12 July 2012

A different kind of fire

a better way to greet visitors

A day before we got our first good whiff of wildfire smoke, I was a good six miles or more from Leadville, at approximately 9,000 feet in elevation, with another thousand feet of climbing ahead of me. I typically can't pedal faster than 6 or 7 miles per hour traveling uphill, so I was looking at another hour, at best, after 13.5 hours already in the saddle.

It had been the most difficult climb of the entire week, up and over Independence Pass, following a slow and steady 60-mile ascent to 12,000 feet from Carbondale at 6,000 feet. Yes, that's right, 6,000 feet of elevation gain in a day. I was tired. There isn't much air at 9,000 feet, although more oxygen than at 12,000 feet. My wrist was achy after just finishing a section of dirt road and a section of freeze crack pavement. I was hungry, and I wanted a hot bath, not just a shower.

A huge, hand-lettered cardboard sign in the driveway of a highway home announced in big, bold, black emotionally loud fashion: "Bikers, get off our highways until you pay your fair share of taxes! Stay off our highways!!!"

If I hadn't been so doggone physically exhausted, I might have parked my bike and knocked on the front door in an attempt to educate. But I didn't have the energy to swing my leg over the bike, much less swing a my fist into a punch if it came to that. (In reality, I abhor and do not condone violence.)

Yes, I was fired up. I was fuming! The emotions were enough to power me into Leadville. I stewed for the next hour over the nerve of the homeowner. I pondered writing a letter to the editor of the local newspaper. I wondered if I should write a letter to the editor of the Denver Post, Ride the Rockies sponsor. I contemplated if anything I said or thought would make a difference.

I don't have much faith in changing a tiny corner of the world I don't live in. Nevertheless, words were ignited as if by 65-mph winds in 100-degree heat. I still quiver when I think about that sign.

"Dear Lake County Homeowner:

2,500 riders from all 50 states and 18 countries hopefully were too focused on the road and the ride to notice your sign. They spent an aggregate average of $250,000 in each host community, including yours, and a non-profit agency in your community received a $5,000 grant raised by Ride the Rockies, which includes donations by the very riders you targeted. With less government funding available for all charities these days, I'm sure you can appreciate the services your community's chosen charity will be able to provide, thanks to a bunch of cyclists.

Those very same cyclists often return to the friendly places they pedal through during future vacations, and they often get there via gasoline-powered transportation, which generates even more revenue that won't be seen if those riders decide a community isn't friendly and isn't worth a return trip.

Those cyclists have friends and family who also will want to visit amicable host communities. The tourism possibilities resulting from an event such as Ride the Rockies are endless... IF the host community is friendly and makes the riders feel welcome.

Those very same riders have jobs, homes, cars, furniture and food, and they pay taxes just like everyone else. They don't live in tents year round, and bicyling is something they like to do. It's not because they don't have vehicles.

Most of them have picked (and paid for) a difficult and challenging week-long vacation to absorb the beauty Colorado has to offer in a manner that allows them to see, smell, taste and feel the outdoors in ways that just aren't possible from inside a vehicle. They pay taxes on everything they buy, including the taxes that build highways, just like you. They buy gasoline. Those who stay in hotels pay lodging taxes, which are pumped right back into the community. Ride the Rockies cyclists spend a week of their hard-earned vacation doing something that doesn't appeal to you. That doesn't mean they are freeloading.

Some of the most popular organized rides are 501(c)(3) organizations, which means sponsor organizations don't profit from the (taxed) fees riders pay to participate. Instead, these organizations raise money for worthy causes that would suffer tremendously in this economy without such assistance. Grant money is raised primarily from voluntary donations by the riders.

Organized rides pay for law enforcement and medical services they utilize during events. These services are not paid for with tax money. Charities and volunteers serve meals, for a price, to cyclists. The meal money benefits the charities the volunteers represent. Just about every penny a cyclist spends during a week-long tour benefits someone along the route, directly or indirectly.

Cyclists have families. They are spouses, fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, grandmothers, uncles, nieces, sons and cousins. Some of those very same families travel along with the tour, spending even more money in host communities and on gasoline. Not every rider is a speed demon looking for a downhill thrill. This year's ride featured at least four parapalegic riders, a rider with only one arm, many representatives of our military forces, four children - two on tandems and two pedaling their little bikes the entire 450 miles, and a blind rider on the back of a tandem.

Yes, there are rude cyclists out there, and those of us who obey the laws are constantly on their case. There are rude motorists out there, and those of us who obey the laws wish we could keep those drivers off the road. There are rude homeowners out there, and those of us who try to be good neighbors at all times try to make up for those who don't so we don't chase potential tourists away from our communities and to spread goodwill instead of venom.

It would be unfair of cyclists to judge all homeowners in any given county or community by the offensive actions of one resident. It would be unfair of homeowners in any given county or community to judge all cyclists by an offensive individual or group who may or may not even have been involved with this particular event.

My experience has been that a welcome mat makes the world a lot better place than an angry, bitter bed of hot coals. I certainly would want my community to be thought of as a welcome mat and not a place where visitors will be unduly roasted.

A taxpayer, employee, co-homeowner, automobile owner, wife, mother, daughter, sister, cousin, niece, volunteer, voter, cyclist and human being"

pleasant aftertaste


  1. Clearly the author of that hostile sign was badly informed. Your reply was thoughtful and grounded. I guess one way to look at it is with gratitude for the adrenaline that sign gave you to finish your ride. :-)

  2. WOW!! You are one awesome lady!! I'm so proud of you! I'm proud to call you friend!! I look forward to seeing your beautiful pictures!!


  3. Anger does have its uses ... it got you to the end of the stage! (You would have made it anyway, but a surge of adrenaline never hurts.)

    Your letter is perfect. It's very tempting to post a sign on the road outside that person's home, something to the effect of, "Narrow-minded and ignorant housebound carpers, get out of your houses and onto a bike! Ride those highways you claim as your own! The fresh air and exercise might just blow some sense into you!"

    (Probably wouldn't help a bit. But satisfying nonetheless.)

    Great post!

  4. Tis sad how one negative force can cause one such angst. I hope they heard your message, or more so, I hope the positive people along the route heard your message and the cyclists are greeted with many a kind word as they take on the Rockies next year

  5. So? Did you email your letter to the editor? I hope so, very well written and not angry, rambling, or anything like that. Straight and to the point. Good job. I have written several letters to the editors over the years and most of them have met with positive results. Please do all the bike riders a favor and send it in if you haven't already.

    I volunteered at a BikeMS rest stop this weekend and one of the questions I asked riders was, How do the drivers treat them on the road in our rural community? Thankfully they all said they were very courteous.

    We had one accident but that was one rider running into another rider. And although one ended up in the hospital he will be okay.

    Keep on riding and educating us on the do's and don'ts of how to treat bike riders!

    And thank you and your fellow riders for all they do to support charities and communities.



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