Sunday, December 6, 2009

Bobcat Ridge Weekend Double

Bobcat Ridge Weekend
~12 miles running
~35 miles road bike
~10 miles skiing

Saturday Bike 'n Run
After last Friday's flirtation with temperatures in the 70s, the arctic weather returned, and shirtlessness gave way to layers. When I could catch a break from work, I enjoyed morning and lunchtime runs.

The biggest dilemma for me in the winter is deciding to run, ride, or hop in the car and go for a ski. One advantage of running is that I can sleep in, since most of the good skiing requires an hour-and-a-half drive. After a nice family dinner on Friday night at Bent Fork, in celebration of Christina's birthday, it was nice to sleep in until 8 or so, and then decide what to do.

The weather Saturday, actually, was noticeably warmer than the previous days: mid 30's with full sun by 11AM. I hadn't been on the red bike in a few months, it seemed, so I decided to head up to Bobcat Ridge, a good standby: easy access, more climbing, scenery, and solitude than in-town natural areas. I wasn't sure about the road shoulder conditions, and I was ready to bail or cut things short if it got icy, but it turned out to be quite pleasant. My ascent up the first climb to Horsetooth was nothing to be proud of, so I can tell that I've certainly lost something on the bike. I saw two friendly runners running the shoulder on my way up to Masonville, but zero other cyclists to offend with my non-aerodynamic foolishness and uncoordinated outfit of tattered hiking pants, puffy jacket, and backpack.

The only sketchy ice I encountered, in fact, was the half mile turnoff into Bobcat Ridge itself. Soon I reached the parking lot, did a clothing swap, and headed up Ginny Trail. The lower part of the trail was dry, but quickly gave way to dry, champagne snow in shadowed aspects. I hadn't tested my Yaktrax yet, so I thought I'd give it a go. Even though there were only a few inches of snow, they were a perfect choice, as I really got traction on some slippery technical areas. Huzzah for Yaktrax!

I admired the new (to me) mt. bike features going up, and the single, consistent mt. bike track in the snow. Make no mistake, this is a gnarly trail that I wouldn't contemplate on my own bike.

But I was on my feet today, and going up, up, I crested the ridge, I took a snack break to enjoy one of my favorite local views. Shortly after, I encountered the first two humans I saw on the trail, two hunters taking a break within the Roosevelt NF area adjacent to the natural area. We exchanged friendly greetings, and I guess I was glad I was wearing a blaze orange cap, but I think it was a fine day for all of us to be out there. After passing them, the backside of the ridge, then, was marvelously untracked. With just the right amount of dry snow, traction, and rolling trail, it was a blast. I took the wide loop (DR Trail) off of Mahoney and headed down, when I big mulie crashed through the brush and started bouncing down the trail. "Parkour!"

I looped back, passed two more humanfolk, and returned to my bike; once again, thankfully, unmolested. And, the coffee in my thermos was still hot!

I slowly rode back home, still ahead of the sunset, but started getting cold and a bit stiff from the lack of riding and general weather.

Another front was coming through...

We went to Old Town to celebrate friend Peter's birthday, and enjoyed Stonehouse brews and fish 'n chips, which I need to give credit for as the best in town. On the way, Jessica spotted a Red Hot Chili Peppers tribute band playing at Hodi's. Only $3 (good!) but wouldn't start until 11:30 or so. After going to Washington's for a bit, we did circle back to Hodi's. The opener was just finishing...which was a Muse cover band. D'oh! Well, we caught the end of "Nights of Cydonia" at least.

"Psycho Sexy" was fun for the mood we were in, it seemed. Surprisingly, they played mostly older stuff, which was awesome. Now, early Sunday AM, the snow was falling steadily in Old Town:

Sunday Ski
After the previous late night, I slept in even more, and awoke to a solid 4 or 5 inches of fresh powder -- and still falling! But, the temperatures were barely in the double digits. Driving to a good ski spot was unattractive, since the unplowed roads and late start wouldn't leave much time.

So, I decided to head back to Bobcat Ridge. I decided the previous day that much of the Valley Trail and DR would be pretty decent with some solid snow.
Long story short, it was still a fun ski, but not enough snow for the rocks. Or, I should say, the trail needs one layer of heavy, wet snow compressed on top of the rocks to make it more manageable. I banged up my skis a lot, and only got some fun momentum downhill a few times. Still, it was nice to be out on the skis, and also fun to drive the Outback with the snow tires back on. I saw exactly two other people on the trail in over three hours today (grand total: 6 for the weekend), and 4 deer, in addition to three more deer on the side of the road near HTMP. I can't say enough for the solitude and quality trails of Bobcat Ridge!

Now, I just have to fight off this cold/fever that everyone seemed to have already...

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Fort Collins Thanksgiving Day Run 2009

Jessica and I were in town for Thanksgiving, and decided to check out the Thanksgiving Day run. We've enjoyed previous Turkey Trot's in Oklahoma City, but this was our first hometown race on Thanksgiving.

The day dawned clear but very crisp, in the high 20s or so, and downright cold in the shade. The generous 9am start gave us plenty of time to sleep in a bit and get ready for the start at Old Chicago. Although 4000+ people ended up doing the race, the lack of daily work and shopping traffic more than made up for it, so traffic was light and parking was easy.

We picked up our packets and learned our shirts would be coming in the mail, due to the high demand and popularity of the race. I ran our packets and my jacket and gloves back to the car, with a little time to spare, so I decided to hit the restroom one more time.

Just 5 minutes before the race, I lined up in the crowd. With so much high-quality competition, and having looked at previous race results, I figured a good 50 or 60 people clearly deserved to start ahead of me, so I headed behind the start banner. Once I made my way into the crowd, though, I looked around, and saw a sea of families, strollers, and headphones. "I'm just hoping to finish" said the guy next to me.

Crap. I'm not *that* competitive, but I didn't want to stress out in a sea of gapers, so I tried to weave my way forward a little bit. Eventually, I settled in, and the race began. As expected, these folks plodded along across the road, so it took a bit of diving and weaving to get to a comfortable pocket of runners. Personally, I enjoy running so much that I wouldn't want to ever take away from someone else's run by getting in the way; I always yield to faster runners and stay the heck out of the way; so I don't understand the motivation of lining up early at the front around people that are, literally, nearly twice as fast.

But, my briefly foul mood was quickly tempered after about 20 seconds, and finding enough space and pace to enjoy the slight uphill first mile. It turned out that my first mile pace was right on target for my "A" goal of 6-minute miles. In the second mile, however, the stress of the previous days and the fact that I was above my head became apparent, as I started dropping the pace slightly. I settled in to enjoy the day and focused on a good run, comparable to my previous four-miler in Kansas.

We looped around and started heading down Mountain Avenue. Here, I had fond memories of a fast one-mile race in 2007, as well as plenty of training runs when I was taking classes at CSU. The crowd was thinned, and I focused on keeping a solid pace, with the Mason and College Avenue stoplights easily visible in the distance.

Finally, we hit College Avenue, and I sprinted in a bit to get the darn thing over with. It turns out I was 5 seconds or so slower than my previous 4-miler, but it was still quite an enjoyable run. I met our friend Brian and 4-year old John, as we waited for various friends to pass by. After focusing on the runners directly in front of us, I eventually lifted my gaze to the masses coming down Mountain Avenue. Wow, what an amazing spectacle! A sea of folks in our proud hometown were giving it their best. I recognized friends, acquaintances, and people I recognized but didn't know from around town. Jessica finished even faster than she expected. All in all, a good reminder of why we love living here!

Al's Run

Grandpa died today. Or yesterday, I don't know.

His heart gave out a week ago, and Technology gave out a week later.
But this blog is about running, and rambling, so what can I offer?

Grandpa Al taught me to ramble, whether it be in story or across the atlas. Just before his 70th birthday, we spent a dream trip together in Alaska. He is the "A" in "MAH" (and, aren't sandwiches named not after the ends, but the meat in the middle?)

Grandpa Al was born in 1933, grew up in Michigan, and saw Korea from the reluctant barrel of a gun, and, at the 38th parallel, he learned to drive truck. A few years later, he returned safely, and drove truck across his homeland. He spent time here in Colorado -- got married in the Springs, as a matter of fact -- and rambled about, and then spent most of his time living near family in Michigan and Wisconsin.

His final days were spent in Racine, Wisconsin, just a mile or two from Lake Michigan, the great, endless body of water that separates Michigan from Wisconsin.

Spending a few days in Racine to celebrate Grandpa's life, I knew I would invariably end up at the lake. There's something innate about water and it's link to the cycle of life, from baptisms to bon voyage. Just over five years ago, in fact, I was in the same house and watched my grandmother pass away on her living room couch. Once she breathed her last, I resorted to the coping mechanism I know best:

I ran.

After my grandmother died in 2004, I ran out the door and headed East. At that time, Fall had just begun, and when I reached the lake -- running out of East -- I waded straight into the water.
This time, being late November, I awoke after sleeping at my grandfather's house, headed out for a run, and simply stopped at the beach. I had arisen early enough to beat the sunrise, by mere minutes. I watched as the horizon lightened, before an intense orange ball poked, degree by degree, above the calm blanket of fresh water. Satisfied in the dawning of a new day, I ran back.

Spending the weekend in Racine, I returned to the beach twice more. Each of these times, I discarded my shoes, and enjoyed the rare pleasure of barefoot beach running. I've greatly enjoyed barefoot running on both coasts before, but never this close to winter in my birth state. This run, at the end of November, I felt a novel sensation of partially frozen, crusted freshwater beach sand sink beneath my feet. I continued a mile and a half or so south, on North Beach in Racine, past the zoo and desolate "Beach Oasis" of summertime pizza and ice cream, until I hit a long concrete jetty that led out to a small lighthouse.

Shoeless, I headed up the jetty, across pockets and patches of solid ice. As the concrete jutted out into the lake and stabbed at my feet, the waves lept vertically and splashed across me. My feet, fingers, and mind were comfortably numb as I made way out to the the lighthouse, with nothing in my vision but swirling waves straight ahead. Eventually, I reached some cold, rusty steps that led up to a platform. I sat here for a bit and rub my feet.

"The meaning of life is to love" said a choice piece of graffiti.

After a few minutes, I headed back to the beach, and retrieved my shoes. I returned along the path and city streets, waving hello to a few folks walking their dogs, in front of old houses with decorative Packer flags, Badger flags, and "Happy 11th Birthday, Tyler!", taking comfort in the small traditions that never change.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Wrong Way 5K

For a town its size, Fort Collins still retains an impressive handful of computer technology companies, such as HP, AMD, Intel, and Avago, as well as Broadcomm and LSI Logic. HP, where I work, still maintains a wellness coordinator and a free gym, two things for which I am grateful. Furthermore, HP puts on its own 5k run/1 mile walk twice a year for employees, aided with course layout and timing from Steve and Brad from local running store Runner's Roost. Finally, each participant recieves raffle tickets, entered in a drawing for prizes donated by local sponsors. How cool is that?

The race takes place in the parking lot and trail around the campus. This was my fourth (or fifth?) time doing one of these races. The course is always the same, and I won the last couple of times running it. Both of those times, another runner, Justin, and I pushed each other towards the end, and I had to keep my pace honest to stay ahead of him. Also, my coworker and friend Ray has had quite a fast year -- qualifying for Boston again, and even beat my half marathon PR by a couple seconds.

But Justin wasn't racing today, Ray was thinking 19-something...
And I got lost.

Anyway, the Spring race usually has a fun Hawaiian theme, whereas the Thanksgiving race is a turkey trot. The turkey trot race has a few designated pacer "turkey," who run 20, 24, or 30min paces. Beat your goal turkey, and get another raffle ticket. Last year, I did not run, and nobody beat 20 minutes (including the turkey). This year, I volunteered to be the 20min turkey, as I pride myself on hitting a pace with a standard watch (and often without one). However, the position was already taken.

Crap, I was gonna have to race it.

I did put a little bit of speedwork in the last few weeks, just to tune up and see how the legs were feeling. Plus, this was another perfect tuneup for the Thanksgiving Day Run here in town, so I might as well give it my best. My best, though, is still based on personal time, not interpersonal competition. I do enjoy a bit of friendly, close competition, only because of the extra push, but my main focus is the objective time and distance itself, not comparing myself to others.

It was a bit chilly but sunny, and I just had a singlet and shorts on, with numerous other folks wearing hats, gloves, etc. I just showed up ready to run, without much of a warmup, and we took off. Some kid in jogging pants took off like a bullet, but I quickly caught up with him, and I was alone. My pace was relaxed, and right at my goal: I would aim just under 6-minute miles, so as to hope to do the same in the 4-miler next week. I hit the 1 mile mark right on time, and was feeling great. Nobody was around, and I was determined to focus on pace and not turn my head back.
"Nobody's even close to you! You're making it look easy!" said Brad, cheering me on, as I looped back to the start.

Soon after crossing the start, I hit the 2-mile mark. This is also where I started mingling with the finishing 1-mile walkers...and where the confusion of the 2nd loop began. I remember being confused by this turn in the past. I think the first year I did this, there were 3 of us together, and 2 of us didn't know the right way, until the 3rd pointed us in the right direction. For some reason, I thought I was supposed to make a big loop around the building again. I passed a volunteer at the turn, who was quiet but saying nothing, and I said, "I go that way, right?" she said, "No, I think you go this way", which was correct...but I insisted on going *my* way! I don't why I did this, just that I mentally envisioned going straight for some reason, and I didn't think the mileage made sense if I went the other way.

A minute later, I hit the exit of the wrong turn, and I finally comprehended mistake, so I turned around, losing a couple minutes total. Now, there were 4 people in front of me. I didn't think I'd catch them, but I ended up catching the next two (and felt kind of bad about it), before finishing just under 21 minutes, and around 3.4-3.5 miles total, and I beat neither Ray nor the turkey.

I don't know how or why I made the wrong turn. I've been quite busy and distracted lately, and I even wonder if I sabotaged myself for some reason while running by myself. I have a feeling that if someone were close behind, I would have made dead-sure to go the right way. I seem to make mistakes when I'm lackadaisical about the details, yet stick to a plan meticulously when I take something very seriously. As it was, it was a good training run! Thanks to HP, Runner's Roost, and sponsors like Panera, Old Chicago, and Silver Mine Subs.

Monday, November 16, 2009

A Rough Journey along Devil's Backbone

Not really, but since I haven't contributed anything for awhile...

Coyote Ridge to Devil's Backbone, ~18 miles roundtrip

Saturday was cool, with cold threatening. I slept in, and snow was once again predicted for the evening. But by late morning the clouds were pregnant with it...and showing.

This front was quite nice because it was windless and calm. I felt comfortable in shorts, but brought warmer jacket, hat, and gloves. Since I've been running more local lately, I thought a little bit of hills in Devil's Backbone sounded like a good bet. I hopped on the Schwinn Probe (free junker that I brought back from Minnesota and have been riding daily for several months) and headed out.

First, I should note that this week, work on the Powerline Trail from Keenland down to Trilby began in earnest. Not only is the fence up along the entire path, but it is now bulldozed into a solid dirt road. I have mixed feelings knowing that much of our longstanding singletrack social trails is gone for good, but I suppose it will be better when they pour the foundation for the alter of Progress. Or something.
Being Saturday, I assumed there would be a respite from Useful Work, and that I could hop the fence and ride this ephemeral road to Trilby. I made it a half mile before I saw the machines were fully awake, not dozing, and that I had better get out of the way. I picked up my bike and tip-toed lightly over a Southridge Fairway, and hit the real road.

Soon I was off to Coyote Ridge. Here I will skip ahead, before skipping back, to note that once again, I was happy to return from running several hours to find my bike was unmolested.

To the run: I ran with a light pack today, which is rare, so as to carry my poofy jacket, and a thermos full of hot coffee. I implored the heavens to rain snow and crud upon me -- it was just one of those weeks -- and wanted to be prepared. As it was, though, the run to the DBB trailhead was uneventful but pleasantly quiet. Saw maybe a half dozen folks all day.

And one of them was an intrepid youngster survivalist. I know this because he and his mom told me. As I paused to swig some coffee and eat an orange, they were getting ready to hike. I asked if they were ready for snow, and the boy (all of 10 or 11) told me he was ready for anything. He knew how to build snow caves, and had garbage bags with him for emergency shelter.
"He could be the next Bear Grylls!" said his mom, but in a refreshing sort of pride built on a boy's genuine interest and enthusiasm, rather than an Honor Roll bumper sticker.

Soon, I headed back, and quickly caught up with them, and wished them well. Seeing my small pack and shorts, Bear Junior advised: "I hope you're prepared!"
I slowed a bit and replied: "I hope so, too, since I need to make it back to Ft. Collins!"
"You're from Ft. Collins?! How far is that?"
"9 miles or so"
"Well, I hope you're prepared! It's a rough journey ahead!"

With that, my spirits were briefly lifted, knowing that boys of any age can still find adventure and excitement outside. I hope he learns, even earlier than I did, that your legs can take you much farther than most people give them credit for. Even if it is a rough journey.

The run back was calm and even. A few flakes started to fall, and it was getting socked in towards Estes, but not up toward Fort Collins. In the final descent, I opened up a bit and let the legs fly. These lower mileage weeks and speedwork are making me feel a bit more fresh at the end of each run, which is nice.

I hopped on the bike, and then took a detour to watch a taped Badger game with some friends. I skipped the details on why I was wearing shorts in the snow on that side of town. Some drinks, a sunset, a Badger victory, and a few inches of snow later, I was cruising home through a delightful snowstorm.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Running on the Grid

Every good endurance training plan has elements of distance as well as speedwork.
Like many, I dread speedwork. Precisely for that reason, I figure it's good for me, and have brought back 8x800's on Tuesday's, ensuring that I feel like crap for the rest of the afternoon.

Speed, of course, is comprised of two components: distance and time. Time is easy enough: wear my wife's light blue $10 women's watch, or carry one of the numerous freebie plastic caribiner watches, plastered with logos of pharmaceuticals or obscure electrical engineering software tools, that I've somehow acquired. Distance -- ay, there's the rub.

Luckily, Ft. Collins has numerous resources for easy distance/pacing. Fort Collins's flatness, and Western new infrastructure, lends itself to a grid of square miles between major intersections. Many folks already have their favorite spots, but I thought I'd share for newbies and visitors.
Here are some of my favorite resources for "gridwork," without being plugged into the technological grid via treadmill or satellite. (OK, so you still need a digital timepiece, so my metaphor kind of breaks down quickly...)

* Urban multi-use trail system
The Poudre, Spring Creek, and Powerline Trails are numbered per quarter-mile. The Poudre and Spring Creek trails are centered on College Ave, with "E" and "W" designating East and West, respectively. For example, "PE3" is the Poudre Trail 3/4 miles east of college.
Also, the Boyd Lake trail is a fantastic resource between South FC and Loveland. Loveland's trail system also has quarter-mile numbering.
This numbering is also helpful in locating for emergencies or just for meeting spots.

* Major road intersections
Overland/Taft/Shields/College/Lemay/Timberline/Ziegler/(Strauss Cabin)
are *generally* a mile apart -- YMMV based on slight road curves and tangents.

Combining these two facts, besides the quarter-mile markers, there is a nice stretch of generally flat trail on the Powerline and Mason Trail, between Drake and Horsetooth.

* Minor road intersections
Since thousands of folks work and live in the SE corner of town, near HP, Avago, Intel, AMD, etc., it's worth noting the nice, popular grid around here:
- Harmony to Rock Creek is a perfect 1/2 mile along Lady Moon or Ziegler;
- Lady Moon to Ziegler is also a 1/2 mile
- Harmony/Strauss Cabin-Horsetooth-Ziegler-Harmony is a perfect 3-mile, with a nice hill in the middle

* Track
The track, of course, is a great way to pound out reliable speedwork. Some of the more popular options:
- CSU track: 800M track (inside lane) open to general public unless an event is going on. Tuesday mornings and evenings seem to be popular.
- CSU indoor track: Students only, at the rec center. 1/8th mile in the middle lane. If you're taking a class and don't otherwise think about the rec center, it's a great place for bad weather days
- Fossil Ridge HS track: Rock Creek and Lady Moon, open to public when not in use. Frequently locked, but you can acquire a key from the Poudre School District with proper forms and a deposit.

Monday, November 2, 2009

October Snow Days

20+ inches of snow, before Halloween

A big, early season upslope was upon us. The forecast called for rain changing to snow around midnight, Tuesday night, and continuing through Thursday but flakes were starting to fall after 8PM. Signs were looking good for the upper end of the forecast. More snow fell on Thursday; all told, we ended up with over 20 inches (although the warm ground meant that not all of it stuck).

Ski to Work

Anyway, Wednesday morning, I made the call without hesitation: there was enough snow to ski to work (just under 3 miles), and the forecast meant that there would be even more snow to ski back home. This being our 4th winter snow season here, there's generally a handful of days, at best, that are skiable for work. Many of the storms that dump enough snow are followed by immediately sunny skis that melt everything on pavement and concrete by the afternoon.

And pavement and concrete are the enemy.

The difficulty of urban skiing, you see, is numerous snowless crossings. Without taking off skis at every intersection, the way to handle this is to walk straight up and down like a duck, without sliding the skis on the pavement at all. The best conditions, on the other hand, is when there is a thin layer of solid ice on the road. But beggar's can't be choosers, especially when it comes to October snow.

All geared up, I made it to work in about 35-40 minutes, which is about twice the time it takes to run. Still, the fun is the journey itself, as it's nice to get the skis out, get the legs used to the motions again, and evangelize skiing and alternative transportation. Enough people smile or ask about it to make it even more fun.

As even more snow fell, I thought Thursday would be even better, so gave it another go. The ice on the roads was nice, but the deep snow in open fields was pretty tough. Snow kept falling all day, but the temperature stayed in the mid 30's. By Thursday afternoon, tragically, the roads and sidewalks were bone dry. Here I encountered one more sole traversing the desert: a female tele skier (the hat gave it away) with her skis on her shoulders!
"It's time to just give it up and walk!" she laughed as I crossed the road. She had skied in both days, too, but it looked like our ski commuting was done for this month at least.

Powerline South
My favorite spot for a quick, immediate run or ski (or even the beginning of a cross-town mt. bike ride) is what I call "Powerline South", which are the dirt trails directly across from our condo, running 2 miles N-S from Harmony to Trilby along the railroad tracks. There's a tiny bit of rolling here and there to make it interesting, and we can regularly see and hear coyotes in the area at night. This trail is slated to be an extension of the official city "Powerline Trail," which is bittersweet. I love the trail system, of course, but it is sad to see the fence go up, and the prospect of the trail losing its best characteristics: unofficial, dirt, numerous railroad crossings, etc. I hope the new trail doesn't destroy or block off some of the existing wildness.

Jess and I hit the trail a bit Wednesday night, as she got her snowshoes out for the new season. We made most of the new tracks through deepening snow. I played around a bit more Thursday and Friday night, under a nearly-full moon, finally getting a good set of tracks to stay (and saw a few others as well).

Coyote Ridge
Close-by Front Range ski access is a rare commodity. Fantastic, world-class snow conditions are easy to find -- if you drive 80-90 minutes. So all year, I try to pay attention to which trails might be good with some decent snow. These trails wouldn't be found in any local snowshoe or ski guide if they only have enough snow a couple days every other year. I've had great fun at Horsetooth (service road up to the rock), Horsetooth/Soderberg (Towers to Sawmill); Young's Gulch in the lower canyon; and Pineridge/Maxwell/Dixon Lake (but upper Foothills is too rocky).
This time, I decided to give Coyote Ridge a try.

The storm was moving out Thursday night, and the nearly-full moon was coming in, so I was able to ski without a headlamp. To summarize: conditions pretty much sucked for skiing, and would have been great for trail running instead. The wind alternated patterns of nearly dry trail with drifts, and rocks poked out everywhere. Every once in awhile I'd get a good stretch to ski, and I stubbornly persisted to the top of the ridge and enjoyed the view, but I can't call it good skiing. Oh well.

RMNP - Nymph, Dream, Emerald Lakes

By the weekend, everything around or near town was pretty bare outside of the trees. My hopes of trying out Bobcat Ridge, Devil's BB/Blue Sky, or Crosier Mountain, were pretty much dashed. Still, Jess and I were hopeful about good old reliable Bear Lake area, which was still showing 13 inches on Snotel, and has enough tree cover and traffic to keep the snow around. Plus, we wouldn't have the mid-season windchill and sometimes snow that's too deep to deal with, which has turned us around in RMNP before. After driving through the canyon in the warm sun, we finally got to Bear Lake, and weren't disappointed.

There was enough snow, and enough of it was fun, to make it worthwhile. Sure, traffic was a bit heavier than ideal, but it was nice to see lots of folks enjoying the day. It was certainly possible to hike in shoes, as many were, but the traction of the snowshoes certainly made it easier, and my skis made it more fun. There was plenty of sketch: narrow trail with blind corners, slush turning to ice as you changed directions, etc., but I made mental notes of the worst spots going up, in order to avoid them going down. Yeah, I banged my skis up and fell enough, but wasn't going fast enough to damage anything seriously.

We had not been to Emerald Lake previously, so we enjoyed the view:

Two minor problems with RMNP (as compared to Brainard Lakes or Cameron Pass), especially the popular/short trails: sharp corners/turns cut by hikers but not maneuverable by skiers; and total gaper fest stretched out across the trail. Still manageable on this nice day, though. I can't wait for Wild Basin to fill in more and to head back.

All in all, it was a fun 4-5 days of playing in the snow, and now it's all gone.

Halloween "Dog Days" Marathon

After this week's snowstorm, things were up in the air for Saturday. The initial plan was to carpool with some Ft. Collins folk and head to Boulder for a decent run in the foothills. I was looking forward to meeting some new folks and running on new trails...but none of us expected a couple of feet of snow. While I'm not opposed to running in the snow, if there's a decent amount, I figured I'd rather ski instead.

However, after scouting out the foothills, I was brought back to Colorado reality: local front range snow is a great novelty while it's still snowing. But, after that, a few things inevitably happen: the upslope low clears up, temperatures get back to average and the sun quickly starts melting the snow; and the vacating system often pulls in some drier air that pushes snow around and sucks it right up. So after a couple days, you're left with too-muddy/slushy for distance running, and not enough for skiing.

However, the roads, with associated urban heat, clear the snow right up. Since Saturday was shaping up to be a great weather day, it seemed that a road run was in order. By 11AM, it was warm enough to head out with a long-sleeve shirt and shorts, with only a vague notion of a route: head East over to the Environmental Learning Center; pick up the Poudre Trail heading northwest, and then keep an eye on the time before eventually heading back south.
If I wasn't going to be running the hills in Boulder, at least it seemed like a good day for a marathon.
And so it was. It felt great, and it was a pure reminder, again, of what I enjoy most about running: find a sustainable, enjoyable pace to run outside, checking out what's going on around town, the river, etc. without any particular concern for specific training for something. Runs like this have nothing in common with running inside or any sort of "obligatory" workout.
It's just fun to go for a run.

I decided to call this sort of run a "dog" run for a few reasons. The more pleasant reason is that I decided to randomly pick or modify the route based on whim. As I reached the Environmental Learning Center, I decided to checkout the loop around the natural area that I enjoy. I knew it would be snowy, and it turned out to be just the right amount of snow left for cushioning and traction. Even though it was mid-day, I didn't see any other people, but as I rounded the corner at the far edge, I kicked up a few deer. Nice to have some company!

So another reason for the "Dog Marathon" moniker is due to the melting snow. More specifically, when snow sticks around for a few days, lazy dog owners (of which there are, empirically, hundreds in town) either are too lazy to pick up dog poop through deep snow, or willfully ignore it because it's out of site. This means, during the got it. Not just unsightly, but sections of trail absolutely reek of it. These owners don't notice this (or don't care) if they don't spend the time on these trails, but I urge them to walk a mile (or a few dozen) in someone else's encrusted shoes to appreciate this.

So I hit the Poudre River trail and did a few other natural area spurs, but mostly stuck to the trail. After 15 miles or so and a couple hours, I knew I was committed, since I was on the north side of town. Alas, my trusty Rusty Meyer's bottle was empty, and I brought $2 but no food with me. $2 would be enough calories (when appropriately traded as legal tender for something edible, wiseguy), but I was also just a mile and a half or so from the in-law's house. I know it's annoying to be that brother-in-law that runs across town and then pops in unannounced -- sweaty, hungry, and delirious (doesn't everyone have one?), but thankfully, Christina was home, so I was able to refill the water, grab a banana and granola bars (thanks!). It's nice having them in town, and we enjoyed coming back there later for Halloween Turkey. I played with Bella a bit -- Dog Days Marathon -- before heading back.

I headed back to the Poudre River Trail West to Shields, before deciding to make my way South. By now, I had slowed down a bit, but still enjoying the day. I passed through some streets that I ran regularly when taking class at CSU, and was delighted to hear the church bells clanging at 2pm (I used to have a run that brought me past the church on the hour). I stumbled through campus, towards the Mason Trail. I was definitely getting a bit tired, and I didn't want the extra distance needed to hit the Spring Creek trail from Centre Dr., so I thought I could take a shortcut behind the Game and Wildlife Building. Well, that ended up being a mud and snow slogfest that wasn't a shortcut anyway, but I did scare up a few bright red foxes up close.

Finally, I hit the Mason Trail, and it was warm enough to finish the run shirtless. I cut straight down Harmony and called it a day, four-something hours later, which means it was some sort of ultramarathon distance.
Not bad for the Dog Days of October.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Ski to Work Day Poem

The snow 'snew
and a whole slew
of kid's kids
slide and sled

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Sandboarding and California Peak near disasters!

It looked like another nice weekend coming up in Colorado high country.
"You up for something epic this weekend?" I asked Ben.
" about boarding the Sand Dunes?"
I knew Ben had been wanting to do this for awhile, and it looked like fun, so we had the beginnings of a plan...

Great Sand Dunes National Park is one of the newest National Parks, having been designated in 2004 (upgraded, as it were, from a National Monument). It certainly seemed intriguing, but logistics from the Front Range lead to excuses. The easiest way is a 5-hour drive that curls around the Sangres, although backdoor 4x4 options can save 30-40 minutes. I've been within 30-40 minutes of the park several times -- heck, the previous weekend in Taos we went through Ft. Garland -- but never made the extra distance out there. In the summer, beautiful, starry nights mean brutal, 140-degree sand during the day, while December through April are out for obvious reasons involving frozen, crystallized water. Throw in autumn leaf-peaping, and that leaves late October/November and May "shoulder seasons" as the only reasonable times to go...
And clearly the best. We found the park to be uncrowded and gorgeous, with perfect weather and ample camping. But I'm skipping ahead.

In addition to the Sand Dunes, we planned on hiking California Peak, which promised a long class-2 ridge traverse up a 13.8k foot mountain. That seemed like a good combination for a Sunday with little chance of rain or clouds. Besides Ben, we piqued interest from his friend Sean, who was up for some sort of camping and outdoor adventure.

We left Fort Collins just after 3AM on Saturday. Instead of using Ben's old snowboard, he found a place that rented sandboards and sleds in Alamosa. Score! Plus, they agreed to drop off the goods near the NP entrance by 9AM, saving us the extra trip. Double score!

We picked up Sean in Thornton just after 4AM, and it turns out he had gotten about an hour of sleep. Looks like he had a long weekend ahead of him, but with the promise of a long drive in front of us, and plenty of sand siesta possibilities, he could certainly make it up. Since we didn't need to get there until 9AM, we were in no hurry...

Except we were. Ben passed a stopped car to the left. From my sideview, I saw the car pull onto the road and start following us.
"Uh, did you see a cop back there?" I asked, which turned out to be the magic phrase to turn red and blue blinking lots on the car behind us.
This was the area approaching downtown where the speed drops down to 55, and we had no excuse. We were anxious and highly sober, unlike most of the other drivers at that time, but no dice. As a college student especially, that's the last thing Ben wanted. I couldn't tell if mentioning my previous tickets were helpful (Wisconsin...Wisconsin...Minnesota...California...Colorado), plus my lame parking ticket from Denver just a week earlier, or if we should drop the subject, but we did agree, unfortunately, that Colorado is pretty darn expensive.

Soon Ben was out of that funk, and dawn was breaking. Finally, we left I-25 and started heading West. We were still early, somewhat hungry, and after we passed a coffee shop in Ft. Garland, I asked if he didn't mind stopping there: both of my travel mugs were empty, my bladder was full, and we were early anyway. He pulled a U-turn, and we parked at Ute Creek Coffee House.

I'm a sucker for coffee houses. It turns out that the owner, John, is too, as he shared various stories about his background and starting the coffee house itself.
"Well, to make a long story short..." he was fond of saying, and the twinkle in his eye proved that he was aware of the irony.
We had time to listen to these stories while waiting for our made-from-scratch burritos. That's right, we glanced at the menu, saw burritos for $2.75, and asked about the ingredients. John's full-time worker (a nice 20-year old girl whose name we all remembered differently...Violet? Clarissa? Twilight?) told us we could have whatever we wanted in them. Sold!

While waiting, John told us about the various pennants and signs hanging in the coffee house, which were all delivered or sent by various customers.
"When I talk to somebody," he explained, "I can usually tell that they'll visit again. The only hard thing is getting them in the first time."
I asked if they had any stickers, as I've collected them from my favorite shops.
"No, but that's a great idea!"
I'll be back again, to Ute Creek Coffee House in Ft. Garland., to check.

Caffeinated, we were now on schedule to get to "The Oasis" just outside to pick up our boards. As we headed North, our view shifted dramatically. First, the last stretch of road is road-bike wet-dream smooth. Second, the view of the Sand Dunes is incredible. It just doesn't make sense: a vast playground of sand, piled between mountains and the San Luis Valley. With our boards in tow, we drove the car as far North as we could, to the "Point of No Return," and headed West to the Dunes.
Basically, our plan was to practice on a bunny hill, head for steeper ground, and hit whatever looked fun. Things went exactly according to plan. Once past the initial scrub and brush, it was an entire day spent barefoot.

At our first bunny hill, we tested out the gear. We were told to wax on every ride, and this ended up being good advice. The boards barely moved when unwaxed, especially on gentle slopes (between "Green" and "Blue" for major Colorado slopes), but absolutely flew when waxed appropriately. In any case, we were tentative but had fun on our first few rides. Neither Sean nor I had snowboarded previously, so we were quite cautious. But we were ready for bigger hills.

We headed in deeper, and found another promising hill. By now, we figured out a good waxing scheme, and hit the same run a few times. I was starting to get more confident standing up, and was finally able to make a run down. At this time, a woman and her pappilon dog approached. We offered to let her try the board, but she just wanted to take pictures. As it turned out, although several groups were trying plastic sleds, nobody else nearby was actually boarding. Since it was my turn, I figured I'd show off my skillz. And I did, making it all the way down...
As I hit the bottom, I fell straight back. I know there's a brutal, bruising learning curve in snowboarding, but I landed on unforgiving ground. Make no mistake: a half inch of slideable sand is covering solid ground. Midwest ice would have been a blessing. For about 10 seconds, I was afraid of vomiting (or worse), or bleeding internally. I stood up, warily, waved "I'm OK" and trudged up the hill, and did a systems check. I knew I was bruised, and unsure if anything was broken, so I took it easy for a bit.

But, opportunities abounded, and I could still walk, so we headed deeper into the dunes, finding a long, steeper run to the West. I stuffed an extra shirt and jacket into the back of my pants, and was good to go. After a few runs, my confidence was back, and started having fun again, as I was starting to be able to shift my weight in either direction. After a few rounds, a family started making it's way toward us. Again, they wanted to check it out and take some pictures. This time, it was a man and 3 smiling, adopted children from Moracco: a young boy and his two teenage brothers. We quickly offered our gear to them, and the teenagers each took a test run. The younger boy, then, took his turn, and delighted us by flying down with absolutely reckless abandon! Soon, they were off, and Ben had one more idea: sledding down head first. We were skeptical, but it turns out this was the key to record land speed descents.

Now, late-afternoon, we called it a day, headed back to return the gear, and picked up some Tecate for the road. We asked the ranger for camping suggestions, and he gave us great advice on backpacking a couple miles from the lower Zapato Falls trailhead to the NF boundary. Then, in the morning, we would be that much closer to California Peak.

We followed this advice, and although the Zapato Lake trail had several social trails branching from it, we found a great campsite before dusk. We gathered our food and combined it: Trader Joe's Jambalaya, plus Ben's fettucini and chicken in a pouch, ended up being awesome like camp food always is. We forgot to bring rope, so we hucked our food remainders into a distant tree and hoped for the best. We worked our way through most of the Tecate, and headed to sleep under thousands of visible stars and the Milky Way itself.

Sunrise woke us up, and we packed up and stashed more of our gear. We continued heading NW along the trail, and then saw the official Wilderness Boundary sign. We crossed a few drainages, but some were completely dry, so it was difficult to determine where we were on the TI map, since the trail essentially involved crossing a few drainages between ridges, and then heading straight west on a less popular trail. The TI map, unfortunately, doesn't have sufficient resolution to show the various switchbacks we encountered, so we stayed on the main trail, figuring that the ridge to California would be obvious.

Except it wasn't. Even though California hits nearly 14k feet, the surrounding 12-13k ridges prevent a clear view of it from the Zapato trail. Finally, it looked like we were in a valley to the West of Twin Peaks. At this point, the trail became icy in the trees, and it didn't make sense to go further. We encountered a woman who was returning from the lake, so we knew we were past the ridge to California. We decided to turn back, and scout at the area near the NF boundary for evidence of a different trail. However, after we turned around and stared at the ridge in front of us, Ben and I decided that we should be able to scramble straight up it, thereby saving time and distance of doubling back. Sean was OK heading back to camp to rest, so Ben and I figured we'd make it up the ridge, run up the peak, and head back in no time.

After crossing a boulder field, we examined various gashes in the side of the ridge that looked promising. We chose one, and started working our way up. The rock, it turns out, was chossy and unstable, but we slowly made our way up. As we started dropping debris, we separated for safety reasons. At one point, Ben was below and behind a boulder, and I sent several rocks that ricocheted much too close to his head. We caught up, and it was his turn to lead (which made more sense anyway, since he had more rockclimbing experience). Unfortunately, the moves started getting harder, and now we were committed halfway up the ridge. We had both -- unbeknownst to each other -- decided that there was no way in hell we were descending this route. But we were almost to the top...

Except we weren't. With more experience, perhaps, we would have realized that the steep angle of the ridge meant we couldn't see what was behind it -- which was even more loose and dangerous climbing, 5.3-5.4 in Ben's estimate. Now, I am not a climber by any means, but I enjoy reading and learning about the sport from others. One thing I really dig is the idea of the "flow," being so caught up in what you're doing that everything else is blocked from your mind. While I've found that in other sports, I can totally see how this really applies to climbing specifically, where you're in an absolutely committed survival mode.

There's not much more to say here, except we eventually made it to the top of the ridge, when

The "thing" up the ridge to our right was not as high as the ridge in front of us. That meant, instead of risking life and limb for California Peak, we were instead making our way up an unknown, unnamed ridge instead. We ambled to the nearest high point -- a pile of rocks -- took some pics, and assessed our situation.

We were essentially on top of an unknown knife edge. Both sides were equally steep, but the North side, unsurprisingly, was snow and ice covered. Climbing this ridge -- a stupid mistake for which I take responsibility -- now left us with an unknown risk of where to proceed, and the possibility of getting cliffed out if we picked the wrong direction. We both did not want to descend our ascent route, so our best option was to gamble and follow the knife edge as low as we could, and then head down.

It was slow going as we picked our way around boulders. We hit treeline again, but this only mean more obstacles in the way, as it was still mostly steep, loose rock. We had no choice but to start heading straight down, slowly. We came near a steep gully, and each choose a different side, so that numerous rocks sent downward wouldn't harm the other person. Eventually, our only choice was to finish up on the gully itself. There appeared to be about 4 cascades of downclimbing followed by narrow ledges, and the problem was, we couldn't actually see the last ledge. This was truly a test of faith, and Ben went first. Most of the time, I couldn't see him, but I could only hear occasional crashes of rock. Now that I was straight above him, I couldn't move at all: even a weight shift could launch a serious of rocks downward. Eventually, he reached a safe ledge, and called out.

I made my way down slowly as well. At one point, I took off my pack and contemplated pitching it, but couldn't count on it stopping at the next ledge, so I put it back on. Each hold absolutely had to be tested, and the only reason some of them stayed is because I didn't put full weight on them. Not much more to say here, but eventually I made it down.

Holy shit.

I will admit, several times, I just wanted to sit there and cry. But there was no option. We shouldn't have been in this position. I shouldn't have misread the map, of course, and we shouldn't have climbed an unknown route in either direction without protective gear and full visibility of the route itself, if not more experience. It's tempting to chalk this up as a learning experience, and I guess it was, but mostly I'll remember foolish unnecessary risks.

We got over it, and started heading back. Climbing the wrong peak took longer than we thought, and at least some of the cool, shaded parts of the trail were fun to run in late Autumn. We ran across another party, looking for the lake -- at 3pm, they were ~4 miles from the lake ??? -- and at least it felt a little better to bust out the map and show them where they were.

Finally, we met up with Sean, and were glad to see that nothing messed with our gear. On the way back, we quickly checked out Zapata Falls itself, which is a destination for many but just a 10-minute diversion after our other adventures. We made it back to the car, which was also undisturbed, and I was happy to sit down for the ride back -- since it was still incredibly painful for me to stand up after sitting down.

We figured we'd stop in the Springs for dinner, and I'd read good things about pizza and beer at "Il Vicino," so we sought it out. That ended up being a great decision, as the pizza and beer were awesome, plentiful, and affordable.
To make a long story short, we'll be back there again.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Mass Happiness in New Mexico

There's a new Mexico?
-Mr. Burns, "The Simpsons"

Every Fall, we love to go to New Mexico. The cool, crisp, dry air refreshes the soul as much as strolling around looking at the best art of the West. Outside and out of town, the low sunlight dances through the trees, among the snow dust and golden underbrush, daring decades of photographers to ration their film (and, if the digital age has spoiled patience, stretch a canvas instead and make it so!)
When the sun sets, and before it has risen cleanly, the temperature is downright cold. Ladies of a certain age take this opportunity to layer themselves in elaborate scarves, hats, shawls, and jewelry; while the men, or at least this one, choose a baser course: chile.
By putting a fire in the belly, one can continue to stroll New Mexican alleys morning and night in perfect comfort.

OK, besides chile, another way to put fire in the belly is through copious amounts of wine: part of the fun of visiting northern New Mexico is to visit Trader Joe's and stock up on 3-buck chuck.
This year, we also made it a goal to visit the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. Jessica has been wanting to visit this for the past several years, but manana manana manana...Time's a wasting, let's head down to the A-B-Q.

Leaving early afternoon, dreaming of southwestern food, we made it about an hour before pulling off for Wahoo's in Denver. Good ol' Wahoo's, but it cost us: a $25 parking ticket for having a foot or so of my car in front of the meter. Ah, the delights of the big city. Again we were off for Albuquerque, eventually arriving around 9:30 or so. Just a few miles north of our hotel, we spotted a strip mall Chama Brewing Co, and stopped in for a bit, quite pleased with the flickering fireplace and trickling fountain near the entrance, a friendly staff, and a delicious pumpkin spice ale on tap. Satisfied, we made it down to the hotel...almost: picked up some Dunkin Donuts donut holes first and some coffee in the thermos for the next morning.

The next morning was to begin at 5am, so we could make it to the park 'n ride and eventually the fiesta grounds by 6:30 or so. Although we had extra donut holes in hand, it turns out this Days Inn near I-25 and I-40 was kind enough to begin breakfast at 4am. MMM, frosted flakes and waffle, together at last. Soon we were in line at Cliff's amusement park for the ride to the fiesta. As expected, the area was abuzz with folks trying to get there, and the park 'n ride was definitely the way to go.

We took our seat on the school bus, on a 'hump' (the right wheel well), and half-napped until getting closer, when we saw the gorgeous glowing lights of early balloons taking off for "Dawn Patrol." This was just a taste...

The grounds themselves were alighted with various vendors of various burritos, and it just got better from there.

Dunkin Donuts, yes, was in the house, and other memorabilia and things for the kids. We headed to the middle field, at the end of dawn patrol, and watched a few balloons start taking off toward the moon.

And then, the "Mass Ascension" began. For about an hour, the grounds were a stimulation-fest of color and motion. We raced around, staring and taking pictures, getting as close to the balloons as possible. What a refreshing return to pre-9/11 -- without rules and paranoia -- to a time when we were, maybe, 9 or 11 years old, when the world still had magic. This is said to be one of the most photographed events in the world, but like most things, the pictures don't do justice to the feeling of craning your neck straight up, twirling around, and seeing all the colours.

There is also no shortage of novelty balloons, often competing for "fan favourite." Announcers provide play-by-play description of the balloons as they're taking off, similar to the Macy's Parade.

My favorites?

After a few hours, as the sun finally started warming us, it was time to head back.
Let me not mince words: Every child, and every parent, every childless parent and parentless child, child at heart and heartless alike, should go see this event at least once. Mt. Rushmore and Disney-whatever are far down on my list for kids, but this is near the top.

So long, Albuquerque! It's off to Santa Fe and Taos. We can never decide which one we like more, so why not hit both?
First, we stop in Santa Fe just in time for breakfast at Tia Sophia's. We haven't been there in 3 or 4 years, but the huevos, blue corn tortillas, and chile are worth the inevitable weekend wait.
Jessica finds "bead heaven" next door anyway, and has enough baubles to keep her busy in the coming months. We stroll around some more, fairly leisurely, before hitting Trader Joe's on the way out of town. Several cases of wine later....we're off to Taos, where the Dona Luz Inn B&B is waiting for us.

By mid-afternoon, we meet Paco at the B&B, store our things in the room, and head off to town.
Again, we stroll around fairly aimlessly -- the only specific store I can think of is the bookstore, which always has a cat that needs scratching -- yes! there she is, sleeping upon a shelf. Before the sun drops too low, we grab some drinks outside. An old woman and a younger man are chatting nearby -- she doing most of the talking, as she not-so-surreptitiously smokes a cigarette, while describing various aspects of her past life across the world. Who could she be?
An Aunt thinks Jess, but why the long biography?
Old French Whore says I, as Jess furrows her brow at my judgment. Am I not made in the image of my creator? Eventually, the waiter asks her to snuff out her cigarette -- "I know, I was seeing how much of it I could get before you said so."
And then, we head back for a quick nap, before the main event:
Dinner at Orlando's.

Yes, we love Orlando's, on the edge of town, we love it so much that last time a drunken driver (in New Mexico, no less!) drove straight at us in our lane, and still did not deter us. It's small and packed, yes, but we don't mind waiting outside by the fire with drinks: Santa Fe Nut Brown for him, and a "Mike-a-rita" for her -- they don't do tequila (in New Mexico, no less!), but they mix up a Mike's instead.
We had a brief conversation with a former Front-Ranger who raved about the technical mt. biking in the area, and then settled in with a couple from South Africa who were touring North America.
Starting from the Arctic Circle.
They had swung down from Alaska to New Mexico, where they enjoyed Taos, and were headed east to Houston (sorry!), where they were to take a brief flight to Costa Rica (Pura Vida!) before resuming a swath across the American south. With limited experience, we told him about our voyage along the World's Longest Yard Sale; his eyes lit up, as he was looking for the authentic, deep south, little diners and all. While we can't speak for Mississippi, we put in a good word for Alabama and Tennessee backroads. "Don't waste too much time in Atlanta," I suggested, "but spend some time in Charleston for sure."
As we talked, our seething envy must have been obvious, as he politely suggested that we lobby Obama for more vacation time for citizens.
Amen. At least some people are able to see and enjoy all of this great land, even if the folks that live here can't, won't, or simply don't.

Our number was up, dinner at last, where I will skip the intimate details, except to say that not a single shrimp, pizole, or pinto bean survived on either of our plates.

We retired in comfort to the B&B, where I enjoyed keeping a wood fire burning all night in the kiva.
Breakfast in the morning was a surprisingly simple affair of boiled eggs, yogurt, toast, etc. Filling, and it does make the B&B cheaper, I suppose, but doesn't fare well for ranking of the second B in B&B.

Onward and upward, for a hike to William's Lake!
William's Lake is a popular hike at the top of the Taos Ski Road. We've enjoyed it up there in the winter, so decided to check it out in the Fall.
Some of the aspen in the area were still clinging to golden leaves, and a few skinny-tire enthusiasts were out enjoying it. Soon, we were up on dirt roads past the Ski Area, to the trailhead.

The hike is an easy and popular couple miles through the forest, up to a cirque, with the lake resting in the shadow of Wheeler Peak, the highest point in New Mexico. We hadn't ruled out tagging Wheeler as well, but decided to play it by ear. We saw a manageable handful of folks enjoying the day, but were slowed by some ice and snow on the trail, a little more than expected. We carefully picked our way up, where the view and the wind opened up abruptly.

We poked around the northeast end of the lake, finding a trail that went straight up into the trees on Wheeler. The trail was a bit sketchy but still manageable. Clearly, past treeline, it looked quite snowless and easy, but that's where the wind would be even fiercer, as shown by swiftly moving clouds swirling over the cirque, so we decided to turn around, leaving it at a mellow lake hike. We carefully returned down the snowy trail, hoping to return some other time perhaps for a shot at the peak. At this point, however, the cotton and dogged masses were awake and coming up toward the lake, so I shudder to think about the summer crowds. Nonetheless, this undoubtedly saved us hours of time and probably marital happiness. With some extra time, why not...
Stop at the Bavarian Lodge at the base for lunch?

We had been there before during a ski day and enjoyed soup by the fireplace inside. Today, we opted for the sunny Sunday sundeck, and two surprisingly delicious, sausage-like veggie burgers.

Full on a German double bock, we doubled back down the mountain, where I made it about 4 miles down, before a nap hit me head on.
I looked at Jess, seeing if she minded pulling over or driving. Was she snoring?
25 minutes of napping in the car, my vigor was renewed...enough to make it a few more miles down to Arroyo Seco, a cute little pueblo with a few artsy shops and Taos Cow.

Mmm, ice cream and sunshine, and I seem to recall the coffee being good.
Turns out, I drained the pot with my trusty Thermos, and they gave it to me free. Sweet. Out of guilt, I had to buy (and devour) a small cone of Cherry Ristra. I wasn't even sure what was in Cherry Ristra -- would it be spicy? -- but they had me at the name, and it turns out it had chocolate in it, too.
Everything's coming up Milhouse!

Now, satiated for a few more minutes (I only had a dollar left in my pocket, anyway), why not tack on a side trip to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, only 7 miles from the intersection at the ski road?
We'd been to Taos a fwe times, but never made the effort. This time we did, parking on the edge, walking across, and taking pictures:

Turns out, it's just about as overrated as we thought it was. Meh. A native was soliciting money as his car broke down and was getting towed, so I gave him my last buck. We doubled back and headed north, treated to a face full of fourteeners as we hit Fort Garland, and then headed home.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

West White Pine

My girl, my girl, where will you go?
I'm going where the cold wind blows.

In the pines, in the pines,
Where the sun don't ever shine.
I would shiver the whole night through

Nirvana, "Where Did you Sleep Last Night?", lyrics from older folk song

This year's aspen showing seemed a bit down from previous years. Admittedly, we were out of town during the peak for much of the state. Still, yesterday's drive through the Poudre Canyon showed that peak was definitely passed, but there were still some spectacular stands remaining.

We love the Pingree Park area, but hadn't explored Buckhorn very much. The only time I'd been up 44H itself, in fact, was almost a year ago, when Caleb and I did a brief scouting of Moody Hill on Thanksgiving Day. From then, it was clear that this area had more potential. I had, though, done some rides on Old Flowers, and heard that Steve and some boyz hit up White Pine a few weeks ago. This by itself sounded like a good mellow hike for today.

Looking out the window at 7AM, there was a solid line of clouds sweeping across the foothills, north to south, but there was an interesting gap just behind them. With luck, we would hit some good weather back there. We took our time getting ready -- the only threat this time of year is rain and cold, but at least not lightning -- and got to the ranger station around 9.

Sure enough, the clouds were breaking enough to let some sun through, and we didn't need winter jackets. It was truly a fall-like 43 degrees, quite pleasant. We took our time heading up the jeep road; I would like to return to challenge it on a mt. bike, as I couldn't find any one spot that was too intimidating with proper planning and tacky soil, but the whole climb, in total, certainly is a beast. Partway up, on the side of the road, we saw some glittering: mica! My geonerd brother-in-law taught me this, and I was surprisingly excited at collecting some. In just over an hour and 15 minutes, we found ourselves at the top, and enjoyed a nice break in the sun as the fog rolled in the distance:

Before the clouds completely socked in the west, we had great views of the Mummy Range

and we headed back down, again taking our time and enjoying the leafy road and some of the still brilliant aspen.

We also checked out the trail leading directly north of the white pine saddle, which eventually connects to Old Flowers. This singletrack looked clean and awesome as it rolled over a bed of pine needles, and there were some nice campsites offset from the road. Definitely worth a future visit!

Near the bottom, there is one intriguing, large boulder just off the side of the trail, that I spotted on the way up. Not being in a hurry, I played around on it.

It was quite solid and fun to practice on, but I still have a hard time downclimbing. Need to practice that more. Interestingly, I descended on an easier, slightly mre reddish rock next to it, which ended up being more flaky. I'll have to ask Caleb what's up with that.

We made it back down and saw a few more folks headed up, but all in all a nice stroll in the woods. The road isn't too rocky, so it might be worth a future ski visit. Before we left, we looked at the trailhead for Donner Pass. This trail has always intrigued me: first, based on the name, but also because it's not overly popular. There's definitely more stuff to check out in this area!

Waxing Gibbous, Rising Sun / Cam'ron's Snowy Tundra Fun

While I was having a self-induced rough day at work on Friday, my friend Ben had just texted about a solid run he had just finished in his Raramuri sandals. I looked outside: it was a perfectly cloudless Fall day, near sunset, and I still hadn't gotten outside to run. Jess was recovering from a tough week at work herself (which culminated in fantastic presentations from Dr. Ratey on the exercise/brain link), and I was still at work, so it was clear we were going to be in town for the weekend.

When I did get home, I did a quick run on the trail across the street under the (nearly) full moon. This made me feel a bit better, and gave me an idea...

I called up Ben with a half-baked plan to see if he had any plans for sometime before dawn. He was already planning a full-moon hike on Sunday night at Horsetooth, and already meeting friends in Denver on Saturday afternoon, but that didn't answer the immediate question: was he up for some sort of full moon/sunrise hike above treeline, somewhere? As the answer was "Yes," we discussed alternatives, eventually settling on Cameron Pass. Initially, we planned on Mt. Mahler, but after thinking about scrambling up a north-facing aspect that neither of us had been on before, with a possible dusting of snow in the dark, we decided against it, and opted instead for some exploration of Montgomery Pass/Diamond Peaks area.

So I picked Ben up around 4AM, and we headed out. We had a bit of a snafu with finding a gas station that accepted credit cards at that hour -- who knew? -- but then we were off, driving west through the silent canyon with the moon still above us. Just before 6, we were at the trailhead, with a very faint dawn and 28 degrees.

Oh yeah, and there was snow at road level. This was a bit of a surprise, as the Joe Wright Snotel showed no remaining snow. But, it was only a dusting, so we headed up in the dark:

Actually, the snow was surprisingly fresh and still in the trees. One more decent snowfall, and a fun October tour in the trees could be had.

Soon, it was light enough to see without headlamps, and then we passed treeline, just as the sun was rising, but not yet quite high enough to overtake orange llama hats:

We made our way up between the North Diamond and Montgomery Pass, cautiously traversing the steeper angles, until reaching a drier pile of summit rocks.

As we suspect, the west-facing aspects were windblown and easier to walk on.
And run on, so we did a bit of trail running on the ridge, past Montgomery Pass and over the next few summits.

Overall, the entire ridge line in this area never ceases to amaze me with it's fantastic above-treeline views and fun, easy running or hiking.

Some day in the summer, I'd like to start from the South Diamond and continue north towards Clark Peak. I'm not sure how gnarly it gets in that direction, but it's intoxicating having such a long stretch above treeline.

We headed back down from the pass and back to town, another good day at Cameron Pass! Fall is truly almost over here, as the snow will be coming soon...

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Huron Top

But nothing’s ever as good
As when you’re on top...
I want to wake up / And just start running
Into a ditch / Or straight up a mountain
I want to get / Where no one been gettin’
Make it deeper than hell
Or make it higher than heaven

Jakob Dylan, The Wallflowers "When You're On Top"

'Twas the last week of September, and a BFH ("Big Fat High") was coming through Colorado, so it was a good weekend to head to the mountains, check out some of the foliage, and climb something high. So, at oh-dark-30 (actually, 2:45AM) Saturday morning, we headed up to the Sawatch for the 3rd time this year to hiking sumpin' fun: Brown's Peak and Huron Peak.

Huron Peak is an easy 14er, with gorgeous views of numerous other 14ers and no paved roads. The standard trail is a class 1 walkup, around 2 miles from a high 4WD trailhead, and can get crowded in the summer. But that wouldn't be very interesting, would it? Instead, our plan was to ascend via Lulu Gulch, climbing Browns Peak along the way.

The drive out was uneventful: the sky was perfectly clear, and the low over Fremont pass was 24 degrees(!). We arrived at the South Winfield trailhead with just a tiny hint of dawn, and 30 degrees, but the day would get warmer as soon as the sun started clearing the mountains to the east. There was only one other car at the trailhead, a big change over the summer. We took our time getting ready, eating breakfast burritos, and generally allowing the sky to lighten, which saves headlamp weight and space (more burrito room) and wards off bears and lions (according to Jess).

So we actually started hiking around 6:30. We began down the main road, before taking the first left at 0.4 miles and switchbacking upward. Soon, we began to see the aspen on the mountainsides, surprisingly a bit before peak for late September:

This spur 4WD road continued long switchbacks until treeline, when Lulu Gulch and the Cirque from Middle Mountain to Brown's Peak was in view. At this point, we were to leave the road and find our own route up to the ridge along Brown's. Jessica picked our ascent route, a mixture of scree and tundra.

As we were in the shaded, west-facing aspects that still hadn't seen sunlight yet, the ground was still partly frozen. Rather than being icy, however, it kept it from being loose, so it was quite pleasant to ascend this route in this weather.

Next up was some boulder hopping from the saddle up to Brown's:

Full disclosure: Up until now, we couldn't even see Huron. Before this, in fact, I was arguing with myself as to where the hell Huron was, and after all this work, Jess didn't seem amenable to the mountain in front of us (Brown's) being a 'false' summit (if a separate 13er can really be a false summit). Well, either way, we had to make it up to Brown's, and then we could discuss further plans.

We made it to the top of Browns and had it to ourselves. There was a sparse summit register there -- one or 2 signatures per week during the summer -- and gorgeous views all around. Did I mention we hadn't seen a soul yet all day? Well, at this point, we could finally see Huron, as well as a few folks on top of it. This route was worth it not just for fun scrambling, not just for solitude, but also the sweet perspective of Huron that we'd miss from the standard CFI trail.
To get there, we had about half a mile to go, with about half of that scrambling over the snow-dusted ridge, before joining with the standard trail for the final summit push.
From this vantage point, covered in snow, Huron actually looked kind of gnarly, even given its easy reputation. Jess didn't like the looks of it, as the obvious trail was a ribbon of snow that seemed to go straight up. Either way, though, we needed to proceed to the saddle between Brown's and Huron, join with the standard trail, and then make our decision.

As we moved toward Huron, we took a cautious route to the right/below the top of the ridge. The snow was only a few inches deep, but slowed us down a bit. As we rounded a corner, with Jess slightly out of view, I heard a loud thunk that made my heart skip a beat. It turns out, Jess leaned on a decent-sized boulder at shoulder level, and it actually rolled out toward her! She got out of the way in time, but bruised her left hand in the process. This was especially unfortunate as we continued traversing the right side of the ridge; i.e., the left hand was frequently needed for balance. She shook it off admirably and kept at it, as we proceeded through the boulders to a flat spot where we could intersect the standard trail.

Jess took a more cautious approach slightly downward toward the trail, whereas I'm quite miserly with giving up gained elevation. I intersected the trail a couple switchbacks above her...
And that's when I did the stupidest thing I've done on a mountain.
A pure stupid, stupid rookie mistake.

I set my backpack down to take some pictures. Due to the snow and angle, there was just enough gravity to cause my pack to start sliding...
and then rolling...
and then rolling...
I watched it, entranced, willing it to stop, as it would slow down near a rock, then roll around it, and start picking up speed. It crossed the trail twice, and started getting near another hiker. I was preparing to call it out in warning, when it finally, mercifully, stopped.

The hiker (a friendly German ex-pat) retrieved it for me, as I cruised down past Jess to meet him.
I apologized profusely at my own stupidity (and having it been witnessed), and for small possibility, not realized, that he could have been endangered by my rolling pack or his own effort to retrieve it. I'm sure I've set my pack down dozens of times while skiing, but usually cut my skis below the pack above me (and maybe I have rolled it and just forgot, as skiing down to retrieve it isn't a big deal). Lesson learned, and shared here...

I turned around and met back up with Jess -- I will admit to enjoying a bit of extra-credit heart-pounding descent and re-ascent -- right as the switchbacks ended, and the snowy ascent began. This would have been a good time for Yak-trax or the like -- the very same ones we were looking at in the store the day before, perhaps -- but it was still manageable with some scrambling (on what would normally be a walk), aiming for one rock at a time. We were uncertain of the downhill awaiting us, as we watched one guy biff a few times as he descended.

Finally, the summit was achieved:

We were greeted by 2 women (first 14er for Mom), a dog, and perfectly blue skies. After taking our picture, the ladies left and we had the peak to ourselves for a few minutes -- quite a difference over the summer, I imagine.

Jess's mood improved, and she seemed genuinely happy on her 2nd summit of the day. Here, I must add that it was 2 days before our 7th anniversary, and I could not be happier sharing such a beautiful day with the person I love most in the world.

Soon, the German gentleman and his partner arrived, and we exchanged pleasantries.
We took some more pictures; ate some breakfast burrito and zucchini bread; and I fired off a cryptic text to my brother-in-law. Then, we began the snowy descent down the standard trail.

We passed maybe 4 or 5 folks coming up -- man, it was such a gorgeous day! -- and the snow soon gave way to mud. The views in the valley at the bottom were also spectacular, we were quite pleased with our choice of a loop route.

Now, we did have a bit of schedule in getting back down. We weren't rushed, but if we had no commitments, I would have loved to take a nap out in the meadow. That's how gorgeous and non-threatening this September day was. Alas, we trudged on down a million switchbacks on the standard trail, until finally intersecting with the 4WD road.

We arrived back at the car, still guarded by flaming yellow aspen

and headed back home, about 8.5 hours since we started. I would estimate the snow slowed us down by approximately an hour.

In summary, the Lulu Gulch route is a fabulous alternative to the standard route on Huron. I would consider it equally fun for ascending or descending when doing a loop with the standard route.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Run for the Chimps: Kansas City Zoo Run

Our friend Jenny was getting married in Kansas City, MO this weekend, so we made a quick driving trip out there for the weekend. We had a great time at the wedding, talking with Jenny and her husband Tom; her VP sister Katie (that is, "Very Pregnant") and Dr. Charlie; Uncle Ray and his family; Jenny's parents; and some new folks. But, this blog is about running, hiking, etc.....
The weather looked great, and glancing at the calendar, we noticed a 4-mile race at the KC zoo. Sounds like fun!

This was the 6th year of the "Kansas City Zoo Run" race, with each year highlighting a different endangered species. This year was chimps, and it sounded like a fun way to see the zoo. Plus, while generally weary of too much mixing of charity and running, this mix seemed like a sensible way for the zoo to offer it's assets (well-maintained roads, beautiful landscaping, and a fabulous volunteer and work staff) for charitable purposes. And...a cool t-shirt!

Well, sort of. They ran out on race morning, which might testify to either lack of preparation, or overwhelming demand -- but in either case, the shirts are (still) in the mail. The logo was designed by a 6th-grade student, who was honored after the race -- fantastic!

So, the race itself...I won't bore you too much with turn-by-turn age group competition reporting, but I will briefly describe the race itself, should you ever find yourself in the area. OK, a little personal background: I set a goal of < 25 minutes, with the idea being close to 6 minute splits as possible. This timing will give you an idea of the course difficulty, or at least my perception. I hadn't run any sort of speedwork since July, so I quickly did a couple workouts the previous week just to make sure I remembered how to run < 6 min miles! Anyway, the front of the race had some singlet-wearing high school and college racers, both from the KC area as well as Lawrence. Other than that, the crowd was quite large, with people of all ages and sizes, a good vibe in general.

The race begins on a zoo road with a nice downhill. I stayed conservatively on pace; if nothing else, it would be a moral and mental victory to pace off some even miles. The downhills kept coming, though, and eventually the first mile: just a couple seconds short of 6. Sweet. Feeling comfortably good, but with at least a dozen or so people in front of me, I stayed relaxed and enjoyed the scenery, smiling and thanking some of the volunteers. As we finished the 2nd mile, I glanced at my watch: 12 minutes flat. I was feeling good, but now were were getting into some narrow trails near different animal houses ("Australia" and "Africa" being their own large sections). The turns took away momentum and speed, but so what, it made it more fun:

But, on the clock, my 3rd mile clocked in around 6:20. So, if you're running this race, I'd suggest being more aggressive on the downhills, since the 3rd mile will suck up some time...

But not too aggressive. The funny thing about a 4-mile race is trying not to blow up after 3.11 miles that many people are used too. I was still feeling relaxed, though, and ended up passing some folks. The last turn and I could see the finish line, as well as the top female. I had a bit of a kick left but was still a good distance behind her (a talented KU runner), and ended up...where I ended up. In the arbitrary nature of age groups and such, I ended up winning a token chimp award for my efforts, which I do appreciate as a keepsake.

So, if you're in Kansas City in mid-September, keep the zoo race in mind!

Other tips:
* McCoy's Brewpub patio in downtown KC (by the Plaza) had great food (broccoli mac 'n cheese!), beer (award-winning brown ale) and atmosphere.
* Hays, KS is about halfway there, and itself has a way better brewpub than you'd expect from a town that size:
Gella's Diner and Liquid Brewing
A few more words on this one: besides a great, diverse, fresh menu, they just tapped Kolsch the day before:

which is one of my favorite styles. This one was excellent, and I dig the graphic art job. I also dug the atmosphere and cool merchandise. Finally, our food was awesome, and I think anything would go well with their sunflower pesto. Local, I love it.