Stories from the Great Loop
This is more a trip down Memory Lane than a story, sent to friends and family as I left for the Great Loop.
It should not be the first story you read on this site as it's a bit long winded and local oriented.
But if you've ever been to Breckenridge, some of it may resonate.
I remember my first Breckenridge mud season in 1975. Mud was an apt description: no paved streets other than Main St. and few sidewalks. And indeed, there was a handmade sign on the north end of town in late April requesting the last one to leave to turn off the lights.
I have many good memories of what made Breckenridge special to me for some 40 years. Peanuts, beer and Lee Lucas ski flicks at the Depot. No Man’s Land as the summer’s main social (not tourist) event. Skiing the Burn before Falcon Lift. Fatty’s Golf Tournament. Summer BMI concerts at the Bergy and young NRO talent at the Madonna Dome. 4th of July ski parties in the Peak 10 bowl and looking down on the fireworks from Baldy.
My dog Blackie cutting my telemark turns on Hoosier Pass and decades later, at the top of my favorite stash of powder on Baldy thanking God for the view and just hoping to link at least a couple telemark turns before burying my face. Huge Uller bonfires fueled with too much Schnapps. Mountain biking through the fall aspen colors. Back country hut trips. Playing softball and basketball with the police chief and town staff. John’s and Chris’s Sunday morning classical music. The Blue River as a dry ditch except during spring runoff, when the trash moved on to Frisco. Nobody had ever heard of a pine beetle. Working on the #1 lift on Peak 8 and shoveling snow onto plastic sheets to drag out of the woods onto the runs before snowmaking but also skiing Tom’s Baby in thigh deep powder before Thanksgiving. A leveled off landing strip of dredge rock for small planes north of “Airport” Road for the few and brave. Town marketing by the Breckenridge Resort Association (“Your BRA Supports You!”).
And personal memories, some seemly insignificant, some life changing and a few I wish I could forget. My first diaper changing, wondering what the hell I’d gotten myself into but loving every minute of it – well, maybe not the diaper part. Watching my life flash in front of me –yes, it actually does happen that way – while falling through a staircase in a burning house as a volunteer on the RW&B. My women’s clothing shop, house painting business and our first year struggle to get Blue River Sports going before settling in for 32 pretty good years. Volunteering for a BOEC Gates of Ladore raft trip and learning how much those with ‘disabilities’ can teach you. My morning latte at Coffee Depot. A knee replacement, busting three ribs falling on the ice, a thumb trying to skateboard with my son in a skate park, a wrist against an outcropping in the chutes above Psychopath and rearranging my collarbone trying to keep up with Sody on a bike. Picking wild raspberries in September. Almost but not quite flipping my raft in the Grand Canyon. Watching Dick and John flip in Skull. Teaching an adjunct history course during Peak School’s first year. Meeting my future wife at the RW&B, our long off and on courtship, my bumbling proposal at the swimming hole in St. Johns Canyon on the San Juan and our wedding at Father Dyer.
Working three summers building I-70 through Ten Mile Canyon and over Vail Pass. Winter break family vacations in Mexico and Central America. Trying desperately to be the mature coach as the kids dogpiled after winning an end of season baseball tournament. Mowing the lawn at Father Dyer. Escaping to the San Juan or Moab in May. Sailing with Jim and Sheryl in Thailand. Sea kayaking in Alaska with Tommy. Biking the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park with Lize. Repacking the pre-connects and 5” hose as the sun rose after a RW&B all-nighter.
And then there are all the interesting people. Alden, the original and still the best Uller as well as a gifted photographer. Scott and Mark rebuilding the BOEC and Bruce taking it to a new level. Ann and Stoney’s passion for the organizations they took under their wings. Warren Miller narrating his films in person. Robin’s fireworks, starting the county’s first radio station and work to preserve Breckenridge history. The Tooth Fairy and his bride the Rubber Tree. Remembering Harold’s sacrifice at the Storm King Mountain Memorial service. Ms. Wendy on the first day of school sitting on the floor at eye level with the kids assuring them (and their helicoptering parents) that kindergarten was going to be a great adventure.
Bob Moore and Suzanne Pederson at the Backstage. John Novotny teaching many of us how to see. PJ’s medical sojourns around the world. Rev. Sandy’s human view of Christ, musical memory and gift for public speaking. Frank and Theta. The dedicated volunteer Board members I’ve worked with in several organizations. Jim Salstrom’s amazing voice and songs. Virgil’s cantankerous love of his Volunteers and Jeannie keeping it under control. The many good and committed Mayors and Town Managers who didn’t let the job go to their heads. Gene’s tough love of the BOEC ski program while building it into a world class program. Rick’s bald plate, infectious laugh and unique ability to focus a dull meeting. CJ looping the Mach and using a car top as a poor man’s wind tunnel. Richard Griffith’s gift to the BOEC which helped to get it going again. Tony, Ann and Pammy. Jack’s quite pride as part of the Greatest Generation. The Casey family putting community over loss. Biff’s insight and unique sense of humor.
And the longtime residents here long before me - survivors of the Depression and World War II who had mined locally or worked on the Dillon Dam, Eisenhower Tunnel or Climax Mine in its heyday. They had memories of the railroad tracks over Boreas Pass, digging out Hoosier Pass in the spring, card playing with neighbors as the main winter social activity and high school friends staying the night because, well, Frisco and Dillon were a long ways away. Bud Enyert told a story (with Martha rolling her eyes next to him) of some friends and him putting together a cart with wheels from a junk train carriage and riding it down the tracks on Boreas Pass with only a sturdy stick thumping along the ties for a brake. He had a sheepish grin when he admitted they only did it once.
Inevitably, things have changed. There’s a lot more people and it’s hard to know everyone anymore. The town and ski area have stretched their boundaries and you now have to ignore the muddy gauge bike signs to get muddy in May. This was to be expected and most people, including me, have benefitted. But there’s a darker side that Breckenridge has struggled with: housing, child and health care, congestion and managing the change from John Rhom’s “we’re in the uphill transportation business” to what Vail Resorts is today.
Money is relentlessly taking the town upscale and replacing creativity and entrepreneurship as the town identity. Many of the interesting people who gave Breckenridge a saucy, creative, independent, down to earth feel in the past would have a hard time getting a toe hold today. That’s OK if you want Breckenridge to be like Vail (considered an insult in the past), have the money and can find somebody to work for you. It’s not so great if you enjoy a culturally and economically diverse town and think little guys succeeding is important to the health of a community.
Don’t get me wrong, money has its place. Earning some and not wasting too much has rewards. Learning how to earn it can be humbling and maturing – generally good traits to have. But money can also be a too easy, sometimes unsteady and often arrogant replacement for out of the box thinking and hard work.
And it is slowly smothering what made Breckenridge special.
I’m not sure if I’ve outgrown Breckenridge or Breckenridge has outgrown me. Like most things in life, it’s probably some of both. Regardless, it has come my turn to move on. By the time you’re reading this I’ll be in route to Seattle to pick up a boat which will be the transportation for my next adventure in life: taking a year or two or three to boat ‘the Great Loop’.
The Great Loop is most simply described as a boat trip around the eastern half of the country. It follows the Atlantic coast Intracoastal Waterway, Hudson River, Erie Canal, Great Lakes, Illinois and Mississippi Rivers, Tenn-Tom Waterway and Gulf of Mexico back to the East coast and generally takes about a year. There are numerous variations and hundreds of tributary rivers and side waterways to explore. There is no set schedule except to follow the warm weather: nobody wants to be on the Great Lakes in a boat during the winter or in Florida during the summer or hurricane season
I sold my parts of Blue River Sports and Mountain Wave to my long time business partners and retired 2 years ago. But it has taken far longer than I thought to put the trip together and I’ve had to adjust my departure date repeatedly because I found that this is not a vacation, but a change in lifestyle. If the change becomes at least semi-permanent, I’ll have to return to Breckenridge at some point to tie up loose ends and find a place to put 40 years of accumulated toys. Anyone interested in a bucket boat for rafting, some 203cm K2-710s or three pin leather telemark boots sure to give you blisters at the start of each season?
A quick update on family: Suzi, who is not a boat person, bought 15 acres with a log house 5 miles south of Fairplay and has spent most of the last year remodeling it. It’s just up the road from Far View Horse Rescue where I’m sure she’ll indulge her passion for horses and volunteering. I still hope to persuade her to join me for a segment or two of the Loop.
After a year of teaching English in S. Korea, Lize has moved to Taiwan with her boyfriend and is studying Mandarin, the fourth or fifth (I can’t keep up) language in which she’ll have a decent level of proficiency. She got that from Suzi, certainly not me. She’s also working on her second degree, this time in accounting from CSU Global (the on line version of Colorado State University), truly testing their global marketing concept.
Tommy is in Denver working on his business startup, The Purple Cow, his attempt to design, produce and market unique and high quality print clothing, pins and whatever else he dreams up, working with artists from around the world. He’s also working to finish his Entrepreneur Business degree from the University of Colorado Denver on the side. It’s supposed to be the other way around, but Tommy seldom does anything by the book – a sometimes frustrating trait he shares with Lize but when focused by their growing maturity will help them seize future opportunities with confidence.
I appreciate your indulging my trip down Memory Lane; I didn’t want to be that guy who just disappeared from town. But don’t worry, I’m not about to clog up your in box. When I finally master some type of social media, I’ll email you once or twice more to let you know how to keep up with my whereabouts on the Loop if you’re interested. This email is NOT for public consumption, but I’m sure I’ve forgotten or my address book has lost some people who may be interested in where I went. Feel free to forward it appropriately.
Like most everyone who has touched the BOEC, I got far more out of it than I gave. The work I did as Board Chair during a time when it was struggling in the early 90s is to me the most important I did in Breckenridge. We were a good match for several years: a failing and broke non-profit and a hands-on entrepreneur who didn’t have the common sense to know what he was getting into but too stubborn to give up. I take some pride in thinking that the BOEC would not be what it is today if not for what I did. But then, a lot of people can say virtually the same thing. That’s one of the things that make the BOEC such a great organization.
Coaching and my volunteer years with the RW&B were important too, but baseball and driving big red trucks was more fun than work.
Scott and Bill, two very different people, are walking examples of what’s good and right in life. I could not have chosen a better business partner or Best Man. I hope to see both of you for segments of the Loop.
You might infer from my thoughts about Breckenridge that I don’t like change. Not true. I like heated sidewalks as much as the next guy, maybe even more as I get older. What I dislike is the feel of a company town, most obviously demonstrated by Vail Resorts pushing around local government and trying to dominate any business sector it sees as profitable.
The saving grace is that Vail Resorts depends on size, marketing reach and monopoly to succeed. That leaves some wiggle room for entrepreneurs who stress service, product and fair prices - as Barbara and Kevin did for years at Peak 9 Restaurant before and after Vail’s lawyers tried to run them off. If left unchecked, Vail Resort’s short sighted bullying and the town’s increasing dependence on big money will eventually consign Breckenridge to the mind numbing predictability preferred by those whose biggest concern is making more money than they need.
Diversity is what made Breckenridge unique, fun and interesting. It is also one of our country’s greatest strengths as well as a tempting target for those with small minds to exploit. Even as I leave, I hope others will try to keep alive the opportunity and diversity that made Breckenridge a special place for me.