Citizen Wausau

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Cool Dude #1: Gary Barden

by on February 20th, 2008

Gary Barden is a cool dude, and I have scars to prove it.

I think that I need to start off with something of a confession in the name of transparency.  I have something that Gary Barden created tattooed on my body, and five friends have the same tattoo. My friend Scott Holt trusted Gary with the creative vision for his own identity, and Gary has produced the Annual Report, website and quarterly newsletter for one of the most influential foundations here in Wausau.

That all sounds really good, but what about that makes him cool? Its hard to say what makes someone cool, but if you know Gary or meet Gary you will know instantly why I think he is cool.  Is it a vibe?  Well if it is, then Gary has that.  If it is more than that, than Gary has that as well.   For a while Gary had a questionable beard, but even his questionable choices seemed somehow cool.

So enough of the love fest. Who is this Gary Barden dude I’m spouting on about?  Well, Gary is a 40-year-old graphic designer who looks like a cool 20-year-old graphic designer.  He owns one of the workhorse firms in Wausau, Studio 519.  Studio 519 is one of those shops that does not waste a lot of time pontificating about things that are meta; instead, Gary focuses on the work. 

“It’s fine to talk about it, but it’s work.  I go to work everyday, and do work,” said Gary over lunch at Noodles and Company.  I think it was refreshing to hear someone talk about his or her craft as just that, a trade.  Gary takes his work seriously, and his wide range of work reflects it.  His visuals are not limited to any one style, in fact you could never pigeonhole his work as one thing, it really reflects a strong connection to the work that the client is looking for.

Graphic design is all well and good, but what Gary is really passionate about is Mountain Biking.  A few months ago I had a chance to go into his basement, and I have to say that I was more than just a little bit shocked.  I do not even know how many bikes were down there, but what I do recall was a gorgeous Santa Cruz frame, black on black, full suspension, like some sort of wonderful racehorse on a work stand.

Gary told me that he started riding a while ago, and his excitement for it has grown steadily.  He said that the riding started off as fitness thing, and slowly turned into a passion, and then remarkably into a pretty successful business.  You see a few years back Gary went from riding in the mud and the muck, over hill and dale to being a mountain bike entrepreneur.  Or something.

Gary and his brother started a company called Fat Tire Guides.  Their purpose is simple, yet amazingly cool.  The ride the trails, map them, video them, and make it all available to you on the web.  The amazing thing is this: they rode every mile, of every trail, in every spot, themselves.  Gary and his brother were out and about every weekend, pedaling their bikes for miles and miles, with GPS…thingies (a technical term) and a camera strapped to one of their heads.

Over our lunch at the Noodles joint, it became clear that Gary is very passionate about everything on two wheels that you pedal yourself.  He talked at length and rather poetically about building up a bike, making it perfect.  Making a bike do and be what you’re going to need it for.  It was funny, because that is how he talked about his graphic design work as well.  Building it, finding a way to match the work to what the client needs it to be.  I found that amazing, that he could make both things this sort of Zen koan cool like thing.

I do not know when I met Gary.  I do not really remember my life with or without him.  I have always known he was there, and that he was a lot cooler than me.  For a while I thought I might have him because he had questionable taste in music, but suddenly that all turned around.  So, again I am left feeling horribly inadequate around him. Gary Barden is a cool dude.  He is a family guy, who is passionate about Jess and Zoe, and he is passionate about his art and his work, which are oddly enough the same thing, he is passionate about his bike and the company his brother founded.  Gary Barden, cool dude number one.

You can find Gary at Studio 519, or at Fat Tire Guides.  Check ’em out.

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