Learning out Loud in Milwaukee, WI

Riding slow, climbing high

I’ve been riding my bike more slowly lately.

I used to race my bike. Leaving with just enough time to get where I was going, and hoping I hit every light green to make it on time. Not since November 9.

I’ve been riding slowly lately. Feeling the road beneath my tires. The slip of the pedals under my Vans, their soles worn almost smooth. I have to concentrate as I push the crank, pulling the chain through from the rear gearset to the front.

I’ve been riding slowly and somehow still get places on time. Slowing down, you see the city in a different way. The drivers are more human, the architecture more apparent, and the streets quieter.

My buddy Nate and I went up to Leadville this weekend. Leadville is the highest incorporate city in the USA, and the second highest municipality.

Based on the name, you might think Leadville was a lead mining town, but prospectors were there for gold originally. While looking for gold, miners found deposits of cerussite, a lead carbonate that was used in lead paint and contained high amounts of silver.

The “Unsinkable” Molly Brown — who surivied the Titanic — lived in Leadville. Oscar Wilde came through the swanky Tabor Opera House on a lecture circuit in 1882. There are giant Victorian style buildings all over town. With their art deco facades and spectacular turrets. It’s hard to imagine looking at it today, but Leadville was a boomtown.

Today, Leadville has a lot of coffee shops for a city of fewer than 3,000 people, a brewery, the old saloon, a slammin antiques store, and a handful of bars along the main drag. Walking around the city this past Saturday reminded of Escanaba, MI, a town that wears its former great lakes shipping glory on it’s sleeve, and inspired me on our way through two summers ago.

A lot of what keeps these towns kicking these days is tourism. Mining is still the major employer in Leadville, but they employ fewer than 500 people, and the population has been declining steadily since the WWII, when the military had a ski warfare training base, Camp Hale, near Leadville.

There’s also a place called Melanzana, a clothing company that makes all their goods by hand, in Leadville.Melanzana was founded in 2003 and has had a mission to make durable outdoor gear in Leadville ever since. A brewery called Periodic Brewing Company, which, in addition to having good beer, has the most clever name of any brewery in the state: Pb, the chemical symbol for lead. The pizza place, High Mountain Pies, has some of the best pizza I’ve had since moving here. Colorado Mountain College teaches a curriculum not found at most institutions of higher learning. Courses specific to the needs of mountainous places with programs in forest firefighting, avalanche technician, natural resource management.

It’s easy to look at a place like Leadville and only see the decay, to see it as what it once was, it’s former greatness, and ignore its beauty, and dream of its potential. While it’s hard to imagine 14,000 people will want to live in the highest city in the continent, where the average summer high barely cracks the mid 70s, and annual snowfall clocks in a nearly 300", it’s not hard to imagine a second life for the town that doesn’t depend on the local ski resorts or bringing back some former glory.

This is a consistent hangup for me on the mantra of making America great again. One thing that makes America persistently great is that it’s built on dreaming of the future and creating opportunity. Talk about “clean coal” and opening up our natural areas for mining and exploitation isn’t talk about creating opportunity and lifting people up, it’s clinging to the past and shouting loud enough to drown out dissent.

Riding my bike more slowly gives me control over what to think about, and how to think about it. It allows me to wonder what the future holds for myself, my family, and the communities we inhabit. It gives me peace amidst the chaos of road traffic; peace in a tumultuous world of violence in place of understanding; peace in an turbulent era of victimizing in place of the pursuit of justice. Peace in Donald Trump’s America.