May 19, 2015

A seminal rider and an unsolved mystery: Q&A with the director of The Rider & The Wolf

Mike “The Bike” Rust was an instrumental figure in the early days of mountain biking, a formidable cyclist with enormous enthusiasm for the sport, an uncompromising iconoclast and a long-time bike shop owner in Salida, Colorado. In March of 2009, he vanished after a confrontation at his home in the remote Saguache Valley. Nobody has seen him since.

Filmmaker Nathan Ward, who grew up in Salida, directed The Rider & The Wolf, which received a Mountainfilm Commitment Grant and chronicles Rust’s life and probes the question: What happened to Mike Rust? Mountainfilm Program Director Katie Klingsporn interviewed Ward about the project. The following is excerpted from their interview.

What does it mean to be a Mountainfilm grantee, and how has the grant helped the project?

The Mountainfilm Commitment Grant came at a really good time for us. We’d searched high and low to try to find supporters for our film, which was almost entirely self-funded, but no one in the bike world seemed to want to touch a film about the murder of an unknown but influential mountain biker. It seemed like everyone was just looking for beautiful pictures and beautiful people in a world where everything goes right all the time. This isn’t that kind of story. It’s a slice of real life in a part of Colorado that no one really talks about. The Mountainfilm Commitment Grant gave us confidence that we were on the right path. We’ll never forget it.

In the course of this project, what did you learn about Mike Rust in terms of both his character and his legacy?

He was a really quirky guy for sure. He was definitely one of those people living out on the fringe. And because of what he he was doing, he inspired others to pursue an element of that own in their life. People who knew him were definitely affected a lot by him. There was something about his personality that left a mark on everybody he was friends with.

Along with the story of Mike Rust, the film, to me, was also a history lesson about the town of Salida and its bike culture, which was shaped and influenced in large part by the shop he started with Don McClung.

The bike shop was on the fringe for sure. It was a hippie bike shop. There was only one shop in town. Salida has three now in its downtown ... They changed the perspective around what can be done with mountain biking. Growing up, I thought, "Is there any place that’s less busy than this?’ And then bikes came and it was like, this is really cool. Now Salida has a healthy bike culture.

What is your hope for the film?

My hope is just to tell an interesting film about a unique person. His family’s main goal is to just get the story out again. I think they’re seeking some sort of resolution. The film has the power to get people talking about it again. It was one of those things where you just wonder, why is no one telling this story anywhere?

There’s certainly also an element of it in that you should follow your dream whatever it is regardless of the societal pressures around you. There are prices in doing that. But when you do it, you make more of a difference in people’s lives.

How do you feel about premiering at Mountainfilm?

As a still photographer and writer, I covered Mountainfilm for several years, every year searching for another magazine to cover the festival. And every year I’d leave thinking about the power of film and the reality that I needed to make one. I still drop jaw every time I drive into the valley for the festival (and I’m from Colorado). I think it’s the magic mix of the people, the setting and the quality of the films that sticks with me when I drive out of the valley at the end of the weekend ready to teeth into the meat of the world. It makes me hungry to make something new and better. Telluride Mountainfilm was my first choice for our premiere. There is no other outdoor film festival like this in North America.

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