Steamboat Springs When the Fat Tire Dirtbag mountain bike group rides together the next time, it will be in Missing Man Formation, Don Little said, an idea that the "missing man," former U.S. Air Force fighter pilot Mike Kane, could appreciate.
Their last ride together on Sept. 26 was supposed to be an easy trip up Mad Creek Trail. All six men had been up the trail several times before.
"It was not the kind of ride we would be concerned about," group member Steve Kelton said.
Kelton and Kane started ahead of the seven-man group and all were to meet at their usual regrouping spot near the Forest Service gate. When the last man arrived, there were only five riders. Kane was missing.
Little and Jupiter Jones rode back down the trail to find him.
"At that point, we still weren't expecting anything," Little said. Then they saw Kane's bike a ways off the trail down a steep, rocky incline.
The men had a cell phone with them and made a 911 call. Jones and Little administered CPR until Search and Rescue arrived.
"They were very fast," Fred Garrison said. "They didn't waste any time getting organized."
But there was nothing to be done. Routt County Coroner Doug Allen said Kane died from a skull fracture. His body was found 175 feet from the edge of the trail, he said.
"We'll never know what happened," Kelton said. There are two sections of the Mad Creek Trail that are technical and require concentration. Kane fell on a section between those two spots.
"It was not a steep section," Little said. "He was such a strong rider and it was such a meaningless, easy spot."
Kane was also a very cautious rider, the men said.
The men rode together every Tuesday and Thursday.
Kane's wife, Chantal Kane, said Mike was not the type to surf the Internet, but on Monday and Wednesday nights, he would sit by the computer waiting for an e-mail from the group announcing which trail they would try the next day.
"We've been on more than 30 different trails in this county," Kelton said. "Everything we know of we've tried."
Almost everyone in the riding group is older than 50.
"Mike was a role model for us," member Gordon Jones said. "We would all say, 'I want to be like Mike when I'm 68.'"
To Kane, life was not to be wasted on the couch or in bed. He was up every morning by 4 a.m., said his son of the same name, Mike Kane.
He spent the first hour and a half of every day stretching. Then he would mountain bike up Spring Creek, if he wasn't meeting his group, have lunch and head to the Steamboat Springs Health and Recreation Center for a swim, or he would meet his kayaking group to go paddling.
"People might misinterpret him as being compulsive," Kelton said, "but being active was happiness for him."
The men remembered him saying, almost daily, "We're so lucky to live here" or "It just doesn't get better than this" or "We are lucky enough to be healthy enough to do this."
Mike and Chantal Kane moved to Steamboat from Switzerland in 1995 after Mike retired from Pan-Am Airlines, where he was a commercial pilot.
They spent their honeymoon here 10 years earlier and fell in love with the place and the people.
After Kane's death, Chantal was standing on her balcony with Mike's older brother, Don.
"He asked me why we loved Steamboat so much," Chantal said. "It's the people, I told him."
In Switzerland, Mike had skiing buddies, Chantal said, but never in his life did he have a group of friends like he did in Steamboat.
The Fat Tire Dirtbags is a group of about 21 guys, Little said. "That's a lot of guys our age to be doing this kind of thing," he said.
"We are all expert riders. We go out there knowing that there are risks," Little said.
"Every one of us has at least been to the ER," Kelton said. "But (Kane's death) was outside of the range of possibilities for us. We always managed to get every person and every bike back to the parking lot."
In honor of Mike Kane's life, the members of the mountain bike group plan to have a dedication ceremony of two benches along Spring Creek Trail. Spring Creek was Mike's favorite trail.
Little said it took Kane about 48 minutes to ride from the parking lot of the Spring Creek Trailhead to Buffalo Pass Road. Chantal estimated he might have taken the trail 80 times this summer.
"The newspaper mentioned that a 68-year-old mountain biker died last week, but that's not reflective of who he was, what a strong rider he was or how tight our group of riders is. It's more of a brotherhood," Little said.
The date of the ceremony at Spring Creek will be announced as soon as the benches are made and everything is arranged, which could be as soon as two weeks, the men said.