Almost 20 years ago the Colorado town of Norwood was command central for one of the states’ largest forest fires, the Burn Canyon Fire. Patti Grafmyer, the town administrator recalls Norwood rallying to help the hundreds of firefighters on duty, but she said it felt nothing compared to how the town rallied to help hundreds of cyclists in the 2021 Ride the Rockies.
At 4am, Grafmyer’s phone rang, which meant something serious was happening as she has it set on silent unless there is an emergency in town. The town of a few hundred people, with a small grocery store and four restaurants has been a supply town for ranchers since the mid 1800’s.
Perched on a plateau south of the Uncompahgre National Forest and northwest of Telluride about an hour, Norwood is a gateway between the jagged San Juans and the deserts of Western Colorado and Utah. Not far from the one main intersection in town, the grasslands give way to hardened soil once mined for abundant Uranium.
Grafmyer has lived here for four decades and knows that in this fairly isolated part of Colorado, it’s vital that people help each other and pitch in when needed. That sometimes tourist or others lose their way and need a hand. But in this case, the word was the town needed to prepare for close to a thousand cyclists to arrive by the end of the day who will be very hungry and tired after riding from Cortez on a record setting hot day.
At 3am in Cortez, the 2021 Ride the Rockies Race Director Deirdre Moynihan got word that the food planned for many of the riders was not going to be available that day. “there was not a thing open at 3am so I reached out to the Cortez Police Department to help us access stores and restaurants. In a matter of time, Wal-Mart had opened their backdoor for shopping, the local hospital made biscuits & gravy, McDonalds warmed up 60 cinnamon rolls and Summit Cycle Solutions had made vats of oatmeal for those that were valet camping. It is important to understand that due to COVID the food was handled differently in 2021 from previous years. Where communities normally arranged food for meals that riders could purchase, it was too risky for the many restaurants and businesses after a year of hardship in the restaurant industry. Furthermore, nonprofits who would cook had trouble meeting the new stringent requirements from Public Health Departments surrounding COVID.”
Meanwhile in Norwood, Grafmyer made similar calls to Norwood restaurants, to the grocery store and even contacted the small market in Nucla (25 miles away) to find food for the riders. Norwood was a scheduled stop for about half the riders (some stayed in Telluride) but because food was supposed to be traveling with tour, local restaurants had not prepared for the onslaught of customers.
For a town of Norwood’s size, rustling up food for about a 1,000 meals wasn’t easy. The Divide, Lonecone Cafe, Blue Grouse Bread and Maggies Pizza dug deep into their stores and Clarks Market smoked a ton of ribs and Reds Mercantile (in Nucla) rallied with fixin’s of sandwiches and other food. The county fairgrounds affectionately named the “Pig Palace” got ready for the riders and the local fire department pitched in with some much needed relief.
The local bike shop, High Country Bikes owned and staffed only by Lauren Hollek and Phil Robins, and normally closed on the day the ride rolled in, opened up, provided a water station in front of the shop, wrenched on bikes for 12 hours or so and set up a bike wash at the Pig Palace.
With temperatures approaching 100 degrees, riders having ridden 80 plus miles were greeted with a steep steady climb of two miles up Norwood Hill. At the bottom of the hill, the fire department sprayed riders with cooling water and set up a water station and made the climb a lot more doable for many.
Said rider Steve Mollen, “The climb into Norwood wasn’t easy, and the encouragement I received from the town’s firefighters driving by was an indication of even better things to come. Once I got into the town and off my bike, I was simply blown away. The Norwood residents staffing the bike corral were pleasant, friendly, and helpful. The people helping at the buffet line were great, and both the amount and taste of the food were wonderful. After a long day of riding, the fact that they offered me multiple entrees (since they had made plenty) was extremely welcome. While I was sitting and eating, I wanted another soda, but they had run out. A minute later, I saw that they were refilling the bin with cold cans. I can’t say enough good about the support I felt from the town, especially since I got there only about 12 hours after they were asked to help.”
About half of the tour didn’t climb the hill and stayed in Telluride and picked up next day’s route to Ridgway. Most of the riders heading to Norwood were taking advantage of Summit Cycle Solutions Valet Tent camping so anything cold and nourishing was extra relieving.
Says Grafmyer, “I still get goosebumps thinking about all the folks who so willingly helped. We really shined, we really did.” Months later, at a recent meeting with Chamber of Commerce, member Amanda Pierce beamed with enthusiasm recounting the story and said, “we still feel it. I really think it still has an affect on our town camaraderie and confidence. It’s so humbling what this town did and still chokes me up.”
Over the years, The Ride the Rockies has always given back to all the towns it rides through with charitable donations totaling millions of dollars to local organizations. In addition to the economic boon riders bring to the towns in buying food and merchandise, riders get to see parts of the state they may not normally see. Norwood had not been a host town until this year and Moynihan really wanted folks to see and experience this town—one of her favorites. Little did she know this was how that would happen.
Said Moynihan, “Norwood, as a community, has stood out from the moment they were called about RTR. They went above and beyond throughout the process and it was all worth it. This little known town not far from Telluride is amazing. It has some wonderful restaurants, great views and vistas, outdoor activities and a solid community of people! I called them early on from Cortez and they got to work and put together an amazing meal – trays of brownies, sandwiches, pasta and much good cheer! This is what small towns are all about and they didn’t hesitate one step.”
There is some great riding on lonely paved roads around Norwood. The paved road that leads all the way to La Sal Junction, just south of the La Sal Mountains in Utah is spectacular with very little traffic. There are hundreds of miles of gravel roads around the area leading in to the Uncompaghdre National Forest. If you are looking for some good home cookin’ with bike friendly folks and somewhere a bit different to ride, put Norwood on your list!