Category Archives: decisions

The Courage to be Radical

IMG_4106.jpg

A modest sized cabin in the woods, surrounded by nature- trees, and wildlife. These cabins, often surrounded by a lake, rolling hills, or some other form of natural beauty, represent a lifestyle, a fantasy. Many people dream of this kind of life, but few act on it. Most of the time, like the Staunton Family, who owned this ranch before they willed it to the State of Colorado, these places are used as second homes, for summer and weekends.

Last weekend, the sequel to MAMMA MIA, presented the story of a person who actually acted upon a kind of fantasy life.

Mamma_Mia!_Here_We_Go_Again

Together, this movie and its predecessor present the story of a young woman who, on a whim, decides to travel to a remote island in Greece. She decides to stay there rather do what is expected of her, meaning returning to the city, to what one would assume to mean a more “normal” life. The plot of these films indicates that making a radical decision like this has the potential to be quite fantastic, fulfilling, and impactful. But, it requires both courage, as well as some form of hard work and sacrifice. The main character’s life is not presented as easy.

Nor are the lives of the people in real life who make similar radical choices. Those that actually move to a small cabin in the mountains, a tropical island or a bustling beach, as well as those who start their own businesses, pursue careers in acting, or do whatever their version of being radical is, all toil away for some period of time.

There tends to be a similar general story. First, they have to have the courage to actually pursue their preferred path. This means ignoring the fear inside, as well as advice, and even pressure from others. This advice could even come from people who are genuinely caring and well-meaning, which makes it harder to ignore.

They also had to endure, at least a period of time, where life is harder than it would have been at that standard 40-hour a week job, receiving a steady paycheck. Businesses take time to become successful, artists take time to get noticed, and many ideas are rejected dozens to hundreds of times before they are finally embraced.

This blog should have actually been titled The Courage and Determination to be Radical

Those with the courage (and determination) get to be surrounded, every day, by what inspires them.

The landscape that inspired a successful family of doctors to build a summer home 50 miles outside of Denver can now be visited by the general public, as part of Staunton State Park.

IMG_4095.jpg

Hiking around the park is relatively easy. Most of the trails are not too steep. They are, however, fairly long. They are also astonishingly well marked.

IMG_4141.jpg

Not only does every trail have a two letter identifier, but each trail has regular markers, including one marking the halfway point on each trail.

IMG_4097.jpg

Hiking from one end of the park to the other is a good amount of anticipation. From the trailhead, rock features, some of which are actually climbed on, appear in the distance, periodically peaking out from behind the trees. This can actually go on for miles, so hiking at Staunton State Park teaches hikers to learn to enjoy the journey.

IMG_4130

In addition to the Staunton Ranch, which resembles the cabin in the woods so many dream of, Elk Falls Pond is one of the top destinations at Staunton State Park. The journey there is about 4.2 miles.

IMG_4134

Monday’s hike turned out to be a chance encounter with a thunderstorm, one that required taking refuge in a relatively safe and relatively dry spot for about 25 minutes.

IMG_4136.jpg

Hiking in the rain actually turned out to be refreshing. This summer in Colorado has been HOT. Of the first 22 days of July, Denver’s official high temperature has reached or exceeded 95°F (35°C) 13 times. Much of the state has been in a drought all summer, and, with the exception of the Northeast, there are fire restrictions in place through much of the State.

DroughtMap_July2018

So, the rain turned out to be a welcome change of pace.

Hiking through the storm, in a small way, felt radical, as it is generally not advised to pursue outdoor activities on days, particularly afternoons, with thunderstorm chances. Storms find everyone in life, regardless of how courageous, resilient, and true a person is being. As the movie indicates, those that have chose to courageously live a radical life may encounter a few more storms. These storm will eventually dissipate. The clouds will gradually disperse, and the sun will emerge, revealing, once again, something beautiful and inspiring, whether that mean a spectacular landscape or a spectacular human being!

IMG_4137

 

Memorial Day Tornados in Eastern Colorado

IMG_3528

2018 has not been an active year for tornados. With May, the most active month for tornados nearly complete, only 416 tornados have been reported.

Tornados_2018vsClimo

This is, by any scientific measure, over 35% lower than the long-term average, and according to the Storm Prediction Center, in the bottom quartile for tornado activity.

This Memorial Day storm chase almost came as a surprise. First of all, I typically travel Memorial Day Weekend, as does a lot of people. Also, with the season being as inactive as it has been, there had been plenty of days throughout May where forecast models looked promising for a good storm chase several days to a week ahead of time, only for the atmospheric setup to never materalize.

While some aspects of weather forecasting have become quite accurate, forecasting weather beyond a few days, and forecasting weather phenomenon on a small spatial scale remains a challenge. Thus, those that long to see what is perhaps nature’s most violent storm, tornados, can do one of two things. They can set aside a period of time, typically sometime either in May or early June to go out and look for storms.

IMG_3542.jpg

Several companies offer this service, a set 7 to 10 day chase in vans like these ones. However, even in May, there is no guarantee that any kind of active thunderstorms will be happening, let alone tornados. Those that have ever chased in this manner end up becoming familiar with all sorts of oddball attractions in the Great Plains!

20130921-094233.jpg

There are also those that keep an eye on weather outlooks, deciding to go when the setup looks good. This requires some often last minute decision making, and sometimes chaining plans. This is what I did on Memorial Day. A day that started out slowly, with brunch in Cherry Creek, quickly transitioned to traveling due east out of Denver, straight into the storm.

IMG_3485.jpg

Still, even if this tactic guarantees that there will be activity, it does not guarantee that there will be tornadoes. There is still some element of luck to it.

IMG_3486.jpg

Near the tiny town of Cope, Colorado, the sky had an interesting orange hue to it with what appeared to be a funnel cloud. This can actually happen quite frequently without an actual tornado being spotted.

At that point in time, around 4:30 P.M., we made two decisions that would put us in the right position to view the tornados. First, we decided to get to the East side of the storms before they became big. Second, we decided, due to Eastern Colorado’s sometimes limited road network, to actually use dirt roads, something that can, at times, be dangerous in the case of a flood.

IMG_3490.jpg

The first tornado, Southwest of Cope, we saw kind of in the distance.

IMG_3496.jpg

We traveled south, along a dirt road, to get a closer view of it, however, we eventually saw it dissipate.

IMG_3498.jpg

Still, the entire time, cloud formations indicated a strong low-level rotation, conditions necessary for tornado development. There was even a “landspout” and several dust devils between the storms.

IMG_3505.jpg

Before long, two new tornados were spinning up, just a bit to the South and East of where we had seen the first one.

IMG_3511.jpg

The strange thing about these storms was that they were first visible on the ground, with clouds of debris extending outward from both emerging funnels.

IMG_3515.jpg

Watching them develop proved quite remarkable. First the funnels showed, then we actually got to see the darker clouds of debris around the funnel fill in from the ground up, forming two side-by-side fully mature tornados.

IMG_3520.jpg

The funnels were on the ground for about half an hour.

They gradually evolved, taking on different forms, giving way to yet another tornado, a bit further South and East, near a tiny town called Vona, CO.

IMG_3539.jpg

As a person with many interests, I only end up storm chasing several days per year. In the past several years, this was by far the most successful chase day. Even for the most knowledgable chasers, just seeing a tornado constitutes a successful day. Seeing four of them, as well as being able to watch tornados form is nothing short of amazing!

I am also always glad to see when tornados are not actually impacting people where they live. One thing I notice is that storm chasing continues to become more and more popular with time.

IMG_3533.jpg

There were several instances where we encountered large groups of people, just like this one, looking at and taking pictures of tornadoes. This is all good, but I do concern myself with how the people who live in these areas perceive this activity. We storm chasers should never be delighting in the destruction of anyone’s home or town, and I am concerned that the perception as such could lead to some resentment among the people who live in tornado prone areas, particularly the Great Plains, which far Eastern Colorado is part of.

IMG_3547.jpg

Not only was it one of the most successful chases of my life, but it also was quite possibly the most efficient chase I have ever been a part of. It started after what turned out to be a 90 minute brunch, and that evening I was back in Denver seeing a concert at Red Rocks Amphitheater.

The perfect storm chase, like the perfect setup when it comes to things like jobs, relationships, communities and homes, results from the intersection of good decisions and good luck. The former can be controlled. The later cannot. Just as I have been on many other storm chases where my group made all the right decisions but still did not see any tornados, the same can happen in all of our pursuits. All we can do is continue to go out there, make the right decisions, execute properly, knowing that the luck will eventually materialize even if it takes several more tries.

 

Travel; The Balance Between Spontaneous and Planned

IMG_3251.jpgOn one end of the spectrum are the planners, the ones that assemble detailed itineraries, and, perhaps not so surprisingly, are typically able to stick to them.

BikeRoute_Sunmer2016

A well planned trip comes with several advantages. Flights, hotels, and many travel related big-ticket items are typically cheaper when booked several months ahead of time. Putting in the time and effort to plan ahead of time also reduces the chances that some unforeseen complication or circumstance will negatively impact the trip, causing travelers not to get the experience they were hoping for.

IMG_3929

On the other end of the spectrum are the spontaneous, the last minute, the drop everything and go type of experiences. This has its advantages too. Psychological studies have indicated that the satisfaction people have with their experiences is often dependent on how the experience compares with their expectations. The spontaneous trip, the one that comes together last minute can have a strong upside, as there were no expectations. Finding oneself unexpectedly in a new place, trying something new; experiences like these can make people truly feel alive!

IMG_0117

Missing out on this feeling is probably the main drawback to planning travel too intensely. When every activity is regimented, down to the hour (given the fact that there is traffic, weather, etc. regimenting to the minute is a fool’s errand), it is harder to make adjustments for what may occur, or take advantage of opportunities that present themselves. See an interesting billboard for a museum, theme park, or natural bridge? Sorry, there is no unplanned time. Run into an old friend, or make new friends? We can reconnect only if you’re going in this direction as me at this time.

img_7656

As is the case with most things in today’s world, there is an optimal “middle ground” that can be reached, and it is not necessarily a compromise between the two extremes. The best “middle ground” solutions often try to achieve the objectives of those on both sides of the issue. The planners want some kind of guarantee that the most important experiences, the original objective of the trip, are actually obtained. The spontaneous want flexibility and the element of surprise.

While I have taken part in experiences that were planned many months in advance and completely regimented.

IMG_2105.jpg

As well as ones that were super of the moment.

IMG_1658.jpg

My general tactic is in the middle.

IMG_3043

The trip I took to Death Valley six weeks ago was actually originally planned for Zion National Park. Unexpectedly cool and rainy weather prompted us to change the venue to Death Valley, where it would be more pleasant. In this case, it wasn’t necessarily the exact intended experience, but the overall experience of camping, hiking, and being outside in a group of people still came to pass.

20171122-014003-6003890.jpg

When visiting Copenhagen and Stockholm last fall, we set aside a few “must sees”…

20171126-171745-62265432.jpg

While leaving a lot of time open for other experiences

20171122-014742-6462249.jpg

There are a lot of other ways to achieve this optimal combination of guaranteeing experiences while also remaining spontaneous. They are not all as simple as the Southwest Airlines no change fee policy. Some things, like planning alternative activities if the weather is bad, having meals ready on fishing trips in case no fish are caught, or planning for a busted stove on a backpacking trip, take research.

IMG_4244

And, well, in our attention deprived world, doing research can often be a deterrent. It can be a deterrent to being well prepared, but also, perhaps most unfortunately, can be a deterrent to traveling at all. The phenomenon of “analysis paralysis”, where a combination of too many choices, too much information and too many factors to consider leads to no choice being made at all, has become quite the large scale issue this decade.

Luckily, in an age where the internet appears to do nothing but create “analysis paralysis” there are still resources designed to help people sort through the clutter of information available to them.

One option is to hire a travel agent, who knows the ins-and-outs of various destinations, and can help travelers find the best deals and the best experiences. There are some who believe that travel agents are no longer needed in the age of the internet. However, as the Travel Channel’s Samantha Brown has pointed out in many occasions (including the 2017 Travel and Adventure show which I was at), travel agents do help people sift through all of this information.

The other is to find resources online that actually help people consume information rather than find more of it. A great example of this is the side by side comparison of travel insurance options on reviews.com. More generally, reviews.com is one of the few sites that actually aims to reduce the amount of time people spend on the internet (as opposed to many other sites whose goal is to suck you in). The site has reviews that help people make decisions regarding plenty of other products, including others important to travelers and outdoor enthusiasts, like water bottles, vitamins and booking sites.

IMG_4743.jpg

There is certainly a time to be completely regimented.

IMG_3746

There is also a time it feels great to do something completely spontaneous.

IMG_6128

In most experiences, it is wonderful to try to find a way to make our travel plans both guarantee the experiences that prompted us to make the trip, while also being flexible enough to adjust for the conditions and take advantage of opportunities. This is, in my humble opinion, the proper balance between being planned and being spontaneous.

Three Days Without Rules

One of the most reckless and euphoric weekends of my life had a bizarre beginning. As my flight was landing at Las Vegas McCarran International Airport, I removed my headphones. First, I hear the woman next to me, talking to her teenage daughter about how tired she was, having been traveling for 15 hours. “I’m going straight to bed as soon as we get home”. Less than half a second later, I hear the two guys sitting in the row behind them talking about something going on in their Vegas-bound lives. “She was seriously a hoe”.


I wondered what it’s like to live in a place like this. I visit Las Vegas regularly, but never think of it as a place where people live. Most visitors just think of it as some sort of crazy amusement park-like place of gambling and entertainment. Nobody thinks of people working, raising a family, and doing normal life things here, but it does happen.

Do people who live in Las Vegas just become accustomed to being surrounded by talk of partying, gambling, and debauchery, the same way New Yorkers don’t think much of crowds and pollution, and people in West Texas don’t think much of the smell of feedlots? How would one go about raising a daughter in this town?

The majority of trips to Las Vegas don’t go anywhere beyond the Strip. However, Vegas does have more to offer. Like most other cities in Western North America, Vegas is surrounded by mountains, and recreation opportunities.


Only half an hour West of town is Red Rock Canyon National Preserve, the most high profile place for hikes and scenic drives in the vicinity of Las Vegas.


Before getting mired in the standard Las Vegas activities, I explored the place a little bit, driving to a few scenic overlooks, and going for a moderate length hike.


It was a good opportunity to get a little sun and exercise.


And even draw on the rocks to gave myself some good vibes for my upcoming gambling.


After last year’s trip to Vegas, I concluded that “The common thread to everything that goes on here is that people are enjoying themselves, embracing their wild sides, in their own way, and letting go of at least some component of the restriction they live under during their normal lives…” This year, possibly due to my current frame of mind, I felt even more free spirited, even more liberated. It felt like ALL THE RULES WERE LITERALLY GONE!

 


Nothing felt off limits.

It was as if everything external that had been stopping me from ever doing anything was just gone. Expectations from others. Fear of bad outcomes. Even the law of averages.


I rolled for 30 minutes at the craps table, winning myself some money, but winning some others at the table some obscene amounts of money. Some even made bets on my behalf out of appreciation!

While there were a couple of places where I lost a little bit of money, the winnings just kept on coming. All three nights I won big!

 


The drinks just kept coming, free when gambling.


Unlike in normal life, hangovers never set in, and I never felt like sleeping.

Normally, if I sleep only six hours (as opposed to the usual 7.5) on a given night, I am drowsy. On this 72-hour binge of over-stimulation, 90 minutes felt sufficient.

The overall stats for the trip….

  • Three days in town
  • Approximately 75 alcoholic beverages consumed
  • Total sleep 7.5 hours
  • Approximately 26 hours of total gambling
  • Winnings of approximately $850
    • Nearly all of which was on $10 tables
  • Everything else: Well, as the saying goes “What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas”


Except my money! That comes back with me!

To make that happen takes self-restraint. When people win money in Las Vegas, Las Vegas tries to take it back! First, by getting people to gamble more through a combination of free drinks and making it difficult to find the exit to any casino. It takes some discipline to “Quit while you’re ahead”.


If one can leave the casinos without gambling away those winnings, Las Vegas will try to get it back on the Strip. I found out first had that Las Vegas has a way of spotting a winner. Maybe they can see it in people’s eyes, smiles, behavior and expressions of confidence. But they seem to know who is winning, and come after them.


Promoters trying to get people to go to clubs, sex workers, people trying to sell stuff both legal and illegal, even random strangers. They came for me, and, it felt like the more I won, the more aggressively they came. After the second night of wining, a promoter walked with my friend and I six blocks up the Strip trying to convince us to go to a strip club. After the third night of winning, I had to navigate through what felt like a mine field of sex workers who, when I told them I was good, responded “No you’re not, you’re alone.”


I did not need a set of rules, government involvement, societal pressure, or anyone watching over me to restrain from most of what Las Vegas was trying to get me to do. Nor did I have to take advantage of every single opportunity presented to me to feel as free spirited as I had felt in my entire life. I was liberated from external rules and expectations, not my own judgement. I confidently decided for myself what activities I wanted to take part in, without letting fear stop me, but also without letting fear of missing out (commonly referred to as FOMO) get met to do things I did not want to do or spend money I did not want to spend.

Going back to regular life after a weekend like this is difficult. Regular life, the average day, well there is no way it will ever compare.

Of course, this all was not in the least bit sustainable. My body could not handle even one more day of this. Anyone remotely close to my age seemed to be in suspended disbelief that I could handle what I did.

It is such as crazy mystery of life. Why are unsustainable habits frequently more desirable than sustainable ones? Why does it seem like the things we are told are good for us make us feel bad, and that the things that we are told are bad for us make us feel good? And why does the result of such things rarely seem to fit the narrative we are given?

I don’t profess to know everything about life, but this year I finally processed through a lot of what I had been observing over the past decade. We are taught so many things, through school, work, media, etc. about the way life is supposed to be lived. Assumptions are ingrained into our heads to the point where we do not even realize we are making them in our life decisions. These assumptions can, at times, be misguided, and even hold us back from making the most of our lives.

With no assumptions. With no “you should do this”, or fear of what happens when you “don’t do that”, life made more sense. It is just about getting over the fear of the unknown that lies beyond the divide. I do not know what is going to happen when I return to normal life. And, while I have no plans to run on two hours of sleep, or start drinking at noon, I do hope I can bring the confidence and spirit of self-determination back to “regular life” going forward. Many people look to rules to protect them. Like my weekend in Vegas, I would rather trust my own judgement to bring  me to the right outcomes.

May 10, 2017: Funnel Cloud in Southeast Colorado

IMG_9723.jpg

May 10th was kind of a strange storm chasing day for me.  It was the kind of day that calls into questions a whole bunch of things for me.  What assumptions I make.  How I go about making decisions.  Both with regards to where and when to chase, as well as about life in a broader sense.

There are so many things that end up factoring into when and where people chose to chase severe thunderstorms.  I had chosen to go on this two-day chase (see day one) partially out of frustration I was experiencing back home.  It was one of those situations where I felt like it would just be good for me to do something I had not done in a while, for a change of pace, and I had yet to chase in 2017.

So, I went to chase on a Tuesday and Wednesday with only a slight risk for both days, something many people with jobs tend not to do, particularly when the outlook shifts so far away from home on the second day.

In fact, I was not even sold on chasing again on Wednesday, as leftover storms from Tuesday would prevent the area that I had originally thought would have the best dynamic setup for storms from developing the instability needed to fuel them.

I decided to stay out partially because of the more optimistic outlook from the Storm Prediction Center, and partially because I got an email from a friend, telling me he was excited about the outlook… in Southeast Colorado.

Still, I decided originally to target Southwest Kansas.  Given the outlook, the best place to be would have been well further south, at least into the Texas panhandle.  But, you know, those life considerations.  I did want to make it back to Denver that evening.

IMG_9657.jpg

Whenever in Western Kansas, I always kind of think the same thing.  This place is flat, but it is not as flat as Florida, or Northern Illinois.  People often assume the place is flat.  But, according to a study in National Geographic, Kansas is not even in the top 5 flattest states.

One aspect of storm chasing that is often missed by people watching storm videos, or the movie Twister, is the fact that storm chasing involves a lot of driving, and it also often involves a lot of waiting.  On many days, chasers pick a “target” location, where they believe storms are likely to form, and sit there, sometimes for hours, waiting for them to form.  Because it was unrealistic to get down to the Texas Panhandle and still get back to Denver in the evening, we chose to sit in a town called Ulysses, Kansas because my favorite weather website had analyzed another boundary near there.

Ulysses, by the way, was named after Ulysses S. Grant, Civil War general and 18th President of the United States.  Why a place like this cares so much about this historical figure from Galena, Illinois confuses me a bit.  But, at least the town had highways in all four cardinal directions, and an empty field with a cell tower, so we could look at weather information while we wait.

And, this requires patience, and continued belief that the right location had been chosen.   But, May 10th was not a typical day.  Storms started to form in this region, first just clouds, and then even some small thunderstorms.  I was even proud to have seen a storm  start to produce rain before the RADAR images even began to reflect it!

IMG_9693

Now, that’s what I call “catching initiation”.

The problem is, we caught the wrong initiation.  These storms would never amount to anything.  In fact, they were so small that when I zoomed out on a RADAR image, they were barely visible!

IMG_9701

It turned out that, despite the fact that some of the sites I typically look at for weather information indicated some potential, we were in “no man’s land”.  The boundary I thought was situated near the CO/KS border was actually farther West, and storms were forming … in Southeast Colorado.  So, we had to adjust, headed back into “Colorful Colorado” (although today it would be “Colorful” for different reasons).

It was there we saw the main feature of the day, a funnel cloud near the town of Lamar, CO.

IMG_9722.jpg

For a while it looked like it was rotating and trying to form a tornado, but from experience I know that in Eastern Colorado only 1 in 8 of these actually turn into tornadoes.

The entire day was kind of a head scratcher.  What did my friend see that I didn’t?  What did he see that SPC kind of didn’t?  Why did so many storms form north and west of where the outlook was?

Why did my the information sources I typically point to lead me kind of to the wrong place?

I also wonder if I was chasing the right way, and for the right reasons.  The weather bends to nobody’s schedule.  The weather doesn’t care about personal preferences, conveniences, one’s life situation, or ego.  We have tools that provide good guidance into what is going to occur.  And, those tools pointed to a clear spot that they were correct about, as the biggest cluster of tornado producing storms of the day formed in Northwest Texas, near Childress, crossed into Southwest Oklahoma, and produced tornadoes.  That just didn’t fit into my plan.

The chase ended up turning into somewhat of a metaphor, for life decisions in general.  When we chose to take part in an activity, of any kind, we get the most out of it when we are willing to go “all in” per say.  This is true of jobs, hobbies, relationships, you name it.  We have to be willing to adjust, and consider a whole bunch of circumstances and other factors.  But, sitting in the middle, waiting for two or more different opportunities to possibly manifest only works well for a little while.  In the end, a choice needs to be made, and even if it is not the ideal choice, the fact that a choice was made produced a better outcome than having allowed the entire day to lapse without making one at all.

Cycling Northern New England

Selecting the best possible route can be a challenge on bike trips.  In an ideal situation, there would be a direct route, a road or a trail, safe for cycling, pleasant, providing a direct path from point A to point B, and conveniently jaunting by all of the point Cs that are of interest along the way.  In the sparsely populated West, there rarely is an ideal route, but there often is only one option.  I could not picture taking any route other than the standard cycling route when traveling from Portland, Oregon to Missoula, Montana.  When following one of the Adventure Cycling’s bike routes, the job of selecting the best possible route is already done, by experts with tons of experience bike touring.

Being in neither situation, we spent the better part of an hour looking over maps before settling on the ideal route from Greensboro, Vermont to Conway, New Hampshire.  Choosing a route in places like this can often be a matter of factoring in various considerations and determining how to manage priorities.  I’d predict that six different cycling groups would select at least four different routes for this particular ride.  Some people want to avoid adding extra miles to an already lengthy ride.  Others wish to avoid obstacles such as wind, hills, and towns with numerous stoplights.  Others still may prioritize seeing as many sights as possible, while there are probably some that just want to find the safest route.

We had imperfect information, as in we couldn’t find information such as whether or not certain small roads are paved, or whether roads like U.S. Highway 5 have a wide enough shoulder for cycling.  Still, we took kind of a balanced approach, and I believe the route we selected served us well.

The first 45 miles of the ride were in Vermont.  On this first segment, I got what felt like the full Vermont experience, in a way I never could have had traveling by other means.

IMG_6540

I stopped in one of those off the wall small town convenience shops that is sort of a grocery store and also sort of a cultural center.

IMG_6541

I rode by lakes.

IMG_6546.jpg

Over some rolling hills.

Got to stop in one of those cheese and maple syrup shops with the arts and crafts and all.

We went by a couple of houses with interesting designs in their front yard that made me simply say, “That’s so Vermont”.  They screamed some sort of combination of people having a lot of time on their hands, and also looking for ways to express their individuality.

IMG_6556

We even rode through a forest, along an unpaved road, where trees were being tapped for maple syrup.

IMG_6557

And finally, stopped in a quintessential small Vermont town, Peacham, settled in 1776, and even talked to some people in the cafe.

IMG_6559.jpg

We took a little bridge over the Connecticut River, and, once again, I was disappointed not to see the gigantic Welcome to New Hampshire sign.

For the second day in a row, I crossed a major river, entered a new state, and found myself feeling like I was in a completely different place, with different types of people with different attitudes.  Before taking on the major climbs I knew lied ahead of me, I stopped at the Walmart in Woodsville to get water and a quick snack.  I immediately heard different accents.  A stick of beef jerky and a candy bar cost me $1.79, with no sales tax!

The first climb began right away.  In fact, it began before even leaving town!  We saw a couple of covered bridges (Clay thought we’d see them in Vermont, but at least we finally saw one here in New Hampshire), and a home with a pet pig in the yard, and finally, entered the White Mountain National Forest.

IMG_6570.jpg

The climb was not particularly steep.  I’ve been in plenty of situations where I’ve had to climb steeper hills, achieving more elevation gain over a shorter distance.  But, it was long, lasting nearly 17 miles!  This made the climb quite exhausting.

IMG_6574IMG_6580

It felt like I was following a river called the “Lost River” the entire duration of the climb, on both the uphill and downhill sides.

IMG_6569.jpg

At this point, I may not have been as mentally sharp as I typically am, due to physical exhaustion.  But, this river, with its tan-ish hue felt like it was with me for the entire ride between Woodsville and Lincoln.

At Lincoln, I took another break.  Even though I had descended a bit, probably around 1000 feet from the summit of my last climb, I was still feeling delirious.  I first confused the tiny town of Woodstock on the other side of Interstate 93 for Lincoln itself, then it took me a while to find the place where the rest of my party had already stopped for lunch.  Exhausted and delirious, I entered the room and immediately exclaimed, “that ride was like a college affair gone wrong, beautiful, exhausting, and now I am just confused”.

Lincoln is a super touristy town, which I did not expect.  There is the typical arrangement of hotels, pizza shops, ice cream stands, souvenir shops, and outdoor outfitters I’ve come to expect from any town like this.  Unlike other tourist hot spots I’ve been to, everywhere I looked I saw outfitters offering Moose tours. Some of them even offered something like a 97% guarantee of a Moose spotting!  This sounds incredible given that I have always known Moose to be elusive and hard to find.

IMG_6585.jpg

In fact, as soon as I left town, to take on another climb, back in the National Forest, and to even higher heights, I saw a sign I’ve never seen before, urging motorists to be on the lookout for Moose.  So, well, I get the point, there are a lot of Moose here.

I geared myself up for this climb more than the last one.  So, while it was likely more challenging than the first climb, I felt more comfortable, as I had set my expectations for something even crazier than this.  I still took a couple of stops to take in the scenery, as I personally prefer stopping on climbs rather than descents.

It was the exhausting final mile of climbing up Kancamagus Pass.  I needed something, anything, to divert my attention from the fatigue that had come over me.  In my head, the phrase, “Live Free or Die”, New Hampshire’s State motto, played inside my head, over and over again, to the exact rhythm of my pedal strokes.  I did not do this on purpose.  It’s what just popped in my head, as I was just in New Hampshire, and the activity I was doing, climbing on one of New England’s most iconic roads, made me think of both living free and dying, at the same time.  But, I have been told that repeating a phrase in your head is an effective way to manage challenges like this.

IMG_6599.jpg

The descent scared me.  It scared me before I even made it to the top of the pass!

IMG_6603

I had looked it up prior to leaving Lincoln.  I knew that Kancamagus Pass was at 2855 feet in elevation, and Conway, our destination for the evening was at 465 feet.  The descent was  almost 2400 feet!  But, I also made a slight miscalculation when determining both how long my ride for the day and how frightening the descent would be.  While delirious, in Lincoln, my bike computer registered at 73 miles for the day.  I was told that the ride to Conway was 37 miles.  Normally, I am good at math, but for some reason I spent most of the ride thinking that my total ride would be 100 miles, even though 73 + 37 is 110.  So, when I reached the top, I thought I had only 11 miles to go (instead of 21), but also thought I would be descending a lot faster.

IMG_6606

The last part of the ride, a slow descent into Conway dragged on forever. I repeatedly saw signs indicating what highway I was on, New Hampshire route 112, one of New England’s most challenging and iconic cycling roads.  It started to feel like a victory lap.  Unlike at the Adirondacks, where I looked back upon what I had just “conquered”, at the end of my White Mountains ride, I looked forward, seeing the signs as a reminder of what I had just achieved.

The end of the ride was slowed down by one final annoyance, periodic poor road conditions, causing me not to get into Conway until nearly sundown.  Bumpy sections of roads like this are another piece of information that cannot be obtained while looking at maps and selecting routes.  Over 100 miles into a ride, these bumps became most unwelcome.  They offer the poor choice of either putting more pain onto my butt in the sitting position or relying on my exhausted legs to pull me out of the saddle.

Even had I known this, I still would have selected more or less the same route.  Today was a success.  It was among the most physically challenging rides I have ever done.  I also felt that we had successfully solved the riddle of route selection for optimal cycling experience.

A Fancier Ski Experience

IMG_5028

There are plenty of things that make skiing at Beaver Creek Resort different from pretty much anywhere I have ever skied.  As soon as I walk into the ski village, I am greeted by the resort’s staff in an extremely friendly manner.  The friendliness of the staff reminds me of the few times I had visited high priced golf resorts, and was greeted by staff offering to wipe down my clubs after a round of golf.  In a away, right from the get-go I feel like I am not at a typical ski resort, but somewhat of a country club of ski resorts.

After this, as is the case with most other resorts, I walk through a ski village to get to the lifts.  However, at Beaver Creek, this walk involves getting on a series of elevators, something I have yet to see anywhere else I have ever skied.

In addition to the elevators, Starbucks coffee and other amenities in the village, every day at 3:00 P.M., cookies are brought out to guests at the main village — for free!  In fact, on days that are less busy, staff will come out with trays of cookies and often hand guests two cookies at a time!  Last time I visited this resort, I ended up eating 4 cookies!

It’s easy to build up an appetite for those cookies here.  In addition to the standard type of ski runs that one finds at many of the other mountains in the area, the resort has some interesting areas that are both unique and challenging.

Beaver_Creek_Terrain

First off, some of the steepest terrain can be found here, particularly for “groomed” trails. I use the term “groomed” loosely here, as when most people think of a groomed ski trail, they think of one that had been groomed recently, often with marks from the recent grooming.

IMG_5171.jpg

(Note: This particular image was taken at Keystone Resort)

This is some of the easiest terrain to ski on, a there are no small obstacles to take a skier off course, and the snow has been churned up by the groomers to make stopping relatively easier.  However, once the snow is pushed away, either by numerous skiers making turns on the trail, or by strong winds, the conditions become much more challenging, as they can get icy, making stopping more difficult.  This seems to be the case every time I go to the steepest part of Beaver Creek ski resort; areas called Grouse Mountain and Birds of Prey.

Birds of Prey is where the 2015 World Championships were held.  I had heard that this was the fastest ski trail in the State of Colorado, and that they actually purposely make the trail icier for competition.  I knew it would be scary to ski here, but I wanted to have the experience of actually skiing on a trail that professional skiers compete on.

IMG_5197IMG_5200IMG_5203

The trail certainly was icy (or “race surfaced”)!  I actually fell three times trying to get down this course, and apparently, although I could hardly imagine skiing on a surface any icier than this one, it wasn’t even as icy as it is during an actual competition.  I would later be reminded, by the friendly staff at one of the ski lifts that of the 36 contestants that entered the World Championships here, only 15 finished, the other 21 fell in some sort of way!

Due to it’s relatively lower base, at 7400′, Beaver Creek Resort is home to a significant amount of aspen glades.  By this I mean skiing through the trees, as can be done at pretty much any major ski resort worldwide, but rather than skiing through the pine and evergreen trees that are common at elevations from 9,000 to 12,000 feet (which is where a lot of the skiing at the other Central Colorado resorts is done), skiing through Aspen trees, which are more common at elevations closer to 8,000 feet.  Skiing in the Aspens offers a somewhat different tree skiing experience, primarily due to Aspen trees having significantly less branches.

IMG_5043.jpg

Discussion of Beaver Creek can be somewhat polarizing (although there is something polarizing about every resort in Central Colorado).  Beaver Creek is slightly farther away from Denver than Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, and Vail.  This means that the resort can often be slightly less crowded, but also means that most people who decide to visit this resort must consciously decide to drive past those other resorts.  Some people find the interesting experience, the unique amenities, cookies and special treatment worth the extra travel (and extra money).  Others don’t.

 

As an EPIC Season Pass holder, the money does not factor into the equation.  It is pretty much only the travel and opportunity cost.  Every time I come to Beaver Creek, I process the experience hoping to come to some kind of major interesting revelation about what makes some people chose the activities they do when they do.  In the end, all I actually end up thinking about is how much different the experience is than the experience I get at other resorts in the area, even Vail which is known to be a pretty fancy place in it’s own respect.

When I think about the people I ski with on a regular basis, I see a spectrum of attitudes, related to skiing, as there is with any activity.  On one side, there are the people who like to find something they like and stick to it.  These are the people who would be content to buy a pass to one resort, find their one favorite neighborhood bar, or have a standard order at a specific restaurant that they order every time.  These are the people who just want to enjoy the activity, and, know something they already enjoy, so feel no need to keep searching for something else.  On the other side are people who are always looking for variety, and always looking to mix things up.  People on this side of the spectrum can get bored going to the same places repeatedly even if they are incredible experiences.  In reality, almost everyone fits somewhere between these two extremes I describe.  I wonder, though, if for some people, particularly those who live in the area and ski somewhere in Central Colorado almost every weekend, if visiting Beaver Creek is a way to mix things up, doing something different, and ensuring that we get that variety in our experiences.  That may be what motivates many people to drive by Keystone, drive by Copper Mountain, and finally drive by Vail and come here to Beaver Creek.