Tag Archives: Colorado

At the End

It is perhaps one of the most pleasant feelings in existence. The crowds and the activity of summer have passed. The air is quite comfortable. A gentle breeze blows light yellow and orange tree leaves across the horizon, sprinkling the ground. Without the breeze, hiking would be a bit uncomfortable, with temperatures around 72°F (23°C). Yet, subtly embedded into this harmless wind is hint at what is to come. Perhaps it is only in the mind, but it feels like the breeze is making a statement. It is as if the minor fluctuations in the wind speed are simultaneously saying that this is the nicest, most colorful experience of the year and that the time for these summertime activities will soon come to an end.

October in Central Colorado is magical. It combines the natural beauty that is always around.

With periodic yellow and orange colors dotting the landscape in what would appear like randomly selected spots.

Over the years, people have said that the fall colors in Colorado’s mountains are not nearly as spectacular as they are in the East. In a way, they are both right and wrong. It’s impossible to find a more colorful landscape than the mountains of New England in early October. But, it would be an exaggeration to say, as some Colorado transplants do, “it’s just one color”. Look closely enough and those vivid shades of Orange appear.

That must be an interesting place to live!

Like all of life’s transitions, it is a bit uneven, with a different experiences in different places. On the Ruedi Trail, there were sections of trees that appeared to all be having the same, kind of group experience, all seemingly undergoing the transition together.

There were others where this transition seemed to be much further along. This section felt almost as if winter had already descended upon the area.

And, in some places, multiple experiences appeared before the eye at once. Those that have already moved on standing in front of those still in the process and alongside those that simply don’t care about the seasonal cycles of life, or, at least don’t show it.

Some hikes are about achieving, others about covering a lot of distance or getting exercise. Some are more about experiencing nature. With a short amount of time, this Reudi Trail, situated along the Frying Pan River somewhere in the middle of nowhere between Basalt and Leadville is the perfect nature experience.

A moderate two mile hike to the Frying Pan overlook is all it takes to get to a splendid panoramic.

Life is full of cycles and transitions. Transitions are naturally going to be associated with some endings. Often times, for the new to be created, what currently is must come to an end. Whenever anything like this happens, there will naturally a wide range of responses, and a variety of experiences. Our world, currently in a state of upheaval, seems to be following the same pattern as the trees in this forest, with groups and individuals responding differently. If only humanity’s response to this period of transition could find a way to be as beautiful as the natural response to autumn. Maybe, in a way many just don’t understand, it is.

The Rio Grande Trail: Basalt to Aspen

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

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

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

I absolutely love the town of Basalt!

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

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

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

It overlooks several small villages.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Backpacking in the Holy Cross Wilderness: Day 2 The Storm

We woke up to a light rain tapping on the tent. The tiny amount of blue sky present in the morning quickly disappeared. While some days start off rainy only to quickly give way to sunshine, it was obvious this would not be one of those days. It would not be an optimal day for adventure.

Still, we tried to do our previously planned day hike to a couple of other alpine lakes. The rocks and lack of trees in the areas, combined with the cloudy skies, breeze and chilly rain made me think of the Scottish Highlands. I’ve never been there, but have seen photos which always make them appear something like this.I kind of always imagine cloudy weather as well.

The rain started to pick up as fog made previously visible mountains disappear in the background. We retreated to the tent.

As the rain picked up, the cold rain, along with a moderate, started to remind me of how it often felt walking down 5th Avenue (in New York City) during Christmastime. At higher elevations it snowed.

We would spend several hours inside the tent, trying to warm up and dry off. I kind of enjoyed having a chance to relax a bit and read (once I was able to dry off). There is something about having no other options, being stuck, that liberates us from this drive (or expectation) to make the most of every day we have. It feels like a modern day American obsession. I’m not sure if it is our work culture, competitive nature or something completely different that makes it hard for us to just relax. I’m probably even worse than most Americans. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to waste and entire day, not doing anything interesting or productive, and be okay with it. However, every time I try to do that, I get jittery sometime around 10 A.M.

The sun would eventually come out, sometime around 2:30 P.M.

I showed even more versatility by taking part in an activity I seldom do… fishing.

It even felt warm out for an hour or two.

We brought the fish back to our cooking area (which needs to be away from our campsite because of bears), filleted the fish and cooked our rice … just in time for another storm.

And I mean JUST IN TIME. As soon as everything was cooked, we rapidly and haphazardly put everything away in order to scurry back to the tent with our food to avoid lightning. While the cold wintry rain in the morning was just incredibly uncomfortable, the lightning in the evening was actually potentially dangerous. As summer was coming to an end in the mountains, we experienced nearly all seasons in one day.

It was the most intense thunderstorm I have ever experienced from inside a tent. It was the kind of thunderstorm where the sound of thunder follows the lightning nearly instantaneously making a startlingly loud noise! We could feel the vibration that only comes when the lightning strikes are incredibly close. It even hailed!

2020 is the gift that keeps on giving. It feels like a passive aggressive genie in a bottle, repeatedly giving me what I want but finding the most obnoxious possible way to grant the wish.

Me throughout the 2010s: Our jobs need to be more flexible. The rigid 9-to-5 schedule is outdated.

2020 (Passive Aggressive Genie): I shall create a global pandemic that will force everyone to work remotely out of fear of killing their loved ones with a really intense flu. That will lead to workplace flexibility.

Me in August 2020: There is drought, fires and smoke from California to Colorado. We need rain!

2020 (Passive Aggressive Genie): I’ll make it rain! But, I’ll make it rain on the middle day of your backpacking trip, while you are not in your home or even able to get back to your car. Oh, and I’ll give you both cold wintry rain and scary thunderstorm rain.

Maybe it’s not just me.

Countless people in the 2010s: The rent is too damn high!

2020 (Passive Aggressive Genie): An economic depression, violence and mass exodus from your city will lower your rent. You’re welcome.

Backpacking in the Holy Cross Wilderness: Day 1 Versatility

It started with an amazingly picturesque waterfall, only half an hour into the hike, before even reaching the border of the Wilderness itself.

There is no shortage of amazing natural features along the Missouri Lakes Trail in the Southern Part of the Holy Cross Wilderness about 20 miles South of Vail. In this part of the world it is hard to imagine anything different!

Many of the natural features along the first two miles of the trail were waterfalls!

This otherwise amazing experience along the Missouri Lakes trail was only interrupted by a section of trail that was quite challenging to pass and navigate due to a recent avalanche.

I was told this avalanche happened about a year and a half ago. I had never seen so many trees down in one place and could not help but imagine it being like one of those crazy scary avalanches in those nature videos. I wonder if anyone got trapped, if anyone died. Most people who travel places like this, especially in winter are smart, but there are the occasional stupid ones that end up in the news.

We spent most of the rest of the morning walking by the Missouri Lakes, the feature the trail is named after.

As is typical on the first day of a trip like this, I was trying to clear out my thoughts. Despite my decision to give up news for the month of August, I had some trouble clearing my mind. We can chose not to consciously look at the news, but unless we hide at home alone, there will be things we find out about. I heard about Hurricane Laura’s landfall in Louisiana. I also heard about something that hit closer to home for me, as I spent the first eleven years of my life living on Long Island and regularly going into New York City. Apparently, with the COVID-triggered adaptation of remote work, there is now an ongoing debate about whether New York is “dead” [1] [2].

I was in a place that could not be any more different from New York City.

Yet, my thoughts kept wandering to this debate. I wondered if the reports of people leaving New York City were overblown? Could the city really be facing an imminent decline? If so, will it be like it was in the 1970s? Could it be worse? What would the United States of America even be without places like New York City, where one can be in the middle of everything, the energy, constant movement, and economic activity?

The article claiming New York to be “Dead Forever” made a claim that sounded quite familiar… “This time is different”. I’ve heard this statement many times, in many different forms. Sure, “this time is different” events do happen, but not as often as they are proclaimed. A deep dive into history will actually reveal that in many cases, even ones of major change, a lot of things stay the same. A recent example is Google and Facebook. They changed the world in some ways, but their business model of giving away content for free and marketing to advertisers is not new at all. It started with radio and was the predominant business model of the television era. The main thing they changed was providing a platform for people to produce content for each other rather than paying actors to produce content.

I have a feeling that, although some adjustments will need to be made, there will still be people who crave the energy of living in places like New York.

Going over a mountain pass is quite a different experience than summiting a mountain. Looking ahead at the ridge, it is comforting, especially while carrying a heavy backpack, to know that it is only necessary to reach the “saddle” of this ridge, as opposed to the top of a mountain. There is no chance of a “false summit”. The challenge up ahead looks real, but it is also all laid out in front of us, with no surprises.

The top of the summit would reveal another challenge ahead. The clouds were already gathering.

As we descended the other side of the pass, toward Treasure Vault Lake at about half past noon, it was almost impossible to imagine an afternoon that would not feature rain.

It would take about an hour and a half for us to reach our destination, Blodgett Lake.

Due to a very rocky section of the trail, we had to descend into the valley and climb back to the lake.

For our final ascent to the lake, we went off trail. It’s probably a place few humans venture.

We ended up getting camp set up just in time for the storms to roll in.

The hours of 2:30 to 5:30 P.M. were mostly spent inside the tent, waiting out the storm. It was not ideal, as people often chose activities like this to spend time outdoors. However, we had been outdoors most of the day, and I welcomed the chance to take a nap and do a little bit of reading.

Between the place we set up camp and the lake there was a small lone tree. The image of this tiny tree with mountains and storm clouds in the backdrop made me think of the types of photographs often featured at art galleries, or at trendy cocktail parties.

That lone tree also came to symbolize something else… versatility.

It is common for people to wait for the ideal conditions for their activities. The chilly damp conditions, and promise of more time stuck inside the tent were far from ideal. However, that evening I witnessed a truly stunning natural phenomenon that I had only previously seen in videos. Watching the fog clouds pour over two mountain passes and into the valley below I knew for sure …. It pays to be versatile!

Mount of the Holy Cross

I did not understand why I heard so many cars going by at 3 A.M. We were camping in a really good spot, along Notch Mountain Road only five miles from the trailhead. Wasn’t the purpose of camping near the trailhead of a 14er (Mountain with a peak 14,000 ft. or higher in elevation, a popular activity in Colorado, particularly in late summer) to be able to sleep a little later? In our spot, we were able to wake up shortly after 5 A.M. and still arrive at the trailhead by sunrise.

The strange thing was, the trailhead was already so packed we had to park half a mile away!

Over the course of the day, we would find out the reason why. The most obvious reason is that The Mt. of the Holy Cross is not just a “14er”. It is a 14er with a warmup hike, a climb of roughly 1200 feet in elevation, followed by a descent into a river valley before the primary 3500 foot steep ascent.

Hiking several days after a full moon has two advantages. First, the moon does not rise in the night sky until an hour or two before midnight, making it possible to see the stars before going to sleep. Then, in the morning, the moon is still out past sunrise.

The opening ascent, which summits right around the tree line is a significant hike of its own. There are probably plenty of people who live more sedentary lives who would not even be able to make it to this summit, which was spectacular at this early hour.

Right after getting to the summit, the trail turned in another direction and suddenly, the mountain the we were going to climb appeared before us while the moon was still prevalent in the morning sky.

It was an image of power, challenge and intimidation in front of us. We had just completed what many would consider a satisfactory hike of its own, a climb of a little over 1000 feet to a scenic panoramic view. Here, it was just a warm up. The moon, still mostly full and bright highlighted the challenge that laid ahead. It may as well have been screaming LEVEL UP.

After seeing the mountain, there can be nothing more disconcerting than descending, giving back the elevation gain we had worked for at the beginning of the day. We descended from near tree line (11,600′) back down into a river valley with Aspen trees nearly 1000 feet lower.

Long distance cycling taught me how to manage situations like these, psychologically speaking. Terrain, on trips like these, are kind of like a metaphor for life. Parts of it are naturally going to be harder. Parts of it are going to be easier. Sometimes you can anticipate it. Sometimes, it is unexpected. When climbing, during the more challenging parts of life, all you can do is toughen up – grind it out. When on a descent, or during times when life takes it a bit easier on you, it is seriously best to just enjoy it, and not worry about paying the price later. We can’t change the terrain, the wind speed or the trail conditions. All we can do is get the full enjoyment out of the experiences that work in our favor.

Around the river valley, there were a serious of campsites, another reason that the trailhead parking lot was so full. Apparently, many people who hike this mountain pack into one of these campsites and then tackle the main ascent in the morning.

After the campgrounds, the climb got intense quite rapidly. It wouldn’t be long before we reached treeline and encountered typical conditions associated with 14ers; A rocky, steep trail with full exposure.

Instantly the full beauty of the heart of the Rocky Moutains was visible in all directions.

I knew I would soon reach the point where I felt exhausted and delirious.

The step scramble up the rocks seemed to go on and on forever. Every time I reached what appeared to be some kind of crest, the trail would just turn in a slightly different direction and the rocky climb would continue.

This very intense section of the mountain, at high elevation, also felt like a metaphor for life. Sometimes, we work really hard at something, complete a task and feel like we have “made it”, only to determine that another, equally challenging task lies ahead of us. It is like working hard to get an advanced degree, then working hard to land a job, then working hard to prove ourselves and get a promotion, or having to work our way into a different, more appropriate position. If anything, the downhill part of this hike was part of that metaphor. Many of us take part in endeavors that we later realize were counterproductive.

The final scramble to the top was so steep it proved ideal conditions for mountain goats.

There was one adverse condition, common to 14ers, that I did not experience that day. That was bad weather of any kind. In the mountains, it is common to encounter chilly winds, even in the middle of summer and afternoon thunderstorms. Consistent with the hot, dry summer of 2020, I relaxed on top of the mountain in a t-shirt, without having to crawl behind rocks to shield from the wind.

I was still almost too exhausted to enjoy being at the top of the mountain. It always feels amazing to be at the top, but I felt quite delirious. I was almost feeling too delirious to make sense of everything. I ceased thinking about every aspect of the experience being some kind of metaphor for life and just gazed around, with no energy for any thought beyond feeling on top of the world and gazing out at the rugged terrain in all directions.

The descent turned out to be almost as exhausting because I keep my dog on leash, she pulls, making a steep descent even scarier, and she spent most of the descent trying to capture small chipmunks.

Luckily, she finally succeeded, and once that adrenaline rush wore off, even an energetic 2-year-old Siberian Husky had to acknowledge that this hike was indeed exhausting.

With a round trip total of around 5500 feet of climbing, this was the most challenging hike I had ever undertaken. It was challenging enough to make me stop thinking of metaphors for life and start seeing just what is. When I reached the crest of the final climb on the return trip, I simply enjoyed one of my favorite foods and gazed back upon the mountain I had just finished climbing.

Suddenly my exhaustion made sense. I mean, come on, look at that thing!

Cycling Leadville Colorado

IMG_1142

Welcome to the future! The world is suddenly in a true state of transformation. Millions of people have transitioned to remote work. Prior to this year, remote work had never been too widespread. Despite its robust growth throughout the 2010s, estimates from the later part of the decade put the percentage of workers who were fully remote near or below 5% [Source 1] [Source 2] [Source 3].

It’s important to remember that “remote work” does not mean “work from home”. While some use the terms interchangeably, there is an important difference. “Work from home” simply replaces the need to be at one’s desk at the office with the need to be at one’s desk at home. It is one of the ways people are attempting to recreate the office online in these strange times.

Conversely, “remote work” means working from anywhere, as long as the job gets done and the responsibilities are handled. Alongside several other societal developments (asynchronous communication, updated views of stakeholders and others), truly embracing remote work has the potential to create a freer and healthier world!

My mid-July experiment came from my desire to escape the heat. In Colorado, we escape the mid summer heat by going up in elevation. When it comes to towns in North America, it is hard to find one higher than Leadville, which is above 10,000 feet in elevation.

IMG_1113

I traded near 100 degree heat for cool mornings and pleasnt days (highs usually in the low to mid 70s) at a relatively affordable price by renting a studio unit with excellent mountain and sunset views.

Perhaps because I visited during the only somewhat warm part of the year here, there were a lot of people walking around, talking to each other and such.

IMG_1179

I could feel the spirit and the history everywhere I walked and never needed do more than a slight turn of the head to see some of the amazing natural beauty of the heart of the Rocky Mountains.

Perhaps the best way to get the vibe of a small town like this one is to visit a coffee shop on the town’s Main Street (in this case Harrison Street) at 7:30 A.M. on a weekday morning.

Since there is no major ski resort, or other major tourist attraction, Leadville felt like it had a more genuine small town vibe to it.

A great introduction to cycling in Leadville is Leadville’s Mineral Belt Trail.

IMG_1123

The Mineral Belt Trail is a 12 mile loop that passes through town, as well as some of the historic mines in the hills nearby.

MineralBeltTrail

For visitors, I definitely recommend riding this trail in the counter-clockwise direction. In this direction, the ride will start with a climb in the woods, with a chance to look back at Colorado’s highest point and some chance encounters.

Although the climb is not big, the summit is a must stop!

IMG_1128

Much of the next section of the trail is a homage to Leadville’s mining history.

Then, it opens up to a wonderfully scenic descent.

IMG_1132IMG_1134IMG_1140

This ride is one that could easily be thrown into a lunch hour or break in a work from anywhere situation.

There are plenty of ways to find rides that are somewhat longer and more challenging. On this trip, I took on a the ride around Turquoise Lake.

TurqousieLakeRide

The ride totals between 20 and 25 miles depending on where in town the ride originates and whether or not any side trips are taken to look at some of the scenic overlooks.

The main considerations for this ride are…

1. It is not particularly popular among cyclists

IMG_1147

I did not see any other cyclists, nor did I see too many cars.

2. On the south side, the road is closer to the lake.

IMG_1148

However, there are still some hills.

IMG_1155

3. The north side of the lake has a bigger climb

IMG_1157IMG_1158

And a descent where a cyclist could easily break the speed limit!

IMG_1164

Oh, and a great overlook of the town!

IMG_1166

4. The road itself is not in the greatest of shape in all places

IMG_1159

There is definitely a need to be somewhat cautious on some of these descents.

Finally, Leadville is a great place for longer, more challenging rides. Heading north out of Leadville, one can either follow highway 91 over Freemont Pass.

IMG_1190

Or follow highway 24 over Tennessee Pass.

IMG_0526

Or take on the 80 mile loop that makes up the popular Copper Triangle, which would include riding up Vail Pass as well. A very scenic but challenging ride.

Copper Triangle Map

Regardless of what riding one does up in Leadville, there are some important considerations. First, at these high elevations, there is always the risk of wind and rain, which would make the trip take longer than anticipated.

IMG_1126

In fact, along the Mineral Belt Trail, there are several shelters built for cyclists to wait out an unexpected storm.

These storms are more common as the afternoon progresses. With some chilly temperatures in the morning, even in mid-July, the ideal time for cycling in the Central Rocky Mountains would be in the late morning through early afternoon. In this, my first true experiment with the new work from anywhere era, I did not do the best job of arranging my work and activities to align with this reality. Luckily I did not encounter rain, but did encounter plenty of wind. As we navigate this new world, the key will be to synthesize life and work in a new way, aligning work, time and place considering the expected conditions associated with the seasons and the atmosphere. Once we effectively manage these conditions for ourselves, our lives will be richer and more fulfilling than ever before!

 

 

Lessons Relearned on The West Elk Loop

It is quite easy to drive around the State of Colorado without even noticing the numerous scenic byways throughout the State. The signs are kind of easy to ignore. How certain roads get labelled scenic byways is somewhat of a mystery. There are plenty of extremely scenic places that are not designated a “scenic byway”, while there are some ares on the Plains, like highway 50 from Lamar to La Junta which are frankly not that scenic.

CO_Scenic_Byways

I’ve never made a point to follow one of these routes. However, the weekend I camped in the Gunnison National Forest, I just happened to mostly follow the West Elk Loop.

The West Elk Loop is kind of a loop around the Gunnison National Forest, but there is also spur north along the Crystal River. This happens to be where my journey began.

We were not too far from Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. I had never gone too deep into the park, nor have I visited the North Rim. I wanted to go and hike the North Vista Trail to overlook the canyon. Unfortunately, like most National Parks, Black Canyon of the Gunnison is not very dog friendly.

But that wasn’t enough to deter me. I thought it would be possible to hike up to an overlook of the canyon from outside the park. The drive was two hours, through an area that would eventually become a hot desert.

I figured there would be someone in the tiny town of Paonia that could help me figure out a way to overlook the canyon with a dog.

 

All I heard was a story about a dog that was left at the bottom of the canyon four years ago, who, luckily was able to eventually find a home.

The road I had identified to hopefully find an overlook of the canyon was hot and way too bumpy for my car.

We eventually got to a place where we could overlook part of the canyon.

But it hardly felt worth it. The round about drive took up nearly the entire day, and defeated one of the key purposes of this trip- to escape the heat.

IMG_0996

The next day, we’d visit a much less well known part of the West Elk Loop, along a county road that connects Paonia State Park to Crested Butte, that happens to be closed in the winter.

The drive was beautiful from the very beginning. It was quiet and the road was nowhere near as bumpy I had feared based on the previous day’s drive and that little dashed line on the map.

Instead, it lead us to one of the most beautiful hikes we had ever been on, in the Lost Lake area.

The first place we encountered along the hike was Lost Lake, a picture perfect lake with mountains in the backdrop.

When I see this place, it feels like where I would want to have a little cabin in the woods. Having just driven down into 100 degree heat on a wild goose chase the day before, I was suddenly thinking a lot about weather and climate. Although I was escaping the heat this particular mid-July weekend, I still wondered how often people get to really enjoy the lakes that are this high in elevation (closer to 10000 ft.). How often is it really warm enough? Maybe, if I were to get a lake house, I’d actually want to be a little bit lower, at an elevation more like 7000 ft., where there are more warm days to enjoy it.

We continued on to Beckwith Pass, which was actually not too much of a climb. However, even at this elevation, it felt hot! The scene got more amazing as we followed the trail.

We could see the West Elk Mountains.

The Maroon Bells.

And, Mount Crested Butte.

The least well known part of the West Elk Loop turned out to be the most magnificent!

I could not believe I had wasted an entire day looking for this elusive trail to overlook the Black Canyon. I could not believe that I had fallen for the trap that so many fall for, being relentless about going to the most high profile destination despite all the other obstacle, including the National Park’s dog policy, and the relatively low elevations in the middle of a heat wave!

The strange thing is that this is a lesson I had already learned. Despite living in Denver, I rarely go to Rocky Mountain National Park, instead opting for the less busy areas around it that are often just as scenic. This Beckwith Pass hike was probably even better than the North Vista Trail would have been.

The lessons I (re)learned, on this hot July weekend in the mountains are

  • Don’t get too hung up on the most obvious, high profile things in life
  • Be curious, open minded and keep exploring
  • Work with what is in front of me

Escaping the Heat

IMG_1067

This year in Denver, it got hot and it got hot quickly. The first 90 degree temperature occurred on May 19th. This would be followed by the third hottest June on record, featuring 17 days where temperatures exceeded 90ºF.

May_July2020_TempAnomalies

The heat continued into July with no end in sight.

IMG_0911

Forecast for July 10-12 issued July 9

Having spent over a dozen winters in the Midwest, I generally welcome the heat. However, having to always get outdoor activities in first thing in the morning or just before sundown can get tiring after a while.

IMG_0841

A heat wave is also an opportunity! In Colorado, we can always escape the heat by going up to the mountains. Many ski resorts in the Central Rockies display their comfotable average summertime temperatures when promoting their summertime activities. However, it is always cold at night! It has actually been five years since I’ve been camping somewhere with pleasant nighttime temperatures. A mid summer heat wave provides the opportunity to camp at high elevations without feeling too cold.

With the recent hot and dry weather, the one thing that would not be available is fire. We arrived at a campsite in the Gunnison National Forest at 9 P.M., three hours before a fire ban would take effect.

IMG_0950

I sometimes enjoy arriving at a Campsite right around dusk.

IMG_0944

Sure, it is not as fun to set up camp with limited light. But, there is something interesting about not knowing what your surroundings really look like until waking up the next morning. The sun rises from behind the mountains gradually revealing to you where you are.

IMG_1023

IMG_0958

In some ways, it felt like I failed to escape the heat. Despite being in at higher elevation, daytime temperatures reached the 90s at the campsite. In some of the places we drove to, they were even a bit hotter.

However, perhaps because of how dry it was, overnight the temperatures would drop down into the 40s. Not uncomfortably cold, but cool enough to actually desire some hot tea in the morning, something I hadn’t done in Denver in a month.

IMG_1025

Our campsite, on a mostly empty dirt road in the Gunnison National Forest was surrounded by natural beauty. The angle of the river valley provided for beautiful sunsets.

IMG_1021

However, my favorite part of the experience was definitely the river.

IMG_0969

Each day, we’d hike in the heat, arrive back at the campground in the afternoon, and cool off in the river. The movement of the shallow flow of water over rocks was something I found fascinating.

I would stare at it, both while in the water and while at the campsite overlooking the river.

IMG_1015

The evenings seems to go on forever. Due to the north-south orientation of this particular river, the sun would cease to hit the river just after 6 P.M. However, daylight would go on until about 9. Endless evenings brought back memories of childhood. I thought of playing in the park, the neighborhood or the backyard until the very last bit of light faded from the horizon. I thought back to teenage years, doing things like playing mini-golf, hanging out at a park, or cruising around in our cars. Everything felt so playful and peaceful despite the fact that all these memories were not without frustration, conflict and setbacks. There is something about children and young adults playing outside in the evening that just feels more basically human than much of what we do in adulthood.

After a day or so away from work and screens, I started to feel my creativity surge back into my brain, as if the constant bombardment of information had been suppressing it for weeks. I looked across the river at the trees on the other side and thought…

IMG_1018

This would make the most frustrating puzzle of all time!

The flood of ideas and realizations about life flying into my mind made me want to de-clutter my life.

However, in the city I hardly ever allow myself to be bored or unproductive. I wondered if I’d ever be okay with just doing nothing. After half an hour, I determined that the world would have to be a much different place for me to be okay with taking a day, or even half of a day, without doing anything “productive”. There would need to be much less pressure, much less work, and much less other things to track and take care of.

IMG_1027

But that’s okay because my definition of “productive” is broad. Sharing experiences with people, cultivating relationships and reading and writing about interesting topics is productive. It’s not just work and achievement.

I came out of this experience feeling better about my life. Most of what I am doing is fine, I just need to relax a little bit more. I feel like had I spent the entire evening focused on staying warm while also staying out of the smoke that comes off a campfire, it would have been a much different experience. The continuing threat of COVID limiting travel and the fire bans were both disruptive events. This experience and the realizations I came to from it was the result of working with what life handed to me, rather than just wishing the disruptive events had not happened.

Imagine

IMG_0767

Imagine a place where empty beautiful highways wind through the mountains populated by more bicycles than cars. A place where the world moves at a pace that allows for the soaking in of the full experience of all of nature’s sights, sounds and smells. The highway curves over rolling hills and through canyons revealing something new around each bend.

IMG_0769

Never pressured, never stressed, filled with nothing but awe, inspiration and true intrinsic motivation, content individuals power their way up manageable slopes. They travel in a manner that is both true to themselves, each as unique individuals, as well as in coordination with the communities, both human and animal, surrounding them.

There is a destination, but the destination does not overshadow the journey.

IMG_0771

It is not a place so big, overshadowing and boastful that it leads to unrelenting anticipation among those who are in the process of getting there. It does not produce anxiety and shame among those whose progress does not meet some arbitrarily set standard. Rather, it is humble, blending in with the journey, one among many surprises that pop out around each and every curve along the highway.

IMG_0773

It is a place where everyone is exactly where they are supposed to be at that moment in time. Nobody has been made to feel insecure or fearful. It is a place that exists in real life but it is so much more than that.

For as much as this is a real place, it is also a place that exists within each of our minds.

IMG_0774

Most of what restricts us exists only within our own minds based on what we have seen, heard or been told. Within each and every one of us is a place where life is very much like this journey. We are all free to move at our own pace, without judgement. Life’s twists and turns reveal nothing but beautiful surprises. Authenticity and community can be found in everyone we encounter. The sky shines bright and we all shine bright as well. The source of life, embodied by flowing water, but actually originating from all the positive thoughts in our heads is never too far away.

The world has been twisted and rearranged in some crazy ways both by recent events and longer-term trends.

IMG_0756

Out of the wreckage something beautiful can be built, if nowhere else but in our imaginations. The time has come for all of us to create our own narratives. Mine is on a bicycle in the fullness of the wide open outdoors.

Camping Memorial Day Weekend at 9600 feet (2600 m)

IMG_0539

The week leading up to Memorial Day Weekend life in Denver had already entered “summer mode”. Tuesday and Wednesday were the first official 90 degree days. People had begun to enter summer mode, moving their outdoor activities to either first thing in the morning or around sunset.

IMG_0325

Many went up to the mountains. On an unpaved road, three hours from Denver, a little outside the town of Redcliff in Eagle County Colorado, it felt like there was more traffic than there had been on some of Denver’s residential streets lately.

IMG_0463

To find a quality place to camp, that was not already occupied by someone who had arrived earlier, we ended up having to cary all of our supplies up a fairly steep cliff.

IMG_0447

Climbing that far up in elevation, we began to encounter some snow.

IMG_0458

It was the first time I ever set up camp anywhere near a pile of snow this big. Having been in summer mode, it felt odd to suddenly be around piles of snow that were multiple feet deep in some places. However, it was not without its advantages.

IMG_0465

The effort to lug all of our stuff uphill from the car also ended up proving advantageous. Despite being quite far from any town, campsites near the road/creek were not too quiet or secluded.

IMG_0476

We got the experience most people want out of dispersed camping by carrying all our stuff to the top of the hill. The tops of the nearby mountains could be seen much more easily up here. It was also slightly warmer, as colder air funneled into the valley.

IMG_0474

Overall, putting in a little extra effort lead to a better experience!

May can be a somewhat awkward time in the mountains. Above a certain elevation, there is still snow kind of everywhere. We took a day trip up to the Homestake Reservoir.

IMG_0505

However, with the ground kind of half snow covered and half bare, getting anywhere was kind of awkward.

It was here I had another first, a trek that blurred the lines between hiking and snowshoeing.

IMG_0514

With sections of trail bare and others still covered by feet of snow, we were constantly taking our snowshoes off and putting them back on again. The inconvenience and slippery sections of wet snow deterred others from completing this hike.

Once again, putting in the extra effort and overcoming a little inconvenience proved to be worthwhile. We ended up being able to eat a quiet lunch all by ourselves in front of a small but extremely picturesque alpine lake.

IMG_0517

The image in front of me, of a lone weather sensor, with the mid-May still mostly snow covered mountains of the Western Sawatch Range behind it ended up being one of the best ascetic natural experiences I have ever had!

IMG_0518

A lot of people will hike up here in July, August and September, after all the residual snow has gone, and stand in this very spot. However, they will not get this experience.

The following night, not having to set up camp, being able to goof off a little before a storm came in, was quite relaxing.

IMG_0526

When we first drove up the road, looking for dispersed camping, only to find that every site we saw for the first 8.5 miles was already claimed, it was tempting to give up and go home.

IMG_0443

On our partially snow packed hike to a lake barely even big enough to make it onto one of those detailed National Geographic pullout maps, we were advised to turn around less than a mile in. In both cases, persevering through unforeseen obstacles produced amazing experiences. Like the campground we stayed at and the pure beauty of eating lunch in front a quiet alpine lake, life will reward those who are not deterred by unforeseen obstacles in all forms. The key is to not give up!

The following morning, we’d wake up to even crazier weather; rain then even a few periods of significant snow!

IMG_0551

While Denver was entering Summer, the top of the Sawatch Mountains were barely leaving winter. It reminds me of when I encounter people who happened to be around the same age, with similar backgrounds, but are in different seasons of life.

It can be a challenge to wrap the mind around 90 degree Denver and nearby mountains where it is still snowing. In the same vein, it can be challenging to wrap the mind around a person with tons of responsibilities, a mature and realistic attitude and acceptance of life’s limitations being the same age as another who seems to have endless youthful energy and enthusiasm. Yet, like summer in Denver and Winter in Eagle County, they can both exist, both be beautiful, and give the world some much needed variety. The key is to not make assumptions about where anyone “should be” in their lives, and avoid the assumption that one path is inherently wrong.

IMG_0556