Sunday, June 17, 2012

Denver, Boulder and Longmont - Busted Housing Developments, Beer and Subarus - A Little Something for Everyone

(the throne at Avery Brewing Company)

I made plans a while back to go to Colorado to catch up with two of my college study abroad buddies – Adrian and Harry – and spend a little quality / therapeutic time with my favorite aunt and uncle and cousins – Chuck, Diana, Ricky and Lyla.  A deal I was working on at work heated up the day before I was supposed to leave, and I thought I might have to call my trip off.  But the stars all aligned at the last minute and I was able to go.  As always, wherever I am, I try to sneak out each morning for a run. And I saw some good stuff in Denver, Boulder and Longmont – a little something for every taste.

Path-Breaking, Never-Been-Done-Before (at least for me) Morning Run #1: La Quinta Inn Denver Airport

I knew I would be getting into Denver late – 3AM east coast time – so I had reserved a room at the closest hotel to the airport I could find.  There’s a strip of hotels not far away that includes a Holiday Inn, a Holiday Inn Express, a Holiday Inn Suites, a Holiday Inn Extended Stay, a Holiday Inn Courtyard, a Holiday Inn Faux-French-Loire-Valley-Chateau, a Holiday Inn Evocative-of-a-Rustic-Historic-Rockefeller-Adirondak-Hunting-Lodge and a Holiday Inn Your Company-Has-Shipped-You-Off-For-So-Long-There’s-Almost-Zero-Chance-Your-Wife-Will-Not-Have-Decided-To-Leave-You-By-The-Time-You-Are-Finally-Allowed-To-Come-Back-Home.  Being the contrarian that I am, and always looking for places slightly off the beaten path (and, OK, fine, being enticed by the $80 a night price), I opted to stay at the La Quinta Inn Denver Airport. 

My room absolutely reeked of cigarette smoke.  I had no idea that you could still smoke in a hotel room anywhere in this country, but you apparently can in Colorado.  I don’t mind cigarette smoke.  In fact I honestly sort of like the smell of second hand smoke wafting off of a nice fresh Marlboro red.  But the smell of old, stale cigarette smoke that has so deeply permeated every fiber of a budget motel pillow that no amount of industrial disinfectant can make a dent in it is truly, seriously nauseating.  Anyway, it was late and I was too tired and lazy to go back to the front desk to ask for another room.  So I sucked it up and just went to bed. 

I set out the next morning to go for a run and see what was around the La Quinta.  But after less than a mile, after passing the last of the Holiday Inns and faux local sports bars, I realized there was nowhere to run.  Usually “nowhere to run” means “nowhere nice” or “nowhere interesting” or “nowhere meeting the exacting standards of the specific workout I was hoping to accomplish.”  But in this case “nowhere to run” meant that all the roads I went down literally dead-ended at crusty, bumpy, ankle-spraining fields.  One road led to a small, new subdivision that was obviously supposed to have become part of a much larger development.  There were four lane roads leading to the entrance with designated left turn lanes (but no roads to turn onto) and colorful banners with generic clip art photos of kids advertising “fun” and “school.”  But despite the sadly hopeful ads, it was obvious that a more truthful name for the complex would have been something like “World Economy Shit the Bed Meadows.”  I don’t know what a field of underwater mortgages smells like, but what it looks like is the wasteland behind the La Quinta. 

I slogged out a few laps around the perimeter of the business travel motels and wandered back to the La Quinta.  I was mildly depressed, but only until I realized that the La Quinta breakfast nook where you get your free! included! breakfast included one of the make-your-own-waffle machines that I thought only existed at the luxurious-by-comparison Embassy Suites.  There’s a tap coming out of the wall that dispenses waffle batter (where does the batter come from? do municipalities entice prospective hotel developers by offering access to pre-installed, underground waffle batter lines?) and you fill up a cup with it and dump as much as you want onto a pre-heated waffle iron.  Wow.  Most average-sized American men who fasted for a day and put their minds to it could probably eat most of the $80 cost of the hotel room in waffles if they tried.  I don’t know how the La Quinta Inn stays in business.

If you’d like to experience this quintessentially American run the next time you’re in Denver, here is a link to a map of the route I took.

Path-Breaking, Never-Been-Done-Before (at least for me) Morning Run #2: Boulder

The stereotype of Boulder is that to live there you have to be either a Kenyan Olympian marathoner or a slightly beyond college-aged trustafarian snowboarder.  Turns out, it’s not a stereotype.  It’s absolutely true.  For a smallish city, real estate in Boulder is off the charts expensive.  Driving a car in Boulder, although technically legal, is highly frowned upon.  If you must absolutely drive, it should only be to get to a ski slope or X-treme mountain biking trail.  And, except for UPS trucks and yellow-iron construction equipment, every vehicle is an Audi Quattro or a Subaru Outback station wagon with a Thule something-or-other carrier on the roof.  It’s not uncommon to see people with dreadlocks, but they’re all white.  Other than the Kenyans, there are no black people in Boulder whatsoever. 

The general level of fitness in Boulder is just ridiculous.  Boulder ranks every year as the most fit city in the country.  Everyone does yoga.  I don’t know who even goes to yoga classes since everyone is a yoga instructor.  I saw a good sampling of fit Boulderites when I set off for my morning run on a beautiful gravel path that my friend Harry had recommended.  The main path, which runs parallel to the Rocky Mountain foothills and goes from the Dakota Ridge housing development almost all the way into downtown Boulder, is designed for your sort of run of the mill Boulder marathoner – the local version of a couch potato.  At regular intervals, the main path branches off into side paths that go straight up into the hills.  Those paths are for ultra-marathoners, ironmen and Olympic qualifier contenders.  Keep in mind that, with the altitude, most people who aren’t from Boulder have to stop to catch their breath a few times between lifting a magazine off of a rack and opening the front cover.  I clopped along the path at my usual diligent but solidly middle-of-the-pack pace and tried to focus on the amazing scenery.  But it was hard.  I was distracted by all the other runners who kept passing me.  Some were moving at a slightly faster clip than me.  Some zoomed by me so fast I’m not even definitively sure they were humans.  I did pass one guy, but it was because he was running with a dog that had dysentery or something and had to stop every 100 yards to shit.     

If you want to try to keep up with the natives, or just feel like lowering your self-esteem a little, here’s a link to a map of the route.

I spent a little time after my run feeling humiliated and inadequate, but not much.  Boulder also has lots of good beer, and my uncle and cousins wasted no time putting me on a borrowed mountain bike and taking me on a tour of local breweries.  Do they know me or what?  Naturally, Boulder has the most extensive network of designated bike paths I have ever seen.  It’s like a superhighway.  There are lanes and signs and on- and off-ramps.  And, of course, you can take them right to the door of all of the breweries.  You can apparently, for real, get a BUI ticket in Boulder, but we all made out OK.   

I found a little evidence suggesting that Boulderites share some pedestrian traits with the unwashed masses from the rest of the country.  There’s a strip club near the squeaky-clean Dakota Ridge development called the “Bus Stop.”  It’s one of those bar names like “The Office” or “The Library” that lets guys tell the other guys at the office on a Monday morning how they, hilariously, originally, fooled their wives, without technically lying, about where they were (although I guess you’d have to come up with a pretty complex story about why you spent 4 hours at a bus stop).

Path-Breaking, Never-Been-Done-Before (at least for me) Morning Run #2:  Longmont / Lagerman Reservoir

My last morning in Colorado started out at one of the best lodges anywhere in the country – Chuck and Diana’s house.  If you’re ever in the area, you simply must stay with them.  Since I was about 7 years old, Chuck and Diana have made it a personal mission to spoil me rotten whenever I visit.  I should probably be a little embarrassed about that at this point, now that my 40th is within sight, but, hey, why try to fight it?  I don’t what the exact policies are for guests who are not blood relatives, but Chuck and Diana seem pretty flexible.  I only stayed for one night during this visit, but I’ve heard that it’s not uncommon for people stay at Chuck and Diana’s for 8 or 12 weeks at a time.  They’re awful generous that way. 

The route Chuck suggested for me is technically illegal.  It’s a path alongside an irrigation canal that runs north to south through a large stretch of Longmont.  The path is surrounded by barb wire fences and there are signs all over the place saying that if you get caught trespassing along the canal, the authorities have the right to drag you behind their truck, drown you in the water and/or bury you alive at the base of the foothills.  Anyway, Chuck said he was 80% sure no-one would bother me.  And he turned out to be right.  The run was beautiful.  Just me, all alone by my lonesome self and a bunch of birds, a mother and baby fox / coyote / wolf / lemur / caribou (I’m not entirely sure which; I’ve become a bit of a city guy over the years) and about a million prairie dogs.  I think prairie dogs are adorable.  People who live near them seem to think of them more like a cross between a rat and a noxious fungus. The landscape is Longmont is generally wide open and sparsely populated.  But it’s close enough to Boulder that, when I was leaving to go to the airport, I had to stop for a minute to let a pack of bikers who were taking part in a sprint triathlon  pass. 

If you want to run with the prairie dogs and have a go at evading the Colorado water authorities, here’s a linkto a map of the route from Chuck and Diana’s.

So there you have it – three exciting, cross-cultural running adventures you can experience in Colorado.  Thanks to all of my hosts.  And thanks to the lady in the seat next to me on the flight home from Denver who was shamelessly reading this blog real-time as I was writing it, offering unsolicited edits and clarifications.  Sometimes you gotta just jump right in there and say your piece.   


David said...

Très amusant!

Unknown said...

I received some very wise counsel Dan as a 60+ cyclist tanked by me up a mountain, my ride partner simply said "comparison is the killer of joy". Wise words.

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