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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Missing Man - The Mysterious Disappearance of Mike Rust @bicyclingmag

By the time he was 56 years old, Rust had settled into an off-the-grid life. 

From outside Mike Rust's ramshackle compound tucked into the base of Copper Butte, you can just make out Great Sand Dunes National Park, 60 miles east across Colorado's expansive San Luis Valley. The dunes form when southwest winds whip up sand on the valley floor that was left behind when ancient lakes receded. Here a saddle in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains stalls the gusts, allowing the sands to accumulate. By the time I visit Rust's place, northeast of the town of Saguache, the grit has worked its way in. 

Jerry Mosier ties a bandanna behind his neck, pulls it up over his mouth, and ducks inside. It's 2010, and the place has been abandoned for a year now. Pack rats and field mice moved in quickly. In this climate, mouse droppings often carry Hantavirus—a disease that kills a few people in the state every year. 

I tuck my nose into my shirt and follow Mosier inside the truck camper Rust built his house around; it was his bedroom. Here, the little kitchen where he'd grill cheese sandwiches, four to a square pan so as not to waste a breath of propane. In a corner, a museum of hand-built model airplanes. On a table, the brass roses Rust cut to sell for grocery money. The place is all grime and squalor and the odd angles of a home screwed together as needs and materials aligned. Rust refused to nail anything, opting to scab on new additions (the entire place is built from reclaimed materials) by hand-turning screws instead. Still, tucked into the hill and windowed to the south and east, the passive solar was so efficient that on the coldest days in January the shower released gushing hot water. He cooled his fridge on $5 worth of propane a year. His brother Marty told him that if everyone in America had his purchasing habits, the economy would collapse.


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