Ala "Sesame Street," One of these things is not like the others, one of these things just doesn't belong…
We showed early to a predawn/prearranged rendezvous point. Having spent the night in Gunnison to save on lodging, and not remembering how long it takes to get to Crested Butte from there, we set the alarm a little before 5 AM (yawn) in order to meet Suzanne by 6:30.
It was as black as a moonless midnight. Pavement glistened wet in under Sue Bee's headlights and the scent of rain sweetened the air. Clouds of fog hung motionless over valley creeks and ponds as we rolled into a town fast asleep. An erie glow of town lights illuminated the bottoms of low slung clouds, clouds that disobeyed Weather Guessers and their best computer models. Sue Bee's "Outside Temp" said, "36 degrees."
Better early than late, we had 20 minutes to ponder the weather and mud and second guess whether or not a trek to Aspen was advisable. No one likes to do a long hike in rain, much less a blizzard. Suzanne finally rolled up in her Geo Tracker, surprisingly right on time. We hugged greetings in chilled, damp air… conversation floating away in visible puffs of steam. Bobbie transferred her brand new Walmart hiking poles and a 40 pound pack from Sue Bee to Tracker. Tracker. Lord, after just one ride, I christened it a literal sarcophagus-on-wheels. Crash Tests scores that muster a "buyer beware" asterisk next to a One Star Rating are off limits to all Bleeders (are you listening Jim?) Off they went, though, "Damn the torpedoes and the weather." 14 mud-puddled miles later, on the Marble side of sky-scraping Schofield Pass, Bobbie and Suzanne set boots to mud on West Maroon Trail. It's a long and hard way to get to the glitz, glamor, celebrity, and filthy richness of Aspen, Colorado. If there's a "dress code," we're all in trouble at the "gate."
Being woefully past "deadline" on a Plaindealer column, grizzly-like growls emanating from the vicinity of my "spare tire," I needed a quiet nook in which to write… a place with gooey treats, high speed internet, and endless cups of mind expanding coffee. Such are the tools necessary to knock out a riveting 800 word essay in under an hour: Caffeine, Sugar, and Lard. Suzanne had mentioned Three Chicks Bakery a couple blocks up. It looked closed but the door wasn't locked so I went in and opted for a bacon and egg panini. I asked a cute twenty-something gal where the other "Two Chicks" were. She didn't respond. When will I learn that Geezer Men are invisible?
To add drama to deadline, I was also the luggage chauffeur. My well-planned shortcut route to Aspen involved driving around, through, and over several mountain ranges, with a few hills, dales, and Yonders thrown in for good measure. I was instructed to pick up the hiker gals…"Somewhere near Maroon Lake, north of Aspen." Having rained for the past several days in a row, my unpaved County Road over Kebler Pass could be impassibly muddy. Then the infamous McClure Pass, which I have yet to conquer without being delayed or turned around by rockfall or road damage caused by rockfall. I knocked out my column, thanked the blind "Chick," and walked out under a glorious clear sky.
The road over Kebler Pass winds through an expansive mono-forest of old growth aspen. Here's something unusual and cool about aspen trees that you may not know, Per Wiki: All of the aspens typically grow in large clonal colonies, derived from a single seedling, and spread by means of root suckers; new stems in the colony may appear at up to 30–40 m (98–131 ft) from the parent tree. Each individual tree can live for 40–150 years above ground, but the root system of the colony is long-lived. In some cases, this is for thousands of years, sending up new trunks as the older trunks die off above ground. For this reason, it is considered to be an indicator of ancient woodlands. One such colony in Utah, given the nickname of "Pando", is estimated to be 80,000 years old, making it possibly the oldest living colony of aspens.
Kebler was muddy in places, but nothing an AWD Sue Bee can't handle. I was detained on McClure Pass, per usual, as road crews blasted loose rock above the highway. Every year or so, a boulder smashes a car and it's occupants flatter than a Kansas pancake. It's a numbers game, part of living in the Rocky Mountains.
In the end, in spite of mud and boulders and dynamite, the shortcut had me in Aspen with hours to spare and spend as I pleased. After checking into our hotel, I wandered an upper-crust Disneyland for the privileged few, wondering what it would be like to be filthy fucking rich. Aspen has a two-caste society, Top and Bottom. There is no "middle class." If you live there you are a "Top" feeder, part of the "royalty." Bottom feeders are mere blue-collar Drones—servers, gardener, and such. They commute, lunch coolers in hand, on "Natural Gas" powered busses from more affordable real estate down valley… places like Basalt, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs, and beyond. Most are ESL immigrant types.
But far be it from me to pee on the rich and famous. It's just that their Pay to Play amusement parks are essentially "guilded-gated communities;" they require exorbitant sums of money that the modest-means rest of us either don't have, or aren't willing to fork over for a one-night orgasm. Trust me, you don't have to have a clotting disorder to "bleed out" in Aspen.
But God bless our tax system anyway, locked in place forever by scumbag lobbyists. Our economy is but a Loop-Holed pyramid scheme propped up by Fat Wallets, and puts the majority of the tax burden on we the middle class. About the only contribution the "Haves" make is in the form of sales tax generated by conspicuous consumption of high-dollar items. A yacht here, a Lear Jet there… a couple of Mercedes, and a yard full life-sized bronze sculptures of western shit, things like buffalo, or a cowboy riding a bucking bronc. There are no Loop Holes for property taxes, at least not that I'm aware of, so local Govies get their fair share. Why the average neighborhood bungalow house in Aspen can't be touched for less than a "cool" couple mill. And those mansions on the hillsides overlooking town and adjoining ski slopes? They start at ten million, and some "compounds" run as much as 100 million. Hell, a party-of-four dinner in tinsel-town can run a grand, easy. We researched and scrutinized our dining options very closely and the three of us still dropped a "Ben Franklin" and change every single time. Talk about "Last Supper."
I guess the irreconcilable difference between "us" and "them" is that "us" felt the financial impact of a measly two night stay in Aspen, while "them," well, let's just say that if you can afford to live in an "Aspen," you don't have to worry about the price of dinning out or anything else.
There is a reverse "cool" to riding old vintage clunker bicycles in ski town resorts like Telluride and Aspen. The more rust, the cooler it is.
Or, you can buy a real FAT fat-tire bike to cruise around on. No suspension, mind you, a "cool" 2800 bucks.
|Pretty in pink...|
|Or you can buy a brand new "vintage" bike to cruise town on… but it blows your "cool" factor.|
|In Aspen, they play Rugby and Soccer to kill time while awaiting ski season|
Sculptures abound, and the main streets in the shopping/dinning district are bricked and pedestrian only… which I thought was a great idea. A stream trickled through, too, providing white noise and outdoor dinning ambiance.
Fountains surge and dance, just for the fun of it. What's a few hundred thousand dollars in the name of "art?" The city can raise the "mill levy" anytime it wants without raising a stink. That would explain the 30 mile bike path that follows alongside the Roaring Fork River, through town, and forever out either end.
|Just like the PBR "on tap," in the Lead Photo: Two of these things is not like the others, two of these things just doesn't belong…|
Can you spot the glamorous, but underdressed non-locals in this photo? (Hint, it's not the waterspouts)