Colorado 500 Road Bike Ride – For Fun and Charity

May 01, 2001 View Comments by

Colorado 500 Road Bike Ride - For Fun and Charity

What a scene! I hadn’t expected such a colorful combination of bikes and people. They come from all over: North and South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon and California. That’s a partial list of the license plates I recognize while walking the grounds of the Dallenbach Ranch in Basalt, Colorado. Everyone is friendly and helpful. Nice people of all ages join the event and they’re basically all in it for the fun. The oldest among us is Herman Warden but everyone calls him Spike. Judging from the way he handles his Honda Spirit 1100 or his moves on the dance floor, you wouldn’t be able to guess his age within a decade; but he’s actually 91 and a very cool guy. I’d like to think it’s his fondness for riding motorcycles that has kept him young.

This year is my first 500 ride and, along with the other rookies, I received a Winnie the Pooh Band-Aid for the back of my helmet so that I’m clearly recognized. The veterans promise to watch out for us, but in a different sense, it’s like that Orwellian slogan: Big Brother is watching. A voice inside my head says, “Behave yourself, Andi!” There are fines for losing track of the route, for tipping over your bike or helmet, for running out of gas, for not wearing your nametag at night to receptions or dinners, etcetera.

The next morning we took off from Snowmass Village for a long and exciting day. Independence Pass is one of the first highlights. The sun beat down, warming up the road, the tires and our souls. The great, overwhelming sound of 120 bikes adds even more to this atmosphere. Down the east side of the pass, we reveled in the sight of Mount Elbert, the highest peak in Colorado (14,433 ft.) with its snowcaps glittering in the sunlight.

Along with some others in the group I decided to take the “East Short” trip, which continues through Leadville, Fremont Pass, Copper Mountain, Silverthorne, Kremmling, Muddy Pass, and Walden to Saratoga. On our way north the wind caught up and made riding even the long straight aways difficult. You lean against the wind to run a straight line and in the following moment its power grabs you from another direction, forcing quick changes to your leaning angle. Confronted with that, the normally boring straight stretch becomes really entertaining.

Pulled over at a gas station in Kremmling, I met a motorcyclist from San Francisco. He only wore a jean jacket, jeans, and tennis shoes, but he had the presence of mind to use a helmet. His Suzuki GS 750 didn’t at all fit the picture of the perfect long-distance bike. Oil was spilled all over it, and the exhausts put out a weird sound and a pall of dark smoke. A huge backpack on the fuel tank and another strapped to his shoulders served as his luggage compartments. He told me he was on his way to the East Coast, had almost collided with a large deer, and just got ticketed for speeding. A quick glance at his dark suntanned face told me all I needed to know about the weather he had experienced along the way. While I busied myself filling up on gas, he grabbed a video camera from his backpack and started taping me.

“What kind of stuff are you filming on your way East?” I asked.

“I’m making a video about the 100 most expensive gas stations between San Francisco and New York. When it’s done I’ll put it on my website so everybody has access to it.”

“Is that what you do for living?”

“Not really, it’s just for fun. I’m a website designer living in an exciting town, probably the best in the country for that type of job.”

Following up with small talk about our bikes, my counterpart says he would like a newer bike but cannot bring himself to part with this love, his GS 750. “It runs and runs and runs and was never taken apart,” he tells me. “At some point it started needing oil, probably two quarts every 600 miles. But then I switched to a higher weight and all of a sudden the oil consumption went down to almost nothing!” Strange but friendly, he shared some cashews and I downed a soda before parting company with another interesting wayfarer.

“Friendly and interesting” also describes the owner of the Coffee Pot Café in Walden, Mrs. Donna Rusch. Having run the business since 1973, Donna has served members of the Colorado 500 on many occasions. No doubt about it, the participants have chosen to meet here so many times over the years because they enjoy Donna’s special way of entertaining her customers. Between serving food and her deservedly renowned homemade ice cream she cracks jokes and shares some of the anecdotes that comprise her life. Unfortunately, Donna may be forced to sell this Walden landmark to pay off an unforeseen and catastrophic debt her family recently incurred.

Though it’s hard to vacate this place of warmth and fun, we have to head north to Saratoga and check in at The Saratoga Inn, the site of my first overnight stop. This haven’s wooden interior with its crisp, biting aroma, hand-woven Native American rugs and blankets, and its crackling fireplaces made me feel at home. There’s also a very relaxing pastime awaiting outdoors where teepees scattered about the grounds invite each guest to float the cares of the day away in hot tubs – a capital idea after a long ride.

Our second day is scheduled as a roundtrip circling the Saratoga area, but I chose to take 230 South. Shortly before Cowdrey, the ST and I are heading northeast toward Woods Landing and Laramie. The roads aren’t busy at all, so I enjoyed an undistracted cruise amid the great landscape of Southern Wyoming with the high peaks of Snowy Range off to my left. I had already heard about snow coming in over the mountain range and felt the weather changing. I pulled out my additional gear and in Woods Landing while refueling, I spoke with the gentleman who runs the post office and lives in Centennial at the bottom of Snowy Range. “Yes, I do believe we just might get snow today,” he opines. That’s hard for me to believe, it being mid-June, but the rapidly falling temperatures convince me this fellow could be right.
From Laramie I pointed toward Fort Collins but the weather worsened. The first raindrops fell and I expected it to change to snow any second. So I turned around and headed back to Laramie where I ran into another Colorado 500 riding group. Some of them came down Snowy Range and reported it was fine. No snow, no ice. So we decided to continue on 130, heading west again. I left ahead of the others in order to gain the time to set up my camera equipment and take some nice shots of them at the top.

It grew colder and colder on my way up. Surrounded by snow-capped peaks I pulled my ST 1100 to the side of the road and got ready. The chill wind blowing over the top was so fierce I had to make myself as small as possible and crouch behind some rocks and bushes. Photographers are often alone like this – waiting for the right moment. When I glanced at my watch the first time I realized I’d been curled in that awkward position for more than an hour. Worrisome thoughts intruded. Had there been an accident or a break- down? At regular intervals I blew into my cold, stiffening fingers to keep them as nimble as possible when and if that moment came to work with my camera. And finally after almost two hours they rolled by and I got the shots I wanted. They told me later it was all a logistics problem: the general complaints of their stomachs commanded they stop for lunch. Well thanks so much for leaving me here to shiver and shake against a big hard rock. On some days, photography, my career, is a regrettable choice. On the way down I had trouble operating my brakes because my hands and fingers were so numb.

Nonetheless, in Riverside I decided to head for Bridger Peak in the Huston Park Wilderness. Soon the aspen woodlands around the snaking creeks are changing to fir and pine and farther up, into the spare high-mountain landscapes of bushes and rocks. After shooting the stunning panorama this elevation affords, I had pretty much had it with the elements – no more freezing for today. Once back at the Saratoga Inn, I had only one thing in mind: to slip into a hot tub and defrost.

The weather turned even worse the following day and most of the Colorado 500 participants chose the shortest route to Steamboat Springs. Some of the others probably wish they had. Close to Ryan Park, a few head east to do Snowy Range, which I could tell was trouble. Ominous dark clouds hung over the mountains. Not the best idea to go there, primarily because the forecast promised snow. But everyone makes his or her own bed and decisions. When I reached the hotel in Steamboat that evening I heard that five of seven riders went down on “black ice” at the top of the Snowy Range. Luckily no one was hurt or severely injured – only some bruises and abrasions, battle scars for these “heroes,” and very little damage to their bikes.

The weather improved the next day and our ride toward Walden and over Cameron Pass turned out great, with the many twists and turns in a great environment making this excursion the best since we started. And there was still Poudre Canyon ahead of us. There you run into narrow curves beside the picturesque creek where rafters test their skills and courage against the current. A man named Jerry, riding with his wife on a nice blue FZ 1, knows about a shortcut so that we don’t have to take the prescribed route all the way to Fort Collins. “But you have to watch for it,” he warned. “It’s only a little tiny road.”

After my obligatory photo shoot, I fell behind the group I chose to ride with today. The road needs a lot of attention because of its winding turns and the gravel strewn across the asphalt. Also, tar snakes wind all over the road, making it soft and slippery in the noonday heat. Only when arriving at a large intersection shortly before Fort Collins did I realize I missed the shortcut, so I headed back through Poudre Canyon, mad at myself because I knew I’d lost the others for sure. Again I fought the tar-snake battle. Thankfully, I didn’t have to wage it in wet conditions.

Finally, I found the shortcut near Masonville. You can’t let your mind wander here with all the sand and gravel on this road. You have to concentrate so much there’s no time to enjoy the vista of tree-filled hills or even the wildflowers at the side of the road. But the road toward Estes Park is even worse – laden with cars, motor homes, and lots of speed limits. Shortly before Estes I have my riding group in my sights again. Quelle surprise! What happened? Well, they happened to miss the little Masonville road the first time, too.

After a nice lunch our group continued on US 36 to the Rocky Mountain National Park, an unbelievable wildlife refuge. It’s not unusual for elk or deer to graze right next to the road and tourists absorbing the sights are everywhere, whether in or out of cars left parked right in the middle of the street or halfway off the road in the narrow turns. So pay attention when traveling here! We photographed the peak Mount Julian (12,928 ft.) and returned to lower elevations in Granby. From here on, the ride is not as exciting because of the stretched string of roads running toward Walden and later Steamboat. I lost the others again because I couldn’t stop pulling over to capture images of the high-mountain wilderness.

To make my ride a bit more stimulating I “cruised” at higher speeds through this northern section of Colorado, but shortly before Steamboat the fun was over. A police trap finally released me with a ticket for speeding. I admit it; I was burning up the miles. The police officer was friendly, however, and while speaking with him, my riding group, forewarned by the blinking lights of the police car, sedately passed by. As you can imagine, much fun was made of my predicament, and the next day’s ride back to Snowmass was no fun at all. I had to concentrate too much on staying within the speed limits.

That evening at the final dinner banquet in Snowmass’s Silvertree Hotel my humorous co-riders presented me with a stuffed animal, a rabbit missing its tail – their way of telling me I was considered their rabbit by riding ahead of them to take their pictures while testing the patience of the police. I had to laugh about it, too. And I’ll know better the next time, now that I’m no longer a Colorado 500 rookie.

The Story of the Colorado 500
The Colorado 500 Invitational Charity Road Bike Ride started in 1975 when Wally Dallenbach, a former Indy 500 racecar driver, and Sherm Cooper began riding their dirt bikes along off-road trails visiting the old gold- and silver-mining era ghost towns in the Colorado Rockies. They had such a memorable time they decided to return and invited some friends, Lon Bromley, Del Garner, Ed Kretz, Dick Singer, and Al and Bobby Unser along for the ride on their next trip in 1976. Wally and Sherm called their trip the Colorado 500 Dirt Bike Ride because they covered 500 miles the first time out.

Over the years the event has grown tremendously and hosted more than 1,300 riders. A very diverse group – judges, lawyers, racecar drivers, motorcycle racers, retailers, ministers, bankers, actors, wholesalers, and so on, have all shown up from every state in the U.S. and also other countries like Australia, England, Germany and Japan.

In 1981, the Colorado 500 Charity Fund was established to give something back to the people in the mountain towns and communities they traveled through. Most of the funds are dispersed to schools but they also benefit teen services, churches, medical centers, emergency rescue services, scouting and anti-drug programs. Nearly $1,000,000 has been given in Scholarship Awards, a Legal Defense Fund, and in grants and trail work.

The 1st Annual Colorado Road Bike Ride was established in 1987. The idea was to transfer the fun and excitement you experience riding the Rockies to the big group of motorcyclists who mainly ride on the street.

The Colorado 500 Charity Fund made its first annual donation to the U.S. Forest Service in 1988 and the money was used to maintain off-road trails.

In 1993, the Colorado 500 started a second Scholarship Fund awarding eight high school students with full four-year $10,000 scholarships. The students are not necessarily chosen for their academics; it’s also based upon their needs and their potential “to make a difference.”

The Road Bike Ride includes different northern and southern routes on paved roads. Every day the participants can choose between four alternative tours. You can ride in groups or alone. The amazing natural landscape will always surround you. In 2000, nearly $28,000 in Charity Funds was raised at the road event from auctions, fashion shows, photo sales and the music of Marilyn Weida who participates with her husband Phil.

Adding to the pot, fines are collected every evening from the participants having a hard time, whether tipping over a bike, not wearing a nametag at receptions or the banquet, dropping a helmet, or running out of gas and other “typical” no-no’s that may occur. The Colorado 500 receives generous donations from individuals and corporations in the form of cash and product sponsorships. The list of sponsors includes ATK, Bosch, Budweiser, Champion Spark Plugs, Deutsche Financial, Chip Ganassi Racing, Peterson Publishing, PPG Industries, Prolong, Roush Industries, Malcolm Smith Products, SRE Industries, Thor/Parts Unlimited, Toyota Motorsales, Tucker Rocky Products, Valvoline, Yamaha Motors USA, et al.

Unfortunately, we can’t help to get you involved in the ride by providing contact information. The Colorado 500 Road Bike Ride and Dirt Bike Ride are invitation-only rides and the number of participants is limited.

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