Look in the dictionary, Wikipedia, etc., and you will find no official definition for “mountain town.” When I think of mountain towns, a few obvious ones come to mind: Park City, Utah; Missoula, Montana; Asheville, North Carolina; Telluride, Colorado. These towns not only scream outdoor adventure with their picturesque surroundings and recreation areas, but they also have developed their own sense of community and identity. Mountain towns have unique history, story book scenery, abundant wildlife, and easy access to trails and roads that take residents into the heart of the surrounding nature. Mountain towns have residents who value where they live, engaging in both regular outdoor recreation as well as conservation and responsible growth. Mountain towns aren’t so much planned, they just happen. Through decades and generations, these towns grow and change, but all the while surrounded and influenced by the unchanging, steadfast mountains that have stood watch through it all.
I can remember the first time Crozet stole my heart. My wife Michelle and I were exploring the area as we were both interviewing for jobs in Charlottesville. Traveling west from Charlottesville on Rt. 250, we veered right on 240 towards Crozet and as we crested the hill by The Highlands development, I was completely awestruck by the panoramic view of Bucks Elbow Mountain and Calf Mountain that surround this wonderful town. This view only became more impressive as we reached downtown Crozet. “Can we live out here?” were the first words out of my mouth.
Crozet is a wonderful mix of old and new. This of course can lead to tensions, though when we view our town as a mountain town, I believe we can honor both the old and the new. On one hand, we have families and residents who have lived in Crozet for generations. They and their ancestors literally built this town. The churches, the businesses, the library—these were some of the cornerstones of community, laid down back when Crozet was…a little mountain town. On the other hand, we have our newcomers. Transplants from larger, busier places, coming to escape the crazy life and settle into an easier one. They fell in love with this little mountain town and are investing in its future.
What does all of this have to do with fitness? When you consider that the town you live in is a mountain town, it can change your outlook on how you interact with this town and these mountains. Are you someone who has a nice job in Charlottesville and just lives in Crozet because it’s pretty? Or do you really live in Crozet?
At the risk of sounding obnoxious, I’d like to share how my family has changed since living in Crozet and soaking up its mountain life.
Of course, Michelle and I run. A lot. We run through Old Trail, and we can’t take our eyes of the incredible mountain views offered the entire run. We run at Mint Springs, where we regularly see bear and very quickly leave the civilized world for the natural world. We run on the Appalachian Trail and in Shenandoah National Park, where we escape in the peace and the wonder of the wild.
As a family, we take a million trips to Sugar Hollow. Sometimes we hike. But mostly we just go right down to the river to turn over rocks and look for crayfish and salamanders. We ride bikes around our neighborhood and around town, safely exploring via bike lanes or trails. We go camping in Shenandoah or off the AT. We ski at Wintergreen as much as we can. We connect with our neighbors, raise our families together, and every day are thankful we live in a mountain town.
Living in a mountain town has completely changed my idea of what “exercise” really is. I used to think of exercise as 30 minutes of something painful. Now I think of it as a time to explore the mountains, either solo or with my friends. It is a more pure form of fitness that comes not from exercising as a means to stay fit, but rather living an active, exploring lifestyle where fitness is the byproduct. The more time you spend outdoors and in the mountains, the more time you want to spend outdoors and in the mountains.
And oh, these mountains. Perhaps you just live in Crozet and haven’t really explored them. Did you know that the tops of Bucks Elbow Mountain and Calf Mountain are about 2,500 feet above your head? It’s different up there. You need to come see. And getting there is the reward. There is something to be said about getting your body from town to the top of these surrounding mountains by nothing but human power (walking, running, biking). It truly is an experience that everyone living in a mountain town should have at least once.
And the sky is the limit around here. Crozet is a perfect training ground for endurance athletes. Many of the top endurance trail runners in the state live and train right here in Crozet because of the ease of access to mountain running right from their doorsteps.
Peter Hufnagel from the Miller School of Albemarle’s prestigious endurance cycling program tells of the similar draw for cyclists: “Living in Crozet as a cyclist is like living on the North Shore of Oahu as a surfer. We have literally some of the world’s best roads and trails at our doorstep. As result, there has been a steady stream of professional and amateur cyclists who have relocated to Crozet in order to have immediate access to the roads and trails for training and enjoyment. While we are still a bit of a hidden gem, word is getting out that Crozet is the place to live as a cyclist.”
So Crozetians, do you just live in Crozet, or do you really live in this amazing mountain town? I encourage you to connect with our surrounding mountains regularly—Mint Springs, Shenandoah, the Appalachian Trail, Byrom Park, the million miles of country roads. The mountains are calling, and we must go.