There is a saying in Manitou Springs that stands as a tribute to its eccentric reputation. The people here speak their own language. The counterculture of Manitou is fizzy with neologism.
"Keep Manitou weird," is the motto. It is a place filled with frightening possibilities. The residents ride coffins. They're proud to be different, and strange as it is over there, we would be lost without it.
Manitou is home to the Incline, an abandoned railroad that gains 2,000 feet of elevation in a mile. Athletes run it for training. It is a twisted sense of recreation. The Manitou Incline is for the mentally unstable.
The climb is packed with daily users. People return for the rubbery-leg sensation and a free dry heave. It's painful, it's torture, and it's addicting. On days when fanatics can't make it to the Incline, they pound their outstretched limbs with hammers until they go numb instead.
But wait a minute. It's illegal to hike the Incline. It's trespassing, and has been for years. So the city councils of Manitou Springs and Colorado Springs are taking measures to ensure that it becomes a legal asset.
Businesses along Manitou Avenue are all for it. Incline users spend time with, and open wallets in, local restaurants and shops. At Hell's Kitchen Pizza, you can order a calzone named the Incline.
"We love it. It keeps the city moving on the weekends," one business owner says. "Opening it officially would be a great thing."
Manitou's recent Council meeting on the Incline was kicked off as most things here are: with a 21-bongo drum salute and a sharing of hashish.
To demonstrate the trail's importance, Council took a show of hands of everyone who has essentially broken the law and used the Incline. I nervously eyed the exits, expecting at any moment for Manitou police to kick down the doors, fire two warning shots in the air, and arrest the offenders.
A few topics were highlighted: parking problems, conditions of the Incline, exposed rebar and maintaining the surrounding trail systems. The possibility of a fee structure was mentioned, with Incline users paying for a single use or a yearly pass. It was met with jeers from the crowd.
Councilman and marathon legend Matt Carpenter showed support for an intergovernmental agreement with Colorado Springs essentially outlining what each city will be responsible for once the Incline is open in the future: Manitou Springs will oversee traffic issues; Colorado Springs will handle trail maintenance.
In the end, Manitou Councilors voted unanimously to sign the agreement. It was made official when the dreadlocked man in the corner struck a single, stretched note on the gong.
The Incline remains illegal to climb, but we've taken the first step toward emancipation.
What is this all about, anyway? Why not just leave it the way it is?
Because the Incline is falling to pieces. It's about sustainability, creating a safe trail that will benefit the community and won't erode beneath our feet and send us to the tar pits below. Maintenance is a big issue. Parking is a madness that I wouldn't wish upon my worst enemies.
Making the coincidental StairMaster legal will solve those problems before it crumbles completely and someone rides a high-speed landslide down Ruxton Avenue.
I gather opinions from the street. One native is wearing cutoff jean shorts with a parka. "I think it's cool, man," he tells me with a chemical exhale. He seems unaware of what I have asked him and, possibly, unaware of where he is.
Another gent, sporting an enormous mustache angrily highlighted by pieces of his dinner, says: "I say charge the people who want to use it. They clog our streets and I have no place to park my car."
I ask where he has to park his vehicle instead, and he admits to me that he doesn't own a car.
I back away slowly.
The Incline is the closest thing we have to public humiliation and torture — and it's getting closer to becoming legal.
David Pico is a Colorado Springs native, which means he moved here 20 years ago when his father was stationed at NORAD as a Naval officer. David, a local business owner, enjoys cycling, hiking and steak.
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