Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Johns Visit: The Desert

Thomas with Delicate Arch
Now its almost unimaginable to think that just down the road from our snowy enclave in the mountains that you can find yourself in 30 degrees C weather, melting in the desert. But, that’s where we were headed, to Moab,Utah and some of the finest mountain biking on offer and with some crazy rocks too.

We got into town after a early start and set up camp to head off immediately into Arches National Park. With the sunshine on our necks and the unusual feeling of warm air surrounding us, we headed on the Delicate Arch walk. Shortly into the walk I myself found some wild source of energy from within. I was a man possessed. I was just running, jumping, climbing and exploring with such a spring in my step and a twinkle in my eye. I think I was just enchanted by the desert, and man was it fun. We posed with Delicate Arch and I ventured across a steep and narrow crossing to where no one else had ventured. Amy decided to follow, for some reason, and for a quick moment really found herself in a pickle of a situation. Amy sliding 30m down a rock face would have put a bit of a damper on the trip, but it didn’t quite come to that. A relaxing night cooking sausages on the camp fire, of course accompanied by a refreshing beverage or two.

Maybe the most famous mountain bike ride in North America, running from high in the mountains right back down into town in Moab is The Whole Enchilada. It’s a 20 mile descent across the most amazing red rocked desert. It starts so high in fact it would have been many more months till the snow cleared on the top section and it dried out, so we were only able to ride half of the Whole Enchilada. To make up for the half we were missing out on and to get the most of of the riding experience, to really earn it, we cycled the whole route of the Porcupine Rim from town and back. Featuring a 20km 3 hour uphill ascent followed but the remaining 3 hour descent and hour lap back into town. It was a fair journey and it was definitely me and John's most epic adventure together.

It was simply just a blast for the entire ride. Not at all discounting the arduous ride uphill, even that was a scenic spectacular. Passing through an environment so unlike anywhere else, it was quite easy to keep the pedals turning. Reaching the top felt like the achievement, but that was actually the easy part. If you're thinking we were just off on a casual roll down the hill from there, it was anything but. Fast undulating sections, steep chunky sections and sections where off to the side would send you over a 100m cliff. Our full suspension rental bikes were put through their paces but they didn't completely protect us from all those bumps. The ride had literally shaken us to pieces, so much in fact that I spent the following days cradling my hand because it felt as though it was broken, despite having not crashed. When we made it back down to the road section, we re-hydrated from a spring coming out of the side of a rock wall and headed back into town to meet Amy and then drove to a river to try and cool off. We were all melting, and this river was the only oasis in the desert, except that it was painfully cold, with snowmelt from the mountains, we could only dip our toes in. That night we treated ourselves to some BBQ, going to the same restaurant Amy and I dined at with her sister and mom back in 2012 during our road trip and we finished the night back at Arches, where we hiked to a lookout spot, watched the sunset and did some stargazing before sitting around with some cold beers by the campfire.

Feeling like we had achieved life's meaning and having conquered the desert, but our muscles were calling out that the desert had conquered us, we headed one last time into Arches on the way out of town to do an Amy guided journey through some more of the desert spacescapes. I limped from view to view taking advantage of every sitting opportunity or spot of shade. Not long before you know it, we were on our way back into the mountains, where the warm weather had followed us. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

John's Visit: The Mountains

Devo Bros being silly
The highlight of my time in Colorado was having my bro come shred and chill for a week. Using his 30th  birthday as a great excuse to spring a bit of a surprise trip. He did take the surprise away from us demanding he needed to know what was up to take the time off work, but that's the price you pay for being such a hot shot head chef, the bugger. Other than knowing he was coming over to ski and live the "High Life", he knew nothing of the mad trip we had planned. Props to the Devo Parents and the Clarks for significantly chipping in for his flights and most importantly to Kel for surrendering him for a week and giving him a generous beer budget.

Up Breckenridge
Right from the get go, we got after it. Straight out of the airport parking structure at 7000rpm we quickly got caught in stand still traffic, but only temporarily, while we headed to Boulder. That was of course after a pit stop at the always impressive Bass Pro Shop. Browsing for camo-print sofas, fluro trucker hats and $160 hand guns. Shooting some guns ourselves, only of the laser rifle hunting game variety, the bro-off begins. Making it right to the Flatirons on the foothills in Boulder with a perfectly timed breakdown, we pulled into the car park and had to finish the parking maneuver with John and a stranger pushing.

The Flatirons are an array of impressive steep tilted sandstone slabs pressing against the foothills below Boulder making for a steep and strenuous climb offering magnificent views across the plains and into the mountains where we were headed. No way to better kick jet lags butt than to acclimatise on a leisurely afternoon climb up these mad rocks. That we did and to be honest for myself having just descended 1500 meters the air to me was like breathing liquid oxygen. I’m not sure that it was so for John though, as we were still at 1500 meters elevation. A good few hours round trip and after a wee Cheba Hut snack in town, we were off again rallying up the Boulder Canyon. Taking the scenic route winding up the narrow canyon and climbing over winding mountain roads. John's analysis of the situation was fair, “It looks very North American”. Climbing over the Continental Divide right at sunset was just a magic way to introduce John to our home of Summit County. With pizza and beer for dinner in town at Downstairs at Eric's, the trip had only just got started, and was very "North American."

Picking up some rental gear from my ski shop the following morning, the boys introduced John to the our tough mountain lifestyle, with a controversial Barley Wine that had been hanging in the fridge undrunk for some time. At 9%ABV John was ready to get going. Now, due to an unseasonably warm and early onset of spring, meant that we were able to jet around town in style in the RX7, however it left a little to be desired on the snow front. However, one can only complain so much when you are at 4000m in stunning sunshine snowboarding in the Rockies at A-basin ski area. Casual laps and a few fun runs into the trees while still actually managing to find some good snow. Continuing to take advantage of the strange weather, we baked in the sun on the balcony of our house some cool beverages, good music and better yarns in the early afternoon.

Sunset over lake Dillion from Keystone
Following our interlude off to the desert we returned to this mountain lifestyle for what seemed like 4 more short days. As the old saying goes, how time flies when your having fun. Its a pretty manageable routine, which often was the general makeup of our lives in Colorado, I guess with the insert of a few work days here and there. But the basic formula we went with while John was around was, wake up, have a big breakfast, head out to the slopes, can of mountain dew in the pocket, shred hard and explore the mountain and head back to town for happy hour. That's roughly how its went. We did mix it up actually a day or two, with the insertion of a wee journey out to Beaver Creek. That was quite the unbelievable day as it was just so hot. Literally in the teens, celsius. At times it was more like water skiing, but its always cool to get back to the Beav and explore our old haunches and I believe I had about 10 hot cookies at the end of the day, 3pm on the dot at the bottom of the chairlift. 

Tinkabell at Broken Compass Brewery with us.
Another day we did the double-banger with a morning session at Breckenridge then heading over to Keystone for night skiing, which at that point of the year was more like twilight skiing. Seeing the sunset over Summit County, across Lake Dillion from the top of the skifield was pretty magic. And other than that, it was a bit like, good food and beers at home, playing cards and listening to music or adventures with the dogs to a local brewery or up the hills for a walk. I hope John had a mad time, I sure as hell did and I cant wait for my 30th birthday present ;)
A perfect week in the mountains!

Friday, January 27, 2017

Winter Full On

New Years Day at Vail

Winter really just seemed to blend into a white haze of snowboarding, skiing, friends, dogs, digging snow and I guess there must have been a bit of work in there, too. For myself there was a work change. I was sick of the attitudes and work ethic at the distillery, so I took on full time hours at a ski shop called Base Mountain Sports. This place was my second home surrounding me with good people, friendly tourists, a great working atmosphere and more beer than a brewery! Amy kept at it with Carriage House Preschool and very much enjoyed her four day work week and took advantage with maximum days on the slopes. 

The trusty, mighty Bronco

With nothing special planned for New Years Eve, we took the evening as it came, with friends new and old. We ended up venturing on a night walk above town on Hosier Pass, finding ourselves a prefect out cropping sitting right above town and looking right across to the ski field, the perfect spot to watch the fireworks light up the sky. With the dogs in tow, we wandered through the snow covered forest on a beautiful clear evening, cold to the bone as the time of year generally is. Back at the house we released some lanterns with varying success, a few got going and others caught on fire in the driveway or in a neighbours tree. We drank, we played games, and we made mini pizzas with dough fried in a frying pan. The only actual incident of the evening was during an acroyoga performance back at home. Amy's glasses got tumbled on and the tape around the centre method didn't stick, so they were retired from there on out. To start the year in style, on New Years Day we headed over the pass to Vail to ride and pose for photos with Phil and Sarah.

Into the New Year we had a visit from Amy's high school friend Janelle from NYC. It was great to host and show off our little winter paradise to the city slicker. The busy girl was still sending work emails off at night and all but did manage a good few days skiing. We also met with Amy's mom's boss Emily and her son Ben later on in the season. We met them for some mad sushi in Dillon and they were more than happy to let me play tour guide across the mountain for some skiing adventures. 

Amy and Janelle
There were some cool things going on regularly in town over winter. Particularly the International Ice Sculpting Festival. Over a few days we saw the huge blocks of compacted snow get carved out to the most intricate and innovative designs from teams from all over the world. I honestly cannot comprehend the skill and talent that was displayed. From basic geometric designs to the most intricate intertwined mermaids and dragons. Also we were very motivated to participate in the Science Day march through town. It was very disappointing though that the march was not allowed to make its way through Main Street, instead they pushed us to the backstreets of town.  

Because life wasn't enough of a party, we and every other local made a day of April Fool's Day, renamed "Gaper Day" in the mountains. To celebrate 'The Gaper', those being the woeful weekend skiers and those making their annual ski trip form Texas. Generally adorned with questionable talent and even more questionable fashion sense. Skiing in jeans and an unintentional retro look is how you spot them, but on Gaper Day we take back our mountain. Particularly encouraged by my fellow employees, I adorned my wetsuit for the speed skier look, with trendy headband and undersized googles, oversized poles complemented my custom built mini-skis. Rocking laps around the mountain with Amy, who wore just a dress and leggings and my boss Justin, head to toe in black and also wearing just sneakers strapped into his snowboard, we made as many turns as I received high fives.  

Keeping on the theme of generally having a great time, maybe the best work life balance was achieved with an 8am start at the shop, breaking at 12 noon to head up skiing with Amy and our mate Will for a couple hours, before heading back to the shop and jumping in the hot tub attached to the associated hotel in the building. Having a couple beers and a good old soak, then to head back to finish off an honest days work renting skis to the friendly crowd of out-of-towners. Finishing off the night chilling with friends and the dogs by the fire at home. 

Always loved taking these guys out for a walk.
Thinking that spring was upon us, Amy's work locked in their Sunday BBQ at 'The Beach' at A-Basin. The Beach being the first row of parking spots which have picnic tables set out and where everyone chills out American style as they would at the real beach. Grilling on the BBQ, copious quantities of beer, and generally a year round Gaper Day attitude generally leads to a fun time. However, the sun stopped shinning and one should never complain about fresh snow, but it just meant less chilling on the beach and more time hustling down the double blacks. 

A beautiful day at the beach
The one thing I had really been hoping for over winter was a night ski session where it was just dumping snow. Particularly for the reason that its always very quiet and that means more snow for me. So low and behold, the last night of night skiing ever, about an hour and a half before lights out, the heavens opened up like never before. An accumulation of around a foot in that hour or so made for a heavenly few last runs of the season at Keystone. With the snow falling under the artificially illuminated skies, it was quite possibly the coolest experience, quite surreal because of the contrast of black and white, and there was a lot of white. The skiing was unbelievable and just generally a fantastic memory to cap off the end of the night skiing season. 

Follow the lights the to gates of heaven
One might notice my mentioning a lot of the term skiing. Generally referring to one partaking in the activity of maneuvering down hill on two separate 'planks' rather than the term to ride, referring to the cooler more modern singled planked snow sport. Generally we refer to the idea that 'we went riding' or 'we went skiing'. If you have been paying attention, I have been using the literal skiing wording far more than the term riding. This is because I did myself have a bit of a mid-season crisis and ended up spending a lot of my time on the mountain on skis. Which I loved. Proving a bit more of a challenge and opening up new levels of learning. I would borrow skis from the shop, which then enhanced my sales experience for my customers giving them first hand advice on the skis they were renting off me. Not stopping with just me, Amy even caught the ski bug too. Venturing out a few times to hit up the greens and blues, Amy did good as, and when on the more basic terrain there I would practice my backwards skiing and therefore could give good face to face coaching while on the go.   


Maybe our biggest love of all, food. We had some good old american food adventures, very deserving after big days of skiing and riding.  Happy hour specials all round, a few of our favourite spots with their particular deals. Monster nachos at the Quandry Grill, $7 workman's lunch burger and beer at the Breck Brewery, pizza followed by Pacman at Downstairs at Eric's and our best hookup at Cecelia's Cocktail Lounge where its all about who you know. 

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