Category Archives: Scientific Phenomenon

Mingus Mountain: A 3500 foot climb in Arizona

A view of Mingus Mountain from the edge of Clarkdale, Arizona

My day did not start out well. It may have been poorly planned. To train for Ride The Rockies 2021, a very challenging organized bike ride in mid-June, I decided to travel to Arizona in April where the weather would be more hospitable for mountainous bike rides. I looked at lists of Arizona’s top bike rides and determined that Mingus Mountain should be on my itinerary. However, upon looking at the specifics of the Mingus Mountain loop, I decided to shy away from a ride that would involve cycling on the interstate.

Instead, I came up with a plan that turned out to be unrealistic. I would park in Prescott and bike from Prescott to Sedona (and then back). I figured I wanted to push myself, and this long ride would enable me to see all of Central Arizona’s top spots in one day! I would start the day at beautiful Watson Lake.

Almost immediately I encountered problems. Highway 89-A is busy, and in parts of Prescott it is a limited access road much like an interstate highway. The alternate road I planned to bike on turned out to be closed.

Determined to find a way to continue with my original plan, I spent about an hour pedaling through neighborhoods under construction only to continuously be re-routed by dead ends and roads that were either closed or still in the process of being built. I ended up in a spot where the only reasonable course of action would be to follow an unpaved trail back to my vehicle.

First, i figured I would just drive around 15 miles down the highway, find a place to park and continue on my path. However, the road continued to be heavily trafficked without a shoulder to accommodate bicycles.

Also, this parking spot that I had just imagined to exist never actually materialized. Before I knew it, I was driving over Mingus Mountain.

So, I figured I would drive to Sedona and pedal up the mountain from the East side. Then, I encountered Clarkdale and Cottonwood. Riding through these towns, would have involved five or six miles, both ways, of riding on suburban feeling sidewalks.

My “plan” was never a good one. It involved too many assumptions about things I failed to fully research, including parking, bicycle accommodations, etc. Doing this due diligence is a lesson I had learned but somehow forgotten during the pandemic. How frequently lessons have to be re-learned can be one of the most frustrating occurrences in life. A “re-lapse” is not just a drug addict that starts using again. Unfortunately, it’s all too common for people who had improved things like their habits and mindset to slip back into their old patterns that were not serving them well.

I was fortunate enough to find a tourist information center.

Where I was told I could park at the gas station on the far West end of town to ride my bike up Mingus Mountain.

The ride itself is beautiful right from the start, and, although I had a delay I was doing exactly what I had come to Arizona to do, ride my bike up big hills in nice weather.

Clarkdale sits at only 3545 feet (1080 m) in elevation. So, it is already a significant climb just to get to the ghost town of Jerome.

Jerome is a unique spot! Like many ghost towns of the West, it boomed in the late 19th Century due to mining (copper) and then went bust.

However, unlike other ghost towns, it is now a popular tourist destination with a lot of visitors.

Evidence of its past, as a lawless “old west” town can be seen everywhere.

Sitting on the side of a cliff, it also takes on the feel of a Mediterranean town.

Pedaling uphill through Jerome ended up being one of the hardest parts of the entire climb!

A scenic overlook a half a mile up the road from Jerome

Above Jerome the climb continued to be intense, but the amount of cars drops off significantly making for a quieter ride.

One thing I would grow to love about Arizona’s highway system throughout the week was their elevation signs. Their highways commonly have signs denoting the 1000 foot increments in elevation, providing a fantastic reference point!

The highest 1000 feet (300 m) of the climb was stunning. The panoramic views provided an almost instant reward for level of muscle exhaustion I was experiencing.

This is perhaps why I love cycling so much. When it comes to physical exercise, it is quite rare to be so immersed in the core motivating factor for the hard work, exhaustion and pain. Typically during workouts people remind themselves they are building endurance, improving their health, losing weight, etc. to keep their motivation. Here in the mountains on my bicycle, all I needed to do was continue to look all around me, feel and smell the fresh air and I knew exactly why I was willing to endure so much.

It is always exciting to reach the top of a climb. Seeing the signs and the road turn downwards for the first time in over an hour is a sweet feeling that one must experience to truly understand.

It is a great place to rest and enjoy the beauty of the place I had worked so hard to get to.

As is the case with all other components of our lives, it is crucial to savor moments like these, enjoy them while they are happening. It would have been a huge disservice to myself, as well as the natural environment around me to dwell on my prior setbacks. After all, the world is in a constant state of flux. We never know what experiences will no longer be available to return to.

Yes, that day I actually saw the forest rangers update the fire risk to high on the grounds that the humidity was 8%.

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 Search for the Most Ideal Conditions

The lift lines at the ski resorts were so long that images of them made the rounds on social media, and the news even reported on how long these lines were. They were the longest lift lines I ever waited in. And, I was at Vail, a resort where lines tend not to be too long, as skiers have so many places to go!

What happened? And, what does it mean for the near future?

With restrictions related to COVID-19 being in place in one form or another for close to a year, there is a lot of pent-up energy all around us. Even some of the most introverted people are at the point where they are craving a return to many of the activities that we all, in one way or another, took for granted before the pandemic hit. Outdoor activities like skiing have been identified as relatively safer, when it comes to potentially spreading the virus, than large indoor gatherings.

Also, the snow season got off to a slow start. Before the national and local groundhogs predicted six more weeks of winter, the snowpacks in the mountains were running close to 30% behind seasonal averages.

It appears right now that the groundhogs turned out to be correct. In some places, several feet of snow would fall during the first week of February. This would inevitably lead to many “powder chasers” coming to the ski resorts. For those that love fresh powder, Thursday and Saturday would represent the most ideal conditions possible.

The problem with the most ideal conditions is that they also commonly lead to crowds. This is especially true on weekends. Since the predominant work schedule is still Monday through Friday, for many, having an event occur on a weekend makes the conditions even more ideal. Never will there be a day with bigger crowds at a ski resort than a powder day that happens to occur on a Saturday.

Oh, if life in general were just about finding the most ideal setup for anything, how much simpler it would be. Unfortunately, in nearly all areas of life ideal setups lead to some form of crowds.

Found the best job opportunity ever? Good luck with the 500 other applicants.

Look at that amazing house in a great neighborhood of a really trendy city! I wonder how long it is on the market and how much over asking price you will have to offer (this is really happening in Denver right now).

Unless you are a serious iconoclast it is also likely that at some point the person you wanted to date had several other suiters and the events you want to go to require tickets or a cover charge to get in.

Sometimes, the best way to find the ideal opportunity in all areas of life is to find the one where there is something off, but something you can live with.

Groundhog Day itself was a Tuesday. Despite really warm weather, conditions on all the trails in the area weren’t perfect. But, it still was a fantastic day for a bike ride.

By Sunday, the snow was a little bit less fresh.

Yet, the newer snow still made for some great conditions. Also, the sunshine made for a fantastic experience.

It also happened to be Super Bowl Sunday. In the right place, at Beaver Creek Resort, the lines were significantly better.

There are very few situations in life where we can have it all. Usually, we have to chose what is most important to us. The key to finding the right experience is much like the key to finding the right opportunity. It is to figure out what less than ideal conditions we can live with, whether it be an investment that is somewhat “risky”, a few icy spots on a bike trail or a job that requires the occasional late night to meet a deadline, and take advantage of those opportunities.

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.

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?