We’ve just finished packing our sag wagon outside the entrance to Canyonlands National Park for our four-day mountain bike trip on the 71.2-mile White Rim Trail when my friend Paul Hobson gathers us in a circle. “This one’s for Doug,” he says. “As he’d say, ‘Get her done while you can can.’”
The eulogy is for Doug Pensinger, a renowned, Golden-based sports photographer for Getty Images, famed for shooting everything from the Tour de France to NFL, NHL, NBA and NHL games, who passed away unexpectedly from a heart condition in June 2016. His memorial service drew a Who’s Who of fellow photographers. It also drew us, his mountain bike friends, to partake in one of his favorite big desert rides.
Part of Doug Pensinger is with us: His friend Tom Reynolds carries a tin of his ashes to scatter off Musselman Arch en route. He also hands out commemorative multi-colored “DP” stickers, modeled off the UCi Cycling world champion jersey and designed by fellow Tour de France photographer Chris Graythen. “I had a few hundred printed, and a lot of them are going to the Tour de France where we’ll put them on every damn thing there,” says Graythen. “I can barely put into words how much Doug meant and did for us.”
Affixing the stickers to water bottles, bike tubes and iPhones, we head off, pedaling into the wind and the 34 miles to Camp 1 at Potato Bottom. Before descending the final pass to a campfire, we take in the sunset melting behind the Maze across the Green River. Doug would have done the same, giving us photo pointers on our phones.
Starting his photography career at age 15 as a newspaper freelancer in Pennsylvania in 1980, he landed his first staff job at the Gannett-owned Public Opinion in nearby Chambersburg, before launching a freelance career including The Washington Post, Associated Press, Time magazine and Sports Illustrated. Later, he’d cover the invasion of Panama, the Gulf War, Bosnia and Somalia for The Army Times. A staff gig with Allsport later evolved into a fulltime Getty Images position, which took him across the globe to cover the Olympics, several World Championships, the Tour de France, World Cups, World Series, Super Bowls and more.
At camp, we toast him and his beloved Washington Redskins before tuning our bikes and turning in. The next day, on a 20-miler to Camp 2 at Murphy’s Hogback, we stop to explore one of Doug’s favorite a slot canyons. When sunrays caress the sandstone, we stage photos, like Doug would have made us do. We do the same at White Crack, a majestic overlook en route to our final camp at Airport. Vistas like these that provided Pensinger an escape from the more corporate confines of the gridiron.
At Musselman Arch, Reynolds stops, saying, “At least we’re near the end so Doug got to make the entire Rim trip counter-clockwise like he always wanted.” He takes the tin of ashes out and flings Doug’s remains into the air. Like his photos often do for viewers, the wind carries them upward, challenging our senses, before they adhere to the laws of physics and flutter down to the canyon floor far below.
The Pensinger Photography Fund has been established in Doug’s honor to support aspiring photographers. clarkhulingsfund.org/pensinger/