It was one of those perfect Colorado days. The air was clear; sun flooded the open sky; a sweet breeze tempered its clean heat. It was May, and the end of the spring semester was in sight. Eight months earlier I had quit my job, left my friends and family, and moved across the country; now I was nearly done with my first year in graduate school.
I was feeling good, and it was a fine day to go for a bike ride.
I met up with WP, KS, and RM and we headed for the bike trail winding along the Poudre River. There was just enough wind to keep us cool as we pedaled, and the four of us followed the river's lazy path until it deposited us in Laporte about thirty miles away, whereupon we decided it was time for lunch at Vern's Place.
Vern's is an oddity, on one side a large diner adorned with the stuffed heads of bears, deer, antelope, and assorted fowl, and on the other side a shop selling candy, souvenirs, sporting goods, and fishing and hunting licenses. If you aren't in the area on two wheels as we were, you can fill up your car's gas tank at the attached station, and it's also next door to Vern's Liquor, if you feel like filling up your own tank as well.
We settled into a table in the middle of the bustling dining room, and there, on the menu, were Rocky Mountain Oysters. Also known as Cowboy Caviar, also known as Swinging Beef: bull's testicles, served breaded and fried. Ever since I'd come out to Colorado, jokes and speculation over this dish had abounded on both sides of the country. My friends looked alternately skeptical and horrified as I placed my order, but I knew I had to give them a try.
First, though, there were milkshakes: strawberry for me, chocolate for everyone else. Each came in a tall glass crowned with a swirl of whipped cream, and was accompanied by a large metal cup filled with even more milkshake. While in mine the fresh strawberry flavor wasn't assertive, the shake was thick and sweet and creamy, and I relished each cold spoonful.
And then, out came the testicles. Pretty innocuous, don't you think? Sliced thin and enrobed in fine, crunchy breading, they were unrecognizable as bull genitalia. I wondered if their taste would reveal their true nature, but that was pretty innocuous as well—aside from a faint gaminess, like liver, and a firm, dense texture like that of tongue, the Rocky Mountain Oysters were no different from any other fried tidbit you might find on a bar menu.
I denuded one, just for you guys. That white stuff is just some interior breading that I didn't scrape off.
I should say something about the fries, too—they were great, filled with a deep potato flavor that I've never experienced anyplace else. It seems a number of places boast about hand-cut and never frozen and even the pedigree of their spuds, but none of the fries at those places had ever tasted much different to me. At Vern's, the fries were pale and could have been crisper, but their rich, hearty potato flavor was undeniable.
After lunch, RM took us to one of his secret spots by the river, and we dawdled there for a long time, immersing our feet and hands into the cold, clear water.
I don't think any of us wanted the day to end. As we rode back along the trail into civilization, we decided to make one more stop, at Odell Brewery for a beer before the sun started setting. RM opted for a pint but KS and I both got the sampler tray, with small portions of six of their most popular beers. The three of us toasted and then drank. All year, in the rush of classes and schoolwork and teaching, I had failed to set aside time for a day like this, allowing myself long, sweet hours of leisure outdoors and in the sun and with friends. Later that night there would be a concert, and then some more beers in a bar, but the best parts of the day had already happened, were happening right then in that moment.