Beyond Exceptional

Posted August 6th, 2010

In my many years working at the shop, I got to know a lot of good people. It is one of the aspects of the job that I miss most, now that I spend my days in an office, behind a computer screen, under two hanging plants that I must say I’ve grown quite fond of. Aside from speaking to my plants—some say it helps them grow—I speak with a lot of customers, but the vast majority of these customers I will never meet in person or ever speak to again. In a 10-minute phone conversation I will have recommended the best pair of Nordic skis for skiing across a frozen lake in Minnesota, or explained which rack system works best for carrying a Stand Up Paddle Board on top of a 2007 Chevy Malibu, or suggested which pair of Darn Tough socks would be the most appropriate on a cold night in southern North Dakota, a hot day in northern South Carolina, or a perfect morning in eastern West Virginia. When I’ve answered all their questions and completed the transactions, I thank them for their business, assure them one more time that they won’t be paying sales tax, promise that their order will arrive in time for their imminent vacations, and say bye-bye. Assuming all goes well with their orders, I most likely will never hear from them again. The Darn Tough socks I recommended may have been the greatest socks they’ve ever worn, and I’ll never know. And so it goes.

Back when I was working on the sales floor at the shop, I would also help a lot of people choose the right gear every day, but a large percentage of the people streaming in are regular customers who have been in many times before and will be back many times again. Our shop appreciates and relies upon this base of regular customers immensely, and we try our hardest to keep it. These are folks who you know by name, who you build relationships with over the years as you watch their kids grow out of the bikes you helped them buy a few summers ago, and who you consider friends.

Regrettably, tragedy occasionally strikes, and you lose a few friends. Recently, on June 24th, we lost a very good customer and friend of ours, Dave Blumenthal, who succumbed to injuries he sustained when he struck an oncoming pickup truck on a remote mountain road while competing in the Tour Divide Mountain Bike Race, the longest and arguably most challenging mountain bike race on the planet.

The Tour Divide consists of a single stage—a 2,745-mile stage that stretches from Banff, Alberta, to the Mexican border in Antelope Wells, NM. There is no liability waiver, no entry fee, no support, and no prize money. There is, however, plenty of climbing. Crossing the Continental Divide 29 times, there is more than 200,000 feet of it. If 2,745 miles and 200,000 feet of climbing sounds like fun to you, here is how it goes:

At the start of the race, the organizers cheer you on as they start the race clock. Three weeks or so later, if you’ve managed to not drop out, you cheer yourself on and mark your time via the web when you cross the finish. Last year, out of 42 starters, only 16 made it to the end. The only concern the organizers have between the start and finish is that you follow the course. Any other concern is the responsibility of you, the rider. If your rear derailleur falls off, it’s up to you to fix it. If you need to sleep after the day’s ride—Dave’s goal was to average 120 miles—it’s up to you to provide your own waterproof and bug-proof shelter in which to lay your weary bones. If you’re hungry, it’s up to you to fix dinner. You just better have brought the right tools, bivy gear—a tent would be much too cumbersome and heavy—and plenty of nourishment in your packs. Staying in a motel is totally acceptable, but the race clock doesn’t stop when you check in. Regarding packs, Dave, also known as “Packman,” designed and hand built his own. Customizing and building better packs for various endeavors was just one of his numerous gifts. The Tour Divide is a race that requires the rider to be ultra fit and ultra prepared. Dave was both, and there was no question he had what it takes to finish strong.

I met Dave and his wife, Lexi, five years ago, when they put on a slide show chronicling their successful hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,650-mile trail that, like the Tour Divide route, stretches from Mexico to Canada. They completed the route in 158 days and came home with one amazing story to tell. I didn’t know Dave before the presentation, but afterward, my impression was that he was possibly the neatest guy I had ever met. Obviously, he was insanely adventurous and multifaceted—or perhaps, due to his inherent passion for the most difficult and grueling challenges, simply insane—but I was equally impressed with his sincere humility, friendliness, intelligence, creativity, and ingenuity. In a word, he was inspirational. These qualities are what anyone who knew him will use to describe him.

After the presentation, I would always look forward to seeing him and Lexi whenever they came into the shop. Once they had settled back into a more normal life in central Vermont, rather than planning for and heading out on a new “adventure a bit beyond reason,” as he called them, they instead brought their beautiful daughter, Linnaea, into the world.

Dave had written in his blog that he was most truly himself when he was in the mountains, and his final days were spent conquering one mountain after another. It is a small comfort knowing he left fulfilling another of his many dreams. I can’t express how sorry I am that he’s gone. To Dave’s family, I will miss him, our shop will miss him, and the community will miss him. We would have loved to see the latest slide show.

Ryan James Leclerc

Ryan James Leclerc used to be single and used to work on the sales floor of Onion River Sports. He is now married and works in the office of Onion River Sports. The creative license he procured in a back alley allows him to occasionally narrate from the past as though it were the present.