In 2011, people in Hood River began organizing a mountain bike association to negotiate trail building in the surrounding mountains.
“Matt was introduced to me by Sam Pinner and Mike Estes in Matt’s home and they said, ‘This is the guy we want for our president,’” said Heather Pola, outreach events coordinator for Hood River Area Trail Stewards (Hood RATS).
Before that meeting in Klee’s home, Hood River riders had struggled to build a proper relationship with the forest service and other land management organizations around the small Oregon town.
Pola explained that Klee was very humble and hesitant about the proposition. He played it down, saying he didn’t have enough experience trail-building to be president.
But when he spoke, Pola said everyone knew he was the one.
“He was so respected and he didn’t even have to try,” said Pola. “He executed, he delegated … I can’t even put into words how much he did for our community.”
On a routine run last Friday in Whistler, British Columbia, Klee, 40, fell on a rock feature on the Lower Downhill run.
He sustained major injuries and was rushed to the Whistler Health Care Centre, where according to Pique News Magazine, he was pronounced dead at 6 p.m.
The news of his death spread across the bike community like wildfire. As an experienced mountain biker, who has built big-hit features and rode with the best of them, it was hard to comprehend that he was gone. Not to mention accept.
“Matt’s passing is overwhelming and heartbreaking,” said Patricia Lenz, treasurer of Hood RATS, in an email. “People say, ‘There are not words to describe the loss,’ but in this case, there truly aren’t.”
Nearly three years after that meeting in Klee’s home, the Hood River community has been transformed from extremely fragmented and fraught groups of trail builders, trail users and land managers to a community that has open dialogue and shared interests.
He was the glue that brought people together; to the point that one work day drew more than 100 volunteers.
“We really got shit done that day,” said Lola. “When you’re working with someone that exceeds your internal motivation … He just made it effortless.”
Klee loved it. He found a sense of place in Hood River. So many of his close friends came to know him through the trail building community. They would start and end their trail rides at Dirty Fingers Bicycles, often over a series of beers. To many riders, Dirty Fingers was much like a living room for the community, people always coming and going, hanging their helmets and mucking up the furniture with their muddy shoes.
The bike party will continue at Dirty Fingers with more trail rides and many, many pints, likely paying homage to Klee’s most instrumental zone, Family Man, which features rowdy drops, skinny bridges and rad jumps. He will also be remembered for Lollipop Lane, a place specifically designed for groms.
“There are so few people who have full-time jobs, a life full of passionate activities and a large group of friends who take the amount of time out of all of that to give back to the their communities,” said Lenz. “That was Matt.”
The Klee Family is aiming to hold a memorial for Matt on Saturday, June 7 at 5 p.m. More information can be found on the Hood RATS Facebook page.