Joanne Palmer's Life in the 'Boat column appears Wednesdays in the Steamboat Today. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Steamboat Springs As the first rays of morning light filter through their tents, Bob Elken, 78, and his daughter Kari Pollert will crawl out of their sleeping bags, pack up their gear and clip into their pedals for the start of Ride the Rockies. The first stop? Coffee.
“I need my coffee to start the day,” Elken said. “Kari and I scope out the coffee shops the night before.”
For the second year in a row, the father-daughter duo will team up to pedal hundreds of miles over steep mountain passes in variable mountain weather. This year, the 412-mile ride begins in Crested Butte, ends in Georgetown and challenges riders with these climbs: Cottonwood Pass (12,126 feet), Tennessee Pass (10,424 feet), Yellow Jacket Pass (7,428 feet), Rabbit Ears Pass (9,426 feet) and finally Berthoud Pass (11,307 feet).
One of the oldest riders on Ride the Rockies, Elken has no doubts about participating.
“In 2010 I biked 4,200 miles with no problems.”
Wearing an orange “Old Guys Rule” T-shirt, Elken said, “I never took the sag wagon last year. Kari and I start out together and check in with each other at the aid stations.”
“Whoever gets to the campsite first sets up the tents,” Pollert added with a grin.
At the suggestion of his older daughter Jayne, Elken started cycling three years ago at age 75.
“Jayne and I did Cycle Oregon, which is another multiday ride. I was the second-oldest person on that ride. I’m totally dedicated to biking.”
To warm up for this year’s Ride the Rockies, Elken completed a century ride in Chico, Calif., and arrived in Steamboat Springs from his home in Mosier, Ore., two weeks ago to acclimate to the altitude. For this year’s event he treated himself to a new custom bike from Kent Eriksen.
“I figure you only live once, so I sold some shotguns and told Kent to build me a bike,” Elken said.
Elken has been active all of his life. He was fully certified as a ski instructor in 1959 and taught his three daughters, Jayne, Kari and Margit, how to ski. He and his wife, Camilla, moved the family to Steamboat from North Dakota in 1969.
“I’ve never been one to sit behind a desk. I was a farmer in North Dakota for 14 years.”
In 1969, Elken built the Ptarmigan Inn, which he ran for seven years.
By his own admission, he gets along “miraculously” with his three daughters.
“Kari has always been the most athletic. I think she still holds the high school record in track. In 1989 we hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and camped.”
Pollert, a massage therapist and acupuncturist, said she treasures the time she spends with her father.
“My dad is my hero,” Pollert said. “I want to be as active as he is when I am his age. It’s great for me to see how many people are inspired by my dad. When people see him on Ride the Rockies, you can see them thinking, ‘Hey, this is possible.’”
Elken’s favorite expression is “attitude is everything.” He thinks a positive attitude is key.
“I hate being around negative people. I just want to walk away.”
He is grateful his health allows him to participate in this year’s ride.
“I am so thankful to be healthy. So many of my close friends are gone. I am fortunate to be able to do what I do. I wanted to do Ride the Rockies again this year to come back to Steamboat and spend time with my daughter.”