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Durango is the kind of town where all the bike racks are full. You’ll be hard-pressed to find any regular ole commuter bikes with ergonomic grips, rear racks, and 700 x 38cc tires. I found myself ogling like a bicycle fiend, checking out the antique Specialized Hard Rocks, Clark Kents, Kleins, and Rocky Mountains leaning casually outside a bank or barber shop. If it wasn’t some classic, near-museum quality bike then it was a $7,000 full suspension bike, most likely a Pivot, Yeti, or Liv attached to a post with a 30-year-old coil chain outside a bar or the food co-op.
I arrived in town late, and my friend Lo, a helitack dispatcher and former helitack firefighter, was hanging with some firefighter friends on the porch of their government housing waiting for me. Inside, it was surprisingly cozy, more off-campus college apartment than dorm, more bungalow than barracks. We mobilized quickly, hopped on some bikes and rode towards the twinkling lights of downtown Durango (six blocks away). We locked up our $40,000 antique mountain bikes (kidding, but there was a retired police bike in the pile, as well as a very nice big hit bike, and we were also using Lo’s childhood cable lock) outside the lot of food carts. I had full-body travel mouth and needed to eat something with phytonutrients. I grabbed a quinoa salad and my friends grabbed burgers and beers (at altitude with a 5-day backcountry trip ahead of me, I wasn’t chancing any altitude sickness). While the concept of food trucks gets muddled to me when the trucks remain stationary, it’s great to have so many dietary needs met in one location without any bickering. The night melted away and suddenly it was way past all our bedtimes. My Rim Tours shuttle would be picking me up in just a few hours and taking me to the start of our epic Colorado Trail ride. To read more about this trip, keep your eyes peeled for our print magazine’s issue 208.
By the time I finished the ride, I was exhausted, sore, and at a major caloric deficit. Lo and I headed into town for some pizza and cocktails at Fired Up. You can build your own pizza (Durango is about as far north as I’ll trust green chile to grow so load up your pizza here) or order from their extensive menu, and their cocktails really hit the spot after a week of sobriety on the trail. I felt like I deserved a reward, and this was it. Vegans please note, however, that their regular tomato sauce has cheese in it. Local shredder and firefighter Hannah met up with us and we headed next door for more celebratory drinks at Derailed Pour House. While the cocktails were a bit sweet, the vibe was relaxed and warm, and the band played good old fashioned honky tonk. It reminded me of my old hang in Santa Fe, NM, made all the better by the company I was keeping. It’s a good thing I just rode the raddest trail of my life for five days in a row because otherwise, I would have been sinking into my chair around these two women whose big brave hearts have sent them literally into raging fires (or started them, in the case of controlled burns).
My last day in town, before heading to the airport, I spent walking around and taking in the sights. I’m naturally drawn to used books, cool camping gear, and generally anything that looks like a yard sale, so like a magnet, I was drawn to Southwest Book Trader in my absentminded wandering. The outside of this shop is a veritable museum (or I guess a gallery, since it’s all for sale) of original backpack and camp cookware designs, Klunkers and random antiques intermixed with some Pyrex and new camping gear. It’s what I always hope a yard sale will be like and so rarely is. Inside is the nostalgic, claustrophobic feeling of any good used bookstore. My bags were already stuffed, and I had broken my wrist on the bike trip so there was no way I could carry anything extra.
Another necessity is coffee. Lo was kind enough to make some coffee and leave it for me before heading to work, so I was able to wake up slowly and mosey into town on foot and choose the most enticing place. For a small town, Durango can support a lot of coffee. With the luxury of time and coffee, I mosied until I felt compelled to stop. I was pulled into a little corner bar in the same space where the food trucks are permanently parked. In the daylight, this web of string lights, picnic benches and food trucks looks more like a quaint outdoor cafeteria. The Taste Coffee is tucked inside the building, which is a converted gas station and full of old car memorabilia and curiosos. It’s just one small counter, with a modest menu and a small selection of pastries, just enough to give you an option but not overwhelming. The perfect thing for a busy morning before work or if you are on the move and trying to take in as much as possible.
My last stop was the Durango Natural Foods co-op. I had been walking for hours, enjoying the relative stillness after a week of pedaling and hoping to not meet my fate at the bottom of some mountain I had not ridden down. My stomach was growling, and their California sandwich, paired with a local kombucha and an apple, hit the spot. This co-op, like Durango as a whole, was small but left me wanting nothing. I spent a few minutes checking out the local soaps and tinctures, and for a moment imagined an alternate life in this little mountain town. A life where I could safely lean my most expensive possession against a signpost while I stopped by the pharmacy, where my best friends were literal heroes and also incredible riders, where quinoa salad and buffalo sliders could sit side-by-side under a string of soft lights. But as swiftly as I was tossed into this community, my Lyft driver were there to pick me up and take me back to the adorable airport, and back to my own mountain town. Bigger town, smaller mountains.
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Author: Carolyne Whelan