2012 USA Pro Cycling Challenge Begins Today

The 2012 USA Pro Cycling Challenge beings todayThe 2012 USA Pro Cycling Challenge is set to get underway this morning in Durango, Colorado, where 126 of the world’s best cyclists will hit the road for the first stage of the race. The event, which is in its second year, will cover 683 miles (1099 kilometers) over the next seven days, finishing on Sunday, August 26, in Denver.

The event, which is being billed as “America’s Race,” features a field of riders that is deep and talented. Amongst them is defending champ Levi Leipheimer, who is still recovering from a broken leg he suffered in April. He’ll be joined on the course by 2011 Tour de France champion Cadel Evans, Italian rider Vincenzo Nibali and Americans George Hincapie and Tejay Van Garderen – a rising star in the sport.

One of the hallmarks of last year’s Pro Cycling Challenge was the high altitude and this year will be no different. While European races feature plenty of tough climbing, those events aren’t at such a consistently high altitude. Much of the Pro Cycling Challenge takes place above 10,000 feet (3048 meters) and riders will have to endure more than 50,000 feet (15,240 meters) of total vertical gain over the course of the week.

Today’s first stage is 125.6 miles (202.1 kilometers) in length and runs from Durngo to Telluride. It features a tough climb up to Lizard Head Pass before a 15-mile (24.1-kilometer) blistering descent to the finish line. The following days will feature similar action, including more tough climbs that end with summit-top finishes and an individual time trial on the final day.

Cycling fans can follow the event live on the race’s website and the Radioshack Tour Tracker mobile app.

Four Great Culinary Vacations

It doesn’t matter iftravaasa hana net throw you love or hate the term “foodie.” Food-centric vacations are here to stay, and even the nonculinarily inclined can enjoy these four great vacations that put food at the center of all the fun without sacrificing the destination or the hotel experience.
The Brown Palace Hotel & Spa – Rooftop Bee Workshop
Hosted by the property’s own beekeeper, guests learn the ins and outs of tending bees so they can implement hives at their own homes. Guests receive an arrival amenity consisting of all of the bounty from the Brown’s rooftop bee hives; including: Honey Lavender Soap, spa treatments featuring the honey, even a beer created in collaboration with a local brewery.
Four Seasons Resort Whistler – Chef-Led Farmers Market Bicycle Tour
The executive chef at the property personally leads bicycle farmer’s market tours from the resort’s front door. Following the farmer’s market, guests return to the property for a cooking lesson (with the market’s fresh bounty), and a gourmet meal at the chef’s table. Guests learn how to pick the best produce and learn cooking skills that they’ll be able to use in their own kitchens when they return home.
Travaasa Hana – Traditional Hawaiian Net Throw
Traditionally passed down through generations of native Hawaiians down from father to son, guests learn the art of catching fish with Hawaiian nets, then return to the property for a lesson on preparing the fish and cooking it. (Picture shown above).
Four Seasons Resort Vail – Mushrooms & Mercedes Expedition
Four Seasons Vail has partnered with Larry Evans, a renowned mushroom forager (who knew there even was such a thing) to offer guests a unique day trip to hunt for mushrooms and cook and enjoy a gourmet dinner upon return to the property. Evans gives guests an overview of what types of mushrooms to hunt for, what to avoid, and how to property pick and clean mushrooms. The highlight of the experience for most attendees is when the group reconvenes in the kitchen of Flame, the signature restaurant.

A Summer Road Trip Through Southwest Colorado

wine While usually thought of as a winter destination, Colorado has a lot to offer the summer traveler. For the itinerary below, I’d suggest touring the U.S. state via car, allotting at least two weeks, although three or four would be better.

Denver

Although this is technically central Colorado, it’s an excellent starting point for your road trip, especially since you’ll most likely be flying into there. The city is full of great activities that can be enjoyed during the summer, like exploring the numerous museums, taking in a comedy show at Comedy Works, strolling down 16th Street Mall or around the trendy Larimer Square. My top suggestion for a great summer experience in Denver, is sampling some of the artisanal flavors of the city. Visit D’Vine Wine, a boutique winery offering inexpensive vino tastings of unusual blends, and The Truffle Cheese Shop, where you’ll be able to try free samples of rare cheeses and cured meats. For those interested in uniquely flavored olive oils and balsamic vinegars, Marketplace EVOO features a giant tasting room, where the owner will help you put together and try the perfect blends. If you’re hungry, Biker Jim’s serves up exotic meat hot dogs, like elk, rattlesnake and pheasant, while the numerous local breweries can give you a taste of Denver’s famous beer scene.golden city brewery Golden

Located 30 minutes west of Denver, this tiny town may look unassuming, but there are actually a lot of worthwhile activities in the area. For some adventure and culture, tubing down Clear Creek is a popular local activity. Moreover, a trip to the iconic Red Rocks Amphitheatre offers picturesque hiking trails of moderate intensity, with opportunities to get close to the glowing red rocks. Additionally, Golden is the home of the Coor’s brewery, which gives tours Thursday through Monday. I would recommend, however, going to the 2nd largest brewery, and only other brewery, in town, The Golden City Brewery. It’s tiny, and housed in an old carriage house. They serve delicious wraps, and you can order a flight of their brews for about $6. At night, drive up Zion Mountain for an all-encompassing view of the city and surrounding areas lit up in the dark.

waterfall Breckenridge

About 90 minutes west of Golden you’ll find the charming mountain town of Breckenridge. This is one of my favorite cities – not only in Colorado, but also in the world. Summer travelers will love the endless amount of hiking trails available, to lakes, peaks, gorges and waterfalls. Furthermore, the town has an endless amount of boutique shops selling food, art, clothing, accessories, massages and gear. A stop at Breckenridge Distillery, the highest distillery in the world, is a must, as you can try free samples of their vodka, bourbon and bitters. I’d also suggest buying some elk and buffalo jerky from Climax Jerky, to sample some local flavor.

wine Grand Junction

Drive three hours west, and you’ll get to Grand Junction. Here you’ll find Colorado’s undiscovered wine region. Because of its very high altitude, rich soil, cool winds and mild climate, the area is able to make some of the world’s best wines. Furthermore, the altitude allows for fruits to grow close to the sun, bringing out their intense flavors. The area here produces 70 percent to 80 percent of the state’s wine grapes, as it has the longest growing season. This is in part due to the cooling effect from nearby canyons, and milding effect from the Grand Valley. Visit Carlson’s Vineyards, a winery featuring a wide selection of wines and quirky concoctions, and Colorado’s oldest winery, Colorado Cellars Winery.

Additionally, you can partake in some of the state’s most scenic hiking at Colorado National Monument. This red rock canyon is over 200 years old, and features towering monoliths, expansive plateaus and panoramic views. It’s 450 feet tall from its base to its top, and is 5,739 feet in elevation. Common wildlife includes bighorn sheep, eagles and collared lizards.

black canyon Crawford

About 45 minutes south, you’ll come to Crawford. This is a great city to really feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere, and experience the beauty of nature. Here you’ll find the country’s newest national park, Black Canyon of the Gunnison. There are moderate hiking trails, which allow you to view the famous Black Canyon, which some say is even more impressive than the Grand Canyon. Moreover, this is a great place to stay on a ranch and partake in activities like horseback riding, archery, fly-fishing, trekking and line dancing. When I went, I stayed at the Smith Fork Ranch. While a bit pricey, you’ll have all your meals and alcohol included, and the atmosphere will really help you assimilate into country culture.

canyoning Ouray

Drive an hour south, and you’ll get to the adventure-rich town of Ouray. It’s similar to Breckenridge in that it’s full of scenic hikes, boutique shops and outdoorsy locals; however, Ouray has a bit of a grittier exterior. The city was once an old mining town, which is apparent by looking at the historical buildings, many of which haven’t been changed since the late 1800s. There are many adventurous options for the summer traveler, like canyoning, off-roading, rock climbing and alpine hiking. I’d highly recommend canyoning with San Juan Mountain Guides, as you get to repel down an 80-foot waterfall into a deep, narrow slot canyon. Additionally, there are many unique food shops and boutiques in town. Stop in Mouse’s Chocolates & Coffee for their locally famous Scrap Cookie. After making their chocolates, they take the scraps and save them to add into their homemade cookie batter. Each cookie is a surprise, as you might get nuts, toffee, caramel, turtles or other sweet possibilities depending on what was left over. By the same token, they have unique chocolates like bacon clusters with chardonnay salt and “Dark Hippie Bark,” a mix of coconut, pumpkin and sunflower seeds. For a unique brewery experience, visit the Ourayle House, where you’ll be heckled by Hutch, the owner, who made the bar out of scrap wood in his garage.

If you’re flying back, you can make your way to the airport at Grand Junction, which is about an hour away.

Packing Notes For Summer Travels

Did anyone else totally screw up their packing for TBEX, the recent travel blogger’s conference in Denver? I did, egregiously. Having deferred to the Rocky Mountain location at Keystone Resort, I completely overlooked the fact that it was in the 90s in Denver. I packed as though I were summering in Seattle – a raincoat, jeans, long underwear, and layers, you know. As a result, I ended up wearing the same skirt and rotating through my T-shirts for the entire trip. Oops.

I departed for a week in the south of France just two weeks later, determined not to make the same mistakes. My destination: Bordeaux for the wine festival – Le Fete de Vin. There were to be some fancy evening dinners, a fair amount of walking, two events on boats. The weather was forecast to be hot with some chance of thunderstorms. I might need to clean up – the cliche of French style is a cliche for a reason – but I would also need to cover some ground on my feet. Plus, there were the hours in transit, long-haul flights, lurking around airports.

I totally nailed it, with room to spare, and I still had long underwear and a raincoat.

On the plane

  • Phoebe dress by ScotteVest: While it’s not a particularly flattering cut on me (it’s too blocky, if that makes sense) it’s a nice piece for transit. I liked using the big pockets for my lip balm, passport, podcast-filled phone and wallet. I’d like a more fitted shape, but when you’re spending ten hours folded into an airplane seat, who cares?
  • Striped long underwear by Columbia: I have last season’s version and I wear them as leggings often – they’re totally cute. I get cold on the plane, and they’re a great layering piece.
  • Zip front hooded sweater from Triple Aught: One of my favorite sweaters. It’s warm, has a stylish cut, and has zippered pockets.
  • Cushe Wildrun shoes: Easy to get in and out of at TSA checkpoints, plus, they are great for walking.
  • Dahlgren alpaca socks: Big wooly ones. They’re for skiing and hiking, but also for napping on airplanes.
  • Pashmina scarf: Really? I need to tell you this? Right, I didn’t think so.

Everything else

  • Keen strappy sandals: They dress up beautifully, work for shorter walks and they absolutely make the transition to evening wear. Bonus, they don’t take much space in the bag.
  • Chaco Paradox shoes: I intentionally packed a second pair of walking shoes; my feet like it when I give them something else to live in. Also, they’re cute and a little unusual in style. They felt very appropriate when I was striding about vine-covered properties.
  • Five nice shirts: No particular brand – four of them white. Linen, muslin, silk, cotton. Lightweight – all of them.
  • Two pairs of shorts: Longish shorts. Yes, you can wear teeny tiny shorts while swanning about the south of France. Go right ahead. Mine are just above the knee. I’m a modest dresser, especially when traveling.
  • Two black dresses: One silk for evening wear, one Dharma dress from Aventura. The Dharma dress is a perfect travel piece, fine for summer dress weather in the day, but absolutely makes the transition to evening. I never wore the silk dress, but I was glad I had the option and it takes up almost zero space in my bag.
  • Footless lightweight stockings: Didn’t wear those either; it was way too hot, but I packed them in case I found I needed to go all out with the dress up.
  • ExOfficio rollup pants: Mine are a pale blue/gray, with a white shirt; they look like business. They’re very light, so great for heat or for when you need a little coverage from the wind or sun.
  • ScotteVest Lucy Cardigan: Also new from ScotteVest, this lightweight wrap works perfectly for evenings out and covering up a sleeveless dress. It feels soft, looks cute, and is very nice for summer evenings.
  • Rain shell from Westcomb: (You can take the girl out of Seattle but … ) I didn’t need it, but I always pack a raincoat – always. I can’t help it.
  • The other stuff: Socks and underwear (I wish I’d packed better socks), a swimsuit, an absurd amount of cables and electronica, product and meds.
  • Packing cubes: I’m not brand loyal when it comes to a system, but I actually am a convert to packing this way. My clothing stays cleaner, it’s easier to find things in my bag, and I end up packing more efficiently.

I could have easily traveled for a month or longer with this kit; for a week, it was perfect. The events turned out to be more casual than I’d expected but I wasn’t sorry I’d packed for more formal as the choices I made added little weight or bulk to my bag. I had exactly the right clothes for everything I did and had the weather gone south, I’d have had the pieces I needed to make the transition. And I had room in my carry-on sized bag to spare.

It’s rare I win so completely at the packing game. I’m hoping I’ve turned a corner and I’ll get it this right for all my future trips.

Image: Nancy Packs Her Suitcase via Flickr (Creative Commons). Awesome photo and SO not me.

An Artisanal Taste Of Denver, Colorado

wine While it’s easy to find big-name chain restaurants and mass-produced foods, it’s always nice to get a more local experience. One city with excellent quality and craft tastes is Denver, Colorado. To help you navigate the artisanal flavors of the area, here are my top picks.

Wine: D’Vine Wines
1660 Champa Street

The only winery in downtown Colorado, D’Vine Wines, also known as the Wild Women Winery, imports grapes from California then ferments them and puts their own unique spin on the blends. It’s a boutique winery with a cozy and inviting atmosphere, as well as a friendly and knowledgeable staff who will help you learn about the art of wine tasting. For example, I learned that to aerate the wine you don’t softly move the glass around, but fervently spin it in quick circles while pushing the base of the glass down onto the table. Likewise, the drier the wine, the higher the alcohol content because it has only a small amount of residual sugar. You can do tastings for three for $5, seven for $10 or four for $12 with a souvenir wine glass. Some of the best wines I tasted included:

  • Sangiovese- Made with the grape used to create Chianti, it has a silky finish with flavors of strawberry and plum.
  • Zinfandel and Syrah Blend- While these two aggressively flavored grapes are not usually combined, the Zinfandel is so light it tastes better blended than alone. Together the two compose a spicy wine with a smooth fruit finish.
  • Green Apple Riesling- This wine tastes just like a sour apple Jolly Rancher, and smells like one, too. It’s a tart yet refreshing sweet white wine.
  • Chocolate Port- A unique desert wine, it is fermented to a higher alcohol content while using less brandy than most port wines. It’s smooth and sweet, with a dark chocolate finish.

A fun aspect of the wines is each variety has its own special bottle, complete with a sexy female character and story. You’ll get to know ladies like Miss Booty, Dusty Twilight and Royal Ruby, and how they relate to these delicious and rare wines. Moreover, the winery allows visitors to make their own wine with help from qualified vintners.

cheese Cheese And Meat: The Truffle Cheese Shop
2906 E. 6th Avenue

As soon as you walk into this gourmet cheese shop your nose will be in heaven. The Truffle Cheese Shop features hard to find specialty items and rare cheeses. They work under a sustainable philosophy, creating organic, free-range and all-natural products. What’s really great about the shop is they offer free cheese and meat tastings. Some of the best things I sampled include:

  • Memoire Truffle- This Dutch Gouda cheese is made with heady Italian truffles and packs an Earthy punch.
  • Goat Cheddar- This blended cheese has a sweet, mild flavor. It’s less aggressive than goat cheese, but still gives you that interesting flavor.
  • Charloe- This raw cow’s milk cheese has a delicate aroma, and a hint of roasted nuts.

This is the perfect place to plan for a picnic, as the shop also offers sweets, crackers, pickles, olive tapenades, hot sauces, jams, olive oils, vinegars and unique cured meats like venison and duck salami and traditional Spanish chorizo. Additionally, on weekends and certain weekdays, The Truffle Cheese Shop offers cheese classes and events.

olive oil Olive Oil And Balsamic: EVOO Marketplace
1338 15th Street

EVOO Marketplace is a truly one-of-a-kind shop, as it’s essentially a giant tasting bar of olive oils and balsamic vinegars. It was the first of its kind in Colorado, and is still family-owned and operated. The shop features over 50 products to sample in unique flavors. Moreover, you can basically travel without leaving the store, as the oils and balsamic vinegars come from all over the world like Italy, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, California and Tunisia.

In terms of olive oils, some of the unique flavors include Persian lime, wild mushroom and sage, black truffle, roasted almond, grape seed and arbequina. For the balsamic vinegars, visitors can sample blood orange, dark chocolate, blackberry-ginger, pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon pear and Vermont maple. Tip: Mix the blood orange balsamic with the dark chocolate. My friends and I were all in agreement that the blend was one of the best things we’d ever tasted.

beer Beer: Falling Rock Tap House
1919 Blake Street

While there are myriad breweries and brew pubs in Denver, the Falling Rock Tap House has something special about it. The boutique brewery just turned 15 years old, so they’re not new to the beer business. In fact, you can check out the wall of over 2,000 beer bottles lined up, most of which owner Chris Black drank himself. Additionally, they feature 88 beers on tap, making them one of the largest breweries in Denver. What I really love about this place, though, is how the bartenders are completely honest. For example, when I went to order a Redstone Meadery Sunshine Nectar, he answered, “I don’t think you should get that. It’s terrible.” He then suggested the Julian Apple Cider, which was delicious with a refreshing, crisp taste and a bit of tartness. I also sampled their Rockyard Hopyard, a lightly carbonated pale IPA that had a hoppy taste, with hints of oats and grain. Other popular choices on the menu include Dry Dock Double IPA, “Bull & Bush” Big Ben Brown, “Sandlot” Barmen and “Avery” White Rascal.

hot dogs Unique Delicacies: Biker Jim’s
2148 Larimer Street

Biker Jim’s is a unique hot dog eatery beloved by both locals and travelers. While they do serve beef, you’ll also find elk, rattlesnake, pheasant, reindeer, buffalo, wild boar and duck dogs. If you’re in the mood for something really juicy and fattening, their bat dog is made of bacon, and topped with bacon bits, avocado and tomato cream cheese. It’s also a great place to eat on a budget, as hot dogs start at $6 and cost $1.50 extra for unusual toppings like Harissa roasted cactus with Malaysian jam, scallions, cilantro and onions and cream cheese with caramelized onions. They’re open late on weekends, and also have a food cart across from the clock tower on the 16th Street Mall.

chocolate Chocolate: Dietrich’s Chocolate & Espresso
1734 E. Evans Avenue

Dietrich’s Chocolate & Espresso was opened in 1975 by a German man named Erich Dietrich. While growing up in Germany, he apprenticed under a master chocolatier, learning the craft of fine chocolate making. Walking into the shop, you’ll be amazed at the cases of flawless handmade chocolates. You can sample chocolates and truffles for $1.50 and up. Some interesting chocolate varieties include hot chili pepper, pomegranate truffle, French mint, blueberry pecan and creme brulee truffle. Additionally, the shop is the only place in Colorado where you can find chocolate made from the rare Peruvian cacao bean, Nacional. They also serve breakfast and lunch if you’re in the mood for food.