“I only rode maybe 10 times,” she said. Despite that, the lure of riding the Slickrock Trail would eventually draw Dillon to Moab.
When Dillon was young her family lived on 220 acres in Mancos.
“I had a fun childhood,” Dillon said. “I spent a lot of time outdoors. I learned to ride my brother’s bike when I was 7 or 8.”
When she was in fourth grade, the family moved to Tomball, Texas, where Dillon graduated high school third in her class.
“With eight kids, going to college all depended on being able to get scholarships and financial aid,” she said.
Those scholarships came through, and Dillon graduated from college with a bachelor of arts in business administration.
Her first big job was in Houston, working at Exxon-Mobil’s planning department.
“I made pie charts and graphs,” she said. “They’d write the formulas and I’d key in the data.”
In the days prior to software such as Microsoft Excel, Dillon became proficient in VisiCalc, one of the first spreadsheet programs written for computers.
“Before that, a spreadsheet was an actual piece of paper,” Dillon’s husband, Tom Dillon said. “They didn’t know the technology. This was all new. But she knew how to use the program and update the numbers instantly.”
That knowledge eventually led her to meetings at the Houston Area Apple Users Group to become more familiar with the new Apple III computer. Dillon was the treasurer of the 1,000-member organization. It was also where she met her husband.
“As you can imagine, in a computer group like that, there weren’t many women,” Tom Dillon said.
After losing her job in a round of layoffs, Ruth Dillon went to work for a company that administered polygraph tests to newly hired employees. Together with a few of the salespeople and the marketing director, Dillon co-founded Team Building Systems.
“We were a one-stop shop for pre-employment,” she said, explaining that the company worked with distributors to help sell drug and paper tests for employment candidates. “We started on a shoestring budget,” she added. “We each put in $200.”
Within seven years, the company was named one of INC magazine’s top 500 fastest growing private companies.
“We were growing, and I was doing my best to keep up with everything,” she said. “I was still only in my 20s.”
Her time with Team Building Systems taught her about building relationships.
“There were three partners, and sometimes we didn’t get along,” she said. “We had to learn how to make it work.”
In the early ‘90s, Dillon finally got her first bicycle. However, she didn’t really know how to ride it.
“I thought the brakes were on the pedals, and I didn’t know anything about gears,” she said.
It took some time, but with her husband’s guidance, Dillon kept riding.
“My mother-in-law kept telling me she didn’t think this was my sport,” she said. “I decided to make it my sport.”
Eventually, an economic downturn meant employers were putting less money into testing, and Dillon was soon unemployed.
She returned to college, earning a master’s degree in behavioral science with a focus on family therapy.
“I really felt that’s who I was meant to be,” she said. “It all connected back to my family. I needed to learn to communicate and relate.”
The Dillons soon decided to leave Houston. Tom Dillon had been offered a job with a computer company in Denver, Colorado, and after first considering a move to Austin, Texas, they headed to the Mile High City in the fall of 1996.
Ruth worked as a family therapist at an alternative high school for at-risk youth in inner-city Denver. She also started her own private practice. The couple soon made their first visit to Moab.
“We had seen a full-page spread on the Slickrock bike trail in a Bike magazine,” she said. “It looked like a moonscape, and I thought, ‘I want to go there.’”
They spent the vacation riding the Slickrock Trail, and it soon became a tradition.
“We always camped at Sand Flats, and we always rode Slickrock at least once,” Tom Dillon said.
“Our first trip to Moab, we drank water from Matrimony Spring. We’ve never felt so connected to any other place,” she said, referring to the myth that those who drink from Matrimony Spring will be married to the canyonlands.
They visited Moab regularly for 12 years and eventually began to discuss the possibility of relocating.
“Every time we came here, the pull was a little stronger,” she said.
In 2008, they began creating a two-year plan that would allow them to follow their dream of living in Moab. Two weeks later, Ruth applied for a job as the Grand County Council administrator’s assistant. Even though the job required a huge pay cut, she jumped at the chance.
“It was all about the opportunity and possibility of moving to Moab,” she said. “It was about following our hearts.”
Seven years later, the Dillons feel they’re finally where they were meant to be. In 2012, Ruth was hired as the Grand County Council administrator, a job she was hesitant to accept.
“I was afraid I would lose myself in the job because it’s so big and demanding,” she said. “But we found a way to have the life we’ve imagined. And that’s what sustains me, gives me the energy to do the job.”
She said she’s finally learned how to balance her career and home life.
“If you aren’t there for you, you can’t be there for them,” she said. “I have a good support system, and I have good people around me. That’s why this works.”
Twenty-five years after she bought her first bicycle, Ruth Dillon still loves mountain biking. And she and her husband still regularly camp at Sand Flats.
“I think I love Moab more every year,” she said.