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There’s Something About Wyoming 29 July 2011

Posted by magicdufflepud in Travel, Wyoming.
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There’s something about Wyoming, the high peaks, the plains, the desolation. The entire state, which is about the size of Colorado, counts fewer residents than Denver. And that’s the appeal. We arrived there two summers ago for an 11 day trip in which we went five straight days without seeing another human being. 17 trail miles from the nearest road, we plopped down in the Shoshone Valley at an old camp and watched as rain fell, then hail, then snow. We swaddled ourselves in sleeping bags on a frosty August morning, and with hands I could barely feel, I took the photo above.

I suppose in theory, I could find all that in Colorado—maybe in the San Juans—but in practice, I haven’t. Wyoming offers an altogether different experience, at once immediate and ancient. Primeval you might say if you were prone to such language. Along with the Alaskan wilds, and Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem remains one of the last great untouched stretches of earth in America. There be grizzlies there, and wolves, and entire valleys which function untrammeled by humans.

If that doesn’t lift your spirits; if the existence of a landscape in which humans are irrelevant doesn’t excite you the littlest bit, then, well, stop reading because this is a place to feel small, and insignificant. As I said in a college essay, longer ago now than I care to consider, we find solace in the mountains precisely because the mountains do not care whether we find solace in them at all. Wyoming is a place that does not care about you, or your concerns. Whatever you bring there, whatever you may find there, is your own. Nothing given, nothing taken.

But enough of that. Let’s speak realistically about wolves and bears and high meadows awash in a sea of indian paintbrush and alpine sunflower. The snow lingers well into August. Glaciers inch down valleys, grinding the landscape into submission. We ran into a pack train about a week into our last trip. “Not often we see people out here on foot,”  their leader said. “Stay safe.” They trotted off. And it was in those wilds that we crossed paths with two young grizzlies, racing from one drainage to another over a 12,000′ saddle. The second stopped and gave us a glance at a few hundred yards, then continued on his way, unconcerned about our two-legged intrusion.

We preserve wilderness to preserve these encounters, to keep Wyoming in existence. This Saturday, we’ll drive 450 miles over 7 hours to walk 50 miles over 5 days. In pursuing speed, our culture has lost a sense of scale and an ability to appreciate just how grand and expansive this American landscape really is. How far can you walk in a day? How far can you bike? Drive? Fly?

But those are the sorts of questions you ask in Colorado, where you can climb a 14er and return home that afternoon. Come to Wyoming and forget you were concerned about that sort of thing. Put one foot in front of the other. Walk, and in so doing, experience everything.


Places You Need to Visit: Mishawaka Amphitheatre 19 July 2011

Posted by magicdufflepud in Reviews, Travel.
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Something cool is always happening at the Mish. Not because “something” is necessarily cool, but because the Mish is so awesome it just kinda rubs off. It’s the rare venue that improves any show, but this is it. Tucked away a dozen miles up the Poudre (that’s “pooder,” remember) River Canyon outside Fort Collins, the Mishawaka Amphitheatre offers an appropriate bookend to the state’s other outdoor amphitheater, Red Rocks. Where the latter is a professionally-managed venue staging shows with big-time production values and $9 beers, the former is kind of a backwoods dump, a knotty pine stage backing up to a bar that seems a flood away from entombment under the Poudre. That’s been good enough for Bela Fleck, Joan Baez and Arlo Guthrie, though.

And it’s good enough for me, you and anyone who enjoys music.

It’s the sort of place you’d imagine as the result of a Joni Mitchell song. And it may have been. Back in 1991, preservationist and music enthusiast Robin Jones bought the site  to save it from becoming a parking lot. Why anyone would need a parking lot on that particular bend in the Poudre, I’m not sure, but that’s the story. In his 20 years of ownership, Robin brought in star performers, turning the Mish into the backwoods hangout it is today. As for the physicals space, I doubt much has changed in those two decades. Maybe the beer on tap.

If that were the end of the Mish’s story, it’d be okay, but it’s slightly more fantastic than that—in just the way you’d expect. Robin no longer owns the place, mostly because his enthusiasm for music accompanied an enthusiasm for the drug trade. A burglarly led the Larimer County Sheriff’s office to a cabin on the property last fall, and in apprehending the suspect, the deputies also discovered 280 pounds of pot Jones had been cultivating there. No one was really that surprised. The feds followed, filing a civil suit against Jones seeking the forfeiture of the $22,000 he’d made selling the drug. When asked why Jones’s amphitheater hadn’t also been included in the suit, a spokesman from the US Attorney’s office said simply: there wasn’t enough equity in the property. I guess the Feds don’t like bluegrass.

Dani Grant, owner of the local Chipper’s bowling alleys, bought the property from Jones later that year, vowing to revitalize the place, if indeed it needs revitalization. I’m not sure it does. But at any rate, you can’t fault the owner of a couple bowling alleys for wanting to do something nice.

So that’s where we stand today, with the Mish humming along in spite of its history and repeated attempts at self-destruction. We visited for Trampled by Turtles, but found a treat in Muskeeter Gripweed whose lead singer Jason Downing could probably make a pretty penny with his harmonica playing alone. Folks were hula-hooping in the Poudre. We had a good time.

You will too.

Other things you need to know:

Don’t pay for the shuttle. Drive up the canyon, get a campground early, then park for free and walk to the theater.

Beer is cheap. This is essentially a dive bar with an expensive cover.

If the show’s sold out, you might still be able to get in by buying a roll of orange carnival tickets and presenting them at the gate. It’s what they’re handing out at will call anyone—not a fancy operation.

Knowing When to Stop 10 July 2011

Posted by magicdufflepud in Cycling, Random.
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You were going to get a post about cycling St. Vrain Canyon today, but now you’re not. ‘Cuz I didn’t do it. Instead, C and I turned around just beyond Lyons, stopped for some ice cream, then headed home. Sometimes you just have to know when to call it a day.

Last year, around this time, I set out for a Sunday afternoon ride in Deer Creek Canyon. As a Colorado newbie, I’d not yet learned that afternoon anything in the mountains generally spells doom, but you know, there’s only one way to get experience. And it’s not by having people tell you in advance, “Don’t do that, Andy. That’d be stupid.” Getting experience requires first-hand stupidity.

So anyway.

I rode… I’m not sure… 15 or so miles west and a couple thousand feet up toward Conifer under skies you might charitably characterize as “ominous.” After taking a wrong turn and visiting Tiny Town, a place I suggest you avoid, I evaluated the gathering clouds chose returning to the car over figuring out the right path. Even the kids at Tiny Town looked more interested in finding shelter than in riding the toot-tooting tiny trains. Maybe children have a sense of these things. Or maybe children like riding tiny trains about as much as adults do. Whatever the case, rain was on the way.

It fell in torrents as the descent back to the car begin. The temperature fell. The rain never let up. A motorcyclist went by. The rain kept falling. And the temperature, which had hovered unpleasantly around 90 for most of the afternoon, had dropped to the low sixties. To be truly dangerous at a standstill would have required colder temperatures still, but I wanted to get back to a dry car and was riding as fast as I considered safe. When my teeth started chattering, the cold still didn’t seem that bad. But then, as it grew harder and harder to maintain control against growing shivers, I began to realize the danger lay more in falling body temperature than in a close encounter with any car.

That I’m still here of course indicates that nothing truly terrible took place. An hour and a half in a hot shower did away with the the chills, and even if things had progressed beyond safety out there in Deer Creek Canyon, it’s a popular enough location that someone would have carted me off to a doctor.

But in Colorado, situations can sour much farther from help. And in a culture that celebrates goals achieved outdoors more so than anything done in the office, we push ourselves into dangerous territory. Too often, it seems, the late start has turned into a trip that’s pushing the afternoon storm hours, and even though summit may only require another 500 feet, or the pass might lie just beyond the next switchback, you know the right call: turn back. When the storm cloud that used to be sitting pretty three counties away pile up on the ridge throwing hail and lightning so close you’ll call it “hell on earth” in stories to your grand kids, the choice will no longer be yours. Too far above treeline when the storm rolls in and only chance determines whether you’ll return.

You knew all that, yet it’s worth repeating. Always worth repeating. We turned back today because a wet ride sounded pretty miserable, and some ice cream struck us as an okay consolation, but the same principles apply even when the stakes are higher. So put away the ego that assesses the reward, and pull out the logical mind that assesses the reality. Know when to stop.

Pictures of Mountains 4 July 2011

Posted by magicdufflepud in Travel.
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What was next on the schedule? Bike to Work Day?

This is why I don’t make schedules. Mountains intervened. Mountains often intervene.

So here’s Mount Silverthorne, or really, the “Thorne,” right about Salmon Lake in Colorado’s Gore Range. You should visit it if you can find it, but I’m not inclined to let you in on all the secrets of Colorado’s gems. You can find them on your own without too much legwork, so if you want to avoid the crowds that descend on the Front Range or the Sawatch. You’ll have to look a little harder.

But you’ll find places like this one: