On Thursday morning near Kremmling, a Salt Lake City cycling couple discovered the majesty of the Rocky Mountains during a 2,495-mile bike fundraiser between the Canada-US border and the southern border with Mexico.
Before retiring, U.S. Marine Corps Master Sgt. Dean Zenoni and his wife, Lorri, started their bike ride from Kremmling to Ute Pass and up to Summit County this week, they admired the awe-inspiring orange sunrise over the low clouds and the magnificent Gore mountain range.
In the foreground were the stars and stripes of the American flag. And Dean – a veteran of four tours of Iraq as well as deployments to Somalia, Haiti, Cuba, Liberia and many other places – was sure to salute Old Glory.
For the Zenonis, this was one of the most memorable moments in 36 days after starting their June 11-August 11 hike along the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route to raise money for the Semper Fi & America’s Fund, which recently merged with the Vail Veterans Program. The fund is a veteran nonprofit charity that has provided $ 246 million in aid to more than 26,000 military personnel.
And Dean is one of them.
“On that ride you see all the farms, all the farms on the county roads with pride, everyone wearing the American flag,” Dean said. “This morning with sunrise, we passed a ranch flying both the Marine Corps and the United States flags. Seeing this dedication on the part of fellow Americans touches me.
It hits Dean because during his 24th year in the Marines he suffered a career-ending cervical spine injury after being slammed into a military vehicle in Iraq.
The injury left Dean with a ruptured disc which required surgery and caused a lot of pain as it damaged a few nerves that went to Dean’s upper chest and triceps.
With the injuries, Dean looked for a way to manage his pain and stay in touch with his service brethren. Through his connection with a battalion of wounded warriors, Dean found the fund.
Unable to lift weights as he loved before an injury, Dean was introduced by the fund to cycling as a form of healing and therapy. It’s something the 51-year-old knew he would challenge but not make his injuries worse. The Semper Fi & America’s Fund also helped Dean become a certified USA Cycling trainer, and he also used the GI Bill to go to bicycle mechanic school.
“The fund was essential for my transition,” Dean said. “I was ready to do 30 years of service. I wasn’t ready to be a civilian all of a sudden.
Over a decade after entering the fund, Dean wanted to find a way to give back to the organization that was so instrumental in his recovery while also improving his own health – hence his fundraising odyssey.
The Zenoni cycle north to south on Trek 1120 hard-tail mountain bikes with 3-inch tires. The back roads and trails of the Rocky Mountains are a far cry from the isolation at home Dean experienced last fall, which he believes motivated him to take the trip.
“I was getting bogged down and depressed a little bit last fall, and with all the COVID stuff, we had to get out of the house,” he said. “So I looked for something we could do this summer that wouldn’t be affected by any of the COVID stuff. At the beginning of December, we started to buy the bikes.
Lorri said she enjoys seeing the sparsely populated back roads of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and now Colorado. Another favorite memory was the ridge over Gore Pass and the fall into Radium north of Summit County for their first glimpse of Gore Canyon and the mighty Colorado River.
At 60 miles a day, the ride is grueling in places. And it will be again this weekend as the group passes through Hartsel and Salida after leaving Summit County. But the couple’s main goal is to reach their goal of $ 100,000 for the fund. Dean said he chose this number after seeing other people raise smaller donations for 5 and 10 kilometer runs.
“I haven’t counted the number of ‘K’s’ between Canada and Mexico, but there are a lot,” he said.
On Friday, including matching pledges to be added later, the couple exceeded $ 30,000.
Time will tell how much they harvest. For now, Lorri is thrilled to be getting back to soaking up the sights while riding the bike.
“Our country is so beautiful,” she said. “We have some amazing areas of the backcountry that we got to walk through that we probably would never have seen.
“And the other thing, there are some amazing people we’ve met along this trail. We have matching jerseys – red, white, and blue – for people to notice, and people to stop us and ask us what we’re doing. And then once I get a signal and get to a town, I can see there has been a donation to the page. Did someone we just met that day after stopping by and talking to us donated? We have just been overwhelmed. “