Sunday, June 13, 2010

Water, Water Everywhere

Poudre River Trail in Windsor, from Windsor Beacon

Water has been the big story in Northern Colorado the last few weeks; ironically, too much of it. We went from a late spring barrage of snow in the Northern Front Range to record high temperatures, and the subsequent melt has swollen the rivers, including the Cache La Poudre through town.

On a very serious note: over Memorial Day weekend, 3 of my friends were tubing on the river with another friend from out of town, who flipped in a fast-moving section and was unable to be rescued or recovered. I feel horrible for all of them to be involved in this, and equally helpless. The best I could muster was a few bike visits and runs near the river downstream, but the river is absolutely raging, and weaving into thick sections of normally dry land. My hope is that once the river recedes, they can receive a quiet and peaceful finality to this tragedy.

The River
Otherwise, I think it's natural to be drawn to the edge of a flooding river. This reminds me of being a kid in Wisconsin, when melted spring snow in the flat area of town would run along the ditches and into the nearby swamp. Just like a fresh coat of snow, but even more rare, there's a novelty factor when the landscape is transformed by flooding.

So this week, most days I went up running along the Poudre River, to witness the awesome power of a river flowing faster than I've ever seen it. The closest access to me is my lunchtime run through the Arapahoe Bend Natural Area, so I headed there the beginning of the week. Normally, I worry about rattlesnakes hidden in the thick brush, but this week I dealt with the water spilling out and surrounding shoreline trees, then running shoe-deep across the trail. Take that, rattlesnakes!

After that, a few more miles brings me to the Environmental Learning Center, the Easternmost trailhead for the Poudre River trail, which has a fun flat dirt loop that zig-zags near the river. But first, one must cross the suspension bridge: usually a good person-height over the river, but now just skimming a foot-and-a-half or so over the river.

The foliage is wild and bountiful in the natural area, with the yellow and purple flowers breaking up the greenery. But soon, the trail starts being submerged...ankle deep, shoe deep, knee deep. The water was running with an obvious directionality, as the river was carving a new channel into the trail itself, but was languid enough so as not to pose a serious threat (other than the neighborhood mosquitoes and flies counting their fortune). A loop is a loop, so I pressed on to see how this would turn out.

I got to bottom-of-the-shorts wet, before finally rising out of the muck again. But, no rattlesnakes!

The trail returned from wade-able to splashable, and finally runnable again, as it turned back to the trailhead, as I made my usual counterclockwise loop. There's one last spot before the suspension bridge that gives a good access to the shore, so I stood on the end to check out the rage: lots of logs and debris choking various channels, while the river merely dodged and made new ones. And, what's this? A perfectly good, wooden panel, just off shore. I waded in to check it out: seemed decent enough to be missed, too good to be litter.

And so that's how I came to run back 3 miles or so, shirtless, carrying a wooden oar. Now what? I posted on Craigslist "Found". I debated bringing it up to my desk at work, but decided against it -- it smelled like Poudre. And since I ran-commuted to work, I found no choice but to run it another 3 miles home after work. Probably one of the more unusual things I've found while running, and certainly the most cumbersome.

I visited spots near the river again during the week, with a mixture of awe, fear, and respect.

The rain
After the high temperatures, we were doomed to a weekend of cool, wet, rainy weather. This effectively shut down high-elevation hiking. I saw that the HT trail race was cancelled for Sunday, so I assumed the trails would be a mess, though Nick proved otherwise. Anyway, it was National "Get Outdoors" Day, so I decided to see what all the fuss was about, outdoors and all. Through a steady downpour, I did my vanilla 13.1M MUP loop, twice, for an even marathon. Kept it very slow and steady most of the time (except for one part where I heard footsteps behind me, and sped up by over 2 min/mile for the next few miles, because my reptilian brain made me do it), and didn't even try to make a futile attempt at keeping my feet dry. The usual low-lying underpasses on the Spring Creek Trail between College and Timberline were flooded. I tried my best liquid mountaineering technique, but lacked skillz, so I just splish-splashed through the water.

Sunday brought more of the same, so I did another of the same loop. This time, the underpasses were chained off. In other words, hurdles! Hurdle...clomp, splish, splash, splash....hurdle....Basically, it's a little more fun when there's interesting in your Milk Run -- a marshmallow in your oats, if you will.

After that, I peeled the shoes off for another mile and a half cooldown barefoot around the 'hood. Had another barefoot run around the 'hood with J earlier in the week, also in a light rain, which is about my favorite conditions for it.

This all added up to my biggest week in awhile (111 or so), which by no small coincidence came a week after my lowest week (5 day's of nothin' due to freak injury). Not being able to run made me pretty anxious -- a thirsty man in the desert -- so when I got the chance again, I drank deep!


  1. Wow! Big, interesting and varied week. Keep drinking my man.

  2. 111! And an oar! Soon people will be taking oar running up as the next big thing.