I was standing in a bike shop called The Pedal House in downtown Laramie when I got the threat. There were two bike techs in the shop, both looked to be about 30 and fairly fit. We were making Laramie small talk.

“You know,” I started, “I wasn’t too sure about Laramie before I got here. I just kept picturing rednecks, cowboy boots and tumbleweeds blowing across the streets. But it’s actually a really cool place.”

“Oh yeah,” replied the guy who was fixing the rear brake of my bike. “It’s a great place. The best part is that nobody but people who live here know it.” He paused and looked up at me. “So you better not write about it, or we’ll come hunt you down.”

He was probably joking (or at least I hope so) and my name isn’t directly associated with my blog, so I’m not scared…really… But he hinted at the essence of Laramie that makes it an ‘it’ place without the hype, the yuppies or the affluence that ruin so many once-cool western towns. Laramie is cool because nobody thinks it is.

Take the downtown. The core is rustic stretch of brick buildings, some that date back to 1868. There are funky coffee shops, new and used bookstores, yoga studios, a well-stocked food co-op, a couple of cowboy bars, a couple of fancier bars, Thai, vegetarian, Italian, Mexican and American cuisine, a gear shop, and, of course, a western wear store where you can get your cowboy boots custom fit. Essentially, it has everything you need.

It has just enough of what you want, too. A 45 minute drive will get you to powdery (albeit windy) slopes in the Snowy Mountains west of Laramie. Drive 20 minutes east and you can climb some of the best off-width crack climbs in the country at Vedaouwoo. Fifteen minutes will get you to miles of cross country skiing, mountain biking and hiking trails. And if you don’t feel like driving you can ride your bike to the edge of town and wander the vast prairie, often with herds of Pronghorn antelope for company. Not to mention the University of Wyoming hosts over 13,000 students, including graduate and PhD levels, who keep the town young and openminded.

This isn’t to say it’s paradise. The nine-month winters are notoriously fierce and windy (think -20 with 50 mpg gusts). Massive Ford F-350, Dodge Ram diesel pickup trucks roar through town and peel out of intersections on an hourly basis. The NYTimes published this article about Wyoming conservatives reaction to Obama’s re-election, which gives little hope to the state’s liberal inhabitants. West Laramie has a bad and infamous meth habit. And on Friday and Saturday night the downtown bars are flooded with hoards of “dirty undies” (undergrads) who are belligerent drunk and doing everything you forgot–or remember most fondly–you did in college.

Altogether, the bad and good give Laramie a gritty realness, but also an intellectual edge that, when put together among 30,000 people, make it an unexpectedly cool place to be. (An added bonus is the cost of living–a mere fraction compared to Colorado ski towns). As I meet more people I find that most of them love it here, some even ended up here accidentally through jobs or friends and decided to stay. “Laramie is a good place to be,” they say, “but shhh, don’t tell anybody.”

Just say you didn’t hear it from me.