By Tyler Hansen
When I was 8 years old, I used to ride my bike at a superfund site. Not a site that had already been cleaned up, mind you, but a site that, 10 years later, was declared not quite a superfund site, but a health hazard by the federal government. That was my personal BMX track. When I’d come home wheezing and hacking and my mother would ask where I had been, “an abandoned mine” was a perfectly acceptable response and no more thought was given to the matter. It was summer in Crested Butte in the 1980s and it was glorious.
Nostalgia can be a powerful opiate. Through the sheen of retrospect, the tendency is for everything to look, not perfect perhaps, but at least better than it does currently (truthfully, it’s not that hard given current events). I look back on my childhood with the greatest fondness. But let’s be honest here, family station wagons had wood paneling, the Cold War was still in full swing, and Starship’s “We Built This City” was a #1 hit. So clearly not everything was as heady as I like to remember.
In 1986 my parents bought a run-down cabin on Sopris Avenue that remains, to this day, the one material item I want more than anything in the world. These days it’s rented to visitors by the day for roughly the price of a flight to South America. When we first moved in it’s safe to say it wouldn’t have commanded such a premium.
The first summer we were there, my sister sat on the edge of the bathroom sink and it promptly ripped from the wall, taking the plaster with it. There was green shag carpeting throughout and gaps in the upstairs floorboards large enough for me to spy on my parents assembling Santa’s gifts downstairs. Upon moving into the house, the first task I was assigned was to mow the yard. I say “yard” but it was really more like dirt with mutant dandelions growing to near-waist-height. The entire cabin smelled of cat urine from the former owners and there wasn’t a working shower. I was as happy as could be. (My mom? Not so much.)
My summer days in Crested Butte look a little different now. My wife and I have two boys ages 8 and 10, and every summer their days are filled to the brim with “programming.” Mountain biking camp, science camp, cooking classes…the list goes on. In 1986 “programming” was something that ended at 11 p.m. when the TV screen went to a test pattern. There was no real structure. I’d sleep until the sun had cooked my internal temperature to about 103° (we didn’t have curtains yet), presumably I’d have breakfast, and then the rest of the day I’d ride my candy apple red Ross Mt. Jefferson mountain bike around town. It was about 70 pounds but it was coolest bike in the universe.
My first stop was typically to see Tony at Conoco. I’d buy a stale Bit-O-Honey candy bar, walk the creaky floorboards around the shop, look through the glass topped display cases, and generally overstay my welcome.
From there a few laps up and down Elk Avenue would seem in order. Slow and steady heading west, fast and reckless heading east. This was followed by a visit to Steve at Paradise Bikes, a one room cabin plopped in the middle of a vacant lot that now houses the Idle Spur/Calypso/Maxwell’s/Elk Avenue Prime (stick around long enough and you’ll learn that many locals call businesses by their former names). Once I had regaled him with what was surely a mind-numbingly abstract story the way only children can, I would make the daily pilgrimage to my BMX track/toxic mineral supplementation. It was a bicycle-based existence…so at least some things never change in our little town. It’s still a bike town and I don’t have to worry about my boys riding around a superfund site – some small town changes are a good thing.
To paraphrase A River Runs Through It author Norman Maclean, there was no better place to grow up than the Crested Butte of my youth. I hope my boys feel the same way.
The Crested Butte of their youth may not look exactly like mine, but when I see my boys riding up to my office from playing at Rainbow Park I can’t help but be grateful.
May you find that bit of retreat our little town has to offer. May the wonder that entranced me as a kid and still catches me by surprise as an adult be apparent to you. Enjoy. It’s summer in Crested Butte in 2020 and it’s glorious.