Gearing up for the Pro Cycling Challenge

The story below was featured on The Breck Connection

It’s been called the most demanding bike race to ever take place on American soil and for the second year in a row the USA Pro Cycling Challenge will take place in Colorado with a starting stage right here in Breckenridge, one of the most bike-friendly towns in the mountains.

It’s a seven day race that covers almost 700 mile and athletes from across the globe will arrive in Colorado on August 20th ready to take on the course, the altitude and each other. This year’s USA Pro Cycling Challenges twists and turns throughout the state. Starting in Durango the route heads through picturesque cities including Telluride, Crested Butte, Aspen, Colorado Springs and Boulder before ending in grand style in downtown Denver. The Breckenridge start will most likely be a daunting one for riders as it marks the beginning of one of the more demanding mountain stages up Hoosier Pass.

Given Breckenridge played host to a finish stage for last year’s USA Pro Cycling Challenge the town is ready to do it all again this year with plenty of activities to keep the big crowds entertained.

The festivities kick off on Thursday, August 23rd with a big screen on the Riverwalk Center lawn broadcasting Stage 4 from Aspen to Beaver Creek from Noon to 4 p.m. Then, starting at 6 p.m. it’s the weekly Breckenridge Cruiser Ride, taking over the town with a different theme each week. Take it from me, if you haven’t been to one of the summer cruiser rides in Breckenridge it’s a true taste of what it means to be local and is not to be missed.

Friday, August 24th is the big day in Breck and the action kicks off bright and early at 9:30 a.m. with plenty of activities in the Start Village with autograph opportunities with the athletes. The rider ceremony will take place promptly at 9:50 and then, it’s go time. You’ll have about an hour to find a good viewing spot on Main Street before the riders start the stage with two neutral laps through downtown starting at 10:50 a.m.

From there, it’s a steep and winding ascent up Hoosier Pass where riders will be jockeying for prime position on the downhill and then it’s a straight shot through open country until they finish in Colorado Springs.

Luckily for all the spectators the fun doesn’t end when the riders take off… actually, it’s only the beginning. For those feeling all inspired by the action there is the Citizen Street Sprint happening right after the pro riders take off and there is no doubt you will be feeling like one of the elite following directly in their tire marks.

Stick around for the Ripstoke trials and mountain bike stunt show happening in the Blue River Plaza where you can also watch the rest of Stage 5 right there on the big screen. To top it all off there will be a free concert at the Riverwalk Center at 4:30 p.m. featuring Maceo Parker.

You won’t want to miss the excitement of one of the biggest athletic events in the country when the USA Pro Cycling Challenge comes to Breckenridge and who knows, you may even end up on TV given the action will be covered by NBC and Versus. So go crazy and wear that big chicken suit you’ve had in the closet for years, this may just be the perfect event to do it.

For more information on everything going on with the USA Pro Cycling Challenge Stage 5 Start in Breckenridge check out the blog and Facebook page.

Gallery

Latest culinary creations …..

This gallery contains 7 photos.

Top 5 Happy Hour Spots in Breck

Blue River Bistro

The story below was featured on The Breck Connection

With so many options in Breckenridge, settling on a place to go for Happy Hour may just be the toughest decision of your day. Lucky for you we have tried them all and while this isn’t by any means a complete list, it is a collection of some of the best.

Blue River Bistro: Ask any Breckenridge local where to go for Happy Hour and there is no doubt that the Blue River Bistro will come up at some point during the conversation. Known for their martinis, classy ambiance and live music, the Bistro has set itself apart by offering not one, but two Happy Hours every day of the week. From 3-6 p.m. and again from 9- midnight, the Bistro offers 2-for-1 martinis and 2-for-1 selected appetizers. Whether you have a hankering for a classic dirty martini or you want to branch out and try some of their specialty martinis like the Key Lime Pie or the always-popular Espresso, there is plenty of variety to suit everyone’s individual tastes. Even if you’re not in the mood for a martini, draft beers are only $2 during Happy Hour and appetizers like the Kobe Beef Sliders, Baked Brie and Toasted Jalapeno Raviolis will keep your mouth watering. Check out the Bistro at 305 North Main St.

Mi Casa Mexican Cantina: During the winter months, Mi Casa is the ultimate Happy Hour destination given its close proximity to the base of Peak 9. From the classic margarita on the rocks to the lusciously blended mango margarita, there are plenty of ways to get your tequila fix at this well-established watering hole. I remember upon first moving to Breckenridge a friend brought me to Mi Casa and I became a fan for life after realizing they provided free chips and salsa during their 3-6 p.m. Happy Hour. As if that wasn’t incentive enough, right at 5 o’clock a pan of free nachos appears like magic and it’s usually a race to be the first one to dig in. Mi Casa is located right behind Mountain Wave near the corner of Park Avenue and Main Street.

Twist: Of all the restaurants on this list, Twist is definitely the baby, but don’t let that fool you because they handle Happy Hour like pros.

Twist Breck

Located off Ridge Street with an amazing outdoor patio, Twist is the perfect place to unwind with friends after a long day at the office. Twist focuses on local and seasonal ingredients so the Happy Hour food menu is always changing, but the pork shoulder tacos for just $2 each have been a staple since Twist opened, given locals have been known to order them by the dozen.  Twist is also home to one of my favorite cocktails in town, the Green Tea Martini. If you feel like branching out of your comfort zone try the bartender’s creative cocktail of the evening, always different, always refreshing and always just $5.

South Ridge Seafood: Sometimes you visit a bar for the deals and sometimes you visit for the character. Both can be said about South Ridge Seafood Grill because the food and drink are awesome and they have some of the friendliest bartenders around. Happy Hour from 4-6 p.m. is a great time to hit up South Ridge with $1 oysters and great deals on other food items like the peel and eat shrimp and trout dip. Cheap draft beers are the main draw for the local crowd and given South Ridge is tucked away on Ridge Street the atmosphere feels a bit more relaxed even though the place has been known to get hopping as the hours creep closer to dinner. Do yourself a favor and head to South Ridge early when the crowds are minimal and you can pick the bartender’s brain for other Breck recommendations. Thanks to a quick chat with Daryll a few years back I found my favorite hiking trail of all time.

Cecilia’s : I know what you’re thinking. Cecilia’s for Happy Hour? Isn’t that the place with the pole on the dance floor? Yes and yes. While Cecilia’s has definitely made a name for itself as one the best late-night joints in town they have been doing somewhat of an image overhaul and are enticing a different kind of crowd for their Happy Hour these days by offering a bottle of wine with a fruit and cheese plate for only $20. Cecilia’s may have gotten somewhat of a bad rap over the years given it’s a more of a dance club than anything else but they do have a killer martini selection and during Happy Hour they are 2-for-1. Stroll in to Cecilia’s in the late afternoon and you will be pleasantly surprised by the laid-back atmosphere and wide drink selection. Also, if you feel like a glass of scotch and a stogie this is definitely your place as Cecilia’s boasts one of the biggest humidors you will find in Summit County. Find them in La Cima Mall right next to Lucha Cantina.

Guided wildflower hikes in Breckenridge

The story below was featured on The Breck Connection

Did you know that the seeds of the Indian Paintbrush wildflower are so small that you can plant a whole acre with only a few handfuls? Or that the white and lavender Columbine was adopted as the official state flower of Colorado on April 4, 1899 and that it’s illegal to pick them?

Whether you are a wildflower enthusiast or not, it’s hard not to find beauty in the

A few local varieties

splash of color found alongside mountain streams and paths this time of year in Breckenridge. Given this window of spectacular viewing only comes around for a short time during the summer months do yourself a favor and make it a point to check out one of the guided wildflower hikes offered through the Breckenridge Resort.

Locals and visitors alike can take advantage of several guided hike options that depart from the base of Peak 8 at 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. on a daily basis throughout the summer season with weather permitting, of course.

Each hike includes wildflower identification, information on certain medical remedies for some varieties, a background on Breck’s local history and what you need to know to be an expert “Leave No Trace” hiker.

Maybe you have cruised down Horseshoe Bowl on a powder day but when all that snow melts it leaves the soil in perfect condition for summer wildflowers and one guided hike option included riding the Colorado Chair up the mountain for a stroll through the lush and colorful basin.

Columbine can be found everywhere this time of year

Having a hard time getting the kids to want to go on a hike? What if the end reward was zooming down Breck’s famous Alpine Slide? Ride the chairlift to the top of the mountain and once you finish exploring and discovering local flora your group will end up at the top of the Alpine Slide and you can give your legs a break riding the slide all the way to the bottom of the mountain.

The guided hikes run through Breckenridge Resort are described as moderate, running up to three hours in duration and the ones that utilize the chairlift are not recommended for children under the age of five.  Even if you are an expert hiker each guided session includes water, a granola bar, use of a daypack and hiking poles and they will even hook you up with a rain poncho if it starts to sprinkle and you forgot to bring one.

Remember to bring some sturdy hiking shoes, a good attitude and a camera because you will be channeling your inner Ansel Adams in no time once you look around and realize everywhere you turn is another unparalleled scenic view.

Reservations are recommended but not required so visit their website or call 970-453-3256 with any questions.

Playing catch up

It’s been a while since I used this as a forum for self-expression and I feel compelled to start out by quoting a man who was clearly ahead of his time, Mr. Ferris Bueller.

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

It’s true. We live in a world where it’s all about getting ahead, moving forward and never settling. It’s easy to loose sight of the present and to remember to take the time to commend yourself on where you have come and what brought you to this moment.

It’s been an incredible year of growth both personally and professionally, and even though I am now an editor for a different blog I have been completely neglecting my own.

As a writer you learn to mold your voice for different audiences, but I think to be a true writer you have to learn to revisit your own voice from time to time. It’s hard to believe it’s been five years since I moved to Summit County as a fresh-faced college grad and, while I am still light years away from having it all figured out, I have arrived at a place of balance on the brink of my 27th year on this planet.

While this site will now feature most of my work for The Breck Connection I’m hoping I still remember the importance of documenting my own voice every once in a while.

Feels good to be back on here.

Taking in an evening view with Makazi, our new trusty canine companion
Photo credit: Shaun Smith

Amazing Grace: A true local eatery

The story below was featured on The Breck Connection

213 Lincoln Avenue in Breckenridge

Walking into Amazing Grace Natural Eatery on Lincoln Avenue in Breckenridge it’s easy to feel like you found a true gem. On any given morning you will find the tables full of folks decked out in ski gear, chatting about the current snow conditions, town happenings and local gossip. The vibe is relaxed and unpretentious, a perfect choice for those looking for a more personal dining experience away from the Main Street masses.

It’s no surprised that Amazing Grace is so laid-back given the women in charge would have it no other way. The business was started by famed adventure racer Monique Merrill who wanted to create a restaurant that felt like home when she returned from trekking across the globe, and she recruited other like-minded local ladies who shared a passion for outdoor exploration and good all-natural cooking.

You won’t find anything processed at Amazing Grace as emphasis is placed on fresh, wholesome ingredients. If you head in for a bite in the morning try the glueten-free breakfast tacos, loaded with eggs, cheese, spinach and salsa, gently folded in corn tortillas. Find a table and sip on a cup of free-trade conscious coffee as you peruse the Summit Daily in the dappled sunlight coming through the frosted windows. Or, if you are in a hurry, grab one of their freshly baked muffins with a rotating selection baked fresh daily.

My favorite time to be at Amazing Grace is during the lunch hour. There’s something about being in a refurbished old house that makes me feel at peace and when work starts to get too hectic I always find myself wandering up to Lincoln Avenue to slow down for an hour or more and enjoy a quite lunch.

I’m a sucker for a good turkey sandwich and Amazing Grace has several options I tend to rotate through. The Turkey Veggie comes complete with tomato, cucumber, shredded carrots, zucchini and sprouts, and when I’m feeling something with a bit more zip I opt for the Turkey Berry with avocado, cranberries and raspberry vinaigrette dressing.

Belly up to the counter

If you’re looking for good food you can feel good about eating, venture away from Main Street and pop in to Amazing Grace Tuesday through Sunday from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Check them out online before you go at amazinggracebreck.com and you can see the full menu along with short bios of all the employees.

Lather up with the Breckenridge Soap Company

The story below was a feature on The Breck Connection

When Breckenridge local Rene Bartnick first started lathering lotion on her son Jackson when he was a baby, she paused for a moment to take a look at the ingredients and realized she couldn’t pronounce a single one. Determined to find a more organic alternative, she took matters into her own hands and started experimenting with a few homemade concoctions.

Homemade and handcrafted soaps in Breckenridge, Colorado

Once I found out this was something I could do on my own, it opened the door for lots of experimentation,” Bartnick said. “I realized it was almost like an art project. Working with different colors and scents… it allowed me to be very creative.”

After setting up a makeshift work space in her kitchen, Bartnick started dabbling in soaps, salves, lotions and lip balms. Friends and coworkers became guinea pigs as she handed out her new products to anyone that wanted to try them and in just a few short months the Breckenridge Soap Company was born

Bartnick will be the first to admit that creating the right line of products didn’t come without some serious trail and error, and she laughs when she recounts the time she actually had to lick her own soap to test if the ration of ingredients was right.
“I remember I had to look online to see how other people were making soap and one review said you had to lick the actual bar to see if it had the right amount of Lye,” Bartnick recalls. “It tasted horrible, so bitter that it almost burned my mouth. That’s when I realized I had to start over.”

The now famous Pine Tar Bar

Once things were dialed in, Bartnick set up a business account on Etsy and began selling her products alongside other established vendors. Her all-natural angle helped her to stand apart from other companies as she only uses organic ingredients that are mostly locally sourced.

When a co-worker approached her about creating a soap to help with his Eczema, Bartnick did her research and developed her now most popular selling soap, the Pine Tar Bar.

“I found that pine tar has been used for centuries for dry skin and when used in the right percentages it can really help with Eczema symptoms,” Bartnick said. “I used the needles from our Colroado Blue Spruce Christmas tree and when I ground them up and added them to the soap that became the exfoliating aspect. Hearing that it actually really works for people is such a great feeling.”

When she’s not using products straight out of her living room Bartnick enlists the help of local famers for ingredients like honey and goat’s milk. She infuses her own oils with herbs for color and fragrance and is proud to say that nothing in her line of products is chemically based.

 

“I would love to go bigger with this business,” Bartnick admits. “The idea of having these products be sold outside of just Breckenridge is really exciting.”

Those looking to get their hands on products from the Breckenridge Soap Company can find them at several Breckenridge retailers like Bboutique, Zoe’s Hair Salon and the Local Market. Not in Breckenridge? Well don’t fret because you can buy all of Bartnick’s products on her Etsy shop by visiting www.breckenridgesoapco.etsy.com