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Mr President

Despite knowing 2012 was an election year I do not think anything could have prepared us for the deluge of campaign advertisements bombarding us across every form of media through the months of October and November leading into the election. From TV and Radio to Print and Social Networking there often was back to back Republican and Democratic advertisements for respective presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Barrack Obama with little or no mention of any other candidates.

After spending a good part of a year here I feel like I have begun to understand the fundamental perspectives of each side of US government and in contrast to our two major political parties in Australia I would have to say Republican’s and Democrat’s are significantly less aligned. Republican’s seem to me to be more often represented by wealthy less liberal folks who are self sustaining, whilst, Democrat’s are typically more left wing and in general call for more social equality such as universal health care as we have seen through the current president Obama’s health care proposals. Making some further generalisations I would have to say that our own government is perhaps tilted more towards the democratic side of things with our Liberal government more likened to the Democratic party here in the US, with our labour party perhaps further down the left winged Democratic scale.

That said I think that is why Nat and myself found ourselves more naturally aligned with the Democratic party led by re-election candidate Barrack Obama. Hence, when a ticket became available to go and see the president speak at CU campus in Boulder I could not refuse. Both candidates had spent quite a bit of time here in swing state Colorado, with this CU visit being President Obama’s 3rd visit this campaign with the notional intention of securing the student vote. After lining up for over an hour to get into the Coors Event Centre  myself, work colleague Alex and his girlfriend Kristina had to sit out another 3.5 hours to hear the president speak. It was all worth it with Barrack Obama delivering a very inspiring and forward thinking speech to the American people. It’s no wonder that he secured the state and the presidential election in a landslide victory.

In summary, one thing I am thankful for now that I may not have been thankful for before our time here in the US is the fact that our Australian governments are far more aligned in fundamental areas of policy which no doubt makes way for a more efficient and cooperative government.

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Texas

Go Longhorns!

So our trip to the United States would not have been complete without a visit to the state where everything is bigger, Texas. And with good mate and home grown Texan tour guide Kristin along for the ride our weekend to the big T was never going to disappoint. First stop for us was the capital Austin. Austin being one of the more liberal of Texan cities and home to the University of Texas ensured that our night out on the town was not going to be a quiet one. We hit 6th street and it was reminiscent of Bourbon street New Orleans but you guessed it bigger. The street was shut down to traffic and full of drunken young people meandering about the place as far as the eye could see, along with pray groups that stand on corners in bright orange shirts praying supposedly to deter violence.

Rising a little hung over the following morning we set off for breakfast and strike me down we very randomly ran into our old mate Hadz from tailgating at the Broncos game and his wife and daughters  (talk about a small world).

State Capitol

Next stop was a whirl wind tour of the capitol building followed by a stop at Lance Armstrong’s bike shop which plays (played) home to his 7 tour de France winners jerseys. Fortunately, we got there just one week prior to them being revoked. Next we moved onto the University Co-op to get ourselves decked out in some burnt orange Longhorns gear in preparation for their game later that evening against fellow Texan side Baylor. After picking up 30 or so tinnies, a foam eski and ice for just over $35 from a nearby 7 11 we set off to experience tailgating Texan style. In previous blogs we have detailed the tailgating concept (at the Broncos and CU v CSU games) and I’ve got to say Texan’s take tailgating to a whole new level…. Everything is bigger, the parties, the TV’s, the accompanying generators, the food, the hospitality and

Tailgating

even our fellow tailgaters such as Mark “TexMark”. TexMark befriended us at a tailgating party we crashed thanks to Kristin’s contacts and after a shot or two of Petrone we were best of mates. TexMark accompanied us into the stadium as he too was sitting way up in the nose bleed section. Approximately midway up DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium I was a little concerned for TexMark as he was all red faced, huffing and puffing struggling along the hand rail only seemingly moments away from a certain heart attack when he flippantly turned to me and apologised for the slow pace he was setting with “sorry I’m a little out of shape…. and I weigh 400 pounds”. Fortunately, TexMark’s seating was not quite as nose bleed as our seats and he made it to his seat with his heart still beating to enjoy an attacking match which saw the home team winning 56 to 50.

Texas State Fair- where Big Tex should have been standing, but he was fried!

Unfortunately, we had to leave the game a little early as our next stop was Dallas a little under three and a half hours north of Austin. Our primary objective for including Dallas into the itinerary was to visit the Texas state fair. We had heard much about the state fair where you can get just about anything fried, fried Chicken, fried Snickers, fried Twinky’s, fried Beer you name it they fry it. As it turns out even fair marquee figure head for the “Big Tex” was fried. After some 40 odd years of service poor old Big Tex caught a light due to some electrical fault and burnt to the ground only days before we arrived. After coming to terms with Big Tex’s passing we moved on through the fair which reminded me a lot of the Easter Show back home…. but slightly larger. Following the fair we rounded out the weekend with a trip to the JFK memorial museum and a walk down to the grass knoll.

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Busy Weekend

After Bobby rigged his AFL tipping comp such that he emerged as the victor, he organised for a local Fort Collins pub to put the AFL grand final game on, and, invited the remainder of the tipping comp field to come along to celebrate his win and watch the game. As you are probably quite aware the game was a very entertaining final in which kept us on the edge of our seats until the wee hours of the morning. The mighty Swanny’s well contested victory was made all the more sweeter seeing as though they beat Bobby’s own Hawthorn. See Bobby cheating never pays 😉

A day at Anderson Farm

The following day Bobby was out for revenge on the disc golf course but he and we were served a lesson by Christian “Koshie” Kozlowski. After a quick and painful 9 holes we headed south to a place called Erie to get lost in a corn maze at Anderson’s Farm. After paying our admission fee we obtained maps of the maze including the various check points scattered throughout and we promptly formed teams; boys versus girls in a true test of map navigation. The girls took out the preliminary but once the boys got their bearings we convincingly took out the main event on the 30 acre 9 mile course. Nat and I returned to Denver later that evening to round out the day with a meal down town on Lamar after visiting fancy speak easy bar “The Green Russell”.

The boys enjoying the game

Since the beginning of the year attending a MLS (Major League Soccer) match was forecast. With local team the Colorado Rapids hosting David Beckham’s own L.A Galaxy at Dick’s Sporting Goods Field we booked our tickets ready for our glimpse at the super star himself. We (the boys) had general admission tickets which turned out to be the best seats in the house right along side the players entrance to and from the sheds, and, directly behind the goals and perhaps more importantly right along-side the hooligan Rapids supporter base. Too bad the girls upgraded their tickets only to sit way up out of the action and miss out on a session banging away on the drums.

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Rockies with Hadz

So the local baseball team the Rockies has had perhaps the worst season in franchise history losing 98 of their 162 games for the season, but that did not stop us from heading on down to Coors Field for one of their final home games. Good mate and Rockies season ticket holder Hadz had very kindly offered us 6 tickets to join him, his family and friends to watch the week night game vs. the Cubs. It was an unusual drizzly night in Denver and the girls had declined to come along which meant we were free to invite some work mates to come along and enjoy the match and one or two quiet ones. The game was quite entertaining in contrast to our previous Rockies games with plenty of hits and home runs for both sides. Unfortunately, due to the bad weather the covers were drawn over the pitch in the 8th innings. The rain progressively intensified causing the match to eventually be abandoned seeing the home team win 10-5 on a score projection.

A great night out with Hadz and the gang again. Sorry no photos to post at this point.

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Footy @ Hadz’s Silver Bullet Bar

Me and Hadz

So remember the good fortune we had back a few weeks ago when we met a top bloke by the name of Hadley “Hadz” Bradbury whilst tailgating at the Broncos preseason game? If so you might recall that he invited us to his place to watch the Bronco’s season opening game with his family and a bunch of his mates. Well we could not turn down such a generous offer and so we made our way directly from the Sand Dunes to Hadz’s place in Highlands Ranch. After a little trouble convincing the security guard posted at the front of Hadz’s gated community that we were mates of his, we eventually made our way through the suburbian labyrinth to the a house proudly flying the Broncos flag. Still a little unsure we had the right house we hesitantly knocked on the door only to find a bubbly Hadz answer the door welcoming us with plenty of fist pumps, hugs and high fives.

The Bartenders

When Hadz said to us he had converted his basement into a bar I pictured a modest home bar tucked away in one corner of the basement…. modest is perhaps one of the last words I would use in describing Hadz’s “Silver Bullet Bar”…. Holy Cow! Hadz’s basement consisted of a full size bar along with beer taps, 6 or so flat screen television sets, plenty of neon, sporting memorabilia ranging from signed football helmets to collector cards and photos, a pool table, a dart board set up and even room for a shuffle board table. I’ve got to say I had never seen anything quite like it!

The Broncos got the season off to a good start with a win and we partied on into the night singing drinking games with Hadz and his famous neighbour and former Stanely Cup winner Stéphane Yelle between games of shuffle board.

Thanks Hadz for your and Joan’s incredible hospitality, it truly was a night not to forget.

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Great Sand Dunes National Park

Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

We awoke with post slide night hang-overs and it was close to midday before we were on the road for our weekend trip down to the Great Sand Dunes National Park. Setting off down the interstate 25 we traversed the front range passing through Colorado Springs and Pueblo further to the south, before making the climb up the US-160 into the San Luis Valley. Approaching from the south we could clearly see a distinct haze at the foot of one of the larger mountains known as Blanca Peak, and, it wasn’t until we were somewhat closer before we realised that the haze was in fact giant sand dunes tucked away in a corner of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range. We continued into town which consisted of a single convenience store which quadrupled as a supermarket, gas station, restaurant and front desk for the only accommodation in town. We picked up the keys to our little shack for the evening and then headed on out to dunes for a preliminary hike and to take advantage of the afternoon’s fading light for a few snap shots.

The top of the Dunes

With knowledge that the aforementioned convenience store restaurant closed at 7pm we had to be back down off the dunes in time for dinner otherwise we would have gone without, or alternatively had to drive some 30 miles back to the nearest town. So after a quick meal we retired back to our shack in preparation for our hike the following day.

The park boasts the tallest sand dunes in North America with the largest towering some 230 metres above the valley floor. The 77 square kilometres of dune field is thought to have been forming for over the last 400,000 years as result of sand and soil deposits from the nearby Rio Grande coupled with the powers of wind and erosion. So needless to say the climb to the second highest dune in the dune field “High Dune” was quite the feat.

4WD’in

After making it to the top and a few snapshots later we were descending back to valley in hasty fashion as the morning sunshine began to heat the sand under foot. Once back on the valley floor we jumped in the truck and drove further into the park along some 4WD trails which required us to deflate the tyres due to the depth of the sand. We managed to keep the truck from get bogged only after a few hairy sand pit encounters and eventually made it back onto the sealed road only to commence our long journey back to Denver along the stunning mountain stretch of US-285.

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Slide Night

Prior to departing on our respective summer vacations exchangee mates Bobby, Sammy, Nash and Olivia and ourselves had decided that we were to host a slide night to showcase our respective top 100 summer travel photos. To keep things interesting we had also arranged a few categories a priori:

1. Best Wildlife Photo
2. Best Landscape Photo
3. Best State Sign
4. Favourite Photo
5. Fattest Person Photo
6. Best UPS Van shot (the objective here was to get in behind the wheel if possible) and finally;
7. Hot Pants (to don Bobby’s USA nylon hot pants in an iconic location)

I’ve got to say choosing 100 photos was not an easy task, yet, Nat and other folks did a pretty outstanding job consolidating their galleries into a concise yet comprehensive slide show depiction of their summer adventures. And what kind of award night would it be without cocktails? That’s right so with no one more qualified than Nat with all her summer cocktail drinking experience she was naturally appointed cocktail bartress. Drinks were shaken and stirred and promptly consumed and we were all ready for our 15 minutes of fame. With a voting system in place thanks to Lumberg Elementary’s smart board clickers each category was highly contested. The only rule was you could not vote for your own photo.

And here were the winners:

 

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Boyz Weekend

Good mate and all round top bloke Vern, who featured in our post titled “Weekend @Kim and Verny’s” very generously promised to take us fellas on a summer camping and rafting trip. Vernsta did not disappoint and we set off from Estes Park after work one Friday afternoon destined for a place called Radium, set on the Colorado River nearby to Kremmling. Vern had arrived a couple of days before to secure a good camp site and had eagerly anticipated our arrival. In fact, when we eventually rolled into camp late that night we found Vern asleep in his camp chair alongside the road where he was strategically positioned so we didn’t miss the turn off. After waking Vern from his slumber and enjoying a tinny or two (or three) together we retired for the evening in preparation for a big day on the river.

Brown Trout #2

Waking the following morning we drove upstream some 5-6 miles with rafts, fishing rods (or poles as they are called here) and most importantly the “supplies”. After spending a couple minutes re-inflating the rafts we were on our way. I was on board with captain Vern and his trusty deck hand “Pauly” (Vern’s mate), whilst novices Bobby and Nash were left to work out how to tackle the rapids on their own. Being summer the river was teeming with rafters, kayakers, canoers and tubers all after their own piece of the river action. After tackling a few more placid rapids we entered a canyon section where Vern assured us of good fishing. Again we were not disappointed, I had my line in the water no longer than 5 minutes before I had landed my first brown trout followed by my second and Nash was not far behind with a brown and a nice Rainbow. Vern however had the last say with a solid 2 + pound brown.

We shot a few more rapids down river and pulled up for brief dip in some natural hot spring baths that side line the river and then proceeded another 0.5 mile or so downstream back to camp. Upon reaching camp it was my job to gut and clean the fish ready for the evenings feast that included not only super fresh trout straight from the Colorado River but also Paul’s magnificent chilli along with Sam’s brownies for dessert.

Sunday’s rapids downstream of camp were more challenging than the previous day’s trip and so we were all eagerly anticipating what the river had to serve up. The landscape changed quickly from arid undulating hills to mountains and canyons covered thick with conifers and aspen groves and it was here that we got a most welcome close encounter with a black bear as it meandered along the banks of the river following the scent of a nearby meal. The bear was within 5 meters of the rafts at one point and did not even seem to notice our presence, it truly was an amazing thing to see. Unfortunately, neither boat had a camera handy to snap a few shots off so you will have to take my, Bobby’s, Nash’s and Vern’s word for it. Vernsta claimed he had organised for the bear to turn up, all apart of his camping and rafting extravaganza he told us, however, I think he himself was a little surprised with the bear sighting at such close proximity.

Thanks for a Top 10 weekend Vernsta!

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Mid Summer Mountain Adventure

With Nat finally home for a weekend we decided it was well time we headed back up into the mountains to check them out when they were snow less. We

Frisco from Mt. Royal Summit

planned to spend the night Saturday at Frisco and head out up the US Interstate 70 a little further to Vail the following day. The weather wasn’t the greatest, however, we still set out into the drizzle and embarked on a hike up Mt. Royal (10,500 ft). It was only a 2 mile trail, however, the incline was fairly significant in places and by the time we made it to the summit we were both pretty knackered.

Vail mountain offers some world class down hill mountain biking during the summer and there was no way we were going to let summer slip by without seeing what all the fuss was about. So we both rented down-hill mountain bikes and jumped on the gondola. The gondola ride is approximately a 15 minute ride which gave us plenty of time to retrain our brains that the brake levers were on the wrong side… yep rear brake on the right and front on the left. I only came unstuck once at low speed due the braking situation but what a rush…! I think I may have found my new latest hobby. Nat on the other hand had had enough after the first run and sat out the afternoon down the bottom of the hill.

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4th of July – New Orleans

4th July Celebrations!

After coming home wifeless from our honeymoon and doing it tough solo for a few weeks I decided she had had enough time gallivanting around the United States and that it was well time I go and retrieve her. By this stage she had made her way back to New Orleans Louisiana and with a mid week national holiday approaching what better a time and place to take an extended weekend and party. Leaving work Tuesday evening on the 3rd I braved the rush hour traffic and drove on down to DIA. Naturally, being delayed by the traffic I was late and had to sprint laden with luggage across the Pike’s Peak parking lot in pursuit of the bus departing for the terminal. I made the bus and the flight and eventually turned up in New Orleans soon after mid night local time just in time to get a good night’s sleep ready for a big 4th of July.

Waking on the 4th of July to a very hot and sticky New Orleans Nat and I set off down Bourbon street in search of breakfast. After a quick meal and a particularly impressive Waltzing Matilda rendition on banjo we walked no further than 10 meters down Bourbon Street and had secured for ourselves our first drinks of the day… “Hand Grenades” labelled – “The most powerful drink in New Orleans”. Well for once the advertising was correct! I’m not sure what was in that Hand Grenade concoction, however, after finishing I had quite the buzz going on.

Pat O’Briens

Shortly afterwards we caught up with the Clark’s who were also in town for the big day. We took a Street Car (trolley) ride down south of the city and afterwards headed back into the city for an unfortunate lunch experience in preparation for further drunkard wandering of the New Orleans French Quarter to enjoy and experience the craziness that is Bourbon Street. After a few more Hand Grenades and Hurricanes (another very potent local drop) we made our way down to the banks of the Mississippi for the pending fireworks display. We had arrived early to secure a good vantage and had to sit out an hour or two of light with which I thought was a great time to catch up on all those hours of sleep I had missed whilst working hard during my solo weeks. Needless to say after a half dozen mixed drinks under the belt sleeping was something that came to me naturally. During my time of rest certain individuals took advantage of my drunken slumber to humour themselves (I’ll let the photos do the talking). All in good fun… Mr. Clark just beware next time you attempt some shut eye in my presence… mark my words 😉

Enjoying our breakfast by the lake

We woke a little worse for wear the following morning and spent the day doing a little more sight seeing, shopping and rounded it out with a well overdue sea food meal consisting of oysters and fish (along with another Hand Grenade for good measure). On our final day in New Orleans we managed to fit in a  quick visit to the very impressive World War II museum before heading westwards into swamp country. Nat had organised for us to stay at the very same place she had stayed with the Clark’s the previous weekend and had also put together a very similar itinerary. The sunset swamp tour surprisingly proved to be one of the prettiest places we have visited with the fading day’s light  providing for some spectacular photos. Later that evening we treated ourselves to an authenticate southern fried chicken experience thanks to Church’s Chicken only to leave early the next morning destine for Denver to finally return home and to finally bring Nat’s honeymoon to an end.

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