Tuesday, July 21, 2009

My Hometown Paper, The Pantagraph Wrote An Article About Me

This story was written about me by Scott Richardson, a writer for the Pantagraph, out of Bloomington-Normal, Illinois, where I grew up. I am grateful to Scott for this article, and ideally some high school students in the area will consider coming to Western State College; and others may just simply check out Gunnison on road trips out West. Thanks Scott.

Former Twin-City student discovers the love of climbing ... UP

Luke Mehall thought he was running away from home when he gave in to a bad case of wanderlust. But he was actually running toward something - a new home in the Rockies.

At 20, uncomfortable, disillusioned and not sure why, Mehall left the Twin Cities after graduating from Bloomington High School in 1997.

"I was big on traveling around," Mehall said.

He bounced to a couple of universities. One day, he spotted a place on a map, Gunnison, Colo., home of Western State College. Like Forrest Gump blown by the winds of fate, he went.

Now age 30, Mehall is assistant director of public relations at the school where he graduated five years ago. He also is a freelance writer for magazines, including Climbing and Rock and Ice.

He loves his career. But it's what he does after work that convinces him he's finally found a home in the mountains. He spends time rock climbing, mountain biking and road biking. Tourists and locals alike also hike, kayak, white-water raft, trout fish and more. Crested Butte, a well-known destination for skiers, is about 30 miles away.

The college, which specializes in liberal arts, business and sports, includes a student-led outdoor guiding service, an adventure race team, a climbing team and a ski team.

"The outdoors definitely attracts people here. The outdoors is a big selling point," said Mehall, son of Twin City accountant Richard Mehall, and Lynette Mehall, a Unit 5 school administrator. "We have a long history of people coming to ski Crested Butte and wind up staying to go to school here."

"Here" is about 7,800 feet high in the Colorado Rockies. Crested Butte is about 9,000 feet up.

The Telluride Film Festival is held about 150 miles away from Gunnison every fall. Thinking he should support the green theme of the event, he and a friend once rode there on bikes.

"You get a pretty good climb at the end," he said, chuckling. "Mountain biking has been going on in Gunnison as long as about anywhere."

Underscoring that point, Mehall noted champion mountain-bike rider Dave Wiens lives in Gunnison. He made headlines by beating Lance Armstrong in a mountain bike race not long ago. Wiens works to develop more trails in the region, where it's possible to ride 30 to 40 miles on single track paths in a single day.

Mehall got his first taste of the real outdoors camping with the family in Minnesota. But it wasn't so much what happened outdoors that captured his interest. He fell in love with rock climbing at Upper Limits, a climbing and teaching center located inside a converted grain silo on Bloomington's west side. Mehall was able to learn the basics he uses now to go "bouldering," or climbing sheer rock faces at places like Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park. The park also offers fishing, camping, hiking, kayaking, rafting and wildlife viewing.

The height of the climbing season each year falls in late June when the 24 Hours of Gunnison Glory is held as part of the Gunnison River Festival, he said. Competitors climb 12 or 24 hours to see how many climbing routes or bouldering problems they can master in that time. The Gunnison Loco Motive held during the festival adds mountain biking, trail running and kayaking to the climbing challenges.

During long winter months, skiing is the primary pursuit. Mehall isn't so much into alpine skiing. Rather, he enjoys cross-country skiing. Though some may think the area must be too steep for long-distance skiing, Mehall described the annual El Mountains Grand Traverse. The cross-country ski race begins at midnight and covers the 42 miles between Crested Butted and Aspen.

Mehall wants to compete in the race one day. And, he dreams of writing fiction with stories that feature Colorado and Utah settings.

Looking back, Mehall said, "I was big on traveling around. I had wanderlust. That's still a part of me. But I'm happy now. ... Climbers say if they didn't find climbing, they'd have a drug problem or be dead or in jail. I think that's true for me. I think climbing is a good outlet for the angst of youth and writing is, too."



Blog Archive