Dog days and cheap beer
There was lots of parking, housing was available and hooking up with a woman, any woman, was as easy as getting an audience with the Pope. Breckenridge in the ’70s.
Keith and I ended up in Breckenridge because two friends from the east, Breeze Brewin and Torpedo Jones (I’m serious) said we could crash on their floor until we found suitable lodging.
Another old friend, a Boston miscreant named Clete, was scheduled to show up any day so I went on a quest to find a three-bedroom love nest. We needed a nice place because we were sure that we would be entertaining visitors nightly. Two days later I found a three-bedroom place in the town of “Elev. 10,000” for $350 a month. We thought that was a little steep but we were convinced that once the local service industry was made aware of our talents, we would be rolling in the dough.
You might wonder where the town of “Elev. 10,000” is located. Well, the truth is, back then as you approached Blue River there was a sign reading “Elev 10,000.” Of course, that meant the elevation was 10,000 feet above sea level. It wasn’t until I asked a potential date if she wanted to hitchhike with me back to my place in “Elev. 10,000” that I learned the error of my ways.
There were two Breckenridges back then. One, a fledgling ski resort serving what many hoped would become a popular destination. The other was a wild place filled with miners and mountain-man hippies, living off the grid long on resilience, short on grooming. There were wooden sidewalks and dirt streets, draft beer was a quarter and a wild purity prevailed. It was not uncommon to see an occasional horse tied outside of a bar or a dog sleeping in the middle of the street.
Keith lied about his age and got a job tending a bar, and I lied about my experience and got one waiting on tables. The problem was our jobs didn’t begin until the ski resort opened on Thanksgiving and we had arrived in late October. We considered looking for work in Denver. Lucky for us, after a night of celebration, Keith drove our Volkswagen into the Blue River; we were here to stay.
In his defense, Keith had a reason to celebrate — he had won a dog sled race earlier that day.
The buzz around town was that there was going to be some sort of dog sled race around Lake Dillon with mushers coming from all around the west to compete. Two local bars, one of them where Keith was slated to work, entered a team. But rather than have dogs pulling a musher, these bar owners decided to have a pack of humans pulling a dog sitting in a toboggan.
When the organizers realized what was going on, they created a separate category, distance (about 100 yards), and start times so the human dogs would not get bitten by the real ones at the start. Keith’s team was in second place until the lead dog/human tackled one member of the opposing team bringing them all down. Keith’s team was the first on their feet and won the race.
The first prize was a case of Yukon Jack Canadian Whiskey which might have caused Keith to drive our car into the river.
Fast forward four decades: Last week I stopped by a celebration to welcome back a well-loved local who had returned for a visit. I saw many folks who I had met that first autumn. Like me, they have made a home and found success two miles above sea level. Many of them are now contractors, teachers, businessmen and women, and community leaders. They stayed, not because it was easy, or that they had nowhere else to go, but because they loved this town and county. They stayed because this place is special.
Summit County is not the same place as it was when I arrived. Over the years I have attempted to throw a wrench into the works of growth and expansion. But what I considered sprawl others thought of as progress. Though I lost more battles than I won, I will admit that with growth came additional peaks to ski inbounds, miles of hiking, biking, and cross-country skiing trails, a golf course, and an amazing recreation center.
And speaking of recreation — healthy and not. The day after Keith’s team was crowned “top dogs” and he later tried to determine if a VW would float, I wrote home. I told my mother that I had found the place where I belong. And though I miss the old days I’m nonetheless certain, that has not changed.
Jeffrey Bergeron’s column “Biff America” publishes Mondays in the Summit Daily News. Bergeron has worked in TV and radio for more than 30 years, and his column can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He is the author of “Mind, Body, Soul.” Bergeron arrived in Breckenridge when there was plenty of parking and no stoplights. Contact him at email@example.com.
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