Chasing Peter’s Ghost in Telluride, by Rob Quinn

“Money don’t talk. It swears” -Bob Dylan.

Dateline. Sometime in August. Telluride, CO

If you buy-in to that classic Dylan quote. They are swearing like a Sailor in the port in Telluride. 

In the past 25 years I’ve seen that box canyon change from an outlaw hideout, which it was with Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid’s gang. To a laid back, end-of-the-road mountain town, to what it appears to be now—Aspen with parking. 

The ski / mountain bike bum, an endangered species everywhere seems to be extinct in Telluride. At least in Aspen you can move down canyon and take the bus. No such luck here. We’ll talk economics later. Let’s talk about ghosts now. My ghost has business to finish here, namely, my cousin Peter from Red Wing Minnesota. Yep, Red Wing, Minnesota. Home to the famous Red Wing shoe brand. Impress your friends at dinner by noting the original Red Wing work boot had a light-colored sole so the farm wives could tell if you were tracking in cow-shit. Red Wing was also famous for the State Boy’s home where my Uncle Carl was Headmaster. An imposing structure right outta Harry Potter. 

Life was hard from the start for Cousin Pete. Born with such a severe case of club feet that he spent the first 12 years of his life in casts after a mind-numbing succession of operations. Mom remarked that if Uncle Carl did not have such a great job and insurance, cousin Peter would surely be a cripple for life. 

Pete simply got around by crawling. Playing in the midwestern streets by dragging his casted legs everywhere the other kids went. Kids can be cruel, and a favorite ploy was to spit on “Peter the cripple” and simply run away. I was told they had to replace his casts weekly and that Aunt Mary could track him down by simply following the plaster lines. Kind of like messing with an alligator, all’s fun until it catches you. This experience gave Peter two things; A freakishly strong upper torso and a rattlesnake-mean personality. Operations complete, he would then spend the next few years at the best rehab facility in the state, building legs to match the chassis. 

The medical miracle complete, Peter beat the odds by becoming a formidable football player and skier. Peter was a two-way starter on the high school team and a ranked ski racer. He never forgot who spit at him when he was little. A characteristic that would define his personality in later years. 

Fast forward to August 2020. It’s been a hot, weird summer. Why not make like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid and bust a move to hideout in Telluride? Better yet why not bust a move with my 25-year-old-daughter Erin. Since graduating from Fort Lewis a few years ago, she’s been climbing the corporate ladder and has become one of those cross-fit people! 

I’m hoping this trip can provide the impetus to get back in the saddle. I’m also wanting to sneak back to a simpler time when we’d drive all over the West to races and events. Maybe I’m looking for few ghosts this trip to shore-up some unfinished business.  

We locked and loaded with a pretty-basic game plan. Go for a good ride every day. Stay in Durango for two nights and Telluride for two nights. I will take care of accommodations in Durango and Erin’s got Telluride. I suspected I got the better end of the deal, but I had no idea how loudly Telluride swears these days. We also had a bonafide mission. Drop off two giant boxes of Optic Nerve brand glasses that were donated for The Fort Lewis Cycling team’s fund raiser “The Fall Blaze” that was run virtually this year on 9/26/2020. 

We hit the road bright and early and made our first stop at Kenosha pass and got the first ride under our legs. The classic out-n-back was deserted on a Monday morning. Flashes of the old, simpler days find us. Just riding bikes. No need to talk. We passed a few zoned-out Colorado trail hikers but made the grind to the river before lunch rock and turned er’ back. The one thing history teaches you on that ride is the way home is tougher than the way out. A perfect 3 hours in the books. 

On to Johnson Corner for a gourmet lunch from a food truck across from The Travel complex. We both know Durango is still a grind and we’ve got miles to travel. 

I didn’t have a hotel reservation as we pulled into The Motel Durango. A reliable price point place we have stayed at before. I prefer to give my money to the merchant directly instead of some .com site. I pulled in and got two nights at a-very-good-rate. I’d rather spend my money in town. 

While unloading, we notice the old hangout has gone downhill since our Fort Lewis days and there seemed to be more “long term residents” than travelers. We grab dinner at the local’s choice; Homeslice Pizza and enjoy the Nuggets game and the quirky Durango personality. 

The next day while we prepare to ride some classic Durango trails (Powerline). The in-town Durango trails are epic! We see some of Erin’s former teammates that stayed in town after graduation riding. Their fitness, is evident and impressive. They obviously ride these trails every day. We end the day at the zero magnetic point in Durango. The Ska Brewing Company, followed by yet another ritual anybody with two wheels under them abides to: Fish Tacos at Zia. 

I get a text that Fort Lewis coach Dave Hagen wants to meet and talk business. I invite him over to the hotel “Pool” watching the world go by with a few purchases from Ska. Dave arrives and the night erupts into a “COPS” like novela with Durango’s finest dispatched to the hotel. Oh well…

First things first. We gotta ride. We take the spectacular drive to Telluride and put the ship down on top of Lizard Head pass. The Lizards Head to our stage left. We kit up and hit the famous Galloping Goose trail that will take you all the way into town. We drop a quick 2k to Priest Lake. 

I wished I would have brought my SUP. Looked like half of Telluride was here on this hot Wednesday afternoon. We continue to where the single track gets interesting. We descended for over an hour and I was reminded, what goes down must come up, unless you have a shuttle connection. Realizing we have dropped four thousand feet, I reason the most direct route back to the truck is, you guessed it, straight up Highway 145 cutting our climb to 3k. I plug in the pod and settle in to my happy place for the next hour while we grind. The pain was forgotten with the prospect of dropping down into one of my favorite towns; Telluride. Home of my cousin Pete’s ghost. 

On the way into town Erin is in a reflective mood. She’s working for a large software company. First with the crusher commute downtown, now virtual. Boy those ex-teammates looked fit and happy. Was she doing the right thing working long hours or would life be better ripping the local trails at 10:00 AM midweek?. Ah, the meaning of life debate. Best saved for dinner tonight at The Telluride Brewery. 

We check into our “room”, it’s tight but clean at $200 per night. The lot is full of nice-looking outta stater’s driving new SUV’s. I promised to balance the budget by picking up meals in Telluride. I “swear” that won’t be a problem.  

We awoke sore and beat-up. We climbed 12k in three days and we are ready to take it easy.

“No problem” I suggest. Let’s take the Gondi to the top and shred the trails around the Mountain. A trick I’ve learned after 25 years of coming here. 

Dateline: Early 70’s. The word was Peter was moving to a town called Telluride. They were just about to open the mountain to skiing and he was out of Red Wing. While the rest of the family was kissed with good looks, some may say Peter was not. With cystic acne scars, an oddly over developed torso, a quick fuse and big hard quick fists, if Peter were alive today, he’d resemble “Rip” from the Yellowstone TV show. Not somebody I’d cross.  Peter was a force to be reckoned with. He promptly set up shop bartending at The iconic new Sheridan hotel, earning a reputation as one of the first extreme skiers on the mountain with his signature 220 Kastle CPMS, Levis pants and jacket, work gloves and never ever a hat. He was the alpha dog in a valley full-of them. He would skateboard down Lizard Head Pass in the summers on a toy board not easily compared to the long-range long boards seen today. No gloves. No Helmet. Often holding his signature Michelob. 

“They move it through Miami, And sell it in LA. They hide it up in Telluride, I mean it’s here to stay”. -Smugglers Blues by Glenn Frey.

I had not been to Telluride when Pete was there. But I was starting to hear stories that he played big and hard on many varsity levels in Telluride. When former Eagle front man Glenn Frey released the album “The Allnighter” and his song “Smugglers Blues” hit the charts, I knew the Telluride “line” was about Pete. Sure enough it was. 

Every name’s an alias in case somebody squeals. It’s the lure of easy money that’s got a very strong appeal, Perhaps you’d understand it better standing in my shoes, It’s the ultimate enticement, it’s the smugglers blues”.

All good or bad things must come to an end. A decade ago, Peter tapped out from Telluride. He had bad case of the Smugglers blues. It’s a tough life and you gotta know when to get out.  He returned to Red Wing, got cleaned up (save for an immediate membership into the Midwest’s most notorious Motorcycle gang). Unfortunately Peter died on a blind corner on his Harley. An early and oddly befitting end for this larger than life personality. 

For the past 25 years I have gone to Telluride looking for Peter’s ghost…and man was it easy to find. I’d simply roll into the iconic Telluride dive, “The Last Dollar”…look for a local looking dude about Pete’s age and walk up introduce myself and say I am “Pete the Meat’s (his Telluride nickname) cousin Rob, and would you like to talk story (Hawaiian for shoot-the-shit). Over the years that intro has often started a conversation that ended a day later. It’s bought me more beers and shots “Too Pete” and usually gave me a sort of inherited locals status we Front Rangers die for. But this last trip, the ghost could not be found and I think it may be dead. 

Pete’s contemporaries were in short supply and a few I recognized did not look good. The sure-thing Last Dollar has been remodeled. Our treat was to eavesdrop on the ill-mannered owner where he basically talked shit about his customers and created an aura of negative energy even his over-the-top-nice pair of bartenders could not whitewash.

Last Dollar Saloon. You’ve seen the last dollar out of my money clip. Money don’t talk. It swears.

Our plan to take the free Gondola was changed when we were informed it now costs $50 to jump off at the top of  with a bike. Whoa, we sure as hell won’t pay $50 for a Gondi ride because that’s what a Cheeseburger dinner will cost tonight in town. We’ll grind er’ up. We Quinn’s have grit and we are cheap. Opps, can’t do that now, all uphill access closed.

Shucks, as they say in Red Wing. We worked our way around the closed trails and made it back to town. Erin had had enough and went back to nap, I rode the old stand-by Jud Wiebe, that is a 2 mile straight up the gut heart breaker then up to the waterfall on top of the box canyon. That concluded four big days. 

As we rumbled out of Telluride towards Montrose admitting that progress sometimes ain’t pretty, I also know change is constant and how we accept it and deal with it defines us as human beings. Peter’s ghost? Not so easy to find these days.

As I put the truck into gear, I sit happy knowing I had a cousin that wrote his own rules and broke a lot of others. A man who took shit from no man on earth and died with a smile and a toothpick in his mouth. My hope is that maybe a little bit of Peter’s ghost resides in me. May that spirit never die. 

Now I know what a ghost is. Unfinished business that’s what”

Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.