McLean Karr and Tatjana Pašalic probably have enough frequent flier miles to qualify as a jet-set couple.
They live in London but arrived in Durango after visiting her family in Zagreb, Croatia.
After cheering on Karr’s family members in the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic this weekend, they’re off to Las Vegas for the World Series of Poker. Karr, 31, is a professional poker player. Pašalic, 28, is a poker blogger and TV host who presents poker competitions, working primarily in Asia and Europe.
They’re among the many visitors here to ride and watch the 42nd annual event, which keeps both riders and the local economy fit.
Theirs may sound like a glamorous lifestyle, but they’re jealous of Karr’s parents, Scott and Anne Karr of Indiana, who in their late 50s have mastered the bicycle ride up the mountain to Silverton.
Anne Karr is “a spinning instructor and a superstar. It’s very inspiring when I see his mom riding. Yesterday, I took the bike up the hill. Oh my God, my lung was burning,” Pašalic said Friday. “She does (the ride) in four hours.”
Karr and Pašalic emphasized that they’re here to tailgate in Silverton this morning.
“We have friends who bring chili, make muffins. We have all sorts of food,” Karr said.
“Nobody judges you for drinking beer at 9 a.m.,” Pašalic said.
The couple eventually want to make the ride someday, too, if simply for the bragging rights.
“It’s a total notch in the belt,” Karr said. “I will have peace of mind in future tailgating years when I can say, ‘Oh well. I did it once.’”
For the most part, people seem to be embracing the Iron Horse with positive feelings about personal fitness and the economy, too.
Michael Smith, 60, of Phoenix, is making his second ride up to Silverton today. He said he is much better prepared than last year.
“My gearing wasn’t right (last year),” Smith said. “You have to be set up to do Coal Bank (Pass); that’s a suffer fest.”
This year, Smith has set a goal of beating the train up the mountain, but is not putting too much pressure on himself.
“It’s a win-win for me. When I get done, if I beat the train, I will celebrate and drink some beers. If I lose, I will drown my sorrows with some beers. Either way, it’s going to be good,” Smith said.
Local merchants are feeling good about welcoming the 3,100 cyclists and their entourages to town.
Gaige Sippy, director of the Iron Horse, estimated “we’re as big as last year if not 50 to 100 more (cyclists). It’s rare to find anyone who comes alone anymore.”
Kory Samson, sales marketing coordinator for Durango Central Reservations, said his firm was hard-pressed to find any hotel room vacancies on Friday.
“We called around town and the vast majority were all booked up. There was a room here and there, but for the most part, it was pretty darn full,” Samson said. “Right now, we’re sending people up to Durango Mountain Resort. In town, there’s very, very little (room availability).”
The tourists in need of a room are typically those passing through the area who are unaware of the Iron Horse festivities, Samson said.
Because the Iron Horse events sell out so quickly online – doing it in 36 hours this year – most cyclists are conscientious enough to book their hotel rooms well enough in advance, too, Sippy said.
While Memorial Day weekend is traditionally seen as the beginning of summer, merchants said seasonal bookings are starting earlier on Mother’s Day weekend with the Durango Shootout soccer tournament.
In April, room tax revenues were up 15.2 percent for the month and 9.3 percent over 2012, according to a city financial report.
Jack Llewellyn, executive director of the Durango Chamber of Commerce, said the increase in business is a nice change from the recent recession when it seemed like the economic “faucet just shut off.”
Now the chamber is getting calls again from people who want to relocate here and buy businesses.
“People are feeling positive,” Llewellyn said. “I’m definitely seeing an uptick in the economy. Iron Horse gives us a good feeling.”