Pounding rain and stinging hail pummeled my bare legs. Lightning bolts struck fast and close. I hugged the wet grass on the side of a ditch. My steel bicycle lay nearby, temporarily abandoned. I had not planned on this on my solo bicycle ride to the middle of Colorado.
This was South Park, and I was trapped on the high, desolate grassland between the towns of Jefferson and Fairplay.
Shivering in my only extra clothing — a wispy, wet windbreaker — I began to question the wisdom of this trek. Of course, no such doubt arose 90 miles earlier, before I rode out of Boulder, over-confident, ill-prepared and — quite stupidly — alone.
That was half a lifetime ago, when I was enthralled by the solitude of the open road. There, half-formed thoughts and half-processed feelings streamed by like fence posts. Fatigue and exhilaration came in waves. Nirvana, surely, could not be far off.
At the time, I didn’t want to ride with small groups, much less join large, organized rides, which I saw as chaos on wheels. I was quite wrong.
By 2008, when I began working for CU-Boulder’s College of Arts and Sciences, I’d ridden a mountain race (the Bob Cook Memorial/Mount Evans Hill Climb) and one large, organized ride (the Copper Triangle). Though still not enamored of group rides, I signed up for the Elevations Credit Union Buffalo Bicycle Classic ride that year.
I didn’t expect to enjoy it. I rode because I supported the cause — scholarships for great students who have financial need. Yet I signed up the next two years. I returned not just because the cause was good but also because the ride had turned out to be great fun.
Though strong riders on feather-light bikes can rocket over the 100-mile course like Lance Armstrong, this is no race. The Buffalo Bicycle Classic, a multi-distance ride for all abilities, is a celebration of cycling, the university and, one might even say, life.
This feeling appears as I depart campus, where the ride starts and finishes, rolling down Folsom Avenue with the cool, September air waking me up. Ryan Van Duzer (Jour’03) appears, a Boulder filmmaker and journalist who is known for not owning or ever having driven a car, and interviews riders with a camcorder from the seat of his own bike, his boundless enthusiasm billowing in his wake.
“Ready to ride?” Van Duzer bellows.
“Somebody’s had enough coffee,” I say.
I stop by the aid stations, where volunteers, many of them university employees, spend the day cheerfully dispensing peanut butter, pizza and praise. I wonder why they’re so chipper. But my spirit is nonetheless buoyed.
The mood never seems to dim. The aid station just inside Larimer County is staffed by CU’s integrative physiology department, which seems appropriate. A beaming police officer directing traffic urges me to “pour it on” as I cross Colorado 66. Waving hands emerge from the windows of passing cars, which often display CU insignia.
Meanwhile, a flotilla of riders and I roll past great scenery — Carter Lake, pastoral fields, shady country homes and, formerly, the turnaround point at Horsetooth Reservoir. (The new “century” route ascends Buckhorn Road to the 50-mile turnaround point, where riders’ bibs get the marking that will prove they’ve completed the century ride and entitles them to Buff Bike Classic caps emblazoned with the word “century.”)
The century has cachet, but this event is not snooty. It fits all ages and abilities. A 14-mile “Little Buff” accommodates families and easy riders, and there are 35-, 50- and 70-mile options as well. These choices encourage new riders to head out for short rides or to take longer rides. The event is a Johnny Appleseed of biking; it sows passionate pedaling.
Most participants are glad to ride and happy to support scholarships.
This commitment was never clearer than last year, when the Fourmile Fire required the cancellation of the 2010 Buffalo Bicycle Classic. That wildfire, which destroyed more homes than any in Colorado history, erupted less than a week before the ride. The ride’s course intersected with emergency routes to the fire.
Given the exceptional circumstances, the volunteer committee of Arts and Sciences that organizes the ride waived the no-refund policy. Because I write for the college, I penned the news release explaining that the ride was off and refunds were available upon request. But we hoped riders would still support the event’s charitable purpose. As the ride’s de facto social-media manager, I also posted the news to our Facebook page and Twitter feed.
Such deep support neither appears overnight nor happens by accident. Todd Gleeson, dean of the college (and my boss), conceived of this event with Woody Eaton (DistSt’62), an investor and philanthropist. As Gleeson and Eaton rode another charity ride (a fund-raiser for the Children’s Hospital in Denver), they wondered if a similar event could be staged for CU scholarships. Gleeson and Eaton enlisted the help of Frank Banta (EPOB’72) and Gail Mock, longtime university supporters.
Since the ride’s founding in 2003, the founders and a band of committed volunteers have created and nurtured an event that is more than just fun, scenic and inspiring. It is also greatly beneficial.
About 2,500 riders participate each year, and the event has generated more than $1.4 million in scholarships. Those who “Ride the Buff” support the single largest source of scholarship — for 641 students — within the College of Arts and Sciences, CU-Boulder’s largest college.
Because I interview the ride’s beneficiaries for the Colorado Arts and Sciences Magazine, I see the benefits first-hand. Recently, for instance, I interviewed Punam Chatterjee, who won a full-ride scholarship from the Buffalo Bicycle Classic. Chatterjee hopes to become a physician and work with Doctors Without Borders, probably in West Bengal, India, where her family is from.
“If I didn’t get that scholarship, I knew I’d have to be a waitress or something,” she says. With it, she could expand her horizons a great deal further. In addition to being a top student, Chatterjee served as chair of the CU Distinguished Speakers Board.
That’s why when people Ride the Buff this September, I’ll again join them, enjoying the buoyant crowd, good food and great scenery. I also will again appreciate the many benefits of a group effort—one of which is being able to commiserate with compatriots if the weather really goes south.
The 2011Buffalo Bicycle Classic is Sunday, Sept. 11 from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. The ride begins and ends on the CU-Boulder campus beside the Benson Building near Folsom Field. The Classic ‘s website is here. The phone number is 303-735-1569.
Clint Talbott (Jour’85) is publications coordinator for the College of Arts and Sciences and produces the Colorado Arts & Sciences Magazine online.