‘Steamboat cultivated me:’ A thank-you letter from the late Chris Johns
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Chris Johns touched many lives during his three decades in Steamboat Springs.
Johns, who was known to many as “Wheels” or “Johnsie,” died in March from complications related to epilepsy. Hundreds of friends and relatives attended services and celebrations commemorating the life of the long-time owner of Wheels Bike Shop on Yampa Street in downtown Steamboat.
Johns’ brother Craig penned this “thank you from heaven” on behalf of his brother.
“I knew Chris would have been so appreciative,” Craig Johns said, explaining he wanted to give his brother a chance to express his gratitude for the amazing life the community gave him.
“Chris used biking as a way to explore when he was a teenager. It was a way for him to clear his mind and search for clarity,” Craig said. “To see all the bikes parked outside the community center when the family was here for the community event was breathtaking and moving.
“All those bikes symbolized people in Steamboat seeking those same freedoms.”
Steamboat cultivated me
Chris Johns’ thank-you letter from heaven
Where can a kid from New England be accepted at a mountain town college, graduate and put the degree to use as an entrepreneur?
Where can he make dozens of friends in a matter of weeks and see those friendships grow into the hundreds, perhaps thousands, in three decades?
Where can he be exposed to world class training, coaching and mentoring to become a professional-level skier, snowboarder, fly fishermen, mountain bike racer, motocross rider, trials biking competitor, rock climber, mechanic, bike trail architect, business owner?
Where can he chase a dream while the locals lift you up physically and emotionally to do bigger and better things?
Where can he train side-by-side with Olympic athletes during the day and soak in mineral hot springs with those same folks in the evening?
Where can he meet some Aussies in a bar, learn of their thrill-seeking activity called bungee jumping and be the first in town to do it?
Where can he race mountain bikes, fly fish a famous river, target practice at the shooting range, eat at a legendary restaurant and ski on the world’s best powder in the same day?
The answer, of course, is the ‘Boat — Steamboat Springs, the only place in the world I could have accomplished all I did, and for that, I am forever thankful.
Steamboat has always been fertile ground for young and old to grow, maintain, sustain or just be entertained. It has the key ingredients — rivers and streams, meadows, mountains, richness of soil, sunshine and snow — for optimal growth. I liken my time in Steamboat as being planted in a sustainable garden.
ν Choose locally adapted varieties: I navigated high school thinking where should I go, what should do? I chose a lifestyle and never looked back.
ν Cultivate the soil: Starting with Colorado Mountain College, I began adding the skills and tools for planting.
ν Plant for the season: I chose and mastered the activities of each season, the weather and local conditions.
ν Hydrate and fertilize regularly: Growth required faith in good things to come, but also patience.
ν Eliminate weeds and pests: I removed myself from negative situations and toxic people; minimized the distractions to focus on the positive.
ν Harvest: This was my favorite part. I loved competing, but more, I loved giving, teaching and mentoring, especially with young people. I took pride in helping the kiddos of my friends. An injury prevented my ever being an Olympian, but having a hand in developing foundational skills in individuals who became Olympians made me proud.
My time in Steamboat allowed me to blossom, year after year. And in those years, so many people — partners, vendors, organizations and families — reached out; so much reciprocating energy, so much good effort, so much help; none of it ever forgotten. I lent a hand to others, and others lent a hand to me and never with a thought of return. I also became debt free in the last few years, a pride thing for me.
Over the course of time, to become woven into the fabric of Steamboat, to be “Johnsie” or “Wheels,” made me feel as an iconic figure. For someone humble, that is hard to fathom, yet interesting to reflect on.
I loved old rusty bikes, metal wheels, classic cars and antiques the reason my brother thought of me as retro man. Such fun to see the faces of those visiting Wheels and seeing for the first time the “high-wheel” antique bikes decorating the outside and inside of the shop. I loved when someone brought in a classic bike, especially if it was in need of repair. I would sit on the floor and sift through parts crates, climb into the rafters, rummage through the storage shed, take parts off bikes that were in disrepair to help out. I always tried to be “Johnsie” on the spot to get you out of a pinch.
When relatives like my mom and dad, Barbara and Norris, came to town, Steamboat rolled out the carpet. All around town everyone called me by name. Mom and dad always left happy knowing I was well-known, well-liked, accepted and respected, in spite of my lifelong personal struggle with epilepsy. They also left a bit sad knowing I would never move back to Massachusetts, knowing Steamboat was where I was myself, playing and working as I wanted and living each day fully.
Visits to Foxboro, home for me and home for the Patriots, were short stays. While proud of my hometown, family and friends back east, a few days away left me antsy and ready to return. Steamboat had become my home and
I’m so grateful for the out-pouring of support at the celebrations of life in April; so much love and effort at every event. Family came from all over the country and were blown away by, and perhaps surprised, but pleasantly so, by all the people and support and all the stories and love shared. There were road bike rides on the Emerald Loop, trail rides along the Yampa, a ski run as well as soaks at Strawberry Park Hot Springs. I saw nephews doing snow angels in snow banks in their skivvies and taking the plunge in the 40-degree water of the Yampa.
A bike parade starting at Wheels Bike Shop and proceeding along the river, preluded the mind-blowing gathering at the Community Center. So many people. So many different walks of life.
Thank you Goody for asking everyone to introduce themselves. It was magical to watch from heaven as the circles of my life came togethe — fly fisherman, hockey players, mountain bikers, skiers, snowboarders, bike shop mechanics, business partners, vendors, past managers, investors, bankers, doctors, lawyers and my buddy the local Catholic priest. Thanks to all who stood up and shared stories and wisdom. That was cool.
A big smile to the Walkers for coming up with the idea to do a GoFundMe page and allowing so many people to contribute to the party.
Thanks Deems for the impressive and awesome metal artwork. Thanks Gina, the flower arrangement encircling a knobby motorcycle tire which was just my style. Thanks Sharon for the spread of food that never stopped. Thanks Emily for the yummy brownies. Thanks Freshies for the amazing cookies.
Goody, you and your wife’s fingerprints were all over these activities, so organized and yet a family feel. You da man! Greg Hughley and Dave Holloway, the video and audio presentation was awesome. Thanks for including mom and relatives back east on the satellite feed. Marty Carrigan, you couldn’t make it to the events, but the wristbands you sponsored were sweet. Lea, thanks for the stickers and the design on the T-shirts. Thanks Cole and Darius for holding down the fort and lining up bikes for my family.
I know there were others who helped, supported and assisted. Huge thanks to you all. I was truly blessed to have so many people in my life who have watched over me, and now it is my turn from heaven to watch over all of you. I miss you.
Last Christmas when visiting Foxboro, there was talk of burials and funerals. My parents are nearing 80. I don’t like such conversations, but with the subject on the table, I said, when my time is up, I want to be buried in Steamboat. Home is where the heart is. My heart will always be in Steamboat. I know now Steamboat and its residents will forever have a piece of me in their hearts.
Thank you for my well-lived life in our town.
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