The drive from Denver was short and uneventful and my first stop was a few hours in the public library to do some work (meter parking, though? blegh!). Around 4 I walked over to Colorado College to pay a visit to Natalie, a friend of mine from grad school who is now a faculty member in the Physics department. I think she was pretty surprised when I just showed up at her office! I went out with Natalie, Bernie, and a recent CC physics grad who works with Natalie and we had a good evening together catching up over some brews and then dinner. Natalie and Bernie very generously offered me their guest bedroom, but I really wanted to test my van-sleeping abilities in the cold weather that was about to come.
Over the next few days the temperature continued to drop and it was the perfect time for me to hunker down in a Library (in this case, CC’s Tutt library. Free parking!) and finish up a paper I’m about to publish. The weather was generally overcast and cold and we eventually got an inch or two of snow. I spent the nights either working or trying out local spots (more below) and then hiding Van Halen on some residential street.
I was able to handle the coldest night (~5 degrees outside, 17 in the van) without too much difficulty; I’ve got a beefy sleeping bag and wore an extra jacket. The worst part of the weather wasn’t sleeping, but getting up and doing things. Imagine how you feel getting out of your comfy bed when your house is slightly chilly. Now imagine getting out of a comfy bed into a house that’s 17 degrees. Lame. Still, nothing some walking around couldn’t fix.
One night I had to cook some rice and couldn’t even get my stove started the normal way. I had to dump some gas in the burner to jump start it and get the fuel tube warmed up.
After the coldest night, I needed to do some laundry and take a shower so Natalie and Bernie invited me to their place. At this point it didn’t take too much convincing to get me stay in a warm bed. Hanging out with Natalie and Bernie improved my mood immeasurably and when the Sun came out the next day and melted the snow and warmed the air it seemed to affirm my recombobulation.
Taking advantage of the weather I went up to Manitou Springs and the famous Incline. More on this below, but talk about a leg day! Red Rock Canyon open space was also sublime. After another night hanging with ma peeps I was ready to hit the road once more. Next stop: some hot soaking at Pagosa Springs.
I’ll come right out and say it: I was not expecting much of Colorado Springs (CSpraaaangs if you’re cool), but the town totally blew me away. It has a lively downtown area with a lot of great spots and its extremely wide streets reflect an optimism and forward-looking mindset that is very reassuring. I think part of this stems from the amazing location. Pike’s Peak looms large on the western horizon and the restorative powers of the mountains flow down the slopes and permeate the ground of the city.
Near Pike’s Peak is the massive Cheyenne Mountain. Yes, that Cheyenne Mountain. In addition to keeping tabs on Santa Clause, the base buried deep within this mountain is in charge of keeping the skies over America clear of any threats. The mountain top bristles with antennae and they say the local fauna are trained in hand-to-hand combat.
My first stop in town was a coffee/waffle/beer/whisky/ place called Urban Steam. It is bizarrely out of the way, but was very lively and welcoming. I stayed here for most of a morning working on my paper and it was fun to get a feel for the local scene. From what I can tell everyone here talks about real estate.
Each night I found a new spot in front of someone’s fence and was totally unmolested. On the coldest night of the week I parked as close to the main strip as possible and went out in search of a beer blanket. Eventually I found the Phantom Canyon Brewery. Those of you familiar with Madison will hopefully understand when I say this place was like the Great Dane on steroids. It took up something like 3 levels and had a huge restaurant, bar, pool tables, etc. etc. etc. The beer was good, standard brewpub fare. I had yet another bourbon barrel aged beer, this time a stout, that was good, but certainly not as bold as the Wooden Buffalo from Rock Cut in Estes Park. It also lacked the sublime smoothness of the Anderson Valley offering. I think maybe the fact that Rock Cut used a brown ale instead of a porter as the base beer allowed the bourbon taste to come through more strongly and give it its unique and excellent flavor.
There was a pair of girls next to me at the bar that got a huuge plate of nachos and was clearly not going to finish them. True to my grad student/bum roots I very sloooowly drank my last beer in the hopes they would cash out and leave their forgotten bounty undefended. Sadly they (and I) stayed until the restaurant bar closed and I had to watch this mountain of cheesy goodness go to waste. I left Phantom Canyon nice and warm and slept very well, despite the cold.
I suppose every town needs a few low points and Colorado Springs’ was a place called The Coffee & Tea Zone. I went there the next morning just to break up the monotony of the Tutt library basement. Woof, this place sucked. For starters, the guy who made my tea (the only guy in there) made it very wrong: waay too hot. A stark contrast with the professionalism at Higher Grounds in Golden. Now, before you think I’m hating on this place just because I’m some sort of hot water snob let me tell you about the next customer after me. This guy was young, maybe my age or younger, and had a slight, but definite, sheen of vagrancy. That said, he was only slightly more bummish than yours truly (which I’m not sure is good for him or bad for me!). In any case, he asked the clerk about internet access and was told that the “server” was down and therefore the internet was unavailable. Of course, I knew that the internet worked just fine as I had got the password along with my tea. Clearly this clerk was a Hater. Not one to see my fellow traveler disrespected I wrote down the network and password and secretly handed it to the young man on my way to the bathroom. When I came back he was very appreciative and I felt I had helped move the Universe one atom closer to some sort of justice. Oh, and the cherry on top:
Let it be known!
Not only is the Coffee & Tea Zone staffed by Haters, but their internet password is 1234512345.
Nice work, guys.
That night I had the pleasure of being shown another local spot by Natalie and Bernie: A “haberdashers” called Brooklyn’s. The quotes are there because the haberdashery was about the size of a porta-potty and didn’t actually sell anything. Instead you knocked on an interior door upon which a peephole opened and you were interrogated as to your intentions. If your heart was True you were admitted into the back room, which served as a pretty hip gin joint. And “gin” joint is no exaggeration. This place only served gin cocktails and made all of their gins, and many (all?) of their spirits/infusions, in house. I already love gin drinks, but this place took it to another level. I won’t bore you with the specifics of each drink, but they were all amazing. The vibe was also very cool; they really went whole-hog on the prohibition/gin joint aesthetic. Anywhere else it would have been too try-hard and over the top, but, like many things in Colorado Springs, it was somehow over the top in a way that didn’t matter at all. Very cool.
As I left The Springs my thoughts about the experience were clear: here is a city that is unafraid to do exactly what it thinks is the right and good thing to do; a city full of people who don’t need approval from anyone but their own consciousnesses. They certainly don’t need mine, but I give it freely.
My relationship with Colorado College mirrors very closely my relationship with the town in which it resides. Before I arrived I had never heard of the place, but by the time I left I was completely sold on the virtue of this small, liberal arts college. To begin with, they were very welcoming to visitors and I was sitting in a comfy chain with internet access in a library in no time. Beyond that, I got good vibes from all of the numerous places I posted up during the week I spent here. From the basement of the library to the student center, I was surrounded by students who all seemed very committed to their work. In fact, I walked by a lot of people on computers and every single one of them was working on classwork; no dicking around online. These were students dedicated to their education.
Colorado College is also adorably (and I mean that without any negative connotations) earnest in its progressive vision. Gender neutral bathrooms and the official use of the new handicap symbol were two of the most obvious examples, but this spirit seemed to pervade all aspects of campus life. It was refreshing.
Much like the city of Colorado Springs, Colorado College has high aspirations for the future that come only from within; a college whose desire to improve is devoid of the need to compare itself to anyone else.
Oh yeah, and their website is pretty darn good
For four out of the five days I spent in CoSprang the weather was, in a word, depressing. At first it was just cold and bitterly windy, but then the clouds came in and all we had for three days was cold and gray and snow. I do not say this rag on Colorado Springs, but this was the reality of my visit. I’m told it’s often much nicer. And I got a taste of the normal niceness on my last day in town…
By the time I woke up it was already above freezing and the bright rays of the sun were busy melting the snow that had accumulated during the cold snap. After lunch I headed Manitou Springs (just outside ColoSpangs) to test myself against the Incline. The story of The Incline is that it used to be a cog railway that has since gone extinct. The railbed remains, however, and is a straight shot right up a sub-ridge of Pike’s Peak. The trail itself is bone straight and just under one mile long. I gains a little more than 2000 feet, however, and at some places reaches a 68% grade. In other words, it’s steep. Well aware of this fact I started very slow; determined not to burn myself out too soon. My rest step was a little rusty, but it served me well and I passed a few jabronis who had started well before me but were of the “sprint and die” style of stair climbing. About 1 hour later I was on top and was tired, but I felt I could have pushed myself a lot harder. I’m writing this a few days later and my legs don’t really ache at all, nor was my heart at its maximum for any part of the climb. The climb was not easy, but I had fallen victim to the hype and didn’t try as hard as I could have. Lesson learned.
As fun as it was, the Incline had merely whetted my appetite for the outdoors, and on the way back to town I stopped by the Red Rocks Canyon open space. The sun was was casting its last rays, the moon was feeling fat, the red sandstone was frosted with a shock of white snow, and the air was thick with austere beauty. In recognition of the dwindling light I took only a short hike but was well rewarded for the effort and I arrived back at Van Halen with rich, red dirt caked on my boots and blood of the same color coursing through my American heart.
Tomorrow I head across the mountains to Alamosa and Pagosa Springs. The wild beckons and calls me ever farther.