Tag Archives: travel

Waiting for the Ski Lift

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Remember the first time? Perhaps you were a young kid, or perhaps you were a teenager first learning how to ski or snowboard. Already uncomfortable, taking part in an activity that is kind of dangerous. This chair is coming around to lift you to the top of the mountain, or at least quite a bit higher. Will you push forward at the right time? Will your transition onto the chair be smooth? What about getting off the chair when the ride is done?

As an experienced skier, taking on some of Copper Mountain’s more challenging terrain, I take for granted the ease at which I hop on and off of ski lifts.

However, that wasn’t always so. I recall my first day skiing, when I was 14, how I felt as I gradually moved up in line to, for the first time in my life, allow a pulley-based mechanical device to lift me up in the air while I was wearing skis. Right in front of me was a prime example of the rewards the come from overcoming anxiety, pushing through discomfort and opening ourselves to new experiences. Winter would not be nearly as enjoyable without this temporarily stressful experience.

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Life is full of things we anticipate, get anxious or even fearful about, but chose to push through in order to expand our horizons. These events could be as trivial as trying a new food, or changing in a gym locker room alone for the first time (as a child). They can be as major as a first date, job interviews, or starting a business. In all cases, we start out anxious or afraid, or, at the very least, highly uncomfortable. We emerge on the other side a more capable human being. If we continue to take part in the activity, like riding the ski lift, what was once a source of terror becomes something we are comfortable with and do with ease.

In a lot of these situations, there is some degree of flexibility with regards to the timing at which we overcome our nerves. A high schooler can loose their nerve and decide to wait another day or two to ask out the classmate they have a crush on. An aspiring musician at an open mic night can elect to let a few people go before them. Someone feeling anxious about boarding a ski lift cannot slow down the inevitable. The chairs are going to come, one by one, picking up people. The line will move as the anxious new skier inevitably reaches boarding position. The clock is ticking!

The course of life will bring more significant situations that require overcoming our nerves; marriage, children, business decisions that affect many, as well as the many times we need to assert ourselves or allow ourselves to be vulnerable. As I face a situation of my own that’s making me nervous, it helps to have a reminder, here on the slopes, of a time I overcame my nerves and created something beautiful.

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New Season, New Resort

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Questions Lead to More Questions

I boarded a train downtown.

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I was on it for about half an hour.

I stepped off the train in a place called Olde Town Arvada.

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As soon as I got off the train I felt this pleasant feeling of comfortable familiarity. Colorado does not have too many places like this: Suburbs with centralized downtown areas full of shops, restaraunts and bars centered around a train station. Yet, this is all over Long Island. In fact it is all over the entire New York metropolitan area.

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So, why did I feel so content to have entered an environment that felt so familiar, even if it was nearly 2,000 miles away from where I grew up?

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Questions that burn in my head often don’t go away until I have found a sufficient answer. A couple days later, I looked into why this feeling of familiarity was such a positive emotion. Apparently, there is something called the mere exposure effect, where people tend to rate more positively what they have already been exposed to, or become familiar with.

I wondered then….

Is this the same mechanism behind nostalgia?

Does finding joy in familiarity prevent us from being as open as we could be? And, is it holding us back from moving forward with our lives and culture?

Also, what is the nature of nostalgia? Do we tend to get nostalgic for a specific time in our lives? Or do we tend to get nostalgic for whatever time in our lives felt we felt a certain way?

Nostalgia has intrigued me quite a bit lately. I feel like I just reached the age where people around me are expecting me to take part in it. The problem is, I am not really that interested. I’m more interested in thinking about the future.

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Anecdotal evidence seems to point towards a cycle of nostalgia that revives time periods roughly 25 years before the present day; shows, movies and even music samples that appeal to middle aged adults with spending power reminiscing about their formative years.

In the late 80s/ early 90s, there was The Wonder Years, set in the 1960s. At the turn of the century, it was That 70s Show. 1980s nostalgia has been everywhere for some time.

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Now, the nostalgia cycle is turning to the 1990s, an era I rememberer but don’t feel too terribly attached to. I liked Seinfeld. Nirvana and Soudgarden were good bands. However, I also remember the mediocre (shows, bands and cultural developments I won’t specify as I don’t intend to throw shade right now).

Those who have studied nostalgia indicate that it is both a way to cope with things like loss, fear and disappointment, as well as a yearning for some kind of an ideal state. But…

Is this a good thing? Or are these idealized versions of periods in the past preventing us from recognizing the current period for what it is and making the most of it?

Are coping mechanisms a good thing? Or do they prevent us from actually processing what is leading to the negative emotions we are experiencing?

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Likewise, I have heard a lot recently about embracing the unfamiliar. In my little corner of Millennial Denver culture, being open to new ideas and jumping into the unknown is consistently glorified as an almost God-like way of life.

Is there a limit? Is there an evolutionary reason for us to seek that which is familiar?

Open mindedness, taken to an extreme, can lead to analysis paralysis. This is prevalent everywhere, as the amount of information input by our brains exceeds our natural decision-making capacity.

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What do we do now? Also, how did an impromptu trip to an inner-ring suburb lead me to so many questions? Then questions on top of questions?

It feels like I just lived out a quintessential example of over-thinking and analysis paralysis. It is easy for inquisitive minds to get into a rabbit hole where questions lead to more questions nearly indefinitely.

When I shut my mind off and take the experience, what I realize is that I am not as different from everybody else as I had believed. When broken down to its root cause, the psychological mechanism that causes so many people to idealize the past is the same one that gave me that positive vibe upon entering Olde Town Arvada.

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Just because I don’t have any interest in binge-watching Friends episodes doesn’t mean I am not trying to cope with life’s disappointments and find that elusive feeling that all is good and will continue to be good for the foreseeable future.

 

The Calm Before the Storm

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This is Guanella Pass, 11,700 feet (3570 m) above sea level on Wednesday October 9, 2019. It was a warm day, one that almost felt like mid-summer. As can be seen from the photograph, the region had yet to receive a significant snow. On that day, Denver International Airport would reach a high temperature of 83ºF (28ºC). Temperatures were quite pleasant at higher elevations.

However, change was on its way. These photos were taken only several hours before autumn’s fist meaningful push of cold air would arrive in Central Colorado. The next day would see temperatures across the entire region dip below freezing, and snow fall all the way down in Denver.

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Friday morning’s low would reach 9°F (-12°C) in Denver, representing a near record breaking temperature drop.

Thanks to weather models, forecasters saw this dramatic change coming. Most Coloradans were prepared.

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Yet, even without computer models to foresee the exact day and exact nature of these changes, it is pretty well understood, especially up in the Rockies, that at this time of year, sooner or later an event like this is bound to happen. This is why many high elevation animals gather food in the second half of the summer and why the tree leaves change colors in the autumn.

Luckily, it was a Wednesday. So, the roads people usually take to go “leaf peeping” weren’t nearly as crowded as they are on weekends.

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Guanella Pass is amazing in autumn. Being only 50 miles from Denver, it is typically far more crowded on weekends at this time of year.

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I often get carried away with getting to that perfect location, many miles out of the way where the image, the sounds, smells and conditions are perfect!

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However, that day I noticed that it is quite possible to see some spectacular fall colors without even leaving the main roads. I saw bright gold trees along both Interstate 70 and U.S. Highway 285!

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Few places captured the essence of life in the mountains in Autumn better than Georgetown, which is right along I-70.

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It was strange to gaze upon the Aspen trees knowing that in less than 12 hours, due to wind and snow, most of the leaves would be gone, and the landscape was about to fundamentally be changed.

Storms are part of the nature of life, not just with respect to weather and seasons. It is the first time we have a crush, and soon after the first time we get our hearts broken. It is the conflicts we have with our family, close friends and significant others. It is that person we just don’t get along with. It is losing a job, getting in an unexpected accident, or even just having a week’s worth of bad luck.

It’s facing our fears, which is what Halloween is really all about.

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In October, the days get darker and chillier, foreshadowing winter, often the most dreaded of the seasons. It is no coincidence that this is the time of year we celebrate all that is spooky; carving spooky designs into pumpkins, dressing in scary costumes and watching scary movies.

Some of life’s “storms” come unexpectedly. However, some are at least somewhat predictable, like the changing of the seasons or a coming breakup. How we respond differs quite a bit from person to person. There are those that prepare, those that embrace, those that deny and those that simply try to weather it as best as possible.

Maybe the same is true of these Aspen trees up in the mountains.

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It was hard for me to imagine why some trees at 9,000 feet (2750m) in elevation would still have green leaves on October 9th. They seemed less prepared. However, maybe they are just enjoying this calm before the storm a bit longer. I can’t say I had not done the same at various points in my life.

The key to facing the storms of our lives is to build up resiliency and self-confidence. This is part of what facing our fears is all about. Once our fears have been faced, we are prepared to have that awkward conversation where we must tell people what they don’t want to hear. We are ready to assert ourselves to obtain what we really want out of life. And, we are ready to deal with setbacks without falling apart.

The confidence not to panic gives us the capacity to enjoy “the calm before the storm” to its fullest extent.

 

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 2 Staying on Trail

Opening and closing a tent has a certain familiar look, smell and sound. Over time, our brains come to associate what our senses observe with types of experiences and often the emotions that go along with them.

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While my summer was active, it was active in a way that involved somewhat less outdoor activity than the past several year, and not much camping. It felt good to using the tent again, and having the experiences associated with it. The smell of the nylon tent and the sounds of the zipper going back and forth brought back associations with things that I love.

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East Lost Lake was perhaps even more beautiful the next morning, which was not as cold as the previous day, yet, still cold.

A lot of people fantasize about living in the mountains. I have even thought about it from time to time. Experiencing cold mornings in mid-September gave me a glimpse into one of the downsides of living at these higher elevations. Those of us that live at lower elevations come up to the mountains during the best and exciting times of year: ski season and summer. Skiing is, of course, fun and exciting. Summer days at these elevations are pleasant.

However, mornings, even in the middle of the summer are quite chilly. Morning temperatures at these elevations are 35°F to 45°F (2-7°C) in the middle of summer! At this point in time, while some towns were looking forwards towards fall festivals and the changing of the leaves, after that will be a period of time that is not so exciting, with mornings that would be cold enough to prevent me from biking to work.

We stopped at the last in the series of alpine lakes, West Lost Lake to fill up with water.

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Then we began to climb again.

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Like Friday, Saturday would feature a significant late morning climb. This one would take us up out of the woods and on top of one of a broad mesas.

We would spend most of the afternoon along the mesa, periodically gazing at the features below. At one point, we were actually able to see where we had just camped the night before.

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That afternoon, we would encounter a different issue. While in the woods, the trail was well marked the entire way. On the mesa, the trail all but completely vanished in places. We were just walking across a large grassy field hoping we were going the right way.

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That’s the advantage, as well as disadvantage of selecting a trail that isn’t widely used. We would actually go the entire day without encountering any other people. However, that also means that there isn’t regular foot traffic to maintain the trail.

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Sometimes the most frustrating experiences are also the most rewarding. We spent the afternoon looking for the trail, often getting excited to find the sections of it where the grass had not fully regrown. We also occasionally found ourselves in some tough places like this section of shrubbery near the edge of the mesa.

At one point, we actually did make a wrong turn and went out of our way. However, it ended up adding less than a mile to our overall trip, and gave us one of the best overlooks of the day!

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By the end of the day, we had covered another 10 miles (16 km). I was exhausted.

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We camped above treeline, which was an interesting experience. I’d never thought of that possibility as we’d typically want to find campsites where we’d be able to find firewood. However, with gas stoves, it is possible to cook dinner without a fire, and we were able to find an unexpected water source.

Camping above treeline reminded me that life is not about following rules and procedures. It is about taking care of needs and solving problems. Rules and procedures can serve as a good general guide, but there are always going to be situations that require different solutions.

At this point, we were too exhausted to want to continue on to get back down below treeline. Going off trail to get into the trees would have involved carrying our heavy packs down a fairly steep area. The solution ended up working out.

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However, without a fire, it did feel cold. Perhaps the coldest hour of the day was the hour after we got everything set up, when my body was exhausted and didn’t want to move or expend the energy needed to keep itself warm. This may be the coldest hour of the day as physical exhaustion can have an impact on the temperature regulation system in our bodies.

With clear skies and no fire, it was the perfect evening to watch the mid-september full moon, or “harvest moon”, come up from behind the mountains.

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With respect to both going the wrong direction for a short amount of time and being cold without a fire, both frustrating experiences lead to something magical in the end. It was an incredible day that reminded me of several important life lessons.

  1. We are often capable of far more than we give ourselves credit for.
  2. Some of the most frustrating experiences turn out to be the most rewarding ones.
  3. It’s not about rules and procedures, it’s about results.
  4. Some years we partake in some activities more than others. That is fine, just how it goes. It doesn’t make anything less enjoyable.

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.