CARBONDALE, Colorado - A town known for showing off its wild and welcoming side all at the same time didn't hold back when it came to greeting participants and support crews in the 2012 Ride the Rockies Monday.
Early arrivals among the more than 2,000 riders were greeted by giant puppets and a hearty "welcome to Carbondale!" as they entered town on the Crystal River Trail.
Later in the afternoon, those who had ventured downtown for Carbondale's official welcoming party were treated to a bicycle parade by some of the custom cruiser bike riders who take part in the town's monthly full-moon cruises.
Rose Quinn of Avon was relaxing in the shade at the Fourth Street Plaza enjoying a beer and "reliving her day."
"It was such a gorgeous ride today," Quinn said of the 68-mile second stage from Hotchkiss, over McClure Pass and into Carbondale.
Quinn came to the realization as she embarked on her second Ride the Rockies from Gunnison Sunday morning that she had forgotten her bicycle cleats.
So she duct-taped her sneakers to her pedals and made it through two days of riding before she finally found a bike shop in Carbondale to buy a new pair of bike shoes.
"I bumped into one of the town's employees and he even took me to the bike shop," Quinn said. "This is easily the best host city so far in the two years I've been doing this. People here are just so friendly."
Greg Norling and Paul Richards, both from Seattle, were quick to agree.
"What a great little town, and very friendly," Norling said as he cast a curious glance at one of the custom high-rider cruiser bikes making its way down Main Street.
"I'm kind of sorry we have to leave so early tomorrow morning," Richards added.
The riders will travel 83 miles today, leaving Carbondale via the Rio Grande Trail to Aspen, then climbing 12,095-foot Independence Pass before the next stopping point in Leadville.
Ride the Rockies usually sticks to the state highways around the state, mostly for safety reasons. But it makes an exception for the Roaring Fork Valley's picturesque Rio Grande Trail, said the event's community director, Elizabeth Norris.
"We use the highways because it's easier to maintain support and for safety," she said. "But we've done parts of the Rio Grande before, and the trail managers are really good to work with. It's just so beautiful, and we want to make it the best experience possible for the cyclists."
Among the first riders into Carbondale a little before 11 a.m. Monday was Chuck Matthys of Lakewood.
He set out from Hotchkiss about 6:10 a.m. and passed several of the other early riders along the way. He believes he was the first official rider through the check point headquarters at Roaring Fork High School.
"I like to beat the crowd, otherwise it gets a little crazy out there," Matthys said. "We had another little headwind this morning on the other side of Paonia Reservoir, but not like yesterday."
High winds plagued the cyclists on the first day of ride as they made their way along the rim of the Black Canyon from Gunnison to Hotchkiss.
But for a flat tire just outside of Carbondale, Matthys said Monday's ride was a good one.
"I like the bike path," he said of the Crystal River Trail, which parallels Highway 133 and carried riders the final five miles into Carbondale.
Matthys also was looking forward to his stay over in Carbondale, where he said he had visited before.
"That's another good reason to get in here early, so you can go enjoy the host city," he said.
This is Matthys' third straight Ride the Rockies, his first one being the 25th anniversary Ride in 2010.
Another of the early riders into town was Dave Gregory, a competitive cyclist from Delaware. Two years ago, he participated in one of the pre-races before the main event at the Tour de France, riding the same route ahead of the legendary Lance Armstrong.
"This is a great ride, and just absolutely beautiful scenery," Gregory said. "They picked a beautiful route today, and it was a great workout."
Roaring Fork High School Principal Cliff Colia was one of the local community volunteers who was on the scene early Monday morning. He was in charge on-site coordination at the Ride headquarters, which also served as the main campground for the riders.
"These people are incredibly well-organized," Colia said of the event staff. "They think of all sorts of things that I never would have thought of. They basically have to move a city from town to town.
"And the sheer number of volunteers to make this happen is just incredible," he said.
Bryan Welker of Agency Aspen does advertising and promotion for several business clients in Carbondale and throughout the Roaring Fork Valley.
"This means opportunity for the businesses here," he said as he watched the first riders rolling into town Monday. "When you bring 3,000 people into town, it's all about an opportunity for people to visit local businesses and spend some money.
"And it's just great for the community to have something like this here," Welker said. "It's just another reason that we're the funky, cool little mountain town that we are."
Carbondale Chamber of Commerce Director Andrea Stewart said several community organizations, from the town recreation department to the Carbondale Council on Arts and Humanities, cooperated to put on a big welcome party for the riders.
"This community has really worked hard and worked well together to organize the day's activities," Stewart said. "We're very excited to be a part of it, and we'd love to have them come back again some day."
The Chamber, which also ran the beer garden as a fundraiser, has been planning events around the Ride the Rockies visit since late September of last year, she said.
"We really want to thank the town, because we couldn't have done it without the financial support," Stewart said, of the town of Carbondale's $5,000 grant in support of the event.
In addition to the more than 2,000 riders and hundreds of support staff, Ride the Rockies brings another estimated 1,800 friends and family members of the participants along to the various host communities.
This was the first time Carbondale has hosted Ride the Rockies in the event's 27-year history.
The tour also has a traveling silent auction fundraiser that sets up in each of the host towns. Proceeds support a $5,000 grant to an organization in each of the host communities.
The local grant went to the Raising a Reader program, which focuses on early childhood literacy in schools from Aspen to Parachute.