The Rider and the Wolf, a new production from Grit and Thistle Film Company opens this Friday in Salida, Colorado. The movie documents the life, achievements and mysterious disappearance of 1991 MTB Hall of Fame inductee, Mike “The Bike” Rust. While Gary Fisher was fostering the development of mountain biking in California, a hardscrabble group of mountain folk in Crested Butte, Colorado was starting their own fat tire revolution. Short chain stays, radical frame geometry, SPD clips, multi-tools, Shortys & 69ers, cross country racing, off-road touring; Mike Rust was the inspiration, innovator and inventor behind much we mountain bikers and bikepackers hold dear.
Mike Rust doing the big mountain bike rides of the day self-supported. Crested Butte to Aspen ride over Pearl Pass, 1983
The Rider and the Wolf does a tremendous job documenting the emergence of mountain biking in Colorado and features wild, archival footage from the sport’s early days juxtaposed with some beautifully captured, modern day shred sessions. The film employs dramatic reenactments, home movie footage, interviews with family and friends and Mike’s own words in chronicling Rust’s journey from CB to Salida and finally to his expansive, off the grid property in Colorado’s San Luis Valley. The picture unveils some intriguing angles into Rust’s sudden disappearance but in the end, the mystery of Mike the Bike persists. Bikepackers Magazine recently enjoyed a pre-screening of the film and this movie is unquestionably a MUST SEE for mountain bikers and backcountry adventurers everywhere!
“Bicycling, its got a great past ahead of it.” Mike Rust
Nathan Ward, Director of The Rider and the Wolf, shares more on Grit and Thistle’s efforts, his personal connection to the story and helps us better understand the complexities and dimensions of Mike Rust’s ultimate legacy. Can you tell us a bit about your personal cycling background and your own history of adventure? My first bike was a singlespeed cruiser style 12 inch tire Schwinn that I learned to ride on a dirt road in Southeast Colorado. I remember the first moment when my dad let go of the seat and I pedaled away down the road. I’ve ridden a bike since then, sometimes more than others. But I first started mountain biking in high school when these two guys moved to Salida, CO and started a bike shop called Colorado Cyclery. Their names were Mike Rust and Don McClung and they led simply by riding a lot and looking cool. I bought a mountain bike, a Diamond Back Ascent, 22 inch. It was about 4 inches too big but the guy at the bike shop (Not Colorado Cyclery) swore it was the right size and I went out and started busting my nuts right away. I got into road racing in while living in Chicago, But I was never that good. I think I made it to Cat III and got spanked. I was never really good at mountain bike racing either. However, around that time I found out that what I was good at was riding a long way, with little gear, in remote parts of the world where everything was uncertain. I loved it and it was all I wanted to do. I started taking photographs and writing stories, mostly to pay for my bike trips. I did mountain bike expeditions across Mongolia, Borneo, parts of Australia, Bhutan, Ecuador, Tibet, Nepal, Tanzania, Botswana, Kenya the American West and a bunch more. We didn’t call it bikepacking at the time, but we were trying to go light, trying to get rid of the panniers and just ride with a dry bag on the rear rack, a hydration pack and a sleeping bag dry bag tied to the handlebars. Today’s bikepacking is the same, but now there are way better bags and gear. Who is Grit & Thistle and why were you the right company to tell this story? Grit and Thistle Film is a small film production company, but we flex in size when needed to cover our shoots. We’ve done everything from one-person films in the Peruvian Andes to 50+ people shoots for the Weather Channel. We started out primarily in adventure sports, but our main focus is making short films that promote causes – social, humanitarian, environmental causes. We want our work to count for something. The names basically comes from dirt and tumbleweeds – the other co-founder and I both come from families that homesteaded in Eastern Colorado, the badlands of the state. My partner, Carlin Walsh, also started and runs Elevation Brewery, which is an amazing Belgian style brewery based in Poncha Springs, just outside of Salida. I watched this story for a long time and wondered why no one was telling it. No bike magazines covered it. No radio. Nothing. It was weird to me, but I finally jumped in and started working on it. I knew some of the people in the story from growing up in the area, so it was fairly straightforward to meet up with them and explain the idea. Once we started, we found out that a writer named Marc Peruzzi had written a story on Mike’s disappearance, for Mountain Bike magazine. When they went broke, the story passed on to Bicycling and there it languished in some forgotten pile until we were able to help him get it published online at Bicycling. It was a hit and the story was out there again. So, why are we the right company to tell this story? I know all the people in the story and it’s in my backyard. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. Mike Rust moved to Salida CO. when you were growing up there. Can you share a bit about the impact he had on your hometown and its cycling and mountain culture? It’s hard to say, really. I only met Mike a couple of times growing up but I do remember that they started people riding. Mike and Don inspired people to ride and they also attracted the same type of people to town so that a little cycling community grew out of it. Most of those people stayed here and it inspired more people to ride. Today there are hundreds of mountain bikers here, a solid trails group, hundreds of miles of singletrack and great bike shops. Now that all may have come about anyway, but these guys definitely fanned the fire. I don’t think they would like what it has become today. They were purists, true to the sport and their way of doing it. Rust was amazingly inventive and resourceful. “If he needed something, he’d make it.” In the film, we see and hear of all sorts of amazing items designed and/or inspired by Mike Rust. What do you believe was Mike’s greatest contribution or equipment innovation in the world of mountain biking? Again, I’m not sure. So many of the early innovations were talked about around campfires and one person would go home and build something one way and another would go build it another way, so who knows who invented what. I’m not a mountain bike historian. I know Mike modified a lot of bikes in the beginning, transforming them from simple cruisers to machines worthy of the mountains. He’d take road parts and modify them for the mountains, teach people how to build stronger wheels, adapt motorcycle parts to pedal bikes and all that. He helped invent the first multitool, which won a national award. But Mike and Don hated that award because it was the same year they built a bike called the Shorty, which had a super short wheel base. It rode like a sports car but in whatever mountain bike contest it was that year, the judges awarded the grand prize to a pretty wooden bike that couldn’t even be ridden on trails. They always felt like the multitool prize was kind of a consolation prize they didn’t want. One of the Shorty bikes hung in the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame for years. They were badass. Besides the technology, from talking to people, I think Mike’s greatest contribution to the sport of mountain biking was that he built the stoke around it and invited a lot of people into the fold. He got people into it, shared the magic and they ran with it. He even built a tandem klunker so that people new to mountain biking could try it out without getting scared. And he helped create the Crested Butte scene – stage races, point series – things he brought over from his knowledge and love of road riding. Every new sport needs some hot personalities to get it rolling and Mike was one of those. In his early years, Mike appears happy organizing races and participating in the social scene and local events in both CB and Salida. But “with all signs of the world becoming what it is” Rust deliberately choses a more solitary path. Was Rust pedaling away from or towards something when he left for the San Luis Valley? Good question and I don’t know the answer. Maybe both. We’ve asked ourselves why someone at the pinnacle of bicycle design at the time would just walk away from it all, but I didn’t know him, so I can’t say. His friends say that the theory of sustainability really attracted him. The challenge of building a home in a tough environment, the possibility of doing it in a virtually unregulated part of the state, the chance to make a home of one’s own. But it is curious that a guy who was so social would choose such a solitary path. If you come to one of our shows and his brothers are there, it would be a good question to ask them. Can you comment about what is was like working with the Rust family on this film? Additionally, how much archival Mike Rust writing/picture/audio & video footage was available to you when making the film? It has been fantastic working with the Rust family. They are talented, stoic, passionate, capable and fun. One of the first things I asked of them was to help us reenact what they think happened on the night Mike went missing. We gathered at Mike’s house on the anniversary of his disappearance and filmed a reenactment of what they think went down, at the exact hour, on the exact spot where they found his blood. One of Mike’s brothers, Marty, even played one of the “bad guys” who may have killed Mike. We worked together in a frenzy for three days, camped out, drank whiskey, played guitars and left as friends. Since then, we’ve spent a lot more time with them and it’s a quality family. One who has gone through a series of tragedies, Mike’s disappearance being the last, and they are searching for answers, or for closure at least. It was really difficult to find all the archival material and in the end, most of it came from Mike’s family who dug out their home videos, photos, 16 mm film reels. The little that we were able to get on Crested Butte’s birth of mountain biking came from Don and Kay Cook at the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame. We also searched out and sources photos from California, to Arizona, to Florida. It was really hard because a lot of the CB people from those early days had already died or we couldn’t find them at all. The Morrow Dirt Riders helped us with some archival footage as well. You’ve been able to use Mike’s words to help narrate the film. Are there any particular Mike the Bike quotes/sayings that you connect strongly with? From watching Mike’s home movies, and talking to his friends, I think his sense of language was quite unique. He had a playful way of verbally wordsmithing that stays with you. And he never seemed to write anything down, unfortunately for us when making the film, so his energy went into verbal gymnastics. However, his friends all mentioned a few things. One was that he sought out and purchased a square frying pan, so that he wouldn’t waste any space or energy when making four pieces of toast. Round pans waste space. Square pans don’t. Another was that he was thought of jobs valued as a number of lunches. For example, he’d help a neighbor and something simple might be a “one lunch job” while something difficult might be a “4 lunch job”. Food bartering, helping your neighbor, existing outside the cash economy, all valid things in our world which is normally ruled by credit and numbers. Was it calming or unnerving while on location at the Rust property? Can you hear Mike there or is his voice missing? Mike chose a cool spot to build his solar castle. It had an amazing view of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, full winter sunshine and you could tell that someone had spent a lot of time and ingenuity making it all happen on a dime. We never felt uncomfortable there. The same cannot be said for the surrounding area. Based on the known facts of the case, the police think it was certainly a local, or locals, that disappeared Mike and it’s a small population. So, when we were out filming, we never knew who knew what we were doing, who might be watching or whatever. It’s unnerving. But I never personally felt Mike there. I mean, his clothes were still hanging there, his bedding, his model planes, his bike stuff. But I think all that is gone now since Mike’s place was sold to someone last year. There was a psychic we interviewed a couple of times who swore she could speak to Mike’s spirit. When we first went searching for her and interviewed her, I was pretty skeptical but she was stone cold serious. I left thinking there may be a lot more to it than I know. Her voice is the voice of the psychic in the film. She is the real deal, nothing made up. The final chapter of Mike’s life remains a mystery. You’ve done a terrific job documenting and re-creating what’s currently known, right up through the final moments of his disappearance. Do you believe Grit and Thistle’s efforts and the film’s exposure and success can help write an ending to Mike Rust’s story? Well, there is no perfect ending to this story. Mike is still dead too young. Some people out there are living their lives with a dark secret. Mike’s brother and sister still miss him and want to know what happened. His mother died with her son missing. His friends still miss him. He was a charismatic person that seemed to touch a lot of lives, even though he lived out there on the fringes of socially acceptable society. I guess the answer has to come from his family and what will make them feel better. I don’t know if they are looking for justice in the form of finding out exactly who did it, or if they would simply like to find Mike’s body and put that part of the mystery to rest. Or if they simply want closure and peace in whatever form. I can’t speak for them whatsoever and the answer would vary undoubtedly depending on what family member you asked. I do know that after we’ve watched the film a few times together and talked to the public, at Telluride Mountainfilm, their feelings are coming out. After the second show, Mike’s oldest brother Carl commented that maybe the film will help them find some closure. I’m not sure that is the closure they all want, but in the end it may be what there is. Or maybe something else will come up, one never knows what’s coming. Do you think Mike would find it ironic that his story dropped in Telluride at MountainFilm? Telluride, Crested Butte, Breckenridge, Durango, Salida, Steamboat Springs, Aspen, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs – the realty of things in Colorado is that mountain towns change and there is nothing anyone can do about it. They start as idyllic places to look at, but they’re working class places where people struggle to make a living. Most of the old timers are pushed out by taxes or prices, or they’re happy to sell out and take their winnings elsewhere. Then a new crop moves in, the town becomes gentrified, prices go up, more locals move out until a new group of “locals” come to be locals under whatever new situation evolves. Often it even seems like the new people love the places more than the original inhabitants did anyway, so who is to say what is what. Would Mike find it ironic that his story was first played in modern day Telluride? I don’t think so. I think he would have enjoyed the spirit behind Telluride Mountainfilm and made the most of it. He would have worked something to get a free room and then invited all his friends to share it. They would have showed up with their mountain bikes, energy, free spirits, drinks and thrown down the party gauntlet to anyone who wanted to join in. Then they would get up early the next morning and crank out a bunch of singletrack miles and everyone would have been invited along for the ride, as long as they could keep up. Have as much fun as you can, wherever you are, “but you’ve got to be able to live though it.”

One Comment

  1. Forgot to mention in the above that Telluride Mountainfilm and Oskar Blues Brewery both helped sponsor this film. We searched high and low in the bike community for sponsors and no one would take a chance, so we are grateful to these two sponsors for believing in the story. We’ll be doing a series of shows around Colorado with Oskar Blues. Watch for dates on our Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/gritandthistlefilm. Thanks!

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