SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald
With the train steaming behind them, cyclists gathered for a sunny, windy ride to Silverton on Saturday morning, honoring the legacy of the Mayer brothers for the 41st year in a row.
As the story goes, the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic started when Tom Mayer hopped on his bike and raced his brother Jim, a brakeman for the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad, to Silverton.
This year, people came from far and wide to re-create the event.
Sean McDonald, who grew up in Durango and graduated from Bayfield High School, now lives in Afghanistan, but that didn’t stop him from joining old friends at the starting line of the McDonald’s Citizen Tour.
A former member of Durango Fire & Rescue Authority, McDonald hadn’t ridden in the Iron Horse since 1999 and hadn’t been on a bike since 2005, when he suffered the first of two severe neck injuries on the job. McDonald began his trip last Tuesday, leaving at noon for a physical in Dubai. He later headed to Washington, D.C., and then to Austin, Texas, where his wife and two children picked him up and drove 17 hours to Durango.
McDonald would like to participate again next year but said he’ll need to do some training.
“It’s been hard to train,” he said. “We don’t really have bicycles in Afghanistan.”
Those like McDonald, who have come back to participate in the Iron Horse throughout the years – and even decades – are being joined by a new generation of cyclists who are trading in granola bars for gel pouches.
Kids were a big part of the event this year. Children between 3 and 18 years old can participate today in the Durango Coca-Cola/Sprite Kid’s Race, enjoying a traffic-free course downtown, but several young cyclists opted to participate in the big-time events Saturday.
In the McDonald’s Citizens Tour to Silverton, the youngest cyclist was 11-year-old Zoe Furer, said Ken Fagerlin, who announced the event and surveyed the crowd to find the youngest and oldest riders. Another up-and-comer in the Citizens Tour was 12-year-old Christoph Cikraji, who moved to Durango last summer and was competing in the event for the first time.
“I’m just gonna try to finish,” said Christoph, who had not biked to Silverton before but spent time practicing on hills and trails around Fort Lewis College.
Kids were even more prevalent in the Quarter Horse ride to Purgatory, with riders such as Isaac Brewer, 11, and Ryan Church, 12, joining in the action.
Another trend in this year’s Quarter Horse was tandem bikes.
Opting for a four-legged ride to Purgatory, at least six cyclists planned to peddle in pairs this year.
Phoenix residents Shawn and Jan Radcliff said they have ridden their Cannondale tandem in the Quarter Horse twice in the past. The couple, who prepared by practicing on trails around Phoenix, planned to celebrate after the ride with a pair of cold beers.
While most people don’t literally share a bike, race organizers gave Quarter Horse participants the option to ride in teams this year, Fagerlin said. Businesses and families could register as teams, with their time being calculated by the last person on their team to cross the finish line.
Another new addition was a clock at the finish line, where cyclists could immediately see their time as they finished the course, Fagerlin said.
For Quarter Horse participants Sheila Pounds and Tonya Newton, the main goal was just to finish.
Pounds and Newton, both of Albuquerque, said they were mostly looking forward to making it to Purgatory and then celebrating with burgers and beers at the Sow’s Ear restaurant. Afterword, they hoped to soak their muscles in a hot tub.
With blue skies and sunshine, Pounds and Newton anticipated a nice ride – at least until they got to Honeyville, they said.
“It’s all uphill after Honeyville,” Newton said.