Category Archives: weather

Backpacking in Northern Colorado’s Rawah Wilderness Day 2: Lakes and Moose

Day 2 was the day I was not necessarily looking forward to. Weather predictions indicated a strong possibility that conditions will be cold and rainy for much of the day. When it comes to outdoor activities, conditions matter. What is fun and pleasant one day can be unpleasant another. This is part of the reason it is hard for outdoor enthusiasts not to obsess over the weather.

The morning was a tease. About half an hour after the sunrise, the fog that had spread across the area the prior afternoon appeared to be dissipating.

Only for it to return.

Leaving the campsite was like stepping into the unknown. In the wilderness, there is no access to weather reports. With how much the weather can vary from place to place, from minute to minute in areas with this type of terrain, there was no way to know how this day would play out. There’s little choice but to embrace the unknown.

These trips always seem to bring up thoughts of the past. Of a time when it was much harder to know what to expect. Of a time when there was no internet, no television. A time when the morning newspaper, or some other form of transmitted information was the only information anyone would have to go about their days. This was a time when embracing the unknown was the only option.

Often, the only way to embrace the unknown safely is to be knowledgable and prepared. We knew not to get too close to the moose we saw only about a mile into the hike, also wandering through the fog.

As we climbed, up towards tree line, towards a pass known as Grassy Pass, we actually walked away from the fog.

For the entirety of the morning, it was likely that the valley where we had camped the previous night was still in thick fog.

When we reached the pass that whose natural features were consistent with its name around 10 A.M., it suddenly appeared as if our time in the fog was actually done.

Anyone who spends a lot of time in the mountains knows how much the weather can vary from place to place due to the complexities of the terrain. But, how often do we see it right in front of us? One side of this pass was still engulfed in fog while the other was basking in sunshine.

Places like this are some of the last places where we can truly embrace something quite human. Here, there is no way to know exactly what to expect.

To know what is going to happen at a specific spot, given the wind direction and every small-scale geographic and terrain feature is pretty much impossible. Each cloud represents a small scale current of wind, a moisture profile and subtle differences in the land with so many components it becomes more of a headache than it is worth to try to determine how every minute of every hour is to play out.

In a world where so many lives have become orderly and predictable, trips like this force us to embrace variety and surprise. They force us to release control. Perhaps, after decades of chasing after inventions and policies designed to enable us to track every development, predict and control outcomes, this is exactly what the world needs.

The defining feature of this section of the trip was alpine lakes.

We passed several of them as we descended into another valley, some close, some far away.

We set up camp at Lower Camp Lake.

And hiked up to Upper Camp Lake.

By the way, when backpacking, one of the greatest feelings is setting down your pack and hiking with nothing on your back. Backpacks weight quite a bit and it is a relief just to walk, or exist in general, without all that additional weight.

That afternoon I was back at the camp site, looking at trees full of pine cones and incorrectly speculating that there were families of birds in them.

In this moment, it suddenly dawned on me that the weather I had been experiencing all afternoon, along the Rawah and Camp creeks, at elevations of around 10,800 ft. (3300 m), was very likely better than the weather back in Denver. The sun was shining and the temperatures were actually quite pleasant. It felt like it was around 60°F (15°C), likely warmer than what was occurring in Denver. Out of the embrace of uncertainty can come some truly beautiful experiences. Sometimes things can work out for the best even when it feels like they might not.

That evening would end with another moose sighting.

Followed by a full moon whose light reflected along the lake.

A chill came into the air as the sun went down, but we still laughed. Some of the laughter was indeed at my expense for thinking that all those pine cones in that one tree were actually birds. Still, the laughter, shared experiences and embracing uncertainty made this experience truly human.

Backpacking in Northern Colorado’s Rawah Wilderness Day 1: Bracing for the Weather

The weather does not always cooperate. It does not always work out the way we hope it will to optimize our experiences. On the two days prior to this backpacking trip, the temperature reached 99°F (38°C) in Denver. During heat waves like this one, it is desirable to get up into the mountains.

However, the evening before the trip, a cold front came through, cooling temperatures at all elevations, and making the weather conditions a bit more variable in the mountains.

For the best possible combination of weather experiences, it would have been ideal for the heat wave to have lined up with the period of time we had already set aside for the trip, as opposed to the week before it. However, we can’t always get things like this to line up exactly with how we want them to. As long as we live in a world where we keep schedules and plan activities like this one around our other responsibilities (as opposed to just responding to conditions last minute) we will always have to contend with situations where things don’t line up as we had hoped.

The weather conditions were not even hazardous. It was actually pretty nice most of the day.

It was just not the ideal setup for us to have experienced a maximum amount of comfortable temperatures, something not worth getting too upset about. As has been the case with other backpacking trips, we were in a beautiful environment.

On this first day of the trip, while ascending along the West Branch trail, we unexpectedly encountered some large hoofed mammals, traveling alongside the few other hikers we encountered along the journey.

The Rawah wilderness is in the far northern part of Colorado. It’s part of the Southern Unit of the Medicine Bow- Routt National Forest. The northern part of this National Forest is in Wyoming.

The trail network here is generally well marked, which is reassuring on trips like these where going the wrong way can lead to some bad results.

After several miles on the West Branch Trail, we turned onto the Rawah Trail, to follow our loop. The trail began to ascend even faster.

When backpacking in this general region of the country, it is quite common for the first day to be the most challenging. Through the course of the day, we would climb a total of around 2,500 feet (760m). While climbing, we would first encounter a waterfall.

And finally got to where the surrounding mountain peaks began to appear.

Hikes in this region (Rocky Mountain National Park is actually only about 25 miles away) are generally full of alpine lakes. This one is no exception. Our final destination for the day was Twin Crater Lakes, two amazing alpine lakes tucked away in the mountains.

At this point the weather was actually close to perfect making for a pleasant afternoon.

We set up camp at a beautiful site in the trees about 3/4 of a mile down the creek from the lakes.

Overall, the day was relatively balanced. We hiked a total of about 9 miles (14.3 km), but were able to set up have camp set up by mid afternoon.

This gave us the time we needed to do the typical camping activities like set up a fire, pump water from the stream and cook dinner before dark without having to feel in a hurry in any way. It also balanced out the day a bit, giving us time to just hand out and be in nature.

My thoughts also felt quite balanced, possibly as balanced as they had been for a long time. I am guessing this is due to a combination of being away from the constant distractions of every day life, not being rushed, having the hike be exhausting but not too exhausting and recently reducing my exposure to news and certain topics that were making me unhappy.

Then, around 4 pm, the weather turned. Suddenly the forest looked like a spooky meadow where anything and everything could emerge from and vanish into the trees, much like the baseball players in A Field of Dreams. This was especially true as day gradually descended into night.

It was damp. None of us knew if it was going to rain. Thinking about the potentially unpleasant conditions brought back a feeling that I tend to get on many of these types of trips. It reminds me to appreciate the shelter we often take for granted, our homes with heating and air conditioning. It’s only relatively recently in the course of human existence we have had this. For almost all of the history of humanity, how comfortable we felt, and how challenging life was depended so much more on things like weather conditions and the cycles of the sun and moon. While it does not sound fun to go back to a world where we have to work harder to meet our basic necessities, sometimes I wish more of us could live our lives in manners that are more connected to these things.

Making the Right Decisions

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

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

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

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

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

We saw a few dust devils.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Less Than Ideal

At Keystone Ski Resort February 15th, 2022

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

However, reality often does not match expectations.

Along highway 285, Feb. 27, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When the Next Season is Late to Arrive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We hiked

We saw some places appear in a totally different light

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

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

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

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

One Year After the Fire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ride the Rockies Day 2: Durango to Cortez

Day 2 would be a day of adjustments and surprises. The day started with a pretty significant hill climb.

Continuing the theme from day 1, much of this ride went through some very unpopulated areas. The only thing I remember about the towns of Breen and Klein were a fairly long descent and an aid station in a high school parking lot. This was followed by a gradual 17-mile climb on a dirt road.

I was somewhat confused as to why this ride incorporated some dirt road sections. Van supported rides tend to attract a lot of riders who like to ride fast. Apparently, cycling on dirt is a trend of some sorts. As someone who likes to determine for myself what to do, listen to and wear, trends have never interested me too much. However, I can see the appeal in some ways. On the transition from pavement to dirt, one cyclist announced that he was glad to finally be in a place where there would be little vehicular traffic and that he had become tired of riding on highways. I had felt the roads we were riding on were plenty quiet, but I have always lived in and around cities and know that experience is informing my perspective

Along this dirt road local ranchers came out to give us lemonade!

After talking briefly with the ranchers, I found myself wondering what life was like in a place like this. They are six miles from any paved road, ten miles from the nearest town, and thirty miles from Durango, the closest town of significant size. It must be so much different than anything I have ever known.

I feel bad because in the past I had cast judgement on life in rural areas as boring. Other metropolitan people can be harsher. While this is not likely the life I would prefer, we should all have the option to have the life we want. Being able to accept people having different preferences without feeling insecure about it is a sign of maturity.

Travel opens our minds to new perspectives. It makes us realize that the way we do things is not the only way. It gives us things to think about. Maybe these ranchers in the middle of nowhere have happier lives. Maybe they have better communities. Maybe, in a place like this, it is much easier to just enjoy activities like having a friendly conversation, reading a book or watching a movie without always worrying about what else is going on.

As the ride continued uphill on this dirt road, I found myself continuing to adjust to my surroundings. It grew hot and the next aid station had very little shade.

The people I was riding with represented a different type of crowd than the ones I typical find myself in. Mostly veterans of cycling trips of this type, many of them are accustomed to having better aid stations. I heard some grumbling.

Also, the crowd was significantly older than I had expected for a ride this intense. At this aid station, my first instinct was to joke that the aid station “throws as much shade as an episode of Mr. Rodgers.” I stopped as I suddenly realized that this joke would only appeal to a very narrow age range of people old enough to remember the children’s show that ended just after the turn of the century but young enough to appreciate the comparison between the literal and slang definition of the phrase “throwing shade”. The joke would not have landed.

After the dirt road segment, the route turned onto U.S. highway 160, an extremely busy road for a two mile intense climb to the top of Mancos Hill. This road was busy with both cyclists and cars!

Getting to the top was a little scary, as cyclists were commonly passing one another, requiring them to get closer to the vehicular traffic. Maybe the guy who was excited about the dirt road section had a point! He must have been less than thrilled on this part of the ride.

Somewhere on this climb, my body started hurting. Generally speaking, our lives in the early 21st century are quite sedentary. Most of our jobs involve sitting in front of a computer all day. In their spare time, many people chose to watch TV, read, or spend it in front of a different computer! Going from this to riding 70 miles a day on a bicycle is a transition for our bodies which is going to cause some pain. Whenever on a multi-day trip where the pain sets in I can’t help but lament how sedentary our lives are and how many people chose lives that are far more sedentary than mine.

We descended into Mancos, a town I had visited and stayed at years ago to visit Mesa Verde National Park.

I’d get a chance to visit the local bakery which had a message I could not help but get behind.

Mancos is the perfect kind of town for cycling trips to pass through. It’s big enough to have interesting places to stop but doesn’t slow the ride down too much.

While I was eating my sandwich, it got even hotter! We rode right by Mesa Verde National Park along highway 160.

The combination of prolonged physical exertion with hot, dry and windy conditions lead to salt slipping into my eyes. I was having some trouble seeing until luckily I was able to stop and get sprayed in the face with a hose.

By the time I arrived in Cortez it was 96°F (36°C).

The ride ended with burgers and music in a park where we all stayed in the shade.

Ride The Rockies Day 1: The Durango Loop

When I first got interested in cycling long distances I would never have imagined something like this existed. I thought it was too obscure of an interest. In High School, I recall enjoying using a very basic bicycle to go to friends houses, stores, restaurants and movie theaters. Then I thought it would be neat to travel from town to town by bicycle, go further and visit interesting places. As a map enthusiast, I was motivated by looking at a map and seeing the distance I could cover by bicycle.

Now, I find myself in an organized bike ride with over 2,000 other cyclists.

They talk about the same things. Places they had traveled by bicycle. Which “climbs” are the most challenging. Experiences like foul weather and flat tires, the kinds of things only people who have traveled by bicycle can relate to.

Unlike any other bike tour I had been on, this one was organized. Each day had an official start and end point. Aid stations were set up to provide cyclists with food, water and restrooms. Routes were planned and signed and there was a headquarters in each town where the rides began and ended every day.

The six day ride would also be the biggest challenge I had ever taken on when it comes to cycling. The official route was 418 miles with over 28,000 feet of climbing. However, there were many options along the route for people to shorten their ride. Day 5 was completely optional.

One thing I realized about cycling a long time ago is that it is a very individualized activity. Everyone rides at their own pace and has their own style. Some are in it for the speed, to achieve the fastest time possible. Others are more about the scenery and the experience. Some prefer to take frequent breaks, while others are more slow and steady.

Throughout the week, I would regularly encounter cyclists that I would pass on the highway repeatedly, as I would move at a faster pace but stop more frequently to take photos or just get my butt off the seat for a while. I also tend to be faster going downhill but am a slow climber. I encountered some cyclists that would pass me going uphill but I would pass on the descent.

Events like these cater to each person’s individual styles. There is no one start and finish time. There is a range of times. Even then, many cyclists leave outside that range. On day 1, the “rolling start” was from 7 to 9 A.M. Yet, probably due to the anticipated heat, I saw many cyclists leave before 7. Before the ride I signed up for “waves”, indicating my departure time each day. I forgot what “waves” I had signed up for and it did not seem to matter too much. I just left when I was ready.

Riding in the Rocky Mountains is challenging because you are pretty much always either going up or down a hill.

The hills on day 1 were relatively gentle. It took me 18 miles to get to my first climb. This part of the ride entered the Southern Ute Indian Reservation, and at about the halfway point I found myself in the tiny town of Ignacio.

The roads here were nice and it was interesting to encounter far more bicycles than cars for pretty much the entire route.

The town of Bayfield, where we left the Southern Ute land was also quite small. It was here I realized that these large cycling events have different implications than the self organized cycling I typically do. When biking alone or with a few other people, it’s advantageous to find towns with amenities like gas stations and restaurants to stay fed and hydrated. On this tour, the organized ride just needed to set up aid stations in large parking lots. It changes the dynamics and potentially alters which routes are possible and which places can be explored.

After Bayfield there was a climb that got intense for a brief period.

Still, on this day I did not feel as if I was in the thick of the Rocky Mountains. It felt more like rolling hills with the mountains off on the distant horizon.

The day ended with a major descent back into Durango and some pretty uncomfortable heat.

I ended the day feeling decent, but knowing that the hardest parts were still to come.

The Last Week of the Off-Season in Summit County, Colorado

Keystone Village Ice Rink three days before Memorial Day Weekend 2021

Somewhere along the line, a holiday set aside to remember those who had died serving in the U.S. military became the “unofficial start of summer”. This year the holiday also happens to coincide with many places lifting restrictions related to COVID-19, as a significant proportion of Americans have been vaccinated and case numbers have declined. In 2021, the contrast between Spring and Summer promises to be far greater than in any other year. It is a contrast between a “socially distanced” offseason and a fully re-open summer that unofficially began Memorial Day Weekend. The week before Memorial Day literally felt like the calm before the storm.

I spent most of the week riding my bike around the area. It felt like the last time in quite a while that these trails (the Summit County’s bike trail system) would be so quiet.

The weather was quite nice, although a bit chilly in the mornings. Yet, since it was still technically off-season, the crowds had not yet arrived.

Downtown Frisco Tuesday May 25th

Each season in the mountains is unique and as Spring transitions into summer, the sun is bright, but mountain tops still have a lot of snow on top of them. The middle part of a sunny day in May or Early June may be the brightest the area ever feels.

There are so many places of natural beauty and so many stretches of trail, throughout the county, where one can just be alone with their thoughts.

It’s hard not to feel spiritually refreshed after several days of cycling around the area.

The way the world is currently set up, cycling is by far the best way for me to process my thoughts. Almost anywhere else I find myself, there is the temptation to look at my phone or engage with some other distraction. Cycling, I need to have both hands on my handlebars. Therefore, there is a lot of value in riding long distances. It is on these rides that I process through life developments and often come up with ideas.

Wednesday was quite possibly the most significant day of this trip. The day started with the Super Flower Blood Moon, a lunar eclipse visible just after 5 A.M. It was visible for a while but then the moon slid behind the clouds as the sky started to brighten up. From a spiritual standpoint, I was told that lunar eclipses are a time for us to release things. So, at the time when the eclipse had peaked, although behind the clouds, I set the intention of letting go of a couple of things that were no longer serving me in life.

Later in the day I rode my bike from Keystone to Breckenridge, a 16 mile (25 km) ride (each way) with a moderate hill climb. When I arrived in Breckenridge, I randomly encountered a parade they were throwing for this year’s high school graduates, on Main Street.

Summit High School Class of ’21 celebrating on Main St. May 26, 2021

It warmed my heart. This year’s graduates in particular got a raw deal from the pandemic. It impacted both their Junior and Senior years. I was glad to hear them all happy, with many of them looking forward to the life they have in front of them. Written on many cars was the college the students were about to attend.

One of my favorite things about bike travel is randomly encountering events like this. They are much harder to miss riding a bicycle than driving on a highway. I even encountered the parade being staged, in the parking lot for the ski resort, which is empty because it’s off-season.

In a few weeks, this place will once again be active, with summer activities. Visiting the week before Memorial Day may have been the best of both worlds, nice weather but still not crowded. However, it is important to recognize it as a transition week, a time when one season ends and another begins. Many people fly from one activity to another, one endeavor to the next, not taking any time to slow down, process what happened and take in the lessons learned. The super blood moon was a time to let go of what isn’t serving us well. Hopefully, the entire week, as was the case for the graduates marching down Main Street preparing for College, was a time to reflect and prepare for what is to come. A time to close one chapter and enter the next.

Cycling up Mountains in a Storm

Loveland Pass on Sunday May 23, 2021

Colorado can be a pretty confusing and frustrating place in the Springtime. In most mid-latitude Northern Hemisphere places, Spring is a time of revival. It is the time of year where people who had mostly been indoors and inactive during the winter return to life. Here in Colorado, Springtime is a period of major weather fluctuations. In Denver, March and April are often the snowiest months. It can even snow in May. Sometimes it feels like we go from tracking the weather for snow to 90 degree heat with barely a week or two in-between.

Credit Channel 7 Denver

At higher elevations it snows quite a bit during springtime (Leadville is 10,200 feet (3.1km) above sea level), even as the snow melts into mud on most trails. It is probably the most inactive time of year in the mountains.

Image from Weather Atlas

Springtime in Colorado requires a combination of planning, adjustment and resiliency. The weekend of May 22nd and 23rd would test my resiliency because I kind of dropped the ball on planning.

On Saturday, I climbed Lookout Mountain, a ride in Golden, Colorado that climbs from 5500 feet (1675m) to 7300 feet (2200 m).

The day was somewhat stormy but also quite active. Paragliders took off from Lookout Mountain, flying over the town.

And the road was packed with cyclists. Only about 20 miles (32 km) from Denver, this is a very popular ride!

After noon, with even more paragliders taking off from the mountain, I encountered the storm.

Some cyclists chose to wait out the rain by finding a building to stand next to. I raced back home, into a fairly significant wind down the hill.

The next day, I went up to Loveland Pass to climb another mountain, this one at a much higher elevation. My ride began at the parking lot of Loveland Ski Area, which sits at around 10,600 feet (3230 m). I could already see that the storms had returned.

As is the case with going upwards in elevation, the weather was much colder, probably only around 45°F (7°C) at the start of the ride. From the very beginning, the ride felt like it was taking place in a different season.

Much of the ground was still covered with snow. Unlike on Lookout Mountain, I was the only one on a bicycle on the road up to Loveland Pass that day. The only other people I encountered were backcountry skiing. One joking asked me for a ride to the top of the pass on my handlebars.

Higher up the mountain, I suddenly found myself doing something I typically try to avoid, riding in the snow. It became scary as it was obvious that slippery conditions existed.

Near the top visibility continued to decline.

Finally, just to be true to the cycling community I belong to, I took a photo holding up my bike in front of the sign that indicated I had reached the top of the pass at just shy of 12,000 feet (3650 m).

There I stood, the only cyclist, almost out of place, like I was suddenly in the wrong season. It reminded me of how often we forget that different people in different places are often having quite different experiences. Two months ago, towards the end of March, while most places in North America were seeing people emerge from their winter dormancy and return to life, life in the Central Rockies was slowing down as the ski season was coming to an end. Now, there could not be more contrast all around me.

As the United States has mostly put the COVID-19 pandemic behind us, countries with slower vaccine rollouts are dealing with some pretty bad case numbers associated with newer, more rapidly spreading, variants of the disease. This sits in sharp contrast to last summer, when other more prepared countries had much greater success in containing the virus through behavioral measures than we had. Heck, even the period of time westerners refer to as the “dark ages“, were not a dark time for everybody. The Tang Dynasty was remembered as a golden age for China. It was also a time of great advancement in the Islamic world. Finding myself on my bike in the snow in the second half of May reminded of the benefit of understanding that not everyone and not every place is having the same experience.