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 https://www.uncovercolorado.com/biking/401-trail/

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