Category Archives: Unique Natural Features

Ride the Rockies Day 6: Million Dollar Highway

If I can conquer this mountain in front of me, I can conquer all the other “mountains” life has thrown at me.

There is a lot more I need to do to get my life fully aligned with who I truly am and reach my full potential. Much of it involves a combination of making mindset adjustments, engaging my creativity, hard work and leaning into uncomfortable situations. Some of the endeavors I have determined I must undertake are, like this ride, quite intimidating.

My final day of Ride the Rockies started in Ouray, at an elevation of 7,800 ft. (2375m). Highway 550, southbound from Ouray starts climbing right away!

An overlook of Ouray, CO

It also didn’t take long to start seeing why this is one of the most iconic roads to bike on. Only three miles outside of town, the road passes right by Bear Creek Falls.

Over thirteen miles, we climbed from Ouray up Red Mountain Pass, just over 11,000 feet (3350 m) in elevation.

The climb took a little over two hours.

Reaching the top of this mountain was quite emotional. This was the highest point of this extremely challenging ride. I am not a professional cyclist, nor am I an aspiring to be one. My goal was simply to complete this ride without having to use the van support.

This hill was so intense that while pedaling uphill I did not really think about much else. It is at the top, when the climb has been completed that most people realize what they had just accomplished. I realized that had conquered this mountain and that I was indeed going to make it, achieve my overall goal for the ride. The rest of the ride would feel kind of like a victory lap. I witnessed other riders, likely with similar goals and anxieties as mine, hugging at the top of Red Mountain Pass.

It was an incredibly emotional experience. I felt like if I could conquer this mountain, I could conquer the other metaphoric “mountains” awaiting me in life. Suddenly, so much more in life felt attainable. The challenges I face can be overcome. After all, the main thing I need to do is work hard and be okay with being uncomfortable. That is kind of exactly what challenging long distance bike rides are. They are hard work and they are uncomfortable, albeit primarily in the physical domain.

We descended into Silverton, a town with an extremely old west type of feel.

After Silverton, there were two more climbs, one up Molas Pass.

And a second one up Coal Bank Pass.

Both ascents were significantly less challenging than the previous ones, climbs of 1500 ft. (450 m) and 950 ft. (300 m) respectively.

With the ascents and descents, the entire middle section of this ride took place at elevations exceeding 9,000 ft. (2750 m). It was surrounded by the best of what the San Juan Mountains have to offer.

The descents were enjoyable as well. I got to about the highest speeds I am willing to go on a bicycle. There is something that feels truly alive about coasting downhill on a bicycle while surrounded by wide open spaces, peaks above tree line, forests and alpine lakes!

Even on events like these it is hard to get too disconnected from what is going on in the world. People will likely not remember this, with our active news cycle and short attention spans, but one of the new stories of June 2021 was a lumber shortage, which was delaying the construction of new homes and connected with the shortage of real estate in the market. Over the course of the day, I encountered about a dozen of these trucks transporting lumber along the Million Dollar Highway.

The final segment was mostly downhill and kind of stretched on a little bit. I encountered a little bit of rain, the first and only time I would on this ride.

Both the top of Red Mountain Pass and actually reaching the finish line felt amazing but in a different way.

The Ride the Rockies finish line in Durango, CO

I can’t decide which felt sweater. However, the entire experience of Ride the Rockies 2021 has provided me with a framework by which to take on every challenge life will present going forward. Know where you want to go, find the best path, lean into discomfort and put in the work.

Ride the Rockies Day 5: The Optional Day Around Ridgeway

Day 5 was optional, and when I first signed up for this ride, I was convinced I was going to take the day off. The ride in its entirety is very challenging. The final day is possibly the most challenging and the most iconic of the ride, along Million Dollar Highway from Ridgeway to Durango. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to get a day off and feel well rested. Plenty of people did chose to rest that day, as evidenced by conversations I had with other participants and the number of people I saw out at the brewery the previous evening.

When it came time to decide my instinct told me not to take the full day off. I decided to ride on day 5, but to skip the part of the ride I had already ridden on day 4, up Dallas Divide.

I also determined that, since I was staying in Ouray, I could make day 6 a little easier by riding the first 12 miles of that challenging 85 mile day after looping back to Ridgeway. I’d still get to see all the places included in the ride.

By the fifth day I began to notice…

  1. Regardless of the circumstance I always woke up around 5:45. On a “normal” weekday I sometimes struggle to get myself out of bed before 7! This was likely because I was getting exercise and sunlight, but could have also been related to the anticipation of each day’s ride.
  2. I also got in the habit of watching the morning news in the various hotel rooms I stayed in.

Since I was busy most days cycling, with my hands on my handlebars, I was not checking the news on my phone (or a computer) throughout the day. Instead, I watched the news for half an hour or so every morning as I prepared for the day’s ride.

I realized that, with respect to how we consume the news, I had essentially reverted to the way things were three decades ago, when it was common to watch the news in the morning or the evening, but our exposure to the news was confined only to that half hour or hour each day. I determined that I liked it better. 99% of all news stories are not emergencies. They can wait until the end of the day or the following morning.

The ride started on a trail that connected Ridgeway with Ridgeway State Park, a place where a lot of people take part in water sports.

The 17-mile descent went quite fast and before I knew it I was in the tiny town of Colona.

The second half of the loop pretty much embodied what Ride the Rockies is really all about. It was a challenging 2,000 foot (600 m) climb on a dirt road, but, the challenge ended up being worth it!

I spent some time in Ridgeway before tackling the final 12 miles of my day.

It was good to have a nice meal and then relax by the pool for a while.

I was concerned about the heat, which was starting to build in Ridgeway, but luckily was able to take advantage of some clouds that had built in the middle of the afternoon to take on the ride from Ridgeway to Ouray.

From the standpoint of off-roading, this was quite possibly the most challenging part of the ride. Here, highway 550 is fairly heavily trafficked and has no shoulder. The official ride follows parallel gravel roads that were a bit tough for me on the cyclocross bike I ride.

I did not love all these rocks

In Ouray, I got more time to relax, as the total ride for the day was still less than 50 miles.

I soaked my legs in the cold water of the Uncompaghre River.

And had a nice meal at the Outlaw Saloon, where I got to meet the man who plays all those old west sounding tunes on the piano.

This piano player makes a living playing old west style tunes at bars in both Ouray and Silverton (both towns with an old west vibe). I loved hearing his story!

Sometimes it feels like everywhere I go I see people that feel trapped in jobs they don’t like and are not passionate about. Some combination of fear and the need for security keeps them there. For the unfortunate ones who end up working long hours and enduring a lot of stress, it does not feel like much of a life, regardless of how much money they are making. Whenever I hear about people who decided to do what they love to do and actually find a way to make it work, I feel happy and encouraged.

The day ended with a gaze to the north and a reminder of the challenge that lied ahead on the following day.

Just looking around town in all directions, it feels like the hardest place in the world to bike. There is no easy way in or out!

Do We Have Too Many Updates?

Elk Falls, in Stauton State Park, is a fairly lengthy hike. The round trip from the main parking lot (called the Meadow Parking Lot) is about 11 miles, depending on where you park. It begins with a mostly flat, 3.1 mile section called the Staunton Ranch Trail.

The trail passes by areas of interesting rocks where people climb.

And even crosses a county line.

As is the case with most State Parks, this trail is part of a network of trails that connect several important features. Elk Falls just happens to be the most commonly discussed feature, as it is the tallest waterfall within an hour drive of Denver.

Staunton State Park is one of the easiest trail networks to navigate. At each trail junction, there is a sign that not only identifies the trails, but also serves as a mile marker.

At this point, I had hiked 2.6 miles and had 1.6 miles to the Elk Falls Pond.

With an additional 1.2 miles from the pond to the waterfall, this sign was quite close to the halfway point of the hike.

The hike from the parking lot to the falls would take just over two hours (the return trip would be about the same length). Over the course of the trip, the signage would provide me with a total of about five mileage updates. I actually found this to be quite close to the frequency I desired.

However, I wondered, how many updates we really need and what impact it is having on our experience. I thought about the explorers of centuries past, who would travel great distances using maps that, while state of the art for the time, would be considered woefully insufficient today. Lewis and Clark, for example, famously underestimated the length of their journey by many months. Yet, today we demand mapping software that estimates our time of arrival to the minute. These software packages, available to anyone who has a smart phone, even adjusts expectations for the one aspect of travel that still lead to uncertainty at the turn of the century- traffic. Now, at any moment in time, we can say exactly how much distance and how much time we have left.

Has this detracted from the experience? Are we bombarding ourselves with too many updates? Does checking the map on our phone for updates too frequently cause us to focus too much on the destination, preventing us from enjoying the journey? Could it even be causing anxiety? Elk Falls is the destination and the highlight of the trip, but while still over an hour away from the Falls, it is certainly better to enjoy what is in front of me than to spend the entire time anxiously awaiting the Falls. The same can be said for the trip back to the parking lot.

It makes me think of everything else in life we excessively look for updates on. How much is too much? How often do we check…

  • The number of likes our photo received?
  • The current status of our investments?
  • Whatever device is tracking our fitness goals?
  • The news?

And, what impact does it have on…

  • The experience we have in the places where we took those photos
  • How we think about the investments we chose to make
  • Our feelings about our bodies
  • How we feel about the state of the world

It feels like we’ve reached a point where we are updating ourselves too frequently on too many things. Maybe it’s time to back off all of it and try to be more present in the moment. Maybe this will require some degree of acceptance, of things how they are as opposed to how we wish them to be.

Northern Arizona 1000 Years Ago

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

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

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

They had houses large and small.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Best of Southeast Utah

Monument Valley from 2 miles south

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rio Grande Trail: Basalt to Aspen

The name of this trail is puzzling. According the the trail’s website, this 42 mile trail, which connects Glenwood Springs to Aspen, was named after the Rio Grande Western Railroad, which ran along these tracks until it was decommissioned in the 1990s.

Most visitors to the area are not aware of this history. We just see that the trail is named the Rio Grande Trail despite the fact that the river it follows is the Roaring Fork. The Rio Grande is not only well known for marking the U.S./ Mexico border in Texas, but it also has its origins in Colorado, not too far away.

That being said, on the first of October, it still made for one of the most breathtaking bike rides one could ever hope for.

I absolutely love the town of Basalt!

Every visit I have ever had to this town has been incredible! It never feels crowded like a major tourist destination, but there is also never a shortage of things to do or basic resources. I have never had a bad meal in this town, and the two rivers that come together, the Frying Pan and the Roaring Fork are your quintessential free spirited mountain rivers!

The ride from Basalt to Aspen is beautiful right from the start, especially on the first of October, with the fall colors at their peak.

It is the kind of trail that has something for everyone. In the middle part of the ride, you’ll encounter a restaurant built in one of the old train cars used when this trail was a railroad.

It overlooks several small villages.

The trail is mostly straight, but it makes a timely curve to give cyclists a direct view of Snowmass Village, one of the highest rated ski resorts in the state.

I also absolutely love the fact that the trail does not follow right beside the highway, usually traversing on the other side of the river from highway 82. There are many bike trails that travel right alongside a major highway. Here, cyclists enjoy the trail without the sounds of the busy highway. Additionally, those that have already driven the road see the area from a different perspective.

The mile markers are consistent, with one every half mile.

And, there are even parts of the trail where riders can chose a hard surface or a soft surface option.

Closer to Aspen there is an unpaved section that lasts about three miles.

Since it is hard packed and this section is flat, any kind of bike should be able to pass through with little problem. Oddly enough, my favorite experience of the ride was in this unpaved section.

This mini waterfall reminded me of a scene in the movie Cars, where the main character is taken to a similar feature. He is told that before the interstates were built all travelers would pass by this waterfall, but travelers now miss out on this beautiful experience in order to save 10 minutes. The scene, and in some ways the entire movie, was making a statement to us about our busy lives, and what we miss out on when we are always in a hurry, focused solely on our destination.

I was having an experience much like the scene in the movie. It would have been much faster to get from Basalt to Aspen on the highway, but not the same experience. I would not have encountered this feature. Leading up to the ride, I was feeling a bit stressed, like I was trying to cram too many activities into too little time. With work, I may have even been focusing on the destination rather than enjoying a key learning experience. Watching the water trickle down the rocks in stunning autumn gold reminded me how rich our lives can be when we don’t always take the most efficient route to a destination, both in physical space and in personal development.

The trail pretty much ends at the John Denver Sanctuary on the North side of Aspen.

That day the city of aspen was colorful. Yellow colored trees could be seen in every direction, from Aspen Mountain, the ski resort adjacent to town, to the pedestrian mall that is often far more crowded (when there is not a global pandemic).

Aspen is known to be active and wealthy. But, I wonder if the people who live here live hectic lives, always focused on their destinations. Or, do many residents of Aspen, and the rest of the Roaring Fork Valley, frequently take the extra time to immerse themselves in the experience of the natural beauty that surrounds them?

Backpacking the Holy Cross Wilderness: Day 3 Nature and Spirit

I became fascinated with weather as a fairly young child. While looking into weather, I would often find old books, written long before people could look up a weather forecast on the computer or even turn on The Weather Channel. These books would describe how sky and wind conditions indicate likely changes in weather. This knowledge seems generally obsolete. However, the combination of knowing how weather patterns typically shape up in late August in the Rocky Mountains and observing the morning sky lead us to expect to be able hike the final 6.2 miles back to the trailhead before encountering rain.

One thing that did get somewhat frustrating on this and other recent camping trips, is the equipment. It is common for people to buy equipment for activities such as camping or hiking and feel as if they are done making purchases. However, on this trip, it became apparent that this tent was going to soon need repair or replacement.

The same can be said for my hiking pants and spork.

It’s taken me a while to realize how warped most people’s view of money and finance is. It seems common to focus only on expenses we can psychically see and on the short-term. When it comes to outdoor and sporting equipment, the line between renting and owning feels quite blurry. The more one uses an item, the sooner it needs to be replaced. So, with certain variance for the quality of the item and how well we take care of our things, even when we buy our own equipment, we are still sort of paying per use. The first dozen or so times anyone uses something like a tent, they rarely think about the cost of eventually replacing it and how those trips are taking them closer to that inevitable expense.

Throughout the trip, we continued to encounter deer up close. We must have chosen to set up camp in their territory or something. Once, when I left the tent to go to the bathroom before going to sleep, I encountered a deer and got startled. By Sunday morning, with clear weather, it almost felt as if we were hanging out with them!

Looking at us, I was wondering if the deer were having their own “Low Key F2020” type of experience. I can imagine them thinking….

Ugh! First there is all this smoke, then this hailstorm comes through, and now these humans are in our way! Can we do like the bears, hibernate and skip to 2021?

Heading back across the valley, the sky continued to point to a more typical late August scenario and the expectation that rain and storms would come, as is more typical, in mid-afternoon.

Heading across the rocky area, we encountered some more furry creatures.

Then headed up fancy pass, a slightly higher pass than the one we had trekked in on Friday.

Heading up the pass, it got kind of windy. I wonder how the people who set up camp closer to the pass, in an exposed area, had fared that morning.

This was the challenging and exhausting part. First there was the nearly 1000 foot climb up Fancy Pass, where we could clearly see that Missouri Pass was lower.

Then, the other side was a steep, rocky downhill, which can be just as tiring as the uphill.

The Fancy Pass Trail experience was a bit more pleasant than the Missouri Lakes Trail experience two days prior. There was no crazy avalanche area where the trail was covered with downed trees and difficult to pass. Also, all of the trail’s features were quite exquisite in the morning sun.

First, Fancy Lake (okay, maybe the names of these things need more variety)

Then, just below the lake, the water funnels into an amazing tall, skinny waterfall.

The final three miles trail is pretty homogenous: a gentle downward slope through a pine forest.

It was in this section that I had a spiritual experience!

As I walked through the woods for what was the final hour and a half of this journey, I suddenly felt as if I was getting some deeply profound messages about my life. They were the kinds of messages that gave me clarity about what I am meant to be doing, confidence in who I am supposed to be and context around some of my more unpleasant past experiences. It was like nothing I had ever experienced before.

It felt like the result of a confluence of several circumstances.

  • I was tired enough to slow down my mind typically very active thought process. Yet, I was not so exhausted that it was all I could focus on.
  • There were not too many distractions in that section of the trail (i.e. fantastic panoramic views, wildlife, waterfalls, etc.)
  • My mind was somewhat de-cluttered from having done no-news August and having spent three days without access to Wi-Fi

While people believe different things, I genuinely believe that I received messages from either God or some kind of guiding spirit and came away from it with an unexpected boost.

It also gave me that answer to a question that had been looming on my mind for years. There is no question that our modern technology and conveniences have made our lives better. People live longer, are healthier and have more free time and other fun experiences than they did before we had all of our modern technologies. Yet, some chose to forgo conveniences like running water, electricity and computers for periods of time to take part in activities like this one. Regardless of whether or not one believes God speaks to us through nature, taking a break from the modern world gives us the opportunity to connect with something we don’t typically connect to.

A Mid-September Backpacking Trip to the Flat Tops Wilderness: Day 3 Sunrise on Devil’s Causeway

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“It’s gonna be so cold leaving the tent before sunrise.”

“The sunrise will look just as nice from the comfort of my tent.”

“We already saw the Devil’s Causeway on Friday.”

“Look at all the distance we’ve already covered.”

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These are all the things my inner dialogue told myself, to stop me from going the extra mile Sunday morning. And, it literally was an extra mile (two round trip).

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We all experience this from time to time. That voice in our heads is most often referred to as the inner dialogue or inner chatterbox. Its goal is to protect us from discomfort, failure, embarrassment and the like. It is the voice that once told an 11-year-old version of me that nobody wanted to talk to the new kid in town and subsequently told a 15-year-old version of me to avoid the embarrassment of asking anyone out. In both situations, that voice was dead wrong. Yet, it continues to plead its case in situations like these, pushing for its own version of comfortable stagnant mediocrity.

Perhaps the best decision I made on this trip was to ignore that voice, which actually took some mental energy given how exhausting Saturday was. That extra hour of rest in the morning was quite enticing.

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These photos don’t do justice to the gradual turning of the sky in anticipation of a new day, or the still lit full moon on the other horizon at dawn.

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Unlike in previous days where we were camping at lower elevations, when the sun kissed the sky, we were among the first to be struck by its golden rays.

It was a feeling that is hard to describe. I felt like I was receiving some kind of gift. I was recieving an infusion of energy, spirit and liveliness from some kind of abstract source. It felt almost spiritual. Regardless of what was actually behind this wonderful feeling, I was certainly glad to have ignored that inner dialogue.

The final day was the shortest of the three. We only had 6.2 miles to go to get back to the trailhead. It started out with a bit more traversing across open grassland.

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We got a couple more great overlooks before the main descent.

It was perhaps the fastest day of the three. The miles went by quickly for backpacking standards.

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We made only one significant stop, for a mid-morning snack.

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A little before 11 A.M., we saw the Summit Reservoir, the place where the journey had begun, indicating that we were already approaching the trailhead!

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There was an advantage to getting back to the car just before noon, as we all had to work in some capacity the next day. The amazing thing about this trip is that nobody involved had to take more than one day off of work.

However, to achieve this, we had to set up camp in the dark the Thursday night and felt somewhat hurried at times.  Before we even got back to Kremmling to have our first regular meal after the trip, we were all already checking our phones, checking back in with work and our day-to-day lives.

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We truly got the most out of the 74 hour period we were away. However, we didn’t really escape for too long. From the standpoint of making the most of our time it was ideal.

From another standpoint, it was less than ideal. It is not too uncommon for Americans to plan trips like this, possibly because we do not value time away as much as we should. Although there are many pointing out the follies of these too many people not taking time off, the prominent culture in this country still seems to value work over all else and expects others to as well.

Whenever I find myself shifting my priorities to match the ones of our current culture, my inner dialogue is behind it. That inner dialogue tells me to be concerned about how I will be perceived, and what negative consequences I might face if I were to act in accordance with what I value as opposed to what is expected of me.

Ignoring my inner dialogue’s demands that I stay in my sleeping bag an extra hour on a cold morning is good practice for what I know I must do in the coming years to create a life that is truly authentic and fulfilling. I need to ignore my inner dialogue’s demands that, in order to be safe, I sacrifice the individual autonomy that comes with adhering to my own set of values in favor of what is often referred to as “herd mentality“.

A Mid-September Backpacking Trip to the Flat Tops Wilderness: Day 1 Alpine Lakes

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It started with an evening of “car camping”. Sometimes I feel like Colorado has a vocabulary that is distinct from the rest of the country. For those who rarely venture too far away from the comforts of modern urban living, this activity is referred to simply as “camping”. In Colorado, car camping must be distinguished from backpacking, bike-packing, horse-packing and all other forms of camping that take us away from our vehicles.

As we rolled through the town of Kremmling, picking up some last minute supplies and having one last comfortable meal, my mind started to become daunted with the prospect of spending three days without heat, showers and a comfortable bed.

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The part of my brain that fears the unknown, protects the ego from failure and seeks comfort at all costs filled my head with images of hot meals, blankets and comfortable sleep. Very few people are exempt from this kind of mental resistance to change, discomfort and the unknown. The key is to understand how to deal with it, welcoming when we are seriously being warned about a potentially dangerous situation and when it is appropriate to silence that voice in our heads and go forth with our intentions.

The first evening was cold!

Cold mornings on intense trips provide a challenge of their own. After leaving the comfort of a sleeping bag, the best way to stay warm is to move around. However, I knew I had 26.2 miles (42 km) to cover in a three-day period and needed to conserve my energy. Despite my love for outdoor activities in the mountains, I don’t exactly love the cold.

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Desperately waiting for the sunshine to gradually slide down the mountainside and reach the campground reminded me that no matter how hot of a summer I had just experienced, I was not necessarily looking forward to the winter chill.

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The hike began at the Stillwater Reservoir about 15 miles (27 km) WSW of the town of Yampa, CO. Day one would start with a 1500 ft (450 m) climb. It was here we would get our first view of the Devil’s Causeway, the Unique Natural Feature that draws most visitors to this specific part of the wilderness.

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Climbing can be slow with heavy backpacks on, so it took us the entire morning to reach the summit. We would spend the next hour descending back to an elevation of roughly 10,500 feet (3.2 km).

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Here, the trail goes by a series of alpine lakes, of varying sizes, each one stunning in its own way.

We didn’t stop for long at these points of interest. Most of the afternoon we spent cranking out miles at a fairly rapid pace for backpacking standards. Still, at most we were moving at a rate of 2.5 miles per hour (4 km/hour). A lot of trips include periods like this, with little stopping, where the primary objective for a period of time is to cover a lot of distance.

I’ve experienced this on road trips, bike trips, and even paddling trips. The great thing about these outdoor adventures is that we are still moving at a slow enough speed to take in nature. Additionally, we can see the creatures moving around, smell the landscape and feel the air flow around us.

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There is a true connection to nature. Unlike in some of the heavily visited areas, where tourism businesses have crafted a specific experience for visitors, the wilderness here is truly wild. It is untamed. Walking through this wilderness area, I was in the presence of one of the few places in the world that has not been boxed in by any of the standards, assumptions and paradigms we had artificially created to regulate the world to our liking.

At 2.5 mph (4 km/hr) that can truly be appreciated. I feel it can still be appreciated from the seat of a bicycle at 20 mph (32 km/hr) on roads that are far away from towns and cities. It contrasts so much from many of our day-to-day lives, where we have schedules, codes of conduct, social norms and deadlines. The word I would use to describe what I was experiencing, at that moment in time, is refreshing.

By the end of the day, we had covered over ten miles. Having passed by all of those breathtaking alpine lakes, we set up camp near one called East Lost Lake and enjoyed an evening of solitude.

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An interesting thing happens on the first day of group trips like this. Sometimes we are talking. Sometimes we are not. Sometimes, despite being so far from civilization, my mind wanders back to whatever I am concerned with in my daily life. As we slowly exhaust ourselves physically and then have to take on tasks like starting a fire, pumping water from the lake and cooking food, our minds complete a transition away from what has been concerning us the last few weeks to a focus on what is right in front of us.

With the genuine desire to take in nature, I believe my mind slowly realizes that the mental energy it takes to stress out about whatever had occurred over the past week or month is mental energy I don’t have to spare. At this point, I had truly brought my entire psyche away from day-to-day life and into a position of being fully immersed in the experience I was having.

The Great Ocean Road Day 3: Final Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Port Fairy would be our final destination.

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

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

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

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

I imagined the vast expansive ice sheets of Antarctica.

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

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

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