Tag Archives: Evergreen

Three Truths About Paradise

IMG_7012.jpgOur ever evolving languages can often lead to some complicated terms, and concepts that can often be difficult to both describe and properly comprehend.  One of those concepts is paradise, this concept of a place where everything is ideal, happy and worry free.  But, in various places within our culture, there are vastly differing depictions of it.


Last year, I rode my bike through a place called Paradise Valley, in Southern Montana, along the Yellowstone River Valley.  This “paradise” is a calm, quiet, and sparsely populated picturesque landscape in the mountains.  When many people here in Colorado talk about “paradise”, they are commonly discussing places that meet this very description.


A google image search for the word paradise primarily produces images of a tropical beach.  This is the image of paradise depicted in commercials for products like Corona.  In my observation, this is the most common way paradise is depicted in our culture, and for anyone that has ever spent a winter in the Midwest, it serves as a dream vacation.

And then there is the world of music, and its plethora of widely varying references to paradise; As a specific act of intense sexual pleasure (L.L. Cool J.).  As a hyperbole for a horrible life situation (Phil Collins).  Sarcastically (Green Day).  Detroit based rapper Big Sean comes closest to appreciating the true, complex nature of the concept, when, in his song, Paradise, he discusses his lifestyle as a whole, and the pride he has taken in earning it.


I wasn’t expecting to find any inspiration here at Evergreen Lake.  I mainly came up here to free myself from the distractions at home, and also avoid the 90 degree heat in Denver, without traveling too far.  I did not know what to expect from this place.  I hoped to find somewhere I can alternate between walking and reading.  What I saw was a popular public place, with outfitters renting out paddle boats, stand-up paddle boards, and other strange water contraptions, families having picnics, and groups of friends just enjoying themselves in the areas surrounding the lake.

It felt like paradise- sort of.  In a way, it felt reminiscent of paradise, what it truly is and isn’t.  The concept of paradise is kind of complex, but lost in all of our songs, pictures, and conversations, are three basic truths about paradise.

  1. Paradise is not just a geographical location- it’s a setting!

It’s the time of day and time of year.  It’s who you are with (or not with), your situation, and what’s on your mind.  It’s a “setting”, in the full sense of the word, as it is applied to stories, plays, etc.  This can include not only the place a person is, but where they just were, where they are going, and how they feel about all of it.

  1. Paradise is different for every person.

Gazing upon people giggling amongst each other, playing games, paddling their boats and such, I realized that, as a true extrovert, my version of paradise is probably not this quiet retreat in the mountains, or an empty beach.  It probably falls a lot closer to Big Sean’s, a life well lived and earned!  But, also a place where people are interacting with one another in a manner that is enjoyable.

  1. We often don’t recognize paradise until after the fact.

I was inspired by multiple specific things I saw.  A group of older people playing bocce ball reminded me that life did not have to become dull and uninspiring with age (as I often fear).  There was also a group of younger people, cheerleaders, doing cartwheels and giggling about what had transpired over the course of their weekend.  Witnessing this reminded me of all of the times I had spent socializing with good friends over the past decade or so.  It was almost like a montage playing through my head.

I recalled the times I would be envious of people in a large group that seemed to be doing something more interesting than what I was doing, only to remember how frequently, I am on the other side of that equation, part of a large group, likely being obnoxious.  I recall in particular, one time, in Chicago, when I tried to replicate the experience of passing around a boot of beer, a German tradition also common in Madison, Wisconsin.  I found a place that served boots, and assembled a group of a dozen or so people only to realize that this was more of a family establishment, and not necessarily a place to go to recreate college type antics.  We still had a good time, and there may have been some that wished for that level of excitement out of their evening!

Of the crowd at Lake Evergreen, I wonder how many of them are like me.  I wonder how many of them are enjoying their own personal version of paradise, and, as I had so many times in the past, not realized it until a couple of weeks after the fact.

Bergen Peak; Beating the Weather


If anyone were seeking my advice about living in Colorado, amongst the topics I would address would be the weather.  One thing that differentiates Colorado’s day-to-day life from life in many other places is how significant of an impact weather can have on daily activities, and how imperative it is that Colorado residents pay attention to weather and weather changes.  Colorado, being an outdoor oriented place with significant weather changes on many different time scales, is a place where residents find their plans impacted by weather significantly more often than in most other places.

Today was one of those days.  Weather forecasts called for significant thunderstorm chances along the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains starting at 2:00.  This is not too terribly uncommon for this time of year.  As a result, it is a fairly common practice to begin all hikes in the mountains at this time of year early in the morning.  This lead me to wake up at 6 AM in order to complete the 9.6 mile round trip hike of Bergen Peak prior to the anticipated onset of thunderstorms.  The frequency in which people begin their activities early has implications beyond those activities.  It is fairly certain that a significant number of people forgo Friday and Saturday night activities in anticipation of early morning hikes.  Some even head up to the mountains the evening prior to their anticipated activity in order to save time.  The end result; less people out at bars and more people at cabins and campgrounds on any given Friday or Saturday night at this time of year.

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Getting to this trail-head is actually quite easy from Denver.  Overall, the drive takes less than an hour, and it does not require any off-road type driving.  While the best route is along Interstate 70, the exit is far enough East that one could drive here from Denver without contending with the parts of the highway farther into the mountains where weekend traffic delays are common.  This hike is both moderate in intensity (elevation gains and such), and quite well marked.  This is possibly because the trail is often open to, and is quite popular with, mountain bikers.

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The first mile from the parking lot, along the Meadow View trail was fairly flat.  This trail connected us with a loop that consisted of the Bergen Peak Trail and the Too Long Trail.  We decided to take the loop in a clockwise direction, starting with the Bergen Peak Trail.

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This trail took us up some steeper areas, as well as some areas of densely packed trees.  The occasional opening along the trail was marked with a sign indicating a “scenic view”.  These scenic views were pretty nice, but on this particular day, our visibility was limited by a significant amount of haze.  Once again, life was being impacted by weather, but this time a longer-term trend.  This summer has been more humid than is typical for Colorado standards, leading to significantly more haze than normal.

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A one mile spur off of the main “loop” brought us to the top of Bergen Peak a little bit after 10 AM.  By this time, the skies had gotten even more hazy.  At the top of the mountain, there is some kind of tower (most likely for phones), as well as this sort of random building.  I really do not know what it is for, and I was unable to enter the building.  I really hope it is not home to some crazy recluse making secret revenge plans.  Nothing good would come of that.

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Continuing the loop, we took the Too Long Trail, which felt as if it was living up to its name.  The trail itself is listed as only 2.4 miles, less than the 2.7 miles indicated for the Bergen Peak Trail.  However, it felt a bit longer, as the trail was more of a semi-circle, and connected to another trail, called the Elk Meadow Trail.  Along this trail, we were, indeed, closer to the meadow.  However, we did not see any Elk today.

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What we did see, though, were a significant number of different species of flowers, and some mica.  In one spot (pictured above), purple flowers were actually growing off of a dead tree branch.  Quite amazing!


I’m glad we took the Too Long Trail, even if it lengthened our hike to something close to 10 miles.  Not only did we actually experience why it is called Elk Meadow Park, but we also encountered the most unique find on this hike.  Apparently, someone felt it would be interesting to decorate one single tree, roughly halfway up the Too Long Trail, with Christmas decorations.  It was just one tree, seemingly randomly selected, with roughly a dozen ornaments placed on it.  For one with an imaginative mind, there are dozens of different scenarios that can be pondered that would lead to this outcome.  But, even more so, I wonder what the people who operate the park think of all of this.  And, I wonder how well it would be received if I were to return to this tree, and add a contribution of my own.  If others have the same thoughts, what could this tree look like a year from now?

While hiking this trail today, I did not believe I was going to get any good photos at all (due to the haze, and the tree density of most of the hike).  However, the more I look a the photo I chose to lead this entry with, the more I fall in love with it!  It is not the kind of perfect photo that you will find on commercials or billboards (see this image).  It is a photo of the same place, but from a different perspective; one of a world that is not quite so perfect but beautiful in its own way.  It is an image of a world where people wake at 6 AM to get in a hike before a round of thunderstorms that never materialized.  It is a world where we know enough about what is in front of us to stay out of danger, but with enough haze to keep the excitement associated with the mystery of the unknown.  That is the world in which we live in, and the frustration occasionally waking up early unnecessarily is a small price to pay for the wonder and the mystery that accompanies it.

Maxwell Falls; The distance between reality and expectation


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.


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.


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.


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.

A New Activity

It has been said many times in life that each and every one of us has something called a “comfort zone”. This “comfort zone” consists of wherever we feel comfortable. It is a set of situations, places, activities, and types of people. Inside our comfort zones, we feel a certain calm. The situation does not call for any kind of panic, and does not induce a certain kind of stress. I think we all enjoy being in our comfort zones, and can have some of our best times in life in places that are familiar to us, around people that we know and trust, and doing activities we know we excel at. Outside our “comfort zones”, we feel stressed. We often have some level of self-doubt, about our ability to handle a certain situation, excel at a certain new activity, or relate to an unfamiliar group of people.

It is also commonly stated that our “comfort zones” are in a perpetual state of flux, and at all times they are always either expanding or contracting. And, believe it or not, whether our “comfort zones” are expanding or contracting is typically at least partially under our control. When we open ourselves up to new experiences, we allow our comfort zone to expand. Nearly every activity any one of us enjoys was once strange and unfamiliar. LeBron James was once new to basketball, and Lindsey Vonn was once new to skiing.

Those that do not leave their “comfort zones” from time to time tend to see their comfort zones contract over time. This is because, well, in life, change is inevitable. We have all had the experience of one of our favorite places, perhaps a restaurant or a store, either closing down, or changing under new management. Likewise, sometimes friends take a different path in life, or change in some kind of a way making the friendship simply not what it used to be, or gone altogether. If we don’t perpetually find new places, new activities, new people, and new situations, we are doomed to enojy less and less as time goes by.

In that vein, I decided to take advantage of an opportunity to do a new activity today: mountain biking. Today’s adventure took me to Alderfer/ Three Sisters Park near Evergreen, CO, which is actually less than an hour from Denver.



Some might say that mountain biking is not too different of a sport from road biking, which I have done over 1,000 miles of every year since 2009. I even came into this thinking it was only slightly different, like how baseball is to softball. But, there are actually much larger differences than I imagined.

The main difference between the two sports can be summed up as balance vs. speed (or power). In road biking, when idle, it is proper to have one pedal down and one pedal up, and be positioned in an aerodynamic stance. This is because the top priority is sped, and putting our legs in the most powerful position possible will help us develop that speed. In mountain biking, it is proper to put both pedals at roughly the same height, especially on downhill sections with rocks and jumps. This, along with an upright position off the saddle, bent arms, and weight back is the best position for maintaining balance, which is the top priority when mountain biking.


This was the hardest downhill stretch I did today. In fact, it took me three tries to get down this without either crashing or hitting a rock, which would make me come to a stop, and have to dismount. Even upon completion, I am sure I looked quite lame. However, I was told I did pretty well for a first timer.

Stretches like this become both easier and more fun, as one develops to confidence to take them at faster speeds. In this sense, mountain biking actually reminds me of skiing. Most people don’t understand how enjoyable skiing is when first learning. My first day of skiing, when I was 14, all I did was try not to fall. As I got better at it, and, most importantly, developed more confidence in myself, allowing me to go faster, the sport became more enjoyable. In fact, I came to the conclusion today that if an activity is easy to master, within the first day, it will likely get boring over time. Some of the most enjoyable activities, the best games, and most interesting topics, cause frustration at times, especially at first.

Later in the day, I crashed on a similar downhill stretch. I broke my pants and got a couple of scrapes. This is, of course, bound to happen to anyone that goes outside their “comfort zones”. Whether it be the physical “scrape” I got my first day of mountain biking, or the mental “scrape” of a 14 year old who got rejected after asking someone out on a date, we all take this risk when we exit our comfort zones. Assuming we can overcome our “scrapes”, and learn from our experiences, we will all be the better for it. In reality, we have a choice. We can either let fear control us, or gain control of our fears. This does not mean we eliminate fear. I was quite scared today. It means we work through it, and refuse to let our fears close us off from new experiences and relegate us to an ever contracting set of options in our lives.