June 16, 2013 Updated: June 16, 2013 at 11:35 am
It was a week of firsts for Trisha Vannucci.
The Ottumwa, Iowa, native watched her husband complete the Ride the Rockies for the first time, spent her first night in Ca?n City, and, for the first time in her life, stood thanking firefighters returning from a wildfire, alongside locals showing their gratitude to those battling a blaze near the Royal Gorge.
As the ride ended Saturday in Colorado Springs at the Cheyenne Mountain Resort, about 2,200 riders and their families celebrated the end of a 548-mile trip through the Rocky Mountains entwined with the wildfire saga that girdled the region this week. The finish line doubled as a donation area for those looking to help victims of the Black Forest fire.
"It was basically our decision, especially with what is going on right now," said Todd Felson, managing director for the Cheyenne Mountain Resort and Country Club.
"With the celebration of the Ride the Rockies, we knew we needed to support Black Forest, too."
People were dropping 20- and 50-dollar bills at a booth created for the cause and the resort, which hosted 500 firefighters for dinner Friday night and plans to hold a similar lunch Wednesday. Felson hoped they could raise at least $3,000 for the wildfire victims.
The annual weeklong ride, now in its 28th year, pumps tens of thousands of dollars into communities throughout Colorado and draws participants from all over the country.
On Saturday, a swarm of riders pedaled around the clogged streets near the resort where people were enjoying food from eight local restaurants, a hot air balloon and live music.
"It was a great ride," said Paul Richards, a 63-year-old Seattle native with five years of Ride the Rockies experience. "I enjoy all the scenery here and the different routes every year."
On Thursday near Salida riders were caught in a rainstorm that brought along ash from the Royal Gorge fire, said Joanne Harbert, 63, a cyclist from Boulder. The original route went over the Royal Gorge Bridge west of Ca?n City but was rerouted 30 miles because of the fire there.
"It was a small inconvenience for what the fire has caused everybody," Harbert said.
"I've been to some of the places we rode through, but some of the small towns I've never seen. There were a few I'd like to revisit - Pagosa Springs and Durango."
Participants described the ride as "tough," "very difficult" and even "grueling."
Jeff Sampson, who lives in the Broadmoor area, stood waiting for his wife to finish the race. He was surprised when he returned to find that there wasn't smoke lingering in town.
"I think it (the ride) is tremendous," he said. "It puts Colorado Springs on the map. For the riders who have never been here before, it gives us a chance to expose our city to new people."