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There's not a lot that can prepare you for what a beer festival with 25,000 costumed bicycle riders looks like: think of the craziest marathon you ever saw, then add everything from 1980s-vintage BMXs to reproduction Penny Farthings. Then add beer.
Fort Collins' leg of the Tour De Fat began with all this on parade, exorted by mayor Karen Weitkunat to take care as they chocked the streets of the Colorado town.
With a larger crowd than ever before–it took almost an hour for those in the rear to push their way past the starting line–it took longer than usual for the horse to finish its circuit, park up and get to the business of drinking Civic Center Park dry.
A cool, clear morning, made surreal by early attendees filtering down Old Town Fort Collins' wide avenues, gave way to the kind of unusually hot late-August day that beer festival organizers pray for.
There, as the day grew hot, thousands lounged in the grass and a solid lineup helped keep their heads up: Reggie Watts headlined, supported by acts such as He's My Brother She's My Sister, Fierce Bad Rabbit and Dragondeer.
The fourteenth annual Tour de Fat, already half-way through its 12-town journey, hits Denver next weekend. But Fort Collins is home to the tour's creator, New Belgium Brewing, and it has a certain energy all of its own.
The record attendance — 5,000 more than last year — raised some $75,000 for local nonprofits.
The tour also helps fill local restaurants and shops, and summons the Food Carts.
Constumes were all but mandatory. There was even an official thrift store on-hand for those who had not bothered, and popular get-ups included minions, gnomes, video game characters and, for the lightweights, the ever-popular nightmare clown wig.
Peace signs are to be expected given the counter-cultural ties; this year's forest of them reflected going-on far beyond it.
Admission to the tour (see the remaining stops) is free, and beers are $5 a pint: a full selection of New Belgium's offerings were on near-constant pour at every stand.
Given the 90-degree sunshine–which clouded up briefly for a refreshing afternoon shower–seasonal flavors such as Rolle Bolle and Sunshine Wheatbeer seemed particularly popular. But I stuck to 1554, New Belgium's best tipple.