Two days ago I was leaning towards California’s Area of Bays, but now I’m on the other side of the Rockies.  Trying to imagine, what would I do out there?  How would I get to know people?  Who would I meet?  And even just looking at the organizations I know about already, I’m finding it’s pretty hard to imagine not making friends in Boulder.  Again.  I think part of me has been resistant to the idea, because it reeks of the path of least resistance.  Somehow it feels like running back to Caltech when I don’t know what to do next, and that has historically resulted in a lot of psychological trauma.  As the saying goes… “Never again”.  But moving to Boulder was much more intentional than coming to Caltech the first time around.  I tried to put my head in Boulder last night.  I tried to imagine, what would I be doing now, if I were there?  How would I meet people?  The main strength that the Bay Area has in my mind is that there are more people there that I know than in Boulder, and that all else being equal, it’s likely that that will continue to be the case going forward, as it seems to be a fairly deep potential well for the types of folks that have passed through my life.  It’s a bigger place too, in terms of people and economy.  It would have more variety in both.  More opportunity.  But at what expense?  And is more really better in this context?  Living there is much more expensive (incredibly… since Boulder isn’t exactly cheap).  The wilderness is harder to get to by bike.  I love the idea of cities but for historical reasons, I am a creature of town and country.  There are other paths I might have taken that would have led me to large urban centers, but it’s unclear whether it’s worth my exploring those paths at this point.

I need a sense of community, and a local culture I can feel a part of.  I need some strategic long term flexibility in job opportunities.  I need wilderness.  I need a place that loves bicycles.  I need some social seed crystals.

I’d been thinking that I’d float for the summer, traveling and visiting, but without any real roots.  Without making a choice.  And then in the fall, figure out where to go.  But now I’m not so sure that’s the best way to go.  Maybe instead it makes sense to go to a place and float there.  Tread water, and see how it feels.  This would put these summer months to good use.  Still enjoyable, but with the deeper purpose of getting to know the place and the people.  Or getting to know them again.  Backpacking and bike riding.  Potlucks and parties.  Social networking for fun and profit.

And so it was that I re-acquainted myself with Community Cycles, which is a kind of combination Bike Oven and CICLE, rolled into one.  I was especially moved by this wonderful five minute vignette:

It seems almost too good to be true.  A town cris-crossed by bike paths, with a multi branch bike culture organization that is apparently thriving and growing and able to support itself financially?  That has an aggressively understanding DoT (compared to some places we could name).  How could I not work with them?

And then there’s CHAOS,  Monthly potlucks at somebody’s house, and member-organized, human-powered trips several times a week.  A clone of a group that Mike Brown (Pluto killer) and a his friend Coy were part of while they were at Berkeley (Coy is a friend of Bryan’s, in Boulder).  It’s gotten better organized and more focused since I was last out there… which is interesting.  There aren’t a lot of towns where the outdoors clubs fill different niches, socially.  Usually they seem much more broken up by what sport you’re doing (biking, skiing, etc.) instead of being all the sports, and a particular demographic.  CHAOS seems to have decided that it’s almost going to be some kind of wilderness singles club.  I guess there are a lot of people who move to Boulder in their 20s and 30s and never leave.  It seems like a way to knit them together actively.  And there’s something to be said for getting to know others early on, and staying connected to them for a long time.  I think so anyway.  I feel like I haven’t done that as well as I would have liked, and it’s a tragedy.

There’s also the Boulder Aikikai, which I never integrated with very well while I was out there… but I think partly that was because I didn’t come in through the front door, and just take their beginner’s class.  I attempted to opt out of their well structured indoctrination, and especially for that kind of organization, it probably makes becoming a part of the community pretty difficult.  But I think I’d benefit from the kinesthetic spiritual practice.  I certainly did in Santa Cruz.

And of course there’s Lincoln and the Boulder Housing Coalition, on whose board I once sat.  A little dysfunctional, maybe, but their heart is in the right place, and they just need one more house to be self-sustaining as a co-op network.  Boulder also has the most successful co-housing developer in the US, Wonderland Hill, and the Boulder Green Building Guild with their wonderful brown bag seminars.  There’s the Redstone Meadery, and the Hop To It homebrew store, and the Boulder Sports Recycler, and The Gear Movement, and every kind of New Belgium beer, and the Rocky Mountain Institute, and the Boulder Open Coffee Club (a bi-weekly meeting of cooperative Boulder entrepreneurs) and Google, and Norm Pace, and NIST, NCAR, NOAA, and NREL. There’s Ball Aerospace, and SwRI and Intense Debate, and the Thursday cruiser ride.

All this and more in a town of about 100,000 people, at half the cost of living in San Francisco, literally within walking distance of wilderness parks in the Rocky Mountains.  If I live in Boulder, I will probably never be out of shape again.  It’s just what people do for fun.  It’s the norm.  I will not have trouble finding people to go on bike rides on weekdays.  I will never ever get anywhere close to saturating the wilderness crazy detector — there will always be someone who thinks my idea of fun is too tame.  I will never feel the need to own a car.  I will watch thunderstorms and ride my bike through new fallen snow.  My kitchen scraps will get composted and I can reasonably hope that one day, I might design and live in a Passiv Haus co-housing community.  It will be some work up front, but eventually, I will not feel like an outsider.  I almost got there, way back when, but was drawn away.  Moth and flame.

Most of these things are probably also true of San Francisco, but there’s something daunting to me about the idea of the place.  The Long Now, the Maker Faire, 826 Valencia, the Exploratorium.  I love these things, but they almost seem too grand for me.  I think part of this feeling is the paradox of choice.  Too many options doesn’t make you any happier than just enough, and my god, the options in the Bay Area are bewilderingly many.  Of course that isn’t bad, but I suspect that it’s also not worth the extra cost of living there, and the extra distance from the wilderness, when there are places like Boulder for comparison, and when I think, with even a little concerted effort, in the absence of excessive coursework, there are new friends to be found and old ones to be cultivated.

What’s the harm in spending a summer seeing how it feels?

By Zane Selvans

A former space explorer, now marooned on a beautiful, dying world.

4 replies on “Boulderward?”

I’ve lived in both. I hated living in Boulder (at the time) and loved living in the Bay Area (at the time). Neither would be a bad choice, if you like that kind of thing, but it sounds like Boulder is a great match for you. I think it would be a saner life, with a better cycling and outdoor life. Happy deciding!

Also, wondering am I, why you are a receptionist of so much SPAM-meat in your section for the commenting 🙂

Yeah, WTF? I delete it pretty quickly so it doesn’t clutter up the place, but if you’re subscribed to the feed I’m sure it’s annoying. Maybe I need to be a little more restrictive in who I allow to post. The akismet filter worked so well for so long.

Based on your description, I think you’ve decided on Boulder and are asking for affirmation. Go for it! A summer trial sounds like the right thing for you right now.

Rant about living in the San Francisco Bay Area: It’s a constant source of frustration for me that I can’t take my bike with me to major parts of the SF Bay Area unless I use my own car to do so, due mostly to the no-bikes-during-broad-commute-hours policy by BART, the regional lightrail service. As a result, it becomes that much more time-consuming (=expensive) to get from Point A to Point B unless I take my own car. For example, even though I’m <10min by foot from a BART station, and my biggest client is <20min by foot from a ferry terminal, it takes more than twice as long to take public transit as it does to drive, and the hours I can do so are severely limited. The last time I did that trip via public transit, I was 5 minutes away from missing the last ferry (barely after sunset!) and having to stay the night at the client's office.

This would be less of an issue for someone who lived and worked in the same city, of course. We chose Berkeley for practical reasons (best commute compromise, more affordable than San Francisco) and because it feels like home. It's very walkable, the crime isn't as pervasive as in San Francisco or Oakland, and the community seems healthy in most respects.

And even though I'm cheering your apparent choice of Boulder, I personally have a hard time with the idea of not seeing a bay and/or ocean on at least a weekly basis. Richardson Bay is fantastic at tidal extremes, and the Pacific Ocean as seen from the Marin Headlands is completely humbling. If you feel the same way about forests and mountains, then Boulder definitely makes more sense.

FWIW, here's what Wolfram Alpha has to say on the subject:

Leave a Reply