Monthly Archives: July 2017

Get Lost in the Rockies

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“Dispersed Camping” is a concept that is often foreign to those living in large metropolitan areas. It is camping without a campground. There are no numbered spots. There are no amenities such as outlets, washrooms, and an office that sells water and wood. It’s just people plopping their tents down wherever they can. It is the purest, and most rugged form of camping.

Colorado has an almost limitless supply of places where people can literally just find a spot and set up camp.

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Spots for dispersed camping are usually found in National Forests, which cover nearly half the state. Specific details about which spots allow dispersed camping can be hard to find online, as each section of the National Forest system maps out their area differently. However, every section of National Forest has a significant amount of area where one can just set up camp. Many of these spots even have fire pits already set up by previous campers!

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During periods of heightened fire danger, it is common to for counties to issue fire bans or fire restrictions to limit the risk of wildfires. With fire being a major component of the camping experience, the status of these fire restrictions should be considered when planning any summertime mountain adventure that involves camping.

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Colorado map of county fire restrictions as of July 14, 2017

There is, perhaps, no better place to start a Rocky Mountain adventure than Leadville, Colorado, which sits at an elevation of just over 10,000 feet in the central part of Lake County, a county where there happened to not be a fire ban in mid-July 2017.

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Spawned from the mid-19th Century Gold rush, and rich with old west history, the town, in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, is tucked away between mountains that rise several thousand feet higher in every direction.

This includes the Sawatch Range to the immidiate West and South, where Colorado’s two tallest peaks; Mount Elbert and Mount Massive, sit.

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Only five miles to the west of town is Turquoise Lake.

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Expansive, beautiful, and protected by steep hills and dense forests, the lake stretches west, into the Mount Massive Wilderness, where densely packed trees and rugged terrain create a feeling of seclusion and wonder.

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Wandering through the wilderness, trees partially conceal the tall mountain peaks. Like a well made movie preview, they reveal some, but not all, of what lays ahead for anyone wandering through the woods, whether on trail or off.

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Around every curve, the wilderness reveals what had been hidden between the trees.

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Streams reveal the source of the water that drains into Turqouise Lake below.

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Flowers of all colors pop out, tickling multiple senses, making the experience more vivid, more full.

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After roughly 90 minutes of hiking on the Highline Trail, which starts only a few miles west of Turquoise Lake, the trail climbs above the forest.

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Just below 12,00 feet, the trees disappear. Mountain ranges, are once again seen in every direction. The ground is surprisingly green grass, making the scene reminiscent of The Sound of Music.

At these elevations, with an atmosphere roughly 30% less thick than it is at sea level, the sun commands somewhat of a decieving presence, particularly in the months of June and July.

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Less deterred by the atmosphere, direct sunlight at these elevations can create an almost tropical feeling of warmth at temperatures that barely top out above 60F (16C), temperatures where some at sea level, under cloudy skies, would still be wearing jackets.

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Wandering through the dense pine forests that make up the Mount Massive wilderness, especially as daytime gradually faded into evening, it is easy to imagine being truly lost in the Rocky Mountains.

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Away from day-to-day life, hustle, drama and the like, I could not help but worry about the future. As soon as I got to the west side of Turquoise Lake (away from town) all cell signals disappeared. How long will this be the case? Are they working on connecting the whole world with Wi-Fi? If so, where will people go, to escape? To not be tempted to check their work email? Or see what was posted on social media?

The way I see it, people give up the conveniences of modern life to go on trips like this one for three reasons:

  1. Despite the fact that there is more physical labor (setting up tents, cooking, etc.), it is less stressful. There are a ton of modern life concerns that disappear in the woods (social status, money, etc.).
  2. It feels much less structured. Sure, there are patterns, but there is no calendar with a list of meetings, tasks, things to do. There are no set eating hours and itineraries.
  3. It feels more human. This is quite possibly the most significant one of all. Work and the digital age has a somewhat robotic of feel to it. We are expected to perform. We are often asked to follow sets of procedures. Emotions are not supposed to be shown. There are even places where people are expected to refrain from laughing and too much “socializing”.

If we ever get to the point where there is no place on Earth without data, WiFi, or some kind of connection to our normal stresses and responsibilities, I sure hope we have found another way in which to periodically disconnect. Or, at the very least, that most people’s attitudes about things such as mental health days, and expectations regarding work availability and how we set our priorities in life, will have changed.

 

 

TEDxMileHigh: Point of Departure

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It’s a mid-summer weekend in sunny Colorado and thousands of people are standing in line, actually various lines that snake all around the Ellie Caulkins Opera House in downtown Denver. They are all waiting to get into the theater to hear a series of talks. These talks will cover a wide variety of subjects. One will be about a big idea, something that may change the world in the coming years. Another may be a personal narrative, and another may even be a musical or poetic performance. The only thing these talks have in common is the main draw. The main reason anyone chose to spend a Friday evening and Saturday afternoon in the middle of the summer inside a building as opposed to in the mountains where most Coloradans chose to spend their summer weekends, the association with a brand known as TED.

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Most people have some form of exposure to TED talks, even if they did not purposely seek them out. TED talks are shown at all sorts of conferences and workshops, are shared with friends and colleagues regularly, and are commonly found in web searches. This was the first time I chose to attend a TED event, but I have watched quite a few TED talks in my life. When you are really ill, watching TED talks on YouTube can be the most productive thing to do with your time.

What I notice most about TED talks, both at this conference and online, is the fact that I never get bored during them, despite the fact that I find it quite easy to get bored and antsy during presentations, especially of the standard power point variety. It is quite clear that the people who organize TED events (and TEDx events, which means they are independently organized) follow a formula that takes into account how the human mind works and responds to information as presented. Talks are generally 15-20 minutes, consistent with most scientific understanding of the human attention span. Short videos are presented between talks of wildly differing topics to ease the transition from one topic to another.

Speakers undergo a rigorous three-month long process of preparation to ensure all TED talks meet their standards. As a result, speakers always seem to emphasize the right words, stay poised, and avoiding using filler words. Auditions for speakers for this conference took place in February, and auditions for their next conference, in November, take place at the end of July!

When I think of the brand TED, the first thing I think of is people who think like me. By this, I do not mean people who have the same opinions on certain specific issues or policies. It is more of a general sense of what “TED people” are like. If there is one thing that binds all the people who speak at and participate in this brand known as TED, it is the desire to think beyond the day-to-day routine, the next task or the next purchase. People come here because they want to be inspired. They imagine possibilities beyond what is seen directly in front of them day-to-day. They want to engage their intellectual curiosity. They believe their life will be changed, or even that the world will be changed, by something they hear about and talk about here.

The conference provided a few other perks as well…

Each ticket, regardless of whether it was General Admission, VIP, or All Access, provided a free lunch, to be redeemed at one of many food trucks located in sculpture park behind the Denver Performing Arts Center (which houses the Ellie Caulkins Opera House). There were vendors for many other other organizations too, including ones that focus on environmental activism, sell new flavors of tea, or focus on career development. At the end of the conference, I even got a free pair of eclipse glasses, which I intend to use to view next month’s total solar eclipse.

 

After 22 speakers spread over three sessions, meeting countless interesting people, and a really awesome after-party (there was an after party both nights, but I only attended the Saturday night one due to poor meal planning on my part), I felt something absolutely crazy. I came out of this conference with more energy than when I had arrived. I wasn’t expecting this, as most conferences leave me drained. This one covers even more intellectually and emotionally draining topics than most.

The success of the TED brand seems to run contrary to every piece of business advice I have ever received. I am always told to have a specific product in mind, a narrower purpose, and a specific target audience, like all those blogs that focus on one activity.

Yet, this idea seemed to start with a broader purpose; to inspire and change the world. Then, they thought about humanity and found the most effective way in which to present the information. If TEDxMileHigh Point of Departure taught me anything (other than specifics like how fast a supersonic jet can go) it is to stop worrying about how others achieved, or what status anyone has. It is all about having something to offer that people see as worth-wile, and bringing it to them effectively, regardless of titles or perceived status.

What Independence Day Means for Travel and Adventure

img_0231-1Every year, we Americans celebrate the founding of our nation on the Fourth of July. This commemorates the day in which the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, officially declaring our intention to separate from the British Empire and form our own Nation, or more accurately at the time, confederation of states.

It is an active day, and often an active weekend for the country as a whole.

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Some use the time off to explore some of the country’s most spectacular places.

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Others use it to visit vacation homes, or have quiet weekends by the lake.

Some also flock into cities, to visit friends, and attend festivals.

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As is the case with many holidays, I often wonder whether or not this one loses its meaning. Those that know the true meaning of Saint Patrick’s Day, Cinco De Mayo, and Memorial Day will often observe that the way most people celebrate these days is inconsistent with the actual intent of these particular holidays.

What about Independence Day?

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Are these large firework displays appropriate? What are most people thinking about, as they are exploring parks, visiting friends, barbecuing and watching these colorful displays?

How many people are thinking about their own lives vs. the Nation we are celebrating? Or are our minds on regionally specific considerations? For example, in the Rocky Mountains, the Fourth of July is kind of the start of the season for high altitude hikes. After a three-month process of snowmelt in the highest terrain, many trails are finally free of residual snowpack and mud.

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In fact, there is even a trailhead just south of Rocky Mountain National Park that was named the Fourth of July Trailhead.

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Trails originating from here provide access to a series of high peaks just east of the Continental Divide. This particular section of the Central Rocky Mountains is commonly shadowed from the sun and heavily forested. At places like this the snow melts the slowest in the springtime. This trailhead was given this name because it is generally not recommended for hikers to hike here until the Fourth of July!

What people chose to do on the Fourth of July may have something to do with how people view the United States of America.

There’s a spectrum of people across this country, from those that take extreme pride in being “American”, to those that take a more critical view and may wish we adopted some policies of other nations. Where someone stands on this spectrum may have something to do with whether someone sees July 4th as extremely meaningful, or just as a convenient day to have off in the middle of the summer.

Being who I am, I cannot help but reflect, and come to a conclusion that is a bit more nuanced. One of the virtues that this nation was founded on is individual liberty. Even if we have fallen short of that ideal on certain occasions past and present, it still represents an ideal that we aspire to. Liberty, and self-determination are considered a justifiable end here. There are other places where it is not.

As someone who yearns for adventure, it is easy for me to view, with envy, European countries where vacationing for the entire month of August is common practice, and work weeks tend to be shorter. However, that is not the full picture. There are large areas of the world where most people cannot take vacations at all. There are places where the majority of the population lacks the prosperity and/or individual liberty that makes everything we do here possible.

Reflecting on this, it needs to be understood that we are indeed quite fortunate. This does not mean we should not yearn for more, as, in many ways, we can and should do better. It does mean having everything put into proper perspective. With the right priorities, most Americans at least have the opportunity to have an adventurous life. This is something we all should be grateful for.

Five Years in Denver

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A personal narrative..

I cannot believe it has been five years since I moved to Denver, and I cannot believe that 2017 is already half over. I’d say “time flies”, but that is kind of a cliché. Time does not really “fly”, or even go by rapidly. It just appears as such when we think about time in larger chunks. In the past five years, I can think of plenty of Tuesday afternoons where it certainly did not feel as if time were “flying” by.

Okay, enough random psychological ramblings. However, I do want to point out that unlike most social media content these days, I do plan to be forthcoming with my own weaknesses and struggles. Hopefully that is refreshing.

My first five years in Colorado can be thought of as anywhere from a complete success to a total failure depending on how it is looked upon. By the traditional definition of “success”, I guess I am mostly successful. I make good money, live in a good place, and am healthy. By a more modern, and more millennial version of “success”, I’m kind of a failure. This is because I am haven’t gotten to the point where I am using my strengths to impact the world in a positive and meaningful way. I hope my writing encourages others to believe in themselves, find adventure and live better lives. However, life on an average day feels pretty empty. What I do to earn a living is quite insignificant, and has been for almost the entire five years I have been living here.

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When I first moved to Denver, I attempted to recreate what I had in Chicago, particularly the social situation, which I really enjoyed.

This proved challenging for three reasons…

  1. You cannot recreate the past. There will always be something different. Denver is a different place than Chicago, with different people, who have different priorities and expectations. It’s also a different time, and a different phase of life.
  2. Call me spoiled, but this was the first time in my life I have ever had to really try to meet new people. In Chicago, I worked with a ton of fun people around the same age as me. Before that I was in Graduate School, College, High School, etc. People were always right there.
  3. I was not at my best when I moved, due to a really disappointing work situation. Making friends is a bit harder when you’re not in a great place spiritually.

My first year or so here I probably spiraled out of control more than I realized at the time.

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I quit my job out of frustration, and became disenchanted with the working world, a feeling that mostly persists today. Maybe it was my own experiences, the move to Colorado, or even that December 21, 2012 stuff (not scientific, but who knows). I just started getting this feeling that the 9-to-5 lifestyle, the one I had lived for five years in Chicago happily, was outdated, and that there was more to life than corporate structures, office politics, and spending eight hours a day in front of a computer.

I adapted. In place of the late night parties came outdoor activities for all seasons, travel and adventure. The past five years have been more adventurous than I had ever imagined. I ski better than I ever thought I would. I took part in the long distance bike rides I had always dreamed about, and traveled to some remote places!

Day-to-day life, though, remained a challenge. Finding a new job ended up being challenging. Being “rejected” time and time again took its toll on my sense of self-worth, and confidence. I spent a lot of time inside my own head, oscillating back and forth between blaming society’s outdated structure, and blaming myself for my own misfortunes in this department.

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These misfortunes continued. The job I eventually found went relatively well at first, but took a turn for the worse when I asked to report to quite possibly the most selfish and judgmental person I had ever met. I’d be hard pressed to find a stronger de-motivator, at work, than having a boss that makes everything about himself. I got out of that situation, but still haven’t found something that gets me excited to get out of bed in the morning.

I put myself out there, and, through various means, met a lot of people, some of them really good people that I have come to really enjoy hanging out with.

 

However, due to some combination of different social styles in Colorado, being a little bit older, and how the digital age has impacted society as a whole, I never reached the status, socially, that I had in my life’s previous “chapters”. People observing my life would probably think I have done extremely well in this category. However, I do have a yearning, at times, for more social activities and more meaningful connections.

This is related to quite possibly my biggest struggle of all … “adulthood”. Where does my life go from here? This is the fear that keeps me up at night, as the average life of a full-fledged adult (as opposed to an “emerging adult” which generally refers to the late teens and 20-something lifestyle), as I observe it, to be honest, doesn’t interest me. I just feel like life, just being alive and human on planet Earth, is a blessing in many ways. With so many amazing places, and so many amazing people, I don’t want to spend my life keeping up with TV show characters, and working extra to accumulate money so I can remodel my kitchen (you know, because those cabinets look so 1980s) and spend weekends at shopping malls accumulating more material possessions.

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This is probably the best reason to be in Colorado. This state feels like it was designed for people who feel exactly the way I feel about life.

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Which is the main reason that, despite the previously mentioned struggles and knowing that there are other places with better career prospects, I really hope to make my life work here in Colorado. While I cannot describe my first five years in Colorado as a complete “success”, I am happy with a lot of what I have done, and feel good about recent personal growth. Life is a journey, with many chapters, plots and sub-plots, destinations, and, unfortunately, also some detours. Finding your true purpose, the role you were meant to play in 21st Century society, is not a trivial endeavor. It can be quite challenging, and can take many years. It feels worthwhile though, and almost necessary for a life that is truly fulfilling.