Shortly after arriving in Colorado Sunday, Ken and Elaine Hohs hiked up the trail to the spot where their son, Dan, was fatally bitten by a rattlesnake the day before. They planted a few yellow mums.
"I wanted to mark the spot, because that's where his spirit had left us. It was such a beautiful place," Elaine said Tuesday through tears.
As the family prepares for Dan Hohs' wake Sunday in Arlington Heights, they're remembering the 31-year-old Mundelein native and Stevenson High School graduate.
Enthusiastic and happy, Dan excelled at everything he did -- earning an engineering degree from the University of Michigan, competing in national water skiing tournaments and working as a successful software developer. He finished two Ironman races, along with many marathons and triathlons.
His girlfriend, Kristen Ruberg, sadly laughed while describing him as a "super full on" person.
"He had this magnetic personality, and he was always so encouraging. You wanted to be around him," his mother said. "He had an infectious outlook on life."
Dan had lived in Colorado for the past four years but moved to Golden just two weeks ago to live with Kristen, a girl he'd known since they were students at the University of Michigan. They'd been dating for about a year.
Both experienced hikers, Dan and Kristen went on a short hike Saturday morning on the Cedar Gulch trail on Mt. Galbraith. As they headed back down the easy 3-mile trail -- hurrying a bit because they wanted to catch the Michigan football game -- they both unknowingly stepped on a 3½-foot rattlesnake that was camouflaged on ground.
Kristen instinctively backed away while Dan, who had been bitten on the ankle, screamed in pain. In less than two minutes, he couldn't talk or stand, Kristen said.
"It was very, very sudden," she said. "This was not a normal reaction to a snake bite."
Kristen called 911. As emergency responders raced up the trail to help, Kristen found a doctor and nurse hiking the trail who immediately started CPR. A slew of other hikers pitched in, even helping the paramedics carry Dan more than a mile down the path on a stretcher.
Kristen called Dan's parents from the ambulance, saying they were on their way to the hospital.
"I never imagined she'd call me back five minutes later to say he was gone," Elaine said.
Dan's exact cause of death won't be determined for a few weeks, said Dan Pruett, chief deputy coroner in Jefferson County, Colorado. They're doing tests to see if the snake's venom went directly into his artery or if he had some type of allergic or cardiac reaction.
"It's very unusual, and scary," Pruett said, adding that in nearly 30 years as a coroner, he's never seen a snakebite death.
Dan Hohs grew up in Mundelein as the youngest of three boys. An excellent student and athlete, he played Little League, water-skied on Gages and Diamond lakes (and later, with the Brown's Lake Aquaducks in Burlington, Wisconsin), and played varsity soccer at Stevenson. In college, his water ski team won the team spirit award at nationals. His teammates nicknamed him "Spirit Man Dan," his mother said.
He was a generous man who raised money for numerous charities, like suicide prevention, during races. He rode his bike across the United States to help provide health care to people around the world and shared his love of the outdoors with teenagers in the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps.
Last winter, Dan taught blind people and others with disabilities how to ski. His parents said Dan's corneas were donated in hopes they'd help others be able to see. Dan wished to donate all of his organs, but that wasn't possible because of the snake venom, Ken Hohs said.
"He wanted to help people, no matter what he did," Elaine said. "He did so much in his short years that most of us couldn't do in our lifetime. He reached so many people in such a positive way, and that's what he wanted."
While in college, Dan once met a homeless man near campus and talked to him for three hours, eventually convincing the man to join him on a run, his mother said.
"He was really amazing," she said. "He'd always post pictures on Instagram during his hikes. He'd say things like, 'Stop to smell the flowers' and 'Look at the beauty around you.' It puts a smile on my face to see those posts. He just saw the world as a wonderful place with wonderful people all around."
There was no challenge he wasn't willing to tackle, his dad said.
"He did a lot of adventure things that made me and his mother worry at times," Ken said, "but we never thought about snakes."
Dan Hohs' wake will be from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at Glueckert Funeral Home in Arlington Heights, with a service at 5 p.m. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Ride for World Health, Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, Hope for the Day Chicago, or the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps.