Monthly Archives: January 2014

Fort Collins; Another Vibrant Colorado City

IMG_1629 IMG_1630

I have never met anyone that told me they hated Fort Collins.  Not everyone knows a lot about the town.  But of the people who have been there or lived there, I have yet to hear a single overwhelmingly negative impression, the way I have about so many other towns.

Colorado is a state that is very divided both politically and culturally.  The political divide is close to even, thus Colorado’s status as a “swing state”.  Representing the extremes of the spectrum, Boulder and Colorado Springs are both very polarizing.  Many people hate one or both of these towns simply due to what they represent politically.  Not only do Fort Collins and Laramier County sit generally near the middle of the spectrum politically, but they are also not known for being particularly politically active the way Boulder and Colorado Springs are.

Other towns are polarizing or controversial for other reasons.  The casino town of Blackhawk not only leaves a bad impression on those that do not approve of gambling, but also ignited the ire of the bicycling community when it chose to ban bicycles from the entire town in 2010 (this ban was overturned by the State Supreme Court).  I have to admit that as much as I love Vail and Vail ski resort, I am quite disturbed by the town’s decision to close down the only affordable hotel in town to make way for a new extended stay hotel, which will most definitely be fancier and pricier.  Large towns like New York are loved by many, but also hated by many who resent the level of stress they cause, the amount of power they wield, and the amount of attention they receive.

The sun shined bright and the temperatures were quite pleasant this January day.  It was the kind of day when you can really notice the character of a city.  On a cold or rainy day, it may be hard to feel the true energy of a town, as it is often subdued by such conditions.  Walking around Fort Collins’ central area today, the true energy of the city was on full display.

IMG_1632

Over the past decade or so I have become quite accustomed to living in vibrant places like this, where people can be found walking around, conversing, conducting business, and going about their days.  It feel like home, and it feels like the way our society was meant to operate.  If I were to find myself living in a town without this type of energy, it would definitely feel like something is missing.  However, that is just a personal preference.  I am sure a lot of people live satisfying, fulfilling lives in sprawled out suburbs, or even decaying towns with a lot of abandoned storefronts.  They probably do not share my addiction to the energy.  If anything, they are in a better situation than I am, as their choices of places they could live and thrive are much less limited than mine.

IMG_1634

Like Boulder, Fort Collins has a pedestrian mall with a lot of random street performers, particularly on a nice day like today.   The street performances here seem more varied than the ones in the average American city.  I saw the standard guitar performer, but there is also an outdoor public piano, and many more random acts like dance routines and hula-hoppers.  This pedestrian mall, called “Old Town Fort Collins” is significantly shorter than Boulder’s Pearle Street, but is still large enough and offers enough variety for it to be considered interesting.

Walking around here made me realize what makes Fort Collins special.  Not only is it not controversial, the way many other places are, but it still manages to be interesting and unique.  In actuality, there are plenty of places that do not ignite strong negative feelings.  When was the last time anyone fumed at the arrogance of Grand Island, Nebraska?  Or the rude partisans of Peoria, Illinois?  What sets Fort Collins apart is that it is still a fun and unique place to live, while also remaining non-controversial.

IMG_1633

As a town along the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, many outdoor activities can be found right outside of town, the same way such activities can be found in any of the towns that line the front range from Fort Collins south to Colorado Springs.

IMG_1635

Fort Collins may be best known as the headquarters of New Belgium Brewing, known for it’s signature beer fat tire.  New Belgium employs a unique business model, and has been quite successful.  At New Belgium, every employee is a part owner of the company.  The benefits and beer are great as well, and they are also known for their support of bicycling as a form of transportation.  While I did not visit New Belgium on this particular trip, the values of this company appear to be reflected throughout the town.

IMG_1637

Fort Collins has one of the best networks of bike lanes and trails in the United States.  Even in this well-to-do neighborhood just west of downtown, a wide bike lane can be found.

Fort Collins is the northernmost town along Colorado’s front range.  To the south is a series of population centers that include Colorado’s largest; Denver and Colorado Springs.  To the north, it is quite empty.  Fort Collins is on the edge of our society.  It manages to be an interesting and vibrant place without the controversy and/or polarization that often accompanies this.  Big enough to feel energetic, but small enough not to be overwhelming to many, Fort Collins is truly a unique place worth checking out.

Dog Sledding in the Rockies

IMG_1615

For thousands of years humans have assembled teams of dogs to transport themselves (as well as other items of significance) across the cold arctic regions of the planet.  It is a tradition that nearly all human beings are aware of.  Most have seen images or video of popular dog sled races like the Iditarod and the Yukon Quest.  While the average American probably views this tradition as a recreation activity, or a sport that takes place somewhere far away, for many cultures across North America, Russia, and Mongolia, teams of dog sleds have been, and still are, an integral part of day-to-day life.

Sometimes the only way to truly understand something is to experience it for yourself.  A small taste of the dog sledding experience can be found at Good Times Adventures, just outside of Breckenridge, Colorado.   Over 150 dogs are kept here, ready to take those that wish to sample this experience on a short dog sledding voyage.  Dogs kept here get to live quite an active life, typically going on two voyages per day with customers throughout the season.  When it is time for a trip, they howl in anticipation, impatiently await the go-ahead from the tour guide, and enthusiastically begin to pull their passengers across the snow.  What an experience!

IMG_1608 IMG_1609

Going on a 60-90 minute dog sledding tour on a sunny afternoon in Breckenridge leaves plenty of additional time in the day for other activities.  As a season pass holder to Vail Resorts (a pass called the EPIC pass) that other activity is pretty obvious- skiing!  Breckenridge ski resort (part of the pass), is located less than half an hour from Good Times Adventures.  We planned our sled trip to begin at 1:15 in the afternoon, and used the morning to ski.  Morning is often the best time to ski, as snow conditions deteriorate as the day progresses (due to use) more frequently than not.  Following a series of major snow accumulations to start off 2014, snow conditions were ideal at Breckenridge ski resort today.

IMG_1601 IMG_1603

I will post more about Breckenridge ski resort, as well as the other ski resorts I ski regularly during wintertime, later.

IMG_1607

After several hours of great skiing, it was time to meet the dogs.  The eight-dog team was made up of huskies.  Across the north, huskies are traditionally used to transport lighter amounts of cargo at a faster speed.  This, of course, includes people.  For heavier cargo, the Alaskan Malamute is often used.  Essentially, a team of huskies would be analogous to a car in today’s world, while a team of malamutes would be analogous to a truck.

The dogs we met at the resort were friendly.  Towards us, they were friendly almost in a business-like way.  It almost felt like they had some kind of understanding that we were customers and that they are conducting a business.  Sometimes dogs have this eerie way of sensing a situation, and us humans cannot even begin to figure out how they do it.  Almost every dog owner can think of one instance in which they came home quite upset and found their dog ready to give them a comforting embrace.  These dogs seemed understand that we were customers and not their owners/friends quite clearly.

IMG_1610

One of the dog was briefly too friendly with his female companion.  But, hey, with almost two hundred dogs and an expanding business, Good Times Adventures could probably use a few more puppies from time to time- no matter what the source.

IMG_1620

I was pleasantly surprised that I got to actually drive the sled, exactly the way the mushers do it on the dog sledding circuit.  The tour guide gave us all a brief lesson on how to steer, how to break, and some basic strategies (like leaning into a turn).  While I am sure there is a lot more to what professional mushers do, and that they do it at faster speeds on tougher courses, it definitely felt real.  I was really experiencing the culture that brought us the tradition of dog sledding, albeit only a sample.

IMG_1614

Most activities are not truly appreciated until they are experienced.  It is for this reason that people who participate or have participated in a sport are more likely to be fans of that sport.  It is the understanding of what is happening that only a fellow participant can relate to.  The speed at which the dogs are able to pull the sled across the snow is something that must be experienced.  Speed feels differently depending on the venue.  When I am able to get up to 30 mph on my bike it feels quite a bit different from skiing at 30 mph, and nothing like the extremely uninspiring experience of driving a car at 30 mph.  The same can be said of the speed at which the dogs pull the sled.  My first up close view of the dogs pulling another sled across the snow, and when I first hopped on the sled and experienced it myself surprised me quite a bit.  Huskies truly are amazing dogs!

IMG_1618 IMG_1622

According to the tour guide, huskies are built for temperatures well below 0 (F), and it is at those temperatures that they feel the most comfortable.  Today’s temperatures in the lower 30s were therefore quite hot for these dogs.  Combined with the strenuous workout of pulling a sled at high speeds, the dogs were overheating.  In order to cool off, at every stopping point (we stopped regularly to give everyone multiple turns driving the sled) many of the dogs would actually jump into the snowbanks along the edge of the trail in order to cool off.  Some even basically covered themselves in snow!  I could not imagine living somewhere where I would regularly overheat in the middle of winter- let alone summer.

How we transport ourselves is an important aspect of our culture, and one of the ways we define who we are.  Route 66 remains an icon of American culture of the 1930s-1960s era.  The bicycling world remains its own community with its own identity.  And, one of the main differences between modern urban, suburban, and rural cultures is the manner in which we transport ourselves. Without trains, and eventually cars, the United States of America would not be what it is.

Without sled dogs, the culture of the north would not be what it is either.  By partaking in the main transportation mechanism of the cultures of the north, I was participating in their culture.  I was experiencing what they experience.  I was partaking in an activity that created a way of life, and was later harnessed to save an entire town from an epidemic.