Tag Archives: trying new things

Backpacking in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains


Lately it feels like nearly every article I read about personal growth mentions something about getting out of your comfort zone.  It makes sense, as getting out of our comfort zones forces us to learn new skills, see things in a different light, and keeps us in the habit of expanding our horizons.  One thing I had realized, though, is that many of us often equate leaving our comfort zone with trying something new.  While they often go hand and hand, they are not completely equivalent.  I would argue that, for someone who parties every weekend, trying out a different bar, while a new experience, is not really stepping outside their comfort zone.  Likewise, it takes significant courage, and takes one a significant distance outside their comfort zone, to stand up to a boss or an office bully, despite the fact that they are sitting in the same desk they have sat in every day for multiple years.

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My first backpacking trip would be my first time in the wilderness, completely away from any buildings or vehicles, with no amenities, and no access to supplies other than what has been packed.  Anything forgotten cannot be retrieved.  There is no going back to the car to escape inclement weather, and no town to purchase replacements for any camping gear that may malfunction.  We are completely on our own!

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Because this is my first time backpacking, we kept it simple, doing a loop of only 13-14 total miles up the Comanche Trail, over the ridge, and then back down the Venable trail.  I wish to try new things, expand my horizons, and step outside my comfort zone, but I want to do it in a manner that is smart.  I am accustomed to carrying little more than an extra layer or two, water, and some snacks when I hike.  Carrying a backpack, which probably weighed at least 30 pounds, is significantly more intense.  Not leaving some wiggle room in case something goes wrong, could be potentially dangerous.

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And, well, something did go wrong.  After an exhausting 2600 foot climb from the trailhead to Comanche Lake, where we set up camp for the night, the stove malfunctioned halfway through cooking dinner.

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We watched the sun gradually descend below the mountains, shinning only upon the higher terrain toward the end of the evening wondering what we were to do next.  Could we subsist the next couple of days, along our planned route, without any more cooked food, using only the cold food we had packed?  Would we have to cut any aspect of our trip short?  Was my first backpacking trip turning into a disaster?

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After reasoning out in our heads that we technically could make it on the remaining cold food we had brought, we luckily found this rusty old pot just sitting there by the lake.  This pot saved the day, as we had no qualms putting it directly into a campfire.

Trips like this definitely help us see our lives from a different point of view, and force us to re-evlauate what a “necessity” really is.  Case in point, Saturday morning (second day of the trip), we had Zatarains’ Red Beans and Rice, and very much appreciated it.   This is a dish I will periodically make at home when cooking something “simple”.  When I cook red beans and rice at home, I, by default, add some kind of meat to it, usually sausage.  I behave very much as if it were a necessity to “complete the dish”.  But, in many parts of the world, where people are poorer and life is simpler, rice and beans is a common dish.  Going on trips like this serves to me, as a periodic reminder that many of the things we consider “necessary” for life are not really necessary for life, they are only necessary for the lifestyle we have chosen.

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After a late start, we climbed, once again, from our campsite, at an elevation of roughly 11,600′, to the top of Comanche Pass, at roughly 12,800′.  Near the top, I suddenly realized that I was in an altered state of mind.  It felt almost surreal, and almost as if I had indeed taken some sort of mind-altering drug.  But, I hadn’t.  Some kind of combination of exhaustion, high altitude, and being outside my comfort zone had put my mind in a place where everything was both clear and blurry at the same time.  It’s hard to describe, but I am guessing that is why many yoga classes involve both an exhausting workout, and altered air conditions (heat, humidity), alongside its’ spiritual aspects.

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All this made the view at the top, of nearby Comanche Peak, looking Eastward toward the Wet Mountain Valley we hiked in from, and over the mountains toward the Upper San Louis Valley, even more spectacular!

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And, after a mile or so with little elevation change, we climbed back up onto the ridge at a place called Venable Pass, where we would complete our loop.  Here, we stopped to eat lunch before beginning our descent through an area known as Phantom Terrace.

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This descent was tricky enough that my exhaustion, and the altered state of mind associated with it, continued.  All sorts of crazy shit was on my mind as we descended towards the Venable Lakes.

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Of course, it was on this descent where I saw the highest concentration of my least favorite plant ever.  I really do not know what they are called, but they look vicious.  They remind me both of the flesh eating plant in the movie Little Shop of Horrors, as well as the plans that try to bite in Mario Brothers.  In fact, in my altered state of mind, I actually felt as if these plants were trying to bite me as I walked by.  It was freaky.  Maybe, despite the Red Beans and Rice, I still did not eat enough, or drink enough, I don’t know.

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We camped the second night just below Venable Lakes, as we had to get back down to the tree line for access to firewood.  We had become pretty well versed in the process of starting a fire and using it to cook our food using that rusty old pot we found (and kept after the trip).

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The next morning, we woke up early to view the sun rise.  We also saw some cool wildlife, deer, grouse, and marmots, which we had been viewing on and off for the duration of the trip.  However, particularly with deer, first thing in the morning is often the best time for wildlife viewing.  We also gazed upon the muddy puddle I had stupidly jumped into the prior afternoon, having wanted to cool off as it got quite warm for elevations in excess of 11,500′.


Before leaving the last campsite of my first ever backpacking excursion, I paid homage to one of my favorite songs out right now Cool for the Summer, as, well, this summer has been awesome, and, is now coming to an end.  On the car ride back to Denver, we had a conversation about whether or not songs like this, geared towards high school and college students, apply to people who have graduated, joined the adult world, and no longer have summer break.  However, despite the fact that nothing about my job, or my role in life, automatically shifts for summer (to an internship or summer job), I do feel something magical about this season.  There are so many things one can do in summer that they cannot in other seasons.

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The final descent, back to the trailhead along the Venable Pass Trail, is highlighted by a series of waterfalls, as well as a large number of Aspen trees.  At the biggest water fall, Venable Falls, I actually dunked my head into the water to cool off.  The lower part of this trail would be an amazing day hike sometime around a month from now, when the leaves on the Aspen trees are changing colors.

In the end, my first backpacking experience was quite the trip, and a memory that will last a lifetime!  I came away from this trip confused.  Backpacking is a strange activity.  It is both simple and complex.  It is both exhausting and relaxing.  Never had I been farther away from civilization, having interacted with a total of three people prior to the final day of the trip.  Having experienced additional complications, I am glad to have chosen something modest, in both size and scope, for my first trip.  And, I am glad to have gone with a group large enough to make the experience both efficient and enjoyable, but not too large, as to add additional unnecessary complications.

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.