Sunday, May 15, 2016

We Went to Cheyenne So You Don't Have To

14 May 2016

We drove to Cheyenne because it was close enough to Fort Collins that we could get there and back, say we'd visited Wyoming, and get back to Colorado in time for the wedding we'd come here to attend.

There's not much to see or do in Cheyenne on a Sunday. The main museum is closed. The botanical garden is closed. Everything is closed.

This, dear readers, is Cheyenne on a Sunday:

That's the train depot.

That's the Capitol building.

This is one of the places that the city lists as an attraction. Seriously. That's how exciting Cheyenne is.

Seeing as how it was the only thing open, Jack said we should go in. We'd driven all this way, after all.

"You first," I said, and was greeted by this:

Because every good cowboy needs an oversized cross goblet?

There was a moose, though:

If you need a cowboy-style cross, get yours here, and if you need rhinestone crosses on your rhinestone belt, this place has you covered.

Boots, and flip-flops:

Cowboy hats!

More boots!

Can we go now?  Please?

"The Depot Museum is open," Jack said. We headed that way, passing a sign that there might be deviant life here after all. Or not.  Could be a country-western bar.

Inside the Depot Museum is the history of the Transcontinental Railroad and Wyoming's own Union Pacific Railroad's role in it.  For a tiny place run on $8 admission fees, the museum had a lot of disparate history on display.

Including this, which I'm sure is mislabeled.

What it's really a picture of is the Saturday Honey Do ride out of Cranbury.

Upstairs was a model railroad that wound its way around the entire top floor, copying, rock for rock, real passes along the Union Pacific line. If you don't look to hard, it seems real.

Another listed Cheyenne attraction: giant boots.

On our way to the one open restaurant, we saw this:

"What's a bagel? Can I deep fry it and put pork on it?"

There were no hipster beards and no artisan pickles at the burger joint. I got the one salad on the menu that didn't come with meat in it. Jack had a burger, because "How can I go to Wyoming and not eat beef?"

This is our little rental car:

Back on the highway, I pulled off immediately at the first exit, up on a knoll, behind a Denny's, so that I could take some pictures of the landscape.

I zoomed way in to get the wind farm:

Near the Wyoming-Colorado state line, high on a bluff, stands a buffalo statue. To the left is a water tower. That's how big this buffalo is.  (I apologize for the poor resolution; I took the picture from inside the car after I pulled over to the side of the highway.)

We got back to the hotel with enough time to change into our fancy clothes. For Jack, that's easy. He likes wearing suits. For me, not so much. I don't do dresses. I refuse to be objectified. Plus, no pockets. I was one necktie short of Annie Hall. My shoes were suede ankle-high Keds. Really.

Weddings are boring. Funerals are sad and tough, but at least they give me something to think about. Weddings drag on and on and on. And this one was the draggiest-on I've had to sit through in a long, long time. 

The heteronormative, woman-submissive, Jesusizing god gobbledygook was over the top. Even the music: mellow god-rock. 

Y'all know me well enough to know that I near bit my tongue clean off.

We were herded into a tent before dinner. Jack and I stood off to the side. We didn't know a single person in the room (the guest of honor and his family being off for photos). I looked around. I certainly had the wildest hair in the place. I counted two non-whites in the crowd of 40-odd people. I scoured the room for anyone who didn't look like a white conservative. On the other side I spotted one. She and her partner seemed to be having a good time, though.  I went back to drinking my water.

"I see you two match each other," she said. "Pink tie and pink shirt."

"Purely coincidental," Jack grinned.

"I refuse to wear a dress. I refuse to be objectified."

"Amen, sister!" she said.  

And the four of us hung out for the rest of the evening. 

Anyone who restores 1950s Schwinns as a hobby is all right in my book.

I can say with a degree of certainty that this is the first time I've discussed cadavers and brain dissection at a wedding. 

Pro tip:  Don't wear dresses. You'll meet cooler people that way.

Suburban Wasteland, Horse's Teeth, and Artisinal Pickles: Northern Colorado by Car

Apparently these grow in the wild in Boulder.

14 May 2016

I have a rule about attending weddings. If I can't pick the star of the show out of a lineup, and if I don't know the betrothed's name, I'm not going to take up the space that someone both of them recognize would rather take up.

When Jack was invited to his high school buddy's wedding out in East Nowhere, Colorado, I had no intention of tagging along. I mean, I've met the dude twice in 22 years. I barely know what he looks like. On the other hand, the first time I met him, he turned me on to Dr. John's "Gris Gris," for which I'm eternally grateful. So there is that.

After much punting, hemming, and hawing, I agreed at the last minute to tag along. I needed a break from work.

We flew from Philadelphia to Denver on Frontier Airlines. They're one of those discount carriers who charge very little for tickets and then charge a lot for everything else. Jack worked it out so that, between us, we'd check one bag, have no carry-on luggage, and seats with leg room. This somehow was a better bargain than checking two bags or bringing two carry-ons, or getting a randomly-assigned seat. The logic is a little contorted, and, because the prices for each of these things changes daily, won't apply by the time you go to book your ticket. We bought packed lunches at the airport, because Frontier charges for food and drinks (credit cards only). We had an empty seat next to us; I was surprised that we weren't charged for that, too. 

Our rental car, a cute little Nissan Versa, took me a few minutes to get used to. It's been close to a year since I've had to start a car with a key. I haven't rolled down a window since 1998. Being a Prius driver, I was startled when I hit the gas pedal and the car moved right away.

From Denver, it was an hour and a half on I-25 north to Fort Collins. Between the airport and our hotel was a whole lot of nothing. When buildings came into view, they were corporate centers or big box stores. We found our hotel beyond a handful of big tech headquarters, across from a strip of suspect chain restaurants, in the middle of a vast suburban wasteland. 

We drove to the center of Fort Collins for dinner. There's a block or two that is pedestrian-friendly and, because Colorado State University is nearby, slightly funky. We ate at an Italian restaurant, where the friendly waitress told us she grew up in New Jersey, and that the manager was from Jersey too. After dinner, we wandered into a store that specialized in odd sodas:

We immediately thought of a certain friend with a soda obsession, and I asked the shopkeeper if they'd ship.  He said no, and then asked where to. "New Jersey," I said.  

"We just opened a store there."


"Washington Township," he said.

"Do you know which one?  There's, like, three of them."

He shook his head and said something about Paramus, handing me a business card. I didn't need the card; I have Google, and in seconds I found the north Jersey location.

We headed back to the hotel. Our room is spacious and cushy. There's a big desk for me, a poofy chair for Jack, and plenty of outlets for us to plug into our digital world. Breakfast, which is more than cold cereal in Styrofoam bowls, and which I ate after nine hours of sleep, is on the house.

The forecast was for a 30% chance of rain. Out here, that means that the raindrops are 30% of the size they are at home. We drove to Horsetooth Reservoir  (elevation 5420 feet) anyway, figuring we'd walk around a bit in the mist.  The reservoir is like Round Valley on steroids. It's high up, along a winding road. Naturally, as we approached it, I was seeing myself spinning up at 3.5 miles per hour on Miss Piggy. In this mist, I didn't expect to see any cyclists. On our drive over, we'd only seen a few, no groups.

We did get out of the car, for all of five minutes, which was enough to soak my toes and coat my sneakers in mud. After that, we drove around, stopping wherever it was safe enough to take pictures.

This is the view from the road leading to the southernmost parking area:

Here's where we got out to walk around:

Farther along:

Crouching down, making sure to get my toes good and wet again:

The dam at the end of the reservoir is nowhere near as impressive as the berm at Round Valley. We drove over it, and I followed signs for Lory State Park. We'd already paid for a parking permit at Horsetooth; Lory required a separate permit. I turned around at the park entrance and took some pictures there.

We doubled back along the reservoir road, stopping again at another parking area.

This cyclist pulled into the lot, and I struck up a conversation with him. "You're hard core," I said. I had to present my bona fides, of course, and admit to my sissy gearing. Pointing to his rear wheel, he said, "Yeah, this kinda sucks. I only have 26 in the back." His small ring was tiny, though. He was a skinny, thirty-something, who, when I told him where I was from, said he was from West Berlin Township in south Jersey.

Okay, there's some kind of creepy Fort Collins-New Jersey thing going on here. Or maybe it's just the Jersey folks who talk to strangers. That's not like us Jersey folks, though, is it?  Must be the altitude.

This is a wet black-billed magpie:

On our way out of the reservoir:

It was another hour in the car to Boulder. We went to the Pearl Street Mall, the pedestrian center of town, in search of lunch and whatever else was there.

Like an artisan's gallery:

And a rock, in the middle of the walkway, begging to be sat upon, stridently labeled on all sides, "Do not climb."

We went into a brew pub, where there were hipster beards and artisanal pickles. After lunch we visited an independent bookstore and a print gallery (where we took up much of a salesperson's time talking about Medieval manuscripts, maps, and Italian sculptures).

Boulder would happily fit in on the East Coast. To compensate for its bad placement, the town prides itself and defends itself:  "Keep Boulder Weird," read the t-shirts.

I aimed our car towards the mountain at the edge of town. We were driving into Sunshine Canyon at a grade that made our car groan.

There wasn't much of a shoulder. There were signs telling cyclists to keep single file. I found a turn-out with a view and got out for some pictures. Behind me I heard a cyclist descending. The sound of his tires was loud. I wondered if he was riding 25s or 28s. I only realized later that the sound was different because I had my hearing aids in. I never ride with my hearing aids in; they amplify the wind, and they'd cost a bike to replace if they were to fall out. So maybe he was riding 23s after all.

We continued up and into a dense fog. That's where we saw the first of many cyclists grinding up the hill. None, by the way, had tail lights, which, given that they ought to know what the weather is like up here, and that the place is infested with tourists, is just plain stupid.

The canyon route is a long loop, if Google Maps is to be believed, but when we hit an unsigned fork in the road and the pavement ended, we turned around. There's only so much adventuring I want to do in a tiny rental car.

A rider passed us on his way down. We greeted each other and I felt jealous and guilty. Here I was, in a car with Florida plates, with street clothes on, wielding a camera. Tourist.

"Now we get to see how good the brakes are," Jack said, as we descended, well below the speed limit. The cyclist who had passed us was now behind me, and gaining on me. I sped up, a little, but, when you're in a car, you have a lot less room on winding turns than you do when you're on a bike. Eventually another car pulled up behind me, then passed me on the narrow road. I sped up to 40 mph, figuring the cyclist wouldn't be crazy enough to go much faster than that. He didn't.

We saw a few more cyclists in both directions. I guessed the dirt road doesn't last for long. Nobody looked muddy. (Nope. Most of the route isn't paved, according to this description. We never did reach the top, at over 9000 feet.)

Throughout the day, from our trip to the reservoir, to Boulder, to the canyon, and back down, we probably saw a dozen or so cyclists. We only saw one group, and they were spread out. The front half didn't wait for the back half at a traffic light. They must have been Cranbury transplants.

Every bike I could identify was carbon. I saw two, maybe three women. Every cyclist was skinny. None had lights. I was jealous of all of them because they could climb.

On our way back home, we stopped at Peloton Cycles, a large store around the corner from our hotel. Inside held everything from fat bikes to road racers, four season's worth of clothing, and Torx wrenches. There wasn't a steel frame in the place.

Jack pointed out the only two high-end bikes on display, one for $7000, one for $9000. Jack tried to guess at why they were so expensive, pointing to the oversized down tube on the $9000 S-Works.  "Nope," I said.  "Carbon's cheap. It's what's inside: electronic shifting. And this," I pointed. "Disc brakes."  There are three bike shops in Fort Collins. None is high-end. One is Performance.

Outside, there was a sculpture of Jack H going down Federal Twist:

We wound up in a suburban hell shopping center in Loveland for dinner. Seated next to us was a large party of mostly slightly round middle-agers. They were all taking multiple pictures of each other with their iPhones and iPads. One of them was cruising the L-shaped table, taking pictures and shining his phone light in people's faces. He was wearing a t-shirt that read "Discovery Museum: prepare to believe" on the front, and "I went. I believe" on the back.

"I hope he's wearing that shirt ironically," I said. Jack didn't think so. Baby Boomers don't do ironic. We weren't in Boulder anymore either. "I wonder if we're looking at a whole table full of knuckleheads or if he's the only one," I mused. We decided that he might be that weird uncle sort.  He was certainly acting the part.

Which reminded Jack to tell me that the groom's family, and probably all of his guests at the wedding, would be deep, far-right Christians, and that we'd best hold our tongues.  "I'm adopting a don't ask, don't tell policy," I said.

But if I'm asked, I'm torn between revealing that I'm an atheist or that I'm a lapsed Pastafarian.