Ryan opted to drop us and then meet us at the bottom of the descent. T&A and I rode mostly downhill through a burnt-out but beautiful area that had loose, open trails with really cool views. Post ride we found an amazing food truck and a an equally amazing coffee shop across the street. I only planned to get a coffee but the warm blueberry turnover had me on my knees. I took one bite and saved the rest for the morning. It was still glorious.

To wrap up the weekend, we drove up to Cheeseman Reservoir in hopes of dipping into the cold mountain lake to cool off but signs said no human contact allowed so our stay was short-lived. 

Back at camp, my mood was dark. Thoughts of my mom alone in rehab (covid protocols forces patients to stay in their rooms) while I was prancing among the peaks filled my chest with pressure. I knew what I had to do. I asked the Eybergs if I could catch a ride back with them to Omaha, knowing another set of friends could bring me back a few days later. I spent the remaining part of the day trying to catch a trout in the gold medal waters of the South Platte, feeling lighter knowing I would be home soon to do what I could for mom and my family. I finally got a bite but I didn't quite set the hook. The water and my mind went quiet.