Category Archives: North America

Downtown Los Angeles; Where the Recent Past Comes to Life

Los Angeles is something that can be felt as soon as visitors exit the airport. The air has a feeling about it that is distinct from drier inland areas but also distinct from the humid areas of the Eastern United States. It feels like a strange combination of warmth and chill that hints at the relatively cool waters of the Pacific Ocean nearby.

Could this atmosphere be why California’s lifestyle is chill compared to the also densely populated cities along the East Coast? This interesting combination of almost tropical sun and breeze coming off the relatively cooler Pacific Ocean creates a pleasant and relaxing atmosphere that is neither begging its residents to get inside like the cold winters of the Midwest nor suffocating like the combination of heat and humidity characteristic of summers in the Southeast.

Los Angeles is a city that came of age in the 20th Century, more recently than most other large cities in the world. When most people think about the region, images of windy roads and people surfing come to mind. Most don’t think too much about downtown Los Angeles. However, Downtown Los Angeles, as it turns out, is also quite historic, as well as vibrant.

First, there is the Pueblo, just across the Street from Union Station.

On the plaza which surrounds the historic monument, performers periodically perform traditional Native American dances, while Olivera Street is a Mexican themed market. Los Angeles, like everywhere else in North America, was originally inhabited by Native American tribes. It was also part of Mexico before it was conquered in the Mexican-American war in 1848. Markets like Olivera Street can be found in many other cities that were originally part of Mexico, including San Antonio and Albuquerque.

One of the oldest establishments in modern Los Angeles is the Grand Central Market, dating back to 1917. Today, it feels like a testament to the idea of multi-culturalism, which is a key component of the current identity of L.A.

Packed into this area, which covers less than a City block is cuisine from all over the world, from Mexican to Salvadorian, Chinese and Mediterranean. It feels like there aren’t two vendors serving the same nationality of food!

Most people who grew up in the United States have seen at least one movie scene filmed at the Los Angeles River.

Perhaps the most famous one is the car race scene in the movie Grease. This river is typically dry, as had to be the case for the teenagers to race their automobiles on the concrete. However, in springtime, especially in wetter years like this one, it can become filled with running water.

The last quarter of a Century has seen a renewed interest in Urban living which has not completely escaped Los Angeles despite its car-centric past.

Downtown Los Angeles has become a desirable place to live. As is the case in other thriving American cities, development is everywhere. The old stereotype that “nobody walks in L.A.” seems to no longer be true, at least for downtown. The sidewalks here are bustling, although not as much as New York.

The Last Bookstore, built in 2005, has also become a destination for locals and tourists alike.

Built at a time when people believed bookstores were going to gradually cease to exist (thus its name), it was built to be so much more than a bookstore. Seemingly influenced by the hipster movement at the time, it was built to be a community center with a strong artistic component.

In particular, the upstairs, referred to as the “book labyrinth”, attracts many visitors, many of whom are taking pictures in front of the most interesting artistic displays.

Many of these visitors appear to be “doing it for the ‘Gram”, a quick way of saying that someone’s primary motivation for taking part in a certain activity is to post a picture that is likely going to get a good amount of likes on Instagram. This can easily be spotted because these individuals are always taking photos with their phones and posing in an attention seeking manner (which can manifest in many ways)

The present-day condition of Los Angeles is in some ways like many other cities where renewed interest in urban lifestyle has brought a lot of new energy and life into the central part of town. New, hip neighborhoods have emerged, with places like Urth’s Coffee shop in the Arts district.

Urth’s Coffee Shop feels like the epitome of trendy, selling expensive coffee and healthy food, essentially exactly what young wealthy urban professionals want. It is a part of the Arts district, which is your quintessential Early 21st Century trendy neighborhood.

However, these districts are often still adjacent to, and sometimes mixed in with the remnants of the urban decay that took place about half a century ago. Adjacent to the Arts district are some places that appear less than desirable and include large homeless populations.

Los Angeles is not nearly as obviously historical as Rome, Athens, or Alexandria. However, many often forget that recent history is still history. An event does not have to have occurred too long ago for most people to remember for it to be historically significant in the sense that it had a significant influence on the subsequent progression of the human condition.

Attractions in and near downtown L.A. uncover pieces of our history whose overall significance is something that is still being determined. The Last Bookstore appears to be certainly influenced by the recent hipster movement, and downtown’s other destinations are impacted by recent movements including globalization and gentrification. One day in the future, this will likely be considered just as historic as monuments from centuries past.

That Town I Always Just Drive Through

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Everybody has that place in their lives; a town, a neighborhood, or maybe a specific restaurant. We always pass by, on the way somewhere, thinking “this place looks neat”. But, for some reason every time we pass through, we are, well, on our way somewhere. So, we drive by, time and time again, saying to ourselves that one day we will find a reason to specifically visit this place.

That place for me is Georgetown, Colorado. It is situated along I-70 50 miles West of Denver, on the way to many mountain destinations, including ski resorts Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, and Vail. The first time I saw this town from I-70, I thought it looked like the kind of village commonly depicted in a model train set, with its mountain backdrop and homes on multiple tiers. For years, I just drove past this town. I think I may have stopped there once or twice to pick up some quick food before going up Guanella Pass, but never spent any meaningful time there.

That was, until I found out about the Burro Races.

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I must admit that many of the events I attend are ones I get invited to with no prior knowledge. Some of my best experiences are when I just went along with someone else’s strange-ish idea. I am a big proponent of self-determination. However, that self-determination needs to be accompanied by some degree of openness. Otherwise, we get in ruts, going to the same places and taking part in the same activities over and over. An event where people race burros up and down a mountainside is certainly not what I would call “ordinary”.

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The event itself included a lot of other out of the ordinary activities. The most interesting was The Burro Poop Drop Contest. Participants pay $10 for a square. These squares are laid out over a city block in front of the starting line. The square that ends up with the most poop wins! I think there are prizes for second and third as well.

Mine didn’t win, but most of the good ones (in the middle) were taken by the time we arrived.

The event I did win at was the poop toss.

This event is essentially bags (or cornhole or bean bag toss depending on your regional dialect), with bags shaped like burro poop, which made them bounce in weird directions. I guess they really like to celebrate burro excrement at this event! I was able to win a $50 gift card to a restaurant, which happened to be located right at the finish line!

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We were able to eat our food while also watching the end of the race.

The main thing that surprised me about the race was the fact that the participants were not actually riding the burros. They were running alongside them, almost walking them like we do our dogs. I guess there has to be a reason for that, but I did not get a chance to talk with the participants long enough to find out.

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What I did learn was a bit about the town of Georgetown. Compared with more touristy towns like Breckenridge, Vail and Winter Park, it has way more of a traditional small town/ country vibe. While everyone was lining up for the race, the speakers played mostly country music. The town has one of those neat general stores that we still commonly see in small town America.

These are a blast from the past, the type of stores I encounter all the time on storm chases, bike tours, and other trips to rural parts of the country. In this cities and suburbs, we have stores that sell “everything”, but they tend to be large warehouses like WalMart and Target. When I encounter a General Store like this one, I feel like I am entering a different realm of human existence. A place where people don’t always feel the need to have every option available to them. A place where people have time to engage each other in casual conversation. This could be a place where people are okay with having a little bit less in exchange for a more personal experience.

The homes in this town also reminded me of the past. A few have a creek running through their yard, reminiscent of medieval homes, with moats for protection from invaders.

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One even had a hitching post.

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I’ve often wondered if people in places like this are happier. However, they probably have a completely different set of problems I am not even thinking about. At this one point in time, watching burro races and partaking in interesting events, I was quite happy, and it seemed like everyone else around me was happy. However, I do not know what life is like here on a typical weekday, or on the day when the frustrating spring snowstorm hits making it impossible for residents to get out of town. We live in an era of divisiveness, where people have short attention spans and often don’t take the time to truly understand others before passing judgement on them, whether that be one of envy or disgust. I feel like the only judgement I can make upon Georgetown right now is that they are at least fun enough to participate in an event that revolves around burro excrement once a year.

Boulder Start Up Week

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It would be hard for me to think of a group of people that I have more respect and admiration for than the Start Up Community. Entrepreneurs take risks the vast majority of people would never even dream of. They put a lot of energy into creating something new in the world, and, when successful, create something meaningful. Entrepreneurs, along with those that join them in building businesses and others that pursue ideas using a similar mindset, are the ones responsible for most human progress. They are also the ones that create most of the jobs that the majority of the population finds security in.

At the risk of injecting politics into a blog I specifically wanted to keep non-political, it often feels like these job creators go unappreciated in some segments of the American population. Sure, there are some horrible bosses out there, and corporations that don’t care about their employees. However, there are plenty who deserve their high level of wealth and status. There are movements that seem to encourage resentment towards all wealthy people. Beyond encouraging mediocrity and threatening the system that has brought us economic prosperity, they are unfair to those that are wealthy because they did a lot of good for humanity. This includes the entrepreneurial community.

Still, many people, like myself, revere this community. Start Up Weeks occur all over the country. Each Start Up Week is a series of events that help connect communities of people who build businesses, work in start up cultures, or just are of the general start up mindset.

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Boulder ranks in the top 50 US Cities for start ups by dollars invested despite being relatively small in size. Start Up Week in Boulder is, in a way, similar to Start Up Week anywhere else in the country. There are panel discussions, individual presentations, sessions where discussions are facilitated in groups, and even a “start up crawl”, where people can visit various start up business around downtown, network with people and engage their creative sides.

Discussions at Start Up Week cover a fairly wide variety of topics from tips for those who are starting a business, to workplace culture, technical discussions and even discussions on societal trends. At Boulder Start Up Week 2019, there was a panel discussion on psychedelic drugs, their potential health benefits and potential emerging businesses associated with them.

Events take place all over town, at a variety of different settings, from shared workspaces like Galvanize, to businesses, and even museums.

What I have always found, when attending a Start Up Week, is that the best way to get around from event to event is by bicycle. Although, in places where they have scooters, that could be a good option as well.

Events like Start Up Week, and TED conferences, help me re-orient myself. It is easy to get bogged down in day to day life. Things like paying bills, maintaining a home, and meeting deadlines for work can occupy our minds in such as way that the big picture, who we are, who we want to be and how we truly want to live our lives, can get lost. Start Up Week offers a different atmosphere, with people talking about big ideas, passions, trends, and how to make dreams come true.

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One thing that makes every Start Up Week unique is the culture of the place where it is held, in this case, Boulder, Colorado. This was reflected in some of the discussions and topics. The discussion about the future of psychedelics came right after Denver became the first city to decriminalize magic mushrooms.

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The local culture had an imprint on both in the selection of events and the direction some of the discussions went. A lot of events covered topics related to health, fitness, and even specifically training for a major event like a marathon. In the discussions about HR related topics, such as workplace culture, human capital and finding your path, undoubtedly more questions were asked about inclusivity based on gender, age, and race than would be in other places. These both reflect on who the people of Boulder tend to be.

I spent the entire week switching modes, back and forth, between attending events at Start Up Week and tending to daily work requirements. It almost felt like the pull and tug that is ever present in my life. My heart is in pursuing big ideas, and looking towards the future.

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Sometimes it feels as if there are forces around me constantly trying to get me bogged down in day to day affairs. However, one of things I realized, both at events like these, as well as at work, is that it is not about ignoring all the things we get bogged down in. After all, bills need to be paid, homes need to be maintained and deadlines need to be met.

It is really about staying mindful of how even our day to day lives and the kinds of things we get bogged down in fit into the bigger picture. We lose sight of that when we become too focused on the specific action of, say meeting a deadline, to the point where we are not thinking about it in the context of anything bigger and it becomes a means into itself. That is when we need a reminder of where we are oriented and where we are headed. This is something Start Up Week and other similar events help me do, even if I am not currently starting a business.

A (Extended) Weekend That’s So Chicago

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A culture is often thought of as being attached to a Nation. This is “American Culture”, “Chinese Culture” or “Peruvian Culture”. However, most Nations on this planet have vast cultural differences within their borders. Nations as small as Belgium and Switzerland can point to different areas within their countries where people adhere to different customs and even speak different languages.

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My extended weekend in Chicago started out with a classier evening that eventually lead to drinking wine until about 1:30 A.M. This was a Thursday. In some places within the United States, being out until 1:30 A.M. on a Thursday night is extremely abnormal. In the Midwest, people, especially younger people, stay out this late, or even later, on Thursday nights regularly.

The next morning I woke up to a reminder as to what makes this city a special place. With a high density of residencies and so many store fronts, it feels like there is excitement lurking around every corner. In most of Chicago’s neighborhoods, there is so much that can be done just a short walk away. It is something that is remembered fondly. However, this convenience has its flip side. The convenience of Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood allowed me to accomplish so much during the day on Friday; making a bank deposit, picking up food and drink, buying clothing and eating at a new restaurant. All this was within a 20 minute walk of our “home” for the weekend.

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However, that same convenience tends to silo people into their neighborhoods. If someone can have all of those things within a mile radius of where they live, it is naturally going to become more difficult to convince them to travel to a different neighborhood.

Friday evening I put on a tie, for the first time in 2019, to go to a formal wedding.

The attire was fancy. The venue was “elegant”. The bartender was making fantastic old fashioneds. The music was loud, fast paced, happy and energetic. The end of the night was a blur. It was exactly how Chicago does things.

The next day, Saturday, was a hodgepodge of activities, packed back to back one after another.

However, it did not start until after noon, as the wedding reception the previous night went on past 1 A.M. Mornings just seem to matter less here. The price of being slow to wake up in the morning, particularly on weekends, feels like it is much lower than it is in other places. The price of food and drink, however, is significantly higher. Fine wine and fancy cocktails cost money.

That evening would stretch just a little bit past Midnight, a bit earlier than would be expected of a stereotypical Chicago Saturday night. But, it was time for all of us to travel. Sunday morning, we would pack our bags, leave our wonderful Air BnB in Lincoln Park and go on to our next endeavors.

It’s been years since I left Chicago for Denver. This weekend was probably the closest thing to revisiting a previous chapter of life anyone could ever possibly experience. However, repeating the past is impossible. There are always going to be subtle differences.

The people around you one by one enter different life stages. Their circumstances, preferences, and even world views, little by little, change. The energy is different. Sometimes, the same exact actions, or conversation topics, lead to significantly different experiences.

It is for this reason I take a somewhat cautious approach to nastolgia.

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Sure, it is fun to reminisce about experiences from past chapters of life, or even re-experience them they way I did in Chicago. However, they are never exactly the same. There is also the danger of spending so much time reminiscing about and idealizing the past, that we are no longer truly immersed in the present. To live our best lives, we must live in the now, and maintain that youthful spirit that keeps us open to new opportunities and different cultures, whether those different cultures be within the borders of our Nation, or in a land that is officially foreign.

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The Time I Hiked Two Miles Past My Destination

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It took a mere 15 minutes to actually find Sand Creek Falls at Osage Hills State Park. I walked by these falls, which have a vertical drop of only around two feet, and thought “this cannot be the actual falls.” We would spend another two hours looking for waterfalls we had already found.

We would walk by some fishing cabins.

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Birds circled the warm and humid late April Oklahoma sky.

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And, we continued to look, at different places further up the river, for the waterfalls that we had actually already found.

It was not until we had gotten back to the car and searched for images of Sand Creek Falls that we realized what we had seen were indeed the falls that this trail was named for.

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We just had the wrong expectation. Sure, Osage Hills State Park is in Oklahoma, but this part of Northern Oklahoma is hillier than the stereotypical images brought up by movies like Twister.

Just last year, I had visited another waterfall on the Great Plains, Smith Falls in Northern Nebraska.

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I thought the waterfall would be more like this one. As a result, I wouldn’t appreciate the falls until I looked back at the photos hours later. I was too focused on expectations. Rather than taking in Sand Creek Falls for what it actually was, I spent hours looking for something else.

This is a common struggle with respect to all kinds of events. It’s the party where not as many people show up as expected and the music being played is not what you wanted. It’s the time your friend cancels on you last minute, or when you didn’t get to watch the movie you had hoped for at a family gathering.

I struggle with this a lot. I often find myself down, or even hurt, when my life doesn’t meet the expectations I set for myself and the world around me.

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Experiences like a string of bad luck at a casino, a friendship or relationship not turning out as one hoped, or a bad turn of events at a job are somewhat out of our immediate control. However, sometimes when something does not match an expectation, it is not necessarily for the worse. It just requires an adjustment, and sometimes can open people up to new experiences altogether.

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Being part of something truly awe-inspiring is not as hard as most people make it. It’s just about finding the right balance; between planing and spontaneity, and between being determined to get what we are after and being able to adjust to changes in life’s circumstances. It is also about being open enough to new opportunities as they present themselves and noticing what is around us for what it is and not what it could or should be.

 

 

Four Days After the Blizzard

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Well, technically in most places it wasn’t actually a blizzard. Denver and points East were  under a blizzard warning for the afternoon and evening of April 10, 2019. The wind speeds did not quite reach the technical criteria for a “blizzard”, but snow did fall and the wind did howl.

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April is perhaps the wildest, most unpredictable month. In cities throughout North America, scenes like this play out every year. Just as people are getting set up for Spring, a wild swing in temperatures, in this case from a high of 78F (26C) on Tuesday the 9th to an overnight low of 17F (-8C) after the snowstorm the next day, disorients everyone.

It can get violent too! While May is the month with the most tornadoes, April is the month with the most killer tornadoes.

With weather forecasts for specific place on a specific day generally unreliable more than about a week out, April is a hard month to set expectations for. In the mountains, this time of year is generally referred to as “mud season”, but it is not that uniform. By Sunday, four days after the snowstorm, despite the weather not being too particularly warm, places like the Buffalo Herd Overlook, at an elevation around 7600 ft. (2300m) were pretty dry. For some reason, the bison (they are often called “buffalo”, but technically are bison) roamed closer to I-70 than normal, with many motorists stopping to admire them.

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Four days after the “blizzard”, I found myself taking my new dog, Shasta, on her first hike since being adopted.

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Our group actually included a dog and a baby (9 months old), as they had previously taking a liking towards one another.

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I had previously hiked at Elk Meadows Park, almost five years ago, hiking to the top of Bergen Peak on a hazy day in July.

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That hike involved a climb of just over 2,000 feet  and a distance just over ten miles. For several reasons, today’s hike would be much shorter. Most obviously, babies are exhausting to cary and often do not have the attention span to tolerate hikes that would span around 5 hours.

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There is also the variable trail conditions.

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Sections that are both muddy and still partially covered with melting snow were quite common at elevations between 7500 and 8500 ft (2250-2600m). Heading to elevations closer to 9700 ft. (2950m), areas with deep snow would have made the hike far more challenging. Colorado had a snowy winter, particularly in late February and early March. Mid-April snowpacks exceed long-term averages throughout the state.

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The cold, snowy winter was great for Shasta to get acquainted with the new neighbors.

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But, it ended up being an abnormally sedentary period for me.

My favorite thing about Elk Meadows Park is definitely the signage. There is no getting lost here, as every trail junction is clearly labelled.

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The lower part of the park is a wide open valley. It can feel like a miniature version of areas like South Park and the San Luis Valley, relatively flat, treeless areas surrounded by mountains in all directions.

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Despite these panoramic views, the hike itself cannot really be thought of as earth shattering. When people romanticize about the Colorado outdoors, it is often about things like climbing to the top of 14ers, cycling over mountain passes, skiing, or whitewater rafting.

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However, it ended up being what I needed. There is something about being outdoors, in the presence of nature, in good company that feels human in a way that our world of cubicles, screens, stress and performance metrics doesn’t. It is so easy for all of us to get so carried away in our pursuits; trying to get a promotion, saving up or something, asserting our status, making deals and planning the future that we forget to enjoy what is right in front of us.

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Planet Earth is full of wonder, whether they be mountains, gentle streams, wildlife, waterfalls, or something simple like a group of friends having fun and dancing- showing their true humanity. The more we can stop to appreciate this, or be a part of it, the better off we all will be. After a not so great week related to my pursuits in life, I genuinely needed to just be in nature, regardless of the setting.

Like the April weather, our situations, fortunes and struggles can change at any time, and often can’t be predicted too far in advance. It has been shown that luck can be related to one’s attitude, more than just chance. However, regardless of what happens to us, our responses often matter more than the actual situation at hand. Sometimes, like the weather in April, as opposed to a detailed long-term plan, all we can do is do the best with what is right in front of us.

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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