Riding the Rockies: Local man participates in large-scale charity motorcycle ride

Monday, November 1, 2010
Motorcyclist Ron Keller, who recently completed the Colorodo 500, stands with his motorcycle near his home in Cape Girardeau on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2010. (Kristin Eberts)

If you've ever wondered what's on the other side of that hill -- that hill deep in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, inaccessible to most vehicles -- Ron Keller can tell you. As a participant in this year's Colorado 500, a days-long motorcycle/dirt bike ride and fundraiser, Keller has seen the gorgeous panorama above the tree line and breathed the pure mountain air, limited only by his safety gear and a 16- to 24-inch motorcycle path. Come to think of it, that's not much of a limitation, is it? After all, how much closer could one man get to the great outdoors?

"You can't beat the scenery," says Keller. "It's unbelievable to get to do that for a whole week -- no work, just play, just riding my motorcycle all week. What could be better than that?"

Keller's interest in the Colorado 500 started in January 2006, after reading an article about the event in American Motorcyclist magazine.

"I read that article and thought, man, that would be a super-duper ride to do," says 55-year-old Keller, a Cape Girardeau native who's been riding motorcycles since age 14. Before this summer, most of Keller's rides took place in Missouri and Illinois, but he was interested in doing something bigger. "I had heard a lot of stories coming back about how much fun it was with the wide openness out there (in Colorado), and climbing the big mountains," he says.

But the Colorado 500 isn't open to every motorcycle enthusiast with a whim to ride the Rockies. Participants must be invited by a rider who's done the event before, then fill out an application, obtain a letter of recommendation and be accepted to the event.

Lucky for Keller, he already had an "in" with longtime motorcycle buddy and furniture salesman Chris Hutson. Hutson, who did the Colorado 500 last summer, invited Keller to the 2010 event and wrote his letter of recommendation.

"That proved that I could ride and not get hurt, and that I would be able to do a full five days of it," says Keller. "You've got to be a good person. You can't be a criminal or felon. You have to be a good person in good standing in the community. They want good people doing the ride."

It's for good reason that the application process is so selective. This year, 182 bikers traveled over 100 miles each day, and some days were close to 200 miles, says Keller. Sharp turns, steep roads, sheer drop-offs and falling rocks are common on the rough mountain terrain, so riders must be experienced.

"It's challenging," says Keller. "You have to have your ducks in a row. You have to have good balance, good throttle control, and you'd better be looking ahead. It's very demanding. It's very technical."

Riders who do run into trouble have plenty of help along the way, however. The Colorado 500 provides a guide with a two-way radio, and others to follow the riders, make sure everyone is accounted for, and clear the paths every night. Every rider packs waterproof gear, extra layers of clothing, food and water, and spare parts.

"It was everybody that loves motorcycles. They were super people, and everybody takes care of everybody," says Keller. "If you have trouble, you always wait until everybody's fixed and ready to go. If you go in with eight, you come out with eight. If you need something, somebody helps you."

The bikers were all men this year, says Keller, and the camaraderie extended beyond the trail. Keller was nicknamed "Gramps" because of his age and because he has five grandchildren, and his bike, which has a large gas tank, was dubbed "Valdez," after the Alaskan village infamous for its 1989 oil spill.

And, as is tradition in the Colorado 500, Keller was Hutson's "rookie" for the week. The men ate meals and roomed together, and Keller carried Hutson's baggage.

"Now I can invite someone to go and they can be my rookie rider," says Keller. He plans to take a break from the Colorado 500 next summer, but would like to go with his son someday.

"What are mountains really good for except to ride a motorcycle up and down?" says Keller.

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