Road trip snacks come in bulk with a buffalo on board.
This, among others, is a lesson learned by folks tasked with toting beloved University of Colorado mascot Ralphie to away games and beyond.
John Graves, program manager for the Ralphie Live Mascot Program, is captain of the ship — er, truck and trailer — when it’s time to load up the 1,200-pound buffalo and hit the road.
Graves’ biggest concern about taking Ralphie on the road is finding suitable accommodations for her to stay while away.
“It’s not as easy as calling up a hotel and finding a place,” he said.
Graves is in search of the perfect ranch Ralphie can call home for a few nights. Luckily, this isn’t his first rodeo.
“I do a lot of work in the buffalo industry,” Graves said. “I know quite a few buffalo ranchers, so I’m able to call a few people and find a good location.”
If Yelp reviews for a buffalo hostel existed, Graves would be looking for an elusive location with extra-strength fencing somewhere close to the football game Ralphie is scheduled to make her appearance at.
“We don’t want visiting fans knowing where she’s staying,” Graves said. “We also need fencing a lot stronger than is needed for cattle. It’s not easy to find a ranch that’s capable of housing Ralphie.”
Physically getting Ralphie to her new digs is when the fun begins.
Graves obtains special permits for each state he and his buffalo buddy will be driving through with the help of CU transit manager Tom Christian and the university’s transportation department.
“We’re a commercial motor vehicle, so there are lots of rules and regulations to transport her,” Graves said.
On a typical day, Christian is busy making sure 10,000 students a week get around safely and efficiently on the Buff bus, so working on Ralphie business is a welcome diversion.
“There is a lot of stuff that goes on behind the scenes with Ralphie traveling,” Christian said. “It takes us out of our box. Ralphie is a symbol of the University of Colorado, so it’s something we look forward to doing.”
Ralphie’s vaccines must be up to date and tailored to which state she’s traveling to — some states have different requirements, Graves said.
When the logistics are in place, Graves packs up Ralphie in her specially-designed trailer, and off they go with Graves pulling the mascot in a big Ford truck.
“She does great,” Graves said. “She enjoys the ride. Buffalo, in general, are easy travelers.”
Graves brings enough hay to get Ralphie through her trip — she eats half a bale per day — plus a couple of extra bales, just in case.
“We stop and purchase water from gas stations along the way,” Graves said.
Every few hours, Graves stops to check on his four-legged friend to make sure she’s OK.
“She’s pretty mellow when it comes to traveling,” he said. “She just hangs out back there.”
When heading to a different state as she does for bowl game appearances, Ralphie shows up fashionably early to get acclimated to her new environment.
“That first day we arrive in whatever city we’re in, we give Ralphie time to hang out at the ranch she’ll be staying at,” Graves said. “She rests up and recuperates. The next day, we have practice with her, and the day after that, there’s the game.”
Graves enjoys his time on the road with the Ralphies he’s worked with over the past 11 years with his Ralphie handling days as a student and time as a coach.
“When we pull up to the ranch where Ralphie is staying for the duration of the trip, it’s always satisfying to see her running around and enjoying herself,” Graves said. “It’s a good feeling.”