MARQUETTE - Very few of us have a choice about when it's our time to leave this world; even fewer get to leave doing something that we love. But on June 3, Carroll Jackson passed away while doing something that he had poured his whole heart into for three decades - riding his mountain bike with his friends.
Dale Thomas hosts an annual ride in June with some friends from the ski patrol. This year, the ride was held on June 3, and Ed Tresedder and Jackson were invited to join them.
Carroll Jackson rides during the 2012 Midwest Snow Bike Championships in Calumet.
A sign designates the Carroll Jackson trail.
"When the ride started, Dale asked Carroll to lead the ride, and he was more than happy to do so," Tresedder said.
He said that Jackson had been grooming the new trail for the past few days, and had finally completed it earlier that day. The group started out on one of the more difficult inclines of the ride, and Jackson climbed it beautifully.
"We got to the top and he looked at me and said, 'I've been meaning to do that for a while,'" he said.
As they were working their way along the course, Jackson pulled over to the left, mentioning to one of the other riders that he had a little episode.
"He said his chest felt funny and he couldn't catch his breath, but he felt OK now," Tresedder said.
When the group approached the new trail, they stopped to take a photo, which would be the last picture ever taken of Jackson.
"Then, one of the guys said, 'Well Carroll, you might as well lead (again), because it's your trail. He got on his bike and as he was pedaling, he fell right over onto the side of the trail," he said.
Tresedder added that he and a friend were the first ones to assess the situation and help as much as they could. Police and first responders were there within minutes, and he said that everything that could have been done for Jackson was done, but he was in full cardiac arrest and he died from a massive heart attack along the side of the trail that day. He was 62 years old.
"I believe he knew we did all that we could for him," he said. "He had a fantastic ride. He was just in his element, as he always was while riding, and he was conversing with people and having a good time."
Danny Hill, who was also present on Jackson's last ride, said that there was nobody more passionate about riding than Jackson.
"For all of us that are passionate about our cycling - if we gotta go, the way he went is the way we would pick," he said.
Glen Lerlie of Ishpeming said he met Jackson about 25 years ago when he was on his first ride on his first mountain bike. Over the years, the two became very close friends and competed in countless races together.
"Everybody wanted to ride like Carroll," Lerlie said. "For many, many years, he was always the guy that you were striving to be like. He was ridiculously fast when it came to going fast downhill; he was the man. He raced everything, always."
Lerlie said that Jackson was just a selfless person who was always giving to others - not just to his friends but to the entire community.
"He was always laughing, and always big-hearted," he said. "He always had a kind word, and always made people feel at home."
Lerlie said that Jackson used to compete in races almost every weekend for many years, and he won his age group more than anybody Lerlie knew, so dying the way he did was probably the perfect way for him to go.
"It's terrible for the rest of us, but he went doing exactly what he loved," he said. "He built his last trail that same day, and he was taking people on it for the last time."
Jackson's daughter, Laura Vorase, said "I was upset that it was sooner than I wanted it to be, but that was absolutely the way it should have been. It was so like him - nothing was ever out of the ordinary for him."
Everyone that was with Jackson that day said he had a fantastic ride; those that knew him in life would say exactly the same.
For information on the Range Mountain Bike Club, which was founded by Jackson, Hill, and Lerlie, visit their Facebook page.