From little acorns mighty oaks do grow.
Just a week before, a motorcycle rally from Littleton to Bailey to benefit victims of the terrifying assault that occurred Sep. 27, 2006, at Platte Canyon High School was just a hopeful posting on a high-country electronic message board. By Saturday, it was a thundering ribbon of steel connecting mountain and plain and two disparate communities forever united by loss.
The horrific attack on Platte Canyon High School that ended with the murder of 16-year-old Emily Keyes left the small mountain town of Bailey reeling. Like many of his neighbors, Bailey resident Dan Patino felt angry, heartbroken and desperate to do something – anything – to assist the victims and their families. Because fresh air and distance help him think, Patino got on his motorcycle and took a long ride, at the end of which he went online.
“I was surfing Pine-Cam when I saw Dan’s post,” said Donna Sue DeLisle of Woodside. “He needed people to help him pull together a benefit ride from Columbine High School to Platte Canyon, and I wrote back that I’ve done food drives for the fire department and I’ve been pretty good at organizing things. Then I just jumped in and started helping, then other Pine-Cammers jumped in and started helping, and then we went from the swimming pool to the ocean.”
School authorities high and low immediately promised their unflinching support for the project, DeLisle said, and police and fire departments across the front range quickly followed suit. Word spread through Colorado’s biker community like wildfire DeLisle’s inbox was soon jammed with registration requests. “I answered over 3,000 e-mails in six days,” she said. “We never expected anything like the response we got.”
To participate, bikers were asked to contribute to either the “I Love U Guys” Emily Keyes Memorial Fund at any Citywide bank or the Columbine to Canyon Account at any Bank of the West location, with all receipts going to aid Platte Canyon victims. In exchange for their financial and physical support, small-town hospitality demanded that the guests be rewarded with something solid and restorative on arrival.
“Somebody in Pine Junction offered 2,000 breakfast items, and boy scouts troops from all over said they’d bring hot dogs,” DeLisle said. “And I had every kid in Bailey and their mom baking for all they’re worth.”
By Wednesday, local radio stations had picked up the story and offers of support poured in from around the state. A Pueblo business pledged enough soda pop to quench 4,000 parched throats, an outfit in Lake Wellington promised 1,000 pounds of ice, and one downstream woman with a mobile lunch wagon put up 250 sloppy joes.
“People just started coming out of the woodwork,” said Trina Scherr, the Bailey resident tapped as the event’s catering coordinator. “I got people bringing pizza, burritos, soft pretzels, you name it, and it’s all donated. This whole thing is completely volunteer, so every penny goes to the girls and their families.”
On Saturday morning, riders started arriving at Columbine High School at shortly before 10 o’clock, a trickle that quickly became a flood. By 10:30, the right lane of south-bound Pierce Street was a solid line of rumbling metal waiting to file into the school’s sprawling main parking lot which, by 11:00, had become a continuous sea of chrome and leather and generous spirit.
Pink was Emily’s favorite color, and many bikes flew small pink flags maybe 6 inches square. Carefully and colorfully hand-decorated, each was created by a Columbine student to carry a message of comfort to their grieving counterparts in Park County.
Biding their time next to a gleaming Honda BTX 1800 sporting a flag reading “Random Acts of Kindness,” Bea Green and Daniel Rakes motored down from Evergreen to lend their wheels to the cause. “We heard about this on KHOW and wanted to help out,” Green said, watching with some amazement as the last square feet of blacktop disappeared beneath the fat tires and booted feet of bikers from Cheyenne to Santa Fe and every city, town and hamlet in between. “Emily’s family – all those families – deserve our support. We believe in the Emily fund and everything it stands for.”
H-hour for the Columbine to Canyon Ride – or “Emily’s Parade,” as many preferred to call it – was high noon, by which time nearly every parking space at the high school and in the entire eastern half of adjacent Clement Park was packed fork-to-fender with shiny roadware and eager riders. Words of thanks were spoken; balloons released; a favorite song of Emily’s played. Then, led by Park County Sheriff Fred Wegener, an estimated 5,000 Harleys, Hondas and assorted custom choppers roared to life and formed a solid column, two abreast, headed west.
The afternoon’s good purpose aside, Saturday was a splendid day for a spin up Highway 285. Dressed in autumn gold, aspen and cottonwoods stood out in brilliant contrast to the dark pines covering both sides of Turkey Creek Canyon, and unseasonably warm temperatures prompted many riders to shed their heavier gear.
Beyond Conifer, the rally passed small groups of people seated in folding chairs on the shoulder and whole families standing in the backs of pickup trucks festooned with pink ribbons. Young and old, they were stationed along the highway to greet the bikers, and every one held a sign that said, in one way or another, thanks for coming. South of Pine Junction, pink ribbons fluttered from virtually every sign, post and rail along the route and, at the bottom of Crow Hill, residents of Bailey formed a waving, cheering line along the town’s short main street. Just in case someone in the long line of bikes felt inadequately welcomed, busy hands had transformed Platte Canyon High School into a perfect pink storm of balloons, ribbons and gratitude.
Platte Canyon is half the size of Columbine, with commensurate parking, so hundreds of bikes wound up arrayed around the school’s northern sporting field, putting those drivers in excellent position relative to the fantastic chow line assembled there. For an impromptu kitchen that was still adding menu items and staff as the first riders were cruising past Shaffer’s Crossing, the outdoor smorgasbord was a delicious testament to Bailey’s picnic know-how.
“We never expected anything like this,” DeLisle said. “It’s a miracle anything came together at all. Practically the whole community is volunteering to make this happen, and that says a lot about this town and these people.”
Near the end of the 30-yard wood-plank serving counter, Bailey volunteer Jenny Little was dishing savory pork ’n’ beans out of an industrial-sized pot. “I don’t have any idea who made them,” smiled Little, one of at least 100 local volunteers who kept the machine running smoothly. “They just gave me a ladle and put me here.”
A few feet away, Castle Rock businessman Guy Shingleton oversaw a huge convocation of propane grills where a half-dozen folks furiously flipped burgers and rolled frankfurters. “I’m a scout master, so I just brought up all of our cooking equipment to help them out,” he explained. “I also brought 2,500 hot dogs, but I don’t know where we got the 3,000 hamburger patties.” Not that he seemed inclined to care, busy as he was loading empty plates as they passed by.
“I can’t believe how the people in Bailey opened their hearts to welcome us,” said Pete Perez, standing in line with an empty plate and sampling the swift-approaching food-line with his nose. A Centennial resident, Perez didn’t drive his flaming yellow Yamaha V-Star trike all the way to Bailey for grub. “I wanted to show them that we’re all together in this – that they’re not alone.”
How many motorcycles is 5,000? The last bike rolled out of Columbine at 12:58. The head of the column entered Platte Canyon’s green valley at 1:02. For a long moment, that afternoon, an unbroken chain of growling metal and genuine empathy connected the two schools across 40 miles of mountain and forest, binding them together in common sorrow and shared hope. It will be days before the event’s final receipts are known, but the Columbine to Canyon Ride could easily realize tens of thousands of dollars that will do much to heal the wounds of Sept. 27.
“Ain’t no amount of money can replace what these people lost,” observed Mike Bevard, an Elizabeth resident who fully appreciated the importance of Emily’s Parade. “But anything we can do to help them, we’ll do.”