Monthly Archives: January 2015

A Weekend to Recharge

IMG_3103

It’s a day we all experience at some point in the winter season- some of us more than others.  A thick layer of low clouds blanket the sky in a manner that states in no uncertain terms that you will not be experiencing a single ray of sunshine for the entire day.  Temperatures hover somewhere in the 30s.  There is a cold, damp feeling to everything that makes anyone outside feel as if some kind of very light precipitation is falling.  But, nobody can really tell.  In fact, not only are we unsure whether precipitation is actually falling, we are not even sure what type of precipitation (rain, snow, other) we believe might be falling.  And, to be honest, it really doesn’t matter.  Because, the mood is already set, and that is one of a persistent cold, damp, and raw.  It is as if the world around you is telling you that you that today is going to be more subdued than most.  That today will not be the day you go on some kind of life changing adventure, achieve something major, or even make significant progress towards something.

There is a half a century old folk song whose lyrics go something like “a time for war, a time for peace, a time to laugh, a time to cry”.  I am not really 100% certain what they actually say in the song, but I know the entire song kind of discusses the cycles and sub-cycles of life in that sort of manner.  And, it advocates the recognition that certain actions, activities, emotions, etc. have their time and place, regardless of which ones we prefer, which ones we enjoy, or which ones we feel are more beneficial.

I have always been one to periodically look for ways to get the maximum utility out of one of the most precious resources we all have- time.  Implied in many initiatives we take to better our lives, including the goals I made for 2015 at the start of the month, is a better use of our time, commonly in the form of trying to select in favor of behaviors we consider a good use of our time and against behaviors that we consider a poor use of our time.  However, one thing I often fail to consider is that not every minute of every day can be spent doing something that we feel is significant.  Just as the cycles of life often take us to the next exciting adventures in our lives, the cycles of life will also tell us when it is time to slow down and recharge our batteries.  And, although I consider myself to be in the top quartile for energy levels in my age group, even those of us with high energy levels can run into times when it is depleted.  A time to rage, a time to mellow.

IMG_0245 IMG_1626

Sometimes it is hard for an energetic person to realize that the time to “mellow” has come.  For energetic people, this portion of the cycle of life can be frustrating, and, during down-times, I often find myself restlessly looking at bike routes and new travel destinations to consider in the near future.  However, this particular weekend, the time had come in no uncertain terms.  And, the weather, so raw, cold, and lifeless, only reinforces this fact.  It amplifies the mood.

Emotion and anxiety is a much more significant energy drain than many people realize.  In fact, I have found that at times emotions and anxiety can drain energy far more efficiently than strenuous physical and/or mental work.  There are plenty of times I remember bicycling 50+ miles, staying out partying well past midnight, or working hard to meet some kind of deadline, and still having an energy level the next day fairly close to normal.  However, I do recall several recent scenarios where drama, uncertainty, or allowing that part of your brain that worries about all things that can go wrong to stress me out about something have made me quite sleepy.

Along with the dull weather pattern, multiple emotional events over the past few weeks contributed to my need to take a weekend to recharge.  One of the hardest things to do is to say goodbye to a boss that you actually enjoy working for.  Two weeks ago, I found out that my supervisor, the man who hired me, has believed in me every step of the way, and genuinely respects me and my ideas, is departing.  This is hard to find in the workplace.

Work is not typically the most exciting thing people do in their lives.  There is a reason that movies rarely show a person manipulating data in a spreadsheet.  And, there is a reason I write a travel blog and not a work blog.  I’ve even seen some people that achieve the dream job they had set out to do from a young age, and still get burned out on it.  But, with good people around you and a good environment, the time that we spend at work can periodically be enjoyable and fulfilling, which is the most we can really ask for.

IMG_3100

This weekend, I am not just anxious about the uncertainty that comes with any change, but I am genuinely sad to see the man go.  And, while it is tough for an adventure-seeking extrovert like me to swallow a weekend of resting, and focusing on other areas of my life, there is a time for my focuses to remain within a 5 mile radius of home, and that time is now.  I am certain that 2015 will produce some amazing adventures, some of which I already have planned and look forward to.  But for now, all I can do is appreciate the opportunities I have received and do my best to make sure I continue advancing my career forwards without giving up on the most precious resource I have- who I am.

A 50 Mile Bike Ride in the Dead of Winter

I am not sure where the phrase “The Dead of Winter” came from.  In fact, I am not even 100% sure people still use that phrase (in 2015).  But, I do recall hearing that phrase growing up in both New York and Illinois, referring to the period of time from roughly New Years through President’s Day.

My best guess is that the phrase comes from scenes like this one appearing in many major Northern Hemisphere cities.  Trees having long since lost all of their leaves, the grass taking on a lifeless brown-ish color, and overcast skies combine to create a cold, lifeless image that can persist for long periods of time.

IMG_2940

No month epitomizes the depths of winter more than the month of January.  By January, most northern cities have already experienced a significant amount of winter.  Residents of these cities have typically been through a dozen or so days they would consider “very cold” (which does vary by city).  Also, by January, most cities have experienced their version of lousy winter whether, whether that be lack of sunshine, heavy snow, ice storms, that cold drenching rain, or some kind of combination of the four.  With the holidays over, if winter is going to wear you down, it will most definitely do so in the month of January, as it runs its course.

For many, winter (and particularly January) is something of a metaphor for a rough period of time, or a low point.  In American history, the winter at Valley Forge is remembered as a low point for the American Revolution.  Winter is also used periodically to describe low points in people’s individual lives.  With the chill, darkness, and frequent inclement weather, there is not only commonly more hardships, but also more limitations.

This is true even when mother nature offers periodic breaks from cold and gloomy weather.  After a cold start to 2015, the middle part of January brought warmer conditions to Colorado, including several consecutive days with highs in the 50s or 60s here in Denver.  And, while today ended up being one of the best possible January days for a bike ride, the amount of riding I could do was still limited significantly by the sheer fact that it is January.

Even on a mild day, it is typically too cold to start riding at sunrise, the coldest part of the day.  As the day began with temperatures in the 30s, I waited until roughly 9:30 to begin my ride.  Even with this later departure, I still encountered significant amounts of water, and even ice on the trails.  In several sections, I needed to stop and dismount my bike for safety reasons.

IMG_3018

The mere possibility that ice like this will be present on the trail also makes it extremely unsafe to ride after dark.  With sunset occurring right around 5 P.M. at this time of year, the window of time for a bike ride is significantly shorter than it is in other season.

IMG_3025

Another major limitation to what places I can bike to in January is the wind.  In winter, wind can be quite unpredictable, and can lead to unexpected slow-downs.  Also, higher terrain can get quite windy, even on days where there is little to no wind in town and in the river valleys.

Therefore, I decided to ride up Cherry Creek trail, and make the 50-mile round trip ride from Denver to Parker, an exurb 25 miles to the Southeast.

IMG_3019 IMG_3020

Despite the slow-downs associated with random standing water and ice on the trail, I was still able to reach Cherry Creek Dam in roughly 45 minutes.  Here, the only “climbing” portion of the ride appears in the distance.  For those with little to no “climbing” experience, the uphill sections can actually be a bit exhausting.  However, for anyone that has previously ridden up a mountain, or a large hill, the climb up the hill is quite tame.  With the mountains still appearing in the distance, there is a clear reminder that even after a mild stretch of weather, climbing too high in elevation would also lead to slippery conditions.  In essence, this “climb”, although quite tame, is the most significant climb one can make safely in the month of January.

IMG_3023 IMG_3024

Behind the dam, the trail winds around Cherry Creek Reservior.  Only half covered with ice (and probably thin ice), I am relieved to see nobody trying to ice fish, or stand out on the lake at this time.

IMG_3028 IMG_3029

With some amount of wind, and having not ridden a significant amount of miles in one sitting in quite some time, I ended up taking it a bit slower on the trail today than I normally would have in mid-summer.  As a result, it ended up taking me nearly another hour to reach Parker, where the 470 trail, another major trail in the metro Denver trail system, terminates at the 40-mile long Cherry Creek Trail.

And, while it took me a bit longer than normal to ride 25 miles, not exhausting myself to achieve a better time had it’s reward.  Neither overly exerting myself, nor traveling too slowly, the return trip flew by!  Mile after mile passed, almost as if I was living out a montage of my own life.  I passed mile 25, 24, 23, winding around, smiling at nearly every person I passed by as the wind, and my direction shifted back and forth.

IMG_3030 IMG_3022

Before I knew it, it was mile 15, 14, 13.  On a typical ride, exhausted at the end of the day, I am anticipating each mile, and tracking how far I am from home.  Today, I achieved somewhat of a state of euphoria.  I almost feel as if I had achieved the “runners high” often discussed (albeit on a bicycle, as opposed to running).

In the end, despite my slower than usual pace, I thoroughly enjoyed the ride, and was actually only passed on the trail once!

For those wanting to take advantage of a mid-winter warm-up, and get on the trail (or roads), I offer the following tips

  • Plan extra time (maybe half an hour) for your ride.  There is a distinct possibility that mud, ice, or snow on the trail can slow you down, as well as unexpected winds.  It is not safe to ride at night, and it will get cold again.  You are better off taking on a goal that would be considered modest during the warm season than ending up in trouble.
  • Listen to your legs.  I know “shut up legs” is a popular poster to hold up at long distance rides, but often times a ride can be done more effectively if you allow yourself to downshift when the ride feels exhausting.  This may mean being on a specific segment of trail, or road, in a lower gear than what you would typically be in.  But, maybe that combination of the 5 pounds you gained over the holidays, and that 8 mph cross-wind is enough to warrant being one gear lower.  It is best not trying to exhaust yourself early just to be in your usual gear regime.  That being said, there also may be opportunities to shift up and go faster where there is an unexpected tail wind.
  • Don’t shy away from undertaking a major bike ride immediately after a hard day of skiing.  Cycling uses mostly different muscles than skiing, and I have been surprised by how little recent hard core skiing has impacted my cycling performance on rides like the one today.

A Stormy January Weekend in the Mountains

2015 is already off to an adventurous start for me.  This past weekend, the first weekend of the new year, I had the opportunity to accompany some friends on a trip to their cabin in Alma, Colorado.  Alma is the highest incorporated municipality in the United States (with permanent residents).  It is about 15 miles South of Breckenridge Ski Resort along state highway 9.  However, between Alma and Breckenridge lies a mountain pass, called Hoosier Pass, as well as the Continental Divide.

Still, visiting Breckenridge ski resort is significantly easier staying at a place like this than it is driving up there from Denver in the morning.  Not only is the distance much shorter, but there is no need to plan around the traffic patterns along I-70.  On a typical weekend day in Colorado, skiers traveling along I-70 from Denver to the area ski resorts must leave by around 6:00 A.M. to avoid significant delays.  The trek from Alma up to Breckenridge is typically only delayed by weather, and even if delayed will take significantly less time.

IMG_2997 IMG_2998

Unfortunately, this past weekend turned out to be one of those weekends.  Waking up Saturday morning (after driving up from Denver Friday evening), I was amazed by the views from the cabin!  The cabin, which is located in town, and walking distance from the town’s main street, sat on the side of a hill, with forests around it in every direction.  However, I was also startled to see some low clouds appearing to our North, the very direction we needed to travel to get to Breckenridge.

The ski day was kind of a mixed bag.  With a significant amount of recent snowfall, the snow was in really good shape- neither icy nor “skied off”.  However, as the day progressed, the snow began to pick up, and so did the wind.  With temperatures in the mid to upper teens most of the day, and winds picking up to about 15 mph, the wind chills were commonly near 0!  This, along with the sensation of snow hitting me in the face at high speeds (especially on faster trails going 50 mph), made the conditions less than ideal.  In the end, we decided to do slower runs in the trees, and still ended up with a really good day of skiing.

This weekend’s weather caught us by surprise– partially.  I know it is quite dangerous to be in the mountains when a major storm hits.  And, when a major storm is on it’s way, I tend to stay home.  However, this weekend’s storm was quite minor by Colorado standards.  48 hour snowfall totals across most of the region were only a couple of inches, not enough to make me reconsider any plans.  However, an area of heavier snow happened to occur right over Breckenridge.  The map below indicates snowfall totals this weekend.  The one little “bullzeye” of snowfall exceeding 6″ is located right over Breckenridge!  So, we were impacted by the most significant part of fairly minor storm system.

CO_Precip_2015_1_03_04

This made for a treacherous drive back over Hoosier Pass at the end of the day.  However, when we got back to Alma, it was not snowing at all.  In fact, the vehicle left at the cabin did not have any snow on it, and we did not have to shovel snow in front of the cabin.

In many parts of the country, seeing such drastic differences in weather conditions over the stretch of only 15 miles is quite a strange occurrence.  However, up here in the mountains, it is actually quite normal due to the impact the topography has on storms coming through.  Alma is considered part of South Park, a flat region of Central Colorado with elevations near 10,000 ft.  Due to it being surrounded by mountains in all directions, this region is significantly drier than other parts of the state.  The town of Breckenridge, at 9600 ft. in elevation, is actually more than twice as likely to receive significant precipitation in the winter than the South Park area, and receives more precipitation all year round.

co_precip_Breck_Alma

When selecting a home, whether it be a permanent residence, or a second home (vacation home), there are many factors to consider, one of which is location.  This weekend, with it’s kind of moderate snow event, provided a good showcase of both the advantages and disadvantages of choosing a place like Alma to have a cabin.

The major advantage seems to be how much you get for your money.  This place we stayed at is quite nice.

IMG_3006 IMG_3001 IMG_3002

It has three levels, each with it’s own sizable bedroom.  Each one has a different theme appropriate for the mountains.  The middle floor has a large kitchen, dining, and entertaining area.  And, perhaps one of the best features is the water heaters, which provide so much hot water that one can take a lengthy hot shower after a long day in the snow without having to worry about running out of hot water.  Overall, it is way more luxurious than any place I had stayed at closer to the ski resort.  I can imagine a place like this closer to one of the major ski resort being significantly more expensive.

However, the drive over Hoosier Pass in the snow was a clear demonstration of the downside of choosing a location like this.  Those with second homes in town would not have to travel too far to get to the resort, and not have to deal with icy roads and dangerous conditions.

IMG_3009

In addition, from this location it is also significantly less convenient to reach some of the other major ski resorts in the area, particularly Vail, Beaver Creek, and Copper Mountain.

Of course, the entire construct of this tradeoff implies a passion for skiing, because it is this passion for skiing that largely forces the pricing of these second homes in Central Colorado.  For those who prefer other activities, Alma, and the rest of South Park is quite an attractive location.

In the summertime, it is quite easy to reach tons of great hiking trails, including about a dozen “14ers” (peaks of 14,000 feet or higher).  And, a straight shot down an easy to travel highway is Buena Vista, the site of the most popular whitewater rafting river (the Arkansas River) in the country.  Finally, for those who just like solitude, the town’s population is only 270.

Due to the uncomfortable conditions, we decided not to ski again on Sunday.  Rather, we slept late, and made a leisurely journey back to Denver avoiding any traffic delays that could have built in the afternoon.  It was the prudent choice, even if we theoretically could have pushed ourselves a bit more.  Part of life in the mountains is having to accept some last minute changes in plans based on highly variable weather conditions.  So, in a way, changing up the plan for Sunday was part of an authentic mountain experience.

 

Happy New Years

This is going to be my year! This is going to be the year I land my dream job, meet all the right people, have that once-in-a-lifetime epic experience, save tons of money, buy a new house, become a better person, and lose all of the unnecessary fat in my body! All I have to do is change the following five or six behaviors…

Well, that is quite the tall order for a year that actually started out like this…

IMG_2989

With the primary memory of the first hour being this…

IMG_2988

Which really isn’t too terribly different from how any of the last seven years began for me! And, based on the number of bars that offer $75 packages that include all you can drink and get sold out weeks before Christmas, this is the way a good number of people will begin their year.

Yet, today many of us will put together a list of resolutions that we plan to begin acting upon tomorrow when all of our hangovers subside. Of course, there are those among us that will buck this trend- either choosing to skip the New Years resolution thing, or looking in depth into last year’s resolutions and trying to assess what is realistic in some kind of way. But many of us do follow the pattern that is way more common in the political world than everywhere else; over-promise like the statements that began this post, and then under-deliver. Only, in this case, we are not cheating anyone other than ourselves in this process.

That being said, and even knowing that I am not completely immune to this cycle of over-promising and under-developing, I still made a New Years plan. In fact, it is quite in-depth, and involves six over-arching goals, with sub-goals falling into each category. That is quite in-depth for someone who is now dreading how crowded the gym will be for the next three weeks with people who made New Years resolutions that will last approximately three weeks.

However, the process of reflecting on our lives, and pondering making changes is the entire point of New Years. Without this process, New Years Eve is functionally the equivalent of Blackout Wednesday (the day before Thanksgiving). Tomorrow is a day off, so let’s go out and get drunk. And, tomorrow we can be kind of lazy.

One of my favorite people, and one of the inspirations behind my writing style is David Byrne. While with his band The Talking Heads, he wrote a song titled Once in a Lifetime, one of the deepest songs of all time. And, while the lyrics can be confusing, David Byrne describes the song as being about living life on auto-pilot and never questioning or examining the direction it is taking.

Unfortunately, inertia is a pretty powerful (apparent) force in our society. And, nearly all of us slip into a routine where we just operate our day-to-day lives from time to time. In those periods of our lives, that inertia will simply carry our lives in a specific direction. Sometimes that direction is good, but sometimes that direction is less than ideal.

This is why we build into our schedules times like this, where we reflect on the direction our lives are taking, and, often times, come up with plans to make changes. The fact that many of these plans do not pan out over the course of the next few months should not discourage us from taking this time to reflect on our lives and determine what needs to be changed. And, while over-promising and under-delivering is cheating ourselves, never making those promises is even worse. If over-promising and under-delivering equates to our Republican form of government in it’s current state, never making promises, and never asking questions equates to a totalitarian dictatorship. I certainly hope that most would agree that no matter what we have to say about the current state of our country, it is way better than a dictatorship.

I won’t bore you with the specifics of my intricate set of New Years goals and sub-goals. But within this entire plan lies one over-arching resolution that relates to New Years itself, and that is to avoid the kind of “defaulting” that leads people into ruts, and routines, and allows them to simply be carried through life exactly the way David Byrne describes it in his song. By this I mean doing the same things over and over again, watching the same shows over and over again, going to the same websites over and over again, and never even considering trying something new.

In 2014, I published 26 posts on this site. That means that in that 12 month period, I considered 26 experiences worth writing about. One of the things I am trying to avoid doing is write about the same place multiple times. I know I have a couple of times, and I have reserved that for experiences that are different enough for me to feel that another post would not be redundant. So, in a way, the number of posts I make on this site is related to the amount of new and unique experiences I am having in life. So, if my overarching 2015 goal is achieved, I will have had at least 26 blog-worthy experiences in 2015.