The first thing you notice about Marge Gunderson is her smile. It’s radiant and infectious. But if you focus on that smile, and she happens to be on a mountain bike, the next thing you’ll notice is that your reciprocating smile is full of dust and you’re working double-time to catch up.
Spend any time with Marge, on trails, roads or snow, and you quickly realize that she is a strong and talented athlete. When she tells you her age, you’re floored. Forget everything you know about aging. Forget any preconceptions you might have had. “Fast Marge” will blow your expectations away.
The Ski Bum Days
The word “Fast” was added to Marge’s name in the mid-1960s after she moved to Aspen to ski. Growing up in the small agricultural town of Lewiston, Utah, Marge didn’t start skiing until she moved to Salt Lake City as an adult. “I couldn’t afford to ski until I had my own job and my own money,” Marge tells me. “Then when I started, I never took a lesson, I just went up to Brighton and taught myself.” In 1963, with only three winters of experience, she began ski racing. And winning.
Marge moved to Aspen in 1965 for a job at the T Lazy 7 Ranch as a summertime horse hand and chambermaid. In the winter she moved into town where she worked as a legal secretary by day and cocktail waitress by night. She also taught skiing. “Aspen wasn’t as expensive then,” states Marge. “I still had to share a house with some girls and I still had to work several jobs to afford it, but I was local and I knew everyone. We’d take brown bag lunches, eat on the chairlift and ski over our lunch hour. We’d make eight runs and go back to work.”
Enter “Fast Marge”
In 1966, Rick Deane opened the first motorcycle dealership in Aspen. Marge and her friend Pat each bought a 250cc Montessa Scorpion. They made the bikes street legal and set out to discover the beauty of the Colorado mountains. Marge and Pat were 1960s pioneers on motorcyles: two beautiful young women exploring mountain passes and ghost towns and hustling pool for food and fun. Marge has a yellowed photocopy of an article from that time, published in Cycle Magazine. It’s a profile of Aspen and its growing bike scene. This article corroborates everything Marge is telling me, including her days as a pool shark. It also refers to her as “Fast Marge.” For, it turns out, Marge wasn’t just touring on her motorcycle. She was also racing and once again, winning.
After three years in Aspen, Marge moved on. She loaded her bike onto her Volkswagen and drove west to Redondo Beach, California. In California, she found love and sold her Montessa for a refrigerator. The love didn’t last, but had the happy result of a daughter named Wendy. Tiring of California, Marge moved to Boise, Idaho as a single mom in the early 1970s. Another marriage came and went, with another happy result, her daughter Trina. Having had enough of men, she rekindled her love affair with motorcycles, buying bikes for her girls so that they could spend their weekends together riding trails. After eight years, Marge recruited a new rider to join their team. With absolutely no experience, but with a big heart and willing spirit, Steve Gunderson took up motorcycling in order to win the heart of “Fast Marge.” It worked and they’ve been married for 28 years.
Mountain Biking at Age 64
Talking with Marge, I’m starting to get a little confused. I’ve never seen Marge on a motorcycle. But I’ve seen her plenty on bicycles. And on these non-motorized conveyances, Marge is agile and confident. Finally, I ask. “When did you start biking?” She laughs (there’s that smile again!) and tells me that she started mountain biking only seven years ago, when she, Steve and Wendy relocated to Colorado. A group of women at her church invited her on their weekly ride. At age 64, Marge took the saddle of a mountain bike and has never looked back. Three years later, these same women convinced her to try road biking. Marge rides weekly with this group (who range in age from their 30s to their 70s) and now she’s the instigator inspiring them onto greater adventures. Together, they’ve completed Ride the Rockies twice, as well as the Copper Triangle and the Iron Horse race against the train from Durango to Silverton, Colorado.
A Birthday Tradition
Marge celebrated her seventy-first birthday in May with a 71 mile bike ride. She brought about 30 friends along for the ride, which spanned Western Colorado’s Grand Valley, crossing the roads from Fruita to Palisade and back. This was Marge’s third such birthday ride. She started the tradition when she turned 69, with a 69 mile ride and she plans to continue the tradition, adding one mile each year, for many more years. Never one to sit still, or rest up, in the four weeks following her birthday, Marge rode an all women’s century in Utah and took a bicycle trip along the Pacific Coast Highway in California with Steve and seven other friends. She and Steve also visited Norway, just not with bikes.
Before I leave Marge’s home, she tells me about Alice Telford, the 87 year-old founder of the Little Red Riding Hood Women’s Century in Cache Valley, Utah, which Marge rode in June. What started as a ride for friends has blossomed into a 3,500 women event that sells out in less than an hour. “She’s even older than me,” Marge laughs. I look at Marge and suggest that she start a women’s century here in Colorado. She flashes her incredible smile and replies, “I think I already have. It’s my birthday ride.”
Ride on, “Fast Marge.”
This article was originally published by Women’s Adventure Magazine in their Fall 2012 issue. Marge recently celebrated her 72nd birthday with — you guessed it! — a 72 mile ride!
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