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John Biro and the Dirt Bike (Not Bike Related)

  I knew John Biro. I was lucky to meet him early in my short time in that part of the mountains. At his service lots of people told great stories about him. Lots of people knew him better and new him longer. My Biro story is just a tiny scrap in the mountain of stories that could be told about him. But I want to tell it anyway, because I feel like one day his boys might be looking for new stories, little stories, everyday stories, about  their dad. I don’t want to tell a story about myself, I want to tell a story about Biro, but I just happen to be in it.
  I first met Biro on his birthday in 1998. Shane and Marvelous Marvin led me up to his cabin. I had been sledding up Kebler before, and into Robinson basin. But I had always skirted around the townsite. The town site was forbidden, unless you had a reason to be there. I was excited to finally enter this mysterious place where smoke trickled from the chimney's of odd little cabins covered in snow. I stayed all day at the party and long into the night,
Sunset over the townsite

  Later that year I was applying to be the mechanic at the lodge. Previously at CBMR I had worked on snowmobiles and pick up trucks. Once in a while Shane and Marv would call me over to the snowcat side of the shop to hold something heavy while they hit it with a hammer. Basically I had seen snowcats, and ridden in them, so I was applying to be a snowcat mechanic. I tried to think of all the relevent things I knew about Irwin. All I knew was John Biro, so I put him as a reference on my resume.
  Allen and Hokey met me at Kochevar’s to interview for the  job. The three of us sat at a table against the wall as they asked me questions and looked over my resume. I remember Allen looking up from the paper with a questionable expression and asking, “You know John Biro?” At that moment I knew John Biro about as well as I knew snowcats, so I confidently said, “oh yeah.”
  Then Hokey raised his head up and called across the room, “Hey Biro! You know this kid?”
A row of old guys were sitting at the bar and one turned around to look at me. Biro squinted for a moment, then pointed at me and said, “He was at my birthday!”
Perhaps it was Biro’s seal of approval, or perhaps I was the only applicant, but I got the job and moved into a cabin in the townsite. From this point I got to spend more and more time with Biro. Of course this meant the standard interactions like parties in his shop, parties next to raging bonfires and late, loud nights at the bar in the lodge. But, I’m incredibly lucky that I had another connection with Biro, we were both mechanics. I didn’t have deep, soul searching conversations about life with John. But I had deep conversations about how to properly set the float level on a Mikuni carburetor and cleaning Polaris clutches.

Views from the shop

  As the first winter wore on I realized just how demanding the Irwin lifestyle was. All of the employees at the lodge were in over our heads. Ray and Chad in the kitchen had to create high end meals without the right food. Courtney and Thomas had to manage a bar that just bled money out the door. And I had to keep a fleet of sleds and snowcats running without enough spare parts.
  The cats would limp back to the lodge at sundown each day with parts breaking off and trails of oil leaking behind them. Then I would punch in and try to bandage them up enough to run the next day. I would stagger in from the shop for a coffee late at night completely frazzled over some repair and Biro would be sitting at the bar. He would always ask how I was doing, and then listen as I vented about the night’s catastrophic failure. When I was done, he would offer some encouraging words like, “Don’t kill yourself out there tonight, they’re going to need you again tomorrow.”
  All of us used him as an anchor. I know that he was giving pep talks to all the young lodge workers who thought that life was caving in around us.
Mattrax-the cause of many long nights

  Summer rolled around and I started really exploring Irwin. I rode my bike or hiked along all the roads and checked out all the old mine sites. I noticed this old Suzuki dirtbike leaning against a tree, and it had been there for months already. I assumed it had died on someone and they just abandoned it where it stopped. At this point I had salvaged several abandoned sleds from town and fixed them so they could run again. So it was kind of a hobby, finding derelicts and salvaging them.
Some of the derelicts

  I pushed the bike back to my cabin and started working on it. The chain was off, a tire was flat and it wouldn't run. I got to work, and in a few days I was riding it back and forth to the lodge from the townsite.  The dirtbike proved especially useful for mountain biking. My friend Cliff was living with me and we developed the perfect way to shuttle the Dyke trail. He would drive his old Land Cruiser to the end of the trail down Kebler and I would follow him on the dirt bike. He'd park his truck, and we would ride the moto doubled up, Dumb and Dumber style back to the A frame. From there we'd hop on our mountain bikes and go rip the trail. The system worked well, and we did it any chance we could.

  One day I was at the Y getting ready to pull out on the moto and a Jeep was passing by the other way. The Jeep pulled up to me and an older fellow leaned out the window and said, "When are you going to bring my motorcycle back?"
My jaw dropped, I was caught red-handed, and I stumbled for words, "I...Uhh...I'll drop it off later today."  It turned out that his cabin was actually very near where I found the bike. So, I left the bike at his cabin, and that ended my days as a dirt bike rider.
  A few weeks later, the aspens were starting to change, and the nights were getting colder. I was bellied up to the bar at the Irwin Lodge, when the owner of the moto sat next to me. We talked about Irwin stuff for a bit, and before long both of our drinks were empty. He turned to me and half-joked, "You could buy a round to cover the rental fee of my dirt bike." I countered his remark by saying, "You should buy a round to cover the repairs I did to your dirt bike."
 Right then I heard the familiar gravely voice of Biro as he leaned in at my elbow. "What have you two got going on over here?"
  It was the perfect situation, Biro was the mayor and the acting judge of Irwin, so he would hear both sides of the argument, and settle the dispute. He sat down between us and listened to the opening statements. The property owner explained how his nephews had been out visiting, and he let them ride the bike until it broke down. But, he had every intention of bringing it back to his place and getting it repaired. Of course Biro had seen it leaning there and new exactly home long it had been there. "Oh, that thing sat there all winter!" he said.
"So what did you have to do to it?" he asked me.
"Well, I had to put the chain back on." I explained.
"Big deal!" Biro said as he raised an eyebrow at me, "That takes ten minutes. What else did you do?"
"I changed the oil in the motor and the gearbox and aired up the tire."
Biro listened deliberately, "Did you spend any money on it or just use stuff you had kicking around?"
"Just stuff left over." I said. I felt like I was testifying before a court, I couldn't possibly lie to Biro.
I felt like I was losing the case, then I remembered another detail.
"Ooh, and I had to clean the carb out! It was all gunked up."
Biro paused for a moment and gazed at the mirror behind the bar.
Biro decided on a ruling and turned to the owner, "Those carbs are a pain in the ass, he did a decent little tune-up so you owe him a drink."
 The owner rolled his eyes and called over the bartender. I thanked Biro and he gave me a wink.

When I first left home, I read Jack Kerouac's "On the Road," It has a great line in it about the people Jack was hoping to meet.

“[...]the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”

  I too tried to find those people and John Biro absolutely fit the description. Especially the part about never saying a commonplace thing. John had his own style in the way he linked words together. He could have been a poet. I remember he was telling me about running out of fuel due to a stuck gas gauge on his sled. He said, "I opened the cap and all I see is WET PLASTIC!"
10 out of 10 people would say, something like, 'the tank was empty.' Instead John was painting a picture of what he saw at the bottom of an empty fuel tank. I hear his voice every time I'm troubleshooting a machine with low fuel.
  And he loved to talk, but he didn't need a big audience. He could say his line out loud and make everyone in the room bust out in laughter. Or, he might just shoot out a little one-liner only meant for the person standing near him. 
John made a big impression on me, I thought of him long after I left Irwin.
Irwin dogs

DISCLAIMER: At this point, I'm going to mention my book. I don't care if you read it. Everyone I wrote it for has already read it. This isn't self promotion, this is my final Biro moment.

  In the spring of 2017 I though I could write a few short stories about my Crested Butte experience. Halfway into the first story I had the outline of a novel, so I went along with it. I don't have much imagination, so the characters were mostly real people. I had to have Biro in it, so I called him John Rippey and said that he had been a smuggler in the 70's in Nogales, NM. Immediately, the first readers told me their favorite character was Rippey.
  The book trickled out in print-on-demand, self-published copies. I never had a big box of them in my hand. I really hoped somehow John would get a copy, but, I didn't know how to reach him, and I was also nervous of what he'd think of it.
  In mid-November 2019 my phone rang with a Montrose number. I picked it up and heard a familiar gravelly voice say, "Is this Tim? Well this is John Rippey!"
He explained that he loved the book, he called it the perfect ego boost. Then he said. "But you did get one thing wrong. Now people are asking me if I ran drugs in Nogales. The truth is, I was a lot closer to Phoenix!"
Thanks Biro, you were always an inspiration.


  1. Awesome story. I lived and worked up at Irwin from 91-96. Biro was the man!


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