Monthly Archives: June 2014

Whitewater Rafting on the Poudre

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One of many things that makes June a phenomenal month, is that it is typically the best month of the year for whitewater rafting in Colorado.  Snowmelt from the higher mountain peaks combine with fairly frequent thunderstorms to create higher water levels and faster rapids along many of Colorado’s rivers.  And, while sometimes river flows associated with the spring snowmelt peak a bit earlier in the season, by mid-June somewhat warmer air and water temperatures makes for a more pleasant experience.

After weeks of training for, and then subsequently riding the Denver Century Ride on the June 14th, I figured that the following weekend, June 21st, would be an ideal time for some whitewater rafting.  Colorado offers a lot of great places to raft.  I hope to try as many of them as possible.  Based on the time constraints of all the people involved in this trip, as well as the quality of trips offered, I opted for rafting in Poudre Canyon, just to the west of Fort Collins, Colorado.  Here, along the Poudre River (technically Cache la Poudre River), average June streamflows produce many sections of class 3 and class 4 rapids.  Sometimes, higher water produces even rougher waters.  And, had we opted to raft a bit earlier in the season (late May/ early June), higher water would have actually prevented us from doing part of the journey we did on Saturday due to safety concerns.

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Friday night we camped at a place called Kelly Flats, slightly farther up the river from where our whitewater adventure would occur the following morning.  Because of how long the days are in June, we were able to work a full day on Friday, and still make it up the campground in time to set up our tents before it got dark.  YAY June!  Seriously, if I could find a way to not sleep for the entirety of June, and make up for it by sleeping extra hours in a lamer month, like December, I would do so in a heartbeat.

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Saturday’s rafting trip was a half day trip called “The Plunge”, through an outfitter called Mountain Whitewater Descents.  This is considered one of the more intense trips.  But, hey, go big or go home.

For this trip, we met at 8 A.M. to discuss safety, expectations, and technique.  There have been stories in the news about people getting seriously injured, or even killed, on this river this year.  Going with a guided tour like this one all but eliminates this risk.

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Then we get our equipment, wet suits, jackets, helmets, etc., and ride in a big school bus for about half an hour to our starting point.  Arriving a bit after 9, the trip itself, as in time in the raft on the river runs for 2.5 to 3 hours.

I do not have any pictures of my group rafting.  I did not feel like taking the risk of bringing either a camera or my phone onto the raft where they would probably fall out into the river.  Pictures and videos are taken of every group by Mountain Whitewater Descents.  And, while I found the trip itself to be more than worth the $70 per person we paid, obtaining the pictures of our group’s excursion ended up costing more money than I wanted to spend.  So, I selected a couple of pictures from Mountain Whitewater Descent’s photo gallery to capture the essence of the experience.

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The trip starts with a mile or so of easy rapids.  This is so that the group in the raft can get into a paddling rhythm, and get aquanited with the guide and her commands.  After the warm-up part, when we started into the rougher rapids (first class 3 and then class 4), I felt that our group had gotten into a really good rhythm while paddling.  The video we saw after the trip revealed to me that we were actually quite out of synch.

Still, I really enjoyed the group that I got to raft with on Saturday.  My group consisted of 10 people.  With each raft holding 8 people (including the guide), our group was split in two, with 5 members of our group being joined by two other people.  Of course, with two boats belonging to the same group, it is common for water wars, as pictured above, to break out between the boats during downtime.  The two young ladies that ended up riding with us in our raft were very good sports about not only our crazy discussions along the way, but ending up in the “crossfire” of our “water wars”.  Additionally, I felt like our guide did a wonderful job, and would definitely recommend this trip to anybody.

The oddest aspect of this excursion for me was that I was never scared.  NEVER.  NOT AT ALL.  And, our rafting guide told me that Saturday’s rapids were amongst the most intense rapids that they would legally be permitted to enter as a commercial recreation business.  I really just felt exhilarated.  I felt, well, alive.  And, this made me think of the oddest thing- billboards.

Right around the time we first figured out that we would be moving to Colorado, billboards like this one starting popping up around Chicago.  These billboards are designed to get tourists to come to Colorado, with “Come to Life” being the slogan.

Suddenly this became the only State tourism slogan that made sense to me.  I have seen a lot of state tourism slogans.

Some of them are nearly completely nonsensical.

Pure Michigan; What does that even mean?  Do I want something to be pure?  What makes Michigan Pure?

Great Faces, Great Places, South Dakota; I don’t even think Mount Rushmore is South Dakota’s best attribute.

Some of them don’t deliver what they promise.

Wisconsin, You’re Among Friends; Wisconsin has been a non-stop political fight for a decade or so.  And if you are in Madison, they are not friendly about it.

New Jersey and You, Perfect Together; If you think the odor of landfills and refineries, a strange combination of old money suburbs and random ghettos, and the desire to go to any extent possible to avoid making a left hand turn is my ideal match, then I have an expletive for you.

But, Colorado’s slogan, “Come to Life”, which originally sounded like complete nonsense to me, suddenly made sense, as the opportunities provided by Colorado simply made me feel alive.

 

 

The GoPro Mountain Games

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One week prior to departing for the GoPro Mountain Games, I had no idea that the GoPro Mountain Games even existed!  I would never have thought that GoPro, the company that makes those portable cameras, would decide to sponsor an event like this.  It’s not that it’s one of those things that makes no sense, like McDonalds sponsoring bike rides in Chicago.  In fact, when I looked into the event upon being invited, it made perfect sense to me.  It is those GoPro cameras that people use to film their outdoor adventures, from skiing to mountain biking, climbing, and even those crazy people that swing from arches in Utah.  Thinking about that, it makes perfect sense for GoPro to put together an outdoor celebration like this in Vail, Colorado.  It is just something I would not have thought of had I not been informed of the event.

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In some ways, Vail is a very different place in the summer.  Accustomed to seeing the ski resort in winter, covered with snow to ski on, it looks quite different by June.  Also, with skiing being the main reason people make the trip up to Vail, some things are cheaper.  Not only was the hotel I stayed at in Vail Village a place I wouldn’t consider unaffordable during the ski season, but breakfasts like the one pictured above, normally $20 per person, are free from April to November.

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However, in some ways, Vail is the same place, regardless of season.  The nightlife definitely felt the same as it had in the winter.  The Gondola was still running (what for, I do not know).  And, no matter what time of year you visit Vail, you generally encounter the same mix of people; wealthy but generally casual and in good shape.  It is a crowd I can never figure out whether or not I truly fit in with.  I love skiing and the outdoors, but I am not rich, and I still have many attitudes about life that are way more East Coast than West Coast.

The GoPro Mountain Games consist of many different kinds of events, including biking, climbing, kayaking, running, and even dog jumping.  I think there is even a Yoga event in there.  The easiest way for me to think of it is to imagine the (above mentioned) demographic group that attends this event, and then think of everything this group of people do.

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The event with the biggest draw is called “bouldering”.  It is basically the kind of climbing that you do inside at the gym, as opposed to the climbing you do outside with ropes and such.  Watching this event was interesting primarily because everybody in the crowd cheered for everybody.  Unlike in the Olympics, where we primarily only cheer for those from our own country, and team sports where we genuinely cheer for one team to beat another, in this event, everybody appears to genuinely want everybody to succeed.

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The craziest event was definitely an event called “8 Ball”.  In this event, kayakers race down the river.  However, along the route, there are a bunch of guys in kayaks with 8-Ball wet suits on that basically play defense.  They attempt to impede the racers along their route towards the finish line.  I really wonder who came up with this one!

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My favorite event was an event called dock dogs.  In this event, dogs, mainly retrievers and shepherds, jump off a dock into a large pool of water.  The dog whose jump is the longest is crowned the winner of this event.

I loved this event for two reasons.  First of all, I love dogs.  I own one, and in many of the hiking entries in this blog, you will see photos of my Siberian Husky.  Second, I just love how goofy it really is.  The dogs are prompted to jump off the dock when their owners throw this long cylindrical toy for them to chase.  It looked exactly like what one would encounter while hanging out at a lake home in Wisconsin.  In fact, the world record holder in this event is from Minnesota!

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For a weekend trip to a major event a couple of hours away, this trip was a spontaneous one.  I was basically invited to come along on this trip on the Monday four days prior to departure.  To add to that, I only really knew one person of the eight others involved, the guy who invited me.  It is the kind of invitation that most people would have dozens of reasons to say no to, from previous plans to personal budgeting and even the much more onerous social anxiety.  But, those that remain open to, and say yes to invitations like these are often rewarded with some unexpected significant experiences.

I have come to the realization that one of the most effective ways to meet people and make friends is through mutual friends.  Some of the best friends I have here in Denver I have made through having one or more mutual friends.  The same is true of pretty much every other place I have ever lived.  For some strange reason it is easier to form a bond with someone who knows some of the same people.  Someone who chooses to hang out with the same kind of people is likely to be someone you have a lot in common with.  In fact, in my experience of forming friendships this way, there has even been little to no reliance on mutual acquaintances for conversation topics.  It just naturally starts itself.  Or maybe that is just the way I am.  Either way, it was great to have decided to head to this event, and it serves as a reminder of how much our lives are enriched by spontaneity!

Funnel Clouds and UFOs

Chugwater, Wyoming is not known for tornadoes, nor is it known for UFOs.  When people think of major tornadoes, they typically think of places like Oklahoma and the rest of the Great Plains.  Most consider “tornado alley” to be to the east of Wyoming.  Likewise, when people think of UFOs, the town of Roswell, New Mexico comes to mind, as it is not only the location of a major event related to UFO conspiracy theories, but also in a region dense with UFO reports.

Chugwater is a town of barely more than 200 people roughly 40 miles north of Cheyenne.  The only thing it is really known for is chili.

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I have never actually tasted Chugwater Chili, but others have told me that it is really good.  Enough people like it to support an annual chili cook-off in the town, which has been going on for twenty-nine years!

However, yesterday, the last day of May, a trip to Chugwater helped shed some light on both phenomenon.

It was a day where thunderstorms fired up across a wide area that stretched all the way from Saskatchewan to just southwest of Colorado Springs.  After an examination of weather conditions, we determined that the best possible conditions for seeing some good thunderstorms within a reasonable drive of Denver would be in Southeast Wyoming.

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In the early part of the afternoon, a series of storms popped up in the region, but fizzled out and died fairly quickly.  It was not until mid-afternoon when we finally encountered a major storm brewing over the Laramie Mountains to the west of Chugwater.

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From a hill just to the west of town, we were able to observe this storm gradually move towards us as the afternoon progressed.  The entire day felt quite strange to me.  In every single way, it felt like a typical storm chase.  The procedure of heading towards an initial target location, then heading towards a storm as it forms, and observing it along a country road was exactly as I had done probably close to 100 times throughout my lifetime.  The air felt warm and moist, and the wind picked up as the storm approached, just as I had always remembered it.  Even the ground looked as green as it had looked in most of my chases in places like Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, and even Illinois.

However, this was Wyoming.  What we were observing today is quite atypical for Wyoming.  The ground, typically quite brown here, had turned green due to a recent uncharacteristically rainy period.  Additionally, it was quite moist that day, also atypical for the region.  All the conditions had come together to produce a scene, and event, and a feeling, that felt way more like Kansas, or even Oklahoma, than Wyoming.

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However, this region is still naturally dry, and as the storm developed, the somewhat random mixing of moist and dry air produced a somewhat chaotic storm structure.  For a period of time the storm structured itself in a manner that looked quite like a UFO.  Well, at least it looked like a UFO in the way it is typically portrayed in the movies; a gigantic circular object with a hole in the middle (the hole being where the aliens come down and abduct the humans in many scenarios).

The other major difference between this chase and a typical chase is the presence of mountains.  The mountains seen in the background of these pictures, which are facing West-North-West, are not nearly as tall as some of the region’s bigger mountains.  However, contemplating this UFO-like shape in the cloud feature did make me wonder if a similar phenomenon in Southern New Mexico, which also has a dry climate and more modest sized mountains, could explain some of the UFO sightings there.

Of course, there are many theories behind not only UFO spottings, but any observation that does not appear to be sufficiently explained.  The world often appears to operate in a manner that seems inconsistent with what we have been told by official sources, experts, and authority figures.  This is the primary driver of conspiracy theories.  While these theories largely have not been verified, I do sympathize with the intellectual curiosity that often leads people to explore these theories as a possible explanation for what they are observing in life.

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Roughly half an hour after the storm’s “UFO” phase, it produced a funnel cloud.  A funnel cloud is the beginning phase of a tornado.  However, not all funnel clouds reach the ground and produce tornadoes.  The reasons as to why some storms with the same rotation produce active, life-threatening, tornadoes while others don’t has been the subject of scientific research for decades.  I’m not going to figure this out by staring at this storm west of Chugwater.  I just came here because I love storms.

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After about 10 minutes the funnel dissipated, without producing a tornado.  As the storm began to produce greater and greater amounts of rainfall, it got darker, making the storm features harder to see.  This prompted us to go home, as we were already quite satisfied to have seen a funnel cloud.  In fact, this was the first time I got a picture of a funnel with mountains in the background.

This trip to Chugwater reminded me that every location has a story.  Even if a place seems boring, quiet, and insignificant, there is still the potential for something quite amazing to happen there, and there is still the potential for answers to some of life’s important questions to be found there.  Prior to 1947, I doubt too many people knew where Roswell, New Mexico was, or ever really thought about the place.  Now, a lot of people think of it whenever they think about aliens and UFOs.  While Roswell did not answer anything there are plenty of events occurring in all sorts of places around the world that may offer us answers to all kind of questions from curing diseases to questions of sociological and genetic nature.  What other obscure location could have the answers to some of the most pressing question of our day?  And, how do we go about finding it?