It was on a plane somewhere, although the destination and time are details Colten Moore has lost. What he remembers now, what he holds on to, is what his brother told him.
Wherever Caleb Moore went, he told Colten, he always liked it best when they traveled together. Their adventures had taken two small-town boys from the Texas panhandle around the country and world. They had become among the best riders of all-terrain vehicles and of snowmobiles in the X Games.
That conversation represented the brotherly bond the Moores forged over years of flipping high-powered machines.
Colten Moore now makes those journeys alone, and he’ll head to the X Games in Aspen, Colo., later this month seeking to carry on his brother’s legacy. Jan. 31 will mark the three-year anniversary of Caleb Moore’s death as the result of a crash in that event and complications that followed.
This year, carrying on Caleb’s legacy includes the release on Tuesday of Catching the Sky, a book Colten Moore wrote with Keith O’Brien chronicling the brothers’ lives and progression in their sports.
For Moore, 26, it’s been part of the process of grieving an older brother who pushed him and pushed the limits.
“Riding, to me, is kind of like therapy,” Moore told USA TODAY Sports recently before the release of the book. “A lot of people think it’s dangerous or this or that, but that’s the happiest moment I can have is when I’m out there riding. That’s when I feel close (to him).”
To be sure, Caleb’s death crystalized the danger inherent in the sport. At the 2013 X Games, he under-rotated a flip and the snowmobile’s skis landed high on the jump. Moore tumbled off, and the 450-pound sled landed atop him before bouncing away.
He walked off the course, but doctors found bleeding around his heart. There was no cardiothoracic surgeon at the Aspen hospital where he was taken, according to new details revealed in the book, and a cardiologist who could have drained the blood around Caleb Moore’s heart was not paged.
Instead, doctors decided to transfer him to a better-equipped hospital in Grand Junction, Colo., a process that took six hours from the time of the crash to complete due in part to a snowstorm. By the time Caleb Moore arrived, his heart had stopped and his brain had been without oxygen for 20 minutes.
While he had surgery on his heart, Caleb’s brain had been damaged and he died a week later when his family took him off life support. He was 25.
“Caleb wanted to be there, soaring through the air. I did, too,” writes Colten Moore, who also crashed that night and separated his pelvis. “And even knowing everything we did now — about what might happen and how it could end — we would still have jumped our sleds that night. Not because we’re stupid — as the internet critics like to say — but because we accepted these sorts of risks every single day, and I was willing to accept them again to live the life I wanted.”
In the wake of Moore’s death, the X Games made changes to safety protocol. Riders are now required to wear body vests and equip their snowmobiles with springs that keep the machine’s ski tips facing upward, allowing for more ground clearance.
Colten Moore returned to compete the next year, winning gold in the same event in honor of his brother. In the two years since Caleb Moore’s death, he has added another gold in Speed & Style and two bronze medals in the long jump.
In Catching the Sky, Colten Moore tells of the brothers’ path through the sport together — first jumping ATVs in a foam pit their parents built at their home in Krum, Texas, and then to competing on snowmobiles in the X Games starting in 2010.
But that story comes through the admiring eyes of a younger brother, one who wants the world to know who Caleb Moore was: a “badass” who was the product of the family’s humble Texas roots; the responsible one who took care of the mortgage, logistics and the bills; the risk taker who landed a backflip on an ATV just six times before doing it in a show; the brother who not only pushed Colten but would try things first to make sure they were safe.
“For me and him growing up, we did everything together,” Colten says. “He wasn’t just my brother. He was my best friend, my mentor. He was my idol. Everything we did, we did together.”
Colten Moore’s trust in Caleb was absolute and without question. While he was the shy, quiet, younger brother, Caleb was the gregarious older brother who made friends wherever he went and embraced life at full-throttle.
That came in the face of risk, but Caleb eased the doubts Colten had.
“If he could do it, and he told me that I could do it, I had no doubt. I trusted him 100 percent,” Colten says. “He could convince me to do anything.”
Now that convincing is Colten’s alone. He continues to jump on ATVs and snowmobiles, and he has started racing trucks. Now that voice in his head, offering criticism and encouragement, is Caleb’s.
“I know if he was here, he would still be pushing for it,” Colten says. “I’m trying to live up to how he was.”
To be sure, their path through a niche sport is different from the typical sports story. But the strength of Catching the Sky is the universally relatable bond between brothers — brothers who decided to fly and flip machines but who would have formed the same bond had they tried to pursue chess careers together.
In a high school essay, Caleb wrote, “One of the things I found most memorable was Walden, by Henry David Thoreau. My favorite quote is when he says, ‘I wanted to live deep and suck out all of the marrow of life.’ … I agree with him. We only get one shot in this life, so go for it.”
And so Caleb Moore did. And now Colten Moore carries on for them both.