When cycling more than 400 miles, there’s plenty of time to think.
Brothers Paul and Kelly Harrison spent time last week thinking of their cousin, Marty Harrison, and their goal to finally visit the place he died 50 years ago.
They were “Riding to Remember” the 1970 Wichita State University plane crash on Mount Trelease. Thirty-one players, staff, fans and flight crew members died while eight players and the co-pilot survived.
Paul and Kelly Harrison, who live in Wichita and Lawrence, Kan., respectively, joined crash survivor Rick Stephens at the 50th anniversary memorial service on Oct. 2 at WSU before starting their pilgrimage to Colorado.
Stephens, a Wichita resident, has made the “Riding to Remember” trip before, most notably for the 40th anniversary.
The three crossed Kansas last week and ended their journey near Castle Rock on Friday, after road and traffic conditions made it too dangerous to go any farther.
On Saturday, about 50 people joined the cyclists at Mount Trelease for a hike to the crash site. The group was a mix of the cyclists’ spouses, kids and grandkids, other ’70 WSU team members, and local friends.
Standing amid the wreckage of what the team had nicknamed the Gold Plane, the brothers explained how Stephens motivated them to make the trip. The three have been friends since elementary school.
Seeing Stephens injured in the crash, losing their cousin — the equipment manager — and other friends on the team was hard, they said. However, visiting the site for the first time Saturday was memorable.
“It does give you some closure, knowing where Marty ended up,” Kelly said. “He’s closer to heaven here.”
Paul added that this year’s “Riding to Remember” might be the last as Stephens and others connected to the Gold Plane are now in their 70s.
“We want people to remember the great folks who died up here,” he continued.
Stephens felt similarly, saying “Riding to Remember” is about keeping the memory of the Gold Plane alive and ensuring people retain that history. He recommended everyone, especially Clear Creek residents, visit the site to get a sense of what happened.
“It’s a terrible tragedy for those who were lost and for those who remain behind,” Stephens continued.
Keeping the memory alive in Colorado
Sarah Selmon, Stephens’ daughter, said she appreciated seeing a few local friends join the Wichita group Saturday: Arvada’s Eric Bell, who was hitchhiking through the area when the plane crashed and stopped to help, and Evergreen’s John Putt, who responded with the Alpine Rescue Team.
“Everyone has their own little connection,” she said of the bond between locals and the Gold Plane. “… There are a lot of people that keep this living on.”
Bell was at the memorial along Interstate 70 Friday when he ran into someone who told him about Saturday’s group. He decided to return, describing how he only recently told his family about his Gold Plane connection.
As the second or third person up the mountain after the crash, Bell vividly remembers aspects of the horrific scene. He recalls that image anytime he thinks of doing something dangerous.
Unlike others in the group, Bell said he didn’t feel the same closure from revisiting the site.
“It doesn’t seem complete,” he continued.
Putt, who first met Stephens and other survivors while participating in a 2009 documentary, has formed a strong bond with the Gold Plane family. He even traveled to Wichita for the 50th anniversary memorial service.
Saturday’s group was much larger than expected, Putt said, saying, “It was only supposed to be 10 people. … I think word got around at the memorial (service in Wichita).”
Although he’s hiked to the crash site dozens of times, seeing such a diverse group meet the cyclists and make the trip up Mount Trelease together was a special experience, Putt said.
“It’s so cool to see all the generations of the survivors together,” he said.