A film on the life, and disappearance, of bike visionary Mike Rust.
By Chris Kassar
Two minutes into The Rider and the Wolf, you’ll find yourself wondering: “Am I in the wrong theater? I thought this was a film about mountain biking.” It is, but don’t come expecting harrowing descents, cliff-hucking, and a thumping soundtrack. It’s a docu-narrative, not a vapid action sports flick. The subject is Mike Rust, a largely unknown but influential cyclist who vanished from his remote Colorado home more than five years ago.
Rust was a Hall of Fame mountain biker who pioneered many of the best trails around Colorado mountain towns Salida and Crested Butte and developed much of the technology that shaped today’s bikes. More than that, he inspired many to explore the world on two wheels so they too would discover what he believed: “There’s nothing that couldn’t be done on a bicycle.”
Yet on March 31, 2009, when Rust returned to the 80 acres in Saguache, Colorado holding the homestead he pieced together from other people’s cast-offs—including an old trailer, random doors, and bike tubes—he realized the place had been burglarized. He called a friend to say he was going after the perpetrators. No one has heard from him since. Evidence, including a bloody vest and handgun butt, implies he was murdered. But there is still no body.
The media—cycling or otherwise—barely noticed Rust’s disappearance. There was an initial search and a few stories, but then nothing. So in January 2013, Salida filmmakers Nathan Ward and Sam Bricker began digging. The result artfully interweaves a celebration of Rust’s extraordinary life with a penetrating and painful exploration of a family who cannot rest until they find answers. Scenes include an intense hypothetical reenactment of Rust’s last hours on the planet; a fraught brother wandering the desert for clues; and a landscape dominated by snakes, cows, wind, and sage. As viewers, we feel the immensity of the San Luis Valley and the hopelessness it breeds.
But the film isn’t all darkness. Rust often spoke in poems, crafted model airplanes out of old beer cans, and challenged himself to live on $5,000 a year. We get to know him through grainy childhood videos, interviews with loved ones, and eerie, but entertaining self videos that Rust shot to document the life he’d chosen—savoring coffee in his sun room with what he called its “million dollar view.”
“We want people to walk away pondering Mike’s life as much as his disappearance,” says Bricker. “How will you allow Mike’s story to change you?”
From the Early Summer 2014 issue. Visit riderandwolfmovie.com for more information.