We get into town from Denver late and fill up on water at the McDonald's. Up and up the winding road we go, leaving the sensation of a dust cloud behind us in the dark.
For the past few nights, we've parked in this lot and hiked up a rutted road and then a short trail to our tent. But that tent's in the trunk now and it's late, so we leave the car, hike up the road, and drop a tarp on the ground at the spot Jusko identified the first time we came here.
Our plan: come 2:30AM, they'll wake up, pack-off, and head up into the mountains to climb a route known as Dreamweaver. Hours later, when I wake up, I'll gather the remaining stuff and walk into town.
At 2:15AM there is a deafening crash from an overcast sky and the clouds open up firehouses on us. Instantly awake, Jusko and I grab our stuff and start running for the car. B.K. does a military roll and disappears beneath the tarp. "Are you coming?!", we shout back. "Maybe…", he replies, fatiguedly. A few minutes later, we see his bobbing head lamp scurrying down the trail after us.
Back in the car, we sit in shell-shocked silence, watching the fishes swim by. It's decided that climbing wouldn't be the best idea right now. 20 minutes later, the rain comes to a stop, and we use the opportunity to set up the tent.
A few hours later, it pours again and we high-five, tents are a good idea (at least sometimes).
The next thing we hear is a loud voice mixed with equally loud sunlight, "Wake up call! Estes Park Sherrif's Department!"
We get out of the tent. Fast.
The sherrif is immaculate and looks glad to be awake at seven in the morning. He has the bamf build of someone who's spent a considerable time mucking about at altitude. Behind him, there's a giant SUV of a cop car, with a roof rack of lights.
"So, you saw the new camping signs and decided to do it anyway?"
This is news to us and we take trade off telling our mixed up story. He listens stoically and tells us to take down the tent while he calls in. That tent comes down so fast. B.K. glances over at one point and the cop's sitting in his car with this big smile on his face. But, when he emerges, there's no humour: don't do this again.
|As we leave, we discover two no parking/camping signs that we'd missed every previous night. The rainstorm of the previous night has left its ominous clouds shrouding the summit, and Jusko and B.K. comment on how it's better not to be up there right now.|
We all start off at the library, but B.K. soon wanders out, bored. Jusko follows a little later. An hour or so passes and then B.K. reappears: lunch-time. These people are great!
But how, I wonder did they open the can of beans?
I really want an ice axe!
We joke about how we hope that the cop won't show up again ("So you saw the sign tha said, 'No cooking!'"). Afterwards, I go back to work while B.K. and Jusko leave to scout about for a new camping site.
A number of hours later Jusko comes in: dinner-time. Wow.
|Jusko stays in the library to use the restroom, and I walk outside to find B.K. just draining the pasta. As we're sitting there, a car with Ohio plates pulls up into the parking lot and this gangly guy gets out wearing a blue alpaca sweater with about a billion other colours woven in and wearing this circular, blue glasses. He reaches back into the car, pulls out a few books, and then looks up and sees me. And stops.|
He walks up, stares for a moment, and asks, "Are you Richard Barnes?"
Odd things happen all the time… I accept this and reply that I am. "I'm Steve", he says and then goes on to explain that he's recognised me from Couchsurfing. The conversation meanders a bit. But he mentions that he works at one of the local radios and we're all invited to stay at his place if we'd like to.
By the time Jusko returns, Steve has disappeared. Not that Jusko needs to see Steve to believe that this would happen to me. B.K. describes him using the word "hipster", which is a concept I don't fully understand, but am aware has negative connotations.
After eating, we walk around town. B.K. is generally mocking of the tourist-trap aspects of the place. I'm not a fan, but am a bit more forgiving: this is really very well under control compared to some other places I could name.
We stop for an hour at a bar by the river and end up in conversation with a couple of girls and their dog. They're buisness and accounting students, generally ill-informed, and continually-distracted by their cellphones. They've come up to visit a fly-fisher guy they know, though they don't seem to be adventurering much beyond the bars. It's a terrible conversation and, eventually, Jusko and I end it by making an excuse to go searching for something.
The river's flooding
|We discuss this as we walk away. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with buisness/accounting people, but there is a potential credibility gap associated with it. The same might apply to a number of different liberal arts majors. One of my comments is that I always hope (generally in vain), to chance upon a rock-climbing physicist/mathematician/engineer girl when I go into bars. B.K. says I have high standards: he'd be fine just meeting a rock climber. But I think what we really mean to say is that the most interesting (and, as a corollary, enjoyable) people are hardcore about something. If you meet an engineer (physicist, mathematician, rock climber), you know right-off that in at least some small part of the world, they're kinda bad-ass. The girls we've just left are the antithesis of bad-ass. But even if nothing else comes of meeting people who are, at least your conversations won't be bland, and you might even learn something.|
Coming around to the edge of town, we pass by what appears to be a normal store front, but is labeled "Community Living Room". Unable to pass it up, we duck in.
Inside, the room the door opens into has a dining room table. This room lets out into another with a matching set of couches and armchairs abutting lamps. There's a coffee table in the center. It really is a living room. There's a mildly over-weight man relaxing in the armchair and he invites us to have a seat and enjoy some cookies or licorice from the coffee table. He explains that they're just open during the day for people to stop in. They help people moving to Estes Park to find jobs, provide them a temporary place to live, and introduce them to the community. As the conversation's drawing to a close, Jusko, unable to contain his curiosity asks how they support themselves. The man tells us there's a church up the road that provides funding.
We're very impressed by this unobtrusive display of values.
As we're leaving, another man, who we learn is named Bob, comes in and says he's about to start his show up at the Notchtop Cafe. He tells us that the Notchtop has a stage and a number of instruments (piano, bass, guitar) sitting up there so people passing through and community members can perform. We agree to follow him up.
When we get there, we double the number of people in the room. It's high-ceilinged with one end dedicated to a varied collection of instruments. Bob gets a tall glass of beer, heads up to the front, and begins performing a collection of standard Western pieces (including Paradise!) on his guitar. No one else is showing up to relieve him, so he keeps going and even does a rendition of a Beach Boys song.
As he's playing, Mifin shows up from Denver; since Jusko's still feeling some altitude, he's going to stand in for the attempt on Dreamweaver. Since there's not much else to do but listen to the music, we give him the low down on our uneventful day. Hearing about the dismal conversation earlier, he looks across at me and drawls, "Richard, I feel like you wouldn't be happy with a girl unless she had four degrees." I smile back, "She has to climb mountains too."
We get to telling him about the guy in the parking, this Steve person who works with the radio, and he listens to us tell the story, then holds up the program. "You mean this guy?"
According to the program, "Sideshow Bob" is crooning to us, to be followed by "Steve 'The Bones' Engel". Whaaaaaat?
|Sure enough, we see a car pull up and this guy get out wearing a ridiculous alpaca sweater and… a Cub Scout cap. Tilted upwards 45°. Steve had seemed like a nice enough guy, but him playing music? We're skeptical.|
Entering, he gives us a huge smile, an affable wave, and tells us he'll join us after he brings in his keyboard and trombone. "What'll you be playing?", we ask. "Oh, I do some rap and hip-hop", he says. Now we're really skeptical.
B.K. and Mifin, perhaps providing an escape from what could be a sticky situation, explain that they're waking up at 2AM, so he shouldn't be insulted if we have to take off partway through the first song. Steve smiles and nods, that's OK.
|Then he gets up there and its difficult to describe. He welcomes us to the cafe and it's like he's already begun rapping. In the context of this cafe, with this crowd, what he's saying is hilarious. And then he begins to play… and it's fantastic.|
|We don't leave after the first song, or the second song. In fact, we just stop thinking about leaving. But what we can't stop doing is smiling. The music is so unexpected, so good. Steve raps, Steve improvises on his trombone, Steve autotunes. WOW|
At some point, a few of the other local musicians come in. This big, strappin' cowboys with hats and big leather boots. They head straight for front and sit their stoically for a few minutes, but pretty soon they're nodding their heads and tapping their boots, and Steve's still mixin' it up.
Ultimately, we have to force ourselves to leave, but it's hard. By this time, Steve's taken a break to tell the story of how he met us, and, as we head out the door, we hear him say, "This one's dedicated to those guys!" And there are speakers outside, so we're still hearing this awesome music as we get in the car. Jusko and I later agree that the past hour and more was one of the highlights, and perhaps the highlight, of the trip.
|None of us had anticipated what we'd just witnessed. All of us had misjudged.|
I ride with Mifin and we cruise out of town in the direction of Dreamweaver. Forty minutes later, we've climbed out of the valley, down a long highway, back along a winding gravel road, through a small village which popped mysteriously out of trees, across and along what appeared to be driveways, and are now crawling down a steep, rutted road covered with rocks the size baby's heads.
Finally, pulling to the side, we all get out. Jusko and I hold lamps while B.K. and Mifin get their kit ready for the morning. The tents are set in a glade by a swift-running river and we fall asleep listening to its patter and washed by the cold air it's throwing off.
The headshots of Steve are from a site of his.
Steve's personal site is here.
I encourage you to check out his music, but be sure to listen to four or five tracks: he's quite versatile and you'll probably find yourself liking some tracks but not others.