Colorado 500


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Background: The Colorado 500 is an annual charity trailride in the western Colorado area. You can read about it at Basically, it started 32 years ago with nine NASCAR drivers (including Al Unser, Bobby Unser, and Wally Dallenbach taking their dirt bikes up to some difficult mountain passes. It has grown to the most prestigious trail ride in the world. The ride is limited to 300 riders, and over 250 are returnees. So, there are typically less then 50 new spots available every year for first-time 'rookies' like me. Joining the ride is by invitation only, and you must be sponsored by an existing rider in good standing. Little did I know that the guy that's been wrenching on my bikes for the past 10 years, Bill Woolman, is such a guy. He's been participating for over 20 years, and is number four on their list of who's-who. So, he submits my name to the membership committee to consider extending me an invitation. Part of his submission paperwork includes my motorcycle riding "resume." That's right - I had to write up a biography on myself and discuss the bikes I've owned, the riding I've done, and the events in which I've participated. It was fun to sit down and put all this down on paper. Anyway, the submission gets approved and I get an invitation in the mail in early July to participate in the 2006 Colorado 500 in late August. Cool.

Preparation: I need a bike that can go 500 miles of tough rocky trails. Well, I'd bought a used 2004 KTM 525 EXC earlier in the year, so, I should be all set. Well, not quite. Things I did to prepare for the ride include:
1) Swap out for a bigger gas tank. The stock EXC tank is 2.2 gallons, while KTM offers a 3.4 gallon tank on their MXC model. Christian helped me locate a used MXC tank. Christian is 'the man'!
2) The KTM seat is thin, narrow, and soft. I did a few 2-day rides earlier in the season, and my butt was always raw afterward.  I knew I couldn't survive a 5-day ride. I went to Corbin in Hollister and got my seat re-done. It has gone from thin, narrow, and soft to thicker, wider, and harder. I got this done two weeks before the Colorado 500, so, I really didn't get a chance to test it. Oh well.
3) Steering Stabilizer. My loving family bought this for me for my birthday. (Thanks gang, and thanks again to Christian for finding one used.)  I hear they're helpful in the rocks.  I also hear that the Colorado Rockies are known for their rocks. Who would have thought?
4) Replace the 50-50 coolant mixture with Evans coolant. Evans will not boil.
5) New tires. Part of the Colorado 500 information packet was a special offer by Dunlop Tires to receive a front and rear tire for $40 each, $80, total, including shipping!  I'm liking this!
6) Revloc Clutch. I added this the day before the ride on a whim. This is an automatic clutch, freeing up the left front lever. With this lever now free, I purchased the rear brake option, so, now BOTH the right foot pedal as well as the left front lever operate my rear disk brake. Both the automatic clutch and the hand operated rear brake are going to take some getting used to!  The Revloc guys say I'll be used to it in 20 minutes. Right!

Overall schedule. The ride is five days, Monday thru Friday. The preceding Sunday is a non-ride day, but, that's when you register, go through tech inspection, sound inspection, and attend a mandatory riders meeting. The Sunday activities take place at Wally Dallenbach's ranch just outside the town of Basalt, which is adjacent to Aspen and Snowmass. We all spend Sunday night at a large hotel complex in nearby Snowmass Village. The ride departs Monday from Wally's ranch. This is the only time that all 300 riders ride together. We receive a police escort out of town, and after about ten miles, we start to break into groups of 10-20. Each group has a ride leader and they take various paths, depending on the skill level of the group, to get to the day's destination. Monday goes from Basalt to Crested Butte, where we all stay at the same large hotel. Tuesday goes from Crested Butte to Ouray, where the riders are distributed to about six different hotels. Wednesday we just ride around the Ouray area, returning to our same hotel room for a second night. Thursday we make our way back to Crested Butte, hopefully on a different route then on Tuesday, where we stay at the same hotel as on Tuesday. And on Friday it's back to Basalt. After getting cleaned up and etc. there's a reception and dinner followed by an awards ceremony at a large ballroom in Snowmass. There's close to 500 people attending this gala event, with wives, family, support crew and etc.

Support: Well, this is the really cool part. This ride receives the very best in support. Kawasaki is a major sponsor and has allocated two semi rigs to trail us all week. This is like having a top notch workshop, complete with pit crew, at every stop! You're welcome to just walk up, grab what you need, ask any questions, or whatever. Of course, it is a charity ride, and you're expected to make a contribution at least equal to whatever benefit you derive. But, that's cool. Toyota is another major sponsor, and donates ten brand-new full-size Tacoma pickup trucks. These are stocked with food, drinks, and spare parts and are manned by chase teams with radios. You see these guys several times a day, and they're always there to help. After the ride, the Colorado 500 sells off the trucks and gets to add the proceeds to their charity fund. Nice touch, Toyota! Dunlop Tires and Revloc Clutch also have semi rigs there with similar services. Man, I can get used to this!

So, how did it go?
In a word - GREAT!
First I had to get there. It's about 1150 miles from the bay area, which is about 20 hours of driving. I left right from work at 6 pm on Friday and started driving east. I was in Reno by 11 pm, and Fallon by midnight. I got to Eureka, Nevada by 3 am, and pulled over to snooze until around 6 am. I drove another hour to Ely, and pulled over again to snooze for another 90 minutes. Once the sun hit me, I was underway again, and drove through the rest of Nevada, through Utah, and into Grand Junction, CO. I stopped there at 6 pm on Saturday and checked into a Super 8 motel and slept until 8 am Sunday morning. Wow, now I feel human again. It's just a few hours to get to Basalt and find Wally's ranch by 11:00 am. Now I've got the rest of the day to walk around and get ready. While I'm walking around, I meet Wally Dallenbach, the ride host, as well as Peppy, his lovely wife. I also get introduced to Larry Roeseller, one of the true legends in the dirt bike world. We chat for a bit, and I congratulate him on his amazing success at winning the Baja 1000 an amazing ten times!  Also, I see this really really tall guy walking around. Turns out it's Rik Smitz, the 7' 4" former center for the Indiana Pacers and a 12-year NBA vet.  But today he's just another rookie, like me.  Other famous people that have ridden this ride in the past include: Malcolm Smith, Destry Abbott, Dick Burleson, Bill Dart, and the actor Kurt Russell. Tech Inspection and registration go smoothly, including receiving a free polo shirt and a goodie bag!  I'm assigned number 265, with a sticker on both my bike and on my helmet. Also, a big red 'R' sticker went on my helmet to designate me as a rookie. Look out!  They served a nice lunch and later a nice dinner. This is also where I splurged and had the Revloc guys add their clutch/brake set-up to my bike. There was no ride-special discount on the purchase, but, I did get installation for free, as well as free advice from the owner - Doug.

Monday. I'm ready to start my adventure. It's a twenty-five minute drive from the Snowmass hotel back to Wally's Ranch. I'm late, and almost miss the 8:15 am fanfare departure under a police escort. Boy, they left right on time. The normal procedure is for rookies to ride with their sponsors. My sponsor, Bill, wasn't riding this year, so he hooked me up with 'Wolfman.' Well, Wolfman wasn't departing from the ranch, so, I had to find another group. I started off by riding with the 300 riders, and used the opportunity to look over the group and find a ride leader that didn't look too crazed. I came across JJ, and when he peeled off the paved road along with eight other riders, I just joined them. I wish I could tell you the names of the trails and passes we took to get to Crested Butte, but I really wasn't paying too much attention to their names. I was just too busy enjoying the scenery and the camaraderie. I got to know Fred (KX500), Grant (KTM 450 EXC), Ed (DRZ400) and Len (another KTM). I'd say Fred & I were the best riders in our group, and in the afternoon, we found ourselves shooting on ahead as the rest of the group was getting bogged down in rocks. Fred was from SoCal, and we both had plenty of experience in riding in rocks, so, this wasn't anything to slow us down. Ed was from New Hampshire, and not only were the rocks killing him, but, he came down with elevation sickness. He was nauseous and light-headed most of the day. Poor guy. In the afternoon Ed and a few others took an easier route, but not before this one rocky section that also drops into a river bed for 50 yards. The rocky / slippery conditions caused about half our group to take an unwanted dip in the cold water. There was also a shale rocky uphill that was difficult and also incapacitated half our group. Once I got to the top, however, I was able to view an easier bypass, and was able to direct the stragglers around the problem area. Lunch was at a resort & gas station outpost that was expecting us. (They are normally closed on Monday.) They had burgers and chicken breast sandwiches. Yum. We went 85 miles that day and arrived at Crested Butte at about 4 pm. Now, this is how every ride day should end!  There were the four big rigs lined up, with the pit crews standing by to assist you in any way. Then there was the huge ice chests filled with beer, soft drinks, energy drinks and water.  Next, there was the four power-washing stations. Sure, lets power-clean your bike every day before you put it to bed.  Dinner was being offered under a tent in the form of lunch meats, breads, condiments, and kegs of beer. Our overnight bags were waiting for us in the hotel lobby. After showering and performing any required bike maintenance, people turned their attention to the pool and spa facilities. Wow, I can get used to this.  If you wanted a more filling dinner, then shuttles were running every 15 minutes to take you to the restaurant section of Crested Butte.

Tuesday. I decided to hang with JJ's gang again. It was a larger group, and we soon saw a big gap forming between the faster guys and the slower guys. More rocks were taking their toll on everyone. We decided to break into two groups, and JJ would lead the slower guys on to Ouray on some pavement. I stuck with Fred in the faster group, and our new leader was Doug Henry (not the racer.) Doug kept a good pace, although he was too slow for me in the rocks. I swear, riding the rocks is easier if you go faster. These guys were poking along and expending all kinds of energy when you could just double your speed and fly over them. I guess I'm getting cocky with my newly purchased steering stabilizer.  But - all the other guys seem to have them, too, so I don't get it.  Speed is your friend!  The morning was great, and as we made our way into Lake City for lunch, I was happy, hungry and excited. Then, my bike started steering very funny. What's this? a flat rear tire! Oh crap. Luckily, we were only a few blocks away from the gas station lunch stop, so, I gingerly rode my flat-tire bike up to the gas station parking lot.  If you've got to get a flat, this is the way to go!   I had:  1) Compressed air available at the gas station, 2) They had a bike stand for me. 3) A Colorado 500 chase truck pulled up and gave me a replacement 18" tube, and 4) Doug helped me fix the flat. We had it fixed in 15 minutes, and it held!  The culprit? - a four inch old rusty nail. Where'd that come from?

Now, everyone will tell you that the Rockies gets a rain shower every day at 2:30 pm. In some places it's a sprinkle, in some places it's a downpour. On Monday we only received a light sprinkle. I didn't even stop to put on a jacket. Well, on Tuesday, the rain decided to hit just as I was fixing the tire. Oh well.  Everything can't always be perfect.  After fixing the tire, and getting out of the rain, I had a BBQ pork sandwich - yum.  Then, the rain subsided and Doug led us on into Ouray.  The pass over Ouray is called Engineer Pass, at 12,800 feet. A Kodak moment.  Ouray is beautiful, all snuggled into the base of these towering cliffs on three sides. We rode about 160 miles in all and once again the big rig trucks, power washers, and beer-filled ice chests were awaiting us.  I joined Len and Grant for dinner at the Billy Goat Gruff Bistro.  While we were dining, the mayor of Ouray, Pamela something, came over and told us how much they enjoyed having us (and our money) visit them every year. She had been dining with her husband at the next table. Jeesh - what jokes did I tell the group? and how loud was I? Oh well.

Wednesday. Nice breakfast at the Ouray BPOE. (Elks Lodge.) I hooked up with Wolfman's group. There were nine in the group, and one riding buddy was an Englishman named Tom.  He brought a video camera and was filming everything so that he could show his riding buddies back home. This was his fifth time riding the Colorado 500. Wednesday was intended to be a short day as we just ride around the Ouray area.  We rode back up towards Engineer Pass, but diverted over to Cinnamon Pass instead and then dropped into a mining ghost town called Anima Flats.  After a brief self-guided tour, we headed over to Telluride for lunch.  Another quaint town, and a tasty lunch. We weren't in a hurry, and took over an hour to sit and tell lies. Then, some pass called Black Bear, followed by these rock steps along a sheer cliff. Pretty scary if you stop to think about it. So, I didn't stop to think about it. After riding about 85 miles we were back in Ouray and ready to crack another beer.  This time, dinner was provided by my sponsor, Bill Woolman, and his "Boyz from San Jose" which included me.  I had contributed an extra $250 to help pay for this meal for everyone. The total bill for dinner was $4000, and Bill had several more like me contributing to put on this fest.  It was fun. Bill puts in the extra effort to make sure this meal is the best all week of the on-the-trail dinners. Sliced roast beef, sliced roast turkey, and all the fixings. Way to go, Bill.

Thursday. Another nice breakfast at BPOE. Re-joined Wolfman's group as we head back to Crested Butte. We're charging back up Engineer Pass, and my bike starts loosing power. What? I pull over, and the guy behind me pulls over also. He tells me I've been blowing blue smoke in his face the past few miles. What's this? It appears I've burned a valve or something. Bummer. But, it looks like there's nothing I can do right now. Continued riding will undoubtedly burn up the engine before I get very far. So, I coast back down the trail to pavement, and then coast on the pavement back into Ouray. Good luck, the trucks haven't left yet, and I'm able to hitch a ride on the Revloc truck. There was another dead-bike hitchiker as well, plus two guys from Revloc. Despite our dour situation, we had a good time and were cracking up most of the way. They other guy had burned up his (non-Revloc) clutch on his Honda CRF450X. The Revloc guys were going to throw on a Revloc clutch, and he would be ready to ride the final day on Friday. My bike's outlook wasn't so rosy. But, the Revloc guys knew of a rider from Georgia that had a brand new CRF450X, with a Revloc clutch, and this guy had decided to call it quits a day early. A perfectly good bike with no rider! I got his name and called his room. "Is it true you're not riding tomorrow? Any chance I can rent your bike?" "No," he said, I can't rent his bike, but, I'm welcome to ride it.  Too cool. I make a $100 donation to the Colorado 500 charities in his name, and I'm ready to ride on the final day.

Friday. What a great day. The CRF450X is not only a nice bike, but, it is set up for a rider of similar size to me. I don't bottom out the suspension once! That never happens!  Plus, it's jetting for the high elevation is perfect - even better then mine. This bike rocks. It's not as powerful as my KTM, but, it's lighter and sure is a lot of fun to ride. It's lacking a steering stabilizer, however, so, I'm concerned how I'll do in the rocks. I really don't want to crash and ding up this guy's nice ride. We make our way back to Basalt. Wolfman's group has sub-divided and now Ron is our fearless leader.  It rained during the Thursday evening, and is supposed to rain throughout Friday.  Great!  But, as we start off the day, it only looks overcast.  We're doing some single track stuff, and Ron misses a turn and crashes a little ways down the side of the hill. We all help to drag his bike back up to the trail. I haven't crashed yet all week. And now I really don't want to crash and screw up this loaner bike. So, of course, I crash. But it's in the middle of a big mud puddle crossing. Something throws my front tire (damn - no steering stabilizer) and I'm down and laying in the orange mud. Everyone is laughing. I guess I'm quite the sight. Gloves are soaked and cold. But, the rider's instructions told me to be sure to bring a spare pair of gloves - and I did! Now my hands are nice and dry and warm. Very nice. The rest dries off shortly, and and the bike, although dirty, isn't even scratched. Anyway, it was a beautiful day - maybe the very best for beautiful scenery and fun riding. Once we got to the rocks, I resumed my high-speed mode, passing everyone. Despite not having a steering stabilizer, I seemed to still be in control. Piece of cake. The skies had been dark and threatening all morning, and as we finished up the trail section and hit the final pavement, the clouds opened up and began dumping the rain. We had about 20 miles of pavement to get back to Wally's ranch, and I was stung on the face by the cold searing raindrops all the way. As I pull into Wally's ranch, the sadness hits. I can't believe it's over. I'm ready to go another day or two. And I'm certainly going to miss all the hospitality, support, and camaraderie. Anyway, the rest is boring. The awards dinner was a nice way to cap off the event. They showed on a big screen the first half of the DVD that a professional crew had been filming all week. It looked great, and I plunked down the $35 to buy one when it becomes available in two months. There was a lot of drinking, toasting, and outrageous last-minute contributions made to the charity. I staggered off to bed with a kind of hollow feeling knowing that it was over. The next morning I was up early and heading back to California. Another 20 hours of driving ahead of me. I stopped along the way at Bill's house to drop off my dead bike. He's wrenched for me before, and he's agreed to do it again and nurse my sick puppy back to life. I continued on, and this time I drove straight through and got home Sunday morning at 2 am, surprising my wife.

- John


2007 UPDATE:  I returned for a second year.  Now I knew better what to expect.  I had even a better rexperience.  My bike had been repaired by Bill Woolman.  It just needed a top end job and ran perfectly all week.  I met some cool guys from San Antonio Texas, plus rode with a good gang from Nevada.  See below for the link to the pictures.


Click here for pictures of my 2006 adventure

Click here to see pictures of my 2007 adventure




The Colorado 500 Invitational Charity Ride

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