Question: What climbs more than 5,000 feet to the top of Independence Pass in icy temperatures and a sideways dusty wind, only to dance to Pink’s “Get This Party Started” like a raver at 3 a.m.? Bike riders of course! Ride the Rockies bike riders to be specific.
I just spent the last week being a DJ for the 34th annual Ride the Rockies. The event covered 434 miles and more than 29,000 feet of elevation gain. I hate to admit this but I’m tired and I did not even pedal a single foot of elevation gain (unless you count putting my foot on a gas pedal).
The leg that lifted over Independence Pass seemed the toughest even from the point of view of my “Escape Pod,” a small RV that I staged my musical activities and mountain lifestyle from. When I got to the top of the pass on day three, the wind was howling in that desolate parking lot. The snowbank was still 5 feet high and the volunteers were setting up their aid stations while clad in arctic gear from head to toe. The riders were coming from Buena Vista, 44 miles down to the south and east. Their destination was Snowmass Village.
There’s something about conquering a formidable challenge that puts you in a good mood. And most, but not all, of the riders who crested the pass that day were high on elevation, adrenaline and accomplishment. They hid in the lee of the escape pod and fumbled with the packaging on their trail mix, some of which was being swept away as bird food in the wind.
By early afternoon, when the posse had reached critical mass, riders started to dance — yes, dance — in bike shorts, tight tops and those silly bike shoes that make you look like you are walking on boxes without topses. This is when I realized that I was part of something special, a member of a family that was dedicated to fitness, fun and philanthropy. My kind of people.
I was supposed to be done around 1 p.m. that day but the 1,700 riders were dispersed by wind and grade and they were still coming over the hill at 3 p.m. I stayed late because riders still needed their dose of the Clash. Besides, the crew was staying until the last rider and I couldn’t abandon them either. We were the Breakfast Club and we hung together.
I never thought much about Ride the Rockies until last year when they came through Winter Park. I got to work at a concert in town that was thrown for the riders and tourists that frequent the Grand Valley. When a group of almost 2,000 riders comes to a town of approximately 1,000 permanent residents it changes the dynamics. Just the sheer volume of sweaty lycra is enough to enhance the scent of pine wafting in from the Experimental Forest.
And yes the lycra was everywhere and I’ve heard that some of the residents of Tabernash are still in recovery.
Some communities are better prepared to stage an event like this. The riders set up a massive tent village in a town and then spread out. The restaurants and businesses can cash in, overflow or not see any action depending on the setup.
It’s on the highways where the rubber hits the road with an event like this. You need to have signs, support vehicles, highway patrol assistance, marshals, water, snacks, repairs, aid stations, porta-potties, medics and yes, apparently a DJ.
Considering the sheer volume of riders and the stunning distances and elevation gains of this event it went very well indeed. There are a lot of moving parts in Ride the Rockies. My part was small — a tiny violin in a large orchestra but it was wonderful to be part of the team.
Staff and volunteers brought joyous effort to Ride the Rockies partly because it distributes $24,000 in direct grant monies to organizations in each of the host communities. This year’s recipients included Living Journeys, Gunnison County Food Pantry, elevateHER, Challenge Aspen, Youthentity, Friends of the Paradise Theatre, Gunnison Valley Mentors and Adaptive Sports Center of Crested Butte. All of these organizations are cornerstones of empathy in their respective communities.
After spending the week on the road in close proximity to so many bikes I have a few observations. Neon yellow clothing is by far the most visible, especially in bright light and shadows. The more the better. A little stripe of yellow is OK but wearing the neon from head to toe is by far the most effective. There is no comparison, even among other neon colors, from my perspective as a motorist.
Some riders also used flashing red lights, some of which were brighter than others. Those with the neon yellow clothing and the brightest blinking lights stood the best chance of being seen and avoided by the likes of me. Still some riders wore black, blue, red or brown and were next to invisible in proximity to their neon yellow counterparts.
As an added bonus, those wearing the yellow neon stood out on the dance floor and who wouldn’t want that?
Steve Skinner is a DJ and road warrior. Reach him at email@example.com.