13 March 2012


Grand Mesa, 2005

What exactly is Ride the Rockies, and why do I spend so much time rambling on and on and on about it?

Ride the Rockies began in 1986 as a six- to seven-day bicycling tour across the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Each year offers a new route, although some popular routes, sometimes slightly altered, are offered again every few years. In a week, 2,000 cyclists cover 400-500 miles while climbing four to seven and sometimes even eight mountain passes along the way. More than 4,000 cyclists from all 50 states and many foreign countries take their chances in February in a lottery to determine who gets to go and who gets to stay home. After selected cyclists are announced in March, 2,000 cyclists begin training and preparing to take on 60- to 70-mile (or more!) rides for six or seven days straight during coveted vacation time.

For at least the first 15 years of Ride the Rockies, potential riders mailed in their registrations. It didn't take long for creative individuals to come up with great-looking envelopes to improve their chances of being drawn in a literal drawing, with envelopes pulled by hand from an oversized postal canvas bag on wheels. Then some riders got a little crazy and sent their entries via Federal Express, to arrive on the day of the drawing, and capture a fair amount of attention as well.

successful 2005 entry

Gone are those days. Now registration is done via online service, and the drawing is computerized. Word has it entrants from foreign countries and states other than Colorado are given preference, but so are riders who live within the communities being visited each year. Last year, a point system was invoked to give first-time riders a better chance at getting in, but this year, it was back to basics. No points, no preference. Unless, of course, hopeful riders are not from Colorado.

The ride is not a race, although some riders do ride very fast. Riders may begin each day's ride whenever they are ready, and there is no cut-off at the end of the day.

Riders are given the choice to camp - either tentless indoors, typically in a school gymn, or outdoors, usually on a football field, with their own tents - or make their own arrangements in each host town. In recent years, riders also may spend extra bucks to have a partner touring company make all their overnight, baggage transport and shuttle arrangements or set up and take down commercial tents each day in each host community.

tent city

The Denver Post, the main sponsor and organizer of the event, provides three big trucks to haul rider gear to each overnight stop along the way. The Post also provides a shower truck, while schools, community centers or similar facilities providing home base for the cyclists each night open up showers for use by the cyclists.

About 100 volunteers staff the registration desk, informational booths, rest stops and SAG wagons. Many of the volunteers have been volunteering for this ride for almost as many years as the ride has been offered. Most of them take their vacation time to come back and do it again year after year.

Bike shops set up mini shops, usually from the back of a van and beneath a shady canopy, at rest stops during the ride and in each host community at the end of each day so riders may have their bikes checked, repaired and sometimes even replaced without missing a day of the tour. Cyclists with ailing bikes may have them serviced free and are charged only for parts.

Medical staff volunteer their time to assist cyclists at each rest stop and in each host community. Some medic volunteers ride and assist along the route. The medical staff deals with everything from sunburns, road rash, saddle sores, altitude sickness, dehydration, insect bites and food poisoning to full-throttle emergencies such as crashes...

The Shower Truck

Cyclists don't have to raise money to ride in Ride the Rockies. They pay a registration fee that covers police services throughout the week, a jersey, a water bottle, a map, a training T-shirt, medical and SAG support, the baggage trucks, the shower truck and limited food and drink at each day's rest stops. Concessionaires pick up rest stop slack and offer a wider variety of food and drink to accommodate hungry riders for a price.

The Amish community near Olathe bakes homemade bread, cinnamon rolls, muffins, cookies and pies, nothing from a box, all completely from scratch. The girls softball team in Hotchkiss bakes homemade brownies. The hotcake guy built a custom grill he hauls to the breakfast rest stop each morning to feed literally hundreds of cyclists for two weeks every year during his vacation (he feeds Bicycle Tour of Colorado cyclists the week after Ride the Rockies).

They Hotcake Guy

In addition to traditional restaurants in each host community, meals are offered each night by volunteers within that community, and funds raised through these meals benefit charitable organizations within the community. High school kids from each community volunteer to unload the trucks as they arrive and organize rider gear so exhausted riders can find it easily when they arrive.

How in the world do you find your bag? They're numbered, and the volunteers take the time to sort them into order as they take them off the truck.

Even though cyclists don't have to beg family and friends for money for this ride, it still indeed serves a charitable purpose. Each rider has the opportunity to contribute to Denver Post Community Foundation, which selects a non-profit organization in each of the host communities to receive a grant. In 2010, $30,000 was distributed to the host community charities. Just like in the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, communities throughout the state duke it out each year for the opportunity to host Ride the Rockies.

Each year's jersey sports the name of corporate sponsors who receive great exposure for years to come (because cyclists rarely quit wearing a hard-earned jersey just because the ride is over) because such businesses help make those community grants possible.

Ghosts of RtR Past

There are other weeklong cycling tours in Colorado (and in other states, as well), but most are commercial ventures, although some funds may be designated to various worthy causes or riders might be encouraged to support specific charities.

That's the nuts and bolts. Now why would I put so much energy and enthusiasm into learning each year's route, registering, waiting to find out if I get in, training and then spending a week of hard-earned vacation working my tail end up mountain pass after mountain pass when I could easily drive the very same route and spend a week relaxing, doing nothing but taking pictures and smelling the wildflowers?

Aside from the healthy and environmental benefits of riding my bike, I get the best kind of natural high by soaking up sunrise in a different place every morning, feeling the sun, wind and rain on my skin while I pedal, hearing the babbling of brooks and singing of birds, seeing the mountains at 7 or 8 miles per hour as opposed to missing most of the intricate detail while driving 45 or 55 miles per hour, smelling the pine, aspen and fruit trees while sucking in unfathomable amounts of fresh, clean air, tasting the fresh and pollution-free oxygen and sometimes the raindrops and drizzle, too. I enjoy being able to leave the world behind for an entire week and suffer no interruptions or stress while my senses expand and clear.

Plus, there's that adrenaline rush when I get drawn... Can't get anything near that during any car vacation!

2010 Day 4 Above Silverton with Olympian Alison Dunlap!!!


  1. I believe you are rather amazing. :) I also believe you should carry an emergency stash of Peanuts with you when you make this trek. You know, just for emergencies.

  2. Dang, that sounds like fun. Who would choose a car trip over this? Better than a cruise if you ask me (not that I've ever been on a cruise).

    I loved reading about all the volunteer work that goes into it. Bless them!

    (Horrid thought - what if only one of you had gotten drawn? Would the other one go along as support or would you just scratch the whole idea? So glad you didn't have to make that choice.)

  3. Marigold and Sue, I'm blushing! Thank you!

    We sign up as a team for RtR, and that's supposed to mean everyone on the team gets drawn or doesn't, however, we've heard about a six-person team this year with one person who did not get drawn. That would be really hard! I hope if it's true, they are able to work through the mistake and get that sixth person on the list!


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