Category Archives: Colorado

Making the Right Decisions

On any storm chase, there is kind of an unspoken goal to see a tornado. However, the vast majority of all chase days do not result in a tornado sighting. Even those who run paid storm chasing tours cannot guarantee a tornado sighting for a weeklong tour. Additionally, resource limitations, which is increasingly the case in the era of $5 gas, can play a factor. Just because a storm is occurring somewhere, at some time, does not necessarily mean a group of chasers has the time and money to get to that storm.

On Tuesday June 7th choices needed to be made regarding where to target and what storms to pursue.

First, a decision had to be made between pursuing faster moving storms across Nebraska and the far northeast corner of Colorado, and slower moving and potentially more discrete (and therefore easier to track and see) storms further south. As is the case with nearly all chase days, other decision points would occur throughout the day. These included what storms to follow, what roads to take, what angle to look at them from and even how long to stand in the middle of an empty highway taking photos.

In a way, storm chasing is all about making decisions. Perhaps the primary education value of storm chase courses is not observing the atmosphere, but in decision making experience.

On June 7th, every decision we made was the “right” decision. Or, at least we certainly didn’t make any “wrong” decisions, as has been the case with other chases. We went for the storms further south as there was more moisture there. We followed this one storm that seemed to maintain a steady state for several hours. We saw it from a few different angles.

We saw a few dust devils.

And, on several occasions, the storm looked like it was almost going to produce a tornado.

In fact, it’s still disputed as to whether or not a tornado actually occurred, as tornadoes were reported with this storm.

Chasing in this part of the country has its advantages and disadvantages. With wide open spaces and typically drier air, it is possible to see things much further away. However, the road network is quite sparse, and sometimes the only safe option is to view storms from a bit farther away. Therefore, we will never really know if we saw a tornado on June 7th.

Tornadoes are verified by their damage and where we were there was really nothing to damage (perhaps the reason for the sparse road network).

Our chase would end with a close encounter with some pretty large hail.

Of all the things I gazed my eyes upon in the sky on June 7th, I was perhaps the most mesmerized by this optical feature that I cannot even classify.

I had never seen anything exactly like this before. It is a combination of colors that can never be replicated, as it is the result of the specific angle at which the sun’s rays hit the atmosphere, water droplets and clouds. It reminds me some form of obscure artwork that one cannot possibly gaze upon without wondering as to the mental state the artist was in at the time of its production. I struggled to look away as the colors slowly morphed.

For some, this day would be characterized as a “success”, given the cool optical features, large hail and dust devils. For others, it is a “failure” as we could not verify a tornado sighting, nor do we feel like we got a really cool tornado photo or video. However, focusing on whether or not we can technically claim we saw a tornado or classifying the endeavor as a “success” or “failure” is not nearly as important as being happy about the process and making the right choices.

Although the most noteworthy events in life are clearly in the category of wild successes or embarrassing failures, most things we attempt in life don’t really fit neatly into one category or the other. There are businesses that make money but lose sight of their original purpose. There are parties that are sort of fun but missing something. There are diet and exercise programs that produce some results but not quite what was initially desired. Some people even reject the paradigm of viewing everything as success or failure, a win or a loss. The key point that this particular storm chase demonstrates is that for all of us to succeed in life, we need to focus more on the actions we take and less on the results. If you go out there, keep taking chances, keep making smart choices and keep learning, the result you are hoping to get will eventually come.

Four Days Without the Internet

I am starting to grow tired of the internet. Every day feels like the same thing. The same feeling of rejection when I’m reminded of the social experiences people are having that I am not involved in. The same feeling of aggravation and isolation around people’s responses to current events. The same feeling of fear around societal trends and possible future events. And, perhaps most importantly, the same stale feeling around yet another hour in front of a screen, typically sitting down at home, consuming content that is all too similar to the content I had consumed the last hour I spent online.

As you can see, even before this, I spent less time on my phone than most

In the context of most of the world in 2022, going four days without the internet sounds extreme. We do everything online. We’ve spent the last two decades congratulating ourselves for making things more efficient by moving them online. However, I am not so sure this is a good thing. David Byrne famously pointed out five years ago that all of our new technologies have one thing in common. From online shopping to robots and those self-scanners at the grocery store, they all eliminate points where humans would have previously interacted with one another. This is one of the primary factors that lead to a loneliness epidemic being declared even before it the pandemic came and made it far worse.

My theory was that if I spent less time online, and distanced myself particularly from news and social media, I would be a lot happier. After all, I knew that there are people out there that care about me. I know there are people that see things the way I see them. The whole world has not descended into finger pointing and panic, and there are tons of great new experiences to be had if I just look around me. I just had to stop letting the internet tell me what to think about.

The very first thing I noticed was noticing more things.

I spent time observing trees, clouds, storms and all the things that we often forget to look at when our minds are occupied.

Soon, I became lost in thought.

Behavior analysts will often point out that if someone wants to move away from an undesirable behavior, like smoking or excessive hand washing, it is far easier to do so if the behavior is replaced with a new behavior. I sincerely believe this to be true, but I removed the internet from my life rather abruptly without selecting alternate activities. There was not always a suitable alternate activity, no matter how much I enjoyed this book!

So, in order to stick to my pledge, I ended up spending time just in my own thought. While at first my thought processes went to all of the things that had been frustrating me, soon I ran out of things to think about on that topic. This is where we all have the potential to tap into our creative sides.

It feels like we were more creative before we became constantly distracted by smart phones. Just the idea of people tapping back into this side of themselves and coming up with all sort of ideas gave me chills.

By the time I returned home, I was happier. But, as is the case any time people go on vacation, I did not know whether I was happier because of my hiatus from the internet, from not reading the news or being on social media, or if I was happier because I had just spent the weekend out of town with friends. This is something it would take all week for me to figure out.

After returning to Denver, I felt like I was still observing more than before.

And I had some pleasant conversations with the people I encountered.

Maybe it’s time for all of us to reconsider what our relationship with the internet should be. From increasingly using LinkedIn to network and find jobs to the use of QR code scanners for menus at restaurants, societal trends seem to pulling us closer to the internet, having it become more and more a central part of our lives. But, is this what we want? Is it what we need right now?

After a week of reflection on this experience I started to ask myself why I’m happier. What am I trying to escape? Am I trying to escape people? Or am I trying to escape a certain behavior pattern that the internet and particularly social media seems to encourage? Am I fed up with the way people interact over social media? Or am I fed up with the way people interact in general? And, is the way we interact in general a reflection of how social media has changed us over the past two decades?

Sometimes an experiment like this one, meant to answer a question, only leads to more questions. But, sometimes, despite what we all learn when we study science, if we experiment with something and it leads to a positive result, like being happier, maybe we need to stop obsessing over the reasons why and just be happy with the result.

Frisco, One of My Favorite Mountain Towns, from a New Perspective

Downtown Frisco, CO May 23, 2022

There are many ways we travel and many reasons we travel. In retrospect, it seems rather silly that when I was a child, people used to lump all travel into two categories; business and leisure. Leisure travel, previously defined as anything other than travel for work, can take on many forms. We travel to visit friends and family. We travel to see specific destinations. We travel for specific activities. Having lived in the Midwest for a lot of year, I am more than familiar with travel to escape the winter and other bad weather.

The great thing about all these modes of travel is that it is possible to visit the same place many times and have completely different experiences.

Frisco is unique in that it is situated near many of Colorado’s best ski resorts.

Yet, unlike Breckenridge or Vail, the town is not the site of a ski resort. Therefore, winter in Frisco is active but not in the same way these ski resort towns are. Still, there are a lot of people out and about. It is easily the most active time of the year in Frisco (except, maybe when a major snowstorm closes the highways).

Summer also tends to be active. The area is a great place to escape the summer heat and take part in activities like enjoying the mountains from the seat of a bicycle.

The morning of May 23, 2022, for perhaps the first time ever, I saw Frisco extremely quiet.

There was nobody walking around. The experience reminded me of the few times I would wake up before 8 A.M. on a Sunday while living in Chicago. It was the only time I saw a city that was always crowded and noisy quiet and calm. This place was quiet and calm because the activities that drew visitors all weekend had come to an end while the weather had yet to improve enough for many of the outdoor activities that draw summer visitors. There were low clouds.

Fog, and even a little bit of snow.

It was enough to make Frisco quiet, even when the sun would peak out for a little bit.

It was even enough to make the typically even busier Breckenridge feel rather calm.

The conversations were different too. People I would encounter around town were not reflexively asking questions like “where are you in town from” and “how long are you here.” Instead, I was asked to identify a bird and about trail conditions. In a way, I was seeing the place the way the “locals” see it. Still, it made me wonder….

  • Do locals only get to act like locals, in the open like this, a few months out of the year, in between seasons?
  • Or is there a secret set of places they go during the more active seasons, particularly from December through early April?
  • What’s it like growing up in a place like this, not knowing that most people don’t live places constantly crawling with tourists?

On this trip, I also got to see more of Frisco. Most of my previous trips to Frisco primarily involve being on Main Street.

It is the face of the town. But, on this trip I spent a little bit of time in some of the other, more residential areas of town.

I saw where the creek flows between houses.

I even saw where they were in the process of building a new recreational trail.

Frisco is one of those towns with hiking trails right on the edge of town. Residents and visitors alike can just walk up to a hiking trail and climb a mountain. I did this twice during my off-season visit to Frisco. On the other side of I-70, there is the North Tenmile Trail, a hike that follows the Tenmile Creek into the Eagles Nest Wilderness.

There is the far steeper hike up Mount Royal on the south side of town.

This mountain is impossible to miss. It is quite likely that for most, the idea of hiking up this mountain feels quite intimidating. The hike is steep right from the start and is steep the whole way.

However, it leads to amazing overlooks of I-70, the Tenmile Canyon (just west of Frisco) and a whole new perspective on the town of Frisco.

On previous visits to Frisco, I experienced Frisco how tourists experience it. I saw the bus to the ski resorts. I heard conversations about vacations, time shares, flights and favorite slopes, shops and restaurants. This May, nearly a decade after discovering this town, I finally experienced it more like a local, slowing down a bit and adjusting for things that almost never happen during the busy season, like restaurants being closed on Mondays and Tuesdays and full days without any activities.

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.

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.

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.

Ride the Rockies Day 5: The Optional Day Around Ridgeway

Day 5 was optional, and when I first signed up for this ride, I was convinced I was going to take the day off. The ride in its entirety is very challenging. The final day is possibly the most challenging and the most iconic of the ride, along Million Dollar Highway from Ridgeway to Durango. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to get a day off and feel well rested. Plenty of people did chose to rest that day, as evidenced by conversations I had with other participants and the number of people I saw out at the brewery the previous evening.

When it came time to decide my instinct told me not to take the full day off. I decided to ride on day 5, but to skip the part of the ride I had already ridden on day 4, up Dallas Divide.

I also determined that, since I was staying in Ouray, I could make day 6 a little easier by riding the first 12 miles of that challenging 85 mile day after looping back to Ridgeway. I’d still get to see all the places included in the ride.

By the fifth day I began to notice…

  1. Regardless of the circumstance I always woke up around 5:45. On a “normal” weekday I sometimes struggle to get myself out of bed before 7! This was likely because I was getting exercise and sunlight, but could have also been related to the anticipation of each day’s ride.
  2. I also got in the habit of watching the morning news in the various hotel rooms I stayed in.

Since I was busy most days cycling, with my hands on my handlebars, I was not checking the news on my phone (or a computer) throughout the day. Instead, I watched the news for half an hour or so every morning as I prepared for the day’s ride.

I realized that, with respect to how we consume the news, I had essentially reverted to the way things were three decades ago, when it was common to watch the news in the morning or the evening, but our exposure to the news was confined only to that half hour or hour each day. I determined that I liked it better. 99% of all news stories are not emergencies. They can wait until the end of the day or the following morning.

The ride started on a trail that connected Ridgeway with Ridgeway State Park, a place where a lot of people take part in water sports.

The 17-mile descent went quite fast and before I knew it I was in the tiny town of Colona.

The second half of the loop pretty much embodied what Ride the Rockies is really all about. It was a challenging 2,000 foot (600 m) climb on a dirt road, but, the challenge ended up being worth it!

I spent some time in Ridgeway before tackling the final 12 miles of my day.

It was good to have a nice meal and then relax by the pool for a while.

I was concerned about the heat, which was starting to build in Ridgeway, but luckily was able to take advantage of some clouds that had built in the middle of the afternoon to take on the ride from Ridgeway to Ouray.

From the standpoint of off-roading, this was quite possibly the most challenging part of the ride. Here, highway 550 is fairly heavily trafficked and has no shoulder. The official ride follows parallel gravel roads that were a bit tough for me on the cyclocross bike I ride.

I did not love all these rocks

In Ouray, I got more time to relax, as the total ride for the day was still less than 50 miles.

I soaked my legs in the cold water of the Uncompaghre River.

And had a nice meal at the Outlaw Saloon, where I got to meet the man who plays all those old west sounding tunes on the piano.

This piano player makes a living playing old west style tunes at bars in both Ouray and Silverton (both towns with an old west vibe). I loved hearing his story!

Sometimes it feels like everywhere I go I see people that feel trapped in jobs they don’t like and are not passionate about. Some combination of fear and the need for security keeps them there. For the unfortunate ones who end up working long hours and enduring a lot of stress, it does not feel like much of a life, regardless of how much money they are making. Whenever I hear about people who decided to do what they love to do and actually find a way to make it work, I feel happy and encouraged.

The day ended with a gaze to the north and a reminder of the challenge that lied ahead on the following day.

Just looking around town in all directions, it feels like the hardest place in the world to bike. There is no easy way in or out!