Monthly Archives: August 2016

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 marmots 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 Canyon) 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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This is 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 we just saw 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 gig 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!