• Mike Kilen
  • Tue March 12 2013
  • Posted Mar 12, 2013

Around Des Moines you may have run into this man whose beard comes around the corner before he does. He’s usually on a bicycle. People want to touch his foot-long, corkscrewed, gray-streaked, multi-layered bit of wildness.

Turns, out the 45-year-old is a corporate man. He works in mortgages, yet he knows if he sat on a downtown sidewalk people would throw him change.

“I never dreamed I’d be working in the mortgage business,” said Scott Sumpter, a thankful and loyal Wells Fargo employee, who nonetheless likens the image of the shiny suburban Goliath office near Jordan Creek Town Center to a prison. “It pays the bills.”

Turns out, the bearded one is very talented in Web development and may have been a key player in changing the culture of the state with his hip/geek thing, but we’ll get to that in a second.

First the beard — my reason for plucking him out of cubicle prison for a suburban lunch. Scott Sumpter’s beard has endured for nearly 20 years. It has moved in, demanded time and attention, and they have grown older together.

Sumpter grew up in a small town and conformed, joining sports teams, enlisting in the Iowa National Guard and shaving because the military required it. Then in 1993 he quit the Guard while working at Principal in Des Moines. The great flood happened that year. He had started riding bikes and rode one right downtown where his old clean shaven Guard mates were on duty. His hair remained unwashed and started growing in all places.

“I wanted to be a rebel,” he said. “I missed out on that hippie thing in high school and college.”

He kept growing his hair and riding bikes. He went on RAGBRAI and couldn’t stop talking about it. These people seemed like the guys he used to ride motorcycles with, serious about parties and united in fear of roadside slaughter by a Ford pickup. They just wore Spandex instead of leather.

He started trying to gather these folks in 2001. It was natural for a computer guy to think a little website to post party rides was the way to bring people together. Others quickly joined in, adding their rides. After a couple years, he got more serious about it and became a tool for bicyclists to find out what was going on across the state.

In the last 10 years, the site has grown to include trail locations, rides and races, and news of bicycle accidents and advocacy, and all other things on two wheels.

Sumpter needed more functionality to tie it all together so he spent nearly every night for two years writing the computer language for it. His new and improved site launched last summer.

He views the site as a service. He’s met thousands of friends. It became this way of life that made a difference in the culture and health of a community.

“Not many people get to do that,” he said.

Once he thought he might leave Iowa but now he doesn’t want to. Who would run his website?

The beard that became his trademark isn’t going anywhere either. It was down to his bellybutton at one time. Now it’s cut back to chest level with two gray streaks cascading like a waterfall down a curly bluff.

It gathers the biker’s enemy, wind, and captures literally pounds of ice on his winter rides. But it’s one of the ways a man can be his own man, even when corporate hands down a new rule. Shave your chest and you’re some kind of sissy. Beards are all right, man.







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