Author Archives: Stephen Jaye

About Stephen Jaye

My name is Stephen Jaye, I currently live in Denver, CO, but have lived in New York, Chicago, Indiana, and Wisconsin. I love the weather, I love getting out, being active, and I love exploring places. In this blog are my travel writings.

In Between Seasons

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The first few days of November in Colorado’s high terrain is the quintessential example of an in-between season. The first few storms of the year have removed all the colorful leaves from the trees. All of the “leaf peepers” have gone home. Snow covers the ground, but not in a manner that is deep and consistent enough to enable many of the activities associated with the winter season. Some of the ski resorts have opened, but likely have only one or two lifts operating.

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Almost everything, from the sounds of nature to the volume of traffic along the highways, is much quieter than usual.

It is a familiar place for most, and not just with respect to seasons and outdoor activities. It is present in all cycles of life. No matter how hard some may try to remain consistently occupied, there will always be that time period, when one activity is done and the next has yet to begin.

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This has become even more prevalent in the 21st Century. The world is changing faster. Gone are the days of having one job or one main activity for nearly the entire duration of adulthood. Nearly all people must periodically learn new tools and expand their knowledge base on a regular basis. The average job tenure is now 4.2 years, and it is now common for people to switch to a completely different line of work from time to time.

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Olympic Gold medalist Lindsay Vonn discussing her new line of makeup at Denver Startup Week 2019

It’s long past time people stop asking those they meet for the first time “What do you do?”  This question needs to be replaced with something more appropriate for the current reality, such as “What are you up to?” One’s tenure at a specific job, like raising a child starting a bueiness or renovating a home is a project with a finite beginning and ending.

Early November in the mountains is that time period between one ending and the next beginning. What to do?

This in-between time represents an opportunity that the manager of six groups raising two children caring for an elderly family member and building a new garage does not have. For someone accustomed to being constantly on the move, this in-between time can be confusing and even disorienting. Whether expected, like the time between fall and winter, or unexpected, like a project cancellation, in-between seasons are a great time for what often gets neglected in typical daily life.

The most important things to do during in-between seasons are…

Rest

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While it is certainly possible to rest too much, periodic rest is important to meet all of our physical and spiritual needs. Much has been written recently about the importance of getting good sleep. This is something few people prioritize.

Learn

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Learning is commonly a part of everyday life. However, learning is typically dictated by demands related to jobs or other responsibilities. During this quieter time, there is the freedom to learn anything that actually pokes one’s curiosity. Many, including Google, understand the value of self-directed pursuits.

Improve

“Be better than you were yesterday” is a common mantra. Many people, especially those that are the most successful, are constantly working on themselves. The time between the ending of one activity and the beginning of another can be a unique opportunity to give some form of self-improvement the focus it needs to guarantee it come to fruition.

Work on Relationships

It is hard to imagine something more neglected by modern society than the need for human connection. Some believe that this neglect is behind most mental health problems. Relationships of all kinds need attention in order to thrive. Breakups and explosive fights between best friends and family members garner a lot of attention. However, people lose far more relationships due to neglect, when both parties cease making an effort.

Re-evaluate

Perhaps most importably, a life that is constantly busy provides little opportunity for re-evaluation of things like time use, spending habits and priorities. During times like these, more people have the ability to clear their heads of things like daily task lists and ask themselves what really matters. This will inform things like which relationships are the most important ones to working on, what to learn, what improvements to make and what the next beginning should be.

It won’t be long before the next season is underway.

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The odds of that next season being successful is improved when individuals improve, are well rested, and have the right priorities and relationships. While this can be done in many different settings, it is often done most effectively in places like these, where there are far fewer distractions.

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The Calm Before the Storm

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This is Guanella Pass, 11,700 feet (3570 m) above sea level on Wednesday October 9, 2019. It was a warm day, one that almost felt like mid-summer. As can be seen from the photograph, the region had yet to receive a significant snow. On that day, Denver International Airport would reach a high temperature of 83ºF (28ºC). Temperatures were quite pleasant at higher elevations.

However, change was on its way. These photos were taken only several hours before autumn’s fist meaningful push of cold air would arrive in Central Colorado. The next day would see temperatures across the entire region dip below freezing, and snow fall all the way down in Denver.

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Friday morning’s low would reach 9°F (-12°C) in Denver, representing a near record breaking temperature drop.

Thanks to weather models, forecasters saw this dramatic change coming. Most Coloradans were prepared.

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Yet, even without computer models to foresee the exact day and exact nature of these changes, it is pretty well understood, especially up in the Rockies, that at this time of year, sooner or later an event like this is bound to happen. This is why many high elevation animals gather food in the second half of the summer and why the tree leaves change colors in the autumn.

Luckily, it was a Wednesday. So, the roads people usually take to go “leaf peeping” weren’t nearly as crowded as they are on weekends.

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Guanella Pass is amazing in autumn. Being only 50 miles from Denver, it is typically far more crowded on weekends at this time of year.

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I often get carried away with getting to that perfect location, many miles out of the way where the image, the sounds, smells and conditions are perfect!

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However, that day I noticed that it is quite possible to see some spectacular fall colors without even leaving the main roads. I saw bright gold trees along both Interstate 70 and U.S. Highway 285!

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Few places captured the essence of life in the mountains in Autumn better than Georgetown, which is right along I-70.

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It was strange to gaze upon the Aspen trees knowing that in less than 12 hours, due to wind and snow, most of the leaves would be gone, and the landscape was about to fundamentally be changed.

Storms are part of the nature of life, not just with respect to weather and seasons. It is the first time we have a crush, and soon after the first time we get our hearts broken. It is the conflicts we have with our family, close friends and significant others. It is that person we just don’t get along with. It is losing a job, getting in an unexpected accident, or even just having a week’s worth of bad luck.

It’s facing our fears, which is what Halloween is really all about.

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In October, the days get darker and chillier, foreshadowing winter, often the most dreaded of the seasons. It is no coincidence that this is the time of year we celebrate all that is spooky; carving spooky designs into pumpkins, dressing in scary costumes and watching scary movies.

Some of life’s “storms” come unexpectedly. However, some are at least somewhat predictable, like the changing of the seasons or a coming breakup. How we respond differs quite a bit from person to person. There are those that prepare, those that embrace, those that deny and those that simply try to weather it as best as possible.

Maybe the same is true of these Aspen trees up in the mountains.

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It was hard for me to imagine why some trees at 9,000 feet (2750m) in elevation would still have green leaves on October 9th. They seemed less prepared. However, maybe they are just enjoying this calm before the storm a bit longer. I can’t say I had not done the same at various points in my life.

The key to facing the storms of our lives is to build up resiliency and self-confidence. This is part of what facing our fears is all about. Once our fears have been faced, we are prepared to have that awkward conversation where we must tell people what they don’t want to hear. We are ready to assert ourselves to obtain what we really want out of life. And, we are ready to deal with setbacks without falling apart.

The confidence not to panic gives us the capacity to enjoy “the calm before the storm” to its fullest extent.

 

Flagstaff Hill: A Quick Intense Ride

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Before embarking on this journey, I was told that Flagstaff Hill was one of the most intense bike rides in Colorado’s Front Range. The full ride has a vertical climb of just over 2,000 feet and an average grade of 11%! This makes it slightly more intense than Lookout Mountain near Golden.

Most cyclists follow Flagstaff Road from Chautaqua Park. This is the ride that has earned a reputation as “quad-burning” and “lung-busting”.

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However, there is an alternate route up, one that is slightly less steep, but also a bit less paved. It begins with a ride up Boulder Canyon.

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This part of the ride is not too intense and serves as a reminder of how easy it is to get into the mountains from Boulder. Even from the Eastern part of the City, it is only 20 minutes by bicycle to arrive at a place where the city feels completely left behind.

We did this ride on an early October day after work. So, it wouldn’t be long before the sunlight started to fade behind the mountains.

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Turning off Boulder Canyon Road on Chapman Dr., the road quickly turns into an unpaved trail. The trail is not too rocky or sandy to pass on a road bike. Still, not being on pavement certainly adds an additional challenge. This part of the ride is likely as steep as any, with wide curves rather than tight switchbacks.

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We huffed and we puffed. We burnt out our quads- just as had been promised. At times I felt as if this route may have even been slightly more challenging than the road route.

Less than an hour into the ride, we had reached a place where we had not only left the city limits, but felt as if we were completely in the middle of the Rocky Mountains.

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Most people have to travel further by car to get a a place that feels even remotely like this!

The top of this ride is at a place called Realization Point.

With limited daylight, and the Nature Center not being open, we opted out of this last part of the ride. Apparently, we missed out on the final 100 feet of climbing, but still faired quite well (I’m still certain we ascended at least 2,000 feet).

We retuned to town via the paved road, where we were able to relax, let gravity do the work, and overlook the town.

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It was one of those moments of pure joy we are always seeking after in life. It reminded me of scenes from movies such as The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and Flashdance, or looking on as groups of children play in the park, good friends laugh over a great meal or that one daring snowboarder jumps off the ten foot cliff. At that moment, nothing else matters. It is a moment of pure joy. Often times in these moments, we weren’t even necessarily intentional about setting aside our worries. The experience, the sense of accomplishment, wonder and excitement has this way of overwhelming us, leaving us with no choice but to fully immerse ourselves in what is happening here and now.

Cycling is an individual experience that we often share with others. At the Adventure Cycling Association, I was told that a bike ride with n people has a total of n+1 experiences; each person’s individual experience and then the group experience. On rides like these, even among similar people, each person experiences it somewhat differently. The amount of huffing and puffing on the uphill part, which individual groves in the surface we encounter with our tires and the strength of the adrenaline rush on the descent all vary enough to make individual experiences unique.

I cannot tell you if this is the most intense ride I have ever done. My day in Yellowstone was definitely far more exhausting, and I do recall being on steeper sections of road for shorter periods of time. All I can say is that I am grateful to be in a place where this type of experience is readily accessible and to have the means by which to make it happen. I ended the day not focused on who has more money, who is in better shape, or who has more fulfillment in life. That is always a good thing.

The Next Three Months

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It is hard to believe we have already reached this point. There are only three months left in this decade! Soon, it will legitimately be the “20s”. Although there is a reasonable argument to be made that there is nothing special about milestones somewhat artificially created by our calendar, there are seasons and cycles to life. This one happens to correspond with a need to reflect. At least that is how I feel about my own life as well as our culture as a whole.

My Personal Story

Saying my life has undergone some major changes over the past decade would be a rather generic statement. It’s ten years! Of course life has changed. The idea that someone is living the same life they were living at the start of 2010 indicates a level of stagnation that would make my head spin!

Some aspects of my life were quite different at the start of the decade. I was living in Chicago working at my first “real job”. At the surface, I was living the life one would expect a 20-something in Chicago to be living.

I also, for the most part believed in the system and the institutions that we had put in place (mostly over the 20th Century). I was fortunate that the 2008 market crash had remarkably little impact on my life.

It wasn’t perfect, but I was riding high. A couple of years later, I would move to a a different part of the country. I suffered a series of disappointments, primarily related to jobs. It caused me investigate and take a more critical view of the current state of our culture.

I still love to goof off and have fun.

However, my attitude towards a lot of things have changed.

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I see our established institutions, such as work, education and social expectations as in desperate need of an update.

I started spending far more time traveling and seeking experiences, particularly in the outdoors, as well as attending the types of events that inspire people to buck the trend and seek out something more from life.

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The 2010s

I can’t help but feel like when I think of the culture of the 2010s, the first thing that will come to mind will be a bunch of people staring at their phones.

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Social media and smart phones were a major disruption to our communication and social patterns we have yet to fully process. Over the course of the decade, we continued to embrace these technologies while simultaneously worrying about the consequences. We observed some alarming trends such as increases in suicide rate, opioid overdoes and violence, and have wondered whether loneliness and depression related to social media and smart phone distraction have played a part.

Our political discourse certainly went downhill. Despite a few trends here and there I find promising, I all but completely lost interest.

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The 2010s have, in many ways, brought some level of awareness. The sad part, for some, was the revelation of truth around people formerly regarded as heroes, like Bill Cosby and Lance Armstrong. Of course, this does mean a lot more people will get treated more fairly in life.

Also, in parallel with my own personal journey, a lot more people have come to the realization that many of our institutions, from work to education and social structures, could be improved upon to create a better human experience. In arenas such as TED talks, people are discussing what that future could look like.

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The Middle of an Uneven Transition

At this moment in time it feels like both my life and our culture as a whole is in the middle of a transition, with a result yet to be determined. New enterprises are re-imagining systems such as education, healthcare and transportation. More minor adjustments like flexible hours and married people maintaining separate bank accounts are more common. In general, though, we are still trying to define this transition, what the future state will look like and how we get there.

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My life’s path is in a somewhat similar place. I’m trying to get my life in alignment with my personality, values and interests. I am only part of the way there, and have encountered resistance of my own.

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My Plan For the Next Three Months

The last 12 months of my life have been exhausting.

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With the 2020 milestone coming up, and a need to better define the direction my life needs to take, now is a good time to stop and focus on the following.

  • Slowing down
  • Processing ten years worth of events
  • Meditation and Mindfulness
  • Reconnecting with my true authentic self
  • Gratitude and atonement
  • Finding some direction
  • Personal development
  • Determining how to help bring about the changes our culture needs
  • Being there for those that matter

This unfortunately means less travel and activity. However, I am hoping it sets me up for an amazing new decade and even better adventures to come!

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A Mid-September Backpacking Trip to the Flat Tops Wilderness: Day 3 Sunrise on Devil’s Causeway

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“It’s gonna be so cold leaving the tent before sunrise.”

“The sunrise will look just as nice from the comfort of my tent.”

“We already saw the Devil’s Causeway on Friday.”

“Look at all the distance we’ve already covered.”

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These are all the things my inner dialogue told myself, to stop me from going the extra mile Sunday morning. And, it literally was an extra mile (two round trip).

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We all experience this from time to time. That voice in our heads is most often referred to as the inner dialogue or inner chatterbox. Its goal is to protect us from discomfort, failure, embarrassment and the like. It is the voice that once told an 11-year-old version of me that nobody wanted to talk to the new kid in town and subsequently told a 15-year-old version of me to avoid the embarrassment of asking anyone out. In both situations, that voice was dead wrong. Yet, it continues to plead its case in situations like these, pushing for its own version of comfortable stagnant mediocrity.

Perhaps the best decision I made on this trip was to ignore that voice, which actually took some mental energy given how exhausting Saturday was. That extra hour of rest in the morning was quite enticing.

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These photos don’t do justice to the gradual turning of the sky in anticipation of a new day, or the still lit full moon on the other horizon at dawn.

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Unlike in previous days where we were camping at lower elevations, when the sun kissed the sky, we were among the first to be struck by its golden rays.

It was a feeling that is hard to describe. I felt like I was receiving some kind of gift. I was recieving an infusion of energy, spirit and liveliness from some kind of abstract source. It felt almost spiritual. Regardless of what was actually behind this wonderful feeling, I was certainly glad to have ignored that inner dialogue.

The final day was the shortest of the three. We only had 6.2 miles to go to get back to the trailhead. It started out with a bit more traversing across open grassland.

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We got a couple more great overlooks before the main descent.

It was perhaps the fastest day of the three. The miles went by quickly for backpacking standards.

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We made only one significant stop, for a mid-morning snack.

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A little before 11 A.M., we saw the Summit Reservoir, the place where the journey had begun, indicating that we were already approaching the trailhead!

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There was an advantage to getting back to the car just before noon, as we all had to work in some capacity the next day. The amazing thing about this trip is that nobody involved had to take more than one day off of work.

However, to achieve this, we had to set up camp in the dark the Thursday night and felt somewhat hurried at times.  Before we even got back to Kremmling to have our first regular meal after the trip, we were all already checking our phones, checking back in with work and our day-to-day lives.

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We truly got the most out of the 74 hour period we were away. However, we didn’t really escape for too long. From the standpoint of making the most of our time it was ideal.

From another standpoint, it was less than ideal. It is not too uncommon for Americans to plan trips like this, possibly because we do not value time away as much as we should. Although there are many pointing out the follies of these too many people not taking time off, the prominent culture in this country still seems to value work over all else and expects others to as well.

Whenever I find myself shifting my priorities to match the ones of our current culture, my inner dialogue is behind it. That inner dialogue tells me to be concerned about how I will be perceived, and what negative consequences I might face if I were to act in accordance with what I value as opposed to what is expected of me.

Ignoring my inner dialogue’s demands that I stay in my sleeping bag an extra hour on a cold morning is good practice for what I know I must do in the coming years to create a life that is truly authentic and fulfilling. I need to ignore my inner dialogue’s demands that, in order to be safe, I sacrifice the individual autonomy that comes with adhering to my own set of values in favor of what is often referred to as “herd mentality“.

A Mid-September Backpacking Trip to the Flat Tops Wilderness: Day 2 Staying on Trail

Opening and closing a tent has a certain familiar look, smell and sound. Over time, our brains come to associate what our senses observe with types of experiences and often the emotions that go along with them.

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While my summer was active, it was active in a way that involved somewhat less outdoor activity than the past several year, and not much camping. It felt good to using the tent again, and having the experiences associated with it. The smell of the nylon tent and the sounds of the zipper going back and forth brought back associations with things that I love.

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East Lost Lake was perhaps even more beautiful the next morning, which was not as cold as the previous day, yet, still cold.

A lot of people fantasize about living in the mountains. I have even thought about it from time to time. Experiencing cold mornings in mid-September gave me a glimpse into one of the downsides of living at these higher elevations. Those of us that live at lower elevations come up to the mountains during the best and exciting times of year: ski season and summer. Skiing is, of course, fun and exciting. Summer days at these elevations are pleasant.

However, mornings, even in the middle of the summer are quite chilly. Morning temperatures at these elevations are 35°F to 45°F (2-7°C) in the middle of summer! At this point in time, while some towns were looking forwards towards fall festivals and the changing of the leaves, after that will be a period of time that is not so exciting, with mornings that would be cold enough to prevent me from biking to work.

We stopped at the last in the series of alpine lakes, West Lost Lake to fill up with water.

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Then we began to climb again.

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Like Friday, Saturday would feature a significant late morning climb. This one would take us up out of the woods and on top of one of a broad mesas.

We would spend most of the afternoon along the mesa, periodically gazing at the features below. At one point, we were actually able to see where we had just camped the night before.

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That afternoon, we would encounter a different issue. While in the woods, the trail was well marked the entire way. On the mesa, the trail all but completely vanished in places. We were just walking across a large grassy field hoping we were going the right way.

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That’s the advantage, as well as disadvantage of selecting a trail that isn’t widely used. We would actually go the entire day without encountering any other people. However, that also means that there isn’t regular foot traffic to maintain the trail.

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Sometimes the most frustrating experiences are also the most rewarding. We spent the afternoon looking for the trail, often getting excited to find the sections of it where the grass had not fully regrown. We also occasionally found ourselves in some tough places like this section of shrubbery near the edge of the mesa.

At one point, we actually did make a wrong turn and went out of our way. However, it ended up adding less than a mile to our overall trip, and gave us one of the best overlooks of the day!

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By the end of the day, we had covered another 10 miles (16 km). I was exhausted.

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We camped above treeline, which was an interesting experience. I’d never thought of that possibility as we’d typically want to find campsites where we’d be able to find firewood. However, with gas stoves, it is possible to cook dinner without a fire, and we were able to find an unexpected water source.

Camping above treeline reminded me that life is not about following rules and procedures. It is about taking care of needs and solving problems. Rules and procedures can serve as a good general guide, but there are always going to be situations that require different solutions.

At this point, we were too exhausted to want to continue on to get back down below treeline. Going off trail to get into the trees would have involved carrying our heavy packs down a fairly steep area. The solution ended up working out.

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However, without a fire, it did feel cold. Perhaps the coldest hour of the day was the hour after we got everything set up, when my body was exhausted and didn’t want to move or expend the energy needed to keep itself warm. This may be the coldest hour of the day as physical exhaustion can have an impact on the temperature regulation system in our bodies.

With clear skies and no fire, it was the perfect evening to watch the mid-september full moon, or “harvest moon”, come up from behind the mountains.

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With respect to both going the wrong direction for a short amount of time and being cold without a fire, both frustrating experiences lead to something magical in the end. It was an incredible day that reminded me of several important life lessons.

  1. We are often capable of far more than we give ourselves credit for.
  2. Some of the most frustrating experiences turn out to be the most rewarding ones.
  3. It’s not about rules and procedures, it’s about results.
  4. Some years we partake in some activities more than others. That is fine, just how it goes. It doesn’t make anything less enjoyable.

A Mid-September Backpacking Trip to the Flat Tops Wilderness: Day 1 Alpine Lakes

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It started with an evening of “car camping”. Sometimes I feel like Colorado has a vocabulary that is distinct from the rest of the country. For those who rarely venture too far away from the comforts of modern urban living, this activity is referred to simply as “camping”. In Colorado, car camping must be distinguished from backpacking, bike-packing, horse-packing and all other forms of camping that take us away from our vehicles.

As we rolled through the town of Kremmling, picking up some last minute supplies and having one last comfortable meal, my mind started to become daunted with the prospect of spending three days without heat, showers and a comfortable bed.

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The part of my brain that fears the unknown, protects the ego from failure and seeks comfort at all costs filled my head with images of hot meals, blankets and comfortable sleep. Very few people are exempt from this kind of mental resistance to change, discomfort and the unknown. The key is to understand how to deal with it, welcoming when we are seriously being warned about a potentially dangerous situation and when it is appropriate to silence that voice in our heads and go forth with our intentions.

The first evening was cold!

Cold mornings on intense trips provide a challenge of their own. After leaving the comfort of a sleeping bag, the best way to stay warm is to move around. However, I knew I had 26.2 miles (42 km) to cover in a three-day period and needed to conserve my energy. Despite my love for outdoor activities in the mountains, I don’t exactly love the cold.

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Desperately waiting for the sunshine to gradually slide down the mountainside and reach the campground reminded me that no matter how hot of a summer I had just experienced, I was not necessarily looking forward to the winter chill.

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The hike began at the Stillwater Reservoir about 15 miles (27 km) WSW of the town of Yampa, CO. Day one would start with a 1500 ft (450 m) climb. It was here we would get our first view of the Devil’s Causeway, the Unique Natural Feature that draws most visitors to this specific part of the wilderness.

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Climbing can be slow with heavy backpacks on, so it took us the entire morning to reach the summit. We would spend the next hour descending back to an elevation of roughly 10,500 feet (3.2 km).

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Here, the trail goes by a series of alpine lakes, of varying sizes, each one stunning in its own way.

We didn’t stop for long at these points of interest. Most of the afternoon we spent cranking out miles at a fairly rapid pace for backpacking standards. Still, at most we were moving at a rate of 2.5 miles per hour (4 km/hour). A lot of trips include periods like this, with little stopping, where the primary objective for a period of time is to cover a lot of distance.

I’ve experienced this on road trips, bike trips, and even paddling trips. The great thing about these outdoor adventures is that we are still moving at a slow enough speed to take in nature. Additionally, we can see the creatures moving around, smell the landscape and feel the air flow around us.

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There is a true connection to nature. Unlike in some of the heavily visited areas, where tourism businesses have crafted a specific experience for visitors, the wilderness here is truly wild. It is untamed. Walking through this wilderness area, I was in the presence of one of the few places in the world that has not been boxed in by any of the standards, assumptions and paradigms we had artificially created to regulate the world to our liking.

At 2.5 mph (4 km/hr) that can truly be appreciated. I feel it can still be appreciated from the seat of a bicycle at 20 mph (32 km/hr) on roads that are far away from towns and cities. It contrasts so much from many of our day-to-day lives, where we have schedules, codes of conduct, social norms and deadlines. The word I would use to describe what I was experiencing, at that moment in time, is refreshing.

By the end of the day, we had covered over ten miles. Having passed by all of those breathtaking alpine lakes, we set up camp near one called East Lost Lake and enjoyed an evening of solitude.

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An interesting thing happens on the first day of group trips like this. Sometimes we are talking. Sometimes we are not. Sometimes, despite being so far from civilization, my mind wanders back to whatever I am concerned with in my daily life. As we slowly exhaust ourselves physically and then have to take on tasks like starting a fire, pumping water from the lake and cooking food, our minds complete a transition away from what has been concerning us the last few weeks to a focus on what is right in front of us.

With the genuine desire to take in nature, I believe my mind slowly realizes that the mental energy it takes to stress out about whatever had occurred over the past week or month is mental energy I don’t have to spare. At this point, I had truly brought my entire psyche away from day-to-day life and into a position of being fully immersed in the experience I was having.