No one wanted to talk about it. A Mountain Bike Hall of Fame cyclist went missing with barely a clue as to what happened. The sheriff found a broken pistol butt and a few drops of blood in scuffed dust, but mountain bike pioneer Mike Rust was gone. It blipped across the state news in Colorado, but quickly faded. Not a single cycling publication carried the news that one of their own was gone.
At Grit & Thistle Film, we knew the story but sat on it for a couple of years. Sometimes it takes a bit of thinking before jumping into a story in your backyard that mixes local friends, a band of brothers, wild personalities and a missing person in the wide open American West. And murder. No one knew where Mike Rust was, but they knew there was blood in the dirt and he never came home. Then, as the 4th anniversary of Mike’s disappearance, we knew it was now or never. We scheduled the first shoot for the exact date that Mike went missing.
We didn’t know the Rolling Rust Brothers at that time, but we knew they’d been stirring the pot for some time in the San Luis Valley and they knew the story better than anyone. We asked them to come down to Mike’s property and help us shoot a reenactment of what they think happened to Mike the night he disappeared. They all showed up and we shot it on the exact date, the exact time of day, the exact place it happened. Whatever it is that happened.
I think it was hard for them. We were strangers. We asked them to play the bad guys in the reenactment. They did it. The shoot days were long and cold. We were lucky again when actor Curtis Imrie agree to help us out and showed up for the shoot while driving back from California on his own film project. Curtis lost a brother when he was young, so he knew what the family was feeling. He played the role of Mike for that first shoot and also later narrated the film for us.
We shot most of The Rider & The Wolf with just a three person team and an absolute minimal amount of gear and budget. This set the tone for the whole film – the family and friends of Mike Rust were all in, helping us with shoots, interviews, connections. The local mountain bike community also got completely involved – riding the trails for us, carrying heavy gear down mountain trails, spreading the word. We tried to shoot all the bike scenes on bikes and trails made or inspired by Mike Rust and his business partner Don McClung.
Over the next year we shot scene after scene, sometimes going totally down the rabbit hole on wild goose chases. We watched Marty Rust drop cameras down abandoned mine shafts and search deserted cabins. We watched the Rusts and their friends as they met informants and dug up ash pits in the forest. We met earnest psychics in darkened rooms to hear how they’d talked with Mike’s spirit. We listened to theory after theory about who killed Mike the Bike. But out there in the valley, lips were sealed.
The wider bike community eventually came around with a flurry of stories, radio programs and tv shows inspired by the film, but not a single bike company wanted anything to do with the film in any way. However, we did receive the support of two great entities. The first is Oskar Blues Brewery here in Colorado. The second was Telluride Mountainfilm who awarded us a Mountainfilm Commitment Grant.
We still don’t know what happened to Mike, so it was also hard to know when to shop shooting and start editing. But we eventually did, and a number of talented editors worked on the film for many months to tease out Mike’s story. We premiered the film at Telluride Mountainfilm in 2015 and took the show on the road screening the film at festivals, theaters and anywhere else people wanted to play it. At least one of the Rolling Rust Brothers have attended most shows to answer questions about Mike’s life as a mountain bike pioneer and his disappearance.
The Rider & The Wolf represents independent documentary filmmaking in a fairly pure form – weaving together the talents, resources and ideas of many people. We cannot thank them enough.
The Rider & The Wolf
Director/Cinematography/Writing – Nathan Ward
Editors – Claude DeMoss and Lyman Smith
Narration/Actor – Curtis Imrie
Aerials – Chris Vallier
Sound Mix – Jason McDaniel
VFX – Josh Jones
Digital Cinema Authoring – Peder Morgenthaler
Additional footage – Carl Rust, Mike Rust, Mountain Bike Hall of Fame, News 4 – Colorado Springs, Frank Staub, Wende Craig, Morrow Dirt Club, Jamie Kripke
Big Thanks to – Carl and Nancy Rust, Paul Rust, Mary Rust, Annie Rust Crandall, Charla McGaugh, Jason Shelman (Subculture Cyclery), Wade Veazey, Mary Anne Bavaria, Brian Gravestock, Chris and Wendy Mike, Scott Link, Jason Willis, Chris Swan, Anton van Leuken (Salida Bike Company), Stephen Sexton, Blake Veazey, Gary Fisher, Don Cook, Joshua Bean, Jerry Braden, Don Bendell, Jerry Mosier, Nick Tolsma, Saguache County Sheriff’s Department, Mark Werts, Nick Watson, Chris Kassar, Dennis Popp and all the other many people who helped us make the film.