By Bill Plock
It seems one of the most common conversations when cyclists gather for chilly spring rides revolves around upcoming summer events and race plans. Often answers like Ride the Rockies, the Triple Bypass, or the Copper Triangle thread through conversations but rarely does it seem people talk about new places they want to discover on their bike. Events and races are wonderful motivators and loads of fun, but perhaps equally enthralling, for me at least, is finding new places to ride while learning the local history. In this case, the town of Victor, Colorado located on the west side of Pikes Peak at about 9,000 feet.
A point of focus for us at 303 Endurance in 2021 is to help you discover new places to ride, run and hang out. A few weeks ago I revisited Victor Colorado to tell the story about Brian “the glide” Hayes and how he and this town of just 400 people managed to build a wonderful ice hockey rink that draws players from all over the mountains. In this interview, Brian tells that story and many others!
The last underground mine closed in the 1980s and Brian Hayes was one of the last hard rock miners to depart from his station located some three thousand feet below ground. With the mine closure, many miners and their families left town. But Brian stayed and carved out a living and carved out the hockey rink and re-found his love of skating born from his childhood in Minneapolis.
He also loves bikes and Victor has some great roads, both dirt and paved. He is as much a cyclist as a hockey player and the only bike mechanic in town and a guy who has completed many many Leadville 50s and 100s—some on a single speed. Like the generations of miners he worked with, he is strong, resilient, and no doubt relentless on a bike.
In his shed built in the early 1900’s he builds bikes and wheels and wrenches on many others. He has a collection of memorabilia and trophies and this “man cave” is a bike geek’s dream come true. A vintage Bob Jackson track bike sits in his stand getting ready to ride to Gillette Flats after hockey season. He has mountain bikes, of course, cargo bikes, and a collection of others including a rare Cinelli Italian race bike.
But the bigger story is the town, and its history that in a weird way might parallel the love of endurance and perseverance we feel on those long days of pushing our limits. Victor was born to gold in the late 1800s and boomed making it one of Colorado’s largest cities by 1910. At one point 57 trains a day would come and go with gold ore, people, and goods to survive at 9,800 feet above sea level. It was a hard life and the town came and went with the price of gold over the years eventually shrinking to its current population of around 400.
Today Victor is home to dreamers and those who appreciate the outdoors and the quiet. The town still has a “downtown” with some empty, impressive buildings but also some cool places like the Victor Hotel with some nice rooms to rent and Colorado’s oldest working elevator.
Victor appears economically fragile but it fights on and attracts more and more people wanting to discover its history and relish in outdoor pursuits. The “Ghosts of Victor” can almost be felt amongst the shadows of mines scattered around town. It’s easy to believe in the “glory days” with a lot of infrastructures still in place, but it’s hard to imagine almost 20,000 people living here and attracting people like Theodore Roosevelt to make a campaign stop in 1901.
Two of America’s most famous people got their start in Victor, Lowell Thomas, and Jack Dempsey. Dempsey (born in Manassa, CO) was a brawling young miner who fought his way out of a troubled past and the mines to worldwide fame as a world champion boxer in America’s most popular sport in the early part of the 20th century.
Thomas grew up in Victor and traveled the globe famously bringing tales like Lawrence of Arabia and later being the voice to convey world happenings in newsreels at the movies and as the radio voice of America during the war years and beyond. He didn’t forget his roots and spent a lot of time in Victor and the Lowell Thomas museum sits on Victor Avenue. He rode the last passenger train to Victor in 1949 and in 1981, at the age of 90 he made his last visit and said to an audience gathered at the Elks club in his honor, “Everyone knows the name Cripple Creek. History has given that town all the credit for the gold. But we all know Cripple Creek is just a suburb of Victor.” He died a week later in New York.
Victor and its “sister city” Cripple Creek make up one of the richest gold districts in history. Since the 1890’s it’s estimated that 23 million troy ounces of gold have been recovered. Open-pit mining still harvests about 800 ounces a day. The district basically surrounds an extinct volcano with lots of dirt roads to ride and a few paved ones too! The old railroad beds connecting to Florence (Phantom Canyon), Canyon City (shelf road), and Colorado Springs (Gold camp road) are fantastic gravel rides. There are also really good paved roads connecting Victor and Cripple Creek but also leading toward Divide, Woodland Park, and even Guffy located near Eleven Mile Reservoir.
If you go, check out the Victor Hotel or there are a few Air B & B’s like the one I stayed in (the Hotel was full). There is a murder-themed hotel called the Black Monarch and a couple of others. Be sure to visit the Gold Camp Bakery for some amazing fresh baked goods. Owners Gertrud and Ralf immigrated from Germany and opened this bakery in 2012. They fell in love with the town after visiting friends a few years earlier and made the move—just like Brian did in 1973 or thousands of others in the last 120 years looking not just for gold but trying to fulfill their dreams.
Maybe your dream bike ride will happen in Victor this year. Maybe you will fall in love with the lore of the past and the ridiculously amazing views of the Sangre De Christos to the south and Pikes Peak to the Northeast. Come stay and play!