“One thing cycling has taught me was that if you can achieve something without a struggle it’s not going to be satisfying.”
-- Greg LeMond, three-time winner of the Tour de France
Shortly after I was elected president of the Colorado Parks and Recreation Association (CPRA) for 2007-2008, I felt that it was paramount to learn everything I could about the communities, people, places and politics that make Colorado such a great state in which to live. In the months leading up to my term, I wanted to learn more about the members of the association and to better understand the challenges and opportunities that exist in Colorado for leisure activities. I also figured that I had been preaching the benefits of an active, healthy, and environmentally sustainable lifestyle through parks and recreation. Since I am good at riding a bike, I decided to complete the annual CPRA president’s tour of Colorado from border-to-border on a bicycle. However, this decision would haunt me for several weeks as I had never attempted anything of that nature before. In fact, I didn’t even own a road bike!
Plotting And Planning
Undaunted, I made the arrangements, bought the necessary equipment, blocked out some vacation time, and started planning the tour. Immediately, it became evident that things could get ugly. Severe weather is common along the Colorado Front Range. A massive tornado caused severe damage in Windsor just one week prior to my planned start. Additionally, I had to cross over the massive Rocky Mountains, which are always good for changing weather conditions and other biking challenges. I ultimately decided to travel through Rocky Mountain National Park, over the Continental Divide twice, and west through the high, arid desert. Trail Ridge Road, in Rocky Mountain National Park, was the one part of the tour that worried me. Eleven miles of the road are located above the tree line (around 11,500 feet). The road’s highest point is at 12,183 feet. The air is thin, traffic can be heavy at times, weather can be treacherous and change in an instant, the grade changes can be significant, and there are some scary drop-offs along the road.
I officially started the tour on May 28 just east of Wray. My mom Ingrid lives in Fort Morgan (about 97 miles west of the Nebraska line), so she gave me a lift to Wray in her hybrid vehicle (estimated gas used +/- 4 gallons). On the first day, I rode my bike approximately 97 miles from Wray to Fort Morgan, and met with members of four parks and recreation agencies and the Colorado Division of Wildlife’s Brush office.
Small Towns, Big Hearts
As I traversed eastern Colorado, I noticed how tight-knit the communities were. Their budgets may not have been big, but community pride, steadfast involvement, commitment to a good standard of living, hard work and overall quality of life more than made up for the lack of money. Volunteers were abundant and community involvement, collaboration and social networking were evident. As I visited each facility in these communities, the pride that went into the planning, construction and implementation of these areas shone brightly.
Hospitality also was a common thread in communities along the way. I was treated like a family member by the parks and recreation professionals, city officials and community members. I visited several small communities that didn’t have a full-blown recreation or parks department. Each of these communities still echoed the importance of recreation and parks in their neighborhoods. Many found ways to provide these types of services despite the lack of funding or staffing. With each stop, I not only got a little rest and nourishment for my body, but also received a little gift for my soul--seeing first-hand the impact of parks and recreation professionals and the opportunity to observe the fruits of this labor in the field. This inspired me beyond what I imagined. In fact, when the hills became steep and the wind picked up, those memories kept my legs moving. I figured since everyone is working so hard for their communities--hey, I can make the next ten miles, no sweat!
Along The Way
Along the Colorado Front Range, I visited various communities, such as Greeley, Evans, Platteville, Longmont and eventually Fort Lupton and Brighton. I toured the town of Windsor and found inspiration there as well. Despite the disaster and destruction throughout the town from the tornado 10 days earlier, everyone seemed in good spirits. They commented on how blessed they were to be alive and healthy, and were grateful for the volunteer assistance they received from various sources. What gracious people! As we were meeting, staff members, officials and volunteers were working feverishly to open the town swimming pool after removing tons of debris, including a large dumpster. The mayor, John Vazquez, said that “getting the pool open and the parks back on-line was a high priority for the town as those are the community bonding areas … and they needed to get them back as soon as possible for their citizens.”
As I worked my way into the foothills, I visited another unique community. The town of Lyons was celebrating the Lyons Outdoor Games--an event highlighting kayaking, mountain biking and other adventure sports. The economic and social impacts of events such as these should not be underestimated. The games--held May 31 through June 1--drew world-class athletes from across North America. What a wonderful showcase of athletic talent and a unique community!
I continued my trek west, where I was joined by my wife Tami and her hybrid support vehicle (she was worried about me riding alone). We visited quaint towns, such as Estes Park, Granby, Hot Sulphur Springs, Kremmling, Steamboat Springs, Hayden, Craig and Maybell. Festivals were abundant along the route, but I thoroughly enjoyed the Whittle the Wood Rendezvous in Craig (June 12 through 14). This wood-carving showcase was fantastic but must be witnessed first-hand to be truly appreciated. The Ford Mustang Festival in Steamboat Springs closed the entire main street and packed the town with classic muscle-car enthusiasts. Not only were the economic impacts of these events significant, they provided a social boost and a whole lot of fun!
Adding It Up
On June 13, I finally made it to Utah. All I had to do was make up the section from Estes Park to Granby since Trail Ridge Road was closed because of snow and wind on the day I rode through. Although this was Plan B, it worked fine because I hadn’t planned to officially finish the tour until Bike to Work Day on June 25.
In just over a three-week period, I logged over 725 miles, rode through over 40 cities and towns, visited 26 agencies related to parks and recreation, passed through 11 counties, toured 18 parks, and visited eight community swimming pools, seven cultural areas/museums, four community festivals, one statewide youth event (Hershey Track Meet), one fishing derby and one senior center. I endured wind gusts in excess of 40 miles per hour, snow, sleet, rain and temperatures ranging from single digits on Rabbit Ears pass near Steamboat Springs to heat in excess of 90 F in Yuma.
The Finish Line
The tour was difficult but worth every pedal stroke! I discovered a lot about myself by pushing my abilities to the limit. I learned several lessons as well:
· Everyone I encountered really embraced what I was doing and were very supportive.
· The heavy bike lock I carried along the way really wasn’t needed in the smaller towns in eastern Colorado.
· A great deal of patience and adequate preparation cannot be overstated.
· People need to be prepared for any challenge that is thrown their way.
· Time is relative, and being in “too big of a hurry” is often detrimental.
· Cyclists and other human beings are really at Mother Nature’s mercy.
I also encountered hundreds of different sights, smells and experiences along the way. These sensory images are still with me, from the sound of a meadowlark in a prairie, the whistle of the wind, the roar of a truck and the crash of thunder. I learned that the places that seemed the “scariest” for me (such as Trail Ridge Road) were actually the parts of the tour that I enjoyed the most, which taught me to face my fears and stick to my commitments. I also learned that there are literally thousands of parks and recreation professionals, citizens and volunteers that make this whole parks and recreation thing work, and that every locale--although different--shares some common qualities, such as a sense of place, community and a great deal of pride in its parks, recreation areas, open lands, cultural areas, community festivals and celebrations. No matter what area I visited, I received the same welcome, and felt the same sense of pride and satisfaction.
So I finished the tour, faced my fears, and overcame the challenges in my path. I am grateful for the ability to have ridden across the beautiful state of Colorado. Although many parts of the tour were a struggle, I found that Greg LeMond was correct when he said that “if you can achieve something without a struggle it’s not going to be satisfying.”
Pledges are still being accepted for the tour. Supporters are asked to donate a minimum of one penny per mile to benefit the CPRA Foundation, a 501(c)(3). For more information about CPRA, go to www.cpra-web.org
“When I see an adult on a bicycle I do not despair for the future of the human race.”
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Kurt’s “Best Of” Tour
Best (safest) bicycling city--Fort Collins
Best festival--Whittle the Wood Rendezvous (Craig)
Best youth event--Hershey Track Meet (Fort Collins)
Best fishing--Estes Park Fishing Derby
Worst winds--40 mph and gusts (Rabbit Ears Pass)
Highest temperature--92 F (Yuma)
Coldest temperature--wind chills in the teens (Rabbit Ears Pass)
Highest altitude--Trail Ridge Summit (12,183 feet)
Lowest altitude--Laird (3,405 feet)
Continental Divide--Milner Pass (10,758 feet)
Hours ridden--+/- 66.5
Calories burned--approximately 53,250
Gas used--approximately 20 gallons
Gas saved--+/- 80 gallons (using a vehicle @ 15 mpg)
C02 not released--480 pounds (based on 6 pounds released per gallon of gas burned)