Matt Klee’s philosophy in life was simple: Find things that make you happy, and do them as often as possible.
“He would always talk about filling buckets,” Jen Klee said Friday morning. “He would say, fill your bucket with what brings you joy. He didn’t want any empty buckets … You don’t want to look back at life and have regrets about not filling your bucket, and I know Matt would have no regrets. Our six-year wedding anniversary is coming up, and in the short amount of time we had together, we created a vast arsenal of memories I now have to draw from. We filled our buckets every chance we could, and I’m grateful for that.”
Matt passed away on May 30, at the age of 40, while mountain biking with friends in Whistler, B.C. News of his death traveled quickly, and has since had a tremendous impact on the many people he shared his time and positive energy with. His loss has been particularly hard-felt by the local mountain biking community, for which he was the glue as the president of Hood River Area Trail Stewards (HRATS).
“I really can’t say enough about this community,” Jen said, holding back tears. “This is my worst nightmare, and I can’t imagine going through it anywhere else. I don’t think I could. Seeing how much of an effect he had on the community has made me very proud of him. He was the type of person who put his head down and got things done. He didn’t care who got credit for it, he just wanted to make things better. I don’t think he realized how much of a difference he was making.”
Although his day job was at Insitu, Klee spent much of his time working with HRATS to improve local mountain biking opportunities, with a special focus on the Family Man area of Post Canyon, where he worked to create learner-friendly features to help riders develop skills they could transfer to more difficult terrain in the area.
“The last feature Matt finished building was a set of three progressive drops to teach people how to take drops safely,” Jen said. The feature is on the Middle School run at Family Man. “We talked about that feature a lot. He was so concerned about building it right. Of course he built things for everyone, but that one he built so I could learn how to do drops. He never got to watch me ride it, which makes me sad.”
Jen did ride the feature recently, in the presence of about 75 others who came together for a group ride in Matt’s honor. Called Matt’s Lap, the group joined Saturday evening to ride one long lap around Post Canyon, on trails Matt enjoyed regularly.
“He had been so excited about the new berms that had been buffed-out on Mitchell Ridge,” Jen said. “I was excited to ride that trail with him, but we didn’t get a chance to do it together. When I heard people wanted to do a ride in Matt’s honor, it was very emotional for me. I was absolutely blown away by how many people participated.”
The group, wearing special shirts made for the occasion, rode from the base of Post Canyon up Seven Streams to Family Man, down lower GP, up Spaghetti Factory then down Mitchell Ridge back to the bottom of Post Canyon.
“I remember at one point I looked back and all I could see was a sea of green shirts behind me,” Jen said. “It was very powerful for me to see. And it was a perfect evening. The dirt was tacky, the dappled light was coming through the trees and everyone seemed to be on the same wavelength, It was very powerful.”
When the group arrived at Family Man, they took a detour to the three drops Matt had just recently completed. Each of the three features has a name etched into the wood. The smallest reads “Eddie,” which Matt etched in honor of his little brother, who passed away about a year and a half ago. The middle one reads “Byron” for his other brother, who passed away about 10 years ago. The largest now reads “Matt Klee,” which was recently added in his honor.
“We all amassed at the three drops; they’re kind of special to me now,” Jen said. “I went off first with everyone watching, and as I rode back around I watched person after person going off of Matt’s feature. It was very bittersweet. Everyone was excited, but somber; it was a very emotional moment for me.”
The group continued the lap, and as they got to the buffed-out berms on Mitchell Ridge that Matt had been raving about, Jen could hear people whooping and hollering on their way down.
“Matt would have loved hearing how much joy that brought people,” she said. “Matt and I both had experienced quite a bit of loss in our lives, so we talked about those kinds of things a lot. He always honored people in the best possible way — by remembering the things that brought them joy. I know that’s how he would want people to remember him.”
Live Like Matt
The Matt Klee Scholarship fund has recently been established, and although its exact mission continues to evolve, the fund will be used in some way to help cultivate a love for the outdoors in children.
For details, or to donate to the fund, visit livelikematt.org.