Back in the Saddle

Mondays are usually pretty hard, even when the world hasn’t been turned on its ear. Most Mondays start off with getting up early to either pick my son up or drop him off for the week with his mom. Then somehow I find my way back to bed for a couple hours to make up for the sleep I missed the night before.

This Monday was going to be different. The plan was to drop off my son, get some coffee, and then drive up to Dillon, CO to ride my bike around the perimeter of Lake Dillon on some of the best paved bike paths in the state. Well, that was the plan. Even with half of a medium Americano in my system, I decided to lie down for twenty minutes. I woke up three hours later. On my new schedule of sleep and writing during these hot summer months, this was usual, but not for my plans to get off my butt and hit the trails on my bike.

For the next couple of hours, I waffled about what to do, and finally at 2pm, I decided there would still be plenty of light left for the trip. I loaded up my bike, plenty of water, and a modest snack before driving up to Dillon, a town which has captured the imaginations of people for decades. You see, the history of Dillon is fairly recent. It was once a prospecting town, until the City of Denver needed more drinking water (and water to blast onto Denver lawns to keep them green), so the town was moved and the ruins of it were flooded. The town now boasts a marina at 9,000ft above sea level, seven different nearby ski resorts to choose from in the winter months, and during the summertime all the things you would expect from a Colorado mountain town for outdoor entertainment. Boating, hiking, backpacking, biking, and drinking craft beers.

Riding again

For the last few weeks, my son and I have been loading the bikes on the back of my Jeep and hitting the bike paths of Ft. Collins. The city has a network of beautifully kept trails that run through some beautiful neighborhoods. These paths are completely set apart from automobile traffic and riding them is like entering a secret world. The miles just melt away as you pedal adjacent to places you’ve stopped, but now you have this surreal shortcut that takes you behind the scenes and changes your perspective.

Like a secret world, Ft. Collins. Spring Creek Trail

Last week, we did two bike rides. A ten miler on the Spring Creek Trail and a six miler on the Poudre River Trail. He has a single speed BMX bike and I have my $10 mountain bike I got at a police auction a few years ago. Since this whole pandemic, our opportunities to get outside and enjoy the outdoors have been limited. We’ve put on some weight, and our health isn’t what it was even a year ago. Say what you will about masks/no masks, the best way to fighting this virus is having a healthy immune system, and that means exercise, eating right, and reducing stress.

Poudre River Trail, Ft. Collins
Spring Creek Trail, Ft. Collins

On the 10-miler, we really pushed the limits of our endurance, and at the end of it, we were happy, if not worn out. The butt callouses you need for longer bike rides had not been formed, and sad to say by the six mile trip, they still hadn’t. But both were easy flat rides. The ten miler was an exercise in accomplishment. The six miler ended with my son playing in the Poudre river, excited about maybe taking a tubing trip sometime this summer.

Monday plans

After dropping him off on Monday, I knew the rest of my day would be shot with missing him. Mondays are usually a waste, so I decided that I could push my own limits. Paved bike trails were a lot easier than I remember them being from when I was a kid doing 25 mile bike hikes as a Boy Scout. My former girlfriend and I used to talk about hitting the Dillon trail together one day, so I figured what the hell? Why let a detail like being single again stop me?

Dillon Marina

I arrived in Dillon at around 4pm and started the Dillon Lake trail at the Marina, taking the clockwise route. The first few miles were pretty easy, with the exception of not being able to keep track of the bike path very easily as it wound through the edge of town. Soon enough, I was on the path to Summit Cove. Beyond that just a few miles was the town of Keystone. The reviews of the path warned about Swan Mountain Rd. The first leg of the 2 mile climb which gives you an altitude gain of about 900ft. according to some sources.

Little did I know…

It was disheartening to be passed by 70 year old grandmas on E-Bikes or middle-aged riders in their neoprene body condom bike outfits and $6,000 road bikes. My $10 is light, but it weighs as much as you can expect from a $10 bike. Which at one point felt like it had been constructed from the metal extracted from the heart of a dead star. My clothes are cargo shorts and a t-shirt, along with my Osprey Daylite pack and two quarts of water. I wound up walking the majority of Swan Mt. Rd. That little hill tried to kill me, I thought as I sat on the side of the road at nearly 10,000 feet above sea level, the carbs of my lunch of pasta salad long gone, now being replenished by a mealy apple I had brought with me and the remainder of my bottle of bathwater temp water. By my estimate, I had only 12 more miles to go.

Independence Mountain or Keystone. Who the hell knows? I’m dying.

I pushed my bike up to Sapphire Point, where a bride to be was having her pictures taken. Her family milled around as families do on Monday evening weddings in their jeans and t-shirts. My efforts of pushing Frankenbike up the hill were rewarded in a terrifying descent down the back half of Swan Rd, where bikes have to share the county road with cars as you wind down the mountain to Frisco. Hitting speeds of probably around 40 MPH, I had to lay on my brakes for a lot of the ride down with the image of my bike dismantling itself at speed like a Buster Keaton gag, and my health insurance a distance memory. What had taken an hour to climb took about three minutes on the downhill side.

I pushed on with about 12 miles left of the trek and my legs already feeling like they were packed with lead weights. Continual motion, pumping those legs up and down got me through the miles. With around 8 miles left, my heart started beating irregularly; the telltale sign of a panic attack. It had been a while since I had one of those. I kept going, up and down little hills, along the flank of Lake Dillon, pushing past more marinas, beaches, and then the Dillon Dam road. With the Amphitheatre in sight, I dismounted and pushed my bike back to my Jeep, passing the Arapahoe Cafe on the way.

Destination in sight, Dillon, CO

End of the trail

I grabbed my mask from my backpack and headed back down the hill. I could already taste the cold beer and burger on my tongue. I would be eating alone, but that is the way these trips go sometimes. At nearly 45 years old, I have a hard time finding people my own age who want to do trips like this or are even physically able to do it. I was feeling like the latter at this moment, unfortunately. All that bike pushing was sobering, especially when the Ft. Collins bike paths had lulled me into a false sense of security. I wondered how the 50+ year olds were able to cruise up that damned mountain, while I thought I was going to drop over more than a few times. Equipment probably had a lot to do with it, as well as being acclimitized to being at elevation. I had doubled my personal altitude for a late-afternoon bike ride.

I watched the sun set as I drank my Stem Cider and devoured my Bison Burger. I headed back home shortly after, feeling gassed from my ride and ready for a nap from the food. By the time I got home at about 10:30pm, I was exhausted. My mind hadn’t gone to the usual places that it does on Monday, and I was able to push my limits. That is, after all, the only way you are going to figure out just how far you can go, or how far you have come.

Mondays are usually a waste because of overthinking, but when I could only think of pushing on ahead, I didn’t have a lot of headspace to dedicate to that bad habit. I just had to keep going. I lived through it. And I’m better for it.

Am I going to be a competitive bicyclist? No. But its a good tool to have in your toolbox when you want to spend an afternoon doing something that keeps you active and challenges your brain and your body. I am a little more leary of reviews online that talk about how easy a trek like this is, however.

Where is this place?

If you are interested in the trek yourself, I recommend taking the path I did. The downhill side of Swan Mt. shares traffic with cars, which you will not want to do on an uphill climb for miles and miles. It’s also a little closer to the beginning of the trip, so you will still have energy to make that climb when starting from Dillon Marina.

Screen Cap from Google Maps. Dillon, CO

Surrender Under Protest if you Must

On this site, I try to be as apolitical as possible, but even though this post might have worked fine on my other site, I felt like it might have a home here as well. This site is, after all, about finding your place in the world, getting comfortable in your own skin, and meeting the challenges of every day life as you push yourself to experience more.

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine invited me to a protest/celebration of life for a Colorado victim of police brutality, Elijah McClain. He was an introverted kid walking by himself on the way home from the store, and was killed by police because he “fit the description” of someone who was “being suspicious.” His killers got a slap on the wrist. Of course people are angry. Anger can be a divisive emotion, or it can be a unifying one.

In the USA, we have seen our share of division, from the Loyalists and Patriots of the Revolutionary War to the Civil War just sixteen Presidents in, and even now, when it is Liberal vs. Conservative/Masks vs. No Masks/and so on.

For a group of college-aged activists, however, Elijah McClain’s death was a unifying event at a time when it’s easier to control people when they are put at odds. The Black and Brown Alliance in Greeley, CO has gathered together members of the community to hold peaceful protests, spread information, and hold rallies such as this to plant seeds in the community which question what we are seeing and being told. I won’t list the names of the people involved for a few reasons. First of all, their organization is not my story to tell. Second, as a person who has been a student of how the world works for quite a long time now, I want their identities to be protected. A more formal interview, rather than impartial observations of just one of their events would warrant something more in depth, that could really give creedence and justice to their cause.

For now, I am a tourist of their cause, and as the Pulp song “Common People” has taught us, “everybody hates a tourist.”

The event took place in Monfort Park on hot Friday afternoon in July. Considering the triple digit weather, the turnout was decent. I counted between 50 to 70 people in attendence. Everyone was masked and doing their best underneath the park sunshelters to maintain social distancing. Before the event started, people gathered to look at inspiring artwork that had been done by active members of the Black and Brown Alliance. A DJ played some great tracks and though everyone was more or less incognito because of the masks, it was a vibe of compassion, unity, and respect. In spite of what the news tells us, it wasn’t a riot. These days it seems like any protest or rally is portrayed as being a powderkeg of violence, and I will be honest, I didn’t know what to expect just because of what is shown in the news.

When the speakers took their turns at the mic to discuss the needless death of Elijah McClain, they brought in anectdotes as well as facts and figures supporting why there needs to be a sea-change of how race relations and tolerance are done in this country. I will admit that a few times, while watching the speakers, I had a few cringe-worthy moments when other white people, the middle-class tourists (not unlike myself) would throw a “Preach it!” or “YASSS!” into the discussion. In my own head, I could only think “This isn’t about you. This is a time to LISTEN.”

The purpose of this website is to challenge us to push our boundaries and “Get out more.” In my travels, I live by the motto of “Do something every day that scares you.” Because of the media, I really didn’t know what to expect, which I’m ashamed to say, doesn’t give credit to my friends who put this whole thing together. They are people of the utmost class, who include allies as well as those the cause directly affects. This is not the narrative the Press is running with.

The narrative has even included putting a wedge between different minorities. The Black and Latino communities haven’t always gotten along. There’s a reason for this. It is prescribed oppression. Divide and conquer. Keep the marginalized downtrodden and it makes controlling them easier.

I learned many things while being an observer, a tourist to life, and I hope I was able to take these lessons to heart, rather that being saturated by the rhetoric of the press. Media is more concerned with sensationalism than it is advocacy, much less accountability. They care less about reporting the news than they do promoting the brand names of their sponsors. This is why the news fits so many stories between commercial breaks, rather than exploring the entirety of a story. There are only the 5 W’s when it suits their agenda.

I got out to a protest, in this case, and though I didn’t get any answers, at least I gained the capability to ask better questions. There are good people in the world doing good work. In spite of what you believe right now, there is so much more to the story than you are being allowed to see. Speaking as someone perceived as a white male, (that’s a whole other post) I can assure you that more conversations need to take place. I think what most of us want is the same thing: we want a chance at happiness. We want liberty, equality, fellowship, and when pushed far enough, it’s not going to be a polite request for any of it. There comes a time when good people rise up and take what is already theirs.

So, push yourself. Do something every day that scares you. In this case, I might have been worried that some of my bubbles might have been popped. I was right. It’s not a bad thing to lose some disillusionment. For something like this, to those who feel like a tourist, it isn’t a very big jump to being involved once you open your eyes. When I heard the story of what happened to this kid, I thought that could have easily been me…however there was one exception. He was a black kid walking home at night, and he never made it home because of this. His killers even mocked him later (and got another slap on the wrist). As a “white” person, I probably would have just been harassed a little by the police and then sent home.

People, this is a difference. One of many. I’m an introverted dork who likes to walk alone at night, and I’m still alive. Think about that.

Getting started

I was talking with a friend the other day.  She hasn’t been out of the country but still daydreams about taking that big solo trip on her own.  Like I was, there are a lot of “buts” that came up in the conversation that kept getting in the way: Expense.  Time.  Age.  Many of us go through the majority of our lives daydreaming about that trip we are going to take. But there never seems to be enough time, money, or as we wind down we might put those kinds of dreams off for “maybe in another life.”  There is no other life. This is the one we get and it is up to us to live it!

First off, that age thing is a weak excuse.  I have met people in their eighties who are traveling happily, continuing to test their traveling skills.  The others are challenging, but not impossible obstacles.  In future posts, I will work on creative ways to work around those, but here I want to just flat out say it.  The only obstacle age throws in your path is when you are too young to do all the things.  If you are in your late 30s, 40s, 50s, etc., this is the time in your life you get to start appreciating the things you might have been too young to notice otherwise.  

Making that trip might seem like a daunting experience. Here are the first things you need if you are thinking about taking that first big trip.

Get your passport

This is the document that will let you cross into other countries.  Unfortunately, the majority of Americans don’t even have one!  I didn’t until about five years ago.  We live in a big country and unlike Europe or other continents, we don’t have many neighbors we visit that require the use of one.  

Excuses people use for not getting a passport

  • It will take several months for them to process your application and send you your passport.  Even pre-COVID-19 mine took about three months to get back.  The sooner you start, the sooner it will arrive!
  • You will need to mail in an official copy of your birth certificate.  I have yet to meet anyone whose birth certificate was lost in this process.  It’s not that scary.  Seriously. The cool thing about your passport is this can be used in lieu of your birth certificate for most purposes from here on out.  
  • It requires an investment.  I think mine was around $120 with fees and everything else to get started.  Renewal fees are much less once you actually get your passport.  Check the website for information.  https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports.html
  • $120 is not a lot of money, considering people will drop that much money on a day pass to an amusement park per person.  Think of this as your eTicket to see the world!
  • The pictures are terrible.  Yes.  Yes they are.  But you aren’t going to be gazing at your own picture for hours anyway, and Customs probably won’t look at it longer than about ten seconds to make sure it is you.  What you will hopefully be looking at is all the stamps you are about to start getting in the back of the book.

Start off small

You can just jump in with both feet, but you might just scare the hell out of yourself and have a rough time.  Then you’ll be throwing your passport across the room, cursing me for telling you to get out and have this awful experience.  Even a trick motorcycle rider learned how to ride on a two-wheeler first.  

Pick a country where you speak the same language.  This is actually trickier than you might think.  Though I have some experience with a few other languages, my accent sucks and my knowledge extends about as far in Japanese to order a bowl of noodles, and in Spanish, I can ask a variety of questions that inevitably end up with the person I’m speaking to switching to broken English, which is usually much better than my broken Spanish.

For my first International solo adventure, I picked the United Kingdom.  Not just because I had a lot of interest in the UK historically, ancestrally, and culturally, but also because I knew I could communicate with people once I got there.  Well, funny thing about that, American English is getting difficult to understand.  My somewhat pronounced Western drawl (which is especially obvious when conversing with people in the Queen’s English) meant that sometimes I had to repeat myself.  So eventually, I wound up sounding Canadian.  They talk like us, only they enunciate each word.  This is important.  American English is almost like speaking cursive.

Start saving

Travel is expensive.  But only because it is extraordinary to your daily life.  It really isn’t any more expensive than setting aside a Christmas fund or money for birthdays and graduations.  Some destinations are more expensive than others too.  I was warned about how expensive London was, but really I didn’t find it any worse than tourist traps in the US that aren’t far from my front door.  Lunch in Estes Park, CO is about as spendy as a meal in London.  

There are other expenses you might not be accustomed to, however.  Train fares, mass transport, and even pay toilets can be eye-opening.  Set aside some money for tourist crap to drag home, but use the brunt of it for experiences.  You don’t need to dust them and nobody can take them away.

A decent start on the first day of your adventure.

Getting Prepared

Once you have decided you want to travel, here are some more things you can do before you actually decide to purchase those plane tickets or book your stay. It’s a gradual process and doesn’t have to happen all at once. Pace yourself and have fun with the experience. The learning curve gets steeper from here, but like the best travel guide in the galaxy will tell you: Don’t Panic!

Do your research

Picking a destination can be like that game you played as a kid in school, where you spin the globe and wherever your fingers stops it is where you will go.  My suggestion for starting small is to pick somewhere you are interested in seeing.  This will give you some destination goals, an idea of an itinerary, and you can start doing some research on it to learn about things such as good places to eat, stay, nightlife, places of interest.  Free shit!

Economize

Start looking at airfares now, even if you aren’t planning on flying for a year or so.  If you can get a good gauge on what it will cost to fly, you’ll have a better idea what to budget for.  Peak seasons affect ticket prices, but so do all sorts of other factors.  You can get some sweet deals if you check out websites with ticket prices.  Beware of multiple layovers and other complicated exchanges.  Spending an extra $40 might be worth every penny to have a direct flight.  Unless you have a layover of a day or so, it might not be worth the wait going through customs, and nearly every airport is alike, so taking six hours on a layover so you can sit in a food court is pointless, especially if an hour of that is waiting in line to have your passport stamped.

Get some folding money

Even if it’s just pocket money for one day, order up some foreign currency from your bank.  You can’t blow it here, and it will give you some incentive for your trip.  Don’t get too much.  Come to find out, your bank will screw you over with fees and commercial vs. Personal exchange rates (I learned that the hard way).  You are probably better off getting just enough money for a day and then pulling the rest out of an ATM when you get there.  An ATM will give you an fair exchange rate. Don’t use the money changers at the airport!

Be prepared

All the stuff I packed for a week in the UK. It fit into one carry-on bag.

Depending on where you are going, start building your travel equipment now.  Here are some essentials I wholeheartedly recommend for international travel:

  • Smartphone: Just make sure you have some kind of international plan activated, and turn off all your cellular use unless you want to pay a fortune every time your phone decides to use data to update your apps.  
    • Take pics of your passport to use as a copy in case you lose it.  
    • Take pics of things you see, but also street addresses, business cards, phone numbers, etc.  You can refer to these later if you need to ask for directions or show them to a cab driver if you suck at the language. 
    • Access maps if you can connect to wifi or via cellular in a pinch.
    • Text traveling companions, or family to keep them posted of your proof of life.
  • A multi-country power adapter: Mine has several ports for USB, power, and a cord too for my phone
  • A good quality day/backpack: My carry-on is an Osprey Ozone 46.  My walking around bag is an Osprey Daylite; it holds maps, rain jacket, and snacks.
  • A water bottle:  I use a hydro flask.  Just fill it up at a filtered drinking fountain and you can stay hydrated for almost free.  In tourist cities, fizzy drinks and booze are not only expensive, but they dehydrate you too.
  • Good shoes: Americans don’t walk around much.  You should get used to walking wherever you go. Old, uneven pavements beat the hell out of your feet.  Standing in museums is exhausting. Good shoes mean the difference between a good trip and a miserable day.
It all fits! Complete with waterbottle.

Getting out more

The old cliche says the longest journey begins with the first step. Last year I took my first international solo trip and though I did plenty of research on what I needed to do once I got there, only experience could really prepare me for any of it. The path to get to that point was not easy, with the one exception, I made the conscious decision to do it.

Without much prior experience, the learning curve was steep. Other than a few family vacations while growing up, which consisted of driving past some of America’s most iconic landmarks in a hot car with no air conditioning, my experience was fairly limited.  When I was seventeen, I embarked on an adventure that got me hooked on travel, new experiences, and making new friends along the way.

Then for the next twenty years, I did none of those things.  I was in an unhappy marriage, I became a dad of three amazing kids, and then one day my life changed.  I was divorced and starting a new path of rediscovery.  Like the caterpillar, I had been in a cocoon and everything that I had been before was liquefied.  I had the choice to become something else.  The person I had been on track to becoming but sometimes you get sidetracked.  

I kept running into situations that in my early 40’s were completely alien to me.  It seemed like more often than not, someone was telling me that I needed to get out more.  What do you mean you haven’t done X? Had I been living under a rock? Yes, in a way I had been. While I had spent nearly the entirety of my adulthood wiping butts and noses, my friends had traveled to Europe or Asia, sometimes Africa.  They had mortgages and investment portfolios.  I had a folding table and was gradually putting my life back together.  I had never even bought plane tickets. It wasn’t a matter of keeping up with the Joneses, but more catching up to what I always wanted to do.

It took nearly five years to get to the point where I wedged myself between two strangers on an international flight and stepped off in a completely different place.  My expectations quickly flew out the window.  I had to think quickly on my feet and at other times, just let the moment sweep me along with it.

In this travelblog, I’m going to share with you my experiences, my victories and failures.  I am also going to try to reach out a hand and help anyone else who found themselves in a situation like this.  Taking that trip wasn’t just for me, but it was for my kids as well.  We teach our children through example and we should genuinely be living life to the fullest, rather than showing them a simulation.  Not only have I worked to catch up with my own expectations in travel, but it’s my job to show my kiddo (the only one left at home now) how to get out of your comfort zone and truly live.

Sometimes my trips are solo.  Sometimes he’s right there with me.  People come and go into our lives with the passage of time.  We celebrate the moments and enjoy the experiences.

My son and I at Arthur’s Rock, Colorado having a snack.