Saturday, December 31, 2016

Christmas on the East Coast


Christmas Eve
We headed back to Connecticut on Christmas Eve. Ted collected us from the airport and was well prepared with a few nice pale ales on board for the ride home. It was a dazzling sight seeing all the activity of airports and busy highways, skylines full of lights and activity, especially coming from our little secluded place on Earth.

Christmas day was the usual Sierpina affair, starting with presents, followed by more presents and even a further bout of presents later in the day. It was a fairly relaxed time though as Diane was hosting the day's festivities for the entire family, meaning for us we didn't need to leave home. And all that stress about having to prepare and cook food for 20 people, well it didn't stir me. 





Following Christmas, we took the annual pilgrimage into NYC to join the hordes looking at sparkling lights and Christmas scenes in shop windows. Man, it was carnage anywhere near Rockefeller Center. For blocks it was mobbed and it was just bizarre how people can see that as a positive experience. Well none the less we did it, then joined an hour long wait list for dinner. We got some tasty burgers, malt shakes, onion rings and fries though. That worked for us.


Being in the area to our old Stratford, we journeyed late one evening to Two Roads. My old shift was finishing up for the day around 10pm, so we tried some of the new beers up in the tasting room and bumped into some of our old mates around the place. We had a little nostalgic walk around the brewery and sat with the boys in the control room while they managed the crisis of the day, then sat in the break room once they were off and shared with them some of Breck's finest bourbons and whiskeys and again more good beer right off the production line. It was great catching up with these guys, who for a good year were the faces I saw every day. Its a bit of a story of our lives, having been such good mates for a short time, and so sad to have left them behind. But without moving and traveling so much, we would never have the opportunity to meet people like these guys and so many others throughout all our travels. Whether for a day, week or year, it is better to have had that time with these people and then had to say goodbye than to have not had that time at all.  

Sunrise over NYC on our way back to the mountains

Friday, December 30, 2016

Winter Came

Snow capped roves and mountains
The arrival of winter, real winter, was received as a godsend to all those living in the mountains. When it decided to turn up, it came in, set up camp and just snowed and snowed and snowed. Turning our barren landscape into the white winter wonderland one dreams of. Day by day, as the inches accumulated, turning into feet, the mountain opened more and more terrain. Our drive-way piled up and up and the roads stayed constantly white, while no plow could compete with the accumulation and cold. It went about ten days straight that we didn't see the sun. In other places that would send people crazy, but everybody here could not have been happier.

A summer sports car is hidden under there.
The Colorado Super Chair




The storms arrival was right in time for the start of the Dew Tour Ski and Snowboard competition. Too late to give the mountain the necessary snow for the full format of the event, it had to be reformatted due to a lack of snow for a halfpipe and full slopestyle course. The event showed to TV spectators around the world what a true Colorado snow storm looks like, but provided challenging conditions for participants. Down in town on the opening Friday night, a rail jam was held on Main Street. The rail was the length of a block and was positioned on a hill, so the course itself was as impressive as the 45 minute jam session. Our frozen feet quickly went numb as we were parked up right at the bottom of the course, but about an hour standing was all we could handle in the seriously negative temperatures.






The Dew Tour rail jam in town.
A week after the big storm, we had another healthly dose of snow, with 19 inches coming overnight. This was really the motherload, with a good base established over the whole mountain and now a heavenly pillow covering it. It was time to really get out and smash it up. With perfect timing, we joined a small line at chair 6 high on the mountain just as they opened that terrain for the first time this season. Nearing the top of the lift to see the first skier and boarders coming down, it was obvious this was going to be a treat. We had a huge open bowl with sparse trees and bottomless powder. We took two runs before the queue for the lift got out of control. How was the snow you ask? Untouched, endless, deep and unmanageable. The pinnacle of my powder riding, I was literally choking on snow, it was just the greatest!

The line for Chair 6
With the town decorated in golden twinkly lights and now covered in the most glorious coat of white, it was obviously Christmas time. With that we had some parties to attend. Amy's work had a very mature cheese and wine night in town, where luckily they served some fine beer, too. The distillery held more of the standard drunken affair, with some tasty buffet food including buffalo meat bolognese, however in my eyes there was a distinct lack of a hopped carbonated malt beverage. Not surprising I guess, seeing as we only make spirits!


Getting frosty out there

Saturday, December 3, 2016

A Brewery Odyssy

Awesome rocks in Boulder
Having the Thanksgiving weekend off, along with mild weather in the forecast, we thought this might be our last opportunity to get out and explore before we get buried in for the season. We had a last minute adjustment to the plans and booked an Airbnb in Fort Collins for two nights. Slightly delayed by a snowstorm the night prior to leaving, we waited out for the roads to melt and set off in the RX7 down I-70, then once happily out of the snow, ducked off for Empire, an old mining town now turned into the gambling centre of the Rockies. Honestly, from the street it looks like they did it right and the casinos very well would have been the only way to fill and maintain their historic downtown, which was presented idyllically as it may have looked 100 years ago. On along Colorado Route 40 heading north on top of the front range, the road was stunning, winding, dipping and diving with the contours of the mountains. The road became snowy in spots, so we ducked down the Boulder Canyon, the first of three canyons we rallied over the weekend. Exiting the canyon, we stopped at a park with some mad buttress red rocks which tower over the town of Boulder. Clambering and climbing these rocks, which I can remember visiting many years earlier, it was a perfect view out to the plains.

Horsetooth Reservoir at dusk    
We continued on, following right at the base of the Front Range all the way up to Fort Collins. Once there, we also ventured out at sunset to Horsetooth Reservoir which hangs over the city damned in within a unique geological ridge. Once again, the roads were made for driving and very much reminded us of the Port Hills of Christchurch. The road hung to the side of the hill with city views, then steeply dipped off to the water body on the other side along with dry tussocky vegetation. Then we headed in to meet our host for the stay and finally ventured out to try find a beer on the Thanksgiving evening.

Rallying through the canyon
The following day, we thought we should try to explore somewhat before starting our beer journey through the city. On the suggestion of our host, we headed up the Cache La Poudre River for some more canyon driving. This was an exceptional piece of road that wound its way up 5,000ft in the tightest most exciting driving I have been privileged to experience. At one point, there was literally nothing but the creek and road surrounded by towering walls. Makes sense as to the warning signs for flash flooding. But for us, it was a sunny mild morning of exhilarating acceleration.


    
The day that followed was a walking adventure of Fort Collins finest breweries. Starting from our Airbnb, we walked through some less than picturesque industrial area, with a sever lack of footpaths to the however amazing Funkworks., Inc. Brewing only using the traditional saison yeast, these guys were innovating using age old Belgian style mixed with new world experimentation. The beers were fantastic, heavily featuring New Zealand hops, their sours were first class. A few drinks and a tour and we were off to a great start. Just around the corner was the Horse and Dragon, a relatively new facility where we met the owner who could tell a story or two, which he did on the tour. We grabbed a sample flight, enjoyed the quality beers and the superb atmosphere of a tasting room baked in the afternoon sun and very much appreciated the immaculate state of the art brewery cellar.




Very concerned at this point that our time line was slipping, but actually not too concerned, we merrily meandered closer into town to the Fort Collins Brewery at their brand new and very sterile feeling facility. The fact that it was happy hour was the only good thing to be taken away from this commercialized joint. White walls, fluorescent lights and smelling like a dirty mop bucket, we were happy to be shortly headed two doors down to the infamous Odells Brewing Co. With some of the tastiest beers in the country, we were very excited to sample some of their pilot beers only available from the brewery itself. It was a tough call what to get, steering away from APA, Pale Ales and IPAs that we knew we would love and might be able to find else where we went for the tart, smelly feet and sour varieties that they had concocted. We got what we asked for thats for sure. We were impressed with some and others pushed our tolerances of this new emerging style.  The tasting room was packed, so with an outside food truck we nestled next to a fire pit for a bit to eat, so happy as to where we were.


The behemoth of New Belgium was next. Famous or its Fat Tire Amber Ale, they have really been able to go crazy and get creative after that windfall. A big pioneer in the souring department and generally just making first class beer. Again, the tasking room, well really its a true bar, was hopping. We enjoyed our beers until closing time at the very reasonable time of 8pm. Having made our way right into town, now we were at our final brewery of the trip, Equinox. A super hipster joint right in old town, it had live music and a beer list to die for. I was very happy to have myself a Rye Pale Ale, and maybe my taste buds had gone through a bit of a twisting and touring over the day, but something smelt a bit funny. The beer tasted good but something was off. It turns out the stamp they had given us at the door had a horrendous smell of sticking plasters, so every time I took a sip, the smell of a first aid kit went wafting over my pallet. That was a shame, but we still enjoyed the brewery, and the manager was intrigued and very much agreed when he put the stamper up to the olfactory.

Old Town Fort Collins
Making our way home at a fairly reasonable hour, we stumbled upon D.P Dough, a chain calzone takeout restaurant. Having been introduced to this when I visited Amy at university many years earlier, it was an appropriately greasy and late night snack and we couldn't turn down the two dollar pint of New Belgium as an add on. Happily, I can announce that hangovers were not present the following day and just a quick two and a bit hours drive we were back up in the mountains via our third canyon of the trip: Golden Canyon, every bit as good at the others. The car ate up the corners and monstered in the overtaking lanes. Pretty epic Thanksgiving.

The RX7 loves road trips

Friday, November 18, 2016

Quandry Peak


Atop Quandary Peak
After having Andrew around and taking him out on some walks, it really struck us that soon it will be very much winter and having the option to jump out for a nice walk and explore will not so much be an option. So a day after he left, we thought if we were going to go, we might as well go big and go high. Quandry Peak at 14,265ft or 4,347m was the target and our first "14er". So we trotted off with the dogs in tow and they were our guides as they are seasoned 14er climbers. Annoyingly, Keona decide to get lost early on in the climb through the forest, as were we puffing and panting and just staring at the ground in front of us with each step, so we didn't notice for a bit. So I then ran back down the trail 15 mins or so to locate the missing mutt.





Once back above the tree line, we were faced with the straight ridge line rising and rising above everything else around. At this point the wind was really starting to whip around, but it didn't seem to bother the dogs too much. Tinkerbell would walk right by my side and Keona would sprint up, turn around and run back down, only then to repeat it. Getting to the final steps ascent, the last few hundred meters to the top, it was slow going. The legs had begun to feel like lead and navigating the boulder field was tiresome. One last burst of energy was required once we peered over the summit to see a beautiful mountain goat, and then that mutt Keona took off after it, and I took off after them.





The highest place we've ever been on Earth
At this point we were alone on the summit, with panorama views in all directions getting battered with ice cold wind. With frozen fingers, we clumsily ate our sandwiches while crouched between rocks for shelter, encouraging the dogs to cuddle us for extra warmth. We had a quick appreciative scan of our surroundings and then pointed our noses downhill. With wobbly legs we descended, while along the ridge we spotted a pair of mountain goats coming across our course. We stopped, while I held the dogs back because I'm sure there was nothing more that they would love to do than chase the pair off into the distance, or a off a cliff. They walked right across the trail in front of us, completely in their element, they stood as tall as a bull, jacked shoulders with huge snow white coats flowing in the wind so majestically, not even bothered by our presence. From there it was just trudging on down and trying not to be blown away as the wind was only getting more ferocious. Our timing was right on for taking the opportunity to make the trip, as the following day winter truly arrived.

A Rocky Mountain Goat

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Andrew's Visit

Andrew atop Mt Elizabeth with Lake Dillon below.
Our good friend and old flatmate Andrew from New Zealand came out to visit us for a long weekend in early November. That weekend being the intended opening weekend for the mountain, but due to the unseasonably mild autumn we were having, the weather was fine and there was little snow, even on the high mountain tops. That worked out well for us, as Andrew wasn't here to ski and instead climbing on foot was what we wanted to do. We collected him from the shuttle right in town and headed to one of our favorite spots, Downstairs at Eric's for a pizza and a pitcher of fine IPA. Hanging out and catching up was mad, especially with all the stories to tell and hear. Andrew has been living in Sweden for the last year completing his masters in mathematics and currently is doing an internship in Silicon Valley in California.  

Looking South along the Ten Mile Range to Peak Two.

Not messing round, the next morning Andrew and I headed up to the summit of Mt Elizabeth, also known as Peak one because its the first peak of ten in the Ten Mile Range. Located further down the Ten Mile Range is Breckenridge Ski Resort spread over from Peak Six to Peak Ten. The walk starts just down the road in the town of Frisco, where you quickly take on an almost vertical path that just keeps going and going. We weren't sure if we would make it right to the top, but the snow was very thin up high and we traversed on the windward side of the ridge to avoid any wind drift. We went slow and steady over a small craggy section with some icy patches and consequences, but happily made it to the top for some egg sandwiches and fantastic views. We were joined by two of the house dogs, Keona and Tinkerbell, who just hustled up and down and all over the show like a bunch of spastics. The hike, climbing from just under 3,000m (9843ft) up to just under 4,000m (13123 ft) was a good first day test for Andrew coming straight from sea level. 


Not to slow down, the next day, with Amy in tow, three of us headed for the Mohawk Lakes Trail to the south of town. Having been given the advice that with our mad 4x4 we should continue past the main car park area and take the 4x4 track a few miles further avoiding the long walk in and getting right to the good stuff. Having never tackled any real off roading and being a tad nervous about the capabilities of our new/very old vehicle, we progressed cautiously. As the Bronco happily covered the terrain we happily mobbed up the track passing walkers and other parked vehicles that must have decided the rough trail was too much for their new and shiny trucks, which I imagine are most commonly used for running the kids to school. We made it over a few decent obstacles but came upon a large downward hill and decided to call it there, considering getting down would be no problem, but the uphill test was not something I was looking to experiment with just that day. That the final car parked was only a few hundred meters further, and being only one very equipped looking Jeep Wrangler, I'll take second place. Considering those Jeeps go for $45,000+, I felt like the winner.

Andrew climbing above Lower Mohawk Lake
The walk and the lakes themselves were absolutely stunning. Less of a vertical climb, it was pleasant walking over upward undulating terrain, coming over each hummock to a new lake that was just clinging to the mountain floor wedged between the very steep walls to the north and south climbing thousands of feet above us. At the second lake of the day, the first of the Mohawks Amy and I stopped for some scenic acroyoga, and tortured the dog by putting it in a old mining rail cart. Round that lake we sort of lost the trail and forged our own path up a cool slope in the sun, popping out high on a large open flat and eventually bumping back into the trail. We walked a bit further to what we though was the second of the lakes, now very much in an environment transitioning into winter, frozen lake water now, snow accumulation and bitterly cold wind. We hid for protection in some rocks and had lunch and headed back, when the trail dropped us down to another large lake, actually the second lake. Turns out, we had previously hit a third bonus lake. Here we sat down, and Keona terrified some other hikers by running right out to the middle of the lake to retrieve a rock we had thrown, testing Andrew's theory that a rock strike will produce a cool echo reverberation upon impact. It did, and Keona slid around like the clown she is and surprisingly her feather like frame didn't rupture the ice surface and the rock did make a cool sound. Descending down the trail now, a far more icy and dangerous route than our journey up, we slowly moved down taking much care as a slip would not have been funny.

Climbing to the third Mohawk Lake
Taking Andrew for a bit of a tour of the county, on our last day together, we headed over to Keystone. Walking through the village, it was barren and empty other than a few unfortunate people who had booked an early season ski trip to be unlucky now not being able to ski. No problems for us, the resort still had a large checkers and chess set in the plaza. Surprisingly, I conquered over the visiting mathematician in a well fought game of oversized checkers, claiming oxygen depravation for his lack of performance. 


Serious Checkers
Further on we headed up Loveland Pass, making it one switch back short of the pass, at which point the Bronco lost all its torque, seeming to have hit a vertical wall. Topping out at 3,655m (11992 ft) its not surprising the car would go no further, bit of a bummer though because it sort of means we are currently trapped in the county. We took in the view from the pull off and made our way back to the Dillon Disc Golf course. An uber scenic course, throwing across a scrubby landscape with the lake and mountains as the backdrop. We were only halted by a long search for a disc from a super elevated tee and called it a day at 9 holes once finding the missing disc. Back in town we stopped by the Distillery for a tour and a cocktail and then jumped over to Broken Compass Brewery just around the corner for a last pint and a round of Cards Against Humanity with some strangers. Early the next morning, borrowing Phil's car, we headed down to Denver Airport to send Andrew back of to California after a mad long weekend visit. We were so happy to have Andrew to visit, and will be happy to host and show you all the stops for anyone who makes the effort to make it out. 

Tinkerbell loving the company and the view

Saturday, November 5, 2016

The Bronco

At her new home
I jumped on my phone for a moment while production stopped late in the evening one night at the distillery. I browsed on the local community Facebook page, 'One Man's Junk', always on the look out for a bargain of any kind. Then I stumbled upon, only posted minutes earlier, a 1989 Ford Bronco II. What followed was a quick message to pop over and take a look the following morning and once I got home, a quick mention of my intentions to a sleeping Amy. 

The key to scoring the bargains are get in quick. Thats it, and thats what I did. I was the first person to message and right there first thing in the morning. The deal was easy to make as the truck was a little old gem and the price was beyond right. There I was, the proud owner of a piece of 1980's American motoring. Beige-on-brown exterior, with only a touch of surface rust with an all over beige interior, in good condition, with that perfect old musty car smell, five speed manuel, with rear wheel drive/4x4 and 4x4 low modes and coming with a spare set of snow tires too! All of this coming for a very, very reasonable three digit price tag, supplemented with a bottle of bourbon. 

Learning the ins and outs of an older vehicle is critical to appreciating an old cheap car. So over the first few weeks, there were moments of frustration wondering what the hell was going on, but all these quirks now just add to the character. However, it was frustrating trying to work out why the heater and indicators would only sporadically work and driving down the highway while the car felt as though it was going to shake itself apart. No dramas, its all about how you turn the key and what mode the 4x4 is in. One day, while the weather was mild, I also did a bit of rust cutting on the rust on the passenger door. A wire wheel brush on the drill, a bit of bog filler and a sand back and now we have a nice grey primer patch rather than rust. Just need some more warm weather to do the color match paint and she'll be golden, well beige I guess.

Most of the way up Loveland Pass.

Friday, October 28, 2016

The Wild West

Gorgeous Colorado
Having not started work yet, and considering that the weather was positively beautiful, we headed off for a little trip down to Southern Colorado. Aiming first for Mesa Verde National Park, and then for Great Sand Dunes National Park, we had chosen to grab a rental car on a off season special rate. The little Sonic Turbo was a bit of a beast, still getting ridiculous fuel efficiency, but with a little zap of the turbo at 3000rpm she kicked up the dust for sure. So we headed west from Breckenridge on I-70, where we quickly realised this was going to be as much about the journey as it will be our two destinations. We were in awe as we winded through the Glenwood Canyon, where somehow they have squeezed two travel lanes each directing within the steep walls almost right on top of the river. Probably one of the most spectacular interstate routes for sure.

The drive south
Just from looking at the map and planning a route based on the little dotted lines indicating scenic roads, we turned off the interstate heading south. Again, having no real expectations other than that we were to be journeying through the mountains, we were absolutely taken to another level of beauty and driving bliss. We were quickly winding up through a narrow mudstone canyon then popping out high up into the Grand Mesa National Forest. High alpine lakes hanging to the side of the pine covered tops, it really doesn't get much more spectacular. We made a few stops to sit and look, but there was just too many beautiful lookout spots, so we were happy to watch it all pass us as we wound up over and back down. We made our way through what is called the 'Western Slope', a dry high plains area, with pockets of small towns and groves of fruit trees and the sort. Ducking off onto a smaller road heading past the famous Telluride Ski Resort, we were passing across the Western edge of the Rio Grande National Forest, where the peaks grew towering high and ominously jagged.


The sunset at Mesa Verde
Making it to our destination very near the South Western corner of Colorado, we set up camp with a setting sun at the Mesa Verde National Park, with just enough light to quickly dash up the towering massif sitting at the the gate of the park to see the sun drop below the horizon over the high plans expanse with those rugged towering peaks north where we had just journeyed. To make the most of the day, we woke up before sunrise and we were happy to be headed deeper into the park and catch the sunrise over the sloping scrubby gorged plains, where we were about to explore and find the cliff homes of the Ancestral Puebloans.

The Cliff Palace

What American National Parks do best is make these special places accessible to all. So we spent the morning driving about convenient roads with a car park right by each area of interest. We started to feel dizzy getting in and out for the car so often, but we did see a lot. A beautiful dry environment, and a plateau carved with endless gorges, canyons and gullies. A place seemingly uninhabitable, however for a many hundred years around 800AD the Pueblo people called this place home, moving from above ground dwelling to wedging very intricate settlements of living and worship spaces into narrow shelves under on hanging cliffs. Settlements of 400 plus rooms, living quarters and kivas, linked with ladders and steps. Seen as an adaption for protection from attack and the elements, however at a certain point they just up and left. During the peak season you can take guided walks through a few dwellings, but we were happy to peer from across the way, appreciating the scale and space these people once lived amongst. 

Amy feeling small amongst the dunes
After the morning visiting the park, we headed east to the Great Sand Dunes National Park. Again, the journey was as great as the destination. We headed through Durango to Pagosa Springs for lunch. We were welcomed by the biggest plume of smoke coming from town. Seemed the local steakhouse had caught ablaze overnight and was smoldering in a wrecked pile with multiple fire appliances still dowsing the remains. Heading on, we headed over Wolf Creek Pass, another badass switch back road that just seemed to climb and climb. The little Chevy turbo ate up the road passed the Wolf Creek Ski Field, which receives the highest annual snowfall in Colorado. Again, ducking out of the Rio Grande National Forest we found ourselves traveling across a large high plain area within the San Luis Valley, headed for what didn't seem like such a spectacular gray blob in the far distance. Well it turned out the grey blob grew and grew and grew until we were upon this great golden dune field wedged up against the Sangre de Cristo Mountain range. Making camp again just in time to head for a walk up the side hills to see the sun set once again, but this time over a very different landscape. Later we enjoyed a campfire and a stunning show of stars.






Another early morning adventure out into the dune field, we had free range of the terrain, no paths or trails to follow. Just follow others footprints or make your own. We headed for the less direct route to the top of Star Dune, the highest point in the park. From the top, the view was inspiring, and the idea of leaping down the steep slope was too good to turn down. With each leap and bound my feet would heave deep into the sand slope producing a somewhat unsettling sound like I was creating a large sand avalanche, none happened however. Shoes filled with sand did though. We traversed out along the dunes, sat and enjoyed the warmth, tranquility and the loneliness of being out ahead of the light autumn crowds. We made our way back and across the river that simply just runs and disappears into the sand.   


Feeling small amongst the Rockies


Continuing on our way back home to Breckenridge, we headed directly north towards Buena Vista through some less spectacular scenery, however still gorgeous wide open valleys with high, daunting mountains to the side. Very reminiscent of the Cass Range in New Zealand, making me feel very content. We made our way into Park County, the home of the cartoon Series South Park, and over Hosier pass and back to our home of Summit County. Just a quick trip away, that turned out to be a real welcome to the Wild West.
Great Sand Dunes