Sunday, August 21, 2011

Ten Days in Breckenridge with the Grandchildren

I recently was able to assist in planning and booking ten days of activities for a grandma and grandpa traveling with their two granchildren, a boy aged 10 and a girl aged 7, to Breckenridge from the United Kingdom. The children were really kept busy and were able to experience a great deal that Summit County has to offer in the way of summer activities. I thought it was worth sharing their itinerary of adventures.

The first couple of days were spent adjusting from jet lag and also to the altitude. Then it was on to rafting with a float trip on the Colorado River The half day trip is perfect for multiple ages and is one of the raft trips that will take children as young as three if they weigh at least 35 pounds. Although both children would have qualified in age for a whitewater rafting trip, as an introduction to rafting this is a great starter trip. The drive to the Kremmling Outpost is about an hour from Breckenridge. The raft company supplies wet suits if you want them, a splash jacket, and an experienced guide. For the adventurous who would like to cool off, there is a jump into the Colorado River from a cliff above the water, and sometimes trips stop at a small natural hot spring on the side of the river.

The next day the family members headed to the Country Boy Mine in Breckenridge This is a working gold mine, complete with resident donkeys and the opportunity to pan for gold after the tour. Apparently each child did find a flake of gold, helped by their grandfather who is a geologist and has primarily worked in the field of gold mining. This particular mine has an added attraction of "Shoot the Chute", where you can ride down a 50 foot ore chute. Both children took this opportunity, but I think the grandparents declined.

The next day the group headed to Frisco, picked up bikes, and rode a shuttle to the top of Vail Pass My husband met them at the pass after having ridden up from Frisco and rode with them to the Village at Copper Mountain for ice cream. I joined the group in Copper and rode with them to Frisco and the bike shop, while my husband descended at a faster pace. The only difficulty that we had was that the little girl was between bike sizes and was really on a bike that was a bit too small (the next size up was too large) with only six gears, and so her little legs underwent quite a work out.

After dropping off the bikes, we all met up at the Frisco Marina and hopped on the Water Taxi for a trip across Lake Dillon for lunch at the Tiki Bar The wind had started to pick up a bit, and we took on a bit of water with some waves out in the main part of the lake. The children were equipped with life jackets. Even though the captain could not make it into the normal dock in Dillon because of the wind, he skilfully guided the taxi into a slip rather than the T-dock. We actually took our bikes with us and rode back to Frisco, leaving the foursome to take the water taxi back to the Frisco Marina.

Still ready for more adventures, the next day saw all of us along with two dogs heading up to Lily Pad Lake on a guided hike from Frisco As the grandparents own a condominium in Breckenridge and are frequent visitors to the county, they had work sheets for the hike, to add an educational dimension. The children had a number of wildflowers to find and identify, as well as some questions about the mountains they would see on their hike, the types of trees, and the lake. In the spirit of competition between siblings they were very eager to find their flowers and other information. It was great to come across the remains of an old mine, as well as picnic at the Beaver Pond, where the dogs were able to cool off with a much needed swim, and to see some flowers on Lily Pad lake. Unfortunately the beavers have abandoned their lake, the lodge is not in good repair, although the dam is still holding fast. We were however able to see where the beavers had been at work.

The next activity was to ride the Georgetown Loop This is another really appropriate intergenerational outing and will thrill all ages. You have the option on the train ride to stop halfway down the mountain at the Colorado Historical Society's Lebanon silver mine. The group did not choose to do this as they had already visited a gold mine and were actually on their way down to Denver to stay with friends for the night and then go to Water World for the day.

A trip to Summit County with your grandparents would not be complete without a little shopping trip to the Silverthorne Outlets Although these children would not need Back To School items as all school children in the United Kingdom wear uniforms, the sales for that time of year, meant a couple of fun outfits for each of them were not so expensive.

A lot to accomplish in ten days. I was impressed with the children's willingness to try everything and their interest in all of the activities that they undertook. I am sure that this is a trip that they will remember for a long time, and as they grow older will come to understand what a wonderful gift their grandparents gave them. They will be back to ski in March with mom, dad and little sister to experience the other wonderful season of this area. I forsee maybe a Dog Sledding activity or maybe a Sleigh Ride if they can be dragged away from the ski slopes.

Consider bringing your grandchildren for this kind of experience in the Rocky Mountains and I would love to help you arrange unforgettable memories for your family. It was a gift to me too, in that I knew the family and was able to share in some of the children's joy in their surroundings.

Grandma & Grandpa Martineau, with Tabitha and Luke,
High Country Activities owner, Jane Shafroth
and canine companions
Sawyer and Huckleberry 

Friday, August 19, 2011

USA Pro Cycling Challenge Comes to Summit County

So I think everyone in Summit County is very excited that the USA Pro Cycling Challenge is coming to the area.

By the way the web site is very informative, with topographical and road maps of the daily routes, visuals of the elevation profiles, excellent spectator guides, stage timetables with the time the riders are expected to reach each point on the route, pages on each of the host cities and their celebrations of the event, as well as team and rider information with videos and interviews, as well as the Shack Tour Tracker that will allow you to watch the race live on your computer.

Seven days and some of the most difficult terrain in Colorado will test some of the world's best cyclists. I personally have sat glued to the television and watched almost every stage of the Tour De France for the past ten plus years. Now this is my chance to see the stars of this great race at home in my own state. The added dimension to this Colorado race is of course the altitude. Andy Schleck has been in Steamboat Springs training for the altitude. His brother Frank has stayed home to spend time with his family, but will be here for the race. Both of them race for the Leopard Trek team and placed second and third in the 2011 Tour De France respectively.

Andy Schleck

Frank Schleck

Tom Danielson, of the Garmin-Cevelo team, who placed ninth in the 2011 Tour De France, the highest placed US rider, lives and trains in Boulder, Colorado, so he is a local favorite to do very well in the race.

Tom Danielson
One wonders how the great time trialist and the 2011 winner of the Tour De France, Cadel Evans, of the BMC racing team, will fare in a time trial in Vail that is almost all up hill. The question is also whether Andy Schleck, as a great climber, will race better against him in this discipline than he did in the 2011 Tour De France time trail, where Cadel guaranteed his first place finish in the race.

Cadel Evans
All of the General Catergory podium finishers from the Tour De France will be racing, as well as US legends Levi Leipheimer of Team RadioShack - 2011 winner of the Tours of California and Utah, George Hincapie, team mate of Cadel Evans, former team mate of Lance Armstrong, who has finished the Tour De France a record 14 straight times, as well as podium Tour De France finisher from Italy, Ivan Basso, of Team Liquigas.

Levi Leipheimer

George Hincapie

Ivan Basso

I would say that the only disappointment about the roster for the race is the lack of the world's top sprinters. But we have all see how these guys struggle when the Tour De France heads into the Pyrenees and the Alps, and I am sure that the idea of crossing two high mountain passes in one day that are over 12,000 feet would be daunting for these riders. Speaking of Stage 2 on Wednesday August 24, racers have to ascend 13.7 miles to the top of the 12,126 foot Cottonwood Pass on a dirt road, and then summit Independence Pass at 12,095 feet with a 6.5% gradient, before descending into Aspen. This has to be the stage to watch. I only hope that I will be able to find a spot to cheer on these incredible athletes on Independence Pass, if I leave early enough from Summit County. The road will be closed at noon and the riders are expected to summit at about 3pm.

For the Vail time trial the next day, it is suggested that you park at the top of Vail Pass and then either ride your bike or walk down the bike path to the finish of the race. The ten mile stage will take the racers from Vail Village up the road that is part of the Vail Pass bike path. I imagine a lot of Summit County fans will be taking this option or riding all the way from Summit County to the finish.

Saturday August 27 is when the race really comes to town with the route taking the racers from Steamboat Springs, up and over the double-summit Rabbit Ears Pass, past Green Mountain reservoir, along the Blue River valley and into Silverthorne, around the shores of Lake Dillon, a King of the Mountain Stage on Swan Mountain road, and into a sprint finish on Breckenridge's own Main Street There is only one King of the Mountain stage after the Swan Mountain ascent, over Look Out Mountain in Golden the next day  Swan Mountain is where we will be tailgating at the Lowry Camp site and then walking or cycling to Sapphire Point to see who is the King of the Mountain for Summit County. Who knows, if the race is close, this could be a climb at the end of a long uphill day that could be significant. Let's hope so, as I know I would love to see a dramatic battle on the hill that so many of our local cyclists "love" to climb. The party in Breckenridge after the race finish, with a concert with Big Head Todd and the Monsters, promises to be a great way to finish what should be a very exciting day.

I know some folks are probably not so thrilled about the road closures and the potential crowds associated with the US Pro Cycling Challenge's arrival in Summit County. I know I have been taking extra time to warn my clients about the day's activities. But I for one am ecstatic that this event is coming to town. Let's show these elite athletes some Summit County hospitality and if you are not acting as a volunteer, get out there and cheer them on. I am in awe of their athletic ability and cannot wait to show them how much I appreciate their endeavors.

Watch this spot for my photos and blogs of the stages that I manage to see next week.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Fall is Coming Photo Essay

It may still be in the 90s on the Front Range of Colorado, and in the 100s in the south and middle of the United States, but here in Summit County we are beginning to feel a touch of Fall. It has been under 40 degrees a couple of mornings, and the snow seekers are beginning to post 100 day count downs to the ski area openings.

Out in the forest and in the wetlands, changes are beginning to show that our short summer may be coming to an end, even though many wildflowers are at their peak at the same time. The moisture this year has led to the growth of some spectacular grasses. Many plants are starting to go to seed. The Fireweed patches are a blast of shocking pink in the trees. Berries are beginning to appear where the flowers are gone. Scrub plants are showing the various yellows and reds of their passage to winter sleep. The sun shines brightly in the morning with clear blue skies, the winds come up in the afternoon, making for some great sailing on Lake Dillon, and the evenings are cool enough to require a sweat shirt. Night temperatures are great for sleeping, and the overhead fan is no longer needed. What a great time for a nature lover to live in or visit the high country of Colorado.






Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Narrowboat Cruise of the Warwickshire Ring, United Kingdom

My husband and I are sailers, and have navigated up and down most of the Eastern seaboard of the United States and through the Caribbean from the Spanish Virgin Islands to Grenada. This past spring we decided to try a different kind of boat cruise. You might call the boat a "barge" but the proper term is a "narrow boat". These boats were a key component of the Industrial Revolution, bringing raw materials from their source to the factories via an extensive network of canals. The orginal narrow boats were pulled by horses, and the bridle paths that ran parallel to the canals have now become hiking trails. Various companies have built narrow boats suitable for cruising and as in the sailing world there are numerous charter companies renting out these boats. There is also a large community who live aboard these vessels, either seasonally or year round, again mirroring the cruising community of sailors. Canalside you will find gardens, barbecues, sheds, swings sets for the chidren, and the ubiquitous satellite dish.

Live Aboard Community

All over the United Kingdom there are canals that join with each other to make "rings", for a circular week to two week of cruising. We chose to do the Warwickshire Ring in the middle of England made up of the Coventry, Oxford, Grand Union, and Birmingham and Fazeley canals. This is actually the area of England where I grew up. I was born in Rugby where the game of Rugby originated at Rugby school. The county is also known for being the site of Shakepeare's birthplace and home when he was not at the Globe Theater in London. There is a notable theater in Stratford on Avon that performs Shakespeare's plays.

The ring is a mixture of rural to urban industrial scenery and we did pass through the large industrial towns of Coventry and Birmingham. The latter was a stark contrast in buildings with derelict factories, either shuttered or full of broken windows, new developments of flats (condos) in refurbished buildings, and an enormous and very elegant church with a huge rose window in the middle of it all. It is to be hoped that this church offered solace to the workers of the industrial revolution from the appalling conditions of their work environment and the poverty of their home life.

Our boat was rented from Ashby Boat Company  and we picked it up in Stoke Goulding on the Ashby canal. We were with English friends who drove to the location, but the company will pick up from the railway station at Nuneaton, with direct access to London and international flights. Between us we also had all of the supplies for the boat, but the company will arrange for grocery delivery through local supermarkets. Of course you can also eat at the local pubs adjacent to the canals, or go into a town and find a "Chippie" for Fish and Chips. Our boat "Golding" was 58 feet long, with two cabins, two bathrooms, galley, and saloon with removable table and tons of storage under the dinette. Both cabins could either have one double bed or two singles and our cabin could also have had a bunk above the double. The dinette could also be made into a double, but we actually found that four people was plenty for the size of the boat.


We first went north to the end of the Ashby Canal and tied up for our first night near to the battlefield where Richard III of York was in the Battle of Bosworth Field in the War of the Roses. As I walked along the canal that evening I remembered a phrase from grade school that we used to remember the colors of the rainbow Richard Of York Gained Battle In Vain - red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet. When I mentioned this to my English friends they had never heard of it, but they had grown up in different parts of England, and so I wondered if this was local to areas where these battles were fought.

When I first started to sail, I was somewhat frustrated that there seemed to be a whole different language for sailors. The canals also have their own words mostly based around the 100 locks that we operated during the ten day trip. Our highest one day total for locks was 26.  A "winding hole" is a place where you are able to turn the narrow boat around and we experienced one of these at the end of the Ashby Canal. The path along the canal is a "tow path", from the era when the boats were towed by horses.

Boat Mate Jane and Tilly on the Tow Path

There are various different types of locks The basic operation of a lock is you first make sure that the water level in the lock is the same as your boat. You open the gate or gates and enter the lock, closing the gates behind the boat.  You must be careful if ascending not to go too far forward and get the boat caught on a "cill", a piece of concrete jutting out from the bottom of the upper gates. You then let water into the lock if ascending and out if descending so that you are at the level of the canal on the other side of the lock. Once the lock is full or empty the flow of water is shut off. The gates are then opened, the boat passes through, the gates are closed and you are on your way.

We went through both single and "broad" locks, the latter where you could have two boats at once and share the work of opening and closing the gates. We also went through several "flights" of locks, which are close enough together to be a single group but they do have a space between them called a "pound" or a "reach".

"Pound" between Locks
Flight of Locks near Warwick

We also navigated a "staircase lock". This is where two or more locks share the gate between the locks with no pound in between. We went through this broad lock with another boat, and there may just have been two many people involved in the operation of the lock, as we managed to ground out both boats in the upper lock "chamber", or area between the gates. Water flows in and out of the chamber by opening "paddles" or the valves in the bottom of the gates. In this case the paddles in the lowest gates were opened without closing the ones in the middle gates, which allowed all of the water to flow out of the first lock. The situation was remedied by closing the two sets of paddles, and opening the ones in the first set of gates to allow water back into the chamber where the boats were on the bottom.

Each set of gates has a "winding gear" which serves to open and shut the paddles. A rod is attached to the paddles. This is raised or lowered by means of an axle secured with a toothed bar or "rack" with a "windlass" or lock handle. The windlass is placed over the axle and turned by hand to raise the rod and then locked with the rack. After the water is emptied or filled the windlass is used to gently wind down the rod and close the paddle. It is important to control the dropping of the paddle, as it can damage the mechanism or the heavy metal windlass can fly off. There were many types of winding gear, some even with a locking mechanism to prevent vandalism, but they were either on the ground next to the gates or actually on the gates. The use of the winding gear may be seen in the video below.

Gates on the lock are either single or double pointed. The single gates are easier in some ways because there is only one winding mechanism, but this can be harder to turn and the gates are heavier to open. Each gate has "balance beam" across it that is used to cross to the other side of the lock and also to open and shut the gates. It is a good idea to figure out which way the gate opens before you start to push it, and it also helps to push backwards. There are pieces of concrete on the ground to aid with leverage from the legs, but I found that you really had to watch that you did not trip over these. The use of the balance beam may be seen in the video below.

We also went through two tunnels. The first one was curved and not very wide, so it was not so easy to steer the boat.

The second tunnel had lights and was much wider. It also had the added attraction of large numbers of bats hanging from the ceiling, and personally I was very glad that it was daytime and they were asleep.

The canal was teeming with life in many ways and most of the scenery was spectacular, with verdant fields, with wildflowers, flowering trees, cows, sheep, goats and rabbit warrens. As it was spring there were also large numbers of calves and lambs.

Actually on the canal, we were treated to large broods of new hatchlings from Ducks mostly Mallards, Swans and Geese. Particularly endearing were the "ugly ducklings" or cignets. We even saw one riding on its mother's back.

Among the wading birds were Moorhens, Coots, Great Blue Herons, and Egrets. There were also large numbers of Swallows and the occasional Hawk. We were treated one night to a plaintive call from the adjacent field and were told by our boat mates that it was Pheasants calling, although we did not manage to see them. I did effect a duckling rescue in one lock. As we closed off the lock I heard and saw that two ducklings were stuck within the chamber. I managed to herd them down the side of the boat and one was able to squeeze through the side of the gate but the other dove and disappeared. I was horribly aware that as we let the water out of the lock it was likely to be sucked down through the paddles, but we could not find it. After we passed through the lock and headed to the next lock in the flight, my motherly instinct kicked in and I felt I had to return upstream and see if the duckling was still in trouble. I went back to the lock and the poor thing was stuck behind the rungs of the ladder going down into the chamber. By letting water back into the lock I was able to flush it out from the ladder but then it dove again. It came up right in the corner of the two pointing gates where it was stuck and "peeping" loudly. I managed to sneak up on it from behind, grab it out of the water, and run with it to the top of the lock and much to my relief I was able to release it to rejoin its family.

The vegetation along the banks of the canal was really stupendous.  The Dog Roses were in full bloom. Blackberry brambles were covered in blossoms and promised a great crop later in the season.

For flowers there were wild Irises, Cow's Parsnip or Queen Anne's Lace, pink Honeysuckle, wild white and purple Geraniums, white Morning Glory, tiny pink Campion,  and white Astilbe.

Quite a few of the trees were flowering, and the best were the Elder and the Horse Chestnut.

Sometimes it felt like we were going through a tunnel of trees.

One of my favorites trailing over the canal, was the Weeping Willow tree.

Within the water of the canal there were many different kinds of Rushes and Water Lilies.

When we exited the boat onto the tow path we had to be careful not to tie up in a patch of Stinging Nettles of which there were many. Luckily we could always find great big Dock Leaves As a child we would squeeze the juice of these leaves to ease the stinging from the nettles. One of my favorites along the side of the canal were the huge leaves of the Gunnera plant, that you could easily imagine being featured in a fairytale. In some areas there were also large stands of Bracken Generally it was such a pleasure for me as a nature lover to experience a riot of vegetation in the undergrowth of the tow path.

Along the way all of the bridges were numbered and we had a guide that could tell us exactly where we were located on the canal. The guide, very much like a sailing cruising guide, included the spots to fill up with water, offload garbage and sewage, the location of supermarkets, pubs and restaurants. Often the side of the canal was held up by a metal rail, in which you could drop a cleat attached to a boat line to hold the boat at night. If there was only vegetation, then stakes and lines could be used with the aid of a large mallet. All of this equipment was provided with the boat as well as all of the lock keys that would be needed. There were several marinas along the way and often these were entered by way of a side canal with elegant bridges.

One of the great things about a canal holiday is visiting the towns and villages along the way, eating at local pubs, and shopping for food in individual stores, rather than using a supermarket. We met my father for his 86th birthday dinner in a pub in a village called Braunston. This is the junction of two major canals, the Grand Union and the Oxford, that competed with each other in the industrial age for traffic to London. It has since become a mecca for narrow boats and has a huge marina where private owners store their boats or live on them.

We also visited the village of Knowle where the grandparents of our boat mate, Michael Martineau, had lived. In the church that we visited there was a window in remembrance of his grandfather. We bought a meat pie in the butcher shop, local sharp cheddar cheese, a rhubarb pie with clotted cream, and a pork pie in the deli in the same shop, fresh bread at the bakery, fruit at the green grocer's, and ate a Ploughman's Lunch in the local pub. That day was all about rekindling my English roots with my favorite foods and ambience.

All in all this was a great vacation and we only had continual rain on one day. The boys were a bit cold even in their foul weather gear, but I was content in the saloon working on a jigsaw puzzle of what else but an English garden? The other times that it rained, it was of course when we were operating locks. We only really messed up on two sets of locks, and only got stuck once. My husband as a Rugby player handled this emergency by literally scrummaging the boat out of the mud, when the pole provided and the boat trying to tow us off did not succeed. We are normally used to sailing in the Caribbean in the off season, so for my taste the weather was a bit chilly. However you would not see the vegetation and foliage without the cooler temperatures and moisture. We ate and drank too well on the boat - nothing a few laps around Lake Dillon up and over Swan Mountain on a bike and a few sets of tennis could not take care of, and it is not every day that I allow myself or have access to my English favorite treats. If you have ever thought of taking a canal holiday, England has many wonderful venues and some great cruising narrow boats.