- Starlight riders take off in the dark. Photo courtesty of Trails and Open Sapce Coalition
It's 3 a.m. Do you know where your bike is?
One of the best ways to beat the tourist crowds is to do Colorado Springs after hours -- hitting the Garden of the Gods in the moonlight, outsmarting the phantom traffic lights triggered to turn red as you approach, and watching the scorching summer streets turn into a bizzaro land right out of a Martin Scorsese midnight run.
So if you can't sleep Saturday night, or you're stumbling home particularly late after the bars close, don't be alarmed at the sight of a mass of blinking red lights descending from the mountains into our fair city. It's the 6th running of the Starlight Spectacular, a 14-mile bike trek through the heart of downtown Colorado Springs, with 500 bikers starting and finishing their odyssey at the Garden of the Gods.
The fun starts at 1:30 a.m. at the Garden of the Gods Visitor Center, where the cyclists tank up on coffee, take the opportunity to register their bikes with the Colorado Springs bike police, and vie for door prizes to the sounds of Tom Lehrecke playing his solo jazz guitar. Prizes include a bike from Ted's Bicycle Shop, a headlight system, a pair of sunglasses for the "best illuminated individual," and dinner for eight at Rita's for the "Most Spectacularly Attired" team of four pre-registered riders. Trails and Open Space Coalition Executive Director Dan Cleveland recalls a past year's illumination winner who came dressed as a Christmas tree.
With or without the Christmas tree lights, the 500 some bikers are all required to have headlights, tail lights, and helmets. The effect of watching all those tail lights head into the dark of 30th Street toward Garden of the Gods Road from the Visitor Center is one of Cleveland's favorite parts of the ride.
"I always try to go last," Cleveland told the Indy. "The best part of the whole thing is watching hundreds of those little red blinking lights going off into the distance. It's spectacular."
Once leaving the start-off party, riders can look forward to three rest stops along the way, each featuring treats, bike support, and live music outdoors at the K-Mart on Nevada, Bancroft Park in Old Colorado City, and the Trading Post at Garden of the Gods. Kim provides the music at the first stop, which also boasts a dose of Old Chicago Pizza, soft drinks, and water. John Cropper and Fragile Fish play the moonlit set at Bancroft Park, and Jeff Louck handles the jam at the Trading Post.
"It's a social event," Cleveland emphasized. "It's very definitely not a race." The loop could be completed in about an hour, but most riders will take about twice that time, enjoying the ambience and having enough fun to border on the illicit.
The ride is a fundraiser for the Trails and Open Space Coalition, a local non-profit working to create an inter-connected network of trails and open space throughout the Pikes Peak area. Last year, the ride raised $8000, which was used for advocacy, education and volunteer programs.
The Coalition publishes materials to support pieces of open space as well as teaching groups how to advocate for themselves. In the educational realm, the Coalition publishes trail guides featuring 60 trails in the region, guides to hiking Pikes Peak, and publications on trail etiquette and the rules of the road for bikers. Volunteer opportunities are posted on their Web site at www.trailsandopenspaces.org.
There's a certain irony to hitting the streets in support of trails and open space, but Cleveland explained that there are some pitfalls to trying a starlight ride on existing trails.
"We couldn't get a complete loop," he said of the search for a good off-road route. "There are a lot of obstacles. The trails are narrow. And it's very dark."
The city ride gives people the chance to see a different perspective on the city, hitting congestion-prone streets like Garden of the Gods, Nevada, and Colorado when they're dark and deserted, getting the bike's-eye view instead of the letting it all wash past you from being behind a steering wheel. Nevertheless, Cleveland explained that "In the dark, mostly you're paying attention to the pavement to make sure you don't hit anything.
"The neatest thing you see is the Garden of the Gods itself at sunrise. The light on Garden of the Gods is incredible, playing different shadows on the rocks."
The last leg of the ride takes bikers through the park before wrapping up back at the Visitor Center for a dawn breakfast of pancakes, gravy, and biscuits out on the veranda. Cleveland notes that riders who aren't fully in shape yet may have difficulty with the steep hills in the Garden of the Gods. Many people end up walking their bikes through parts of that stretch, and there is an alternate route, 3 1/2 miles shorter, cutting off onto 31st Street and riding the north-south trail in front of the park.
"It's too late to get in shape," Cleveland said of any last minute training tips. The best advice for someone worried about the steepness at the end of the ride is to "take the 31st Street route."
For the nocturnal revelers out there, there are few better ways to spend a summer night in the city than chasing moonshadows through the Garden riding on pedal power and the laws of gravity through the lure of open space.
The Starlight Spectacular
Sun., June 25
Pre-ride gathering at 1:30 a.m. at the Garden of the Gods Visitor Center
$30 registration, $100 for teams of 4
On-site registration at the Visitor Center, from 12:30 to 2 a.m.
Call 633-6884 for information or go to starlightspectacular.org to register on-line.