Urban Steam Coffee (Colorado Springs, CO)

Urban Steam Coffee

Coffee culture has finally percolated its way to Colorado Springs. Having grown up on the outskirts of this awkward city, situated beneath some truly impressive peaks but eternally confused by the coexistence of drum-thumping hippies, extreme recreationalists, bible-thumping preachers and the U.S military, it seemed as though progress here would never be possible with such strong, contrasting opinions.

I no longer live here, but have come to respect it more since I left in 2010. On this particular visit I had the pleasure of meeting a friend for coffee in the industrial sector just south of downtown — an area finally seeing some badly needed urban renewal — at a hip new spot named “Urban Steam.”

Don’t let the ugly blue strip-mall facade mislead you; inside you’ll find a groovy cafe that might even please even the beardiest Portland hipster. Dual bars, an open kitchen, stools and sofa chairs strewn about the paint-splattered concrete floor contained by toothpaste-colored walls decorated with snazzy art, a dozen old welding masks strung from the ceiling; these are the design considerations that give Urban Steam its character. When I close my eyes, listen to the boisterous funky tunes that fill the air and breathe the scent of Sumatran coffee drifting from the back room roaster, both competing with a sizzling panini across the room, I can almost convince myself I’m sitting in a west coast cafe.

A line-up of at least five rotating roasts brewed as pour-over only (no traditional drip here!) piques my interest and I deviate from my usual Cafe Americano. My choice proves to be a good one; the coffee I’m served is plenty hot with a simple, well-balanced taste profile featuring subtle notes of cinnamon and chocolate. I promptly order another cup upon draining the first.

A short menu of waffles and sandwiches, full liquor selection and live music equipment tucked against the north wall suggest that Urban Steam attempts to cater to a broad clientele at a wide range of hours. I would encourage coffee-seeking souls to pay Urban Steam a visit and give it a try. Catch up with an old friend or get some work done — it’s good for either. I’m simply happy to see legitimate coffee being brewed in Colorado Springs; keep it up Urban Steam!

2014 Cedro Peak 45

Tijeras, NM
April 12, 2014
6:59:37, 45 miles
1st (out of 42)


Three hours from the nearest interstate and situated amidst a playground of mountains, mesas, canyons and hills, it takes a worthy cause to venture away from Durango, Colorado in our beloved corner of southwest Colorado. April, as it turns out, provides just the excuse: mud and ice that keeps us Durangotans from enjoying our favorite high country trails. The escape? Go south!

So south to the desert we went. Last Friday a record fourteen Durango ultrarunners arrived in Albuquerque to take on the third annual Cedro Peak Ultramarathon. The event offers two distances: a 45 kilometer out-and-back and (for the gritty) a 45 mile “lollipop” on often technical single-track through rolling pinion and juniper. The latter features around 5,600 feet of climbing, a memorable stretch of power line, two summits of Cedro Peak, and a net uphill second half, all aspects making the Cedro Peak 45 tougher than one might first suspect.

After a 6:00am start, we ran the first few miles by headlamp before twilight enabled us to discard them at the first aid station. I quickly found myself out front with my good friend Jeremy Duncan (of Carbondale) and we chatted, sharing plans and dreams for the coming summer. Around mile five he paused for a pit stop and I never saw him again. What followed was a long, peaceful run in near solitude through the New Mexico desert, a chance to put forth a steady effort and iron out the early season kinks in my hydration and nutrition.

I first ran Cedro Peak two years ago in similar conditions finishing third in about 7 hours and 21 minutes. Hence, this would be a reasonable gauge of my fitness having spent five winter months since October focused on ski mountaineering (“skimo”) and only the last five weeks on running. Fortunately the transition has gone well. I managed to hammer the final five miles for a sub-7 finish and chalk up my second consecutive win (the last being at the Canyon de Chelly 55K six months ago).

The day, however, was not without imperfections: persistent cramping in my hip flexors, glutes and IT bands (perhaps not being sufficiently heat acclimated), tight laces pinching my right forefoot, and an early wrong turn resulting in some bonus mileage. That said, five years of ultrarunning have taught me patience. Perfection is illusive and mistakes will be made. How we handle and adapt to them determines our mastery of the ultramarathon distance. This race sets me up well for my spring focus: the Miwok 100K in San Francisco, just three weeks distant.

What I’m most excited for are the thirteen other Durangoans who ran commendable performances at the Cedro Peak Ultra: Brett and Missy, Jenn, Braz, Ben and Zoe, Drew, Erica, Ernie, Leah, Scott, Katherine, Steve and Martha. I never thought I’d get to share a race experience with so many hometown friends.

Does it indicate a movement? Is Durango the next ultimate trail town? Maybe so, but one thing is certain: I have a mob with whom to scheme up incredible routes and adventures through the San Juan Mountains this summer, and what could be better than that?!


2014 Grand Canyon Boucher-Tonto-Bright Angel

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
March 22, 2014
9:00:02, 37 miles

For some of us Durango runners, the five hour drive to the Grand Canyon has become a biannual pilgrimage of sorts. It’s the perfect shoulder season escape when our hometown trails are thick with springtime mud, or when the alpine sees its first autumn snow, enough to make running unpleasant but not enough to ski on. These occasions tend to coincide with the time change (late March and early November) and typically ideal weather at the canyon—not too hot, not to cold.

Last month when Leah proposed yet another trip to the big ditch, I couldn’t refuse. Even after four visits in two years, the mighty gorge mesmerizes me each and every time. So eight of us divided ourselves and our gear between two vehicles and departed on a Friday afternoon, arriving at the rim-side Mather Campground shortly before sunset.

Nowadays it’s almost assumed that a troupe of motley ultrarunners bound for the Grand Canyon has intentions to run from “Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim”, but in fear of developing apathy the iconic route by running it for the fifth consecutive time, I vowed to seek out something new. Thus I consulted a map and discovered that the canyon has more to offer. Much more.

4.5 million tourists flock to the Grand Canyon each year, but only 1% of them bother moseying below the rim. And I’d wager that only a small fraction of those intrepid souls stray from the heavily trodden arteries: the Bright Angel and Kaibab Trails. Most have no knowledge of the alternate (albeit more primitive) routes linking the South Rim to the Colorado River, trails with names like South Bass, Boucher, Hermit, Grandview, Tanner and New Hance.

So Paul (my housemate and running partner for the day) and I selected the Boucher Trail (pronounced “boo-shay”) with plans to link up to the Tonto Trail and follow it upstream until we reached the Bright Angel Trail, which we would ultimately climb back to the South Rim, thus closing the thirty-something mile loop. The next morning we rode the rim shuttle to Hermit’s Rest where we embarked at sunrise on our journey.

Boucher rarely sees travelers, a fact that is immediately evident in the indistinct path as it twists, rolls, meanders and drops over loose rock through red, yellow and white cliffs. One must possess intense focus to avoid kicking a prickly pear, gouging his eyes out with a low-hanging pinyon branch or spearing his thigh with a sharp yucca. The narrow path does not support mule traffic meaning runners enjoy a more technical, rugged route without choking on clouds of dust and mule piss. Finally, Boucher is remote. In the first five hours we encountered not a soul, just curious ravens, skittish lizards and various florae in progressing stages of spring.

Our plunge down the Boucher took nearly two hours before it tied into the Tonto, a trail running the length of the canyon upon the Tonto shelf situated a good thousand feet above the river. Again the trail is faint, snaking in and out of sub-canyons with limited protection from the midday sun and few opportunities to fill water. Our first such opportunity came at Hermit Creek, about 14 miles in. There we spent several minutes in the shade dousing our limbs in the creek and fumbling our attempts to purify drinking water with a “Steripen” (I guess we should’ve done our homework). Ultimately we gave up and drank the damn stuff anyway.

From there, we opted for the two mile jaunt down Hermit Creek to the Colorado River while we still felt relatively fresh. The river roars through the gorge with incredible force, an emerald green cascade contrasted against a dry, desolate environment, inspiring awe in anyone who spends a moment at its edge. Just upstream of the rapid we removed our shoes, took a quick dip in the icy waters, then returned up the creek to the Tonto shelf and resumed our original route.

For the next fifteen miles we followed the Tonto upstream, exchanging few words as our minds wandered the vast landscape, liberated from the stress of routine back home, and enjoying the simplest, purest form of mental therapy—the kind of therapy that money can’t buy. As the afternoon hours slipped by, so did the miles, and though my bottles ran dry, it didn’t seem to matter. I felt at peace, harmonized with my surroundings.

The sudden company of hikers as we approached Indian Gardens shook me from my reverie and reeled me back into reality. Here, the Tonto intersects the Bright Angel trail before proceeding another 56 miles east to the Little Colorado River. Though my heart longed to venture further, we had only budgeted enough food and daylight to bring us this far. From here, we would grind out the final five mile climb back to the South Rim, sacrificing the solitude we’d enjoyed up to this point. Now we would have to share the trail.

Nine hours and 40 miles from our departure, we returned to the rim satisfied, humbled, renewed and fulfilled. Completing the Boucher-Tonto-Bright Angel loop prompted me to ponder the plethora of route possibilities the canyon provides. I now know the objective for my next five trips to the Grand Canyon: explore the paths less traveled.

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