Kloser 1

I worried Mike Kloser had moved to Aspen. He’d had a lot of posts in social media from over there, and when I’d phoned him a couple years back, he’d been there. I’d pedal by his house on my way to the North Trail, and I’d never see action outside. At the beginning of September, I’d received a forwarded email from him, via the Vail Recreation District, inviting folks to partake in Lance Armstrong’s Aspen Fifty. I have to admit, I felt a little put out: I mean, time in Aspen is well and good, but Kloser is our icon, not theirs.

And I mean ICON because look at his history in mountain bike, triathlon and adventure racing:

  • 4 time Adventure Racing World Champion
  • World Mountain Bike Champion
  • World Long Distance Orienteering Champion
  • 3 time Eco Challenge Champion
  • 5 time Primal Quest Champion
  • 2 time Iditabike Champion
  • 10 time Steamboat Pentathlon Champion
  • 3 time Teva Games Champion
  • 2 time America’s Uphill Champion
  • 2 Time Winter Triathlon National Champion
  • 5 Time Elk Mountains Grand Traverse Champion
  • 7 time Breckenridge Imperial Challenge Champion
  • 3 Time Aspen Highlands Inferno Champion
  • And a bunch of other impressive stuff.

Kloser 2

All that elite accomplishment, yet the blustery day I stopped by his house for this conversation, he was wrestling a rototiller through a flower bed in the front yard with golf on the TV in the garage. Still here, I thought with relief, and then we talked about everything from Aspen, to his friendship with Lance Armstrong, to retirement from racing, to OutThere!™ (his pack company), to his toughest moment in competition. Enjoy!

Me:  So you haven’t moved to Aspen?

Kloser: (Chuckling) Our home is Vail. Aspen has been a great place to get away in Winter, but I also have a ski client, and he bought a home over at Buttermilk. I became an instructor for Aspen because I was teaching more days over there than they allowed for visiting instructors. That, along with Emily’s parents have this awesome cabin on the backside of Ajax mountain, one of those old mining claims. It’s more of a log home than a cabin. In winter, I was over there 50 percent of the time for a few years, but its lessened the last couple of years. Now it’s one to two months.

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Me: I received your email inviting us to Lance Armstrong’s Aspen Fifty. I remember years back, you and Lance having a friendly challenge where you formed a team of Vail guys and Lance formed a team of Aspen guys for 12-Hours of Snowmass. Are you two friends?

Kloser: The Lance connection started back in 1999, the year he won his first tour. He was coming to Colorado to do the Steamboat Tour of the Rockies Stage Race. He stayed here in Vail to acclimate for a week or two. A mechanic at Trek was a close friend of mine from mountain bike racing, and he/they asked me to take Lance on some rides while he was in town. As it turned out, though, I went over to meet him where he was staying, but I passed on the whole ride chaperone gig to Jay Henry and a couple others because I needed to train for the ECO Challenge with Team Vail. It was a number of years before we crossed paths again. That Snowmass race is where we connected and said, Hey, we should ride together. Still, we only rode together a few times. Then he started the Aspen Fifty last year, and he asked if I’d forward on the race information. I asked “Is this a birthday ride with friends,” because he and my daughter Heidi have the same birthday. He said “No, no, that’s not it.” But it turned out they had a dinner the night before and an afterparty at Lance’s place, and it was a lot of fun.

At that party, Lance talked about RAGBRAI, The Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. The event has a celebrity element, and Lance was getting together a handful of friends to go. I’d never done it, and having been born and grown up in Iowa, I thought it sounded fun. We jumped on a plane in Aspen the morning of the fifth stage and flew to Charles City. We hopped on our bicycles at the airport and rode that day’s stage. Lance also brought Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth (NASCAR Champs) and Ryan Dungey, the supercross racer. That night, we stayed in rock star buses that Jimmy rented, and there was a concert on an outdoor stage, and I had a few more cocktails than I might have needed. The next day, we rode the stage, and then they rode right to the airport and jumped in the plane, and I went on to visit with family.

Me: I remember your retirement from elite racing and the local VRD series when you turned 50. It was something you’d been saying you’d do, and you did. Reflecting back, what are your thoughts on that?

Kloser: Well, I felt like I might keep going forever. I remember when I first retired from the elite level—national and international—I thought, I still want to ride, still want to get out there to fulfill that competitive need or desire, so I raced the local series and a splattering of other local races. Little did I know when I threw in the towel here, I’d start the local road racing scene in Aspen. It’s Wednesday nights, like here, but they alternate every other week: road, mountain bike. I enjoyed the road racing, hadn’t done it for a decade, and it was an opportunity to get out and race without feeling like I reneged on my retirement here. What really got me doing them was the race director over there ran the TransRockies mountain and running events, and he also started the World Cup over in Europe, and he kept saying I should race in Aspen. That started in 2013, when I did the TransRockies up in Canada with Michael Tobin.

Kloser 3

Me: I’ve heard that’s a grueling race in a world of grueling races.

Kloser: (Laughs.) They had these divisions that are combined ages, and we were in the Plus 100 category. At the end of day one, we found ourselves leading the whole thing, and our biggest rivals ended up being these young Canadians. We were back and forth for six days, but we ended up winning overall, as well as our group. I tell you, when I was done, I thought, I can’t push myself to this level for one more day. I think it has a lot to do with age and conditioning, and I hadn’t done any stage racing in a number of years, so I don’t think I had that buildup of conditioning.

Me: You’ve also competed in the Elk Mountain Grand Traverse, correct?

Kloser: Yes.

Me: That race sounds crazy: It starts at midnight, right?

Kloser: That nighttime start is one of the greatest features of that race because it adds a whole other element that you typically don’t experience in an expedition-type adventure race: You have to deal with the elements in the backcountry at night, middle of winter, and you’re doing it with a teammate. I was fortunate to have some great teammates over the years in Dan Weiland, Jay Henry, and Stephen White. The last time I did it, the tenth year, was with Scott Simmons, a phenomenal AT racer, and I thought, One more, so I finish with a 50-percent winning record. But we ended up fourth, which was disappointing, and I said to myself, That’s enough. Unless my son wants to do it one day. Then last year at Christmas, Christian gave me a card with an invitation to be his teammate, so we did it.

Kloser 4

Me: Have you changed as an athlete as you’ve aged? How have you accommodated those changes?

Kloser: Plain and simple, I know that I do not have the ability to start as fast and maintain that speed like I used to be able to do in my prime. So I definitely dedicate a lot more time to warming up. When I say that I mean instead of a ten minute warm up, I might take a thirty minute warmup, or maybe an hour or more sometimes. And after that, I still have to start slower; I know if I go out and try to stay with these younger kids out of the gates, I’m going to pay the price, so I have to settle in and ride into it. Knowing my limitations, I think, helps me perform at a level I’m willing to accept. On the flip side of that, I sometimes go to rides or races and I look back and think, There were years where these guys I’m battling it out with now wouldn’t even be a factor in my mind. It’s the nature of the beast, and you have to accept what you’re dealt. Father Time. (Shakes head.)

I love getting out and enjoying a good adventure, but I also have it in my blood that if I’m not exercising, I’m not going to be happy. When I say that, it doesn’t mean I have to be exercising six hours a day, seven days a week, but if I’m intending on getting some exercise or doing a workout, and it doesn’t happen in the day, it’s not best to be around me. I suppose I have a need . . . an addiction to adrenaline or something. Another factor is I don’t want to be one of those retired athletes who rests on their laurels and is old, tired and out of shape, who can’t go out to do something fun with younger adults. If I didn’t stay fit, I wouldn’t be able to do that, and I’d have regrets, for sure.

Me: When and why did you start OutThere!™ ?

Kloser: I actually launched the product in the summer of 2011, but I’d been working on it for a couple years prior. It worked out well because I didn’t rush into it and launch a product I wasn’t happy with. Looking back: I can’t believe I launched those products. (Laughs.) What’s great about that industry is you don’t just build something and keep repeating it; you improve upon it, so there’s a reason for the customer to buy a new product from you. There’s always this evolution, whether it’s in design, or materials, that keeps things progressing forward. It’s like the cycling industry constantly asking how it can make a bike lighter, how it can make wheels lighter, brakes better or lighter. It’s constant evolution.

OutThere!™ is based in Vail. My office is here at home. As you saw, the garage is storing a lot of the product. It’s continuing to grow, but one of the challenges, and also a plus, is online/internet sales. It enables and helps with my price margins. The retail market is tough to crack because it’s saturated with brands that are well recognized. The thing that sets me apart from the giant manufacturers is I have a lot of unique features that are appealing to a market that understands and can utilize them.

Kloser 5

Me: What is the hardest thing you’ve done physically?

Kloser: Ah! (Smiles and looks at the ceiling.) There’s been some rebounds in the big races in adventure racing, let me think which one stands out the most. Probably the Eco-Challenge in Borneo. We were back and forth, in and out of the lead with some of the other top teams. It was extremely hot and humid, and we were on the mountaineering section. I remember being in such a depleted state that I was actually passing along my gear for teammates to carry. Being able to rebound from that, to be able to contribute to the team, that’s one that stands out.

Me: Can you remember how you ended up in that depleted state?

Kloser: I don’t remember having a stomach bug or anything. There were plenty of those in China, and you thought, Oh, my God! I don’t ever want to do this again! but you had to keep going, day after day. I think it was just physical exhaustion from six days of racing, 20-22 hours a day with only that little break in-between, combined with the elements—heat, trudging through jungles, paddling through the South-China Sea—that caught up with me.

Emily would say, What about this? or What about that? There was this World Cup race in Michigan.

Me: Harder than the Iditabike?

Mike: (Laughs, nods.) The World Cup race at Sleeping Bear was so stifling hot that when you got out of the air-conditioned vehicle you were wet with sweat. It was literally 90-plus degrees with 90-plus humidity. There were sections of the course where there was this little breeze at your back, but you couldn’t feel it because you were moving at the same pace, so it was like you were racing in a sauna. I was in the top five for most of the race, and then three-quarters of the way through, it hit me: I couldn’t tolerate the heat anymore. I remember wandering on the trail, pushing my bike, moving out of the way of other competitors. When I didn’t come in and didn’t come in, Emily and her sister, a doctor, came looking. They found me laying off in the grass, helmet off, blacked out. When I came to, I kept trying to figure out what I was doing there, and I started vomiting from dehydration. They hauled me to a ski patrol facility, cut my clothes off, and started cooling me down with bags of ice. They had to call an ambulance to take me to the hospital because Rishi Grewal, who won, had collapsed at the finish, so the helicopter had taken him. I didn’t ride for a week afterward, which for me was a lot.

Kloser 7

Me: I love where I live. I love my people. I love my tribe. What does Vail mean to you?

Kloser: First of all, Vail is truly my home. Emily always says to me, Your home isn’t Iowa anymore; your home is Vail. I’ve spent more years of my life here by far than I did back in Iowa. As for what Vail has to offer: It’s such a unique, beautiful place. I’ve traveled to a lot of different countries and resorts and places around world, and it’s hard to beat the sheer beauty we have here, the opportunities we have to go out and enjoy the surroundings we have. We may not have towering Alps, but we do have the Gore Range, and we do have arguably one of the best ski resorts in the world, fantastic trails for running and biking, rivers and creeks that are accessible and diverse. This goes with so many other things, whether it’s Nordic skiing, horseback riding, hiking, camping.

So many people that I hang around with have similar interests or perspectives on what Vail and life have to offer. It’s so easy to find friends, spend time with friends, and enjoy what this place has with them. We’re pretty blessed here.