I love the idea of the United States of America battling my expectations. It’s the country on which I have the most opinions on, from the least reliable sources, from The Dukes of Hazard, to anything written in New Zealand newspapers. I’ve found that from the few opportunities I’ve had to engage with wandering US citizens, I’ve been left with reassessed opinions and altered prejudices. So how will spending ten weeks based in Colorado, and the resulting experiences, chats and observations, affect my views of this rapidly changing empire? Well, three days in, let’s look at three areas: food, just how many places I recognise, and hospitality.
Until recently my understanding of food culture in the 50 states, was that in general, huge unhealthy meals, and bizarre sounding snacks were king. I imagined travellers would be hard-pressed to find alternatives to chicken wings done 50 ways, corn dogs, and anything where they ask if you’d “like fries with that”. And that when they needed something to stretch overfull bellies between meals, they’d have to order snickerdoodles or Ding Dongs with a straight face. But within hours of arriving in L.A. (and before I had a chance to eat) I had relocated to Boulder, Colorado. This state is an enormous, beautiful, natural playground, and has the lowest levels of obesity and sedentary lifestyle in the nation. I’m prepared to confront other sides to the “what American’s eat” story, but here I’ve been enchanted with the foods, and a passion for “good” eating. The edible options I’ve been tasting and cooking with so far are frequently organic, carefully selected, and genuinely delicious. Mexican ingredients seem to take centre stage (adventurous salsas are a favourite so far), and game foods are far more prevalent than back home. For those who decline flesh, there seems to be substantial vegetarian delights, indeed the predominant incisor despisers are reportedly vegans and raw food zealots. So for now, my US diet has been more healthy, more tasty and contained less high fructose corn syrup than expected. Prejudice adjusted, to be reviewed over my next hundred meals, and after a weigh-in.
We travelled from Boulder to a cabin in the woods near Mount Evans, over memorial weekend (think flags, flag pants, unrelenting patriotism). On the way we passed Red Rocks Ampitheatre (where U2 recorded “Under a Blood Red Sky”) and Dinosaur Ridge, an incredible mecca for Jurassic nerds around the world. The next day I was unexpectedly taken to South Park (the very same), where I walked a section of the Colorado Trail. All of this within a radius of under fifty miles (local slang for 80km). I had no idea just how packed with recognisable locations America would be. What are already entertaining road trips (trailers boasting 80 flavours of jerky, scenery out of Road Runner crossed with any John Wayne Western), become events in themselves, as reference packed as a wander through central London. I’m discovering that this ridiculously huge landscape is fair over flowing with must see, wouldn’t-mind-seeing, and funny-to-note destinations. Ten weeks is looking a little weak, for even one state.
I was warned by a number of people over the years, that Americans were friendly, welcoming and hospitable. So far this is an unadjusted notion. I’ve been humbled by the warmth with which people (three in three days) have welcomed me into their homes. My third and briefest host invited us up for a chat after spying us walking the trail under his mountain perched cabin. John and his friend Eve gave us the grand tour of his self built timber paradise, from the humid greenhouse, to a koi carp pond that frequently hosted bears and other wildlife (evidence provided via an always on “Game Cam” mounted above the fish filled pool). They then plied us with travel tales, local gossip, beer, and a feeling we’re not intruding on their privacy. We walk away not quite sober, with photos of the wild turkeys stalking his garden, slideshow CD’s, and a copy of Eve’s world beating photo of a “sad squirrel”. Bless.
My cautious optimism has been boosted to unbridled enthusiasm by a country which I hadn’t yet visited, because I didn’t know where to start. An opportunity to have my introduction led by Francoise has proven one of my life’s great decisions. She has a truly adventurous heart, and I have already been spoilt with daunting landscapes, fascinating commentaries, and the promise of brewing beer together. It’s always the people that make a country for me, and based on my experience so far America is a beautiful, eclectic country, hopefully finally taking steps towards self reflection. I’m glad I got to meet her now, and I am eager to explore further.