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Steamboat Magazine

The Pedalling Painter

08/09/2021 03:18PM ● By Suzi Mitchell
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, CO – On an early summer’s day, local artist Lance Whitner is out on a reconnaissance mission among the ranchlands of North Routt County. Behind the wheel of her tomato-red Sprinter van – christened “Clifford” by her family – she cruises along County Road 46 and makes sporadic stops to sketch and chat with ranchers as they pass each other on the narrow gravel roads. The organizers of the three-year-old gravel bike race SBT GRVL commissioned Whitner to create a legacy poster and document the race locale for the event on Sunday, August 15.

“2021 is a very important year for SBT GRVL,” says Amy Charity, co-founder and owner of the race. The event launched in 2019 with the intent to create a world-class race on the gravel roads that connect the rolling lands and rugged hillsides of Routt County. “The sheer beauty of the landscape, coupled with the contrast of the terrain, is what makes SBT GRVL so unique,” Charity says. 

In August, 3,000 participants will spread out over four courses, which vary in distance and ability. The green ride, at 37 miles, is suited to all skill levels with an option for e-bikes. The red ride covers 64 miles, 50 of which are on gravel roads. The blue course is 103 miles, and the black course is 144 miles; both include two miles through Fetcher Ranch beyond the shores of Steamboat Lake. 

“We have shared our resources here for years and welcome the opportunity to show that, as ranchers, we are so much more than cows and hay,” says longtime local rancher Jay Fetcher. “Events like this race are a way to showcase how we take care of the land, and my hope is that those who pass through here will appreciate the beauty which we, as landowners, work tirelessly to protect.”

A sign on a wood post off County Road 58, which was painted years ago by Fetcher’s grandchildren, emphasizes a sentiment he and a host of local ranchers want to share with passersby. It states, “Wave, Smile and Drive Slow.” 

“As our community continues 
to grow and there are more people recreating, it means more people on the trails and country roads,” says Michele Meyer, executive director of the Community Agriculture Alliance. “We’re continuing to make outreach and education a priority with the goal of building positive relationships between recreation and agriculture. That can mean all kinds of things: if a gate is closed, then make sure it gets closed again after you pass through. If it is open, then leave it open. Be respectful of private property, and be mindful of guard dogs. There needs to be respect, patience and understanding on both sides.” 

The team at SBT GRVL is part of a wider campaign to connect recreation with ranching in the Yampa Valley. “Art has the ability to speak to everyone and offers a way of uniting people in the community,” says Kristy Fox, community relations for SBT GRVL. For that reason, the organization hired prominent Northwest Colorado artist Lance Whitner to create a piece for the race. “Lance is so iconic in Steamboat and has a way of bringing such personality to her depictions of the landscape around us. As a cyclist herself, she was a natural fit to capture the spirit of the race,” Fox says.

The poster is part of a wider mission for Whitner. An avid mountain biker and novice gravel rider, her saddle is her window to the world. She believes in pushing boundaries, both as an athlete and a painter. The dichotomy of the landscape around her is constant inspiration for her emotive artwork. “We all have a responsibility to this land, and I hope to connect people not just to the landscape, but to their emotions and their own sense of place,” Whitner says. “We all need to work together to protect our environment, and a combination of diverse perspectives and actions creates more holistic protection.”

Whitner’s work will be displayed at SBT GRVL and at “Views from my Bike,” her summer show at Pine Moon Gallery in downtown Steamboat Springs.