Backpacking in the Weminuche Wilderness: Day 2

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Before moving to Colorado, I experienced seasons in a completely different way.  While there would be some anomalies, for the most part, winter was winter and summer was summer.  Snow was something I experienced starting in November, through the winter, probably one last time in early April, and then not again for 6-9 months.  Likewise, heat would be primarily confined to the summer months.  In other words, I experienced being cold and being warm in two separate parts of the year.  The experience would generally only mix during the in between seasons; mid-spring and mid-fall.

In Colorado, it’s all different.  In Denver, I’ve seen temperatures reach the lower 70s (23 C) in the middle of February.  At higher elevations, snow can fall nearly year round, and there are places where snowpack persists well into the summer.

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Saturday morning, the start of my second day in the Weminuche Wilderness, was a cold one.  The chill had awoken me at 3:00 in the morning, when I reached for my warm hat and for the zipper to zip my sleeping bag all the way shut.  At roughly 6:30, I woke up for good, and crawled out of the tent, to find ice on the fly!  Frost was found on many of the items we left outside, including this bear cannister.

It warmed up fairly quickly at the campsite, making me wonder why I did not simply stay inside the tent for another hour.  All the weather forecasts we had looked at prior to this backpacking trip had indicated that a wet period was coming to a slow end, and that each day would get progressively drier (lower probability of rain).  Yet, in the morning I saw something that would indicate differently; alto-cumulus clouds.  These are puffy clouds with a base somewhat higher up in the sky than the clouds we typically see.  On some storm chases, the presence of alto-cumulus clouds indicated the presence of moisture at higher levels of the atmosphere.  This was seen as a good sign on a storm chase, but, on a backpacking trip, is a bad sign.

The first few miles of the day took us by a lake we are glad we did not chose to camp at the prior evening, and then back into the woods, where once again the trail was muddy, kind of on-and-off.

Headed farther up in elevation, towards the summit of the day, we approached the tree line, encountering several waterfalls.  This one, by far, was the most pictureqsue.

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I did not even know the name of any of these waterfalls.  In fact, I did not even verify that they even have a name.  It didn’t even seem important at the time.  We just liked what we saw.  At that time, most of the conversation within our group revolved around whether we would see marmot in the nearby rocks, and speculation as to what elevation the tree line was at at this latitude.

We followed the Rincon La Vaca (Cow Corner) trail, which is also considered a section of the Continental Divide Scenic trail, above the tree line, and approached a rock formation we had been looking at since early the prior afternoon, “The Window”.

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Where we decided to stop for lunch, at a lake where we could safely refill our water bottles.

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It was noon when we finished eating lunch and, four of us (out of a group of six) decided, despite the potentially ominous weather, to make a side excursion.  We dropped our packs and hiked the 500-ish feet (and half a mile) up to “The Window”

We got back to the lake, where our backpacks were, around 1:00.  As soon as we prepared to move, and catch up with the rest of the group, it started to rain.  A few minutes later, ice pellets began to fall from the sky.

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We briefly took shelter from the inclement weather, but eventually soldiered on, through the not quite rain not quite ice, which would eventually change over to snow!

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I experienced a lot of this living in Chicago.  I called it “precipitation jambalaya”.  But, I never thought I would hike through it, and, well, am used to experiencing this in December, not late August!  Once again, that thing about the seasons!

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The precipitation stopped right before we turned off the Continental Divide/ Rincon la Vaca trail, and started looking for the trail we would take back towards the reservoir, the East Ute Creek Trail.

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The scene looked familiar.  The shape of the Ute Creek Valley where we were headed, with an open meadow surrounded by mostly dead forests on either side looked quite similar to the Weminuche Creek Valley we had hiked through the prior day.  The trail, though, was hard to find.

For the first mile, we kept losing the trail, or seeing it show up only as a barely visible line in the grass.  We actually speculated as to whether or not this trail was so infrequently used and/or maintained that mother nature was basically starting to take it back!

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We hiked until roughly 5:00 P.M., and by the time the day was over we hike a total of 10.2 miles (11.2 for those of us that took the side excursion to “the window”).  The last hour featured two crazy river crossings where we actually removed our socks and shoes.

We found a campground near a small lake called Black Lake, where, once again, the weather took a turn for the worse.

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The rain started shortly after 6 P.M., and did not let up until after sundown.  I rushed back into my tent!  With all of the experiences of the day, the mixed precipitation at over 12,000 feet elevation, wading through water, and now, once again, more icy rain, I was cold!  I was way colder than I wanted to be, and way colder than I ever imagined being in the month of August.  For the first 20-30 minutes, I had to lie sitting still inside my sleeping bag, otherwise, I would start to shiver.

All I could think of were things that were HOT and DRY.  I wasn’t even thinking of warm, pleasant experiences, like drinking rum on a beach in Puerto Rico at sunset.  I was thinking about things that would immediately heat me up and dry me off; sheets that were pulled directly out of the drier, a sauna, Death Valley!

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With the hard hiking parts over with, I had originally hoped to have kind of a party with the group on Saturday night.  We had even brought flasks, filled with whiskey for such an occasion.  But, the weather changed my plans, as the rain continued and I continued to periodically hear thunder through the 7:00 and 8:00 hours.

I also did something I never do on group trips; read.  I joke I often bring a magazine or even a book, places, but never touch it.  This time I actually read.  It was the July edition of Adventure Cyclist.  Fitting for the mood, thinking about warm places while trying to stay warm, I read full stories about cycling journeys through Morocco and Hawaii, both warm places!

I guess regardless of whether you are in an urban setting or in the wilderness, life has a way of changing plans.  In the city, it is some merger, or a random change in commodities prices.  In nature, it is the weather.  But, when it comes to rain, and anytime rain changes my plans, I always do my best not to complain.  Even while I was bummed that I was not partying with my friends, and hating how cold I was in my tent, I was mindful to remember that rain is necessary, for the food we eat, the water we drink, as well as everything that made this trip possible in the first place.  I do not want to be one of those people that fails to realize this, and cannot put up with a little bit of rain.

 

Backpacking in the Weminuche Wilderness: Day 1

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During the month of August I had fallen back into some bad habits.  In particular, I’d fallen into the very habit I often criticize my own generation for: scrolling.  I know the costs outweigh the benefits.  By gazing at the predictable content of our news feeds and customized social media echo chambers on our phones, we miss out on countless opportunities out there in the real world, all to avoid the discomfort of boredom, or a potentially awkward interaction with another human being.

It’s not just about scrolling.  Scrolling is what we all see.  It’s the same routine day in and day out.  It’s going to the same bars and restaurants over and over.  It’s watching movies and TV shows we have already seen multiple times instead of calling people up and organizing a social gathering.  It is all the things that we do because the alternative requires a greater amount of effort.  It’s low risk, low effort, and low reward.  Unfortunately, for me, it lacks stimulation, it lacks enthusiasm, and over time can even lead to depression.

I haven’t thought of a better word for it than “defaulting”.  I often feel as if there is some sort of invisible force always dragging us toward this kind of life, this “defaulting”.  There seems to be a constant struggle, to mix things up, to avoid the mundane, to avoid losing contact with people.  And, while I think my personal record is pretty good (i.e. all the things I write about in this blog), there are times when I get tired of the struggle, and times when I do feel as if this invisible force is indeed advancing on me.  At these times, it is good to have some sort of activity, or some sort of trip that helps us hit the “reset” button.

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For this purpose, there truly is nothing like going into the woods, away from it all, out of cell service, completely out of my comfort zone, and in a place where “defaulting” is not only no longer easier, but not an option at all!

Our three day backpacking trip began at ThirtyMile Campground, just a mile or so east of the Rio Grande Reservoir.

After passing by a weather station, that is near and dear to me, as it is one of the stations that helped me calibrate the mean impact cold air funneling, in valleys throughout Colorado, has on nighttime lows, we encountered the Rio Grande Reservoir within the first mile of our trip.

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Going into this trip, which had been planned for several weeks ahead of time, we knew there would be muddy trails, and a heightened chance of rain.  Not only is Southwestern Colorado the most active part of the state during the late summer monsoon season, but this past weekend featured an active pattern in the region.

Friday was supposed to be the most active day, with regards to chances for precipitation.  Yet, we lucked out.  Leaving at 10 AM, after enjoying a nice relaxing morning at the campground, we hiked 7.5 miles, up the Weminuche Trail, dealing with very little rain, only with muddy trails.  Mindful of the storm threat, we stopped shortly after 3:00 P.M., having found a good spot to set up camp, near a stream and some trees.  Despite the periodically ominous looking skies, the storms held off until after sundown, giving us plenty of time to set up camp, cook a nice meal, and take in the wilderness, now being officially away from civilization.

I felt exhausted at the end of the day, as I had not gotten a good night sleep the prior evening at the campground.  So, I ended up going to sleep shortly after sundown.  With two backpacking trips behind me, I am starting to think that sleeping even more than the normal 7.5 hours per night is pretty normal on trips like this.

I spent the last waking hour of the evening inside the tent, listening to the sound of gentile rain tapping on the fly.  Under normal circumstances, many of us drown out these sounds, with TV, music, or some other sound.   Hearing this sound, for nearly an hour before falling asleep made me imagine a completely different life.

I imagined myself, as I often do, as a completely different person, with a completely different personality, upbringing, circumstance, and desires.  I imagined myself living in the woods, in a cabin of sorts, not too unlike the kind many people in Michigan, Minnesota, or Wisconsin have today.  It would be a modest sized cabin, with one main room, a bunch of bedrooms, a kitchen, and a closet, to keep things like cross-country skis, wet suits, and all of the other necessary equipment.  But, I would not have too many high tech or expensive toys.  It would be a life in a small community of sorts, where people know one another, spend a lot of time over at each other’s houses for dinner and games.  It would be a life way closer to, and way more connected with nature.  It would be a life that would never satisfy the real me, as restless as I get for one adventure after the next, one major social interaction after another, and testing limits.  But, for this alternate person I imagine myself being, as I drift off to sleep on a rainy August evening high in the San Juan Mountains of Southwest Colorado, it is perfect, cozy, and quaint.

 

 

Three Truths About Paradise

IMG_7012.jpgOur ever evolving languages can often lead to some complicated terms, and concepts that can often be difficult to both describe and properly comprehend.  One of those concepts is paradise, this concept of a place where everything is ideal, happy and worry free.  But, in various places within our culture, there are vastly differing depictions of it.

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Last year, I rode my bike through a place called Paradise Valley, in Southern Montana, along the Yellowstone River Valley.  This “paradise” is a calm, quiet, and sparsely populated picturesque landscape in the mountains.  When many people here in Colorado talk about “paradise”, they are commonly discussing places that meet this very description.

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A google image search for the word paradise primarily produces images of a tropical beach.  This is the image of paradise depicted in commercials for products like Corona.  In my observation, this is the most common way paradise is depicted in our culture, and for anyone that has ever spent a winter in the Midwest, it serves as a dream vacation.

And then there is the world of music, and its plethora of widely varying references to paradise; As a specific act of intense sexual pleasure (L.L. Cool J.).  As a hyperbole for a horrible life situation (Phil Collins).  Sarcastically (Green Day).  Detroit based rapper Big Sean comes closest to appreciating the true, complex nature of the concept, when, in his song, Paradise, he discusses his lifestyle as a whole, and the pride he has taken in earning it.

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I wasn’t expecting to find any inspiration here at Evergreen Lake.  I mainly came up here to free myself from the distractions at home, and also avoid the 90 degree heat in Denver, without traveling too far.  I did not know what to expect from this place.  I hoped to find somewhere I can alternate between walking and reading.  What I saw was a popular public place, with outfitters renting out paddle boats, stand-up paddle boards, and other strange water contraptions, families having picnics, and groups of friends just enjoying themselves in the areas surrounding the lake.

It felt like paradise- sort of.  In a way, it felt reminiscent of paradise, what it truly is and isn’t.  The concept of paradise is kind of complex, but lost in all of our songs, pictures, and conversations, are three basic truths about paradise.

  1. Paradise is not just a geographical location- it’s a setting!

It’s the time of day and time of year.  It’s who you are with (or not with), your situation, and what’s on your mind.  It’s a “setting”, in the full sense of the word, as it is applied to stories, plays, etc.  This can include not only the place a person is, but where they just were, where they are going, and how they feel about all of it.

  1. Paradise is different for every person.

Gazing upon people giggling amongst each other, playing games, paddling their boats and such, I realized that, as a true extrovert, my version of paradise is probably not this quiet retreat in the mountains, or an empty beach.  It probably falls a lot closer to Big Sean’s, a life well lived and earned!  But, also a place where people are interacting with one another in a manner that is enjoyable.

  1. We often don’t recognize paradise until after the fact.

I was inspired by multiple specific things I saw.  A group of older people playing bocce ball reminded me that life did not have to become dull and uninspiring with age (as I often fear).  There was also a group of younger people, cheerleaders, doing cartwheels and giggling about what had transpired over the course of their weekend.  Witnessing this reminded me of all of the times I had spent socializing with good friends over the past decade or so.  It was almost like a montage playing through my head.

I recalled the times I would be envious of people in a large group that seemed to be doing something more interesting than what I was doing, only to remember how frequently, I am on the other side of that equation, part of a large group, likely being obnoxious.  I recall in particular, one time, in Chicago, when I tried to replicate the experience of passing around a boot of beer, a German tradition also common in Madison, Wisconsin.  I found a place that served boots, and assembled a group of a dozen or so people only to realize that this was more of a family establishment, and not necessarily a place to go to recreate college type antics.  We still had a good time, and there may have been some that wished for that level of excitement out of their evening!

Of the crowd at Lake Evergreen, I wonder how many of them are like me.  I wonder how many of them are enjoying their own personal version of paradise, and, as I had so many times in the past, not realized it until a couple of weeks after the fact.

Cycling from Denver to Cheyenne

IMG_6854On the evening of July 3rd, having just finished an exhausting six-day bike ride, including four days of cycling over one hundred miles, my body felt a bit relieved.  I was actually ready to rest, ready to sit in front of a computer again!  Clay, however, told me that I was going to wake up the next morning, realize I was not biking 100+ miles and not know what to do with myself.

The truth ended up being somewhere in the middle.  I could not have pictured cycling at all the next day.  This was literally how I felt.

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The next day, I biked six miles, to and from Union Station from my home.  And, I was perfectly fine with that.

However, I did eventually get antsy, despite two other, closer to home adventures.  By Tuesday July 19th, I posted this picture on Instagram, stating I was bored and wishing to get on my bike and explore again!

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I ride the new RTD A-Line train, which connects downtown Denver with Denver International Airport, roughly three days a week for a gigue I am currently working at the airport.  At Central Park Station, one of six intermediate stops between downtown and the airport, this curious piece of potentially symbolic artwork sits atop a pillar.

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Whenever I am on the train, and not trying to sleep for efficiency sake, I see it, and sincerely wonder what its purpose is.  It seems to depict a person running to catch the next train, but headless.  But why headless?  Could it actually be a satire on the futility of the rat race?  Could the artist who created the sculpture have had an alterior motive?  Could he or she have created this sculpture with the secret hope that a few commuters each day would look at this sculpture and be prompted to ask; what am I doing and why am I doing it?  Is this the life I wanted?  Is this the natural state of human condition?  Etc.?

I, however, had other plans, actually for the next Friday, and, they once again involved my 2012 Bianchi Cyclocross bicycle.  The Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo was starting, and, I was going to ride my bike there!

The prior evening, I spent the night in Broomfield, after a softball game in Boulder.  So, even before this next 100+ mile bike ride, I was already spending some significant time on my bike again.  Knowing it was going to be hot, we got an early start.  I actually wish we had gotten an earlier start.

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A lot of people hear about my bike adventures and immediately sounds perplexed…

Is there a trail there?

Are there safe roads to bike on there?

There’s a lot of trucks on that road.

I would never ride my bike on those roads, you could get killed.

Etc.…

There is some risk, no denying it.  When I was a child, one of my favorite bands, the Offspring, told me “Back up your rules.  Back up your jive.  I’m sick of not living just to stay alive.”  More recently, Drake told me, “Everybody dies, but not everybody lives.”  The truth is that there is the possibility of death doing nearly everything.  People die on the slopes.  People die rafting.  But, people also die commuting to work.  And, due to the health risk factors such as cardiovascular disease and such, sitting around watching television can be deadly!

That being said, I still considered risk when choosing a route, and am still willing to go a few extra miles to reduce my risk.  I am just not willing to miss out on opportunities altogether out of fear.

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The first part of the ride was pleasant, 95th St. from Broomfield to Longmont is a road I knew had bicycle accommodations in the form of bike lanes or wide enough shoulders.

Longmont was a little bit tougher to navigate.  Like many towns, their bike route network was designed primarily with travel within the town in mind.  I stared at their bike map for a good half an hour to figure out the best route through town, but it ended up being a fun route.

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I particularly enjoyed all the sculptures along the Saint Vrain Greenway!

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One thing people miss when they drive along I-25 between Denver and Fort Collins is how many lakes there are in the area.  On the interstate, there are none.  On this route between Longmont and Fort Collins, through Berthoud and Loveland, we actually saw a lot of lakes.

I’d been pondering riding my bike from Denver to Cheyenne for years, even going as far as thinking about some of the details, such as what time of year to go and what route to take.  As soon as I started thinking about routing, there was one segment I knew I was going to do, the combination of Taft Avenue and Shields St. through Loveland and Fort Collins, roughly half a mile west of highway 287.  This straight shot through both towns has a bike lane the entire way, and made navigating through Loveland and Fort Collins was easier than navigating through Longmont.

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This is where I started to feel the heat, which was right around 10:30 or 11:00.  The temperature probably hit 90 sometime while we were in Fort Collins, making me regret having not left even earlier than we did (we departed at about quarter to 7 in the morning).

Also, the wind had a slight easterly component that day.  This made the next two segments of the ride, first from Fort Collins to Wellington, where we stopped for lunch around noon, and then from Wellington to Nunn to reach U.S. highway 85, quite possibly the most challenging segments of the ride.  I had this nagging feeling about entering Weld County.  I do not know why, I just felt as if something bicycle unfriendly would happen to me in this county specifically.  It was mainly just a premonition that bore out to be true, just not in the way I had anticipated.

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Upon entering Weld County, the road we were following switched to newly paved blacktop, while the temperatures had climbed probably into the mid-90s.  This lead to the closest thing to heat exhaustion we would experience during the ride.

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By the time we reached Nunn, we were desperate to get out of the heat for a few minutes and get some water.  Unfortunately, despite the fact that Nunn has a water tower that says “Watch Nunn grow”, I’m 100% sure that my calf muscles were growing faster than Nunn that day.  The only place we could find to fill up our water bottles was the police station/town hall, and the only reason that option was available to us is because we were riding on a weekday (Friday).

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We followed U.S. 85 for the last 30 miles of the ride.  We ended up having to wait out a mid-afternoon thunderstorm near the Colorado-Wyoming border, at the only building within a 10-mile radius.

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The storm was, however, neat, and I felt as if I were storm chasing on my bicycle (even though in real life that would have been a disaster).

We arrived in Cheyenne during rush hour, which was a little nerve racking as this is the only part of the ride where the shoulder on U.S highway 85 disappears, the last couple of miles before entering town.

After 109 miles of riding, we were there, Cheyenne Frontier Days, miraculously with enough energy left to party, parade, and rodeo!

A Moderate Hike at Reynolds Park

IMG_6790I became interested in the weather at a young age, in part, because its impact on all of our lives is quite evident, almost every day.  While the weather has an impact on nearly all aspects of our lives, it has the greatest impact on many of the activities we take part in for enjoyment and fulfillment.  Activities such as hiking, playing on a friendly softball team, or having a family picnic in the park take place outdoors, and require a certain type of weather conditions, otherwise they are either not possible or not enjoyable.  For many, including me, activities like these make up an essential part of life, an essential part of feeling “alive”, and an essential part of the human experience.

The weather also behaves in a sort-of predictable but sort-of not predictable manner.  From sheer observation, we can recognize certain patterns in how the weather behaves.  But, there are always some surprises, some deviations, something to keep us on our toes.  If we always knew what exactly what weather conditions to expect, some aspects of life would be easier to plan, but the weather would be far less interesting.

In Colorado, each season presents a different set of considerations.  In winter, we watch the snowpack grow, as well as when and where storms that make travel perilous hit.  In spring, we watch as the snowpack melts and the runoff produces both rapids, and potential floods.   In the summer, an issue for some in places close to Denver, Fort Collins, Pueblo, etc. is the heat.  Mid-summer in particular can get quite hot in these locations, with most days reaching highs in excess of 90 degrees.  Those looking to avoid this heat can do one of two things; wake up early or travel to a higher elevation.

I needed a calmer weekend.  The summer had been active, and I still have to expend some energy in order to make a living.  I am not extremely lucky or extremely wealthy.  But, I am hardly one to sit inside all weekend in the middle of the summer.

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Luckily, there are places one can get to from Denver in roughly an hour, sometimes less, that offer moderate intensity hikes at a high enough elevation to escape some of summer’s heat.  One such place is Reynold’s Park, close to Conifer, where we were able to find a set of trails that offer a six-and-a-half-mile loop, with a vertical climb of just over 1000 feet.  This hike is described as “moderate” in difficulty (as opposed to the hanging lake trail, with a similar vertical climb that is described as “strenuous”), and I would certainly agree with the assessment.

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We took the loop in the counterclockwise direction, using the Raven’s Roost Trail to connect to the Eagle’s Nest Trail.  I am actually glad we decided to take this loop in this direction.

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We spent roughly an hour getting to the summit, and were fortunately enough to be shielded from the sun for part of the time, due to both sections of denser forest, and partial cloud cover that afternoon.

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However, hiking the loop in this direction, we actually saved the best for last.  After “summiting”, there was a section of the hike that was generally flat, and also densely packed with pine trees.

I guess we “descended” a little bit, meaning 150 feet or so into the valley of a small creek.  When we popped out of that valley, we actually encountered the best view of all, as a clearer (from trees) section of the trail gave us clear views of some of the more interesting rock formations in the distance, including “cathedral rock” in the background of this photo.

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As we descended, I thought to myself about how sometimes I do get disappointed when I do not “save the best for last”.  What a letdown it is indeed when the best part of any hike happens within the first 45 minutes!  In fact, every time I eat a meal there is always a battle going on in my head.  I genuinely want to save the best for last, meaning, saving my favorite parts of the meal for the end.  But, I also do not want to get full on the other stuff, and not have enough room for what I enjoy the most.  This is what makes collecting the proper food at Indian Lunch Buffets a particularly daunting task.  Anyone going to one should know their appetite.  In fact, I suggest only going when there is a robust appetite, particularly for those with FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out).

I’ve been trying to, of late, capture some better pictures of wildlife.  While I haven’t necessarily been out in search of it recently, I have been trying to keep my eyes out for it, as opposed to just looking for waterfalls, unique rock formations, summits and the like as I typically do.  The previous week, in Glenwood, I took this photograph of a chipmunk eating a little cracker (also posted in my previous entry).

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At Reynolds Park, I got a chance to take this amazing close up photo of a butterfly in the parking lot after the hike.

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In fact, this particular butterfly chose to land on a yellow colored post and sit there with its wings out, color coding herself in a manner that almost felt like it was purposeful, as if the butterfly somehow thought there was a possibility it would get famous from this photo; possibly ending up as the July photo in a 2017 Butterflies of Colorado calendar that people will see at the mall, or at Barnes and Noble.

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Add to that the craziest sap discharge I have ever seen (okay, trees really aren’t wild but you get the picture), and, well I was pretty successful in trying to expand my photo-taking to new horizons.

In a divine sort of sense, sometimes I wonder if one of the reasons for changes in seasons, changes in weather patterns and such is to ensure that people are forced to go to different places, try different things, and have some kind of a variety in their lives and activities.  It is easy to do the same thing over and over again, but it is also the least satisfying way to live.  But, sometimes we need a push.  Whether that be some sort of tough situation at work, an unwelcome new presence in our community, a terrible breakup or anything else, sometimes the silver lining in all of it is getting involved in something new, something more satisfying than what was before.  While 95 degree temperatures and exhaustion are certainly less extreme than any of these situations, I know it helps push people towards variety and is giving at least some other people a chance to select a more moderate activity while taking time to appreciate nature, have a nice chat with friends, or, in my case, both.

Glenwood Springs: Where Canyon Country Begins

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When people think of the American West, certain images often come to mind:  The unique natural features of Yellowstone.  Iconic mountains that tower over the nearby landscape, such Rainier and Hood.  The canyons that carve through the American Southwest, creating popular destinations such as the Grand Canyon.

The Grand Canyon is not the only canyon of the American West.  In fact, it is not the only canyon carved out by the Colorado River, the continent’s fifth longest running river.  The river, has its source at Rocky Mountain National Park and snakes through the west carving out  numerous canyons.  In fact, there are some that believe that the canyon in Southern Utah that was flooded when Glenn Canyon Dam was built, a couple of hundred miles upstream of the Grand Canyon, was even more scenic than the Grand Canyon itself (some are even looking to remove the dam despite the West’s water needs).

An overly simplified model of Colorado’s geography, is that of the three flavored boxes Neapolitan Ice Cream.  Colorado’s three sections are the Plains, the Central Rockies, and a region generally referred to as the Western Slope.  While the Western Slope is officially defined as anywhere west of the Continental Divide, culturally, we tend to think of it as west of Ski Country, which also happens to coincide with where canyon country begins.

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On the above map, the two yellow stars are Denver, where the Plains end and the Central Rockies begin, and Glenwood Springs, where, traveling west the terrain transitions from tall peaks to canyons, mesas, and plateaus.

The official reason for the trip to Glenwood this year was whitewater rafting, a group trip that I organize every year, with a different destination each time.

This year, the trip was a little bit later in the season, early July, rather than mid-June.  The later date allowed more of the mountain snowpack to melt, particularly this year, as the period around the fourth of July was quite hot across the state.  As a result, the rapids were not nearly as intense as the previous two years.  However, the trip was not without its moments.  This time, everybody stayed in the raft!

As was the case last year and the year prior (this is the third year of my annual trip), we camped.  We selected a somewhat peculiar place to camp this year, on top of the White River Plateau north of town.

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To get to the Plateau, we had to follow a road called Coffee Pot Road, a bumpy road that rose up out of the Colorado River Valley below us and onto the plateau several thousand feet above it.

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Here is where I fully came to the realization that I was on the border of two of Colorado’s “stripes”.  Looking east from the campground, in clear view are the tallest peaks of the Central Rockies, the Sawatch Range, which includes Mount Evans, Colorado’s tallest peak.

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A mere mile to the west of our campsite sits Deep Creek Canyon.  I had no idea this canyon existed.  Deep Creek is a tiny creek, carrying very little water at the time we saw it.  Yet, it manages to carve a 2100 foot deep crevice in the landscape in a manner similar to Black Canyon and other Western Canyons.

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What really made this feel like a peculiar place to camp was the range of temperatures we would experience over the course of the weekend.  We spent the middle part of the day in the valley, first rafting in the Colorado River than in town, all at elevations below 6000 feet.  Daytime temperatures soared well into the 90s!  At night, we returned to our campground, above 10,000 feet in elevation, where nighttime temperatures fell into the upper 40s.  If one were looking to experience comfortable temperatures, it would make sense to do the exact opposite, spending the daytime hours at higher elevations where it is cooler and then returning to the valley at night.

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The town of Glenwood Springs is a touristy town.  Everyone around, from the rafting instructors to the bus drivers describe it as such.  However, it is touristy in a different way than some other places I’ve visited.  I didn’t see 50 ice cream shops like I do in South Haven, MI.  I did not see anything like Ripley’s Believe it Not or the other places I see at the Wisconsin Dells.  And, I certainly didn’t see 150 T-shirt shops as I do when I visit Cooperstown.  It seemed like more bars and restaurants than anything else here.  And, of course, one of Glenwood’s other main draws, the hot springs.

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Maybe Glenwood’s tourism industry is simply trying to accommodate a different mix of people than those other places, or maybe they are simply trying to stay true to their own unique identity.  After all, there are a lot of activities in the area, and a lot of reasons for people to visit.

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Just east of town, is the area known as Glenwood Canyon.  Due to the narrowness of this valley, there are sections of I-70 where the speed limit drops to 50 miles per hour, the westbound lanes are stacked on top of the eastbound lanes, and parts of the highway are tunneled underneath rock that goes right up to the River.

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It is in this canyon, several miles east of town, where Glenwood’s signature hike, Hanging Lake Trail draws so many tourists, that the parking lot is commonly full.  In fact, both Friday and Saturday, highway signage indicated that this lot was full anytime we drove by it.  We were able to get parking spots in the later part of the afternoon, around half past four, after the rafting trip, and lunch in town.

Hanging Lake is a short but challenging trail.  Only 1.2 miles long, it climbs 1200 feet in elevation.  This, both made sense and surprised me at the same time.  Being in a canyon, I knew that any hike in the area would be steep, and this one sure had its steep parts.  What surprised me was, how far up the canyon hanging lake is.

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I had seen pictures of this lake before, and knew the trail was short, I just pictured it being much shorter and much closer to the bottom of the canyon.

The trail was crowded, which should not be surprising, given that the parking lot was still almost completely full when we arrived.  What surprised me was the ethnic diversity of the crowd hiking this trail.  On the way up to hanging lake, which probably took a little over 30 minutes, I heard people speaking all sorts of different languages!  I enjoyed seeing so many different kinds of people enjoying scenery, nature, and, as I speculate, a weekend away from it all.

There is only one area attraction I did not get to, the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park.  It’s hard to get to everything on a short weekend trip.  I guess there is still a lot more for me to see here in Glenwood, where Westbound travelers leave the high peaks of the Central Rockies and enter the land of deep canyons.

 

Day 6: The Finale

The last day of a long bike ride is always a strange day.  Not that any of the previous five days were similar to the others, but this day was especially different.  As is the case with many journeys, on the last day two things happen.

First, the specifics, the details such as route decisions, stop locations, timing, daily milage and the like all sort of gradually drift out of my mind.  In its place come grander thoughts about the trip as a whole, the accomplishments, the disappointments, the lessons learned, and everything else that has been going through my mind.

The second thing that happens is reality starts to set in.  For six days, July 5th, the day I would go back to work, and return to my “normal life”, may as well not have existed.  It did not cross my mind once.  It’s like my mind suddenly re-realized that this day was coming and that, in less than 24 hours I’d be on a plane heading home, and within 48 hours I’d be back to regular old work.

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Another thing that made this day different than the first five days is that we had two additional riders join us.  Riding with a group, and riding significantly less miles (67 today as opposed to over 100 most other days) made the ride take on a significantly different feel.

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We entered Maine only about seven miles into the ride.  I guess the previous day I pretty much rode across the entire state of New Hampshire.  And, I got my sign!  The one I had been hoping for the last two times (last two days) I crossed a state line.

The first part of the ride was nice, with a wide shoulder along state highway 113, following the Saco River.  After riding on a few back roads, and a little bit of time on a trail that was half paved and half rocky, we found ourselves headed into the Portland area.  The roads got significantly busier.  In fact, these were the busiest roads I had ridden on for the entire duration of the ride.  And, in some cases, the shoulders all but disappeared, making these the kinds of roads I would not normally chose to ride on.

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We rode through the surprisingly hilly downtown area of Portland, and after the final seven miles along state highway 77, arrived, in the early afternoon, at our final designation for the trip, Cape Elizabeth.

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When we arrived at the Atlantic Coast, at Two Lights State Park, the day started to get emotional.

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This was, by far, the biggest bike trip I had ever been on, and may still prove to be my life’s longest bicycle journey.  But, for Clay, it was the culmination of a three year long effort to bike across the country.  In 2014, he biked from Denver to Chicago.  Last summer, from the Oregon Coast to Denver.  This year, from Chicago to Maine.  In three segments, he biked across the country.  This was the culmination of three years worth of efforts for him.  Many members of his family made the journey to Maine to see him triumphantly enter the Atlantic Ocean, having biked across the continent, and, as a side note, also basically proven that you do not have to be some indignantly rich or extremely lucky person to do so.  He did it all while holding the same steady job!

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Of course, it is easier to be emotional when exhausted, and this picture sums up exactly how I felt the first fifteen minutes after completing the ride.  It was an odd combination of emotions that came over me.  Most of them were good, and most importantly, I felt gratitude for being able to play a small part in this whole mission by joining Clay, for three days last year in Montana and Wyoming, and for six this year.

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That afternoon I got the meal I knew I had wanted upon completion of my ride; Lobster.  I love lobster, but I live in Denver.  When in Maine, well, really there was no other logical choice.  In fact, when biking over the last hill of the day, despite being tired, I actually increased my speed and simply yelled, “this is the last hill in the way between me and lobster”!

We ate at a place called the Lobster Shack Restaurant, which, on that day, had a 40 minute wait for service, as it is a popular destination where patrons can eat while overlooking the Ocean!

It got even more emotional after that.  That evening my main goal was to hang out with my friends, Clay and Liz, as much as possible.  They are in fact, leaving for a year long adventure, to go out and see many other parts of the world!  These adventures will be catalogues on their WordPress site.  I knew I would likely not see them for a while.

I also could not help but think about all of the things this bike journey taught me, whether it be specifically from the experience, or things that ran through my mind over the course of the long hours I spent on my bike.

Over the course of the week, I saw kindness everywhere I went.  Clay was raising money for charity.  His family volunteered to help with the ride.  Many of the people we met along the way were friendly.  I realized that, despite the amount of physical pain I put myself through, I felt happy the entire time, significantly happier than under normal circumstances.  Maybe the whole world would be happier if we all acted this way towards one another.  The most I can do, going forward, is strive to be the kind of person that gives more than I take, and do my part.

Having experienced being on mile 27 of a 100+ mile day multiple times reminded me not to become too obsessed with the destination.  This ride was about more than me laying on a beach in Maine and then eating lobster.  It was all of the places I saw while traveling from Niagara Falls across Upstate New York, through the Adirondack and then Northern New England.  The rest of my life is not exactly where I hope it will end up at this point in time, but I can be much better off if I learn to obsess less over the destination and enjoy the journey, as I did this week.

The social media era has turned us all into avatars.  By that I mean we all have some kind of image of ourselves that we present to others, based on who we think they want us to be.  This week, I simply couldn’t continue to be my avatar.  On trips like this, our concerns shift, from the concerns of urban 21st century American life, such as getting a promotion or getting likes on social media, to more basic concerns, for food, water, and shelter.  I couldn’t put on a show for others, but I got by, and even thrived.  The others on the trip seemed to enjoy having me around.  So, I need to stop trying to be the person I think others want me to be.

Also, on the flight to Buffalo-Niagara, I was reading a book called The Happiness Project, about a woman who undertakes various initiatives aimed at improving life satisfaction and reports on the results.  She introduced me to the concept of “fog happiness”, when something makes someone happier but not in a manner that is clearly defined.  Once I determined I was going to make this bike trip, for the first time in my life, I thought of myself as a legitimate bike tourist.  For the first time, I felt the right to interject in a conversation about bike touring, and have legitimate opinions.  Essentially, I had added something to my list of activities and enriched my life.  We all should be more thoughtful when choosing activities, and, specifically avoid missing out on opportunities to create more of this “fog happiness”.

Obviously, anytime anyone completes an activity that requires a great amount of physical exertion, it is a reminder of how rewarding it can be to overcome fatigue.  This lesson applies to other areas of life too, but a journey like this can often be the best reminder that some of the most challenging tasks are the ones with the greatest reward.

Personally speaking, the most important lesson I have taken from this ride relates to something I have struggled with for nearly my entire life.  I seek significance in life.  I want to do things that matter and feel like I matter to others.  While with most of it my intensions are good, there is a dark side.  At times, when I feel insignificant and powerless, I succumb to anger, depression and other negative emotions.

This week, while a significant ride, and a series of significant experiences and accomplishments for myself, I was not the center of it all.  As previously mentioned, it was Clay’s ride.  He rode longer, harder, and raised money for charity.  Yet, I did not feel insignificant, as I have a tendency to feel in many day-to-day activities.  I realized, and this is important, that: You Don’t Have to be the Center of Attention to Matter.  I cannot stress this, to others but most importantly to myself, enough!

As I flew home, I drifted off to sleep, as Bon Jovi’s inspirational 2000 song Save The World played on my headphones.  Flying through moderate turbulence, I felt the plane gently shift, both upwards and downwards.  Running through my head, was an image of myself, from above, pedaling over hills, through the woods.  Nothing else was happening, I was just pedaling.