It’s hard to imagine an event that better showcases Colorado’s beauty than Ride the Rockies (RTR), an annual bicycle touring event that brings 2,000 cyclists, dozens of volunteers and numerous communities together
On June 10, RTR returns for its 32nd year. For seven days, riders from 50 states and 17 countries will brave a beautiful and demanding route covering 447 miles. They’ll begin their trek in Alamosa and journey through more than 20 Colorado towns, until they coast down Monarch pass to cross the finish line in Salida on June 17. This summer’s ride passes through several Western Slope communities, including Montrose, Gunnison and Ridgway.
A varied route
Since its inception in 1986, the ride has overnighted in 48 different Colorado towns. The tour regularly revisits communities, but the RTR team works diligently to create a unique and exciting route every time.
“We consider several factors, including where we’ve been in the past, where we’d like to go in the future and what particular ride highlights different routes will offer, such as particular mountain passes to explore,” said tour director Renee Wheelock.
This year marks the 10th time that Montrose has served as a host community, and the 11th time Gunnison has been involved. It’s Ridgway’s first year, and the small community will partner with neighboring Ouray to provide riders with the best experience possible.
Each host community provides riders with entertainment, a camping location and an evening meal. Local groups, typically nonprofits, put together an enjoyable evening for the cyclists. Organizations join forces to serve the riders, and in turn earn money for their causes as riders purchase meals, beverages and souvenirs. Hosting a group of more than 2,000 people for one night brings in considerable revenue. Host communities also benefit when cyclists choose a warm hotel room over the provided camping sites or explore downtown shopping opportunities.
Wheelock and her small team are cycling enthusiasts themselves. She rode this summer’s route in early May and loved it.
“After riding it, it certainly has its challenges, but in a good way,” she said. “You feel super accomplished after completing it. This part of the state is absolutely gorgeous, and it feels great to be out absorbing all of that on your bicycle. Every day I thought, ‘Wow, this day was my favorite!’ but then next day I would feel the exact same way.”
A ride for all ages
It may be exhilarating, but a week-long endurance ride can also seem daunting to older adults. Happily, senior riders are in good company: Wheelock noted that participants’ median age is 52. One of those experienced cyclists is Montrose resident Judy Lokey.
Lokey, 72, is energetic, confident and community-minded. She proves that advancing age need not keep anyone from activities they enjoy. This is her 17th Ride the Rockies event, and she’s already looking forward to more rides in the future. She appreciates RTR for the good that it does in Colorado.
Besides being a celebration of the state’s majestic cycling routes, RTR also supports charities that promote recreation and youth education.
RTR offers a $5,000 grant to one nonprofit organization in each host community. This year’s local recipients include Montrose Recreation Foundation, Gunnison Trails, and Weehawken Creative Arts’ Ridgway Area Mountain Bike School Program.
“They really care about the towns,” Lokey said. “I love the altruistic attitude. Plus, they have really good rides every year.”
Lokey took up biking in 1997 after all her children had graduated high school. When they were young, she only had time to jog. Once she started biking, she found it was much more fun.
“[Biking] can really get you places,” she said. “I thought, ‘Wow, look where I can go!’”
Lokey now rides about 200 miles a week. Although she only rides 100 miles a week during the colder months, she doesn’t let winter in Montrose slow her down.
“Montrose doesn’t really get that much snow. There are very few days when I can’t get out and ride,” she said.
In the rare event she can’t go outdoors, Lokey rides anyway, using an indoor exercise bike.
Lokey also rides in Moab’s Skinny Tire Festival each spring, but for her, RTR outshines it because of Colorado’s amazing scenery.
Lokey looks forward to seeing the RTR friends she’s made over the years. While some participants travel to other events like she does, there are some she only sees at RTR.
A strong support system
Smiling faces are welcome along the route. RTR riders may face summer snow, forest fires and anything in between. Even a confident rider like Lokey isn’t immune to these challenges.
“One year, we hit snow. They actually stopped the ride at the top of a pass. That was pretty scary going up,” she recalled.
Thankfully, RTR is prepared to keep riders safe. Organizers provide two ambulances and several riding medics. There are also seven Support and Gear (SAG) vehicles to assist the participants if things get rough.
“Maybe [riders] have a mechanical issue, or they don’t want to try to make it up the hill,” said Wheelock. “A SAG will load up the bike and the person and offload them at the next aid station and let them keep riding.”
Lokey has only used a SAG once.
“It got really cold, and I lost my hands. I was fine otherwise, but I just couldn’t feel anything. I couldn’t put on the brakes. It was hard to admit that I had to SAG, but it would have been a danger,” she explained.
Lokey has so many pleasurable memories from her rides that it’s hard for her to pick a favorite.
“One year, there were fires near Salida, so they re-routed us. It was just beautiful,” she recalled. “Estes Park is pretty impressive, and Grand Mesa is really tough.”
She lights up when talking about biking.
“When you retire and you have the time, you might as well make the most of it. That’s what I’m trying to do,” she said.
The RTR community welcomes new participants with open arms. Their website is full of helpful information about training, nutrition and logistics. In addition, Wheelock’s team quickly responds to individual needs and requests. She encouraged new riders to consider the event.
“You can do it,” she said. “We’ve got plenty of support.”