Vail to Carbondale

Today was a great day. It was a day that left me feeling content. It seemed that a lot of different things came full circle today. Not just in the context of my ride, but also in the context of my life. I'll remember the ride from Vail to Carbondale for a long time. 

Back in DC, I had shared the details of my trip with Yavar, a doctor of mine who was also an avid cyclist. I had expressed some discomfort to him about riding through the Rockies, concerned that some of the climbs might be severe. He agreed that the climbs would be tough, but went on to excitedly remind me that after the climb there is always the descent. He shared an account from some of his friends who climbed the Rockies, then spent the subsequent two days gliding downhill. I was thrilled by this idea but didn't totally believe it. Riding downhill for two days seemed too good to be true. Despite my trust in my doctor, I wasn't sure that his friends had accurately portrayed their experience to him.  

Now here I was, probably eight months after having that conversation, living precisely the experience that my doctor had told me about. Nearly 85 percent of the miles I had put on between yesterday and today were downhill. As I coasted from Vail towards Glenwood Springs, Yavar's words came back to me. I was living a dream which at one point seemed unbelievable.  

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The scenery was amazing. As I headed westbound, the thick tree cover of the mountains began to give way to red clay and beige earth. I was enthralled by my surroundings. The new dusty scenery helped me to become more aware of my location. I was making my way out of Central Colorado and moving towards the Utah border. The sparsely populated roads and paved bike paths I followed gave me an opportunity to relax, allowing me to process the interesting new scenery. 

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About 40 miles into the ride I arrived at the Glenwood Canyon Recreation Trail. It was a fifteen mile bike path alongside the Colorado River which lead right to the town of Glenwood Springs. Since I was a bit ahead of my partner, I decided to wait for her after an underpass. The first thing I noticed near the underpass was a dead snake pancaked to the cement. I narrowly avoided the roadkill on my bike. As my partner approached, it occurred to me that I should do her the favor of informing her of the carrion's whereabouts so she wouldn't run over it. When she was close enough to hear my voice, I carelessly muttered, "Watch out for the, uhhhh," then followed up my ambiguous warning by pointing to the snake.

"A snake!?" She cried out, wide-eyed with surprise and terror. I realized that my nice gesture had gone astray due to my poor execution. Despite feeling a little bad, I let out a light chuckle at my friends reaction. Once her head was screwed back on, she too found humor in the situation. 

A good six miles later I was again out in front. I was completely mesmerized by the jutting cliffs of this powerful red canyon. My head was in the clouds as I cruised alongside the river, flowing relentlessly like it's currents. Then, out of nowhere I had the inclination to look down. "Oh shit!" I screamed in absolute horror. There was a snake directly in my path, two-thirds of its body laid in the path while it's head was hidden in the grass just off the trail. I was so startled that I nearly fell off of my bicycle. It was then that I noticed a fellow and his dog just a few feet away from me in the river. Both of their gazes were now firmly fixed on me and their faces sported puzzled looks. I explained to them that I was startled by a snake in the path. In reality I was just trying to convince them that I was still a man despite having let out a pretty chilling scream. They were cool about it and let me go on about my business, masculinity still in tact. 

Man, talk about things coming back to you...karma is something else.  

Anyways, my 60-mile downhill ride came to a close in Glenwood Springs, a Rocky Mountain town best known for its hot springs. I was met there by my cousin, Brion, and his son, Julius. Seeing these two at this point in my life felt like it was a long time in the making. First of all, I was so happy to have the opportunity to reconnect with Brion as an adult. Because of our sixteen year age difference and the three time zones between us, it had always been difficult to get to know each other. This would be my opportunity to establish a relationship as an adult, something I had always felt compelled to do. Second, I was thrilled to meet Julius, Brion's first son. I was excited to meet Julius not only because he was family, but because he was named after my maternal grandfather, Julius Michaels, who was the largely influential patriarch on that side of the family. Sadly, Grandpa Julie passed away suddenly before I turned three years old. Bearing his name, it felt like getting to know Baby Julius would be an opportunity to get to know that grandparent who I never really knew but was certainly influenced by. After taking a dip at the Iron Mountain hot springs resort, Brion gave us a lift to Carbondale, the town he calls home. 

The first thing we did in Carbondale was to stop by Brion's store, Independence Run & Hike. Brion opened the story nearly a decade ago. Now in 2016 after hearing so much about the place, I was finally visiting it. Hey, better late than never! It was funny to watch Brion slip into business mode. This guy is way into what he does. Though the purpose of our visit to the shop was just to show me the place, within three minutes Brion was working with a customer to get her the right footwear. Talk about dedication! It was really cool to see the small business owner in action. 

That evening we had dinner at a local brew pub. My other cousin Greg, met us up there. Greg, just like Brion, I felt like I never quite had the opportunity to establish an adult relationship with. During dinner I had the opportunity to spend some quality time with him while his brother and sister-in-law corralled their son about the restaurant. It was cool to see that one of his main personality traits that I recalled, his quirky sense of humor, was still in tact. 

At the dinner table, Celine and I were made aware of how estranged we had become to urban life as a result of our tour through small town Kansas and Colorado. In trying to acquaint ourselves with Carbondale, we inquired about how many people lived in the town. Brion described it as a "small town" of no more than 6,000 people. Celine and I immediately objected. "Six thousand people? That's a pretty big town!"

Brion gave us a puzzled look. "You guys are from Brooklyn and DC. Since when is 6,000 people a lot? You probably have more than 6,000 people living in your neighborhoods!" Celine and I were forced to laugh at ourselves. Brion was totally right. Our trip through towns as small as Towner, Kansas and Haswell, Colorado, had sort of scrambled our brains a little bit. All that time we had spent in rural small town America had finally caught up to us. 

We ended up spending four nights in this BIG town. Brion and Betsy were great hosts and there was plenty to do, so we took our time. On Friday, Celine and I headed to Aspen. This would actually be my fourth or fifth time visiting this renowned ski-town. We had made several trips to Aspen during my teen years to visit Greg and Brion. I was excited to experience this ritzy mountain town as an adult, as my last visit there took place nearly a decade ago. Brion warned us that there was a process of uber-gentrification taking place in Aspen, in which the billionaires were crowding out the millionaires. It would take some serious frugality in order to avoid blowing my budget.

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Astoundingly, Celine and I got into and out of Aspen without spending more than about 50 bucks. Brion and Betsy couldn't believe it. They claimed we experienced the "Best of Aspen" without having to go into foreclosure. We wandered about the town's nice pedestrian streets, had a drink here and there, devoured some ice cream, stumbled into a pool party and finally rounded the night out by getting in free to Belly Up, a very nice musical venue for such a small town. Some DJ called "Lo_G" was performing. We listened to the beginning of his set, then took an eerily dark bus ride home to Carbondale around 11:00 pm. It was surreal to be riding public transportation on a highway with no street lights. Looking out the window, all I could see was a starry night sky which illuminated the surrounding mountains' silhouette.

Saturday was the highlight of my time in Carbondale. Celine and I had the honor of accompanying Julius on his first overnight backpacking adventure. We drove about an hour into the mountains, then hiked up a mile-and-a-half to the Savage Lakes where we would spend the night. After finding a decent campsite, we were joined by two other families that were friends of Brion and Betsy. Watching the sunset over the Savage Lake with the company of my new friends, I thougth to myself, "Man, Coloradans know how to have a good time." After a night of whiskey and bonfire-cooked cuisine, I passed out beneath the stars.

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Before returning to Carbondale the following day we took a brief hike to the sister Savage Lake. Incredibly, we had a Sasquatch sighting at this smaller, elevated Lake. Well, we're not sure if it was a Sasquatch or the elusive Assback Whale. It was too far away to really tell. What was certain, however, was that there was some sort of mythical creature in that lake...

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So there you have it. The trip to Carbondale was really special. It felt like it was a longtime in the making. Not only did I reconnect with family, but on some level I felt that I connected with my ancestors. Despite being so far from the city I call home, I sure felt grounded up here in the Rockies.

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