Throw It All Down

Michael Lanahan's life was a puzzle, his death a mystery wrapped in a song.

On Saturday morning he told Hilberg he was going up to Boulder to see friends. She walked him to the door. They kissed and hugged. He lingered.

"It took him a long time to leave," she recalls. "Nothing you'd notice, but in retrospect, it was a long time."

He caught a bus. In his backpack he carried six bottles of beer, a bottle of Eagle Rare bourbon, a water bottle, his journal and several feet of nylon rope. In his pockets were plastic zip ties, a knife, his cell phone and his CD player, loaded with the second disc of OAR's Any Time Now.

Crazy games: At CU, Michael Lanahan (above) was a 
high-stakes player on the party scene.
Mark Manger
Crazy games: At CU, Michael Lanahan (above) was a high-stakes player on the party scene.

On the bus ride to Boulder, he took out the journal and began to write:

I do not expect people to understand my decision to end my life. I imagine that most of the people close to me will be hurt and angry but I can do nothing about that. I made a choice that set me on a path with only one destination.

He got off the bus and walked to Chatauqua Park. He hiked, drank, wrote some more. He filled six pages by the time the sun went down.

Then he dug out his cell phone and began to leave voice-mail goodbyes.

I don't know what to say anymore
So I'm just gonna go out that door.
'Crazy Game of Poker'

The Searchers

After Lanahan hung up on him, Billy Flores started dialing anybody he could think of in Colorado, hoping someone could find his friend before it was too late. The first person he reached called Jeff Malin, who left messages for several of Lanahan's friends, trying to figure out where he went.

Sneaky Lanahan had told Flores he was in Rocky Mountain National Park. Malin called a dispatcher there and explained the situation; since Lanahan didn't have a car, he must have started out from a trailhead accessible by bus.

But as the evening wore on, it became apparent that Lanahan was a lot closer to Boulder than he'd let on. Spees came home late from a swim meet and found ten messages on his phone: a weird message from Mike ("I wish things could have worked out differently...ride hard and ride safe"), followed by urgent calls from Malin, Flores and a bunch of other Lanahan confederates. He checked his text messages and found one from Lanahan that had come in around 7:30 p.m.: 2ND FLATIRON ASAP.

Shortly after eleven, Malin and Spees drove to Chatauqua Park to search the trails leading to the Flatirons. Spees ran up the trails shouting Lanahan's name. He came across a sign pointing to the climbing amphitheater that had "Oliver" carved on it and headed in that direction.

"I thought he might be sitting on top of one of the spires and was going to jump, so I free-climbed some in the dark," Spees says. "It was stupid."

The police didn't arrive until midnight. They lit up the Flatirons with a light truck and kept Malin and Spees occupied with endless questions. Other friends checked in; Lanahan had left text messages at least until eight o'clock or so. Gosch got one that said CALL ME ASAP, called back four minutes later and got no answer.

After seeing a mysterious light on the first Flatiron, a rescue team hustled to the top, only to find a young couple on a midnight hike. Around four in the morning, the team decided to break off the search and wait for daylight.

"I was actually relieved we didn't find him," Spees says. "I liked the idea that he wasn't there and he was just being Lanahan, being a dick. Maybe this was just a cover and he was going to run again."

The Hanged Man

Christopher Bunick runs trails all over the Flatirons. One day last fall, the 33-year-old somatic educator and rolfing practitioner missed the trail he wanted and ended up in a gorgeous spot under the lower end of the second Flatiron, a place with tall pines and sweeping vistas.

He came back two days later -- Sunday, October 23 -- with a friend, eager to show him the spot. They were about twenty minutes from the Chatauqua trailhead when they came across the hanged man.

The rope had been wrapped around a tree limb ten feet off the ground. The man's feet were just touching the ground.

There were no signs of life. While his friend ran down the trail to find help, Bunick stayed with the body. A former Outward Bound instructor, he'd spent more than a thousand nights in the wilderness, had seen all kinds of trauma and accidents, but he'd never seen anything like this. He couldn't stop staring.

He searched the backpack beside the body and found a notebook. He read:

I have not led a happy life. This is not to say that my parents were not wonderful or that my life was not filled with problems, but that I have been depressed to one degree for as long as I can remember...I find myself a very lonely person with a great inability to form close, intimate relationships.

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