The People’s Republic of Boulder

While traveling in Europe I had to get used to not being able to communicate with people around me. Rather than asking them to speak English, I invariably ended up just avoiding people if possible, rather than looking like an idiot. On coming home, however, I was all excited for exactly the same reason: suddenly I could talk to people! Upon landing I enjoyed a delightfully confusion-free drive to my new house. But that’s where the ease ended.

My new house is in Boulder, you see, and things aren’t as simple as you might think. Basically, the problem is that nobody here speaks the same language as me. I walk into the grocery store and say, “hello, I would like a pound of chicken” and the guy responds with, “would you like free range chicken?” But that makes no sense, because clearly I’d like it already dead, and preferably de-feathered and skinned. One tactic I would use in Europe when I didn’t know a word was to try to figure it out through context. So you can imagine my confusion when I see all this about “gluten-free” bread. I’m no baker, but isn’t gluten an integral component of bread? That seems like trying to go mountain running without the mountain. Or just the other day, curious to try out some of the latest gadgetry in running shoes, I walked into the shoe store and asked to try on a pair of shoes.

“Good afternoon,” I said to the clerk, “Can I try on some lightweight running shoes?”

“You mean the barefoot shoes?” he asked.

I gave him a blank stare. “I don’t follow.”

“Do you want to try on a pair of barefoot running shoes?” he asked again.

I narrowed my eyes. “Are you making fun of me?”

He looked surprised. “No sir! Here, try these out. They’re called five fingers.”

“I’m looking for shoes!”

Eventually I left because clearly we weren’t getting anywhere. This was certainly depressing. Running defines my life right now, yet I couldn’t even navigate a shoe store. I then tried speaking the language myself (“I would like a package of gluten free salmon and a selection of cage0free coffee beans please”), but that didn’t work either. So I had to resign myself to my European tactics.

All the confusion aside, having a house is good. Rent may be expensive, but I’m paying for something meaningful and stable. Rather than traveling to a new country with new mountains and new trails every day, I now get to experience the same mountains each day. I get to learn all of their intricacies – their trails, ridges, faces, summits – and tune myself into their different moods. The mountains feel different in the morning than in the evening, or in the fall than in the spring, but they remain constant in so many other ways. I know the rocks, the turns, the trees, the topography. Familiarity breeds security, and security breeds comfort. I like these mountains, and I’m excited to see what they have to offer.

The author ascending the First Flatiron in Boulder. Photo: Joe Grant

Boulder can be a wild place, but for now it is home. I have a place to leave in the morning and return at night, a place to be alone and a place to invite friends. I can cook great meals and store perishable food. As described above, navigating certain interactions can be difficult, but the result of that is a constant exposure to healthy food, healthy lifestyles and healthy people. As much as I hate to admit it, I’m just the same as everybody else in Boulder, and recognizing that begs the question: “why does being healthy evoke such heated defensiveness?” It’s like religion or politics – everybody has their own way of living and if someone else tries to impose their beliefs we put up walls. But I certainly don’t have this stuff figured out, so I’m just going to recognize that a lot of people here are active and conscious of doing the right thing for themselves and others, and maybe I can learn something from them. I try to surround myself with good – good food, good people, good activities – and avoid the bad. Maybe that makes me pretentious but… at least I know the obvious difference between ‘all-natural’ and ‘organic’.

While on the road I have thought often of how best to live. The answer is different according to each person’s values. I’m starting to think that if a person doesn’t have a home to return to, he stops “traveling” and starts “being homeless”. I don’t want to be homeless. Rather, I’d like to travel. But I also want to have a base, a place to begin to sink some roots. I mean – I’m nearly twenty-two years old! It’s time to start settling down! Ha. This house thing is only going to last a few months, and then I’ll be off again. But the crucial point here is that when eventually I return, I’ll return home. Home is the stable point to revolve around, the center of the orbit. Having my own is something real and meaningful. And if I can’t afford it then I’m just going to move into Bryon Powell’s basement, where I can pay him in words and he’ll feed me with surplus running gear. We’ve got a pretty good exchange going.

The author getting to know the First Flatiron with Anton Krupicka (left) and Joe Grant (right). Photo: Joe Grant

Dakota Jones: explores the wild places of the world on foot and tells us about it every few weeks. He runs for Salomon and Clif Bar.

View Comments (29)

  • I saw this title in my Google Reader and just knew who the author was! A nice contrast to Tony's ode to tricked out truck living. Thanks for the early morning chuckle and enjoy those mountains.

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  • Undoubtedly, Dakota. You should consider writing a book.

    I'm only 3 years older than you, but I am already a fan of your material.

    You're hilarious.

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  • Welcome to town!

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  • HAHA!!! I'm still laughing, Dakota you just made my morning that was already going good that much better. I agree with Ford please write a book, so I can continue to laugh at work...

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  • Gonna smoke heaps of bongs ay?

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  • Made me laugh!!! "Are you making fun of me?"

    I'm looking forward to you coming back to Europe. I'd love to meet you and buy you a beer. As long as you hang around at the finish long enough for me to finish.

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  • That was freaking hilarious! Thanks for the laugh!!

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  • Good stuff, as usual.

    You definitely hit the nail on the head about the necessity for one traveler to have to place you can call home, even if that's only for few weeks at a time.

    Yet, don't you think that regardless of being people who you are familiar with

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  • now that last sentence surely won't help you to understand europeans... darn message went out too fast, here it the rest:

    ...

    Yet, don’t you think that regardless of the location, being with people who you are familiar with can give you that same feeling of security, and thus confort?

    Enjoy Boulder, its breweries and ladies sure are some of the finest in the country, no doubt :)

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  • I enjoyed your article very much! Thank you@

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  • We shall not cease from exploration

    And the end of all our exploring

    Will be to arrive where we started

    And know the place for the first time.

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  • Welcome to our city. Perhaps I'll see you out on the trails in the near future.

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  • Nearly 22! Sounding way too settled! I'm 33 and bought my first ever furniture just this year (well it was lots of wood with pictorial instructions that any nationality can understand, from that famed Swedish store). Love your writing as always Dakota and if your English skills result in difficult communication good old USofA I'd suggest creating some Ikea diagram style pictorial cards?

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  • You missed something in Europe. With the exception of France maybe (je suis désolée mes amis) most people are really open to speaking English. Even if they do not really have the hang of it. I travel a lot within in the EU and I only speak my mother tounge German fluently. Never had a problem communicating in English. I particulary like Italy! There you can always talk with your hands!

    Regards from the Bavarian Alps!

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  • Running shoe store, eh... You must mean the FedEx guy that delivers fresh Montrails to your house.

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    • Montrail uses UPS :p

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      • Aaron- they use their own private jet. "The Jones' Jet" Comeon man.. get real. Go do some squats or drink some coconut milk.

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        • Clif pizza, anyone?

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  • Hah. Well done, Dakota.

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  • Dakota, in that last picture you look like a member of the Outsiders who was photo-shopped in. Please update the photo with Ponyboy or Sodapop (being that you are basically still 12 I wouldn't necessarily expect you to get this quip). Nice post.

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  • Cool name bro! Think I've heard it before tho... At The Bus Stop

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  • Love this! Dakota is hilarious and is living a great life. I'm jealous that he gets to do the things he does and lives as free as he does.

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  • Sweet Jesus, I'm never going to win the Basic now.

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