Category Archives: Uncategorized

More New Experiences

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I received a pair of snowshoes for Christmas … 2013.  Yet, until today, I had not gotten around to using them (unless you count the 15 minute trial run in my parents’ backyard on Christmas Day).  With my love for downhill skiing, I typically spend days with favorable conditions for snow sports on the slopes, which kind of doesn’t leave too much opportunity to pursue other snow sports that require those same conditions.

However, in 2015, as part of one of my annual goals, I am hoping to seek out new and interesting experiences.  This motivated me to take out those snowshoes and give them a try.  And, this weekend ended up being the perfect weekend to try snowshoeing out.  Colorado’s front range has received a decent amount of snowfall recently, and there is significant snow packs even at lower elevations.  With heavy traffic and treacherous conditions along I-70 this weekend, it made sense to make the much easier trip to a nearby snowshoeing trail and try something new, as opposed to risking sitting in tons of traffic to get to the ski resorts.

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Being completely new to the activity, I decided to play it safe- really safe!  I found a 1.5 mile loop with only 200 feel of elevation gain roughly 10 miles west of Boulder, at a place called Bald Mountain.  With no idea how challenging snowshoeing is, I did not want to do anything to put myself in danger, particularly in winter.  I figured, if it turns out that this trail is not too challenging, I can always take on a harder one on a subsequent trip.

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The first thing I noticed about snowshoeing as an activity is the way the trails are kind of carved out in the snow.  How do they come to be?  Are the trails made by snowshoers, or cross country skiers?  Do they need to be rebuilt every time it snows, and they once again get covered?  Do they always follow the exact same pattern as the hiking trails beneath them?

At first, following trails cut out in the snow confused me a bit.  Having never done this before, I got a bit apprehensive that I was not following the correct course, and may have been inadvertently following the tracks laid out by some snowmobiler, or worse yet, a stampede of bison, into some random spot into the woods that has nothing to do with where I intended to snowshoe, or where I had parked my car.  Luckily for me, I brought along with my one of the best guides anyone can have on a snowshoeing trip- a Siberian Husky!

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Juno (dog pictured above) lead us around the entire loop, called the Pines to Peak Loop.  In fact, she was so much in her element out here in the snow, that at one point, she lead us on the correct path at a time when we were actually considering following a different set of tracks.  I trusted my dog, and she was correct!

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The conditions were quite pleasant, primarily because there was little wind.  However, there was a lot of fog at the “summit”, as well as along the entire trail.  This means that if I want to find out what kind of scenic view there is at the top of Bald Mountain, I will need to come back another day.  The outlines in the fog do hint at some really nice scenery.  The area is known as Sunshine Canyon, and I have typically enjoyed that type of scenery.

But, today’s voyage was not about scenery.  It was about trying a new activity.  And, in addition to snowshoeing for the first time in my life, I got another, unexpected, unique experience.  For the majority of the time we were on the trail, we were the only ones there.  When we arrived, there was one other car in the parking lot.  That group was on their way out.  We did not encounter any more people until we were almost back at the car.

With no other people around, and very little wind, at the trail’s high point, the only noises I heard was the occasional bird, or, once in a while, the faint noise of a car traveling along the roadway in the distance.  It had been quite some time since I had been somewhere so quiet, and so free of distractions.  Sometimes, even the places we go to away from the city can be crowded and hectic.  Vail was packed on Friday!  Rocky Mountain National Park is usually jammed with people driving around looking for Moose.  And, in summer, one will encounter ultra-runners running up “14ers” with their headphones on.

I was so amazed by how quiet it was here at Bald Peak today, that I had to stop, relax, and collect thoughts.  I even meditated for a while.  Well, I tried to.  I really don’t know how it’s done.  I wondered if others, particularly people local to the area, and more likely to know the place (it is not very high profile), frequently came here to collect their thoughts.  I wondered if, since it is Boulder, people came here to try to receive messages from their “spirit animals”, or tried to go on “vision quests” of some kind.  In fact, as I sat there in silence, the idea did not sound nearly as silly to me as it would have presented to me in the city on an average weekday.  With how rarely we liberate ourselves from every distraction there is in the modern world, it seems quite reasonable that one could finally uncover something hidden deep in their brain by coming to a place like this.

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As it turns out, snowshoeing, although more exhausting than hiking, is not as exhausting as I had feared.  I am guessing that cross-country skiing is more exhausting.  At least it sounds that way.  After today, I am confident that I can handle much more challenging trails with my snowshoes.  I am not sure if any of the ideas I pondered while completely free of distractions at Bald Mountain will lead to anything significant.  However, today did serve as a reminder to me to periodically find quiet, and take myself away from distractions, and all things that cause anxiety in life.

A 50 Mile Bike Ride in the Dead of Winter

I am not sure where the phrase “The Dead of Winter” came from.  In fact, I am not even 100% sure people still use that phrase (in 2015).  But, I do recall hearing that phrase growing up in both New York and Illinois, referring to the period of time from roughly New Years through President’s Day.

My best guess is that the phrase comes from scenes like this one appearing in many major Northern Hemisphere cities.  Trees having long since lost all of their leaves, the grass taking on a lifeless brown-ish color, and overcast skies combine to create a cold, lifeless image that can persist for long periods of time.

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No month epitomizes the depths of winter more than the month of January.  By January, most northern cities have already experienced a significant amount of winter.  Residents of these cities have typically been through a dozen or so days they would consider “very cold” (which does vary by city).  Also, by January, most cities have experienced their version of lousy winter whether, whether that be lack of sunshine, heavy snow, ice storms, that cold drenching rain, or some kind of combination of the four.  With the holidays over, if winter is going to wear you down, it will most definitely do so in the month of January, as it runs its course.

For many, winter (and particularly January) is something of a metaphor for a rough period of time, or a low point.  In American history, the winter at Valley Forge is remembered as a low point for the American Revolution.  Winter is also used periodically to describe low points in people’s individual lives.  With the chill, darkness, and frequent inclement weather, there is not only commonly more hardships, but also more limitations.

This is true even when mother nature offers periodic breaks from cold and gloomy weather.  After a cold start to 2015, the middle part of January brought warmer conditions to Colorado, including several consecutive days with highs in the 50s or 60s here in Denver.  And, while today ended up being one of the best possible January days for a bike ride, the amount of riding I could do was still limited significantly by the sheer fact that it is January.

Even on a mild day, it is typically too cold to start riding at sunrise, the coldest part of the day.  As the day began with temperatures in the 30s, I waited until roughly 9:30 to begin my ride.  Even with this later departure, I still encountered significant amounts of water, and even ice on the trails.  In several sections, I needed to stop and dismount my bike for safety reasons.

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The mere possibility that ice like this will be present on the trail also makes it extremely unsafe to ride after dark.  With sunset occurring right around 5 P.M. at this time of year, the window of time for a bike ride is significantly shorter than it is in other season.

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Another major limitation to what places I can bike to in January is the wind.  In winter, wind can be quite unpredictable, and can lead to unexpected slow-downs.  Also, higher terrain can get quite windy, even on days where there is little to no wind in town and in the river valleys.

Therefore, I decided to ride up Cherry Creek trail, and make the 50-mile round trip ride from Denver to Parker, an exurb 25 miles to the Southeast.

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Despite the slow-downs associated with random standing water and ice on the trail, I was still able to reach Cherry Creek Dam in roughly 45 minutes.  Here, the only “climbing” portion of the ride appears in the distance.  For those with little to no “climbing” experience, the uphill sections can actually be a bit exhausting.  However, for anyone that has previously ridden up a mountain, or a large hill, the climb up the hill is quite tame.  With the mountains still appearing in the distance, there is a clear reminder that even after a mild stretch of weather, climbing too high in elevation would also lead to slippery conditions.  In essence, this “climb”, although quite tame, is the most significant climb one can make safely in the month of January.

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Behind the dam, the trail winds around Cherry Creek Reservior.  Only half covered with ice (and probably thin ice), I am relieved to see nobody trying to ice fish, or stand out on the lake at this time.

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With some amount of wind, and having not ridden a significant amount of miles in one sitting in quite some time, I ended up taking it a bit slower on the trail today than I normally would have in mid-summer.  As a result, it ended up taking me nearly another hour to reach Parker, where the 470 trail, another major trail in the metro Denver trail system, terminates at the 40-mile long Cherry Creek Trail.

And, while it took me a bit longer than normal to ride 25 miles, not exhausting myself to achieve a better time had it’s reward.  Neither overly exerting myself, nor traveling too slowly, the return trip flew by!  Mile after mile passed, almost as if I was living out a montage of my own life.  I passed mile 25, 24, 23, winding around, smiling at nearly every person I passed by as the wind, and my direction shifted back and forth.

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Before I knew it, it was mile 15, 14, 13.  On a typical ride, exhausted at the end of the day, I am anticipating each mile, and tracking how far I am from home.  Today, I achieved somewhat of a state of euphoria.  I almost feel as if I had achieved the “runners high” often discussed (albeit on a bicycle, as opposed to running).

In the end, despite my slower than usual pace, I thoroughly enjoyed the ride, and was actually only passed on the trail once!

For those wanting to take advantage of a mid-winter warm-up, and get on the trail (or roads), I offer the following tips

  • Plan extra time (maybe half an hour) for your ride.  There is a distinct possibility that mud, ice, or snow on the trail can slow you down, as well as unexpected winds.  It is not safe to ride at night, and it will get cold again.  You are better off taking on a goal that would be considered modest during the warm season than ending up in trouble.
  • Listen to your legs.  I know “shut up legs” is a popular poster to hold up at long distance rides, but often times a ride can be done more effectively if you allow yourself to downshift when the ride feels exhausting.  This may mean being on a specific segment of trail, or road, in a lower gear than what you would typically be in.  But, maybe that combination of the 5 pounds you gained over the holidays, and that 8 mph cross-wind is enough to warrant being one gear lower.  It is best not trying to exhaust yourself early just to be in your usual gear regime.  That being said, there also may be opportunities to shift up and go faster where there is an unexpected tail wind.
  • Don’t shy away from undertaking a major bike ride immediately after a hard day of skiing.  Cycling uses mostly different muscles than skiing, and I have been surprised by how little recent hard core skiing has impacted my cycling performance on rides like the one today.

Mesa Verde: A Window to the Past

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For some reason, the history classes I took in Jr. High School and High School left me with the impression that the North American continent prior to the arrival of Europeans was one populated by nomadic hunter-gatherer tribes that never really established a civilization.  The popular characterization of Native America is a series of quasi-nomadic tribes following herds of Bison and other big game animals around vast open areas.  Thus, it is hard not to think of our continent as lacking the ruins of ancient civilizations that are quite prevalent in places like Egypt and Rome.

However, there are places in North America where one can view the ruins of ancient civilizations that existed long before the Spanish established the first European settlement at Saint Augustine, Florida.  The most high-profile pre-European (pre-Hispanic) civilization in the area is that of the Mayans, who archeologists discovered to have been quite advanced in writing, math, and the sciences, at a time when Europe was wallowing in the “dark ages”.   Those ruins can be found in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico.

Closer to home (for me), there are a handful of places, mostly in the Southwestern United States, where ruins of ancient civilizations can be viewed.  Preserving this history was significant enough for the United States to establish (in 1906) Mesa Verde National Park, as the only archeology themed National Park in the system.

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Mesa Verde National Park is located in Southwestern Colorado, in a part of the state where mountains are less numerous than they are in the popular tourist destinations in central Colorado.  The drive from Denver is roughly seven hours, making it a somewhat difficult destination for many to reach.  In fact, the nearest interstate highway is over 100 miles away, and so are all airports that normal people can afford to fly into (I am assuming flying into Telluride is pricey even in summer).  As a result, even on a popular weekend like Labor Day Weekend, the place is significantly less crowded than many other National Parks.

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The history of “civilization” in this park begins sometime in the 6th Century with the construction of “pit houses”.  Archeologists believe that this was the first time any kind of permanent residence was established here.  The tribes that would eventually inhabit this area were believed to have been semi-nomadic prior to the 6th century A.D.  Over time, these civilizations gradually got more complicated, and houses (referred to as Kivas) were grouped together into little villages.

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Although the period of Ancestral Puebloan civilization at this site lasted over 600 years, it is the very end period, mainly from the middle 1100s through the middle 1200s that receive the most attention at this park.  This, of course, is the period in which most of the Cliff Dwellings were inhabited.  The Cliff Dwelling we visited is referred to as Long House.  For $4 per person (in addition to the entrance fee), the Long House tour provides the most in-depth explanation of the civilization that existed in the region.  This 90-minute tour is only available from Memorial Day to Labor Day.  The road to access Long House (on the far west end of the park) is also only open Memorial Day to Labor Day.  Visitors who come to the park later in the fall, or earlier in the spring, can visit other Cliff Dwellings, and take other tours.

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The inhabitants of this region were a very resourceful people.  In addition to the corn, beans, and squash that they grew in the region, they took advantage of most other plants in the area, including Cactus, and the fruit-bearing Yucca plant.  They even resorted to ever awful-tasting plants like Juniper berries in meager years.

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They even invented the first diaper from Juniper bark.

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Of course, in a dry climate like this one, one of the scarcest resources is water.  For this, the Ancestral Puebloans devised a system to capture what little water precipitates through a system of little streams and holes designed to capture water when it comes.  Even with this resourcefulness, water was still always in short supply, and a long-term drought is often cited as a potential reason as to why these villages were abandoned sometime in the 13th century.

IMG_2426 IMG_2427Their homes, or “Kivas”, were significantly smaller than our homes today, even in large cities like New York.  The standard “Kivas” appear smaller than most people’s garages today.  Even the “Grand Kivas” would pale in comparison to the size of most present-day one bedroom apartments.
This is most likely because this civilization did not view the concept of the “home” in a way we are accustomed to.  A recent commercial (for some kind of real estate agency) describes home as “a place for your life to happen”.  The commercial reflects the prominent views of mainstream America today.  The Ancestral Puebloans who inhabited Mesa Verde from the 6th through the 13th centuries, used these “kivas” as places to sleep, gather, and sometimes have ceremonies.  However, it was not where their “life happened”.  The remainder of their lives was still primarily outside.

IMG_2420 IMG_2417Archeological analysis has also revealed that these homes were actually built in a rather hurried manner, with little attention to details.  It was hinted that there was always this view that any residence would be considered temporary.  According to the exhibits at the Visitor Center, while many scientists and archeologists concur that the reason this site was abandoned in the 13th century was scarcity of resources (water and animals), the descendents of the inhabitants of this region indicate that it was simply time for their people to move on, to another chapter of their story, in a different place.   Coming from this point of view, the concept of homeowner’s insurance, something practically considered a necessity in our present culture, would have been rejected as an absurd idea in 12th century Mesa Verde.  Fire?  Move on.  Earthquake?  Just put up a new building.  Not the big deal that it has become for us today.
IMG_2448 IMG_2406 IMG_2439 IMG_2403 Mesa Verde’s more recent history appears to be driven by wildfires, always a concern in regions like this.  While traveling about the park, the landscape of any given area can vary significantly depending on how recently it has been burned by fire.  A major fire in the year 2000 engulfed nearly half of the park, causing significant portions of the park to appear as this picture above, with a creepy combination of larger, older, dead trees, and the newer vegetation that has developed over the past decade and a half.For those on a tighter budget, I would certainly recommend staying in the town of Mancos.  It is the nearest town to the entry of the park (only 6 miles away).  It is a town of only 1300 residents, and does not boast too many amenities.  However, it offers, by far, the best deals on hotel rooms in the area.  Our hotel room was the Country West Motel, and I would recommend it to anyone.  A classic looking, modest roadside motel, it had it’s own courtyard, sizable enough rooms, and even a poster that I really enjoyed having in my room.
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Two Ways Up Lookout Mountain

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The first time I heard about Lookout Mountain, the first thing I thought of was teenagers making out in their cars half an hour after sunset.  It just seemed like the kind of place a crazy new high school couple, with access to a vehicle along with the freedom that comes with it for the first time in their lives, would go.  It is that perfect middle ground for high schoolers starved for both attention and alone time.  They are far enough out of the “public eye” (i.e. social circle) to not feel too awkward, but not far enough out of the “public eye” to not get the recognition they crave.

To some, the fact that I automatically defaulted to this thought process is a demonstration of a disturbing level of immaturity.  But, I am strangely comforted by the fact that my mind occasionally defaults to such ideas and pursuits.  One of my goals as I get older is to never lose that youthful sense of wonder that makes everything seem so significant and magical early on in life.  Sure, if I were still trying to take high school girls “up to Lookout” at this age, it would be quite pathetic!  However, I take significant pride in the ability to still see places like this and imagine it’s possibilities from a perspective that is quite youthful, while still approaching it with the wisdom and maturity that I have gained over the years by being an astute observer of the world, humans, and human nature.

So, although my first thought of this mountain was one of 16 year olds making out in cars and possibly allowing themselves to go further, I came to understand it’s cultural significance to Colorado and the Rocky Mountains when it became the first major mountain I climbed on my bicycle after moving here from Illinois.  In a way, Lookout Mountain welcomes people like me to the world of cycling in the Rockies the same way I imagine it welcoming those 16 year olds to “adulthood”.

As the stormy weather that plagued Colorado the week leading up to Memorial Day came to a close, I decided to pursue this mountain in another unique manner.  I decided that on Monday, I would hike up the Mountain, using the Chimney Gulch and Lookout Mountain trails.  Then, on Tuesday, I would ride my bike up Lookout Mountain Road.

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Regardless of whether one decides to pursue this mountain on foot or by bicycle, it begins at a (relatively) light to moderate level of difficulty.  The trail heads up a gentile slope that would be considered “moderate” in terms of hiking.  The bike ride is up a slope that most with little or no climbing experience would consider quite difficult, but it is a bit over a mile into the ride before the climb picks up.

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While the bike ride does offer some amazing views, and I would argue better views of the Denver skyline, about a mile into the hike, some waterfalls form at this time of year, when rains are significant, giving me a whole new perspective of Lookout Mountain.

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It is at this point cyclists will encounter their first major set of switchbacks (along with some steeper terrain).  The hiking part also picks up in intensity.

Just after the halfway point comes a somewhat easier part of the climb.  It is at this point the road somewhat flattens out for cyclists, and most can shift up a gear or two and pick up a few miles per hour in speed.

Roughly 2/3 of the way up the mountain, the hiking trail meets up with Lookout Mountain road for the second and final time, at a place called Windy Saddle Park (near Windy Saddle Peak).

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Windy Saddle Park offers a great view of the Clear Creek Valley to the West.  The photo to the left was actually taken back in April on a previous bicycle trip up Lookout Mountain, while the one on the right was taken on Memorial Day.  Colorado is typically a very dry state, with a very brown or red look (depending where you are).  However, the week preceding Memorial Day was quite wet, with daily thunderstorms, and even four consecutive days of hail.  These photos, taken from the same place, demonstrate how different Colorado can look during different seasons and weather patterns.

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After Windy Saddle Park comes the most challenging part of the trip, regardless of whether one is hiking or cycling.  Cyclists will encounter a series of switchbacks with a higher grade and frequency than the switchbacks in the earlier part of the climb.  When I continued on the hiking trail, I had anticipated the same increase in intensity.  What surprised me was the sudden change in tree density.  It felt as if we had suddenly left the wide open and entered a forest.

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There are two trail junctions in this more challenging (although still not “14er” level) part of the trail.  First, the Beaver Brook Trail, which is a longer trail that winds through the rest of Jefferson County, breaks off to the right.  Luckily, these trail junctions are clearly marked so nobody spends hours wandering around wondering when they will finally get to the top.  The second junction is with the Buffalo Bill Trail, which goes to the part of the mountain where Buffalo Bill’s grave is.

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Lookout Mountain is not a single peak.  It is more of a mound.  One one end of the mound is the tower most commonly associated with Lookout Mountain.  On this other end is Buffalo Bill’s Grave.  Buffalo Bill’s Grave is a great destination point for cyclists.  There is a gift shop at the top offers water for free, nice bathrooms, and great snacks.  Being pretty much at the same elevation as the other side of Lookout Mountain, one can stop and turn around without feeling like they cheated themselves out of part of the climb.

While (excluding driving) there are two ways up the mountain, there are three ways down.  One other thing I discovered about Lookout Mountain is that it is a popular place for hang-gliding/ para-sailing.

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Depending on the day of the week and conditions, it is not too terribly uncommon to encounter around a dozen gliders taking off and landing at different points on the east side of the mountain.

Between the awkward adolescents in their cars just past sundown, cyclists like me achieving our first significant Rocky Mountain climbs, and hang-gliders soaring through the air over town, Lookout Mountain is truly a place where dreams come true.  It is a place where people feel a sense of achievement, a sense of advancement, and a sense of welcome into what’s ahead.  For cyclists like me, it is even more challenging bike rides, higher into the mountains.  For those adolescents, it is adulthood, and all of the challenges that will come.  Either way, it is both magnificent and scary, but best appreciated by looking upon it with the same sense of wonder that we begin our lives with.

Maxwell Falls; The distance between reality and expectation

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Often times in life, the reality of a situation turns out significantly different than the expectation.  In fact, this has been one of the biggest challenges that I have had to deal with.  Like many in my generation, I grew up in a time of prosperity and high hopes for the future, and was told by parents, teachers, etc. about the rewarding life that awaits those that generally do the right thing.  While nearly every person who reaches adulthood has to come to terms with the fact that the world is unfair and that sometimes the wrong people get their way, those in our generation, particularly since the 2008 crash, have had to come to terms with a world where opportunities are fewer and harder to come by than what we had initially prepared for.

I went to Maxwell Falls, near Evergreen, CO, expecting two things that did not materialize.  Most hikes in Colorado are an uphill climb from a trail-head to a specific destination (a summit, lake, natural feature).  I had become so accustomed to this standard formula, that it had never occurred to me that this hike could be any different.

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The beginning part of the hike was rather uneventful.  The climb was fairly moderate, and the trail would occasionally descend slightly to cross over creeks.  This is kind of typical across Colorado, especially in places like Rocky Mountain National Park.  However, about a mile and a half, maybe two miles into the trail, we reached an unexpected junction.

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After a short section where the climb was more rigorous, I was surprised not only to find a spot where five separate trails seemed to merge together, but also find out (from talking to people) that none of these “forks” in the trail actually represented a part of the loop I had been expecting to encounter.  The sign pointed to which way to follow the trail, which also, shockingly took us on a fairly rapid descent.  This is not what I had become accustomed to, nor was it what I had expected.

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The descent was fairly lengthy too.  It almost felt like we had descended halfway back to the trailhead’s elevation!  It was there we finally encountered the loop we had anticipated.

Facing unexpected junctions, getting routing advice from strangers on the way, and anticipating landmarks that take longer to reach than anticipated made me think of Lewis and Clark.  On their expedition they would seek advice from many of the Native American tribes they encountered along the way.  They also encountered a few river junctions that made them pause and investigate which way to go.  They came into their journey with little information about features such as Great Falls, and the Rocky Mountains.  All they knew going into the mission was that these features existed, and they had a general idea of where they were.  Both of these featured proved more challenging to pass through than expected.  However, despite these unexpected challenges, they were still successful in their mission, and are still commemorated over 200 years later!

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The falls themselves also did not quite meet the expectations.  The expectations I had about a waterfall hike largely came from hiking Brandywyn Falls in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, as well as viewing other falls in Rocky Mountain National Park, and Yellowstone National Park.  In all of those situations, the trail would either arrive right at a scenic view of the falls, or a spur coming off the main trail would take hikers right up the falls.  At Maxwell Falls, it was tough to find a really good view of the falls.  We ended up crossing the river and making a somewhat dangerous scramble to a remote rock to see the falls from a somewhat different vantage point.

It was still really neat to see the true power of water falling, even from a short distance, and to actually watch the residual spring ice melting right in front of our eyes.  But, it was still far from what I had been expecting from my previous waterfall hiking experience.

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Despite not getting the picturesque view of the waterfalls, this hike offered some other neat features that I had not necessarily anticipated.  After climbing up the Cliff Loop, we encountered views of the mountains that were much more splendid than I had imagined.  It actually reminded me what I had been missing.  Prior to this hike, I had not gone on a hike for several months.  A couple of months ago, I started a new job in Denver, and had been focusing on making that job, as well as my life in Denver in general, work.  I love to travel, have new experiences, and explore new places.  But, unfortunately, for a while, my life’s demands had taken me elsewhere.

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In addition to the splendid views at the higher points on the trail, which did turn out to be a series of ups and downs, we also encountered one of the most unique rock formations I have ever seen.  This rock, I refer to as “Troll Rock”, as it looks quite like a troll.  It was quite amazing, and was the subject of wonder for quite some time about what unique combination of all of the processes of nature could have lead to this particular rock shape.

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The end of the day saw the sun come out, and the temperature rise.  This was an unfortunate turn of event for my Husky, who is built for colder conditions.

One of the things that still amazes me quite a bit about life itself is how often the specific experiences we have at a specific time actually mirror what is going on in our lives, or in society, on a much larger scale.  Today I expected a hike where I would climb up to a waterfall, be taken right up to that waterfall, and then make the ascent back to my car.  Instead, I got periodic climbs and descents throughout the duration of the hike, and awkward scramble around strange rocks to largely overlook a waterfall, but also unexpectedly encountered wonderful views at the top and unique rock formations.

In life, I expected to do well at school, generally stay out of trouble, and find a fulfilling job in my field of study.  Instead, I found a world where the seemingly well deserving nice people end up reporting to control freaks that often find sinister ways to get ahead, opportunities do not always present themselves, and many of the specific jobs I had originally hoped for have some expected downsides to them.  So, now, I am trying to make something completely different work, and thus far it is largely working out!  It appears that sometimes the path to fulfillment is not the expected one, and the reasons we end up enjoying the things we enjoy are not things we had previously considered.  Maybe what our generation as a whole needs to do is let go of what we had hoped for out of this world and remain open to finding fulfillment in a completely new way.

Interstate 65: The Raceway

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I designed a road trop that would mix the familiar with the new.  The first day of my road trip focused on the familiar, and few roads are more familiar to me than interstate 65 between Chicago and Indianapolis.  During my time living in the State of Indiana, people would often refer to Interstate 65 as “the raceway”.  This, of course, referred to how fast traffic would move on this highway.   Traffic most likely moves this fast on this particular road because the two cities it connects both contain a lot of fast drivers.  At the time when I was living in Indiana, the highway speed limit was 65 and traffic tended to move at a speed of about 80 mph.  Since then, the speed limit has increased to 70, meanwhile gas prices have risen substantially.  Still, with the exception of when trucks are slowing down the highway by passing one another, traffic moves at about the same pace.

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Most of this route would be considered quite dull by most.  It pretty much looks like this, open fields of corn and soy stretching endlessly into the distance.  And, there is little variance.  Nearly every highway I crossed would contain the same features, a few gas stations, and signs pointing motorists to both Chicago and Indianapolis.  For many, this is a dreadfully dull ride, but for me it is slightly differnt.  As I had spent a significant amount of time in the area, and gained a lot of interesting experiences here, the highway actually brought back a plethora of memories for me.  Many of the exits I encountered on this trip reminded me of interesting experiences I had years back.  It was almost like a trip through a period of my life, and almost like I was reliving many of these memories.

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I felt it appropriate to stop at Arbys, a staple of this region.  In fact, whenever I think of central Illinois and Indiana, I think of Arbys, as they are plentiful here.  One time, while driving interstate 55 from Saint Louis to Chicago, I decided to count the number of Arbys- there were 13, and that was only the number I could see signed from the highway.

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There is one place where the endless fields of corn and soy give way to a very different scenery; in the vicinity of the Wabash River near Lafayette, Indiana.  WIth dense trees, and even a little bit of terrain, this region is always a welcome break from the monotony of this trip, even when I am reliving memories from my past.  In fact, I recollect this area being one of the few areas I explored beyond the local fast food joints and truck stops on this trip.  I was hoping for more color, given that it is well into October, but I heard that the weather had just cooled down recently.  So, the colors will have to wait.

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Indianapolis is not a glamorous city.  In fact, it is mostly known for being quite affordable compared to most cities its’ size and larger.  I recall seeing lists that compare median income to median home costs, and seeing that Indianapolis is one of the easiest places for someone with the average paying job to afford a home.

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However, it is not without its’ interesting places.  The bike trails here are pretty unique, albeit they do not seem like they would be efficient.  In town, I got the chance to check out the Indianapolis City Market, which seems like the kind of place people go to eat lunch during an average workday downtown.  By the time we arrive there, around 4:15 P.M., most of the businesses seem closed.  However, there is one open establishment, called the Tomlinson Tap Room that serves beer from different microbreweries throughout the state.  They even serve “flights” on boards shaped like the State of Indiana, which I found to be a unique idea.

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Looking at the clientelle at this establishment, it appears to be one of those after work type of places that tends to die down around 8 or 9 P.M.  Plenty of these types of places can be found in central business districts of many large cities, as other districts are more sought after with regards to nightlife.

Although I can never think of a defining feature about Indianapolis, I always enjoy my trips here.  My last time here was in 2010, when I was Wisconsin defeat Michigan State in the inaugural Big 10 Championship game.  I remember getting pitchers of Long Island Iced Tea for only $7 at a place called Tiki Bob’s.  And this was on a Saturday night, and the night of a major sporting event.  There is something to be said about affordable cities, and even affordable neighborhoods of our own cities.  People here seem to be enjoying the same experiences for a fraction of the cost.  Sometimes I even wonder if the joke is one me, and others that chose cities and neighborhoods that are trendy or well known.  They are probably sitting back, enjoying their $3 drinks and $550/ month apartments wondering why we pay so much to be where we are and do what we do.

 

 

 

 

Hiking in the Black Hills

June 4, 2013

Mount Harney is the tallest peak in South Dakota. In fact, it is the tallest peak anywhere east of the Rocky Mountains. The guy at the Custer State Park visitors center actually said it was the “Tallest peak between the Rockies and the Alps”. While that is technically true, it is a bit of a stretch. At 7242 ft., it is taller than anything in Appalachia, including the tallest peaks in the Smoky Mountains, but not really by too much. The difference is less than 1000 ft., and is probably made up for by the fact that the bases of those mountains are at lower levels.

However, it was still a really good hike. In fact, it kind of reminded me of hiking near Boulder a bit. It is at similar elevations, a similar total climb, and there are some major rock formations here too. Our loop from Sylvan Lake up to Harney Peak and around by two other major features; Little Devil’s Tower, and the Cathedral Spires, took us a bit over 8 miles today. With what is probably close to 2000 ft. of vertical climbing, between the main climb and a couple of side climbs, it was a very satisfying hike. With this morning’s drive taking us by the ” Needles Eye”, we have actually seen nearly half of the unique natural features of South Dakota. Not bad considering that we only arrived in South Dakota on Sunday.

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At the top of Harney Peak there was a strange lookout point. It was actually the remnants of an old building. We think people actually hid out here, but I am not sure who. It was still interesting to see the place, and imagine the life of someone living on top of the tallest peak in the area. From this vantage point, you can see all of the peaks. We could look out on all of the peaks of the Black Hills, including the ones we had driven up and down yesterday and today, and they all showed up significantly below us. This may be the first time I have experienced this exact feeling, climbing my own way up to the top of the highest peak in the area. In 2005, I biked up Blue Mounds (Wisconsin), but the terrain there is nothing compared to what it is here. In 1998, my family and I drove up Pike’s Peak, but, we drove.

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The alternate trail we took on the return trip to the car took us real close to the Cathedral Spires. These rock formations remind me of the Dolomites in Northern Italy, with their mostly vertical, but imperfect, gray colored rock structures of varying heights. In fact, for the entirety of the hike, as well as in many cases before and after, I have been referring to this feature as “The Dolomites”. And, no, I am not trying to show off that I am Italian, or that I have been to Italy. It is just kind of natural for people to make the association in their head based on the visual. I am reminded of an instance when someone I knew kept referring to the green sauce that they provide with samosa at an Indian restaurant as guacamole. He was not trying to show off his Mexican-ness, it was just that his previous experiences with green sauces in restaurants had mainly been guacamole, and the natural association was made. In the same vein, the other time. I had seen rock formations like that, it was the Dolomites. Some of the other rock formations did look like the Flatirons in Boulder, with a major exception being that they are lighter in color.

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On this hike, in several places, both on and off the trails we were traversing, we passed through some tight areas inside rock formations. This was a good deal of fun, although somewhat scary. Oddly enough, I enjoy doing things like this, and I have not even completely figured out why. I guess there is a slight element of danger in it, and it does provide the hike with some variety. But, hiking is already an interesting enough activity that it does not need variety. And, I am not really pushing my limits anymore with this nonsense, as I have done it plenty of times over the past several years. Maybe it is just curiosity, the entrance into the unknown, the feeling you get when anything can happen. In this sense, it would be the same feeling that drives people to take a new route home, enter into new activities and new social circles, or even drink or do drugs. The flirtation with the unknown seems to come out in me a lot; skiing, hiking, parties, etc.

One final note about the hike. Boy have these pine beetles done a number on the forrest here. Scenes like this one are seen everywhere, and when viewed at a distance, parts of the “Black Hills” look quite red! I knew this was a big problem in Colorado, but it actually seems like the beetles have done even worse to the forests here. It is sad to think that the very nature of these places are bound to change forever, but in life, change is inevitable. It cannot be avoided at any costs.

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Our other activity today was visiting Crazy Horse. Crazy Horse is a statue of a famous Native American hero that sits on the other side of the black hills from Mount Rushmore. But, it is incomplete. It has actually been under construction since 1948, and is still nowhere near close to done. According to the hosts at our campground last night, the Crazy Horse statue will “not be completed in your grandchildren’s lifetime”. This slow progress is due to the desire to make this statue quite enormous, as well as their commitment to use only private funds. Turning down money shows a significant amount of pride, and/ or adherence to principles. Maybe both, they are actually probably quite related.

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At Crazy Horse is also a museum of the Native American. We did not intend to spend all day there, so I pick a few excerpts to read, some about famous Native Americans. I don’t even remember the stories themselves, but reading these stories makes me more curious about Native American culture in general. History is written by the winners, and in the battle for North America, we, the white man, are the winners. But, it is hard to ignore the fact that we kept making and then Subsequently breaking treaty after treaty with these Native tribes. I would love to know the full story behind this, from both perspectives, and how the modern day Native Americans feel about all this, as well as the situation they are in now. Are they happy to have all the modern conveniences associated with the U.S.A.? Do they feel that we are the ones protecting the freedom of all? Or do they feel they cannot live the lifestyle of their choosing, and their continent has been usurped? I bet you get some real mixed emotions.

On the campground tonight, we got a bit goofy. In fact, we spent probably about half an hour, sometime around sunset, trying to throw pine cones into the campfire from various places. Most of them were from the top of a rock. It was some unexpected (and free) fun. I think our society could use a bit more of that if you ask me. One of my favorite things about trips like this are actually simple things like this that bring joy out of nowhere, unexpectedly.

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