(Skip down to the part about Adventure Rabbi
Peter lives in Boulder, Colorado. Whenever I use the bathroom
in his house, I heave a bucket of used bath water down the
toilet to flush it. This provides a welcome opportunity to
enhance my deltoids, and it can save approximately 7,300 gallons
of fresh water per year. Peter usually bikes, but occasionally
he’ll drive his hybrid Honda from where it’s parked
next to his xeriscaped yard to the Buddhist meditation classes
he teaches downtown. He is, in short, the quintessential Boulderite.
town practically perspires virtue. Last April, Boulder became
the first city in the country to impose an additional tax
on residents who use electricity made from coal (households
and businesses that opt to buy power from alternative sources
are exempt). About a third of the total waste stream here
is recycled. The city-run North Boulder Recreation Center
has one of the largest solar hydronic systems in the country.
The Boulder Outlook Hotel boasts about its "zero-waste”
policy. Pizza delivery boys drive Priuses. The city is ringed
by 43,000 acres of protected open space — that’s
nearly three times the landmass of Manhattan — and laced
with 300 miles of greenways, trout-filled creeks and designated
People’s Republic of Boulder, or Bold-Air, or the Gore-Tex
Vortex, as Outside magazine called it, the bicycle is chief
mascot. To understand the extent to which this city of 100,000
has become a mini Copenhagen with a view, I stop by Ryan Van
Duzer’s house. Duzer, as he is known, is a minor celebrity.
He hosts a nightly local cable show called "Out There,”
and he was until recently the city’s paid bicycle ambassador.
Before that post, he spent three months bicycling home from
his Peace Corps gig. In Honduras.
me to his garage, which is stocked with no cars but about
a dozen bicycles. "I’ve never had a driver’s
license,” he says. "In Boulder, you can get anywhere
on a bike almost as fast as a car can. I’ve only been
hit by a car once in all my life, and it was mostly my fault.”
Duzer is 29, chatty, fit and chisel-jawed. He’s made
for outdoor TV. I can see why he was the bike ambassador,
giving safety talks to kids, coordinating the 40 breakfast
stations for the city’s bike-to-work week and distributing
free bells, maps and reflectors. In Boulder, a community program
gives bikes to homeless people in exchange for work, and the
city has designated dozens of new routes and trails in recent
I don’t drive, there’s one less car on the road,”
Duzer says. "We can be a little less oil dependent and
reduce our climate impact. Plus I have more money to spend
on traveling the world!”
is a bike fanatic, but he’s not a bike snob, and therefore
I know we’ll get along fine. His main bike is an old
Trek 8000 hard-tail, meaning it doesn’t have rear suspension.
Its bumper stickers say "My Other Bike Is a Bike”
and "Make Bike Not Car.” He hands me a mountain
bike and a water bottle, and we take off down Juniper Avenue,
through narrow alleys, down leafy paths and along quiet streets.
We pedal past the community gardens east of Broadway, where
food waste is collected from grocery stores and composted.
After cruising past a few pleasant downtown blocks, we hit
the Boulder Creek Path and take a right, toward the mountains.
This is the main artery of Boulder bikeland. The creek burbles
alongside, and some shirtless college students stand dripping
by the bank, holding inner tubes. We pass moms with strollers,
a man in a wheelchair holding a Chihuahua and a bicyclist
towing a sleeping white Labrador in a child’s trailer.
We get passed by a few of Boulder’s famously serious
cyclists, clad in painfully bright Lycra and riding LeMond
carbon-fiber bikes. Duzer yells, "Howdy!” or "Hey-a!”
and trills his bell. We breeze past the butterfly garden,
the fishing pond designed exclusively for children ages 6
to 12, the bearproof canisters and the interpretive signs
about neo-tropical migrating birds and protecting the water
supply. In typical Boulder fashion, it’s exhortative
and sanctimonious: "Please don’t wash anything
down your sidewalk you wouldn’t want a deer to drink.”
at Eben G. Fine Park, we come upon what appears to be a uniquely
un-Boulder scene: young children pounding each other with
foam swords and bludgeons. I investigate. On closer inspection,
the kids are wearing elaborate costumes and speaking in medieval
English. Turns out they’re part of a "quest-based”
summer camp called Renaissance Adventures.
get one thing straight: Boulder is not for everybody.
Some conservatives hate the place. The New York Times columnist
David Brooks has made immense fun of it as a latte town of
bourgeois bohemians with their in-your-jowls liberalism and
an uncanny ability to accrue wealth while pretending to care
only about following their creative visions. According to
American City Business Journals, Boulder has a higher percentage
of college and postcollege graduates than anywhere else in
is rigorously conformist in its alternative way — if
you wear river sandals and sport a Timbuk2 messenger bag while
sipping a doppio espresso out of a nontoxic cup, you’ll
feel right at home. Boulder can veer dangerously close to
preciousness. Inspired by the animal rights movement, the
city has officially designated pet owners as "guardians.”
If an eating establishment uses organic produce or composts
its waste, it practically screams the fact, desperate to be
heard above all the other eco cacophony. The menu at the Sunflower
restaurant, for example, catalogs its lengthy cred right on
the cover: it uses certified organic ingredients that are
free of synthetic chemicals, fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides;
it serves nothing with preservatives, chemical additives,
artificial ingredients, growth hormones or antibiotics; it
uses only nonirradiated herbs and spices, Celtic salt and
filtered water; and it offers organic biodynamic wine. A sign
next to the flusher in the bathroom informs me not only that
I need to hold the button, but also why: "This is a pressurized,
Coffee, a sign announces that the shop uses natural cleaning
products and conserves water, and it does not dispose of food
waste down the drain (must be something about clean water
for those deer). The baristas here wear Italian soccer jerseys
to serve customers wearing cycling jerseys and clopping awkwardly
about in their clipless cycling shoes. They’re also
trained to make designs with milk froth. "We do a lot
of latte art here,” says the barista Jeff DiPallo, 37.
"It’s how you pull the shot, angle the pitcher
and use the spout, almost like a paintbrush. We can do leaves
and geese and stuff.”
there’s the humiliation that comes with being in the
fittest town in America. "If you don’t have an
Italian bike, you get looked down upon,” says Marc Peruzzi,
the editor in chief of Skiing magazine, based in Boulder.
"You have to throw your ego out the window.” Peruzzi
says that when he rides his bike on the hills west of town,
he routinely gets chased and passed by pro cyclists, even
the gray-bearded ones. Still, he loves it here.
all too easy to make fun of Boulder, but under the town’s
veneer of adrenaline-jacked grooviness is a strong, prescient
history of conservation and scientific innovation. At the
National Center for Atmospheric Research, an impressive structure
that looms over the southern end of town, scientists recently
shared with Al Gore a Nobel Peace Prize for their work on
the weighty Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In
addition to carbon dioxide, Boulder residents willingly get
taxed for open space and curbside recycling. In fact, the
city first bought open space, the glorious Chautauqua Park,
more than a hundred years ago, and in 1967, voters became
the first in the nation to tax themselves — four-tenths
of a cent sales tax — specifically for purchasing public
All that hillside greenery, though, comes at a cost: the exorbitant
price of limited real estate. The median home price here is
about half a million dollars, but that figure straddles a
million if it’s within walking distance of a trailhead.
Boulder still has its vestigial hippies and wannabes, but
unless they’re sleeping in a school bus, they’re
the kind with trust funds. They live in what a friend of mine
calls "trophy shacks” — tiny, unimpressive
cottages that nevertheless cost a fortune because of their
proximity to trails and sushi. The town’s unshaven roots
thankfully keep it from feeling too polished, but one gets
the sense the place is entering cultural exclusivity at warp
contradictions — is it a rarefied resort or a throwback
commune? — have given rise to a unique feel-good materialism,
which, for a visitor, is actually great fun. The sparkling
two-year-old St. Julien hotel offers both a $230 Boulder Rocks
hot stone treatment and a rack full of bicycles for rent just
outside the front door. At tony boutiques, you can pine, as
I did, for the $200 jeans that flatter many a buff backside
all over town. Or you might like to hike through the
poppies under the looming Flatirons with the Adventure Rabbi
while discussing the meaning of forgiveness.
restaurants might sound insufferable, but chefs all over Boulder
have figured out how to make that notion pretty appealing.
At the Black Cat, just off the Pearl Street Mall, the chef
Eric Skokan mines ingredients for Mediterranean-fusion dishes
from his own organic garden and makes the lush mozzarella
from scratch. The Kitchen on upper Pearl serves a near-perfect
gnocchi with organic beef, and at the jostling-room-only Boulder
County Farmers’ Market you can sample local goat cheeses,
veggie dumplings and a confusing array of garlics. Even fast
food has caught up. On the recommendation of my friend Clay,
who reviews restaurants for the Boulder Weekly, I stop by
the VGBurger on 28th Street. It sits across the parking lot
from a Taco Bell and next to a Dairy Queen. I order the mango-love
hemp ice cream shake and oven-baked ridged organic spuds.
I’m skeptical of the shake, the color of which looks
remarkably like a shade of dysentery. But both items are absolutely
delicious. The price for my modest shake and fries: eight
bucks. I could have gotten a DQ mini-cone for a dollar.
to tap further into Boulder’s peculiar moneyed
vibe, I attend a public talk offered by Naropa University’s
"World Cafe” series. The talk is aptly called "Conscious
Capitalism,” by Patricia Aburdene of the "Megatrends”
books fame. "We have to dwell in nowness,” she
tells a crowd of about 80 gathered around small tables at
the Naropa campus. "Higher consciousness is necessary
for invention and technical innovation.” This is what’s
called preaching to the converted.
campus parking lot, I chat with Ben Stevens, who’s wearing
a crocheted beret atop his waist-length single dreadlock.
"She didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already
know,” says Stevens, who sells fair-trade Jamaican coffee,
tea and fruit drinks from a 1949 tangerine-colored bread truck
at the biweekly farmers’ market. Stevens says he is
now on the brink of a major business breakthrough, a new beverage
he hopes to distribute nationally. "It’s going
to blow pomegranate juice off the map,” he tells me,
practically bouncing up and down. "It’s made with
hibiscus from wild nature and has amazing amounts of electrolytes
and antioxidants.” With his proceeds, he hopes to finish
building an organic showcase farm in Jamaica.
him. Boulderites might look like they just staggered out of
a boxcar or jumared up a crevasse, but chances are they’re
managing a social venture fund or running a natural-products
company, or at least overseeing their own green investments.
Wild Oats Markets started in Boulder (Whole Foods bought it
last year for $565 million), as did the Celestial Seasonings
tea company, the largest of its kind in the United States.
Izze fruit sodas is based here, and White Wave tofu is located
just outside the city limits. Moosehead Breweries from Canada
just opened its United States headquarters in the Boulder
environs. Backpacker magazine recently relocated from Pennsylvania,
joining the magazines VeloNews, Climbing, Inside Triathlon,
Freeskier, Ski and Skiing.
Boulder business venture is Sid Factor 7, run out of an upstairs
studio on Pearl Street by Jason Olden and Eric Lyon. They
design clothing and gear for outdoor companies like Pearl
Izumi, CamelBak and Under Armour. They introduced their new
line of "tech casual” men’s jackets called
Scapegoat at Paragon Sports, Flying A and other stores last
fall. Sid Factor 7 embodies the Boulder ethos in every way.
"We live the research,” says Lyon, a lean former
mountain bike racer. "We do it every day. We’ve
ridden it, snowboarded in it, kayaked in it.”
who’s 35, proudly shows me his new "townie,”
a sleek black commuting bike that "mimics a three-speed
working-class bicycle” but features Japanese fenders
and a mint-condition leather Brooks saddle. Like many things
in Boulder, it’s working hard to look more casual than
it really is. Olden and Lyon offer their four employees an
ample gear allowance and a "powder clause,” meaning
they can ditch the office if it snows enough for fresh tracks.
And, wouldn’t you know it, "we’re wind-powered
and we recycle.”
may be the most fitness-obsessed town on the map, but it’s
also one of the stillest. You can go from panting your guts
out in a training session with the triathlete Dave Scott at
Flatiron Athletic Club to walking into the Shambhala Meditation
Center for a class on "The Sadhana of Nonmeditation:
A Practice of No Activity.” In this town, you can find
meditation classes any day of the week, yoga sessions in a
wide variety of contortionist dogmas and good old-fashioned
dharma talks. Home to one of the very few nationally accredited
Buddhist-inspired colleges in the country, Boulder has nurtured
rinpoches and transplanted a Tajik teahouse. Just off the
Boulder Creek Path, the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse serves gorgeous
curries and looks like Tavern on the Green if it were designed
by the Dalai Lama.
brings me back to the Adventure Rabbi. I’d
read about Jamie Korngold on a Boulder Web site. In addition
to her Talmudic qualifications, she’s an expert telemark
skier, a triathlete, a former ultradistance runner and an
emergency medical technician. Instead of presiding over services
in some airless room, she takes her congregation into the
mountains. Evidently, it’s a hit. Her Saturday hikes
routinely approach the 50-person limit for the city’s
open-space permit. One fine morning near the end of my visit,
I meet up with her at the lodge at Chautauqua Park, where
visitors can still rent cottages and attend concerts much
as they did more than 100 years ago. The people who stay here
look as if they might break out into folk dancing. Being here
makes me want to don wool and strum a guitar.
arrives with her husband, Jeff Finkelstein, a former ski patroller
and now a Web site guru. He’s an E.M.T., too. She is
42 and blond, with calf muscles that look like cudgels. We
hike up the McClintock trail under ponderosas and through
lush green hillsides. Above us loom the jagged Flatirons,
renowned among climbers. She tells me she grew up in Westchester,
N.Y., and that her twin passions were always Judaism and nature.
She says she wants to reach young Jews because she can relate
to them. "I can’t tolerate being bored. The truth
is, on a Saturday, I’d rather be skiing. I’d rather
be hiking. If people have to choose, Judaism is going to lose.”
What about the rule of not exerting oneself on a Saturday?
me, going on a hike in the wilderness with my family, even
though I’m violating the commands of not supposed to
carry, not supposed to sweat, the intention of drawing closer
to God is reached.” It is often followed by the intention
of eating imported H&H Bagels at Jimmy and Drew’s
Deli on 28th Street.
a few days in Boulder, I’m pretty mellow and Rocky Mountain
awe-filled myself. And since spirituality and materialism
are the essential duality of the place, it seems fitting to
challenge my inner Zen with a lavish meal. I meet my friends
Clay and Nils, both foodies, at L’Atelier on Pearl Street.
Clay convinces us to order the eight-course tasting menu,
and Nils convinces us to order a Renteria Russian River 2004
pinot noir. He sips it, then proclaims it to be full-bodied
and very fine. The restaurant is pleasantly candlelit, the
clientele wearing suit jackets and silk sweater sets. The
diners are likely a mix of atmospheric scientists and transplanted
Silicon Valley millionaires. They may be spiritually enlightened,
but they’re not in danger of becoming monks, at least
not unless the monastery comes with a sommelier.
slurp moules in a red curry sauce, the talk turns to sports.
Naturally, Clay and Nils are serious cyclists. Clay is leaving
next week for the weeklong Ride the Rockies tour, and Nils,
an astrophysics professor, is training for July’s Triple
Bypass, a one-day exercise in pain traversing three passes
in one day.
not in as good shape as last year, but I’m not too bad,”
says Nils, poising a spoon over the coconut sorbet intermezzo.
"Feel my butt muscles.”
take your word for it.”
"No, really, feel them.”
writing his next restaurant review out loud: "Ah, the
meal had been going so well until Nils asked us to feel his
my day of asceticism is over. Tomorrow I will give up altogether
on enlightenment. To ease myself back to a more banal American
reality, I will wander into a nail salon called Ten20, where
I will watch "Sex and the City” on a giant plasma
TV and eat peanut M&Ms while having a pedicure. Then I
will fly home on a jet, the kind that produces a lot of carbon