Category Archives: Outdoor Activities

Crested Butte January 2021

The way we talk about the weather is quite peculiar. There are many that consider the weather amongst the most mundane topics of discussion, the thing people talk about when they don’t have anything more interesting to discuss. However, there is perhaps nothing that has a greater impact on the human experience than the weather. Every single day, the activities a person takes part in is at least partially determined by the weather. Activities like skiing and hiking are associated with seasons. Any outdoor sporting event has the potentially to be cancelled by inclement weather. Changes in long-term weather patterns, or climate, have brought down entire civilizations.

Perhaps the reason highly intellectual individuals prefer not to talk about the weather is the manner in which the topic is simplified. The weather anyone experiences is a result of scientific processes so complicated that despite our advanced observational and computational technology, it can still only be predicted to any degree of accuracy about a week out. The impact weather has on things like health, culture and happiness is the subject of countless articles and dissertations.

Yet, most discussions about the weather are boiled down to simple descriptions. It’s often described as simply “cold”, “warm”, sunny”, “rainy”, etc. Perhaps the most significant oversimplification of the phenomenon that we call weather is the description of weather conditions as ether “good” or “bad”. Generally, people refer to sunshine and pleasant temperatures as “good” weather, while any kind of unpleasantness, from rain to extreme temperatures or strong winds, as “bad” weather.

However, too much “good” weather can often lead to some terrible outcomes. The entire planet’s food supply is dependent on rainfall. Last summer’s wildfires across Western North America demonstrated that there are few businesses that have absolutely no exposure to what can happen when a region experiences too little precipitation, or “bad weather”.

Skiing, is perhaps the most obvious example of an activity that requires “bad” weather. Four years earlier, Crested Butte ski resort was buried under 100 inches of snow.

The winter of 2020-2021 has been far less snowy, making for pleasant days to ski, but perhaps not the best snow conditions.

Skiing is the most obvious example, but nearly every activity in life requires a certain amount of “bad” weather. It is a reminder that simply describing weather conditions as “good” or “bad” as they pertain to a specific day’s activities may be fine for a children’s nursery rhyme, but fails to accurately represent what combination of weather conditions are necessary in the long run. For the world’s food supply, farmers need a combination of rainy weather for the health of their crops and pleasant days to tend to their plants and animals. Skiers need snow, obviously, but benefit from days with good visibility, low wind and pleasant temperatures.

Nearly every activity, as well as life on Earth itself, requires a combination of different weather conditions. The key is to properly manage the expectations for each day based on our changing weather.

In Crested Butte, residents and visitors alike are dealing with both the ongoing pandemic and snowpacks that are about 30% below normal for this time of year. Yet, people are finding a way to continue with their lives. It is hard to be too negative in a town this beautiful.

While the ground may be a bit rocky in the trees, or on bump runs, a mild sunny day is the perfect time to admire the beauty of the morning sky while flying down fast, steep groomed trails.

The town itself, like everyone’s favorite optimistic and quirky friend, does not seem to be discouraged by what nature has brought.

Perhaps one of the reasons so many people dislike talking about the weather is because it represents something that cannot be controlled. It can only be responded to. It is, in a way, a metaphor for life. People generally have minimal control of what happens to them. The only thing that can be controlled is the response. Crested Butte, in January 2021 has shown that the proper response to all that life can throw is to be versatile and adjust while also remaining true to oneself.

Breckenridge During the Pandemic

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. All indoor seating is closed.

Breckenridge ski village, mostly closed January 2021

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

Breckenridge at 0°F

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Years in Central Colorado

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Both alive and dead.

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

The sun shines quite bright at these high elevations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I would love to ask….

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

Are residents able to take advantage of the nicer days?

What does everyone do on these unpleasant windy days?

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

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

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

Thanksgiving 2020

I’m tired.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Going Great; Going Poorly

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

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

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

What to feel?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goals and Metrics Put in Context

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

The SMART Goal system

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

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

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

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

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

What about the day after the year ends?

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

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

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

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

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

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

At the End

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

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

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

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

That must be an interesting place to live!

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rio Grande Trail: Basalt to Aspen

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

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

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

I absolutely love the town of Basalt!

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

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

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

It overlooks several small villages.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cycling The Enchanted Circle

The enchanted circle can be an intimidating bike ride for two reasons. First, it is challenging. It’s an 84 mile ride with a total of over 5,700 feet (1.75 km) of climbing. There are also a lot of sections where the road has no shoulder. A road with significant traffic and no shoulder can feel quite dangerous on a bicycle. Maybe I’m spoiled by typically riding in Colorado, with roads that are typically more bike friendly. According to the League of American Cyclists, Colorado ranks as the 7th most bike friendly state in the country, while New Mexico ranks 44th.

Like this bike ride, life has tons of opportunities that are both risky and potentially rewarding. A lot of people lose out on so much that life has to offer because they avoid endeavors that cary significant risk. For me, the Enchanted Circle bike ride became a microcosm for how we are meant to approach these important opportunities. I would not let the apparent challenge and the apparent danger stop me from doing the ride. However, it is good to be mindful and smart about the risks we take. With any potentially risky endeavor, there are actions one can take to minimize the downside. For me on the Enchanted Circle, it meant trying to face as little traffic as possible on the most potentially dangerous part, U.S. highway 64. So, I started the ride early, around 9 A.M., and rode the circle in the counter-clockwise direction, starting east out of Taos on 64.

As I’d hoped, there was very little traffic. There were even times where I completely forgot I was on a U.S. highway. The highway kind of took on the feeling of an empty country road, which was fantastic.

The 18 mile moderate climb from Taos to Palo Flechado Pass wound through the Carson National Forest. I truly felt enchanted, right from the start of the ride. Around each curve was a new sight to behold: Trees just starting to change colors for the upcoming fall. Birds flying through the air. Horses grazing on open land. New mountain peaks appearing on the horizon.

I could not help but smile for most of this segment. The climb is not even steep enough to cause too much exhaustion.

After this climb came a quick 700 foot (210m) descent into Angel Fire, home to one of several major New Mexico ski resorts along the Enchanted Circle.

Due to smoke from wildfires in California and Oregon, I was unable to see Angel Fire ski resort from the road. However, I would later get the gist, as one of the locals I would speak with in Eagles Nest would describe this resort as “a ski resort without apres”. It sounded like an interesting family oriented experience.

The next stretch of road, from Angel Fire to Eagles Nest, was perhaps the most comforting, being flat and having the widest shoulders of the entire loop.

I grabbed some food in Eagles Nest, interacted with some of the locals and then turned onto highway 38 for the next segment.

Highway 38 is a mixed bag. There is no shoulder, but traffic is pretty light. Of the cars I did encounter, this is where I felt the most scared. On a few occasions, I was frightened by being passed at high speeds by vehicles that did not move too far over.

The climb starts gradually, passing by a ghost town called Elizabethtown. A woman I had talked to in Eagles Nest told me this town was so easy to miss I would “miss it if I blinked… while riding uphill”.

Then comes the most challenging ascent of the ride, to the top of Bobcat Pass, the ride’s highest point.

This part turned out to be quite steep. I had received some encouragement regarding this bike ride at the Eagles Nest Cafe. One patron even let me have one of her onion rings. However, when I told people I was doing this ride, I also did hear “I’m exhausted just thinking about you riding up Bobcat Pass”, as well as “If my son were to tell me he wants to do this ride, I’d urge him not to.”

I took the downhill at 35 miles per hour (56 km/hr).

And quickly arrived in the town of Red River.

Red River, home to yet another ski resort, felt like your quintessential touristy mountain town. It felt reminiscent of Lincoln, New Hampshire, a town I rode through several years ago, also while on my bicycle tackling challenging mountain passes.

Continuing west on highway 38 was a beautiful descent from Red River into Questa.

Like the initial climb out of Taos, this descent was not quite as steep, winding through the forest, and by some other unique natural features over the course of 12 miles.

The final 20 miles of the ride follows highway 522 back towards Taos. While this section has some rolling hills, it stays in the valley to the west of the Southern Sangre de Cristo mountain range. On this part of the ride, I saw the mountains from a whole different, and more broad, vantage point.

The rolling hills on this last part of the ride are not nearly as big as the major passes I’d rode up earlier. However, having already rode 70 miles and pedaled up Bobcat Pass, they were enough to exhaust me.

Like many of my previous exhausting bike rides, I ended the day physically exhausted but spiritually rested. It also came with another form of spiritual satisfaction, having properly persevered despite some less than ideal conditions. The manner in which I approached this ride allowed me to enjoy the upside of the experience (the satisfaction of the ride, the scenery, the interactions with the locals, etc.), while being smart enough to minimize the downside (the risk of riding in high traffic with no shoulder).

Backpacking the Holy Cross Wilderness: Day 3 Nature and Spirit

I became fascinated with weather as a fairly young child. While looking into weather, I would often find old books, written long before people could look up a weather forecast on the computer or even turn on The Weather Channel. These books would describe how sky and wind conditions indicate likely changes in weather. This knowledge seems generally obsolete. However, the combination of knowing how weather patterns typically shape up in late August in the Rocky Mountains and observing the morning sky lead us to expect to be able hike the final 6.2 miles back to the trailhead before encountering rain.

One thing that did get somewhat frustrating on this and other recent camping trips, is the equipment. It is common for people to buy equipment for activities such as camping or hiking and feel as if they are done making purchases. However, on this trip, it became apparent that this tent was going to soon need repair or replacement.

The same can be said for my hiking pants and spork.

It’s taken me a while to realize how warped most people’s view of money and finance is. It seems common to focus only on expenses we can psychically see and on the short-term. When it comes to outdoor and sporting equipment, the line between renting and owning feels quite blurry. The more one uses an item, the sooner it needs to be replaced. So, with certain variance for the quality of the item and how well we take care of our things, even when we buy our own equipment, we are still sort of paying per use. The first dozen or so times anyone uses something like a tent, they rarely think about the cost of eventually replacing it and how those trips are taking them closer to that inevitable expense.

Throughout the trip, we continued to encounter deer up close. We must have chosen to set up camp in their territory or something. Once, when I left the tent to go to the bathroom before going to sleep, I encountered a deer and got startled. By Sunday morning, with clear weather, it almost felt as if we were hanging out with them!

Looking at us, I was wondering if the deer were having their own “Low Key F2020” type of experience. I can imagine them thinking….

Ugh! First there is all this smoke, then this hailstorm comes through, and now these humans are in our way! Can we do like the bears, hibernate and skip to 2021?

Heading back across the valley, the sky continued to point to a more typical late August scenario and the expectation that rain and storms would come, as is more typical, in mid-afternoon.

Heading across the rocky area, we encountered some more furry creatures.

Then headed up fancy pass, a slightly higher pass than the one we had trekked in on Friday.

Heading up the pass, it got kind of windy. I wonder how the people who set up camp closer to the pass, in an exposed area, had fared that morning.

This was the challenging and exhausting part. First there was the nearly 1000 foot climb up Fancy Pass, where we could clearly see that Missouri Pass was lower.

Then, the other side was a steep, rocky downhill, which can be just as tiring as the uphill.

The Fancy Pass Trail experience was a bit more pleasant than the Missouri Lakes Trail experience two days prior. There was no crazy avalanche area where the trail was covered with downed trees and difficult to pass. Also, all of the trail’s features were quite exquisite in the morning sun.

First, Fancy Lake (okay, maybe the names of these things need more variety)

Then, just below the lake, the water funnels into an amazing tall, skinny waterfall.

The final three miles trail is pretty homogenous: a gentle downward slope through a pine forest.

It was in this section that I had a spiritual experience!

As I walked through the woods for what was the final hour and a half of this journey, I suddenly felt as if I was getting some deeply profound messages about my life. They were the kinds of messages that gave me clarity about what I am meant to be doing, confidence in who I am supposed to be and context around some of my more unpleasant past experiences. It was like nothing I had ever experienced before.

It felt like the result of a confluence of several circumstances.

  • I was tired enough to slow down my mind typically very active thought process. Yet, I was not so exhausted that it was all I could focus on.
  • There were not too many distractions in that section of the trail (i.e. fantastic panoramic views, wildlife, waterfalls, etc.)
  • My mind was somewhat de-cluttered from having done no-news August and having spent three days without access to Wi-Fi

While people believe different things, I genuinely believe that I received messages from either God or some kind of guiding spirit and came away from it with an unexpected boost.

It also gave me that answer to a question that had been looming on my mind for years. There is no question that our modern technology and conveniences have made our lives better. People live longer, are healthier and have more free time and other fun experiences than they did before we had all of our modern technologies. Yet, some chose to forgo conveniences like running water, electricity and computers for periods of time to take part in activities like this one. Regardless of whether or not one believes God speaks to us through nature, taking a break from the modern world gives us the opportunity to connect with something we don’t typically connect to.