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Car-less in Colorado

Today’s guest blog is from Francine, my London chum, who had a fabulous trip in Boulder. Her precise prose will put mine to shame!



This summer, Russell and I  decided to spend our annual holiday in the USA and take up Betsy’s challenge to come to Iowa and ride Ragbrai 2014 with her and Dirck. That is another blog. This one is about going Green and why you don’t need to rent a car to have a fabulous time in Colorado.

Before plopping down in Des Moines, to prepare ourselves for the insanity of cycling 418 miles across Iowa, we decided to go to Boulder, Colorado.   Betsy recommended that we stay in a wonderful place called Chautauqua on the outskirts of Boulder. As anybody knows who reads her blogs regularly, Betsy’s picks are the best. However, how on earth were we going to get there once we had landed in Denver?  Betsy automatically assumed we would rent a car as did everybody else we knew. We thought we would too. After all, we needed to get to Boulder which is about an hour away from Denver International Airport (DIA). We had a lot of luggage which included amongst other things, our cycling gear, my beloved sheepskin saddle cover and gifts from London. To cap it all, we were arriving late into the evening. We wanted to go to the Rocky Mountains National Park. A car was essential right? Well actually no. Boulder is one of the greenest cities in the USA we had heard. Practically everyone has a bicycle. There had to be a way to do this without emitting more carbon into the atmosphere.  So we thought we would give it a go.

We arrived at DIA at about 11.30pm, after our flight had been delayed for nearly 3 hours at London Heathrow airport. So it was just as well, I had booked a budget hotel on the perimeter of the airport overnight. We were too knackered to push a luggage trolley, let alone drive a car in a strange city on the wrong side of the road. Our hotel had a free courtesy bus immediately outside the terminal which ran every half hour. We could have also taken a taxi at around $25 but there were long queues. As Betsy would say, the airport was a bit “zooey” despite the lateness of the hour. Within 20 minutes of taking the bus, we had checked in, showered and collapsed into bed.

On the porch at the cottage in Chautauqua

On the porch at the cottage in Chautauqua

The next morning, we hopped on the courtesy bus back to the airport and picked up a small shuttle van to take us to Boulder. The shuttle is operated by Green Ride www.greenrideboulder.com  a company, based in Boulder We were dropped in Chautauqua, a fascinating historical district of Boulder, in just over an hour. On the way, we delivered a fellow passenger to Eldorado Springs, giving us our first close up view of the wonderful Flatiron Mountains.

Once we got settled in to our delightful cottage, built in the 1920s and managed by the Colorado Chautauqua Association www.chautauqua.com  we decided to explore Boulder. We asked the pleasant young woman in the Accommodation Office how to get into town and she started to give us driving directions. She was rather surprised and then thrilled when we said we did not have a car and intended to walk or get a bus downtown. She told us the best way to get to the center of Boulder was to walk down 9th  Street opposite the main entrance to the Chautauqua Park. This would take us to the famous Pearl Street Mall where we would find shops, bars and restaurants galore.   The walk is a brisk 20-25 minutes downhill and takes you through a leafy residential area, past a well maintained cemetery and then over a bridge across Boulder Creek.  The walk is approximately 1.5 miles but is slightly more strenuous on the way back as it’s up hill. There is a circular bus  about halfway down 9th Street at College Avenue. It goes clockwise and anti-clockwise as far as Twenty Ninth Street Mall. The bus goes through downtown, past the RDT bus terminal and appears to continue until quite late into the evening. We jumped on it once and ended up going the wrong direction. We didn’t mind. It gave us an opportunity to see the huge campus of the University of Colorado. The bus turns round at the newish looking  Mall which looks as if it has been sympathetically designed to meet the sensibilities of the good people of Boulder.

We were lucky to be in Chautauqua in the summer which meant that there are usually nightly concerts in the Association’s splendid old Auditorium throughout July and August. The city of Boulder provides a free shuttle bus (The Hop) from Pearl Street Mall starting in the late afternoon so people can get a ride up the hill to Chautauqua, have a drink or meal on the verandah of the Dining Hall or picnic on the grass before the concert. The buses take people back to Pearl Street after the concert is over.  We took this free bus a couple of times when we found ourselves in town. We also went to excellent concert. I can recommend the Carolina Chocolate Drops www.carolinachocolatedrops.com  an eclectic band from North Carolina who entertained the audience with variety of folk songs, jigs and jazzy blues.

But if you come to this part of the world, you have to get on a bike at some point. We also needed to get some training in before Ragbrai. There are some great bicycle shops in Boulder where you can buy the latest tight fitting jersey or bike shorts.  We rented bikes for two days from Full Cycle www.fullcyclebikes.com at a cost of $45 dollars each. The staff were very helpful and the bikes were well maintained. We cycled west along the Boulder Creek bike path towards the mountains and then east across the city to Valmont Park, scattering manic prairie dogs in our wake. The next day we headed north to Wonderland Lake Park where we were greeted with warning signs about rattle-snakes although we didn’t see any!  On the way back, we stopped at an unpretentious vegan café, Julia’s Kitchen, 3980 Broadway http://juliaskitchenboulder.wordpress.com/  and enjoyed a plate of delicious hummus and crackers. Boulder has an incredible network of car-free bike paths and designated routes to explore. Pick up a free bicycle path map from the tourist information booth in Pearl Street Mall.

We were worried that our desire to go car-less  would be defeated by our determination to also  visit the spectacular Rocky Mountains National Park which is about 50 or so miles away from Boulder. There is no public bus from Boulder and the private charter sightseeing tours are expensive.  We discovered a company that shuttles between Denver International Airport, Boulder and Estes Park www.estesparkshuttle.com   which picked us up outside the RDT bus terminal in Boulder in the morning and deposited us back in the evening. The cost was $85 round trip per person. The journey takes about an hour and we travelled along a now repaired highway which had been virtually destroyed by serious flooding in 2013. Most houses along the road have been rebuilt but huge trees remain upturned and some homes are sadly abandoned.

The shuttle drops  people  off either in the town of Estes Park or  in the park itself. We got off at Beaver Meadows Visitors Centre, which is in the park and transferred to a free “Hikers Shuttle”. This took us to a Park and Ride car park where we found yet another free shuttle bus service going to either Bear Lake or Moraine Park. Both spots offer a number of spectacular trails. Although, we returned to Boulder on the same day, avid hikers could decide to stay in Estes Park for longer and use the town’s network of no less than 5 free shuttle buses to explore the Rocky Mountains National Park and surrounding area more thoroughly.

We spent the last couple of days in in what Mike, the Estes Park shuttle bus driver, dubbed “The People’s Republic of Boulder” using the best form of transport at our disposal, our legs!  Following clearly marked trails, we walked into the mountains relishing the pure air and wild flowers of the Flatirons. At the end of our 6 day stay, Green Ride shuttled us back to Denver airport. We were sad to leave but also delighted to have minimized our carbon footprint, saved money, upped our fitness levels and supported the community.  The best bit was meeting local people on buses, shuttles and bike shops, all of whom were very pleased that we were making such an effort to use their services. Going Car-less in Colorado is not only possible, it’s also great fun.  I think  we did Betsy proud!

Francine and Russell Selfie

Francine and Russell Selfie


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