Category Archives: Festivals

Keystone in Summertime

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It’s a place I had only seen in wintertime, covered in snow, often packed with skiiers.

Summertime shows the place in a whole new light….

Water from the top of the mountain, ether from frequent afternoon thunderstorms or residual snowmelt channels through creeks emptying into the Snake River.

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Mountain bikers are the primary users of the mountain, loading their bikes on the ski lift and riding down trails that wind through the trees.

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While the trails are different, they actually use the same rating system as is used for skiers and snowboarders in the winter.

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And, of course there are the hills, rocks and trees, a lot of which is altered or even covered up by the snow in the wintertime.

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It was a whole new perspective on a place I had been to hundreds of times, showing trails, rocks, and even small bushes I had been unaware of due to winter snowpack.

Perhaps the most breathtaking view of all was the one overlooking Dillon Reservoir at the start of what in the winter is the Schoolmarm trail.

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This overlook, at this moment in time, in an abnormally wet year where the ground appears greener then normal with greater than average residual snowpack at the top of the mountains, felt even more serene than it does in wintertime.

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And, of course, there are the other activities.

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Summertime presents an interesting challenge for ski resorts. Obviously, there are no snow sports. Resorts can either shut down for the season (as some do) or try to bring in visitors for summer activities. The ones that chose to operate in summertime often put on other kinds of events and festivals to try to attract more people.

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The music at the wine and jazz festival was quite impressive. I really enjoyed some of the acts. People pay one flat fee for unlimited wine. Unsurprisingly, much of the crowd was drunk by late afternoon.

One draw to coming up to places like Keystone at this time of year is the weather. Colorado’s most populated cities can get quite hot in the summer.

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The mountains are significantly cooler. Advertisements for summer activities at ski resorts often highlight pleasant average summertime temperatures. However, summertime weather in the mountains can also be chaotic. In complex terrain like this, thunderstorms often form in the afternoon. Where they form changes from day to day based on some fairly small scale aspects of the wind patterns in the mid levels of the atmosphere.

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Therefore, whether or not a specific location in the mountains gets a thunderstorm on a summer afternoon, although there is a scientific reason for it, can feel like luck. Adventurers generally just prepare for the possibility through some combination of monitoring the clouds and planning to summit mountains in the morning and return to tree line shortly after noon.

If recent traffic patterns on I-70 is any indication, despite the fact that the ski resorts themselves are far less crowded, Coloradans are headed up to the mountains to cool off and take part in summer activities.

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They are mostly headed to different places, sometimes out in the true wilderness of the Central Rocky Mountains.

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This is one place where it becomes undeniable that conflicts exist between corporate and human concerns. People choosing to go to different places in the summer, where they can have different experiences and often make a deeper connection with nature and themselves is a good thing for humanity overall. However, there are definitely those that stand to earn more money by getting more people to the resorts.

In theory organizations, including corporations exist to serve a purpose. I believe this is generally true in real life as well. Those that operate resorts like Keystone play a major part in encouraging people to get outdoors and seek adventure, most definitely improving human happiness. All ski resorts have a purpose, but one that is far greater in wintertime than any other time of year.

I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Keystone in the summer. Seeing how the place looks in the summer was also amazing. However, I will likely visit other places with what remains of the summer of 2019. The size of the crowds at Keystone Resort in mid-July, to me, don’t feel like a number that needs to be improved upon. To me, it just feels like the right size for what humanity needs at this part of the seasonal cycle of life.

 

Frozen Dead Guy Days

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It is perhaps one of the strangest festivals one will ever encounter. In Early March, the town of Nederland, Colorado, situated slightly above 8,200 feet (2500m) in elevation, puts on a festival to celebrate an event or more accurately a series of events, that is bizarre, obscure and optimistic at the same time.

A man names Breto Mortol, who died in 1989, has a family who believes that one day it will be possible to return a well preserved body to life. When he died, his family had his body frozen to preserve it, and shipped from Norway to the United States, where it is preserved in a shed in Nederland, Colorado, awaiting the day when technological advances will start bringing people back from the dead.

The primary event at the festival is the coffin race.

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To commemorate the steps involved in preserving recently deceased bodies, teams of 7 race each other through a muddy obstacle course, with one person laying in the coffin and the other six carrying it. Each team is responsible for making their own coffin. They also dress up in unique costumes with a variety of different themes.

Overall, it is an event like almost nothing else ever encountered.

The festival features some other unique events like polar plunges and frozen T-shirt contests, as well as some more typical festival entertainment like live bands and beer tents. The entirety of the experience creates the kind of mix between the familiar and unfamiliar that make things interesting. After watching the coffin race, I had the desire to attend every unique quirky festival like this I could find.

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It wasn’t all pleasant though. As it is in the Rocky Mountains in the early part of March, it was both windy and muddy. For some people, depending on tolerance of conditions like these, as well as level of intoxication, weather like this does have the potential to tamper with the level of enjoyment of a festival.

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Nederland, Colorado is quite a quirky town. It is tucked away in the mountains, but only a 40 minute commute from Boulder. It is often the refuge of people who left Boulder because it was becoming too corporate and mainstream for them. It also attracts people who want to live in the mountains. This creates a quirky yet outdoorsy and individualistic vibe that is into alternative ideas and ways of living. It feels reminiscent of Vermont. From a sociological standpoint, it feels like the ideal setting for a festival celebrating a person who has been cryonically frozen for thirty years in hopes of being brought back to life in the future.

At times, life can be full of work, stress, and trying to protect our status. Sometimes we just need an excuse to party!

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I hang this National Day Calendar not because I believe every day someone declared, such as Open and Umbrella Indoors day needs to be celebrated. However, there are a lot of things in life that deserve to be celebrated but aren’t. We hardly ever take time to celebrate things like friendship, being heard, or some of the simple joys in life like our favorite foods or the people that impact our lives in subtle but important ways.

Uniqueness and optimism, the main tenants of the story behind Frozen Dead Guy Days are certainly worth celebrating. Not everyone’s dream is to one day resuscitate their deceased loved ones (and hope that someone will do the same for them when they die). Some of us may dream of a world where travel is easier, communication is better, or access to food is far easier. All of these dreams require both uniqueness and optimism. Most of the beneficial technological advances we currently enjoy are the result of a person or group of people exhibiting these traits in the past. It is for this reason I will gladly continue to celebrate optimism and the courage to be unique in whatever form it takes.

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Cycling from Denver to Cheyenne

IMG_6854On the evening of July 3rd, having just finished an exhausting six-day bike ride, including four days of cycling over one hundred miles, my body felt a bit relieved.  I was actually ready to rest, ready to sit in front of a computer again!  Clay, however, told me that I was going to wake up the next morning, realize I was not biking 100+ miles and not know what to do with myself.

The truth ended up being somewhere in the middle.  I could not have pictured cycling at all the next day.  This was literally how I felt.

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The next day, I biked six miles, to and from Union Station from my home.  And, I was perfectly fine with that.

However, I did eventually get antsy, despite two other, closer to home adventures.  By Tuesday July 19th, I posted this picture on Instagram, stating I was bored and wishing to get on my bike and explore again!

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I ride the new RTD A-Line train, which connects downtown Denver with Denver International Airport, roughly three days a week for a gig I am currently working at the airport.  At Central Park Station, one of six intermediate stops between downtown and the airport, this curious piece of potentially symbolic artwork sits atop a pillar.

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Whenever I am on the train, and not trying to sleep for efficiency sake, I see it, and sincerely wonder what its purpose is.  It seems to depict a person running to catch the next train, but headless.  But why headless?  Could it actually be a satire on the futility of the rat race?  Could the artist who created the sculpture have had an alterior motive?  Could he or she have created this sculpture with the secret hope that a few commuters each day would look at this sculpture and be prompted to ask; what am I doing and why am I doing it?  Is this the life I wanted?  Is this the natural state of human condition?  Etc.?

I, however, had other plans, actually for the next Friday, and, they once again involved my 2012 Bianchi Cyclocross bicycle.  The Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo was starting, and, I was going to ride my bike there!

The prior evening, I spent the night in Broomfield, after a softball game in Boulder.  So, even before this next 100+ mile bike ride, I was already spending some significant time on my bike again.  Knowing it was going to be hot, we got an early start.  I actually wish we had gotten an earlier start.

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A lot of people hear about my bike adventures and immediately sounds perplexed…

Is there a trail there?

Are there safe roads to bike on there?

There’s a lot of trucks on that road.

I would never ride my bike on those roads, you could get killed.

Etc.…

There is some risk, no denying it.  When I was a child, one of my favorite bands, the Offspring, told me “Back up your rules.  Back up your jive.  I’m sick of not living just to stay alive.”  More recently, Drake told me, “Everybody dies, but not everybody lives.”  The truth is that there is the possibility of death doing nearly everything.  People die on the slopes.  People die rafting.  But, people also die commuting to work.  And, due to the health risk factors such as cardiovascular disease and such, sitting around watching television can be deadly!

That being said, I still considered risk when choosing a route, and am still willing to go a few extra miles to reduce my risk.  I am just not willing to miss out on opportunities altogether out of fear.

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The first part of the ride was pleasant, 95th St. from Broomfield to Longmont is a road I knew had bicycle accommodations in the form of bike lanes or wide enough shoulders.

Longmont was a little bit tougher to navigate.  Like many towns, their bike route network was designed primarily with travel within the town in mind.  I stared at their bike map for a good half an hour to figure out the best route through town, but it ended up being a fun route.

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I particularly enjoyed all the sculptures along the Saint Vrain Greenway!

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One thing people miss when they drive along I-25 between Denver and Fort Collins is how many lakes there are in the area.  On the interstate, there are none.  On this route between Longmont and Fort Collins, through Berthoud and Loveland, we actually saw a lot of lakes.

I’d been pondering riding my bike from Denver to Cheyenne for years, even going as far as thinking about some of the details, such as what time of year to go and what route to take.  As soon as I started thinking about routing, there was one segment I knew I was going to do, the combination of Taft Avenue and Shields St. through Loveland and Fort Collins, roughly half a mile west of highway 287.  This straight shot through both towns has a bike lane the entire way, and made navigating through Loveland and Fort Collins was easier than navigating through Longmont.

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This is where I started to feel the heat, which was right around 10:30 or 11:00.  The temperature probably hit 90 sometime while we were in Fort Collins, making me regret having not left even earlier than we did (we departed at about quarter to 7 in the morning).

Also, the wind had a slight easterly component that day.  This made the next two segments of the ride, first from Fort Collins to Wellington, where we stopped for lunch around noon, and then from Wellington to Nunn to reach U.S. highway 85, quite possibly the most challenging segments of the ride.  I had this nagging feeling about entering Weld County.  I do not know why, I just felt as if something bicycle unfriendly would happen to me in this county specifically.  It was mainly just a premonition that bore out to be true, just not in the way I had anticipated.

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Upon entering Weld County, the road we were following switched to newly paved blacktop, while the temperatures had climbed probably into the mid-90s.  This lead to the closest thing to heat exhaustion we would experience during the ride.

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By the time we reached Nunn, we were desperate to get out of the heat for a few minutes and get some water.  Unfortunately, despite the fact that Nunn has a water tower that says “Watch Nunn grow”, I’m 100% sure that my calf muscles were growing faster than Nunn that day.  The only place we could find to fill up our water bottles was the police station/town hall, and the only reason that option was available to us is because we were riding on a weekday (Friday).

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We followed U.S. 85 for the last 30 miles of the ride.  We ended up having to wait out a mid-afternoon thunderstorm near the Colorado-Wyoming border, at the only building within a 10-mile radius.

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The storm was, however, neat, and I felt as if I were storm chasing on my bicycle (even though in real life that would have been a disaster).

We arrived in Cheyenne during rush hour, which was a little nerve racking as this is the only part of the ride where the shoulder on U.S highway 85 disappears, the last couple of miles before entering town.

After 109 miles of riding, we were there, Cheyenne Frontier Days, miraculously with enough energy left to party, parade, and rodeo!

Life in a Northern Town

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It’s 8 AM on a Thursday morning in Reykjavik, Iceland’s Capitol and largest City.  The sun has yet to come up, as this far north (64 degrees latitude) days are still quite short in the middle part of February.  A quiet dawn persists over the town for nearly two hours, from 8 to about 10.  A couple of local teenagers are hanging outside the grocery store.  A group of tourists can be seen hanging outside one of the few restaurants that are open.  Otherwise, the streets are quite empty, and the shops are mostly closed.

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It’s odd because, in many most major cities, 8:00 is the peak of what is often referred to as “rush hour”.  It is a time of people hurrying to and from train stations, and crowding highways trying to get to work.  Even in the more touristy sections of cities, which this most certainly is, a lot of motion can still be found at this hour.  At places like Chicago’s Michigan Avenue, and New York’s Time Square, which are utterly packed with tourists nearly every day, there are still plenty of people to be found at 8:00 on a weekday morning, mostly people headed into work.  Here, that culture just does not seem to exist.  Are all the office jobs elsewhere?  Do people have office jobs?  Do they work different hours?  Or is the economy so heavy on tourism and fishing that there is just no point in being awake at an hour when all the tourists are likely still asleep and the sun is not out?

By noon, things start to pick up.  On some days, the sun comes out and hits the harbor.  At this latitude, when it hits the harbor, it hits it in a way that seems to highlight every single feature, from the boats in the harbor to the snowy mountains on the other side.  From the perspective of someone that has always lived in the mid-latitudes, is feels neither like mid-day nor twilight.  It is a different feeling altogether, and those who take a pause from their tourist itinerary and truly soak up the moment are reminded as to why it is worthwhile to visit different places in the first place; to see something, experience something, do something that cannot be done at home.

The day progresses.  Tourists fill streets whose names are too intimidating to even try to pronounce, make their way into the bars, the restaurants, and the dozens of souvenir stores that feature a gigantic stuffed puffin in the window.

The weather inevitably changes- but, well it doesn’t.

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There is this saying, “if you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes, it will change.”  Anyone that travels on a regular basis to places outside the tropics has most likely heard the phrase too many times to count.  It is used here.  At souvenir shops, mugs and shirts about Iceland sport the phrase.  And, it is true to some extent.  At any moment, it can turn from sunny to cloudy, or suddenly get windy.  But, the temperature does not vary too much.  On a four day trip to Iceland, the temperature, including daytime and nighttime, seemed to only vary between a few degrees below freezing and a few degrees above freezing.

Regardless of these changes, winter in Iceland is consistently cold and damp.  For this reason, one of the most popular items made in all of Iceland are wool sweaters.  While any visitor to Reykjavik can find these sweaters for sale all over town, the best deals on them are found at the Kolaportid Flea Market.  Even at the Flea Market, though, they can be quite expensive, the equivalent of roughly $100.  Money talks, and it is easy to figure out what a certain culture values by seeing what they are willing to spend money on.  Coloradans are willing to spend thousands of dollars annually on ski equipment.  Icelanders are willing to spend money on a warm wool sweater.

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Reykjavik’s population is only just over 200,000 people.  In fact, the population of all of Iceland is 330,000- significantly less than every borough of New York City, even Staten Island.  Yet, it is a place that knows how to party!  The nightlife is surprisingly good- probably better than many towns 2-3 times its size!

Making up for the lack of action at 9 in the morning, festivals, shows, and clubs give locals and tourists alike plenty to do in the nighttime hours.  Iceland has been promoting tourism quite hard since the economic collapse of 2008, which hit Iceland particularly hard.  Iceland Air has been particularly active in promoting tourism, by adding direct flights to more places in both Europe and North America, possibly with the goal of becoming a preferred airport for making connections while traveling between Europe and North America.

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Looking at this map, it is hard not to imagine an executive with Iceland Air looking at at map, possibly even Risk the board game, and thinking of this grand plan to become a connecting point between the continents.

Well, it’s working.  Recently, more people talk about Reykjavik being their favorite place to make flight connections, and more and more people seem to have visited Iceland.  At this point, in Reykjavik, it is probably impossible for locals and tourists not to interact with one another in some way, especially at clubs and shows.

After hours of partying, all of a sudden it is 4 AM.  Many clubs still have lines to get in!

At 5 AM, on the streets, music can still be heard coming from multiple directions.  In fact, by this hour, it almost becomes easier to find a place to eat than it was at 9 AM on Thursday morning.

Sometime in the next few hours, the blurry memory of a fun filled night fades into the next morning, likely to be delayed through at least part of that lengthy twilight period.  In my particular case, it faded into the realization that it is now noon, and Millions of New Yorkers (where the local time is 7 A.M.), despite the time difference, have woken up before me on the other side of the Atlantic!

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I only spent four days in Iceland.  I do not know the full extent of life in this nearly arctic city of Reykjavik.  I only know what I experience in this short period of time, where I did the best I could to experience the local culture.  Regardless, it does appear quite different from any place I have ever been.

 

 

Summer Persists

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I have been fascinated by the weather my entire life.  When it comes to our atmosphere, there is always something interesting going on.  The weather seems to find a way to continue to surprise people, behaving in different interesting ways each season, each year, each decade.  Our lives are impacted by the weather every day.  It is something that is impossible to ignore.  It is always on our minds, particularly for those that of us that love travel and outdoor activities.

At times, our plans can be frustrated, or even cancelled by changes in weather conditions.  It is the early season baseball game that was cancelled due to a freak April snowstorm.  Or the ski resorts in Lake Tahoe that had to close due to the lack of snow.

At other times, unexpected opportunities can arise.  I remember one year, when I was in college in Northwest Indiana, a place that is typically quite chilly in the wintertime, we had a series of unexpected 60 degree days in late January.  I unexpectedly found myself in Lake Michigan (albeit only knee-deep) on the 27th of January, a time of year I could normally expect to be huddled indoors.

Across much of the country, the story this September was the persistence of summer.  Some places are experiencing one of to their warmest Septembers on record.  Here in Denver, it has been the same story.  September’s temperatures this year, largely resembled what is typical in August.

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A sensible response to hot weather in Denver is to travel up to the mountains, where it will be cooler and more comfortable.  So, in addition to my hike near Breckenridge on the 11th, I made trips up to the mountains both of the following weekends.

September 19th was a repeat hike, to Windy Point at Golden Gate Canyon State Park, which is actually less than an hour’s drive from Denver.  The first time I hike this particular trail, in October of 2013, the upper portions of the trail were already covered with snow.

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This time, I got to experience the trail without such snowpack.

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My other late season hike in the mountains involved a trip to a place I had never been before, but had been meaning to check out for quite some time, the Fourth of July trail outside of Nederland.

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This hike in particular, on September 26th, represents the kind of opportunity that would not have been available had it not been for the unusual resistance of summer.  This trailhead is at an elevation of just over 10,000 feet.  By late September, one would expect high temperatures only in the mid 50s at this elevation, and not the warm conditions we experienced that day.

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One thing I have come to notice during periods of abnormal weather is how the trees never seem to be fazed by the abnormal conditions.  In the Midwest, when we would have a mid-winter thaw, like the one I had perviously mentioned, none of the trees would start growing leaves or anything.  They would continue to stay the course, knowing what to expect from the rest of the season.  Here in Colorado, the trees are still changing colors largely on schedule, with the later part of September being peak season for fall colors at these elevations.

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I have actually come to realize that the most magnificent fall colors occur when there is a warm and dry fall.  As it was last year, without windy, rainy, or even snowy weather early in the year, the leaves stay on the trees longer.

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In a month where we sweated through 90 degree weather for Tour de Fat,

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And one could attend a concert at Red Rocks without needing a jacket,

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It is hard not to feel as if summer just has’t ended yet.  We simply got to experience summer longer than anticipated.

Whether it be a season of the year, like winter or summer, or a chapter of our lives, we all anticipate change.  We know that a change is destined to occur, and often have an idea in our heads as to when that change is destined to occur.  However, sometimes, changes do not happen at the time they are anticipated.  Sometimes in life, we are caught off guard by an unexpected change before we had fully prepared.  We all have heard of at least one person who had endured an unexpected layoff, or an unplanned medical emergency.  Other times, as is the case with the switch from summer to autumn across much of the United State this year, it takes longer than anticipated for the next chapter of our lives to begin.

As someone who loves hiking, cycling, and water sports, and is generally not too negatively impacted by hot weather, it is easy for me to welcome the unexpected extra month of summer.  It is easy for me to say, in this case, that the best way to handle this delay, in the transition from summer to autumn, is to go out and enjoy it, take advantage of the opportunities, and be patient for the next season to start.  But, I know that this is not the case for everybody.  I also remember being the one frustrated by the lack of change.  I remember one March in particular, when I was living in Madison, Wisconsin, that winter just seemed to never end- and I was beyond sick of it!

Fall is going to come.  According to the weather report, by this coming weekend, October 2nd and 3rd, most of the country will be experiencing weather more typical of fall.  Those that have grown tired of the heat, although they had to wait longer than expected for the cooler air to come, knew all along that it would, and that the changing of the season is inevitable.

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At some point in time, we all end up in a place where we feel our lives have stagnated.  We enter a place where our current situation, whether it be our job, or what we are doing on a day-to-day basis, has simply run it’s course.  We have gotten what we need to have gotten out of the experience.  Maybe it has become frustrating, or maybe it is just simply not inspiring to us at all.  In these situations, the cycle of winter-spring-summer-fall we all live through on an annual basis serves as a reminder that the change we desire is inevitable.  Sometimes it just takes longer than we had hoped.

Festival Season

Several years back, I spent a considerable amount of time fascinated with the question; What makes someone an “interesting person”?  I guess it was just the time we were living in (around 2010- but it’s still true now).  People had become exponentially more distracted by social media over the past half a decade.  Every job posting had 200 applications.  To get by in the world suddenly seemed to require the ability to get people’s attention.  It suddenly did not feel like enough to just simply be competent and friendly.  The most precious resource had suddenly become attention, and the amount of time one had to make an impression on people was ever shrinking.

So I took stock of the people in my life, the people I saw, the people I knew, and even people I had just heard about.  I knew that there were some people I found interesting for some reason.  I really tried to determine why that was.  What was it about some people that made their names come up in conversation more frequently?  I went through this quandary in my head about the delicate balance between being “too normal” and not having anything distinct about yourself and being “too weird” and not being able to relate to people.

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In true extrovert fashion, I did not really figure out what it was about until I started asking other people about it.  I asked my friends what people they found interesting and why.  And, I realized what is true for me, as well as everybody else on this planet.  Some people find me interesting, and some people don’t, the same way I find some people interesting and others not.  I even realized that there are people in my life that I had not necessarily found interesting, but could see how they could be interesting to other, different kinds of people.  I actually thought about those people that write those celebrity fashion blogs and report live from award shows.  I seriously still can’t think of anything I care less about than who wins the Oscars.  But, some people love it, and a lot of people love those blogs.

Nobody bores every single person they meet.  Also, nobody captivates everyone they meet.  But, some people do manage to find a way to relate to a larger proportion of the population than others.  We all know that one person that is always talking about the same things, and doing the same things.  And, when we get together with them we know it is going to be the same old same old.

Maybe all they do is work…

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Or maybe they’ve got some cause they just won’t ever shut up about….

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Or, they just really only have one interest.  When that happens, well, you can only relate to people who happen to share that interest.  When one cultivates a variety of interests, they are able to relate to a greater subset of the population.  Not only are more people going to find them interesting, but they are going to find a way to show genuine interest in the lives of more people.

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So, while I love to travel, I realize that it is not for everybody.  The average American works 47 hours a week.  And the average commute is approaching half an hour each way.  Many spend much more than that standard five hours a week in their cars as it is.  So, I completely understand why, for many people, the idea of hoping in a car Friday afternoon or Saturday morning, spending several hours in it, and doing the same on Sunday, just simply does not sound appealing.  I will always find the allure of new places, different experiences, and different cultures worth the effort, but many want to find activities closer to home.

This does not mean they are not interesting people, and this does not mean that I cannot find them interesting.  Last weekend, right here in Denver, I was able to attend three festivals; all within 4 miles of home.

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At the Denver Brew Festival, with over 50 different participating breweries, and unlimited drinks for $35, one is pretty much guaranteed to be trying beer they have yet to try before.

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At the Underground Music Showcase, countless people get exposed to bands, and even musical stylings that they have never been exposed to before.

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And, it is hard to top a free concert downtown with Aloe Blacc and Capital Cities!

But one does not need to even go to crazy festivals to be interesting and open to new experiences.  At the end of the weekend, I came to the realization that everything I had done this weekend, everything that seemed new and exciting, is something that I can really do whenever I want.  And, I live in a medium-sized city, not New York.

If I want to try a new kind of beer, I can go to a microbrewery I have not been to.  I think there is a new one opening up every weekend somewhere in Metro Denver.

Most cities have some sort of a local music scene, with local bands playing at a bar for a $5 or $10 cover.  In fact, I have had some amazing nights out going to some of these shows!

And, nothing is stopping us from changing the radio station, finding a new channel on Pandora, or asking those around us to expose us to new music that is already out there.

Every day is the opportunity to experience something new.  Taking advantage of more of these opportunities is no guarantee that the next time you meet an attractive stranger, a fun potential friend with an active social circle, or that person with the job opportunity of a lifetime, that that particular person will find you interesting.  But, it does make the odds much more favorable.

Happy Independence Day

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In honor of the holiday today, I decided to write a somewhat different kind of blog than what I usually write.  Typically, as is the case with most travel writing, I visit a specific destination (or multiple destinations), and write about the experience.  Following the lead of some of my favorite travel writing, I also tend to include my thoughts on the place I visited, the experience I had, or the significance of something related to it.

But last night, I traveled all of 12 blocks to Denver’s Civic Center Park to watch the firework show put on by the City of Denver.  Not exactly a major trip- I walked there!  However, just as certain places and experiences can lead to significant pondering and revelations, specific events, especially ones of historical significance like this one, can also lead to similar conclusions.

I found myself pondering what it means to be  an “American” and whether or not this is something I should be proud of.  Over the course of my life I have heard a wide variety of perspectives on this.  Many in this country sincerely believe the USA to be the greatest country in the world.  Some say this based on blind Patriotism, but some say this based on well though out reasoning.  On the other end of the spectrum, we have those that do not place that much pride in their country.  They either believe that taking pride in a specific nation is a silly concept, or are ashamed of this country based on something about it that they find foolish.

I grew up being pretty certain of America’s greatness.  But, that was at a time, the 1980s and 1990s, when it was quite easy to place a lot of faith in the USA.  The new millennium has been a bit rougher for this country.  Since the dawn of the new millennium, we’ve had a more shaky economy, more controversial events and political decisions, and some social movements that have angered people on all sides of the spectrum.  Nearly every American, from every part of the country, from every sociological, economic, political, or ethnic group, and of nearly any personality type, can point to something that the USA has done since 2000 that has made them feel utterly ashamed of our country.

What I realized while watching the fireworks last night, and pondering the anniversary of our Independence today is that while there are some things about our society and our country that are messed up, unfair, and inefficient, in the grand scheme of things, we are still pretty well off, and we are still a truly great country.  Most of us can count on a lot of the basic necessities of life, like clean water.  When we speak our minds, about any issue, we worry about being shunned, or dismissed, rather than being imprisoned or executed by those in power.  Anybody can make their best effort at being anything, and we are all free to associate with whoever we please.  And, while we have a political culture that has become polarized, and verbally vicious, violence between “warring” political factions in the U.S. has been very minimal thus far.

And, we have a variety of different adventures we can pursue right here in the U.S.  The breadth of the travel opportunities is quite possibly our greatest asset.  Within the borders of the United States, you can find everything from the frozen tundra of Alaska to tropical Hawaii.  We have the peaks of Colorado and the Rocky Mountains, as well as the perfectly flat regions of Northern Illinois and Indiana.  From the Grand Canyon in Arizona to Isle Royal National Park in Michigan, many different types of natural scenery can be found right here in the United States.  From the hustle and bustle of New York City to the quiet ranches of Wyoming, every pace of life can be found.  And, nearly every activity, from skiing to sailing can be found in great abundance here.  As a matter of fact, I cannot even keep track of the number of places I would like to visit, the list just keeps on getting longer as I hear about more and more great places.

I am not one of those rare people that has absolutely no shame regarding any aspect of my country at this point in time.  Like most of the rest of you, I have a list in my head of things I would love to change.  I undoubtedly count myself amongst the clear majority of Americans that believe this country is on the wrong track.  And, I would genuinely like to see some action taken on certain items to make this a better places to live.  However, on this Fourth of July, I would like to show some appreciation for what we do have, and how fortunate we are to have enjoy the freedom and prosperity that we do enjoy.  And, while I do not believe there are no other great places to live in this world, I am still proud of the one that I call home.