Category Archives: seasons

Flattening the Curve … and My Belly

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For about an hour I had totally forgotten the nightmare that is our current situation. I wasn’t thinking about all the lives at risk, everyone that is losing their jobs and livelihoods, the bars and restaurants all being closed, the businesses in jeopardy and the social isolation. It felt almost like a typical Saturday in the Colorado outdoors.

The trailhead parking lot was full and there were plenty of people sharing the snowshoeing experience.

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It was one of our famed 300 days of sunshine a year, with the March sunshine illuminating a snowy meadow with the mountains in the background.

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Snowshoeing got my heart rate up, and of course, the Huskies of the world were in their element!

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Having company for the adventure made it seem like a standard social weekend activity. There was even a seasonal phenomenon to spark my curiosity about weather and nature.

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It was the second day of Spring, and what we were witnessing was the origins of what some refer to as “mud season”. This term is used most in the mountains as well as in New England, in places where large snowpacks build up over the winter, and sometime between March and May, a prolonged awkward period of muddy melting occurs. It is awkward because it is ideal for neither wintertime activities nor standard hiking. On Saturday, we saw close to an even mix of people walking in snowshoes and people just wearing standard hiking boots. In snowshoes, we had to find a way around some of these areas near trees where muddy bare ground was beginning too appear.

Back in Denver, though, life is far from normal. Neighborhoods that are typically quite active are quiet. The roads are empty in a manner I had previously only seen in disaster films.

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It is hard not to feel guilty at this point in time: almost as if I had been asking for this. For years I had be saying that we need some sort of disruption to remove the aspects of our culture that have caused recent upticks in loneliness, drug abuse, poor health, violence and disengagement. Now we have a disruption that promises to make us all feel even more lonely. Our social lives are now even more dependent on social media, video conferencing and other forms of technology; the very technology that I had previously speculated had worsened the problems of the 2010s.

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Right now many of us are searching for meaning. What was humanity meant to learn from this? Many of my extroverted friends tell me that being forced to stay home gave them a greater appreciation for simple social interactions such as just having a drink with a friend or having people over for dinner. Some of my more introverted friends are indicating that we are being told we need to slow down a bit. I hear from a lot of sources the idea that we are “out of balance”, with respect to lifestyles and nature.

Some responses are definitely people confirming their previously held beliefs and biases. The spread of the virus is evidence that most problems transcend our national borders, making them useless. Yet, it also demonstrates the need for stronger borders and tighter immigration controls. It’s gonna make us both rediscover our appreciation for face-to-face interaction while also making us question whether we need to meet in person for half the stuff we do. It’s telling us to get out in nature more but also making us use technology more.

I am guilty of this as well. After going on two mid-afternoon bike rides last week, I told people that the lesson from this work from home period is that we need to remove the assumption that people need to be available and at their desks for 40-50 daylight hours per week. This is a belief I have held for seven years now. I’d even be willing to trade three months of being stuck inside for the removal of this assumption from our work lives going forward. Now is the time, however, to observe things with an open mind, and develop new insights.

Speculating that there could be some good that comes of all this is an understandable manner in which many are coping with this horrible turn of events. After all, many accept that the “Black Plague” made the Renaissance possible. As we all sequester ourselves, brace for the worst and have our lives severely disrupted, we should also take back some power over our lives and prepare to build a better future. For me, it will be a waste if the only lesson I get from this is another confirmation of something I realized nearly a decade ago.

Winter Slowly Comes to an End

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We just shifted our clocks forward for Daylight Savings Time. For the first time this year the sun will set later than 7:00 P.M. Each footstep we make in the snow feels like a crunch through cycles of nighttime freezes and daytime thaws. I gaze to the East in the middle of the day. Despite partial cloudiness, the sky feels quite bright. The ground, partially uncovered by recent warmth, appears as a somewhat random assortment of the season that was and the season that is to come. Vertical development in the clouds off on the horizon provide a preview of what’s to come; the types of powerful storms that truly embody the power of nature during springtime.

This time of year is quite unique. After several months of cold and snow, snowpacks in the Central Rockies are often near their peaks.

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This year is no exception, as measured snowpacks are quite close to the long term average.

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At the ski resorts, the trails remain bright through the entire day, with the possible exception of some of the densest glades. In December and early January, shade starts to creep in sometime between 2 and 3 P.M.

We skied until 4 P.M. then sat out in the sun having drinks at the base.

The high elevation mountain towns showed a kind of bright, snow-filled winter glory in a manner that felt like the setting of a movie.

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Passing through towns like these, I could not help but imagine movie characters doing things like training for winter sports, falling in love, or singing Christmas carols. It even inspired me to wear a Christmas sweater over two months after the holiday.

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Winter’s end will be slow. It starts with days like this. However, many places in the high elevations of central Colorado can expect to see several feet more snow before summer comes. The transition of the seasons is not unlike many other transitions in life. It is neither abrupt nor continuous. Whether it is a recovering alcoholic having periodic relapses or a group of people adapting to some major societal shift, the new and the old fade in and out in sometimes tough to predict patterns.

Sometimes there is a sweet spot. Snowshoeing in nothing but a light jacket, or a sweater and a hoodie, was a joyful experience in nature that combines the best of winter with the best of spring. It’s what we all should be looking for. New York pizza came when we combined the best of Italy with the best of America. Some of the best musicians and artists combine the best of angst with the best of optimism. The scene in South Park Colorado, where the pattern of snow and grass seemed to simultaniously make logical sense and lack any coherency serves us all as a reminder that there is great beauty and opportunity in all the awkward in-between phases in life. Maybe, in this phase of life, I can find a way to combine the best of youth with the best of maturity.

Variable Conditions at Steamboat

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Each day was somewhat different from the others. Monday was a great day to start off a multi-day ski trip. Skies were kind of a mixture of clouds and sun.

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And, there was several inches of fresh powder!

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It made for some excellent tree skiing.

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As well as bowl skiing.

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We covered most of the mountain in variable conditions, including the ever enjoyable Rough Rider Fun Zone.

It was another fantastic day of primarily tree skiing, particularly in the Storm Peak, Morningside, and Pony Express areas.

The only issue was the variable visibility and cold temperatures.

Tuesday the sky was clear!

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In fact, it took on a deep blue color later in the day.

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It was a great day for all kinds of skiing, from going fast down groomed trails

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to more adventures in the Aspen Glades.

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Perhaps because of its relatively low elevation for the region, I have never seen a resort with more Aspen Glades than this one!

Also, it was the day we got our best views of town.

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Clear skies, great visibility, and a lot of new snow mean fantastic conditions for all types of skiing. What could possibly be wrong? Well, clear skies also often mean cold mornings, especially right after a big storm.

Morning temperatures at the base of the resort were well below 0°F (close to -22°C).

Wednesday we woke up to more fresh snow and a day similar to Monday.

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It was a perfect day for some first tracks in the morning, as well as more adventures in the Aspen Glades.

Seriously, we could not get enough of the Aspen Glades on this trip.

Thursday brought more new snow than Monday or Wednesday. The powder was quite deep on some places.

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Powder skiing can be quite awesome and also quite exhausting. Turning in powder requires more energy than turning on snow that is more packed down. It is also easier to lose one’s momentum and even get stuck in places. There is still nothing like a good powder day. Many in Colorado drive hours out of their way and sit through horrendous traffic just to ski in conditions like these. So, we were most fortunate to have experienced a day like this one.

With the powder came some dense fog and poor visibility.

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Nearly every run had poor visibility near the top of the ski lift. In some places it was tough to see more than several feet in front of me!

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It was, however, on Thursday, when temperatures reached their most comfortable levels.

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Over the four day trip, the experience varied quite a bit from day to day. It was a good reminder of what people who love the outdoors, whether it is for adventure or just admiration of natural beauty, understand. No two experiences are exactly alike. Destinations can vary quite a bit from year to year, season to season, and even day to day. Therefore, there are still plenty of new experiences to be had visiting the same places multiple times.

When activities are dependent on forces of nature, weather or other natural phenomenon, it is easy to fall into the trap of waiting or searching for ideal conditions.

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There will always be this idea of a perfect day or a perfect situation or setting for an activity. For skiers, that may be a clear day after a major snowstorm. But, what is the consistency of the snow? Could it be too dry or wet? What about temperatures? And wind?

The “perfect day” becomes illusive. For all factors to line up in their most ideal state at the same time has the potential to become an exceedingly rare phenomenon.

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This is the danger of perfectionism. Perfectionism has the potential to become paralyzing. If someone were to wait for this potentially unattainable perfect day, they would have missed out on a lot of amazing experiences.

This concept applies to so many other areas of life. When to try something new. When to launch a product. When to ask someone out. When to go out into the world and put yourself out there. There is always going to be something about the timing or conditions that are less than ideal, or theoretically could be better. I need to lose ten pounds, then I’ll try to meet people. I’ll try something new when I save some more money. Someone said something mean to me and now I am in the wrong frame of mind. The problem is that as soon as that weight is lost, that money is saved and that mean comment fades into memory, there will be something else, ready to become the new barrier. The key is not to think about this theoretical perfect scenario and just determine if taking something on, whether it be a day of skiing or bringing life to a new chapter, will be worthwhile.

Winter Cycling in Colorado

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Colorado weather can be quite variant, especially in wintertime. This variance opens up opportunities and makes winters here far less unpleasant than winters in the Northeast and Midwest. Compared with Chicago, Denver’s winter temperatures…

  • Are 41% more variable
  • Change, on average, 9.3°F from one day to the next (In Chicago it’s 6.6°F)
  • Reach 50°F (10°C) or greater 34.6% of all days, compared with only 7.1% in Chicago
  • Despite this, Denver gets more snow (53.8 inches per year) than Chicago (37.1)

In particular, the greater frequency at which temperatures warm up provides some opportunities. I need not write off an entire season for outdoor cycling. There were six days in January 2020 in which the temperature reached 55°F (12°C).

Then, on Groundhog Day, as if to taunt everyone that buys into the folklore, temperatures across Colorado were exceptionally warm. Denver and the surrounding area reached well into the 70s while some areas in the East and Southeastern parts of the state reached 80!

That morning, Punxsutawney Phil, the most widely known groundhog, would predict an early spring. Later on, Flatiron Freddy, a groundhog local to Colorado, predicted six more weeks of winter. That evening, the weather in Colorado would turn sharply colder and snowier for the foreseeable future.

Groundhog Day 2020 ended up being a perfect demonstration of the opportunities and challenges associated with cycling in Colorado in wintertime. I learned a long time ago to keep to lower elevations in the wintertime due to both wind and residual ice on the roadways. Luckily, the region has a fantastic set of trails. This is actually an outdated map. The network has become even more robust since 2013!

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It is all centered around Confluence Park, right in the heart of downtown. Confluence Park itself is a fantastic example of a place where people can get a little bit of time in nature right in the heart of a major city. There is also an REI flagship store!

On Groundhog Day, I decided to ride the South Platte River trail from Confluence Park to Chattfield Reservoir.

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The trail runs a total of 16 miles. The reservoir itself can be reached with only an additional 3 miles of pedaling. This place is tremendous, with the lake in the foreground and the mountains behind. In summer, there are often a lot of boaters.

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One of the challenges that day was the wind. Wild changes in temperature from day to day are often associated with strong winds and Groundhog Day was no exception. The wind came out of the South at 15-20 miles per hour, making the mostly Southbound ride to the reservoir far more challenging than usual. I recall going at about 15 miles per hour the entire way.

Having not done this specific ride for a few years, I forgot how beautiful the Southern half of the Platte River trail is. The trail snakes through downtown Littleton. After that, there are plenty of places where the the river in the foreground and the mountains in the background make one feel as if they are in the setting of a famous nature painting. Much of this land is being preserved as part of South Platte Park.

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The return trip went quite fast, with the wind at my back and the miles just flying by. While I refrain from hill climbs in the wintertime, this ride ended up having some similarities, with a headwind to get to the reservoir and a much easier and faster return trip. I was back at Confluence Park before I knew it!

In addition to the wind, another major challenge of winter cycling is the limited amount of time available. Winter days are short, and without exception start off cold. Even on Groundhog Day, the day cities across the front range would hit record highs in the 70s to near 80, morning temperatures were still in the 25-35°F (-3 to +1°C) range. If one is to wait until 9 or 10 for temperatures to warm up a little, and be limited by a 5 P.M. sunset, there is a pretty limited amount of time or riding. It was for this reason I picked the particular ride I did.

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It is also for this reason that despite Colorado’s frequent warmer days in the winter, I finally decided to supplement my training with some indoor spinning.

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New Season, New Resort

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Winter in Colorado is off to a solid start. Several major snowstorms have brought significant snowfall to the Colorado mountains. Also, unlike in recent winters, all parts of the state have received their fair share of snow. The mountains across the state are reporting snowpacks slightly above the long term average.

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Winter Park is one of the few ski resorts relatively close to Denver that I had never been to before. The primary reason for this is that since moving to Colorado, I had stuck with the Epic Pass, which includes Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Vail. That set of top-notch resorts within a two hour drive is tough to pass up. However, some of us were ready to try something new and decided to go with the Ikon Pass this year.

Winter Park is about the same distance from Denver as Breckenridge, Copper Mountain and Keystone. The road there, though, is one of the windiest roads I have ever been on.

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With an earlier exit off Interstate 70, this place may be easier to get to on days when there is heavy skier traffic. However, with all the curves going up and over Berthoud Pass, this trip could be more challenging in inclement weather. This particular trip was made five days after the most recent snowfall, and the roads were still slick.

The start of any season requires some adjustment. Having not skied in almost nine months, putting on my ski boots felt kind of hard. It really feels easy. However, the first few times in any season, it feels like I am shoving my feet into the boots and using up a significant amount of energy in my leg muscles.

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Winter Park felt similar to Colorado’s other top notch resorts. On measures such as vertical rise, skiable area and number of runs, it is quite comparable to Breckenridge, Copper Mountain and Steamboat. It also seems to have the same general mix of groomed runs, bumps, glades and bowls.

I appreciate the inclusion of the blue-black designation for runs where the difficulty level is somewhere in-between a typical intermediate (blue) and advanced (black) run. Everywhere I have been in Colorado, it has felt like there are plenty of runs needing this designation.

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I also love it anytime slopes are given names related to gambling.

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Those who ski Winter Park a lot tell me that no visit to Winter Park is complete without a visit to the Mary Jane area.

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This area cover about 1/3 of the resort, and has some of the more challenging terrain. Trestle is one of the steepest trails in Colorado.

It’s easy to feel lame on a run like this (unless you are an expert). While on the run, I felt like I was taking it very slowly and making wide cuts across the mountain. By the end, it felt great to know I had made it down such as steep slope in the trees. It is important to bask in our accomplishments, at least for a little bit.

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The entire experience served as a reminder of something I had realized years ago. Many of life’s choices follow the same general theme. There is a path we can take that is familiar, comfortable and easy. It’s avoiding our problems, not having that difficult conversation with a colleague, not sharing our opinions when they differ from the group, avoiding rejection and just turning on the television.

Then there is the other path. The one that requires effort, overcoming fears and facing discomfort. It is trying something new, learning something new, facing fears and taking the effort to arrange experiences to share with others. It is the path that will lead to a more enjoyable and fulfilling life. It’s a challenge to consistently follow the higher effort and higher reward path when we often crave the easy and comfortable. So, it felt great to realize that I was on this general path when I went through the discomfort of putting on ski boots and then again when traversing one of Colorado’s steepest tree runs.

It is hard to make a comparison between Winter Park and some of the other ski ares relatively close to Denver on a Thursday just before Christmas. Some people say that one of the advantages to Winter Park is that it is relatively less crowded. Judging this would require coming here on a busy weekend day. Overall, though, it feels good to have tried a new place and pushed my limits so early in the season.

Exactly What Was Expected

Sometimes in life, for better or for worse, things go exactly as expected.

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An average November produces only six clear days in Chicago, compared to 18 cloudy ones. December is even cloudier, averaging 20 cloudy days.

The weather I experienced, visiting Chicago over Thanksgiving and into early December was exactly what one should expect. With the exception of a few hours on one day, it was cloudy. There were stretches where it even got foggy.

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A couple of days, it rained. Temperatures where in the 30s (-1 to +4°C) pretty much the entire time.

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It could have been worse. Chicago is prone to cold air outbreaks, and while late November into early December is not the heart of winter, it is still possible for temperatures to drop down close to 0°F (-17°C).

Thanksgiving is not about pleasant weather, being outdoors or any specific activities. It’s not even really about the food or drink. It’s about gratitude. It’s also about spending time with friends and family.

The Thanksgiving feeling is that conversation, usually around the table, where everyone feels safe, supported and not judged. Everywhere we go in life, we feel the need to prove something. We are always trying to prove to our bosses that we are worthy of pay raises and promotions. We are often trying to prove to those in our social scenes that we are worth inviting to parties and events. With social media and smartphones, much of our lives have become trying to prove to people that we are interesting enough to warrant their attention. Thanksgiving, when done right, is a reprieve from all that!

Holidays are not without their struggle. Flights to visit family are often expensive and we are often forced to make tough decisions regarding visiting family at Thanksgiving, Christmas or for some other holiday. This year’s trip turned out really well, as my time in Chicago started on Thanksgiving, November 28th and extended about a week. I got to experience both holidays, as we had Thanksgiving dinner, but also were able to set up the Christmas tree, start singing Christmas songs and watching Christmas movies.

For many other reasons, the entire trip to Chicago ended up pretty closely aligned with expectations.

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When trips to visit friends and family fall in line with expectations, it is almost always a good thing. However, in other areas of life, sometimes what we expect is not what we actually want. This is technically true of work right now. Well more than half of U.S. workers are not happy with how their jobs turn out. As of the end of the 2010s, going into any job, one would have to unfortunately bet on a poor experience.

In every area of life, from personal relationships, social endeavors, politics, to just going to the supermarket, an experience can be typical or it could be abnormal. How anyone feels after a “typical experience” depends on three factors.

1. Personality

Specifically, this often relates to how open we are and how optimistic we are. Optimists tend to have high expectations. This is generally a good thing, but can be frustrating when some anticipated better than normal experience does not come to pass. People who are more resistant to change would likely be more satisfied having an experience that falls in line with what is typically expected.

2. How one feels about the current state

This one is easy to reconcile. If someone likes where they are in life, and feels things are moving in the right direction, then they will be happy with a typical life experience. However, when someone feels like something in their lives or what they are observing around them needs a change in direction, a “typical” experience can actually lead to some level of depression.

3. Recent events in our own lives

Both ancient and recent philosophical writings have described the need for some kind of balance between the predictable and the chaotic. Too much of the former can lead to stagnation and that nagging feeling as if something is missing. Too much of the latter can lead to that feeling that everything is out of control and nothing can be counted on. Experiencing exactly what one expects falls into the category or order or the predictable. For someone whose life has felt out of control, an experience that follows the order of things can feel refreshing. For someone who feels antsy and stagnant after seven identical weeks following a constant routine, another typical experience could just add to the frustration.

 

Gratitude and Atonement

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I suck at gratitude. Forever thinking about the future and how to correct wrongs, both in my life specifically and with society as a whole, I often neglect to be grateful for what I do have.

The problem is not isolated to myself, or any specific subset of society. I can think of several people in my life that are great at showing gratitude. They make people feel good about themselves by giving compliments, and sounding grateful for anything anyone does for them. More importantly, they sound grateful to people just for being who they are and being in their lives. They are the ones that will occasionally just thank me for the way my mind works after I make some kind of comment.

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This is the exception rather than the rule. I have encountered far more people who are fixated on what they don’t have or what’s wrong. If I had to express my behavior with respect to being thankful vs. resentful, I would put myself somewhere in the middle of the curve. That is, however, not good enough. A lot of people recognize this as a problem. It’s now commonly recommend that people keep a gratitude journal in order to alter their focus.

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A decade is coming to an end. A decade full of ups and downs. A decade full of experiences. A decade full of joy and pain.

Throughout the decade, I can point to times when my behavior was positive, selfless and encouraging. I can also point to plenty of times when my behavior was erratic, self-destructive and not exactly fair to the people around me.

In the new decade, I am done with the tyranny of expectations, the fear of letting people down and the need for approval from others; especially authority figures. However, there are people in my life who genuinely helped me, were there for me during some rough times, encouraged me, and enriched my life just by being a part of it.

This Thanksgiving, it is time to

  1. Show people that I am grateful for them being in my life
  2. Tell them why I am grateful for them, and tell them that I care
  3. Show remorse for those who I have treated unfairly or taken for granted
  4. Truly let go of some things I am still holding onto

What I did can be thought of as trying to cram multiple years worth of gratitude into a single month.

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I decided to write notes to people who impacted my life in a significant way over the course of the decade. I’m sure I still left some people out. It was a list I agonized over. In the end, I wrote about 85 letters.

I spent two weeks writing what I should have been telling the people around me all decade. The notes mention specific qualities about people I enjoy. They express gratitude for shared experiences. They described the positive impacts certain people have had on my life. They express remorse for the situations I did not handle well.

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Writing the letters was quite emotional. In some cases, it felt like reliving the ups and the downs, the moments I am proud of and the ones that make me cringe. Overall, writing these notes made me feel better.

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Bringing these notes to the Post Office turned out to be even more emotional than writing them. There was something amazing about the act of dropping all these letters into the mail slot. At that specific moment, a giant weight lifted from me. I had finally done the right thing. The past could be put behind me. This season of reflection, gratitude and atonement makes me ready for life’s next chapter.

I’m not sure how anyone is going to respond to these Thanksgiving notes. Some people, especially those I have not talked to the last few years, may even be a bit bewildered.

While I am sure I will hear from some people when these notes are received in the mail, I am not anticipating anything specific. That’s not the point. I wasn’t doing this to have anyone tell me how great it is that I am finally showing some gratitude or hear from people who have not been in my life for years. The point was to tell people they matter. Assuming nothing goes terribly wrong at the Post Office, that mission is accomplished.