Midnight riders to cycle through Westside for June 19 Starlight Spectacular
by April Tooke

       In 1995, three men had a vision of cyclists pedaling through the quiet streets of a sleeping city. About 150 cyclists heard the call and became the first participants in the Starlight Spectacular.
       Neal Kovac, Vern Pitcher and Richard Stettler planned the ride to start and end in Memorial Park. But after two years, its popularity grew and they felt shifting the ride's base to the Garden of the Gods area would be more appealing. However, the trek through Old Colorado City has always been part of the adventure - the best part, according to some.
        Festivities for this year's Spectacular, expected to attract at least 750 riders, will get underway at 10 p.m. Saturday, June 19 at the Garden of the Gods Visitor Center with pre-ride festivities, including a live band, specialty coffee and door prizes.
       The quiet procession of cyclists - young and old, families and individuals, the serious and recreational-minded - will head out at midnight. They'll make their way down to Colorado Avenue in the wee hours of Sunday morning, roll through Old Colorado City and into Manitou Springs before slipping back to the Visitor Center for the breakfast at the end of their 14-mile ride (22 miles if they feel energetic enough for an extra loop on Garden roads near the end).
        In past years, they have been greeted by friendly Westsiders who make a point of showing their support for the night owls who brave the dark and abandon sleep to make the trek.
       “Riding west on Colorado Avenue through the old town is the best part of the ride,” said cyclist David Stricker, who has ridden with family and friends for the past three years. “People will come out of their houses or stand on the street and give you the thumbs-up or a little applause as you pass by. And it doesn't hurt to know you're getting close to the end and a big, caloric and well-deserved breakfast is waiting for you. Bring it on!”
       Last year, more than 700 cyclists participated in the ride, with registration proceeds benefiting the Trails and Open Space Coalition, a not-for-profit organization that promotes and protects the 160-some miles of urban trails in El Paso County. Linda Hodges of the Coalition, who's involved with the registration process, predicted 750 for this year's ride.
        The Starlight Spectacular kicks off the city's 2004 Bike Week, which also includes Breakfast & Bike to Work Day Wednesday, June 23 and a Bicycle & Trails Festival Saturday, June 26.
       Although the Spectacular's early-registration rates are no longer available, people are welcome to register right up to starting time. Costs are $35 for individuals, $70 for families, $30 each for a team of three or more, and $20 for kids ages 6 to 15.
       For more information, call the Coalition at 633-6884.

April Tooke is a local free-lance writer who is volunteering during Bike Week.