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The Saga of Tobear

Dogs form the basis of almost all my best memories. Whether it’s skiing, hiking, sleeping in on a rainy Sunday morning or just sitting on the porch on a warm afternoon, a four-legged friend makes everything that matters more fun. Especially bicycling. More for the dog than you, because when you’re on a bicycle, you can finally move as fast as the pooch can run.

I learned that from my old dog Tobear, a Montana Malamute-Labrador mix who, when we lived in Jackson Hole, used to take off for weeks at a time. He would live on rabbits and prairie dogs and horseshit, and sometimes keg beer and pizza crusts as the stories go, until he eventually got quilled bad enough by a porcupine or was tired enough to finally come home.

When we skied together, he would get so bored with my slow-as-a-snail skinning pace that he would take off on the uptrack to grab some fresh turns with whomever was already coming down. He’d often lap me as I hiked, and by the time I finally reached the summit, be getting ready for his third or fourth run.

But I’ll never forget the joy on his face the first time I took him mountain biking: I loved the feel of pedaling out at a fast clip to see him running along beside me and constantly looking over to bark encouragement—“A-roo-roo-roo”—as if to say, “You’re really moving, man!”

It became our thing in the summer and the fall. As soon as I got home from work, he would start pacing between me and the bike, whining for some off road buddy time.

After I fell in love with a red-haired girl and we moved to Denver, I would still ride with Tobear around the lake at City Park or race with him down Montview and up 16th Street on a little criterium between her house and mine.

I used to dangle his leash off the left handlebar. Until, of course, that time when he suddenly stopped for some emergency doggie business and I sailed out over the asphalt with enough time to imagine the inevitability of several broken bones.

It was only one hard “THWACK!” and several bruises, though. Thankfully. And that slow shock of taking stock, laying on my back wiggling my fingers and toes until Tobear came up and licked my face and announced, “A-roo-roo-roo,” to let me know that he was ready to get running again.

Pedaling Forward

Later, when the mighty Tobear had left me tear-streaked and headed out on his journey for that big doghouse in the sky, I realized that what he had taught me in our all-too-short time together was that the world is always spinning, and that every moment you’re not out there spinning along with it is immediately and forever gone.

He also taught me that when you’re out there spinning with the planet, it’s best to cover a lot of ground. As a lifelong runner (ok, jogger) and hiker, I came to realize what an incredible journey each day of cycling brings—how you can be in the saddle exercising, traveling, touring and traversing the world all at the same time, and all while still staying in a remarkably observant state of mind.

Being on a bike does create a remarkable state of being, where you are both passing through the day and taking mental snapshots at the same time. As a species, the wheel remains our greatest invention—although beer is an awfully close second—which means that two wheels have only doubled the pace of our evolution, and our fun.

In a rapidly changing world, where population growth and carbon emissions are increasing at a nearly exponential rate, bicycles and the wheels they ride on may also prove once again to be one of our key sources of recreation and, I hope, redemption.

For example, I keep thinking about my family’s old Park Hill neighbor, Mona, who always rode her bike to the grocery store—barely two miles away—even when all the other families went there in their station wagons and sedans. In a state bent on fitness and healthy eating, why wouldn’t HOW we get to the grocery store be as important as WHAT kinds of groceries we buy?

Secondly, I thought about a fairly recent trip to Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, where much of the city still commutes on bicycles all year long. To my eye, I was especially impressed with all of the longhaired women in black boots and long black jackets with their happy faces in the wind. And I thought that the bikes only increased the impact of their incredible sense of fashion. After all, no one can see what you’re wearing when you’re driving.

Then finally, I just read about the “new normal” winter in the Rockies and California, where rising temperatures are already beginning to strangle off the occurrence of reliable snow, and will eventually make the sports of skiing and snowboarding obsolete. In light of the diminishing snowpack, a couple ski areas in the Pacific Northwest announced they would put more of a lift-served emphasis on mountain biking.

Which Tobear would have loved. But, like me, I bet he would also prefer if it just kept on snowing.

Elevation Outdoors editor-at-large Peter Kray is the author of The God of Skiing. More than 10 years in the making, the book has been called “the greatest ski novel ever written.” You can buy it at

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