At an altitude of 8,671 feet, Lake City has a year round population of 350 and is basically closed for the winter. No ski lifts there. One of its summer residents is Stephen Mikeska, a Sam Houston State University criminal justice graduate who went there in 1986 to run the Lake City Bakery.
Unlike the waterfowl that migrate to and from the Houston area, Mikeska's original hometown, he goes north for the winter. But only about 90 miles, to the ski resort community of Mt. Crested Butte, where he and wife Stacy operate a bar and bakery-- The Brown Labrador Pub.
Mikeska completed his degree in 1981 and went to work as a juvenile probation officer in Montgomery County, Texas. When citizens in the Conroe area decided to build a million dollar juvenile facility, but had no funding for new staff, Mikeska made what he calls "a life decision."
"That was sort of the straw that brought home the burnout," he said.
Stephen's college roommate was physics major John Kainer. John's mother, Helen, had opened a bakery in Lake City in 1979 and was wanting to sell. Stephen jumped at the chance.
Three years after opening the Lake City Bakery, he met his wife, Stacy, who did her college work in Oklahoma. They have two children--Nicholas, born in 1993, and Mallory, born in 1997.
Stephen said that Colorado is a great place for family activities, and although he works seven days a week, nine months of the year, the bakery business also works well for a family with young children.
His days start about 5:15 a.m. when he starts baking delicacies prepared the day before. The early morning traffic is usually heavy, but business is steady throughout the day. By 9:30 p.m., he said, "the eyes are drooping."
The Lake City Internet page had the following message describing the bakery: "Finest baked goods in the Rockies - breads, pastries, cookies, cakes and pies. Fresh baked daily from scratch, no preservatives. Special orders welcomed for birthdays, anniversaries and parties. Have breakfast on the bakery deck. Located at 922 Hwy. 149. Steve, Stacy, Nicholas and Mallory Mikeska, P.O. Box 551, Lake City, CO 81235, 970-944-2613..."
Fellow Bearkats who have sampled his wares testify that his claim concerning the "finest baked goods in the Rockies" is no exaggeration.
Stephen's father is of Czech descent ("He grew up with good Czech pastry in Wallis") and his mother is from England ("They're sort of bland cooks.") After leaving home for college he had begun cooking for himself, experimented with baking bread, and baked a bunch of stuff for his probation department Christmas party.
He has incorporated some of that knowledge of ethnic delicacies such as kolaches and Polish sausages cooked into rolls, and has also added other recipes, conscious all the time of how to adjust their preparation to the high altitude.
In between his reverse migrations, and one reason the long days and weeks are bearable, come two six-week "vacations," one of which usually includes a trip back to Texas.
In the summer he and Stacy do about 90 percent of the baking. In the winter they are able to get more help, and do just over half. The schedule and the work is fulfilling, he said.
"In the probation business you never really saw an end to the work," he said. "Here I watch these bags of raw materials come in the back door and people carry the finished product out the front. It sort of takes care of that creative process."
Stephen offered encouragement to anyone who might be considering a "life decision" such as the one he made. He said that dedication is important. He even offered an aptitude measurement for the perfect career.
"You've got to want to put in the seven days a week," he said. "When you don't feel it, you know you've found it."