Category Archives: Road Trips

Peak to Peak Highway: The Perfect June Colorado Bike Ride

I started this ride just after 8 A.M. in Estes Park, Colorado, a town that has become so overrun with tourists due to Rocky Mountain National Park that they are now having visitors park at the visitor center and take a shuttle bus into town.

The town itself is surrounded by mountains still snow packed in the early part of June. Perhaps this residual snow at the highest peaks in the area is the reason this entire area would be less crowded than I had feared, and less crowded than it gets in July and August.

The first 8 miles of this 60 mile ride climb about 1700 feet (520 m), skirting by the Eastern and Southeastern edges of Rocky Mountain National Park.

There are even a couple entrance points to the park along the highway!

I liked the initial climb as a way to acclimate myself to the challenging ride and pace myself properly.

The ride as a whole does not have any flat sections. Some climbs and descents are long and others are short, but it’s always either up or down hill. The next part was mostly downhill, rolling through Allenspark and by one of the fastest sections of the highway (where I’d hit my top speed).

One of the things that makes this ride so close to perfect is the bicycle accommodations. With the exception of the first 8 mile climb out of Estes Park and another section of about 5 miles after Nederland, most of the highway has a shoulder so wide cyclists do not need to worry too much about interacting with traffic.

It is almost impossible to overstate how much this added to my enjoyment of this ride.

The entire ride is scenic in all directions. However, there are times when it is important to take a look back. The ride can be completed in either direction, from Estes to Blackhawk as I did or from Blackhawk to Estes. I decided to ride southbound, from Estes Park to Blackhawk to avoid afternoon crowds in Estes.

However, taking the ride in this direction did cause me to almost miss out on what turned out to be the best scenic overlook of the ride. Luckily, I stopped at the top of one of the many hills on the ride, this one about 20 miles in.

And decided to look back in the other direction, where those traveling in the northbound direction would be starting their approach towards Estes Park.

About 10 miles later and after another big hill climb, I would arrive at a tiny town called Ward.

It reminded me of a phrase I used to hear about smaller towns on road trips growing up, “You blink and you’ll miss it.” I remember sometimes being intrigued enough by such towns that I would follow along on the map and anticipate looking out the window at towns like these to avoid missing out on the momentary opportunity to see them. When traveling by bicycle, there is no danger of missing towns because I was reading, looking at my phone, or drifting off in thought.

The next ten miles would be a series of rapid descents into the town of Nederland.

Having been to Nederland before, I expected to find crowds. There were people out and about, but perhaps because some of the trails were not yet opened up due to snowpack, it was significantly less crowded than I had expected. One other advantage to riding this highway from North to South is that I arrived in Nederland, the best place to take a break for lunch, a little bit after noon with 2/3 of the ride behind me.

Then would come the next most challenging climb (after the first 8 miles) and the only other section of road without a shoulder.

The open road returned alongside a series of hill climbs interrupted by short descents.

Throughout the ride I was hardly thinking of anything else besides what was in front of me. It reminded me of the state of flow so many people have been talking about during these somewhat psychologically challenging times. Most people enter this state of flow when they understand the task at hand, are sufficiently challenged, have sufficient autonomy and avoid distractions. Flow is said to accelerate both progress and satisfaction and the quest to reach the state of flow is an important component in many coaching services.

There I was, rolling up more hills until I finally reached the top of my final ascent.

Before I knew it I was flying down the final five miles into Blackhawk completing the ride.

After everything annoying about the past year or so, I have been working hard to clear as much negativity from my mind as possible. Apparently, I am not alone, as studies show 80 percent of all thought are negative. Even on a couple of my more recent bike rides, I struggled to avoid negative thoughts. I found my mind drifting towards conflicts with people, frustrations with recent events and the state of the world and such. It amazed me that on this day none of these thoughts entered my mind. I was present. I did not even come out of this ride with some sort of lesson. Those realizations would come days later. Maybe this turned into some kind of five hour long meditation session in nature. Either way I wish to have more experiences like this one.

Northern Arizona 1000 Years Ago

When we think about remnants of ancient civilizations, we often think of places like Egypt, Greece or Italy. Athens, Cairo and Rome are certainly places people visit for the primary purpose of observing and learning about history. However, one thing I learned about travel, generally speaking, is that history is all around us. Evidence of historical events, both the human and natural kind, can be found almost everywhere, and sometimes in some unexpected places.

Wupatki National Monument sits about 30 miles north of Flagstaff and is easily accessible via U.S. highway 89. Those traveling through the area can visit the remnants of several abandoned pueblos, as well as sunset crater, the site of a volcanic eruption, on a convenient 36 mile scenic drive.

In the 11th, 12th and early 13th centuries, the region around the present day four corners was home to one of the most advanced civilizations in North America north of the Aztec Empire.

They had houses large and small.

They even had buildings that would serve the equivalent function to the larger buildings we have in urban areas today.

Recent evidence indicates that the population of the continent before Columbus’s arrival was likely much higher than we had originally thought. Before the pueblos were abandoned and subject to 700 years of weathering, these building were certainly more densely packed together than they appear today. Archeologists and historians are still debating why the settlements here and in other nearby places were just abandoned. It is likely that a combination of drought and over-hunting made the region no longer ideal for civilization at the time. Looking out upon them and imagining this past, it becomes possible to speculate about people’s lives at the time.

Some things were certainly different from our lives today. For example, they did not have the means to travel long distances, as horses would be introduced by the Spanish centuries later. So, there were few journeys or adventures. However, based on human nature, there was certainly the friendships, conflicts, drama, power struggles, rivalries, parties, shared experiences and accomplishments that go along with life in towns and cities.

There were definitely events, one of which is evidenced by Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument on the same scenic drive

Evidence points to this volcano erupting in the later half of the 11th century. The eruption was seen by Anasazi and Sinagua inhabitants of the region. They probably talked about it for years, possibly even the entire two-ish centuries between the eruption and their mysterious departure from the region.

The volcanic eruptions changed the landscape of the area in ways that can still be seen today. Slopes in the area still appear black from the ash that followed the eruption.

Scientists can identify the minerals deposited on the rocks in the area.

These minerals likely altered the manner in which the Anasazi and Sinagua people farmed the area when they lived in these pueblos.

I began to wonder what other records, knowledge and traditions were lost when these civilizations collapsed. Could they have had scientific knowledge that we will never benefit from? Did they have philosophical ideas worthy of our consideration? Is there a history we could be learning from?

Sometimes it feels like we fail to consider the history of a place before “our” involvement- before we arrived. What event constitutes “our” arrival is open to debate. Regardless, “our” involvement in the North American continent spans between 150 and just over 500 years out of a history that goes back at least 13,000. What happened on this continent before Columbus arrived certainly impacts our lives today.

Even if we talk about the course of events on the scale of our individual lives, the same bias often surfaces. We’ll move to a city and learn what highways jam up at what hours of the day, what restaurants to go to, etc. But, what about the city a few decades ago? There is often a reason, based on the migration of people, why the best Italian restaurants are in one neighborhood and the best Chinese ones are in another.

As I took a deep breath and gazed out into the open sky I thought about a phenomenon I had first thought of nearly 20 years ago. Right now, there is something happening, in another town, involving people I do not know yet, that will have a significant impact on my life. The same can be said for anyone else, including anyone reading this entry.

The Best of Southeast Utah

Monument Valley from 2 miles south

Monument Valley is the quintessential image associated with The American West. Perhaps because of how frequently it has appeared in films, particularly westerns, it is quite difficult to look at this grouping of red rock formations without imagining cowboys riding horses across the landscape.

Despite the fact that the natural processes associated with its formation are culturally agnostic, and the fact that the monument sits on the Navajo Indian Reservation, these rocks have become forever associated with the culture of the American West. The fact that the first music video that pops into my head when I think of Monument Valley is by a German Band, the Scorpions, does not even seem to temper that association. Every American hard rock song feels like it fits in perfectly with this landscape.

Speaking of the landscape, Monument Valley is one of those places with a command of the landscape for miles away. Particularly approaching from the north (or northeast as that is where the highways are), it can be seen from some 50 miles away.

The interesting thing about Monument Valley is how different it can appear on either side of the monument. In the afternoon, the north (northeast) side has a much different appearance than the view from the south, which represents the standard iconic view of the feature, with the sun shining on it.

How this specific iconic set of rocks became associate with 19th century American pioneers on horseback, and the enduring culture and ethos of the Interior American West is probably a challenging question to answer. Yet, it is most certainly the repetition of this association throughout culture and media that makes people living some half a century or more after all of these films were produced continue to feel a certain feeling when they gaze upon this monument. It is hard to imagine a better example of how repetition creates and perpetuates and association than this one. I am truly curious about what the Navajo Nation thinks of it.

The strange thing is that this association has lead me to think of gold prospectors, cowboys on horseback, shootouts and such at other places with a similar feel. Like most naturally occurring features, Monument Valley is not the only place where the natural processes that created these features occured.

The rock formations about 160 miles to the Northeast, outside of Moab, Utah, take on a very similar feel. It almost feels as if any movie or music video filmed at Monument Valley could have just as easily been filmed here to the same effect.

It would be a huge missed opportunity to visit Monument Valley without also visiting Goosenecks State Park, only about 30 miles away.

This is another spot that is photographed quite frequently. Unlike Monument Valley, it seems to have a stronger association with that which is current about the American West; tourism, outdoor adventures, and, of course, the search for the perfect instagram photo.

Visitors to the park can also see Monument Valley from a distance.

I had previously visited Arches National Park, traveling to the most iconic of the arches.

On that trip, I had failed to realize that just a half an hour south on highway 191, it is possible to see one of these arches without ever leaving the highway.

Like any other place in the West, Southeast Utah has places that are underrated, not trying to be noticed.

And places trying to get people to stop that don’t make much sense.

It’s unique natural features connect the past to the present, activate the imagination and provide experiences that are indicative of Western North America as a whole, yet unique to the specific location.

From Either-Or to Both-And

It feels good to be traveling again!

Here’s to more to come!

However, I must acknowledge that the middle of April is kind of a strange season to return to the world of traveling. It is not a very popular time to travel. Part of it is the school schedule nearly all families are subject to. Spring break is over and nobody finishes their school year before May. Mid-April is also a weird in-between season. In many active northern and high-altitude places, it is referred to as “mud season.” When people think of this time of year, they think of it as some abyss where conditions for activities on snow and ice deteriorate but the air has not warmed quite enough and the ground has not dried up enough for summertime adventures. I often specifically tell people not to come to Colorado in April because other months offer so much more.

And, thus, it is a great time to travel elsewhere.

It was the very first part of the first adventure in a new post-pandemic world. It was an opening act, a preview of what world we will all be re-emerging into. And, this drive from Denver to Moab (Utah) ended up providing some interesting hints as to how our thinking is being transformed.

Loveland, Copper Mountain, Vail and Beaver Creek ski resorts are so close to I-70 motorists can see people skiing from the highway. That is, if the ski resort is still open. Not only were all four ski resorts still open, but the all had plenty of people still skiing.

Two hours later, across the border and down the slope near Moab, it felt like a completely different season.

Kayaks, canoes, rafts- people are already in the water. Could it be that a time of year many people had come to associate with boredom and few opportunities actually presents a plethora of opportunities for those willing to expand their view?

For some specific points on the map, especially some of the highest rated ski resorts, this is a time of year with little opportunity. The snow is melting and the ski season is coming to an end.

However, people looking to ski this late in the year can often still find some good skiing at lesser known higher elevation resorts. At lower elevations, like Moab, the weather is already ideal for some activities associated with summer. In fact, this is one of the best times of year to head there, as the middle of summer often gets quite hot.

What is interesting to imagine is someone either choosing between hitting the slopes or getting their canoe out. Or, even doing both!

One of the most profound ways that our world is shifting is a move away from an either-or to a both-and method of thinking. It has the potential to help us clarify our goals, live more balanced lives and more effectively settle arguments. For example, either-or thinking has always lead me to believe that my desire for community and to preserve my individuality are at odds with each other. Both-and thinking would encourage those of us with the same two needs, which is nearly everybody in reality, to develop a solution that considers the two truths about human nature.

Finding solutions using this new both-and mindset requires creativity and widening our view. At one specific spot, it is either ski season or summer, and sometimes neither. If we expand our range to include Loveland Ski Area (base elevation 10,800 feet) and Moab (elevation 4,028 feet) it is currently both! Perhaps, with this new way of thinking, an an expansive and creative worldview, we will design communities that give people a sense of belonging without having to surrender their individuality. Perhaps, with both-and thinking, we will also make headway on all of the other tug-of-war issues that have been driving us apart.

Lessons Relearned on The West Elk Loop

It is quite easy to drive around the State of Colorado without even noticing the numerous scenic byways throughout the State. The signs are kind of easy to ignore. How certain roads get labelled scenic byways is somewhat of a mystery. There are plenty of extremely scenic places that are not designated a “scenic byway”, while there are some ares on the Plains, like highway 50 from Lamar to La Junta which are frankly not that scenic.

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I’ve never made a point to follow one of these routes. However, the weekend I camped in the Gunnison National Forest, I just happened to mostly follow the West Elk Loop.

The West Elk Loop is kind of a loop around the Gunnison National Forest, but there is also spur north along the Crystal River. This happens to be where my journey began.

We were not too far from Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. I had never gone too deep into the park, nor have I visited the North Rim. I wanted to go and hike the North Vista Trail to overlook the canyon. Unfortunately, like most National Parks, Black Canyon of the Gunnison is not very dog friendly.

But that wasn’t enough to deter me. I thought it would be possible to hike up to an overlook of the canyon from outside the park. The drive was two hours, through an area that would eventually become a hot desert.

I figured there would be someone in the tiny town of Paonia that could help me figure out a way to overlook the canyon with a dog.

 

All I heard was a story about a dog that was left at the bottom of the canyon four years ago, who, luckily was able to eventually find a home.

The road I had identified to hopefully find an overlook of the canyon was hot and way too bumpy for my car.

We eventually got to a place where we could overlook part of the canyon.

But it hardly felt worth it. The round about drive took up nearly the entire day, and defeated one of the key purposes of this trip- to escape the heat.

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The next day, we’d visit a much less well known part of the West Elk Loop, along a county road that connects Paonia State Park to Crested Butte, that happens to be closed in the winter.

The drive was beautiful from the very beginning. It was quiet and the road was nowhere near as bumpy I had feared based on the previous day’s drive and that little dashed line on the map.

Instead, it lead us to one of the most beautiful hikes we had ever been on, in the Lost Lake area.

The first place we encountered along the hike was Lost Lake, a picture perfect lake with mountains in the backdrop.

When I see this place, it feels like where I would want to have a little cabin in the woods. Having just driven down into 100 degree heat on a wild goose chase the day before, I was suddenly thinking a lot about weather and climate. Although I was escaping the heat this particular mid-July weekend, I still wondered how often people get to really enjoy the lakes that are this high in elevation (closer to 10000 ft.). How often is it really warm enough? Maybe, if I were to get a lake house, I’d actually want to be a little bit lower, at an elevation more like 7000 ft., where there are more warm days to enjoy it.

We continued on to Beckwith Pass, which was actually not too much of a climb. However, even at this elevation, it felt hot! The scene got more amazing as we followed the trail.

We could see the West Elk Mountains.

The Maroon Bells.

And, Mount Crested Butte.

The least well known part of the West Elk Loop turned out to be the most magnificent!

I could not believe I had wasted an entire day looking for this elusive trail to overlook the Black Canyon. I could not believe that I had fallen for the trap that so many fall for, being relentless about going to the most high profile destination despite all the other obstacle, including the National Park’s dog policy, and the relatively low elevations in the middle of a heat wave!

The strange thing is that this is a lesson I had already learned. Despite living in Denver, I rarely go to Rocky Mountain National Park, instead opting for the less busy areas around it that are often just as scenic. This Beckwith Pass hike was probably even better than the North Vista Trail would have been.

The lessons I (re)learned, on this hot July weekend in the mountains are

  • Don’t get too hung up on the most obvious, high profile things in life
  • Be curious, open minded and keep exploring
  • Work with what is in front of me

Imagine

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Imagine a place where empty beautiful highways wind through the mountains populated by more bicycles than cars. A place where the world moves at a pace that allows for the soaking in of the full experience of all of nature’s sights, sounds and smells. The highway curves over rolling hills and through canyons revealing something new around each bend.

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Never pressured, never stressed, filled with nothing but awe, inspiration and true intrinsic motivation, content individuals power their way up manageable slopes. They travel in a manner that is both true to themselves, each as unique individuals, as well as in coordination with the communities, both human and animal, surrounding them.

There is a destination, but the destination does not overshadow the journey.

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It is not a place so big, overshadowing and boastful that it leads to unrelenting anticipation among those who are in the process of getting there. It does not produce anxiety and shame among those whose progress does not meet some arbitrarily set standard. Rather, it is humble, blending in with the journey, one among many surprises that pop out around each and every curve along the highway.

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It is a place where everyone is exactly where they are supposed to be at that moment in time. Nobody has been made to feel insecure or fearful. It is a place that exists in real life but it is so much more than that.

For as much as this is a real place, it is also a place that exists within each of our minds.

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Most of what restricts us exists only within our own minds based on what we have seen, heard or been told. Within each and every one of us is a place where life is very much like this journey. We are all free to move at our own pace, without judgement. Life’s twists and turns reveal nothing but beautiful surprises. Authenticity and community can be found in everyone we encounter. The sky shines bright and we all shine bright as well. The source of life, embodied by flowing water, but actually originating from all the positive thoughts in our heads is never too far away.

The world has been twisted and rearranged in some crazy ways both by recent events and longer-term trends.

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Out of the wreckage something beautiful can be built, if nowhere else but in our imaginations. The time has come for all of us to create our own narratives. Mine is on a bicycle in the fullness of the wide open outdoors.

A Day Observing Natural Phenomenon

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It was never the most ideal setup for a storm chase. The convective environment was not too strong and the storms were poorly organized. It ended up being a fairly major day for severe thunderstorms with strong winds in the Southern Plains, as well as Upstate New York and parts of New England.

However, traveling about 90 miles to observe what did happen in Northeast Colorado would only cost me half a day. It was also my first chance to hit the open road since COVID-19.

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It turns out, a panoramic view of several different storms is beautiful and inspiring even if it isn’t damaging property!

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Maybe it was the relaxed pace life had taken over the past two months. Or maybe it was the amount of time we have all started spending in front of screens during this strange period. This storm chase felt less like a mission to get to the best storm possible. It took on kind of an artistic feel.

It is easy to imagine the lone barn in front of an approaching storm, or the seemingly abandoned tiny town of Last Chance, CO with storm clouds gathered all around it as a painting or large photo hanging on someone’s wall for decoration.

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I would later catch up with the one storm that did produce large hail, which I would had to quickly escape to avoid car damage.

After returning home, another storm would pass right over my house right around sunset.

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As a child, weather was the first thing I became deeply fascinated with. The cycles of the seasons and the way the atmosphere moves around transporting warmer, colder, wetter and drier air impacts everyone. On a day to day scale it can often decide what people are doing with their day. On a longer time scale, it impacts business, food supply and health.

My pursuit of meteorology as a career ended up being kind of a disappointment. What began as a desire to investigate and understand the atmosphere scientifically got lost in a sea of equations, coding, and later egos and corporate buzzwords. Observing the weather through a screen caused it to eventually lose its luster. Seeing powerful lightning up close and hearing the raw power of the thunder put me back in touch with why I love the weather so much.

That evening, after the storms passed through, I took a walk through City Park.

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The orange-y lights shining onto a wet sidewalk adjacent the a lakeshore made me feel as if I were in a different place. I imagined the lake, which is not too big in real life, was the shore of one of our Oceans or Great Lakes. I imagined the high rise apartments nearby to be vacation rentals and I imagined crowds of people once again flocking to the beach.

I couldn’t stop staring at how the lights of different colors were sparkling on the water, gradually shifting with the slow movement of the lake.

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I wonder why I had gone years not noticing things like the way the water makes the light twinkle. Are our lives that out of balance? Maybe recent obsessions with things like yoga, meditation, low carb diets and workout “boot camps” are just our attempts to get our lives back into balance, ways to push back against all these forces in our culture that have lead to unhealthy lives. 

I think about all the beautiful experiences we have with the natural world and wonder if we are obsessed with technology. Technology has undoubtedly made our lives better. Technology has made the whole concept of storm chasing possible. However, I am not convinced all technological developments have been beneficial. To me, there is far more beauty in the air and in the clouds. There’s beauty in the smiles we give one another, the relationships we form and the feelings we get from experiences. There is beauty in love and passion. There is even beauty in things often held in less regard, like causal sex (when consensual of course), some drug related experiences (when not taken to a destructive extreme) and anger when it is born out of the passion associated with fulfillment (when it doesn’t lead to violence of course). At least those things feel more meaningful than staring at screens all day to me now.

Unlike many other people who are old enough to remember a world before people could pull a device out of their pockets and look up whatever they want, I am not “wowed” by technology for technology’s sake. I’ve seen plenty of people impressed by the latest technology, often doing things like moving data around and producing charts.

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Charts like this one, as is the case with scientific investigation in general, mean nothing unless something is learned and something is done based on them.

Technology has the potential to help us work more efficiently, improve our health and even form communities. But, let’s not forget who is in the driver’s seat. Technology and computers are here to enhance our experiences with the world around us, not the other way around. Thank God we occasionally have these moments, where thunder claps louder than any of our devices or when wildlife interrupts our travels, to remind us.

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The Calm Before the Storm

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This is Guanella Pass, 11,700 feet (3570 m) above sea level on Wednesday October 9, 2019. It was a warm day, one that almost felt like mid-summer. As can be seen from the photograph, the region had yet to receive a significant snow. On that day, Denver International Airport would reach a high temperature of 83ºF (28ºC). Temperatures were quite pleasant at higher elevations.

However, change was on its way. These photos were taken only several hours before autumn’s fist meaningful push of cold air would arrive in Central Colorado. The next day would see temperatures across the entire region dip below freezing, and snow fall all the way down in Denver.

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Friday morning’s low would reach 9°F (-12°C) in Denver, representing a near record breaking temperature drop.

Thanks to weather models, forecasters saw this dramatic change coming. Most Coloradans were prepared.

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Yet, even without computer models to foresee the exact day and exact nature of these changes, it is pretty well understood, especially up in the Rockies, that at this time of year, sooner or later an event like this is bound to happen. This is why many high elevation animals gather food in the second half of the summer and why the tree leaves change colors in the autumn.

Luckily, it was a Wednesday. So, the roads people usually take to go “leaf peeping” weren’t nearly as crowded as they are on weekends.

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Guanella Pass is amazing in autumn. Being only 50 miles from Denver, it is typically far more crowded on weekends at this time of year.

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I often get carried away with getting to that perfect location, many miles out of the way where the image, the sounds, smells and conditions are perfect!

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However, that day I noticed that it is quite possible to see some spectacular fall colors without even leaving the main roads. I saw bright gold trees along both Interstate 70 and U.S. Highway 285!

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Few places captured the essence of life in the mountains in Autumn better than Georgetown, which is right along I-70.

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It was strange to gaze upon the Aspen trees knowing that in less than 12 hours, due to wind and snow, most of the leaves would be gone, and the landscape was about to fundamentally be changed.

Storms are part of the nature of life, not just with respect to weather and seasons. It is the first time we have a crush, and soon after the first time we get our hearts broken. It is the conflicts we have with our family, close friends and significant others. It is that person we just don’t get along with. It is losing a job, getting in an unexpected accident, or even just having a week’s worth of bad luck.

It’s facing our fears, which is what Halloween is really all about.

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In October, the days get darker and chillier, foreshadowing winter, often the most dreaded of the seasons. It is no coincidence that this is the time of year we celebrate all that is spooky; carving spooky designs into pumpkins, dressing in scary costumes and watching scary movies.

Some of life’s “storms” come unexpectedly. However, some are at least somewhat predictable, like the changing of the seasons or a coming breakup. How we respond differs quite a bit from person to person. There are those that prepare, those that embrace, those that deny and those that simply try to weather it as best as possible.

Maybe the same is true of these Aspen trees up in the mountains.

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It was hard for me to imagine why some trees at 9,000 feet (2750m) in elevation would still have green leaves on October 9th. They seemed less prepared. However, maybe they are just enjoying this calm before the storm a bit longer. I can’t say I had not done the same at various points in my life.

The key to facing the storms of our lives is to build up resiliency and self-confidence. This is part of what facing our fears is all about. Once our fears have been faced, we are prepared to have that awkward conversation where we must tell people what they don’t want to hear. We are ready to assert ourselves to obtain what we really want out of life. And, we are ready to deal with setbacks without falling apart.

The confidence not to panic gives us the capacity to enjoy “the calm before the storm” to its fullest extent.

 

The Great Ocean Road Day 3: Final Day

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The iconic 12 apostles is not the only intriguing coastal rock structure in the Port Campbell area. Continuing westward along the Great Ocean Road for the next several kilometers, spectacular oceanic limestone rock structures continue to appear.

First there’s The Arch, the only place I have ever seen a mini waterfall in an ocean.

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Then there is London Bridge. The name London Bridge was given to this structure back when it was attached to the mainland. In 2005, London Bridge literally fell down, due to waves and erosion.

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The South Ocean is quite turbulent. Everywhere along the Great Ocean Road, particularly in winter, there is a steady barrage of strong waves. There is a reason so many shipwrecks occurred here. As a result, this section of the coast is in a constant state of change. Watching the waves come onshore inundating the limestone rock, gradually eroding it and paving the way for the next structural change, is like watching science in action.

At the grotto, visitors can walk down to an arch-like structure where waves periodically crash in.

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Some of the larger waves can lead to mist on the other side of the arch.

After these structures, the Great Ocean Road once again ventures inland, transitioning to farmland.

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It would make sense that the Allansford Cheese World is in an area surrounded by farms, right near the end point of The Great Ocean Road.

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The Allansford Cheese World produces far more varieties of cheddar than I ever would have thought to be possible. I had always thought of cheddar as one of many types of cheese, which would include Swiss, Pepperjack, Havarti, etc. Visitors to the Allansford Cheese World can sample a dozen different types of cheddar, some of which are really innovative.

It was here I noticed myself slipping back into an American-like stand-offishness when it comes to dealing with people. For the entire trip, I felt Australians to be generally more friendly than Americans. In conversations with Australians, I did not experience the need for the conversation to provide some kind of value, or the assumption that everyone was in a rush to get to their next activity that is characteristic of many conversations I have with Americans. On my final day on the Great Ocean Road, as if trained by years of cultural experience I found myself starting to engage in conversation without being fully engaged, with the time and my next activity on my mind. I could not believe I was doing this.

Although the Great Ocean Road ends here, but most tourists continue on, at least to the town of Warrnambool, where visitors can supposedly see whales. A 30 minute visit to the pier, where one sign promised us “A Whale of a Time”, turned out to be a bust.

I guess there is a danger in trying to fit an activity like this, dependent on complicated natural forces and animal behavior, into any kind of schedule. However, I wanted to continue west, to the Tower Hill Nature preserve, a set of volcanic lakes where koalas often hang out. It would be a shame to visit Australia and not see at least one of those, and at this time of year daylight in Australia is limited.

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I made a major mistake here as well. Based on our life experiences, we often internalize assumptions and operate based on them without thinking. Being from Colorado, I have a base assumption that all “hikes” involve a climb, to some sort of peak or cool looking overlook.

After two such hikes, in hopes of seeing koalas, an employee at the visitor information center informed us that koalas need trees with moisture and would likely be found down by the lakes. This walk needed to be flat, not up a big hill.

For some reason, despite their actual demeanor, koalas feel like a picture of innocence. A small, furry, cuddly creature constantly hanging onto a tree and sleeping 20 hours per day. I actually wanted to pet them.

Port Fairy would be our final destination.

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We’d have one last adventure here, a short walk onto Griffiths Island.

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Where we would have one final wildlife encounter, fairly up close with the wallabies!

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A trip that many would consider “once in a lifetime” was coming to an end. I sat on a rock gazing out at the Ocean as the sun gradually faded behind me. It felt like a real life version of the fade outs often used at the end of movies and videos. Looking straight outward, I was amazed at how vast the Ocean is. I began to imagine what is on the other side, pondering more adventures. Uncertain as to the exact direction I was facing, I imagined multiple possibilities of what laid straight in front of me.

I imagined the jungles of Madagascar, with monkeys and other forms of wildlife roaming around in the trees and a lone explorer with a knife trying to trudge through the trees and mud.

I imagined the vast expansive ice sheets of Antarctica.

I imagined the far more nearby mountains of Tasmania, quiet for the winter season, but coming to life with young adult hikers and adventurers in the Springtime.

Despite the fact that my adventure would slowly be ending, the reflection of the orange light on the ocean surface felt like an invitation and promise of more to come.

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The Great Ocean Road Day 2: The Twelve Apostles

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Just like that the weather turned. A couple of hours after the sun went down After our first day on the Great Ocean Road, the wind started howling and the rain started falling. It was weird to be on top of a van while a storm was coming through. At first I was scared that the van would tip over, but I reminded myself of the amount of wind needed to actually do that, at least 85 miles per hour (135 km/hour). As much as I lament the amount of places in the world, particularly at work, where emotions are expected to ignored, it is still great to overcome an irrational fear with knowledge and logic.

I was surprised to awaken and find that I had slept in, until about 8:30 A.M. Given how early I had gone to sleep, due to the sun setting at 5:10 P.M., this meant that I had slept nearly 11 hours! While I had hoped to get an earlier start that day, I could not believe how refreshed I felt. Lately it feels like there are multiple competing theories about sleep, in particular related to whether or not lost sleep can be made up for. Based on my experiences, it feels like it can. The experience reminded me of coming home from college and immediately sleeping 12 hours at my parents house after stressing out about finals and final projects for weeks (as well as living in the dorms). After sleeping 11 hours, for the first time in what feels like years, I did not feel any sleepiness or need for caffeine!

No matter how much people plan, changes in weather create the need for some adjustments. The wind and rain made it feel not exactly pleasant outside. The beaches, as well as some of the walking trails, were empty that day. The town of Apollo Bay is bigger than Torquay and Lorne, and where the Great Ocean Walk, a 104 km trail that leads to the Twelve Apostles, begins.

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About 3 km West of Apollo Bay, is the first place along the Great Ocean Road, nearly halfway through the drive, deviates from the coastline.

Map of Great Ocean Road

Even here, the ocean is still always kind of in sight, but the inland traverse into the hills provides some variety in the scenery.

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It is this section of the coast, near Cape Otway, conditions felt at their windiest. Sort of like a peninsula jutting out into the Southern Ocean, the area is often referred to as “shipwreck coast”. 19th Century historical events here include a number of documented shipwrecks, but also the construction of the Cape Otway Lighthouse, Australia’s oldest. This lighthouse established the first connection between mainland Australia and the island of Tasmania, via both shipping routes and telegraph messages.

In the afternoon the rain stopped, but the wind continued to howl. The sun even gradually started to return. However, the cold wind straight off the coast would still make it a less than pleasant day for any kind of long walks or hikes. It ended up, however, becoming the perfect conditions for a once in a lifetime experience. A helicopter ride over one of Australia’s most iconic destinations; The Twelve Apostles.

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At AUS $145 ($110 US) per person, the cost of this epic journey is quite reasonable! The ride itself lasts about 15 minutes, and quickly soars over some iconic images, including The Great Ocean Road.

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Of course, the Twelve Apostles.

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And, many of the similar limestone structures further West.

While the helicopter ride provided an arial view of these beautiful oceanside structures, the Gibson Steps, located just a couple of kilometers to the East of the Twelve Apostles, provides a view at beach level.

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The Gibson Steps are exactly what one would expect, a staircase that leads down from the overlooking cliffs to the beach. Walking down and up the steps requires being outside for only about 10 minutes, so the less than pleasant weather was not too much of a factor.

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We camped that evening in Port Campbell, a town of barely 600 permanent full time residents with a beautiful beachfront. In the summer, this place is a lot more crowded. In the winter, it was quite empty.

This was the evening that having traveled to the Southern Hemisphere in June messed with my mind the most. Port Campbell in winter has a clasic quiet small town feel. The Main Street bar with a faded neon light outside it. The three block stretch of lit roads surrounded by darkness in all directions. The quiet street with a few people walking around but most inside the restaurants or their own homes.

We are accustomed to the relatively gradual changes in daylight patterns as the seasons progress. Even in periods like April and October, the amount of daylight, at most changes by a couple of minutes each day. Having experienced the daylight expansion in the Northern Hemisphere from April to June, I’d inured to sunset being sometime around 8 P.M. and complete darkness onsetting closer to 9. Being in complete darkness in a quiet small town made 6:30 P.M. feel almost like 10. Without seeing too many people out and about, it is easy to feel like we had arrived at everyone’s bad time.