The last week of July and first week of August felt like an award tour in Denver and Boulder. All the strenuous climbs, long miles and foul weather were behind me. I could finally relax. Having achieved my goal of safely arriving in Denver, it was time to enjoy myself.
Denver very quickly came to feel like home. I spent my first day living like a local, buying groceries and hanging out at the public library. That evening Celine and I met up with some of her college friends, then we all joined Sam and his buddies at a karaoke bar (if you couldn't tell already, Sam has a thing for karaoke). I think Celine was having a hard time hearing some of the music, so Sam and I had to give her a Wet Willy to get some of that sugar out of her ear. At the end of the night I found myself eating jumbo-sized pizza slices in the street with a bunch of my new friends. I thought to myself, this is exactly what my life back at home is like. How many hundred times have I been on U street at 3:00 in the morning with Sam, Diego, Eddie, Mihir or Ben, eating jumbo slice pizza? It was really nice for something to feel so familiar.
On Sunday, Celine accompanied me to a Colorado Rockies game at Coors Field. The mediocre Rockies were set to take on the League's worst Atlanta Braves. I can't imagine a better way to be bored out of my mind than by going to a meaningless, sub-par baseball game. To make matters even better, this would be Celine's first baseball game and, based on the quality of the teams playing, probably her last.
But, you know what, there are some advantages to seeing a couple of bum teams square-off. First, tickets are really cheap. We got fine seats for $16 a pop. Second, the Rockies organization is aware of how mediocre their team is so they try to make things a bit more entertaining by upping the production quality. Despite my super low expectations, the game was a good time. I devoured peanuts, chugged the freshest Coors Light I had ever had in my life and enjoyed a couple of home runs by the home team. Plus, I discovered my new baseball role model, Charlie Blackmon. In addition to his savage beard and decent hitting abilities, the guy comes out to The Outfield's "Your Love". The guy is bad ass, and the game was actually alright.
On Monday and Tuesday, Celine and I migrated to the home of our Warm Showers host, Josh. Josh was perhaps the second or third person I have met on this trip who is oddly similar to me. We are both touring cyclists, have Master of Public Policy degrees, are connected to the wondrous state of Indiana, and, most importantly, have seen Joanna Connor shred at Kingston Mines in Chicago. He was an excellent host who seemed happy to share his newfound lifestyle in Colorado with us.
I note that his life in Colorado is "newfound" because he and his girlfriend, Sarah, had not been in the city for more than a couple of years. On our first night in his home, he invited us along to watch his friends' ultimate frisbee game. While talking with his 20-something and 30-something year-old friends, I was shocked by the fact that almost every single one of them was a Midwesterner or West Coaster who had only moved to the city within the last two years. Meeting this group of young people really solidified in my mind the idea that Denver was becoming a major destination for young people. I can't blame them for being attracted to this city. Denver is decently modern with one of the most incredible natural resource endowments I have ever seen. On the ride home I enjoyed discussing Denver's new identity with Josh and Sarah. She works on regional development projects, so had some really interesting perspectives to offer on the phenomenon. It was cool to be intermingling with a couple of the people who are creating this new, transient Denver.
Tuesday was a very relaxing day. The Denver Botanical Gardens were open to the public, so we spent the entire day there just guzzling strawberry lemonade and zoning out. That evening Josh prepared an unforgettable eggplant curry that causes my mouth to water just thinking about it. After the curry we headed to this "Lickety Split" ice cream parlor on his corner. Oh...my...gosh. It may have been the best ice cream I've ever had in my life. I got a scoop of salted caramel and another scoop of whisky chocolate something-or-other. It was really good. Needless to say, I went to sleep very content that evening.
On Wednesday Celine and I made the shlep to Boulder. Well, it's not really fair to call it a 'shlep' because it wasn't all that bad. We basically just followed the Platte River Trail to Bike Route 36, getting us to Boulder in no more than 40 miles. My buddy from DC, Harris, had just moved to Boulder within the last few months. Given the fact that he is a cyclist in denial (he claims he's a runner first and foremost, but I don't buy it), he was generous enough to offer me his home since he was presently on vacation. This kind gesture really made the Boulder trip unforgettable. I felt like over the next five days I experienced the "Best of Boulder".
On Friday Celine and I decided to pull a classic University of Colorado move by going swimming in the Boulder Creek. Everyone said that the best way to enjoy the creek was in an inner tube, so we went to the town's visitor center to figure out where we could obtain one. The attendant informed us that only four blocks away, on the corner of Broadway and Walnut, was a gas station and auto garage that could sell us a tube. Great, we headed straight there. In my mind I was envisioning a purple and green tube, maybe a double-tube, with little black handles and some zig-zag designs on it. What we purchased was in fact an inner tube...for a car's tire. As lackluster as this utilitarian tube was, it did the job. We spent the afternoon getting tossed about the rocky creek, living the UC-Boulder dream.
That evening we really rode out the whole 'college student' thematic by heading to a speakeasy bar on "The Hill", the part of town where the college students hangout. We checked out the "No Name Bar". This place was a good representation of Boulder. On one hand, it was a classic speakeasy. An unsuspecting exterior gave way to a polished bar with an expansive liquor selection. There was even a great folk band, The People, filling the cozy space with tunes. On the other hand, it sold slices of greasy pizza from the crummy pizza shop next door. The "No Name Bar" blended class and elegance with an undertone of college trash. This place was right on!
Saturday was one of the most special days of my bike tour. Based on Harris' recommendation, I decided that I would hike to the summit of Mount Sanitas. The cool thing about Boulder is that it is nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Within a 15-minute walk from Harris' home I was at the trail head of a decent mountain hike. I wanted this hike to be an introspective experience. Now, about a half to a third of the way through my journey, felt like an ideal opportunity to process my three-and-a-half months on the road. Since I was in Colorado, I figured a little bit of marijuana might aid this reflective process. Hey, when it Rome, do as the Romans. I purchased a THC-oil vape pen and headed for the mountains.
It was a perfect day for a hike. A gentle breeze rustled the leaves of the trees which lined Mount Sanitas' ridge. The sky was blue with a few lonely white clouds floating about. Being that the weather was so nice, there was no shortage of other hikers making their way to the summit. Although some people much prefer to be isolated while in nature, I found it really enjoyable to exchange smiles and small talk with the other people passing by. Everything about the situation felt right.
Perhaps a half mile in was when I decided that the spiritual component of the journey should begin. I whipped out the vape pen and took a light hit. I was cautious to not inhale too hard since I was at a fairly high altitude. Three or four hits later I wasn't feeling much different. I became a bit frustrated. Why wasn't this thing working? I decided to give it one last try. I exhaled every puff of air from my lungs, then took a hit so deep that it would have made Cheech and Chong proud. I exploded into a frenzy of uncontrollable coughs. Two minutes later my lungs returned to normal, but my mind didn't. I was totally stoned.
I puttered up the trail. At one point I thought that I had arrived at a junction. By following the left branch, I found myself on the backside of the mountain and a couple hundred feet from the path. Although my location did afford me a view of the snow-capped Rockies, I felt a little uncomfortable straying so far from the path, so I turned back to return to the proper trail. The terrain grew rockier by the foot. Part of me grew uneasy. I was coming about to the realization that this was actually a moderately difficult hike. As my nerves tightened, my weed-induced thoughts became paranoid. "Dude. I can't feel my feet!" I thought to myself. I obviously could feel my feet, because I was frickin' standing on them, but some part of my distorted mentality was sure that I had lost my feet on the backside of Mount Sanitas. It took me a second to get a grip on my thoughts, then I returned to the ascent.
At one point I found two sisters hanging at an intermediate point along the ridge. I inspected the little space that they had found. What was unique about this point was that the trees lining the ridge and the actual mountain itself formed a cove-like opening through which one could gaze endlessly into the flats. The day's gentle breeze hummed through this crevice, creating an audible effect that was hypnotic. If not already apparent, I found myself totally immersed in this space, enchanted by this perfect confluence of wind and earth.
The ascent continued. It was fun to see this side of Boulder. Healthy people of all ages were making their way up and down the mountain. There were old men running, groups of friends walking with their dogs, mothers hiking up with their sons, I even think I spotted a couple on a first date. This guy and girl were having an excruciatingly loud conversation of what sounded like first date topics. "Yeah, I really found myself during college," or, "I love going to that restaurant," were the sort of elementary 'getting to know each other' subjects that were being discussed. I reflected. Man. In DC the social scene is founded on happy hour, brunch and going out boozing. Here in Boulder the social scene is founded on nature. It was cool to see such a variety of social interactions taking place atop this humble front-range mountain.
The Mount Sanitas hike (and Colorado shrubbery) helped me to achieve the mental clarity I had sought. You know, I'm not a regular user of marijuana. Past experiences with the stuff often made me anxious or bummed out. This experience was different. Being in such a beautiful, natural environment made the high much more enjoyable. I don't know that it will necessarily transform me into some kind of Buffalo Soldier, but hey, I was in Boulder, so why not.
As if the Mount Sanitas hike wasn't special enough, Celine and I had plans to go to see the Avett Brothers at Red Rocks that evening. The Red Rocks amphitheater is one of the most renowned musical venues in the country, possibly even the world. This open air amphitheater is carved into the foothills of the mountain and surrounded by huge, jutting red rocks. I was thrilled to fulfill this bucket list item.
From downtown Boulder we took a (school) bus shuttle service to the venue in Morrison, Colorado, a suburb of Denver. It was an unforgettable experience. From our seats we had an expansive view of the flats. To the North we watched as the city of Denver slowly became shrouded in the impending twilight. As the sun lowered, cars began to turn on their headlights. For the second time that day I became hypnotized, watching platelet cars flush up and down the artery highways of this metropolitan being. The Red Rock scenery was truly impressive.
The Avett Brothers put on a good show. I was pleased with their folk-rock style of music. A variety of instruments, tempos and sounds kept the crowd engaged throughout the performance. In all honesty, I had never heard their music before this performance. Celine, however, was a fan of theirs. I am glad that her musical taste brought me out here and opened my mind to this unique group.
Sunday marked the end of our "Best of Boulder" tour. We spent much of the day preparing for our return to Denver and tidying up Harris' home, since he was expected to get home just after midnight. Prior to our stay in Boulder, Harris instructed me to, "Make myself at home." This statement can be subjected to a variety of interpretations. Since I am perhaps a bit more uptight, I understood this to mean, "Use what you have to." Unfortunately, Celine and I had a lapse in self-control, eating the two Hershey's bars they had stored in the freezer and using all of their hair conditioner. Well, Celine used the conditioner. I don't use conditioner. I like to keep things extra mangy. Especially the beard. Anyways, I felt that it was very important to replenish these two very particular products that they seemed to have an affinity for. This was when I realized the absurdity of Boulder. The conditioner, some super-niche brand of hair product that neither of us had ever seen before, we were able to find at the first market we shopped at. The Hershey's bars, however, were nowhere to be found. We struck out at three different markets looking for Hershey's bars. How in the world could it be so hard to find the most common brand of chocolate bar in the US? Celine inquired at one of Boulder's myriad organic markets about where the Hershey bars were. Unsurprisingly, the gentleman informed her that Hershey's chocolate contained dubious ingredients, so wasn't sold at the fine establishment. Oh Boulder, give me a break!
That night Harris and Amelia returned home around 2:00 in the morning. In a sleep-induced stupor I gave Harris a hug, waved to Amelia, then went right back to sleep. It was too late for pleasantries.
That morning, Celine and I departed early from Boulder to make our last ride to Denver. We had decided to get a hotel room to ensure that Celine had an easy night before her flight out the following day. How did our stay at the Rmada Denver Midtown go? Well, just read the review I submitted to Yelp and TripAdvisor:
"I quickly came to understand why this was the second cheapest hotel in Denver. Within an hour of arrival, a drug dealer hanging out in the lobby (who happened to be staying three doors down from us) tried selling us percocet and "black". No less than two hours later, my 23 year-old female friend was trying to enter our room when four young men (also guests at the Rmada) intimidated her, telling her that they would break down her door. After this harassment incident we demanded a refund or to be relocated. The staff and manager did the right thing by transporting us to a safer facility. Sadly, the only consolation offered for the solicitation, harassment and four hours of wasted time was an upgrade to a suite and half off of a meal at the restaurant. I urge people to think twice before ever staying at a Wyndham, Rmada or Super 8 Hotel."
That was the last night of Celine's big summer vacation. Wonderful.
So Tuesday rolled around and Celine rolled out. It was hard to believe that I had just spent five weeks with the exact same person and, astoundingly, I think we actually liked each other more at the end of the trip than at the beginning. I don't know that I've ever been able to spend a month and a half connected at the hip with someone and not go raving mad. And, I won't lie, Celine and I certainly had it out for each other at times. The nice thing about riding with Celine, however, was that no matter how intense things got, we always found a way to listen to each other and work things out. Celine helped me to do one of the hardest things that any of us can do: to confront themselves. Sometimes I need to be a better listener, sometimes my jokes might not be appropriate, sometimes I can be a bit harsh. In the end of the day, I'm really thankful that my rad riding partner from Brooklyn helped me through this process of self-discovery. Her positive attitude, open mind, adventurous spirit and desire to communicate all made riding with her a joy. If you can't already tell, I got a lot out of my time with Celine.
The week following her departure was a pretty slow one. I won't bore you with the details. It was a lot of personal maintenance and correspondence stuff. The highlights were my awesome couch surfing host, Dan, going to a second Rockies game (this time against a decent opponent, the LA Dodgers) and hanging out with my big brother, Adam. Awwww, damnit. I just bored you with the details. Oh well.
Friday would be my last night in Denver. I spent the evening with Brother Sam editing the Vail Pass vlog. Once our work was done we watched the Olympic Opening Ceremony at Illegal Pete's. After that experience I totally understood Illegal Pete's. We just sat there for three hours eating burritos, crushing chips with guac and throwing back Coors (pronounced Cures) Lights. Plus, the hip staff at this one wasn't quite as rude or smug as the first one, so I am now a firm believer in Illegal Pete's.
Saturday I said goodbye to Sam. There was no need to get mushy or emotional, cause Sam is like a brother. I'll see him around. He was the best host for Denver, sharing his flat and breaking me in to new parts of town. We'll reunite soon enough, and it will probably be at a karaoke bar.
For the third time I mounted the Surly and did the Denver-Boulder ride. I was again heading to Harris' place, but this time we would actually chill together. The plan was to check out some art show in the mountains. Harris' girlfriend, Amelia, was the inspiration for this interesting outing, being that she practices ceramics. That afternoon we were joined by two of their friends, also artists from the area. The five of us piled into Harris' SUV and headed into the mountains.
I am rather upset with myself for not bringing any camera. I don't think words will do the evening justice. We ascended straight up into the mountains, winding towards Gold Hill. Each time we looked back we were treated to a new view of Denver or Boulder. We saw barren swaths of forest that had been wiped out due to forest fires. Perhaps eight miles into the ride, the roads turned to dirt, making for a more rugged experience. Once we were around 8,000 feet of elevation, we rolled into this quaint mountain town.
We didn't really know where to go. The Gold Hill Art Project was dispersed about the town. After a few conversations with other puzzled attendees we were able to locate the main site. We passed the evening listening to live music, eating local food, enjoying a few beers and inspecting these Gold Hill-inspired art projects. Oh, and there was bocce. I don't think I've ever got my ass handed to me in bocce quite a severely as Harris did that evening.
Before heading back down we stumbled into a musical performance at the local diner/convenience store/cafe/musical venue/..., well, the place did it all. The entire town (only like 40 people) gathered to listen to their buddies play some folk music. The music was great. The harmonica was right on and the lead singer belted out the lyrics was passion. I did not expect to hear such soul coming from Gold Hill. Our last stop was this elegant inn in the center of the town. The ambiance was so inviting that we had to stop for a cocktail. Man, I would love to spend a weekend at this place. It had a gourmet menu of Rocky Mountain offerings included fresh trout, lamb and duck. I guess I'll just have to save it for next time.
What was our final stop for the night? Karaoke at some crummy town bar in Boulder. I think I did a pretty good rendition of Dr. Dre's, "Let Me Ride," though I think the performance of the night had to go to Steph for her rendition of "Rocky Racoon." Trippy song!
Okay. So those were my two weeks in Boulder and Denver. Man did I cover a lot of ground. Caught up with family, made new friends, reconnected with myself, it was a much needed respite from the rigors of the road. Spending this time out here made me realize that Colorado is my home in the West. It was really nice to feel like I've got a home away from home. I pedaled about 3,000 miles to get here, and, I'll tell you what, Id pedal 3,000 more for Colorado. My friends and family out here made it well worth the ride.