Nearly every morning, retired electrical lineman and triathlete Chuck Haraway drives to a parking lot at the base of Lookout Mountain, near Golden. He saddles his bike at the stone pillars and pedals up to the entrance sign for the Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave.
Riding pillars to post, his trip is 4.57 miles, with 1,286 feet in elevation gain on a 5.3 percent grade.
At the top, he catches his breath, sometimes downs a cup of coffee at the Buffalo Bill Museum gift shop, hobnobs with fellow cyclists, hikers, hang-gliders and drivers there for the view. Then he descends, feathering his brakes and taking in downtown Golden, praying a car or a deer or a skateboarder or a mountain lion or a bear with her cubs doesn’t block his lane.
He and his friends — largely white guys in their seventies, like the late Ray Bolton, who rode the mountain 7,915 times before dying of COVID-19 in May, 2020, and Rick Brune, who rode it 4,078 times before breaking the head off of his femur a year ago while doubling back into the parking lot — have seen it all. Haraway and Brune have chronicled it on their website, a tribute to Bolton, cyclinglookoutmountain.com.
Now that Bolton has died and Brune has quit riding, at least for now, Haraway has fewer friends to join him on the mountain.
If he’s there early enough, just after the longboarders have rolled down the 7,377-foot-high mountain, it’s often just him, sometimes his buddy Peter Papazian and maybe a few cars.
Most days, when the road is crowded, he counts more cyclists than drivers — data he tracks on his website.
“Last year, of the times that I rode and counted, there were over 3,500 bicycles and about 1,000 cars. So the average was a 3.5 bicycles-to-car ratio,” he said. “The most I counted — I think it was an organized ride that day — there were 176 bicycles and 20 cars.”
Later in the day and on weekends, the road is busier. Weekends and mid-afternoons are when out-of-state tourists drive up to explore the Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave, not always certain about etiquette on the 20-mile-per-hour road. They occasionally cross the double-yellow line, nearly smashing into oncoming traffic, to zip around cyclists huffing at six miles an hour.
Deaths are rare on Lookout Mountain. But they happen.
The last cyclist Haraway recalled dying on the mountain was Tom Flanagan. He was killed by 20-year-old drunk driver Zachary Strnad in 2015.
Flanagan was 38 years old. An environmental planner for the National Park Service. A father to a seven-year-old.
“I always thought Flanagan was riding downhill,” Haraway said. “But as it turns out, he was riding uphill on a Friday afternoon.”
The driver had been drinking alcohol, Haraway said. Strnad passed two cars at a spot where there was a guardrail and Flanagan had nowhere to go.
“This car was passing two cars and probably increased the speed to maybe 50 miles an hour,” Haraway explained. “And even though Tom was only going six miles an hour, he couldn’t get out of the way.”
The court sentenced Strnad to ten years in prison for vehicular homicide.
Occasional crashes are expected.
“Rick has been taken out by a skateboarder,” Haraway said. “I’ve been taken out by another bicycle. Ray was taken out by a deer one time.”
A couple of years ago, rider Christie Hurst had trouble with her derailleur, recalled Haraway. She tried to kick it, looked down, and crashed into a rock wall on the other side of the road. She lost consciousness, had a concussion, and broke vertebrae and the zygomatic arch on the left side of her face.
Skateboarders found her passed out and called 911. She was saved. In the years that followed, she returned to the mountain to ride a “half-Everest challenge,” around 12 laps in ten hours.
Most of the tens of thousands of Denver metro cyclists who ride the four-and-a-half miles from pillar to post stay safe.
“I have this conflicting thing in my head about, you know, there have been fatalities there. And there have been accidents that I’m aware of there, but I know more about that than most people do,” Haraway said. “But really, for the most part, the riders are pretty safe. And the route itself, especially in the morning, is pretty safe.”
Haraway’s been riding the route since the ’80s, back when he was mostly a long-distance runner and competing in some of the first Ironman triathlons in Hawaii.
Over the years, he’s undergone two hip replacements, one knee replacement and stem-cell therapy in the other knee. Still, he keeps pedaling.
Feted cyclist and steadfast bike-safety advocate Bob Shaver calls Haraway the Mayor of Lookout Mountain, an honorific Haraway shrugs off. Even if you add up the thousands of times both he and Rick have ridden the mountain, it’s not half of what their friend Bolton had done.
Friends called Bolton the Sheriff of Lookout Mountain, because he wasn’t afraid to call out dangerous behavior from fellow road users: cyclists who would cut people off, drivers who would squeeze out cyclists, skateboarders who would careen down the mountain, life be damned.
One safety measure Bolton didn’t follow: wearing bright clothes that were easy to see. His friends joked he was the Johnny Cash of Lookout Mountain, since he was always wearing black.
While others found one ride up Lookout Mountain to be a slog, Bolton rode the route up to 10 times in a day — and once rode it 55 times over 10 days.
“We thought Ray would be the oldest rider out there,” Haraway said. But at 78 years old, in May of 2020, Bolton rode Lookout Mountain for the last time. Five days later, he died of COVID-19.
Forget Mayor of Lookout Mountain. Haraway might be better dubbed the Scribe of Lookout Mountain.
Four days a week, Haraway aims to publish a profile on cyclinglookoutmountain.com of somebody who’s climbed the road — mostly by bike. So far, he’s written over 200 pieces.
There’s a profile of Meghan Hottman, once known as the Cyclist Attorney, who organizes massive summer solstice rides on the route and is the subject of an upcoming documentary. And Greg Johnson, a 64-year-old cyclist who was hit and nearly killed by a hit-and-run driver on West 32nd Avenue, near Wheat Ridge. And Noel Hsu, a 64-year-old chemical engineer, originally from Sri Lanka, who was running up Lookout Mountain when Haraway caught up with him.
The website gives Haraway a reason to connect with his fellow bikers.
“So many people go over: They ride, they get back in their car, and they leave. They never talk to anybody. They’re there for the exercise,” Haraway said. “The thing that always stuck in my mind was that it seemed like it took years for motorcyclists to start acknowledging each other and give each other a little wave as they go by or even just a finger flick or something like that. And so the thing I’ve tried to do as I go up and down is to try to acknowledge the cyclists and try to get them to do the same thing.”
Haraway’s days of racing up the mountain and setting personal records have passed.
Though traffic on the route has increased over the decades, these days, he wants even more people to ride the mountain — carefully. And he wants to be there to witness and connect them, whether they’re pro racers or novices.
“I’m the one who is trying to get people to pay attention to each other and enjoy it,” Haraway said. “Because it really is enjoyable. It’s fun. There are a lot of people who say, ‘Oh, I ride up because it’s such a great ride down.’ And I go, ‘Yeah, okay, just be safe. Ride safely, and it can still be a great ride down.'”