Category Archives: Western US

Places Extroverts Love

It’s been hard to know what to expect the last two years. First, places that are typically lively, full of people, full of life, suddenly became empty as the pandemic shut down businesses and places of gathering.

Then, for nearly two years, our experiences became variable and inconsistent.

It felt like the whole world was suddenly subject to mood swings that are impossible to explain or predict. Maybe we are still in this period of uncertainty, but I was pleasantly surprised by the energy levels on my last two trips.

The last weekend in March, Moab was quite lively.

The town was busy! There were a lot of people out and about, walking around and having experiences. Traffic actually made it quite a challenge to make a left hand turn. People all seemed lively. The energy was just great!

The same can be said of Chicago a couple of weeks later.

The energy, the spirit of the big city could once again be felt both on a Thursday evening with horrible weather and a Saturday night with better weather. There were a lot of people, out in groups, in the bars, as well as along the street where there is typically a lot of nightlife. It felt good just to know these places are back!

These places could hardly be any any different. Chicago is a city of 2.75 million with many skyscrapers and what can seem like endless unique neighborhoods to explore.

People who visit come for a truly urban experience, doing things like going to museums, summer festivals, professional sports or visiting friends and family.

Moab, by contrast, is a town with barely over 5,000 residents adjacent to two National Parks.

Most of the people one would encounter here are tourists who came to explore the outdoors. Moab is known for Jeeping, mountain biking and hiking among other activities.

These settings, while different, warmed my heart in a similar way. There is something about seeing people out and about, interacting with each other, interacting with the world, and doing so in a way that feels joyous. It is the combination of joy and crowds that extroverts have missed so much over the past couple of years.

These recent experiences have demonstrated that there are often multiple ways to obtain the same underlying feeling, and maybe it is a good idea not to get too attached to one specific experience. There are often circumstances that require versatility. Sometimes the weather is not what we were hoping for.

Other times it’s our schedules, our health, someone else’s needs or just plain bad luck.

When this happens it is helpful to know that sometimes a different experience, but one that is feasible given whatever our circumstance is can be a really good substitute, providing almost the exact same underlying feeling we are looking for. So far this spring, I have been in lively joyous crowds both in a tourist destination surrounded by people on vacation and in a large city surrounded mostly by people who live there. Next time we find ourselves disappointed by not getting the exact thing we want, maybe we should try to think about the underlying reason we wanted it and try to find another path.

The La Sal Mountain Loop – Among Utah’s Most Challenging Road Bike Rides

When people think of Moab, they do not often think of road biking. My day started out at Chile Pepper Bike Shop, where I watched vans depart with groups of people and rented mountain bikes as I got my bike prepared for this ride. These vans could have been going anywhere, as the options for mountain biking in the area seem endless.

Moab is surrounded by all kinds of magnificent scenery, from the La Sal Mountains, to the unique natural features in the National Parks, the beautiful rock structures and the Colorado River Valley. I wanted to experience it in a way one can only experience a place using their own power, on the seat of a bicycle.

The La Sal Mountain Loop Ride is a 62 mile loop that can be completed in either direction out of Moab.

Trusting my instincts, I decided to start the day headed South out of town. The climbing starts immediately, headed towards a development area called Spanish Valley.

By the time I had reached the end of this area, I had already climbed over 1,000 feet (300m) in elevation. This is where the challenging part begins.

This ride was even steeper than I thought it would be. Before I knew it, I was overlooking the town from above and viewing the rock structure that follows highway 191 from a whole different vantage point.

A couple of switchbacks later I was nearly 2,000 feet (610 m) above town, at an elevation just over 6,000 ft. (1.85 km).

I passed by a couple of campers who yelled out some words of encouragement that reminded me of last year’s Ride The Rockies event. I responded that I still had a long way to go, as I knew the ride topped out over 8,200 ft. (2.5 km).

More exhausted and dehydrated than expected, that one moment arrived. Anyone who has ever done anything challenging knows this moment all too well. It is when we receive some kind of a reminder that there is always the option to quit. The reminder can often come unexpectedly, or in a form so subtle that it is hard to see why this temptation to quit has suddenly entered the mind. For me, it was a road sign near where my camelback unexpectedly ran out of water.

This sign reminded me that in terms of distance, I was still only 1/3 of the way through the ride. It also reminded me that I could turn around and get back to Moab without having to do any climbing. It would all be downhill.

Although it was almost too convenient not to turn around I pressed on. Snow began to appear more and more on the side of the road despite the temperature still being around 60°F (15°C) at this higher elevation. The relatively cooler air did make the ride a bit more pleasant

After a few more rolling hills and climbing another several hundred feet, suddenly it was there, the view that made the whole thing worth it. The La Sal Lookout Point. The highest point of the ride. This moment was kind of like the inverse of the moment where we are reminded we can always quit. It’s the moment where something appears, reassuring us that it is all worth it. It’s that reminder we get about why we took on such a challenge in the first place.

The entire Castle Valley suddenly appeared like a scene out of a western film. It is the kind of place the Native Americans have tons of stories about, explorers used as landmarks and office workers filled with wanderlust go to in order to feel truly alive and connected to a planet larger than their 6 by 9 cubicle and 1,000 square foot apartment. Just looking onto the horizon makes a story come to life, about people, nature, history, hopes and dreams.

My instinct to ride this loop in the counter-clockwise direction proved to be the right instinct. I would have this view for my entire descent, gradually getting closer and closer to these iconic rock structures.

Until, I was finally in it, at the base, in the Colorado River Valley.

The final part of this ride, along highway 128 headed back to Moab is a bit busier than the rest of the ride. This scenic highway following the Colorado River is full of resorts like the Red Cliffs Lodge.

Campgrounds and access points where people visit beaches or pull their rafts in and out of the water.

Luckily, the last few miles of the highway have a bike trail, which connects back into town.

Oddly enough, this bike trail was the only point along the entire ride where I encountered another cyclist. After all, while this is an amazing ride, and there are other great places to bike around Moab, Moab is still primarily a place for mountain biking. When we trust our instincts, are not afraid to go against the grain a little bit, and persevere through some challenges, it often produces amazing results.

Less Than Ideal

At Keystone Ski Resort February 15th, 2022

February and the first half of March are typically seen as the most ideal time for skiing in North America. Weather varies quite a bit from year to year, but by February a significant snowpack has typically developed while the unpleasantly cold and windy conditions common in January start to become somewhat less likely. It is why ski trips are most commonly planned for this time of year.

However, reality often does not match expectations.

Along highway 285, Feb. 27, 2022

Both the complex systems that govern the atmosphere and the ones that govern human behavior contain a great deal of variance. It can be, at times, frustrating when experiences do not match expectations. However, this expectation is part of what makes life so beautiful. Imagine what life would be like if every event, every experience and every activity matched expectations, exactly. There would be no surprises. In some cases, there would be no hope.

The last couple of years have been rough. Patterns have often emerged that shut down multiple possibilities all at once.

In Colorado, snow this year has often fallen in the wrong place, making both the conditions at the ski resort, and activities like hiking and cycling on warmer days less than ideal. This feels like a metaphor for the general human experience over the past two years as new variants of COVID often emerged right around holidays and the most recent waning of the virus related worries is now coinciding with new geopolitical threats and economic worries.

I know, this is not expensive for some places, but for the U.S.A it’s quite a lot for a tank of gas

Perhaps, at this point in time, the worst mistake that can be made is waiting for exact right moment, the perfect conditions, before doing anything. It is for this reason everyone seems lonely and culture feels so stagnant. Any reason can be found to declare that a specific moment in time is the wrong time for a new initiative. The past couple of years have just been a more extreme version of it.

Yes, there is a lot of uncertainty. Many of these experiences are ones certain segments of humanity have not experienced for quite some time. Most people were not alive the last time anything remotely like this happened, and a lot of people do not know what to do at all. But, the stagnation that comes from waiting for that one moment where everything is perfect has the potential to make things far worse.

A lot of people are waiting for the ideal time for everything from starting a new venture, to taking part in their favorite activities and/or reconnecting with those they care about once. However, when that theoretical ideal time comes, a new form of less than ideal will present itself, crowds.

The true opportunities lie not in waiting for the outside world to present a perfect situation, but in finding a way to manage a less than ideal situation.

Homesteading in Southern Colorado

Location undisclosed

I did my best to keep up, as Homesteaders discussed things like tools, setting up electrical systems, building wells, cultivating crops and guns and ammo. Much of it is just to build many of the conveniences we in the city take for granted, like plumbing, food, running water and heat. All of our homes have complicated systems of electricity, water, piping and plumbing, which enable all of the conveniences of modern life. I know nothing of this world. It is all a part of this nebulous category of things that are somehow taken care of with the money we shell out when we buy our homes and pay our monthly bills.

When I entered this place, one of the first things to cross my mind was the fact that the nearest sushi restaurant is over an hour away. This, as well as many other conveniences and sources of excitement that define urban and suburban living are not easily accessible.

The concept of “homesteading” makes me think of the 19th century, when pioneers were settling vast unsettled parts of the country and President Lincoln signed The Homestead Act. What would make people decide to do this in the 2010s and 2020s? Could it be the sky high housing costs in many of our cities? Could it be something else? The homesteaders in Colorado point to a couple of other factors.

1. Energy and Lifestyle

I heard talk of not liking the energy of big city life. The city is full of pressure. It is fast paced. This appointment at 10, this meeting at 2, pick up the kids at 4, etc. Here, the day of the week and even the time of the day are far less significant. Alarms are not set. People don’t set aside a specific time to meet up, they just come by and see if their neighbors are home. It can be relaxing but certainly requires a different frame of mind. It requires abandoning concepts ingrained in modern life such as maximizing the number of tasks performed in a day.

2. The Necessary Skills for Life

For decades, the skills needed to build and upkeep our homes and other structures, often referred to as “the trades”, have been held in lower regard than most corporate jobs. These skills have become somewhat of a lost art. Recent shortages in “skilled trade labor” serve as a reminder of how important these skills really are. Homesteaders here mention preserving these lost skills in an era of desk jobs and specialization.

3. Society is Fragile

There was also talk about how fragile our society is, and what happens if we experience a collapse or state of emergency. Culture does periodically collapse. In Western Culture, there are two prominent examples of times when some combination of mis-trust, mis-management and mindless destruction lead to a fairly advanced era being followed up by a darker age. The first one was when the Bronze Age collapsed around 1177 B.C. The next is the fall of Rome, just over 1500 years later.

1500 years later, could another collapse be possible? There are plenty of legitimate reasons to be pessimistic about the future [1][2]. There are also plenty of reasons to be optimistic. Regardless of what is to come, it is probably a good thing that a significant portion of the population is interested in learning these skills.

Life here feels like life as it was two hundred years ago with the aid of some new technology. The focus is on more basic needs like food (agriculture) and shelter (building). New advanced technologies, like efficient solar power conductors and extremely accurate scopes on rifle guns, still make it feel clearly easier than 200 years ago.

As is the case whenever there are options, there are trade-offs. In the city we have pressure, pressure to perform for our organizations, pressure to earn enough money to pay our mortgages or rent as well as buy food and all the things we want. There is the need to maintain a certain status in our chosen communities and a need to plan around things like traffic patterns, our schedules and anticipated crowds. However, there isn’t the need to worry oneself with how we get our food, water and shelter. There is also the opportunity to have a more significant impact on people, our society and our culture. It is this burning desire that will likely keep me in cities for the foreseeable future.

However, if there is one thing our current era of division and isolation can teach us, it is to stop looking at all people who make different choices based on different preferences as enemies, or threats.

Our differences make life more interesting. It is a big part of what makes travel worthwhile. If everywhere began to look and feel the same, something would certainly be lost. I do not expect a new dark age to descend upon us. However, regardless of what happens, I think it is a good idea not to piss off the group of people who know how to make our systems of food, water and electricity work.

When the Next Season is Late to Arrive

The Middle Fork of the Platte River 10,000 ft. (3km): Sunrise December 4th 2021

Life is full of patterns, rhythms and cycles. We anticipate them. We prepare for them. Depending on the cycle sometimes we dread certain phases. At other times, we eagerly await them, desperate for their arrival.

Sometimes, as is the case with events like the sunrise and sunset, we know exactly when something is going to happen.

Seasons, like many of life’s more puzzling cycles, can be unpredictable. This year, in Colorado, winter is late.

Temperatures over the past months have been about 7°F (4°C) above average. Basin-wide snowpacks are about half their average amount. On a weekend I expected to be at the ski slopes, instead, I was hiking.

Temperatures warmed into the 50s (≈+13°C), which felt warm with no clouds or wind at a high elevation. The vibe, reminiscent of a totally different time and place then early December in the central Rocky Mountains, was impossible to ignore.

The sun kissed the entire river valley in a manner that made it hard to believe that this is really December.

Meanwhile, rather than airlifting skiers to hospitals after injuries, emergency management personnel were evacuating homes and trying to contain a wildfire.

Some welcome the continued warmth, and love the fact that they do not yet have to shovel snow and put on winter boots. Others are frustrated, losing patience, or even fearful. The weather is something that can be predicted fairly accurately about a week out and prepared for. However, like nearly all of nature, it cannot be controlled.

The weather may be one of the clearest and most present examples out there of that which we cannot control. As is the case with a lot of what life will hand us, we can only control our reaction to it. I was bummed that I was not skiing, as I had previously anticipated. However, when that door closed another one opened.

We hiked

We saw some places appear in a totally different light

And, I got to awkwardly combine holidays while wearing this strange Krampus t-shirt.

When seasonal shifts in weather arrive early or late it can be frustrating. However, this frustration can sometimes pale in comparison to unexpectedly early onsets or frustrating delays in other areas of life. Almost everyone can relate to having to wait longer than expected for a new career opportunity, to find a good relationship, or for a loved one to correct problematic behavior. Likewise, it’s hard to imagine too many people who haven’t been blindsided by an unexpected and unwelcome change.

The same way snow sport enthusiasts in Colorado are eagerly awaiting an overdue change in seasons, millions, possibly even billions, of people are eagerly awaiting what feels like an overdue change in our overall situation. The virus and the fear that goes along with it is still causing some restrictions. Most people seem tired of our partisan divisions, lack of human connections, excessive screen time and work culture that doesn’t make sense. Yet, like the onset of winter and our emergence from the pandemic, progress feels quite slow. Sometimes things go into reverse.

The timing of cultural shifts is harder to predict than weather patterns. There is no snow now, on December 5th, but, there will certainly be snow by February 5th. Shifts in the circumstance in our lives can arrive tomorrow morning, or never arrive at all. At this point, all we can do is hope and try to find the right balance between optimism and realism, between focusing on what we can control while trying to affect our surroundings, and accepting our current reality while trying to create a better future.

Moderate October Activities in the Front Range

October is the perfect month for people who prefer to sleep in and take it a little bit easier. In summertime, it is often imperative to get an early start on most activities, before the heat builds. The long days provide opportunities to climb to the tallest peaks, go places that are inaccessible at other times of the year and push ourselves to the limits. By October, the days are shorter and the mornings are chilly. 5 A.M. goes from being dawn to as pitch black as the middle of the night. 7 A.M. goes from the ideal time to start outdoor activities to a chilly sunrise. And, 10 A.M. goes from the time when heat starts to really build to when the sun has finally warmed the air to a comfortable temperature.

Unlike the middle of the winter, there is still plenty of nice weather. It’s not time for those that shy away from unpleasant conditions to hibernate just yet.

However, the shorter days and cooler conditions give many of us permission to take the pressure off ourselves a bit. The 100-mile ride, the 14,000 foot peak and the trek deep into the wilderness are now out of reach. The time has come to take a somewhat more relaxed approach to our activities and just simply enjoy being outdoors wile it is still pleasant to do so.

In that vein, two great activities that are simply enjoyable are Left Hand Canyon outside of Boulder and Evergreen Mountain (not surprisingly, outside of Evergreen).

Left hand canyon is an 8 mile (13 km) bike ride up a mostly relatively gentle grade. The total climb to Jamestown is about 1300 feet (400m).

Jamestown is cute little town of only 250 people frequented by other cyclists making the same or similar journeys (the road does continue upward and connect with the Peak to Peak Highway).

There are plenty of great places to just sit and meditate by the river or grab a bite to eat. The downhill is most enjoyable, as it is steep enough to go fast, but not so steep as to frighten most cyclists.

With chilly mornings, October is also the perfect time to take on shorter hikes, like Mount Evergreen, a hike with an 816 ft (250m) vertical and a total distance just shy of five miles (8 km).

In the summer time, this is probably an ideal before or after work hike for residents of Evergreen. The trek is a combination of some sections that are quite easy (i.e. flat).

And some areas that are somewhat more challenging.

Near the top there is a short side trip to a scenic view of the town of Evergreen that should not be missed.

And, there are a couple of great vantage points of the taller mountains further west from a couple of points at the top.

As an active Coloradan, both of these activities feel relatively easy, or, at the very least moderate to me. However, as we approach November, the season of gratitude (based on the holiday Thanksgiving), I must reflect on the fact that these activities are not easy for everyone. Some people are not fortunate enough to be in good health and have the capabilities to climb 1300 ft. (400 m) on a bike or hike up 800 ft. (400 m). It is good to show gratitude for having functioning legs, a good circulatory system and the means to eat a healthy diet.

It is also important to remember that the easier activities would not feel so easy without the hard ones, the ones where we truly push ourselves.

For a sedentary person, these two activities would be hard.

If we do nothing but push ourselves, many of us will never truly enjoy the activities we take part in. However, if we never push ourselves, our range of possibilities would be very limited. We need both.

Perhaps that is what the changing of the seasons is all about.

However it manifests in the specific places we live and in our specific pursuits, it reminds us that different parts of the annual cycle and other cycles of life require us to focus on different needs.

20 Years Later

Okay, so I know this blog is a couple of weeks late. On September 11, 2021 I visited the International Quilt Museum in Lincoln, Nebraska to honor the 20 year anniversary of one of the most horrific events of my lifetime.

Sometimes, it is difficult to explain to those who were not yet alive or too young to remember how this event made a lot of us feel.

Many people describe the period of time between the end of the cold war (1989) and the September 11th attacks (2001) as a “break from history” of sorts. 12 years is not a long time when considering the overall course of history. However, 12 years is significant when it comes to the course of one’s own life. Many people, especially those who were quite young during that time period, got accustomed to a world that did not seem that dangerous.

It is why Trying to Make Sense of It is a very appropriate name for this exhibit. On that day, and for the weeks and months that followed, what most of us were trying to do is try to make sense of it. I recall it was the era of AOL Instant Messenger and when we were away we would put up away messages that would function as kind of an auto-reply to anyone that messaged us. That day mine was…

So we’re different colors and different breeds. And different people have different needs. It’s obvious you hate me though I’ve done nothing wrong. I never even met you so what could I have done? (Depeche Mode, 1985)

Yeah, I like to quote song lyrics.

The museum exhibit is a really good one. It contains some writing about how we all felt during the event.

There was also bunch of tables where people can use blocks to create their own art. I think it is mainly for children, but I made one anyways.

Typically, when I get a chance to do something creative, I try to do something off the wall. However, with the memories of growing up in pre-9/11 New York, all I really wanted to do was create two identical square shaped towers and remember how the skyline once looked.

The main part of the exhibit is a series of quilts that were made to honor those who died that day. There were a lot of them, some had names, some had flags and other designs. There were people from other countries that died that day, and those flags are represented here too.

Already emotional, the thing that got me into tears was actually seeing the faces of some of the victims. I guess that is how human emotions work.

That day I was generally fixated on the past, listening to a station called XM-FLY, which plays a lot of music from that time. However, I began to reflect on the event’s lasting legacy.

The first few months we seemed so united. For a little bit of time, a moment in history, all of our differences didn’t matter. All that mattered was that we were all American. We were all sad, mourning the deaths and pledging to be strong and continue living as free and prosperous people.

This would be the last time in American history anything would feel like that. It wouldn’t be long before we would first become divided over our response to the attacks and military interventions in Afghanistan and then Iraq. Then, a financial crash would cause us to lose faith in many institutions. Social media would further divide us. The economic stress and loneliness caused by these two developments would lead to all new divides, including the generational divide that created “those damn Millennials” and “OK Boomer.”

I wonder what the people who perished that day, especially those who heroically took down flight 93 before it could crash into the White House would think about where we are today. Maybe some of them would understand. Maybe some of these large scale trends are more powerful than any one event. Recently, after viewing some mean spirited content on Nextdoor, an app meant to connect neighbors, I came to the realization that any platform that facilitates asynchronous chat where people do not have to see people’s facial expressions will descend into nastiness, the same way Facebook, Reddit and Twitter have.

Part of me misses that world of national unity. However, it is important to be realistic. First, it was never going to last. The fact that another tragedy that has lead to far more deaths, COVID-19, has only made us more divided is evidence of these more powerful cultural forces. Second, times of national unity commonly revolve around a crisis; the War of 1812, the World Wars, terrorist attacks, etc. Maybe it is time to find some national unity around something positive. However, sadly, with where things are it feels like we could not be further from that moment. There’s too much fear around us.

Columbine Lake- Grand County, Colorado

Many of Colorado’s outdoor activities involve putting the body through some kind of major challenge. There are no 14er climbs with less than 2,000 feet in vertical gain. Most 14er routes exceed 4,00 feet! Rock climbing, whitewater rafting and pretty much all of the State’s most talked about bike rides are quite physically challenging. There is a reason Colorado has the lowest obesity rate in the country.

While these experiences improve physical health, there are spiritual benefits to being in nature and taking it at a slower pace. At a slower pace, one can fully observe, reflect, immerse and use that space to reduce stress and process thoughts. It’s a different kind of experience. After the extreme physical challenge that was Ride the Rockies, it was the kind of experience I was craving.

It may be challenging to develop the patience to just sit or walk slowly, especially after such a personal accomplishment. So, I found something in between the two extremes. I found a hike that would most certainly still be considered exercise, but not intense enough to distract from the experience of being in nature. That is Grand County’s Columbine Lake (there are two lakes in the state with this name so the distinction is necessary) via the Junco Lake Trail.

In addition to being a truly moderate trail, this particular hike is also both quiet and scenic. The catch is, getting there can be a little tough.

After driving through Winter Park along highway 40…

Getting there involves following an unpaved county road for about 12 miles, the final three of which can be quite rough.

The trail also starts out rocky, in a manner that almost felt indistinguishable from the final few miles of driving to get to the trailhead.

This part was also pretty intense. At least it was intense enough to feel a lot more like a challenging hike than some kind of a walk in nature.

After this initial section, it felt exactly like the balance between active exercise and the spiritual experience I was looking for.

The trail also kind of switches back and forth between sections of dense pine forests and open meadows .

Finally, it follows a narrow creek with periodic mini waterfalls.

As it approaches the lake.

With open meadows and few other people, taken slowly enough, much of this hike could be the ideal setting for a spiritual experience. However, it requires some effort. It is almost reminiscent of Yoga, where the clearing of the mind comes only after pushing the body a little bit.

People are often searching for balance in life. This is frequently interpreted as finding some middle ground between two extremes. Could true balance also require a balance between moderation and that which is radical, extreme or intense? Likely, we all need some aspect of both in our lives. It ebbs and flows with different experiences taking a more prominent role in different seasons. In the end, it becomes all about getting the experiences we need to be complete human beings.

One Year After the Fire

The wildfires of 2020 were hard to ignore. When the pandemic removed many of our day-to-day activities, everything about nature felt harder to ignore.

I suddenly found myself paying attention to things like the exact sunrise and sunset times, the cycles of the moon and all kinds of other things that were such an important part of our lives a few centuries ago. With limitations on most indoor activities, life would start and stop based on seasonal patterns and weather.

On top of that, 2020 turned out to be one of North America’s most active wildfire seasons and probably the most active one on record for the Western U.S.

Not only did the wildfires burn all over the West from California to Colorado, but at times, the smoke from some of the closer fires along with strong winds produced ominous clouds that occupied the horizon.

It was as if mother nature was making a statement that we were no longer to go about our lives ignoring her.

While fires were exceptionally strong last year, fires are a normal part of life in drier areas like Western North America. It is now scientifically accepted that surpassing wildfires was one of the worst environmental mistakes ever made, as it only lead to more dangerous fires later on. Places getting burned by a wildfire from time to time is just a part of life here. A section of forest burns. Then, it grows back.

One of the worst wildfires of the 2020 season occurred in Northern Colorado and Southern Wyoming, in the Medicine Bow National Forest. With any catastrophic and disruptive event, we tend to pay attention to it while it is happening. Some, more aware and empathetic people may even pay attention to the aftermath for a little while. However, the news cycle will eventually focus on other things. This does not mean the impacts are done.

The wilderness, scorn from being scorched for over a month does not care that people desire to camp there 10 months later.

It makes for an interesting camping trip, one where it is almost impossible not to feel like one of those people that gawks at an accident while driving by. It certainly felt weird to set up a fire.

Seeing this section of the Medicine Bow National Forest still scorched reminded me of almost anyone who goes through something in life. It’s what happens after someone loses a loved one, gets divorced, has a major accident, loses a job or suffers some other major trauma or setback. Months, and often years later, they are not the same. Much like the Medicine Bow National Forest in July 2021, they are still dealing with the aftermath.

Seeing the forest, I can’t help but think about those I know who have been through and are going through a process like this one. One could argue that with the continuing impacts of COVID-19, we are all going through something of this nature. How everything will turn out seems to be an area of ongoing debate with major cultural significance for current and future events.

Do events like these make us stronger or weaker? Lately, it feels as if a lot of our policies are based around the idea that that which doesn’t kill us actually makes us weaker. Many of us aim to avoid all things that make us even the least bit uncomfortable. Some argue that we have even coded overprotective parenting into law. Based on the idea that words can hurt us, colleges have rescinded speaking invitations to controversial speakers and punished others for saying things that make people uncomfortable. Behind all these laws and actions is the belief that events far less catastrophic than an accident or the death of a loved one will make people weaker.

On the other side, there is still that age-old statement, “that which doesn’t kill me can only make me stronger.” In contrast to those advocating overprotective parenting and limitations on free speech are those who describe humans as “anti-fragile“. They assert that periodic exposure to distress, discomfort and setbacks causes us to develop resilience and become better prepared for future challenges. Some even worry that when we deny our children exposure to such things they become ill equipped to handle the stress of normal adult life (see The Coddling of the American Mind and iGen).

Few things are black and white. When I think of how people turn out in the long-term after painful events it varies quite a bit. Some come back stronger and better people. However, some are scarred for life and never truly recover. It reminds me of COVID or any other disease. We administer vaccines, which expose us to small doses of a disease to prepare us for the “real thing.” However, some are too fragile to get vaccines. Does that which does not kill us make us stronger or weaker? It depends on how severe the shock is and how strong the person is to begin with. To build resilience we must push ourselves on a regular basis, regularly expanding the realm of what we can tolerate.

Ride the Rockies Day 6: Million Dollar Highway

If I can conquer this mountain in front of me, I can conquer all the other “mountains” life has thrown at me.

There is a lot more I need to do to get my life fully aligned with who I truly am and reach my full potential. Much of it involves a combination of making mindset adjustments, engaging my creativity, hard work and leaning into uncomfortable situations. Some of the endeavors I have determined I must undertake are, like this ride, quite intimidating.

My final day of Ride the Rockies started in Ouray, at an elevation of 7,800 ft. (2375m). Highway 550, southbound from Ouray starts climbing right away!

An overlook of Ouray, CO

It also didn’t take long to start seeing why this is one of the most iconic roads to bike on. Only three miles outside of town, the road passes right by Bear Creek Falls.

Over thirteen miles, we climbed from Ouray up Red Mountain Pass, just over 11,000 feet (3350 m) in elevation.

The climb took a little over two hours.

Reaching the top of this mountain was quite emotional. This was the highest point of this extremely challenging ride. I am not a professional cyclist, nor am I an aspiring to be one. My goal was simply to complete this ride without having to use the van support.

This hill was so intense that while pedaling uphill I did not really think about much else. It is at the top, when the climb has been completed that most people realize what they had just accomplished. I realized that had conquered this mountain and that I was indeed going to make it, achieve my overall goal for the ride. The rest of the ride would feel kind of like a victory lap. I witnessed other riders, likely with similar goals and anxieties as mine, hugging at the top of Red Mountain Pass.

It was an incredibly emotional experience. I felt like if I could conquer this mountain, I could conquer the other metaphoric “mountains” awaiting me in life. Suddenly, so much more in life felt attainable. The challenges I face can be overcome. After all, the main thing I need to do is work hard and be okay with being uncomfortable. That is kind of exactly what challenging long distance bike rides are. They are hard work and they are uncomfortable, albeit primarily in the physical domain.

We descended into Silverton, a town with an extremely old west type of feel.

After Silverton, there were two more climbs, one up Molas Pass.

And a second one up Coal Bank Pass.

Both ascents were significantly less challenging than the previous ones, climbs of 1500 ft. (450 m) and 950 ft. (300 m) respectively.

With the ascents and descents, the entire middle section of this ride took place at elevations exceeding 9,000 ft. (2750 m). It was surrounded by the best of what the San Juan Mountains have to offer.

The descents were enjoyable as well. I got to about the highest speeds I am willing to go on a bicycle. There is something that feels truly alive about coasting downhill on a bicycle while surrounded by wide open spaces, peaks above tree line, forests and alpine lakes!

Even on events like these it is hard to get too disconnected from what is going on in the world. People will likely not remember this, with our active news cycle and short attention spans, but one of the new stories of June 2021 was a lumber shortage, which was delaying the construction of new homes and connected with the shortage of real estate in the market. Over the course of the day, I encountered about a dozen of these trucks transporting lumber along the Million Dollar Highway.

The final segment was mostly downhill and kind of stretched on a little bit. I encountered a little bit of rain, the first and only time I would on this ride.

Both the top of Red Mountain Pass and actually reaching the finish line felt amazing but in a different way.

The Ride the Rockies finish line in Durango, CO

I can’t decide which felt sweater. However, the entire experience of Ride the Rockies 2021 has provided me with a framework by which to take on every challenge life will present going forward. Know where you want to go, find the best path, lean into discomfort and put in the work.