Taking part in Ride the Rockies is about much more than committing to a grueling, 434-mile weeklong bike ride. It’s about embracing a nomadic lifestyle and the hundreds of people who become like family over those seven days.
“You have a village of 2,000 people traveling. Everyone has a unique story and common bond of getting over a pass together,” Thad Eby said Tuesday from Snowmass Village. “We reflect on our day. We’ll talk about the challenges — the good times, the bad times. Mainly we just hang out and socialize.”
Eby runs a Denver-based software company called Ombud and is a main sponsor for the “Wish for Wheels” cycling club that is taking part in this week’s Ride the Rockies tour through Colorado. He and his father, Steve Eby, acquired a trailer that Steve pulls from location to location where they host a “happy hour” event each afternoon with the roughly 40-member team, or whoever else happens to be walking by at the time.
As they would tell you, it’s much more fun to ride up and over Independence Pass when you have a group of people to suffer alongside and share cocktails with after the fact.
“They’ve committed to set this whole thing up so every day is a happy hour,” said Denver’s Greg “Woody” Greenwood, who serves on the Wish for Wheels board. “More than anything, the riding is epic, like it is all over Colorado. But the community is really what drives this experience. You can see how much it’s organized.”
This is Greenwood’s first time taking part in Ride the Rockies. In its 34th year, the weeklong bike tour — it’s most definitely not a race — benefits The Denver Post Community Foundation, where funds raised go directly back to Colorado nonprofits. This year, Challenge Aspen in Snowmass and Youthentity in Carbondale each will receive a $3,000 grant from the ride.
Ride the Rockies got underway Sunday in Crested Butte. Tuesday the route took cyclists from Buena Vista, up and over Independence Pass and to the finish in Snowmass Village. It was a 73-mile sufferfest over the 12,095-foot pass that featured nearly 5,800 feet of climbing. Of the seven stages, Tuesday’s certainly stood out because of the pass.
“It’s early season for cycling fitness, so there weren’t a lot of people sprinting it. There are some strong riders out there that are already fit, but it was grueling,” Greenwood said. “The cool thing is there weren’t a lot of cars, so you could really let it loose. It’s an epic climb and an epic descent. By far the best in Colorado.”
This was the sixth time in 34 years that Independence Pass has been part of Ride the Rockies. It was part of the inaugural event in 1986, then again in 2007, 2009, 2012 and 2016. Surprisingly, this was the first time Snowmass has ever been included as an official stop.
The pass, which opened less than two weeks ago, still has feet of snow on top and shows scarring from this year’s historic avalanches, which is all part of what made it an “epic” experience for the cyclists.
“Hats off to CDOT because they did a great job getting the roads cleared,” Eby said. “There are entire swatches where you can see trees have been completely toppled over. It’s pretty amazing to be able to get on those roads.”
There are more than 1,700 riders in this year’s Ride the Rockies, and team Wish for Wheels is the second largest group, behind the Denver-based Team Samaritan House. Founded in 2004 by Brad Appel, Wish for Wheels is a nonprofit that seeks to get second graders across the country onto bikes. The club, which currently has 200 members and is run by Sharon Madison, came a handful of years later and has become a Ride the Rockies mainstay.
“We are about community on the bike, staying fit, getting faster and making new friends. And partying. That has to go in there too,” Madison said from Tuesday’s happy hour festivities in Snowmass. She said this is her 15th time taking part in Ride the Rockies. “It’s so much more fun when you can have a big group like this. We ride strong, we ride hard, but we sill have fun while we are doing it.”
Ride the Rockies will stay in the Roaring Fork Valley for another day. Wednesday’s fourth stage is a relatively easy 33-mile ride from Snowmass to Carbondale. The route takes riders through Woody Creek, to the first aid station at Basalt High School, through the Willits area and into the Missouri Heights neighborhood above El Jebel, to the finish near Carbondale Middle School.
The intensity picks up from there, with Day 5 a 65-mile trek from Carbondale to Hotchkiss via McClure Pass. Day 6 is 79 miles from Hotchkiss to Gunnison that includes 6,861 feet of climbing, the most of any stage. The event wraps up Saturday with a short ride from Gunnison back to Crested Butte.
“It has some very challenging rides. It’s developed quite the culture of having teams really buy into it, like an annual goal to work toward and train for. There is no better way to see the incredible beauty of Colorado,” said Denver’s Dave Edwards, a 2019 Ride the Rockies participant and president of Primal Wear, one of the world’s top manufacturers of cycling apparel. “To be on a bike going through Colorado is absolutely extraordinary. The things you miss in a car are not missed when you are on a bike. It’s just a lot of epic moments as you are doing the ride.”