Pedaling the Plains, Part I

A week ago, we embarked upon our first Pedal the Plains (PtP) adventure. Now in its sixth year, PtP is the flatter, shorter alternative to the Denver Post’s signature cycling event, Ride the Rockies. The climbing on RtR (32,000 ft over a week in the most recent version) has always intimidated me, and its June date means training for that must happen early in the season. PtP, on the other hand, advertised only about 3,000 ft of climbing over three days and takes place late in the season. So we decided to give it a try.

Day 1 — Kersey to Keenesburg

We spent Thursday night at a friend’s house in Denver, so it was a pretty easy drive to Kersey Friday morning. Packet pickup did not open until 9 a.m. (!) and we arrived at approximately 8:55. One of the first things we learned was that the parking field was filled with goatheads. In other words, do not put your bike tires on the field under any circumstances. This is one of the hazards of a late season ride, as goatheads are not really a problem in spring and most of summer. When we reached the check-in tent, there were huge lines. Sigh. Unfortunately, there were no labels on the lines except at the very front, on the tent. Even more unfortunately, the alphabet was divided awkwardly, and the line containing P (I think it had M-U!) was extremely long and slow. Maureen finished in the G line long before I reached the front. We did meet some fellow riders in line and got our photo taken with Denver weatherman Mike Nelson while we waited.

New jerseys and water bottles in hand, we returned to the car and deposited them, then geared up before schlepping our bags to the baggage truck. Luckily (perhaps—more on this later), we had opted for the luxury camping, so our bags did not contain camping gear. We would definitely need wheeled bags if they did. We carefully aired up our bike tires, avoiding the ground, then carried the bikes to the sidewalk and joined the crowd of cyclists. The ride was supposed to roll out at 10:30 (already pretty late on a hot September day), but for some reason did not depart until almost 11. We could not hear much from our back of the pack position.

The beginning of the ride was crowded. Luckily, there was little motor-vehicular traffic, as we took up an entire lane for quite some time.

Eventually, the group thinned out a bit. We settled in to a pace and chugged to the first of many educational stops. At each educational stop, riders could collect a sticker or signature. If you collected all of them for a day, you could be entered into a drawing for prizes. I’ll spare you the details of most of these stops, but the first one was at a Cattle Farm and what I remember is Corn Man and that they gave away Corn Nuts. They still taste as bad as they always did, even on a bike ride… (The saltiness was welcome, though.)

We reached the first official rest stop at about twenty miles into the ride. There were snacks, including eggs on sticks (a clever idea), and hydration refills. We were thrilled that the ride used Colorado-based Skratch Labs products, as their Exercise Hydration mix is our go-to sports drink. Sadly, this was not the lunch stop. Given that we started in the late morning, it probably should have been.

We cranked along for 15 more miles to the actual lunch stop. There we found indoor restrooms (yay!) at Hudson Town Hall, sloppy joes for the meat eaters, and Gardenburgers or PB&J for the veggie crowd. And cold Coca-Cola. But no shade if you were slow. The earlier-arriving cyclists had moved chairs from the tables into the shade provided by the buildings, but they showed no signs of leaving…

We knew it was just 7 or 8 more miles to the day’s most-touted stop, the Wild Animal Sanctuary outside Keenesburg, so we made our way there.

We were planning to walk only a portion of the 1 1/2 mile elevated walkway at the Sanctuary, but early into the walk we encountered some friends from Pueblo on their way back, who encouraged us to go all the way to the end to see the white tigers. We were so glad we did!

When we arrived, it was hot and there were no animals in sight. As we traversed the elevated walkway—which was designed so that the animals are not stressed or threatened by visiting humans—the temperature dropped and the animals began to come out from their daytime dens. We saw:

Lions:

And tigers:

And bears:

And this cute little arctic fox:

On the return walk, we noticed one of the wolves had climbed up on a platform. It then struck an iconic wolf-pose as it began to howl. Shortly, the other wolves in the Sanctuary answered—it was truly awesome.

To be continued…

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