Dave Wittlinger: On ‘The Ride’ with SmartWool
August 7, 2015
Something very special happens when you gather more than 80 outdoor industry folks, throw them on bikes and ask them to ride over 360 miles from Steamboat Springs to Salt Lake City, Utah.
As it happened to work out, I was present for this year's pilgrimage, which is now simply dubbed "The Ride."
When riders gathered at SmartWool headquarters in Steamboat last Friday, you could practically taste the excitement in the air. These mighty cyclists ranged in skill but shared a common bond, which I quickly learned was simply the SmartWool brand.
"This is just who we are," SmartWool President Mark Satkiewicz said. "We try to enable our employees to live the life they want to live."
And after spending four days surrounded by Satkiewicz and his co-workers, you could tell that SmartWool employees truly live the lifestyle they work to sell every day. There's no exaggerating that the call for adventure lives in their DNA.
The ride route itself took us from Steamboat to Meeker, through Vernal, onto Duchesne, and over to Park City, Utah. The road twisted across some of the most beautiful and natural scenery I have seen in a long while.
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The group battled days of extreme heat followed by rain and near hypothermic conditions. But even at these intense moments, you would hardly guess that anyone was suffering. The positivity I experienced from within the crowd is something I'll take with me for quite some time.
My roommate for several nights was J.R. Thompson, owner of Veloscapes, a bike touring company based in Steamboat Springs. When he and I chatted in private about what he thought of this event, he struck a cord with what I now know to be true.
"What's so cool about this group is that they are out here doing what they ask their customers to do every day, and it's inspiring to see," Thompson said.
Inspiring to say the least.
I road with Andy Wirth, CEO of Squaw Valley and former senior vice president of sales and marketing for Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp., for part of the time and heard first hand about the horrid sky diving accident he endured. Here's a guy who surgeons have cut into on 24 separate occasions to essentially piece together a nearly amputated arm. And yet he was pedaling his way along the red sands of Utah under 95-degree heat with an unabashed smile you could hardly try to ignore. His enthusiasm resonated so loudly that his fellow two-wheelers awarded him a framed honorary jersey to remember the experience for years to come.
There were so many uplifting stories I heard along the miles that I could easily take up an entire section of this newspaper.
There were people who had never ridden their bikes this far before blended with those who regularly take the podium in competitive events. And in between, there were those who simply wanted to take part in the vibe and culture of SmartWool.
As Joe Solomon, owner of Iconic Adventures and the head honcho in charge of details and group safety, likes to say, "You never know what's going to happen on these trips. But you can always count on seeing the group come together in the end."
As the group boarded its final transportation to get to Salt Lake in anticipation of the Outdoor Retailer summer trade show, I couldn't help but get caught up in the emotion. I can honestly say that I've witnessed a new side of the company whose socks have comforted my feet for many years.
Though I was only part of the tribe for a handful of days, SmartWool treated me like one of its own and for that I'm incredibly thankful.
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