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.

Breckenridge During the Pandemic

Last March, when the Coronavirus first swept across North America, all the ski resorts were shut down in the name of “flattening the curve”. Luckily for those of us who love to ski:

  1. The pandemic related closures did not come until the middle of March. This was towards the tail end of the ski season, at a time when most people who take part in multiple outdoor activities were already starting to look towards their Spring and Summer pursuits.
  2. As the pandemic progressed over the course of the year, experts would learn more about it. They learned how to better treat those who contract it and how the virus spread. The conclusion was made that the virus did not spread quite as much outdoors as it does indoors. Restaurants, bars and breweries would build outdoor seating, sometimes even closing sections of road so that socially distanced crowds could still drink and dine out.

It also meant that when it came to spreading the virus, skiing, an outdoor activity, would be seen as less problematic than indoor activities like visiting Santa at the mall.

To reduce the spread of COVID, Vail Resorts, the owner of the most of the top resorts in Central Colorado, would adapt three policies:

  1. A reservation system was implemented to limit the total number of people at a resort on any given day. Visitors have to reserve a spot at a resort ahead of time, and once a certain capacity is reached, no more reservations are available.

This keeps the crowds relatively thinner. Of course, it has its downsides. In a typical year, skiers could decide to ski at one of the resorts, or change plans at the last minute. This year that is not possible. Often times, days need to be planned ahead of time, especially for anyone that wants to ski on a Saturday, the day that the resorts are most likely to run out of reservations.

2. All indoor seating is closed.

Breckenridge ski village, mostly closed January 2021

This is perhaps the most important measure the resorts took to prevent the spread of the virus, but also the biggest inconvenience. In the lodges at lunchtime is probably where people are most likely to come into close contact with one another. However, for many visitors, it is also an important part of the day. Skiing is a cold weather activity.

Breckenridge at 0°F

Without indoor seating, it is harder to find a way to warm up on cold days.

3. The resorts adapted some interesting policies with respect to sharing lift rides.

These policies prevent people from sitting next to people outside their party, another way the virus can spread. They have the potential to cause some confusion. On a six person chair lift, for example, a party of two could join with another party of two. However, at times, single skiers have trouble determining if four people lining up for a chair are a party of four, which they can join, or two parties of two, which they cannot join.

It also resulted in lift lines being, despite the overall reduction in the number of people at the resort, typically slightly longer than they would be had it not been for the pandemic.

Breckenridge and other nearby resorts are also facing another challenge this year, a lack of snow. The snow season is off to a slow start. As of the middle of January, the snowpacks in the Upper Colorado Headwater Basin, the basin that contains Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, Keystone, Vail and Winter Park ski resorts, is 30% below average.

These conditions are fine for those that want to ski on groomed trails.

In fact, with less crowds, this may be a wonderful opportunity for those that wish to fly down trails like these.

However, for the types of skiing that require more snow, it can be a bit of a challenge.

Snow conditions in the upper parts of the resort, where the ungroomed bowl skiing is, is not good. The imperial express lift, which leads to the highest points at the resort, has yet to open.

Variance is a natural part of life. It can be expected in every aspect of life, from entertainment to business to outdoor activities. There are going to be some years that are better and some that are not as good. Maybe, with over 95% of the population still waiting to be vaccinated and uncooperative weather, this was not meant to be one of the better ski seasons.

The key to being able to handle variance in life is to not be one dimensional. It is to base an entire life on one thing and only one thing. It is having that other activity to turn to when those less favorable seasons inevitably occur.

New Years in Central Colorado

There are many ways to approach travel. Some people travel for experiences, like festivals. Others visit places to see a specific landmark, experience a natural phenomenon or take part in a specific activity. Many seasoned travelers indicate that some of the most rewarding travel experiences are when they get to experience life in a different place. It is why Samantha Brown advocates going for a walk and Anthony Bourdain would always meet up with locals. For them, traveling is (or, sadly, was) not just about checking items off of a bucket list and visiting landmarks. It’s about experiencing a bit of life in another place.

During a global pandemic, that can be difficult. It is hard to sit in the restaurants where locals eat when the restaurants are restricted to takeout and it is hard to talk to locals when there are not too many people out and about.

Last summer, when I visited Leadville, another high elevation town right in the center of Colorado, there were plenty of people out and about. This was likely due to it being warm out, as it was summer. However, even then, it would have been strange to talk to people I did not know while everyone is on edge about what germs people could be bringing. Still, through both experiences, I was able to get a little taste of life in these small high elevation towns by spending a couple of days in town, slowing down, observing and noticing.

The region of South Park, in which Fairplay sits at the heart of, is breathtaking right from the start.

Regardless of season, there is nothing like driving over Kenosha Pass on highway 285 and suddenly gazing upon the wide open valley surrounded in all directions by some of the Nation’s highest peaks!

After spending a few winter days here, I wonder if the locals start to take these breathtaking sunrises and sunsets for granted.

Most people who come to the region in the winter come for the skiing, some of the best in the world!

However, there are a few things I did not learn about winter at 10,000 feet in Central Colorado on ski trips.

While this many not be too big of a deal for those that live in more rural areas, it is always interesting to spend time in places where people regularly encounter wildlife.

Both alive and dead.

Having spent most of my winter days here riding ski lifts and whizzing back down the mountain, I did not realize that a brisk walk, around town or in the nearby mountains, can actually be quite comfortable in the middle of the day.

The sun shines quite bright at these high elevations.

Note: The reduced distance to the sun is not why the sun’s rays feel stronger at higher elevations. The distance between the earth and sun is slightly over 90 million miles. 10,000 feet, by comparison, is negligible. The actual reason the sun’s rays feel stronger up here is that they are traveling through significantly less of the earth’s atmosphere.

Despite the temperature being right around the freezing point (32°F, 0°C), I was walking around in just a hoodie.

The flip side is, though, it starts to feel quite a bit colder as soon as the sun goes down.

The other fact of life specific to this region is the wind. In winter, it can get quite nasty quite often. Surprisingly, these windy days, where travel and spending time outdoors is quite unpleasant often occur in total sunshine.

Every time I’ve spend time up here in the winter, I’ve observed this interesting mix of calmer, more pleasant days and days with strong winds.

It was at this point I really wished I could wander into the bars and restaurants in order to talk with those who live here, in one of these towns.

I would love to ask….

Are the weather forecasts up here reliable enough, so that people know when the wind is going to pick up?

Are residents able to take advantage of the nicer days?

What does everyone do on these unpleasant windy days?

Is it bothersome that, even in the summer, it gets pretty chilly after the sun sets?

Is this sign, where people take their pictures as the characters from South Park by sticking their faces into these four openings, spreading the coronavirus?

Maybe I’ll find these things out and more, in 2021.

Five Percent Better After An Extremely Annoying Year: My 2020 Story

My highlights from 2020

2020 was a tough year to have a lot of travel experiences to write about. Like many, I spent a good part of the year trying to find the right balance between my social responsibility to avoid any potential spreading of the virus and my mental health needs. Spending too much time at home can be distressing for almost anyone. For me, an extrovert who loves to travel, it was especially rough.

For a variety of reasons, 2020 turned out to be an extremely annoying year. In 2019, as a decade came to an end, I took stock of our culture and current challenges. Three of our key societal issues would become an even bigger issue as a result of all the events of 2020.

  1. For the sake of our physical and mental health, it felt obvious that we needed to spend less time alone, indoors and seated. If anyone managed to spend less time alone, indoors and seated in 2020, well, I would seriously like to meet you!
  2. With the nastiness and divisiveness of our political culture, I seriously felt like we needed less politics in our lives, particularly identity politics (usually about race, age, gender and economic status). In 2019, I was proud to say to anyone that brought up the 2020 election that I had personally decided I would only think about the 2020 election in the year 2020.
  3. It seemed obvious that our culture was too risk averse. In 2019 I told people that if there is a scale from 0 to 100, with 0 being taking no risks on anything and 100 being constantly taking over the top risks like the main character in Uncut Gems, the ideal state is 50. Our culture seems to default us to somewhere like 25 or 30.

2020 would force us not to gather in large groups.

Cheesman Park in April 2020

Close many of the establishment where we would gather.

The main Inn in Redcliff, CO in May 2020

Force us to often stay home alone looking at social media, and place a greater emphasis on both identity politics and avoiding risk.

A June protest in Denver, CO

I struggled not to fall into dispair.

I went through four of these between March and June

I got myself through by imagining how we will come out of this better.

I took a lot of screen shots of my songs on Spotify this year

I started to imagine a future world where work is less oppressive. One morning in September I woke up with all kinds of ideas in my head.

I imagined a world where we rediscovered the importance of friendships and community. I imagined that, with concerns about health, and our loved ones, we would prioritize the things that really matter. No longer would anyone be asked to come into work when feeling sick.

With a lot of stuff cancelled or shut down, and large groups discouraged, I embraced more 1-on-1 meetups with people, cultivating better relationships. Slowing down also allowed me to connect to a more spiritual side, through things like meditation. This all culminated with the spiritual experience I had on an August backpacking trip.

Since then, I have never felt more clear about who I am and my purpose in life.

I am also ending the year with a better job, better financial position and I actually managed to lose weight during the pandemic. Perhaps there really is something to cooking rather than eating out.

Still, I certainly could have done better with all the spare time I had this year. Looking back on 2020, there were three things that occupied too much of my time, preventing me from making even more progress.

  1. Drinking while watching television: Drinking can be a great social activity, but drinking in front of the television is not the greatest use of time. While stuck at home, it is far more productive to read. I could have finished all these books!

2. Scrolling on my phone: My screen time was up again, some weeks I averaged close to three hours per day

3. Overthinking: Sometimes you have to just make decisions and stop worrying about all the factors and what could potentially be better.

In 2021, we will be ready to move on, hopefully not back to the world as it was prior to the pandemic, but to something new, something that produces a happier overall human experience. When the vaccines get distributed and we re-engage in many of the activities we previously took part in, like travel, concerts and nights out at the bar, hopefully we take the lessons learned from all this, particularly about health, community and priorities into our new lives. I am under no impression that 2021 is going to be easy. On the contrary, through this and my many other endeavors, I plan to work hard in 2021 to ensure I at least have an input into what our world will look like moving forward.

Thanksgiving 2020

I’m tired.

I’m tired of this pandemic. I’m tired of not being able to do many of the things I love doing. I can’t be social and go to many of the places and events I love going to. It hurts to consistently walk away from the people I see in the streets. I miss the small amount of joy I get trading smiles with a stranger.

I’m tired of not being able to travel and experience the world.

I’m tired of spending time alone, but I am also tired of always doing everything over video chat. It’s not the same as being face to face in front of people. I’m just tired of being alone in front of a screen.

I’m tired of everyone, near and far, whose actions made it so this virus would spread and continues to threaten us. But, I am also beyond tired of hearing people complain about people who are not following mask and social distance recommendations.

I’m tired of the expectation that all things begin with a search on a computer or smart phone screen. Want to learn how to do something? In 2020, it always starts with a Google (or DuckDuckGo if you’re privacy inclined) search, not asking a friend or neighbor what they know.

I’m tired of loneliness. I am tired of lack of community.

I’m tired of this extremely divisive political culture and the fact that discussions that do not initially or inherently have to do with politics turn into political discussions.

I’m tired of big data. I’m tired of work environments that treat human beings as resources and encourage us to behave more like machines.

I’m tired of discussions about anything to do with the home. I’m especially tired of the jokes and memes about things like vacationing to the basement, attic or kitchen. All it does is remind me of the 748,291 places I wish I were traveling to.

I’m tired of hearing the same cultural topics discussed, in the same way, from the same point of view. I’m even more tired of those who cannot appreciate that some people are focused on different problems or coming at our current ones from a different perspective.

I’m tired of who I feel like I have become over the past several months. I’m just…well…tired.

Yet, no matter how annoyed I get, I need to understand that most of the things I am tired of are just coping mechanisms. These are some unprecedented times.

Different people have different methods of dealing with things. Some like to try to be optimistic. Some like to try to make changes. Some like to shift their focus to something else. Some need to vent. Others turn to humor. Some still try to use it as an opportunity to get things done, grow personally or take part in other activities they enjoy.

As much as many people’s coping mechanisms have been getting on my nerves, I am sure plenty of people are tired of my coping mechanisms. I’m sure people are sick of hearing me talk about self-improvement, or my speculation about a better future age, where our work culture, institutions and cultural expectations have sufficiently updated themselves to create a happier existence.

This article was written shortly after the pandemic hit and is likely still true today. It is an aspect of our culture that has been especially slow to change.

Thanksgiving is an underrated and important holiday because it is all about gratitude. Like the first half of this blog, many of us spend far too much time focusing on what is wrong, what we don’t have, and what we don’t like about our situation and surroundings. However, many people have found that keeping a gratitude journal or regularly expressing gratitude has improved their lives and their outlook.

On Monday, I rode my bike around town looking for Thanksgiving decorations. At the first house I stopped at, the owner happened to be in her car. She saw me stop and take a photo of the decorations and offered to turn them on for me.

We talked for a little while about the importance of gratitude and I expressed gratitude for simply being in good enough shape to ride my bicycle. Having experienced debilitating shoulder injuries, she told me to appreciate that. Already I was on a happier vibe.

This Thanksgiving, 2020, it is time to reset our minds, as I am sure we are all annoyed with something. Let it go. First, I plan to forgive myself. I forgive myself for all the ways I have fallen short this year. I let go of the opportunities missed and the progress I feel like I am making far too slowly.

It’s also time to let go of the frustrations I am feeling towards some of the people in my life. At this moment in time, people just need a break. It’s easy to get our minds focused on petty annoyances, especially in times like these. Hopefully this year Thanksgiving reminds us of the good things about where we are in life, the good things about ourselves and the ways in which the people around us enrich our lives.

Going Great; Going Poorly

I was riding my bike on a 76 degree (26°C) day in November , a day which tied a previous record high (November 17, 2020).

By early afternoon I was riding home but still 20 miles away. All of a sudden I heard the sound of a light piece of metal hit the road. Before I could react, my pedal was no longer attached to my bicycle.

I had to slowly brake without putting myself in danger. I walked 1.8 miles (2.9 km) to what appeared to be the nearest bike shop. The place was empty. Research would show that this was a new business that had yet to fully occupy that address.

What to feel?

When you’re lucky enough to be able to spend a day like this outside, it is hard to feel too sad. Sure, I was sitting in a suburban parking lot waiting to get a ride to another bike shop. The air temperature and the sky were perfect, though. It’s hard to imagine getting better sun in mid-November.

The first 20 days of November has been unprecedentedly warm, almost 8°F (4.5°C) above average. At a time of year when people are typically forced indoors, as it becomes increasingly cold, dark and cloudy, nature has provided the opportunity for abundant adventure!

Yet, this very same weather pattern, which has been around for several months, has lead to a drought across much of the western United States.

Each warm dry day in the mountains was a great day for many. Yet, each one of those warm dry days took us one step closer to wildfires so powerful and destructive they could be seen 60 miles (96 km) away!

This particular fire lead to people having to flee their homes in panic!

The very nature of existence seems to always mix the good with the bad. Life has so many components to it, it is hard to look at a specific person or find a specific period of time and not see both positives and negatives. Some of the years when my career was truly going nowhere were also the years I had some of my best travel adventures. This year has featured a lot less travel than I would prefer, but with work I can do remotely, and a recent change in outlook on money, my financial position has improved. Between our homes, careers, social circles, relationships, adventures and hobbies, likely 90% of all people are doing great in some respects and doing poorly in others.

In my home country, November 2020 has become an exaggerated demonstration of this very phenomenon. Every week more progress is reported about the development of vaccines to finally end the COVID crisis.

There is hope it could be distributed in time to make all of our summertime activities possible! Yet, the current situation is dire. The case numbers are spiking, hospitals are running out of beds and staff and people are dying. Many states are reimposing restrictions and lockdowns. We are preparing for a dark kind of winter of despair.

Meanwhile, we are coming off an election whose results gave pretty much everyone, across the spectrum of ideologies, something to love and something to hate.

In truth, almost everything has a component to it that is good and a component that is bad. Tough situations have the potential to lead to personal growth and innovation. Even wars are often credited with scientific and technological progress. Meanwhile, many who had a comfortable and sheltered upbringing are entering the world without the skills to cope with adversity. Maybe one of the lessons 2020 is trying to teach us is that we need to be far less quick to assess things with a broad brushstroke as good or bad. As we realize things like the limitations in using GDP as a measure of success, we accept a more nuanced view of what is in front of us.

Goals and Metrics Put in Context

The debate about how to set goals and determine “success” is quite well aligned with the debate over how to approach life itself. On one side, there are those who say “everything can be measured.” In places like the United States, only a fortunate few have never been asked to set SMART Goals.

The SMART Goal system

This goal setting method has plenty of support, especially in the world of business and personal development [1][2][3]. To be fair, setting goals in this manner does prevent them from becoming vague, disorganized, unrealistic pursuits where one can easily lose focus and have no idea when they have been achieved.

This is the path of the left-brained, the detail-oriented, the driven, often the successful, those who build things and guarantee quality.

After all, it is more effective to describe an athlete as someone who can run 100m in 10.4 seconds than to simply say this person is “really fast”, and it is easier to contextualize a video with 100 million views over one that is “really popular”.

However, those more vague terms represent the actual goal. People tend to think of those on the other side as the more artistic types.

However, there are plenty of people in more traditional and even corporate types of leadership critical of the extremely numeric style of goal setting exemplified by the SMART goal system [1][2][3]. They are criticized, and rightfully so, for possibly putting a cap on one’s activities and being too short-term in focus. Once the specific number is reached, what’s next? Is mile number 2,001 pointless?

What about the day after the year ends?

Perhaps more importantly, these goal setting systems are charged with lacking emotion and having no connection to the underlying reasons for the state of our live. Goals like riding 2,000 miles in a year have no connection to the manner in which habits and mentality truly shape a person’s life. In essence, they miss the center of Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle.

Whether or not one believes that everything (or most things) can and should be measured depends on experience and personality. It’s where the focus is. There is no sensical way to create a quantitative measurement of watching a sunset over a lake while a distant wildfire slowly expands.

Many other areas of life, both professional and fun, ARE all about numbers and only numbers.

Whether or not any individual should set a specific measurable goal depends on their personality and situation. However, not in the manner that most would expect. A person can understand that the ultimate goal in life is to be happy, or fulfilled, but have no idea how to go about finding that happiness or fulfillment. Likewise, one can toil over quarterly numbers and annual targets but one day find themselves completely disconnected from any meaning behind what they are doing. Both these states are recipes for depression.

At any given time in life, what a person needs is the piece of the puzzle they are lacking. Therefore, it is the unfocused creative with a vague idea of wanting to “make the world a better place”, that could benefit from a goal like getting 10,000 people to listen to their podcast. Meanwhile, the highly driven analytically-minded professional on the verge of burnout could benefit from laying off these numeric goals for a while and focusing on their mental state and underlying reason for wanting what they want.

After all, many of these experiences would not have been too much different had the year 2020 ended with only 1,900 logged miles, as opposed to the 2,200-ish it will likely end up at when the year ends.

Doing What You Can

Last night we set our clocks back an hour, pushing the sunset time in Denver back to 4:57 pm. For the next three an a half months, the darkest part of the year, the sun will set before 5 pm.

Daylight Savings Time is the practice of making seasonal adjustments to the clock by setting them forward an hour in the spring and back an hour in the fall to try to optimize our use of time. The history and current debate surrounding it is fascinating. Perhaps not too surprisingly, it has only been around a little over 100 years. It’s hard to imagine its utility in a primarily agrarian society.

It is also not practiced worldwide.

Photo of which countries use Daylight Savings Time from Wikipedia

Adjusting clocks would be of little utility near the equator, where there isn’t much variance in the amount of daylight per day.

Shifting our clocks back did not make our days any darker. However, it did serve as a reminder of how much shorter our days have gotten. Factor in the inevitable chilly mornings in Colorado’s dry climate and the amount of time available for activities is relatively scarce, even on nice days like today (temperatures in the area reached approximately 73°F/ 23°C). Today’s 53 mile (85 km) bike ride was a way to do what is possible with the 7-8 hours of warm daylight available on this first day of November.

The idea of “doing what you can” given the circumstances is the key to surviving 2020 emotionally. It was first seen in the springtime, when this all began, in people’s front lawns and in parks.

Offices were suddenly closed and so were bars and restaurants. The idea of inviting people into your home suddenly became a dangerous proposition. People still found a way. These creative socially distanced hangouts were a reminder that our spirit had not been suddenly depleted.

Over the course of the year, we found a way to keep the shelves of our grocery stores stocked. Hundreds of millions of people figured out ways to perform their jobs and coordinate with their coworkers remotely. Old friends connected over Zoom. The NBA famously created a “bubble” so that they could play a shortened summer season. And, we found joy in activities closer to home.

The situation most of the world finds itself in feels reminiscent of this 50-60 mile bike ride on the first of November. The possibilities are quite limited and there are a lot of complicated factors. I can’t wave a magic wand and make the pandemic go away, make everyone feel as if their life matters, instantly rearrange our use of smartphones and social media to something that serves our humanity better and make politics less divisive (or less important). All I can do is do my best with what is in front of me right now. Often there is too much focus on those doing terrible things. However, from miracles like saving our global supply chains, to things like virtual concerts or even just simply emotionally supporting one another, there are many more people doing what they can and making 2020 less awful than it otherwise would have been.

At the End

It is perhaps one of the most pleasant feelings in existence. The crowds and the activity of summer have passed. The air is quite comfortable. A gentle breeze blows light yellow and orange tree leaves across the horizon, sprinkling the ground. Without the breeze, hiking would be a bit uncomfortable, with temperatures around 72°F (23°C). Yet, subtly embedded into this harmless wind is hint at what is to come. Perhaps it is only in the mind, but it feels like the breeze is making a statement. It is as if the minor fluctuations in the wind speed are simultaneously saying that this is the nicest, most colorful experience of the year and that the time for these summertime activities will soon come to an end.

October in Central Colorado is magical. It combines the natural beauty that is always around.

With periodic yellow and orange colors dotting the landscape in what would appear like randomly selected spots.

Over the years, people have said that the fall colors in Colorado’s mountains are not nearly as spectacular as they are in the East. In a way, they are both right and wrong. It’s impossible to find a more colorful landscape than the mountains of New England in early October. But, it would be an exaggeration to say, as some Colorado transplants do, “it’s just one color”. Look closely enough and those vivid shades of Orange appear.

That must be an interesting place to live!

Like all of life’s transitions, it is a bit uneven, with a different experiences in different places. On the Ruedi Trail, there were sections of trees that appeared to all be having the same, kind of group experience, all seemingly undergoing the transition together.

There were others where this transition seemed to be much further along. This section felt almost as if winter had already descended upon the area.

And, in some places, multiple experiences appeared before the eye at once. Those that have already moved on standing in front of those still in the process and alongside those that simply don’t care about the seasonal cycles of life, or, at least don’t show it.

Some hikes are about achieving, others about covering a lot of distance or getting exercise. Some are more about experiencing nature. With a short amount of time, this Reudi Trail, situated along the Frying Pan River somewhere in the middle of nowhere between Basalt and Leadville is the perfect nature experience.

A moderate two mile hike to the Frying Pan overlook is all it takes to get to a splendid panoramic.

Life is full of cycles and transitions. Transitions are naturally going to be associated with some endings. Often times, for the new to be created, what currently is must come to an end. Whenever anything like this happens, there will naturally a wide range of responses, and a variety of experiences. Our world, currently in a state of upheaval, seems to be following the same pattern as the trees in this forest, with groups and individuals responding differently. If only humanity’s response to this period of transition could find a way to be as beautiful as the natural response to autumn. Maybe, in a way many just don’t understand, it is.

The Rio Grande Trail: Basalt to Aspen

The name of this trail is puzzling. According the the trail’s website, this 42 mile trail, which connects Glenwood Springs to Aspen, was named after the Rio Grande Western Railroad, which ran along these tracks until it was decommissioned in the 1990s.

Most visitors to the area are not aware of this history. We just see that the trail is named the Rio Grande Trail despite the fact that the river it follows is the Roaring Fork. The Rio Grande is not only well known for marking the U.S./ Mexico border in Texas, but it also has its origins in Colorado, not too far away.

That being said, on the first of October, it still made for one of the most breathtaking bike rides one could ever hope for.

I absolutely love the town of Basalt!

Every visit I have ever had to this town has been incredible! It never feels crowded like a major tourist destination, but there is also never a shortage of things to do or basic resources. I have never had a bad meal in this town, and the two rivers that come together, the Frying Pan and the Roaring Fork are your quintessential free spirited mountain rivers!

The ride from Basalt to Aspen is beautiful right from the start, especially on the first of October, with the fall colors at their peak.

It is the kind of trail that has something for everyone. In the middle part of the ride, you’ll encounter a restaurant built in one of the old train cars used when this trail was a railroad.

It overlooks several small villages.

The trail is mostly straight, but it makes a timely curve to give cyclists a direct view of Snowmass Village, one of the highest rated ski resorts in the state.

I also absolutely love the fact that the trail does not follow right beside the highway, usually traversing on the other side of the river from highway 82. There are many bike trails that travel right alongside a major highway. Here, cyclists enjoy the trail without the sounds of the busy highway. Additionally, those that have already driven the road see the area from a different perspective.

The mile markers are consistent, with one every half mile.

And, there are even parts of the trail where riders can chose a hard surface or a soft surface option.

Closer to Aspen there is an unpaved section that lasts about three miles.

Since it is hard packed and this section is flat, any kind of bike should be able to pass through with little problem. Oddly enough, my favorite experience of the ride was in this unpaved section.

This mini waterfall reminded me of a scene in the movie Cars, where the main character is taken to a similar feature. He is told that before the interstates were built all travelers would pass by this waterfall, but travelers now miss out on this beautiful experience in order to save 10 minutes. The scene, and in some ways the entire movie, was making a statement to us about our busy lives, and what we miss out on when we are always in a hurry, focused solely on our destination.

I was having an experience much like the scene in the movie. It would have been much faster to get from Basalt to Aspen on the highway, but not the same experience. I would not have encountered this feature. Leading up to the ride, I was feeling a bit stressed, like I was trying to cram too many activities into too little time. With work, I may have even been focusing on the destination rather than enjoying a key learning experience. Watching the water trickle down the rocks in stunning autumn gold reminded me how rich our lives can be when we don’t always take the most efficient route to a destination, both in physical space and in personal development.

The trail pretty much ends at the John Denver Sanctuary on the North side of Aspen.

That day the city of aspen was colorful. Yellow colored trees could be seen in every direction, from Aspen Mountain, the ski resort adjacent to town, to the pedestrian mall that is often far more crowded (when there is not a global pandemic).

Aspen is known to be active and wealthy. But, I wonder if the people who live here live hectic lives, always focused on their destinations. Or, do many residents of Aspen, and the rest of the Roaring Fork Valley, frequently take the extra time to immerse themselves in the experience of the natural beauty that surrounds them?

Cycling to the Maroon Bells the Last Day of September

Every time I have ever seen a list of Colorado’s most photographed places, the Maroon Bells, photographed from somewhere around Maroon Lake, has been near the top. I moved to Colorado just over eight years ago and still had never been to the Maroon Bells. Maybe I thought to myself that there are so many other beautiful places in Colorado. Why go to the one that is the most high profile? That may be crowded and “touristy”? After all, there are many situations where the most high profile destination is not the best experience.

But maybe I was also kind of thinking of the entire Aspen area as out of my reach. It is one of the wealthiest places in the world. It is the land of multi-million dollar homes, where people eat at fancy restaurants surrounded by some of the most spectacular natural beauty and some of the best skiing in the world. It is often referred to as a “bubble” where many of the problems people experience elsewhere in the world (poverty, crime, violence, homelessness, etc.) simply don’t exist.

Per Capita Income by County with Pitkin County (Aspen) circled

It is easy to get into the mindset that places like these are only for those special, super rich, extremely successful people.

I did not realize until quite recently how destructive that mindset can be. Regardless of whether any of us desire to become wealthy, thinking of things as out of our reach can often lead to developing a mindset that we are not quite deserving of what we desire out of life, regardless of what that is.

It’s an 8 mile ride from the Aspen Highland parking garage to Maroon Lake, with a elevation gain of 1500 feet (450m).

It’s only $10 to park up to three hours.

The trip could not have worked out more perfectly! The road was not too crowded, and the final day of September was the perfect time to see the fall colors near Aspen.

The first part of the ride is not too steep, with only one annoying section with speed bumps near a ranch with some interesting animals.

As the ride progresses, the road gets steeper, the mountains get closer, and the fall colors (at the right time of year) get even more vivid.

I was so glad to be experiencing this from the seat of a bicycle. On a bicycle, one can smell, hear and feel the world around them in a way they just don’t from inside a motor vehicle. I felt like I was actually in the moment, as opposed to just observing it from afar.

About two miles before the lake, there is an amazing scenic overlook and a great stopping point. Cyclists in great shape can probably complete this ride without needing to stop. However, seeing how hard I can push myself is not typically my goal while cycling. I push myself to get better but my ultimate goal is having experiences.

Maroon Lake Road certainly is an experience. Around every curve is something spectacular. The last two miles are perhaps the most challenging part of the ride as the Maroon Bells appear closer and closer.

I would say the biggest surprise of this ride was the amount of people riding e-bikes. E-bikes, or electronic bikes, most likely made up over 80% of the bikes on the road.

I eventually found myself giving some kind of strange head nod to anyone I came across that was riding a standard bike, and pedaling their way up to Maroon Lake without any electronic assistance.

My experience at Maroon Lake was about what I had expected. I knew it was one of the most stunning places in the country and this is the peak time for fall colors at this elevation. The crowd level was also around what I had expected.

In this challenging time for humanity, it is hard not to get emotional. Lately I have been having emotional responses to both natural beauty and observing beautiful moments in humanity. On this ride, I saw both. In addition to the natural beauty all around us, there were a lot of people riding up the road together enjoying each other’s company. At the scenic overlook, we even talked to a few people who were making jokes about locking their bike locks but not their bikes.

I thought about so many other of humanity’s beautiful moments. When people turn their dreams into reality. Or, witnessing a bunch of children playing in the playground across the street, laughing and smiling. None of them involve computers, cubicles, corporate jargon, performance measurement, organizational hierarchy and all that nonsense. I almost feel in disbelief about how much of my youth I spent dealing with things like that when there is a big beautiful world out there full of natural beauty and beautiful moments between people.

We can make life far more beautiful only if we believe ourselves to be deserving of it, which is why it is so important to stop thinking of places, people or experiences as out of reach. It’s more that some places, people or experiences just require a little bit more effort to get to.

The descent was rapid. It took almost an hour, stop included, to cycle from the Aspen Highlands parking garage to Maroon Lake. The return trip probably took about 15 minutes. There are sections where it is quite possible to reach speeds in excess of 40 miles per hour (65 km/hr), another amazing experience!