Monthly Archives: September 2015

Summer Persists

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I have been fascinated by the weather my entire life.  When it comes to our atmosphere, there is always something interesting going on.  The weather seems to find a way to continue to surprise people, behaving in different interesting ways each season, each year, each decade.  Our lives are impacted by the weather every day.  It is something that is impossible to ignore.  It is always on our minds, particularly for those that of us that love travel and outdoor activities.

At times, our plans can be frustrated, or even cancelled by changes in weather conditions.  It is the early season baseball game that was cancelled due to a freak April snowstorm.  Or the ski resorts in Lake Tahoe that had to close due to the lack of snow.

At other times, unexpected opportunities can arise.  I remember one year, when I was in college in Northwest Indiana, a place that is typically quite chilly in the wintertime, we had a series of unexpected 60 degree days in late January.  I unexpectedly found myself in Lake Michigan (albeit only knee-deep) on the 27th of January, a time of year I could normally expect to be huddled indoors.

Across much of the country, the story this September was the persistence of summer.  Some places are experiencing one of to their warmest Septembers on record.  Here in Denver, it has been the same story.  September’s temperatures this year, largely resembled what is typical in August.

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A sensible response to hot weather in Denver is to travel up to the mountains, where it will be cooler and more comfortable.  So, in addition to my hike near Breckenridge on the 11th, I made trips up to the mountains both of the following weekends.

September 19th was a repeat hike, to Windy Point at Golden Gate Canyon State Park, which is actually less than an hour’s drive from Denver.  The first time I hike this particular trail, in October of 2013, the upper portions of the trail were already covered with snow.

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This time, I got to experience the trail without such snowpack.

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My other late season hike in the mountains involved a trip to a place I had never been before, but had been meaning to check out for quite some time, the Fourth of July trail outside of Nederland.

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This hike in particular, on September 26th, represents the kind of opportunity that would not have been available had it not been for the unusual resistance of summer.  This trailhead is at an elevation of just over 10,000 feet.  By late September, one would expect high temperatures only in the mid 50s at this elevation, and not the warm conditions we experienced that day.

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One thing I have come to notice during periods of abnormal weather is how the trees never seem to be fazed by the abnormal conditions.  In the Midwest, when we would have a mid-winter thaw, like the one I had perviously mentioned, none of the trees would start growing leaves or anything.  They would continue to stay the course, knowing what to expect from the rest of the season.  Here in Colorado, the trees are still changing colors largely on schedule, with the later part of September being peak season for fall colors at these elevations.

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I have actually come to realize that the most magnificent fall colors occur when there is a warm and dry fall.  As it was last year, without windy, rainy, or even snowy weather early in the year, the leaves stay on the trees longer.

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In a month where we sweated through 90 degree weather for Tour de Fat,

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And one could attend a concert at Red Rocks without needing a jacket,

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It is hard not to feel as if summer just has’t ended yet.  We simply got to experience summer longer than anticipated.

Whether it be a season of the year, like winter or summer, or a chapter of our lives, we all anticipate change.  We know that a change is destined to occur, and often have an idea in our heads as to when that change is destined to occur.  However, sometimes, changes do not happen at the time they are anticipated.  Sometimes in life, we are caught off guard by an unexpected change before we had fully prepared.  We all have heard of at least one person who had endured an unexpected layoff, or an unplanned medical emergency.  Other times, as is the case with the switch from summer to autumn across much of the United State this year, it takes longer than anticipated for the next chapter of our lives to begin.

As someone who loves hiking, cycling, and water sports, and is generally not too negatively impacted by hot weather, it is easy for me to welcome the unexpected extra month of summer.  It is easy for me to say, in this case, that the best way to handle this delay, in the transition from summer to autumn, is to go out and enjoy it, take advantage of the opportunities, and be patient for the next season to start.  But, I know that this is not the case for everybody.  I also remember being the one frustrated by the lack of change.  I remember one March in particular, when I was living in Madison, Wisconsin, that winter just seemed to never end- and I was beyond sick of it!

Fall is going to come.  According to the weather report, by this coming weekend, October 2nd and 3rd, most of the country will be experiencing weather more typical of fall.  Those that have grown tired of the heat, although they had to wait longer than expected for the cooler air to come, knew all along that it would, and that the changing of the season is inevitable.

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At some point in time, we all end up in a place where we feel our lives have stagnated.  We enter a place where our current situation, whether it be our job, or what we are doing on a day-to-day basis, has simply run it’s course.  We have gotten what we need to have gotten out of the experience.  Maybe it has become frustrating, or maybe it is just simply not inspiring to us at all.  In these situations, the cycle of winter-spring-summer-fall we all live through on an annual basis serves as a reminder that the change we desire is inevitable.  Sometimes it just takes longer than we had hoped.

Mohawk Lakes, A Moderate Hike in Central Colorado

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Sometimes recreation in Central Colorado can be just plain overwhelming.  I remember when I was preparing to move to Colorado, and took a look at a Colorado DeLorme atlas I had just purchased.  DeLorme makes an atlas for every state in the country.  These atlases are great for those who love outdoor recreation.  Not only are features such as campgrounds, hiking trails, waterfalls, and parks labeled on the maps themselves, but each map contains a dozen or so pages in which hot spots are listed.  These include key places to camp, fish, hunt, hike, bike, and such, as well as a list of “unique natural features”.  When I looked through my Colorado DeLorme atlas, I was suddenly overwhelmed by the amount of options available to me for many of the activities I enjoy.  I kept wondering, though, how the heck I would go about something like picking a place to hike when there are so many options.  I was actually worried that some days I would end up going nowhere due to analysis paralysis.

The most effective networks, whether they be all of the trail networks in parts of Colorado, or New York City’s network of subways, are overwhelming, and sometimes take awhile to learn.  However, the same way any New Yorker can get by without owning a car, due to all of the train lines in the city, a Coloradan can find the right hike for many different situations and many different desired experiences.

Last Friday I had a friend in town from Chicago who does not get to experience mountains on a regular basis.  On previous trips I had taken him to Rocky Mountain National Park.  This time, I wanted to take him somewhere different to see some different scenery in a different part of the state.

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The most talked about hikes in this part of the State tend to be the “14ers” to the South.  These hikes tend to be challenging, and, sometimes are just as much about accomplishing something (particularly to some people) as it is about the experience of hiking.

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By contrast, the Spruce Creek Trail certainly fits into the “moderate” category for difficulty.  The first part of the trail is kind of a mixture of flatter and steeper areas.

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Roughly two miles into the hike we encountered this random cabin that still seemed partially functional.  With a stove and a ladder that leads to an upstairs area it is reminiscent of the cabins that people purchase as second homes.  However, it was kind of in disrepair and there were several holes in the floor.  Still, I wonder what this cabin is used for.  Do people actually stay here at night from time to time?  Did people originally stay here when this place was built?  Is it used for some other purpose, like filleting fish, or fleeing storms from time to time?  After all, this cabin is fairly close to the first major lake one encounters on this hike- Mayflower Lake.

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It is around here that the trail reaches somewhat of a point of inflection.  Above this elevation, the trail becomes steeper.  I honestly should have expected this type of experience.  One thing I note every time I ski at Breckenridge ski resort is the fact that the steeper terrain tends to be on the higher parts of the mountain.  If I ski on Peaks 7, 8, or 9, which is the part of the mountain closest to town and the lower part, I notice that any run I chose becomes progressively flatter as I descend.  The Mohawk Lakes, and the Spruce Creek Trail are seriously no more than 3 or 4 miles from the boundary of the ski resort.  Therefore, it makes perfect sense that one would experience the same kind of terrain.

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The trail encounters Continental Falls several times as it switches back and forth across the mountain.  The last several hundred feet of climbing up to Lower Mohawk Lake is somewhat of a scramble making it quite different from the smooth and well marked trails that we started out on.

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It was already nearly 1 P.M. when we arrived at Lower Mohawk Lake.  We stopped to eat lunch and decided to forgo hiking all the way to Upper Mohawk Lake, a decision I eventually came to regret after learning that we would only have had to hike an additional 0.4 miles, and only climb another 250 feet or so.

I have really come to appreciate this time of year; September, early fall.  There is a lot of pleasant weather, and many people have even told me this is the best time of year for hiking in Colorado.  In the summertime, particularly in August, there is a daily thunderstorm threat associated with the North American Monsoon.  This year that threat ended right after Labor Day when the prevailing weather patterns changed ushering in a drier period for Colorado.  On Labor Day I got caught in a brief afternoon thunderstorm.  There has not been one since.  It is almost as if Mother Nature was aware of, and chose to abide by, our society’s labeling of Labor Day as the “end of summer”.  In August mid-afternoon would typically bring at least some major cloud formations reminding hikers of the thunderstorm threat.  Last Friday the sky remained clear throughout the day.

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I actually think I could not have picked a more ideal time for this particular hike.  One thing I hear about the Spruce Creek Trail is that it is prone to becoming muddy during periods of heavier precipitation.  These types of trails can be problematic in early summer when there is heavier stream flow.  The later part of this summer, and now September, has been much drier across Colorado.

The hike ended up being exactly what we had wanted; a moderately challenging hike that brought us to some unique scenery.  There are many places, both geographic, and in life, where one cannot just go about finding a trail that matches the desired experience exactly.  Whether it be picking a place to hike, chosing a neighborhood to purchase a home, or picking a place of employment, sometimes the option that matches exactly what we want simply is not available at the right time.  So, we end up finding something that is pretty good, a decent match, but not exactly 100% the experience we had been looking for.  It’s just a part of life.  But, here outside of Breckenridge, I found the trail that matched exactly what we wanted, and am thankful for it.

Cool For the Summer

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People define the season of “summer” in various ways.  Astronomers first defined summer as the period of time from the Summer Solstice (roughly June 21st) through the Autumnal Equinox (roughly September 21st).  Later on, meteorologists developed the term “meteorological summer”, defined as the months of June, July, and August, to refer to the period of time when weather conditions (in the Northern Hemisphere) are typically most consistently warm.  Of course, if you are a kid, or a student of any kind, summer clearly runs from the last day of the Spring semester through the first day of the Fall semester.  In the United States, many individuals, particularly those in the working world, have arrived on a definition of “summer” as the period between Memorial Day Weekend (the last weekend in May) and Labor Day Weekend (the first weekend in September).  In fact, at one of my previous places of employment, “business casual” attire was permitted only during the time period between Memorial Day and Labor Day.  No matter where you are in life, if you are in the Northern Hemisphere outside the tropics, summer is coming to an end.  Tonight’s (Labor Day) sunset, for many of us, feels like the last sunset of the summer.

I still remember an episode of Saved By the Bell where Zach Morris, the main character, calls in sick on one of the first school days of the year.  The entire cast of the show had spent a crazy summer in Hawaii.  It was so exhausting, so emotional, and so full of experiences and memories, that he just needed a day to decompress from everything that had gone on over the summer.  That is very much what this weekend felt like to me.  Although I did not set aside an entire day to do nothing but process events, nor did I physically take a day off from work, school, etc., I definitely dialed it down, and put off some things in order to recuperate and process everything.

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For me, 2015 is what I would consider an “Epic Summer”.

As life progresses, I have come to realize that different periods of our lives mean different things.  Some years, and some seasons in particular, are just more memorable than others.  This does not mean that the other years and seasons are pointless.  It is just easier to remember and ponder the significance of certain periods.  History books specifically point to the year 1776, when the United States declared its independence from Great Britain, as a memorable year.  During the previous centuries, an emerging class known as the Burghers were gradually moving society away from Feudalism and towards Free Markets, creating many of the ideals that lead to the revolution.  There are many specific years between 1250 and 1776 that were not memorable, but still important in creating the world of 1776, as well as the world of today.

My life has a series of summers (five total including this one) I would consider “Epic”.  I consider a summer to be “Epic” if it meets several basic criterea.  First, it has to be memorable.  This obviously means experiences that are out of the ordinary.

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Second, in order for a time period, or an event to be considered “Epic”, it has to be one that I consider positive, and enjoyable.  After all, dealing with cancer, a major injury, or depression is memorable.  But, I would not think of it as “Epic”.

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Finally, I believe an “Epic” time period must also be productive rather than destructive.  After all, someone may go on a binge, or a rampage of some kind, and find it memorable, as well as enjoyable.  But, the experience may have been detrimental to their future.  So, I try to think of “Epic Summers”, as only the ones I feel like I am better off for having experienced.

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The first four times I had what I would consider an “Epic Summer”, I did not realize it was happening until it was over.  I later realized that those four summers were time periods I’d think about much more frequently than other times in my life.  Sometime this Spring, I looked back at those summers, and realized that many of the conditions that created the other four Epic Summers in my life were also present this year, and, that the summer that was to come could very well end up being one that I remember for the same reasons.  Now that summer 2015 has come and gone, I can say that the following conditions are what leads to an Epic Summer.

  1.  They are exhausting

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You are doing a lot!  Otherwise, it would not really be Epic.

2.  They involve new experiences

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The summer between my Junior and Senior year in College was “Epic” because I brought travel to a new level (for me) that summer.  Previously, my travel had primarily been weekend road trips in the area to places like Champaign, Bloomington, or Indianapolis.  That summer, an internship brought me to Oklahoma for several weeks and included many more experiences throughout that part of the country. This summer was my first major multi-day bicycle trip, and my first time backpacking.

3.  They involve some amount of planning

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For many types of adventures, logistics do need to be considered.  Where will we stay?  How will we coordinate activities?  I am not saying anyone can plan their way into an Epic Summer, nor am I saying that everything needs to be planned out.  In fact, some spontaneity is also needed.  But, many activities do need to be arranged ahead of time, particularly when they involve a significant number of people.

4.  They build on advancements we make as a person on both short and long time frames

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I would never have gotten to the point where I could complete a bike ride like the one I did in July had I not made steady progress as a cyclist over the years.  This includes the training and completion of my first century ride in Illinois back in 2011, another summer I consider Epic.  Prior to this summer, I worked on myself, trying to improve some of my habits and personality traits that I consider ineffective.  I made continuing to have new and interesting experiences one of my 2015 New Years goals at the start of the year.  The same goes for my first Epic Summer, the summer after my High School graduation.  That year, I took advantage of the maturity, and improvements in my self confidence that actually began to take place halfway through my Junior year.

5.  There is a mix of the familiar and the absurd

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In every Epic Summer I have had, there have ben some repeats.  Like in previous years here in Denver, I attended the USA Pro Challenge and saw the exciting finish of Colorado’s version of the Tour de France.  After attending that race, I witnessed a topless protest on my way to a Weird Al Yankovich concert- quite absurd.

6. There are old friend as well as new friends

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One thing about every time period I have ever considered an “Epic Summer”, is that it is partially about a feeling.  By that, I mean a feeling that my life is just flowing properly.  As a social person, that entails spending time with people that I have known for some time, and become comfortable with, but also continuing to expand my network and make new friends.  In each of my Epic Summers, I have had some sort of influx of new people, through work, organizations, or friends of friends in the months preceding the actual summer.

7.  They are not without conflict

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My first Epic Summer I was always in conflict with my parents.  This summer, I have had a lot of conflict at work.  It is hard to say why, but when you are out there in the world, and following your true moral compass, you are naturally going to have some people that do not appreciate that.

8.  They are often preceded by ruts

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I really do not know why this is, at least not in a logical manner, but every single epic summer I have ever had was preceded by some kind of rut.  This year, a rainy May in Denver combined with career stagnation actually bored me quite a bit.  It feels almost as if the rhythm of life is starting to hint at the need for a much more active period to come.

I come out of the summer of 2015 knowing much more about life, and much more about myself and my own desires than I did beforehand.  I have reached this state because of each and every one of the conditions listed above.  I am bummed that summer is over, but, when mentally healthy, a person can transition from one amazing experience to the next.  When I left college, I was sad, knowing that I had just had an amazing four year experience.  But, I avoided dwelling on it, which would have ruined the last few months of that experience.  Whatever comes next, in fall, may not be quite as amazing summer was.  But, all I can do is take these experiences, and the improvements I have made to myself as a result of them, and use them to help me going forward.