There is something alluring about the great outdoors and seeing the world. But most prefer to see it from the comfort a vehicle, whether that be car, airplane, train or boat.
For a select few, the world is better observed from the vantage point of ones two feet, the same two feet that took him or her to his kaleidoscopic destination.
Both Frank Lenz and Mike Rust, whose biographies are spun out below, met tragic ends in their pursuit of an unrestrained, natural life. These men, driven by wanderlust, would pay for their freelance attitude towards the world and distain for traditional social living with their lives. Yet, both individuals are integral parts of mountain bike history even if the cultures that they knew were so different from one another. Lenz and Rust came from their own respective century and unique historical era. The 1890s and the 1980s were both unique times in history where the concept of pedal-power was hitting a new heights.
Frank Lenz grew up in a time of the horse and carriage, when the bicycle was just gaining popularity. It was a time before the car was regarded as mainstream, much less even a viable option for travel. The idea of cycling was so big that everyone wanted to buy one, even if they couldn't afford it. With high demand for the new 'safety' bike, several companies were producing these wheels. Unfortunately, the retail prices for these cycles became so low that that many bike sellers, sold themselves out of business.
Now, fast forward nine decades. With the heavy consumerism of President Ronald Reagan's economics, in his young adulthood Mike Rust was witness to the increase in life amenities, the consequential loss of freedom from -- or shall I say bondage to -- our "stuff". The wealth of the U.S. created a need for instant gratification. The late 1900s was marked by advanced technology and of course the ongoing reliance on the automobile. It was still before cellphones trumped conversation and speed precedes the appreciation of the moment, but the attitudes were nearing that impersonal nature, and our way of life bred laziness and entitlement. The bike, specifically the mountain version, was providing a clear-cut way out of that mind frame -- emphasizing self reliance and resourcefulness.
Despite these historical/cultural contrasts between Lentz and Rust's respective generations, it was their love affair with the cycle that puts them into the same club; not to mention an obsession for adventure, rugged individualism, their unassuming nature, and willingness to face trials and tribulation with nobody else to turn to but themselves.
They both sought to make a mark on the world, and to do so atop of a two-wheeled stallion.
An out-of-water westward bound explorer - Ferdinand Magellan or Francis Drake - this pioneer of offroad cycling was striking out into an old frontier on new territory: the horse-less saddle. Bicycles were developing into something beyond a mere fad in the last decade of the 19th century. Its popularity among the masses increased, making it more than a hobby for the wealthy. The introduction of the "Safety" bike had replaced the high-rolling, dangerous and cumbersome Penny farthing, by using two smaller equal sized wheels and a chain drive. With that the value of human-powered, one man transport was taking firm hold of the American psyche.
On May 15 Lenz took on the mission to circle the globe on this single-speed "safety', financed by a popular outdoors magazine of the time "Outing". Carrying a heavy camera and his journal, Lenz was tasked with bringing back a sensational story, pictures included, of his epic journey.
Taking to heart the phrase: "Go West Young Man", Lenz began his trek from Pittsburgh. After taking a detour east to Washington D.C. to get a passport, he rode up to New York and thenceforward was bound for the California Coast. His diary indicated the use of railroads for through passage and across water ways, as roads were often not the best option. This method of crossing deep ravines or rivers was particularly dramatic when Lenz met a train up close and personal. Caught on a trestle he was forced to hang off the edge of the violently, shaking track with his bike suspended in mid-air 100 feet above the earth, while a chugging locomotive rumbled by.
Upon arriving in San Francisco, his next step was to take a ship across the Pacific Ocean before getting back to pedal-pushing in Yokahama, Japan. After crossing to the Chinese mainland, he could continue the trip on his own power, however, the actual cycling was at times hit and miss with the extremely poor road conditions and severe weather. Plus, the encounter of avoid hostile natives complicated his path, during his traverse through China. At one point he lost part of his ear in an attack. Difficult passage in the tropical Burma led him to revert back to the seas, setting his wheels on a ship deck enroute to India. After crossing the Sub-Continent he detoured to Calcutta and took to the waters again to avoid the notoriously dangerous peoples of Afghanistan, not to mention the difficult mountain crossings during winter months.
Indeed it had been over two years when Lenz's fatal, epic journey would reach its last leg. Spinning through Iran (known then as Persia) and almost to the European Continent, Lenz entered the Turkish Ottoman Empire where fighting was frequent between Kurds and Armenians.
It is somewhere along this segment that Lenz met his demise, believed by the American ambassador to have been murdered by a violent Kurdish tribe in the aftermath of his disappearance .
William Sachtleben, his globe-pedaling predecessor who successfully completed the round-the-world trip in a west to east fashion in 1887 on a high wheeler, was sent to Turkey to learn the truth of what befell the young cyclist. After Sachtleben's investigation, the details were revealed and their worst fears were confirmed. He had apparently angered a Kurdish chief while passing through a village. As a result he was then ambushed and killed by bandits. With his fate determined the news would be brought home to his anguishing mother and a story of his magnificent adventure would be written with a disastrous conclusion.
A son of German immigrants, Lenz's undertaking was greater than any world tour done by bike today. There were few good roads and no such thing as VISAs in the 19th century. This likely made transport especially difficult and good communication with the natives critical in the undeveloped and primitive lands of Asia, specifically China, Southeast Asia, India and the Middle East. In fact, he even paid natives to haul his heavy, steel-framed bike through the swamps, and was ultimately forced to utilize water transport via the Indian Sea and again in the Persian Gulf, in an effort to stay true to his estimated timeline of one year. Even so, he had already journeyed over two years when he reached what was guesstimated to be his final resting place in Erzerum, north-eastern Turkey.
In 1976 the first mountain bike was ridden and pushed across 12,700 foot Pearl Pass from the poor, dead mining town of Crested Butte, Colorado to the affluent town of Aspen. With these humble beginnings an annual race / tour formed from that first 2-day excursion on those old single-speed, balloon tire bikes, which sported coaster brakes.
Four years later a 21-year-old kid named Mike Rust joined the venture. Riding with all his gear over that very same steep and unforgiving jeep trail, he eventually reached the apex and flew down rough-n-tumble to Aspen. The following day he returned to Crested Butte via the picturesque Maroon Bells, which today are part of a designated wilderness off limits to cycling.
Earlier in that same year of 1980 Rust and a whole group of cyclist had ridden 400 some odd miles from their home in Colorado Springs looking for a route over the Continental Divide. Their ultimate destination was of course Crested Butte. Upon arriving in 'the Butte' Rust immediately took to his new environment, feeding his passion for cycles with their jimmy-rigged bikes.
Within five years he and his friend Don McClung had started a bike shop in Crested Butte. Having built his first bike when he was about 12-years-old, his inventive side reemerged. He welded a new sort of frame with an elevated and shortened chain stay, placing the wheels closer together. With a lower center of gravity, this concept enhanced the bike's performance on tight switch backs and rougher tracks. Calling his bike the "Shorty", in time the concept took hold in the growing world of mountain bikes. Following this invention, Rust was next inspired to tweek the antique bicycle: 'Ordinary' (high wheeler or Penny Farthing). He built his own version of the late 1800s model, and rode it in Denver Post's famous tour "Ride The Rockies" with his brothers. He was also part of the inspiration for an annual "The 4th of July Crest Trail Ride", a tour that starts at the now well-known mountain bike destination of Monarch Crest above 12,000 feet in elevation. An avid outdoorsman and bike racer, in 1991 he was inducted into the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame.
Resourceful and preferring a simple life that required more survival skills than most people could comprehend, Mike built his own house in the high desert mountain country of Saguache County. To add to the uniqueness of the man and his moral code, he had constructed his home out of free or recycled materials, utilizing solar power for heat and propane gas for his refrigerator.
In 2009 Rust disappeared from his homestead. Having returned to his pad in the late afternoon of March 31 he saw that his belongings were disturbed and immediately took off down a two-track trail on his motor bike in pursuit of the trespassers. He contacted his girlfriend before taking off to find the burglars, but was never seen again. Four days later, his brothers and the local law enforcement was on the search for Rust, when his bloody jacket and the broken butt of a 22. rifle was found, but what happened to his body would remain a mystery.
Already a gregarious young boy in Colorado Springs when he came of age, he took his independence to new heights. Called a frontiersman in the modern era, Mike, his brother Paul said of him, was somebody who could have crossed the country 100 or 200 years ago in a wagon. "Louis and Clark would have liked to have him along for the trip," he said.