Monday, October 31, 2011

A little time off...

I've taken a little time off from running the last few days.

It's not a bad idea -- my right leg hasn't been 100% for, oh, all year or so -- trying to balance that out with some stretching and strengthening, as well as some cycling in recent weeks. It's been sore in the groin area on and off since last year, and occasionally the hamstring, and while the pain hasn't been bad, it's a definite stiffness and weakness that holds me back a bit on longer runs, especially when my left leg feels fantastic. It actually wasn't too much of a deal in Leadville, it hurt more after Denver Marathon a year ago. I think the stretching and alternating with cycling have been good things, and I need to pay attention to it. Let me know if you have other ideas, but I think the actual source is the piriformis, so I've been working more on that.

I've also given it 100% rest the last few days, which was unplanned. That's because I slipped on some ice at the gas station on Saturday morning. Stepping on a solid sheet of ice (from water dripping above, the rest of the parking lot was clear), I slipped completely backward, cartoon-style. Didn't hurt anything on my body at all...

But I smacked the back of my head on solid concrete. Worse than anything else was the slapping sound of my head hitting the ground, which I heard with detachment, like somebody dropping a bowling ball or something down from 6 feet. That was the sound of my head hitting the ground???

I didn't black out or bleed, but I conservatively modified any plans of heading to the mountains, exerting myself, or drinking alcohol, until any headaches stopped. No other brain symptoms (I had one concussion a few years ago and felt noticeably foggy), thankfully, just soreness, mostly in my neck. Unfortunately, my neck was more sore the next day, and I could even feel it while swallowing, so when eating lunch, i got something stuck in my throat (also from eating too fast, probably) and then threw up.


Feeling OK now, a bit of a headache this afternoon but I think it was from my neck. Should be running soon, and like any injury or minor scare, it quickly made me remember -- again -- how important being healthy is. Especially in the brain!

And watch out for that ice!

Running in Sandwich, Illinois

I've run pretty much everywhere, in all kinds of weather, when travelling: that's what I love about it.
It's a great way to see a new area, reflect on things, and take a break. I've been lucky to have strange but enjoyable runs in strange but enjoyable towns on 4 continents. The most challenging runs, though, would seem to be in the middle-of-nowhere places in the U.S. But these are also the most surprising. Despite skepticism, I've had great and memorable runs in Oklahoma and Kansas, for example.

Still, my faith was to be tested in Sandwich. Looking at the map, and mapmyrun, and the satellite view, things looked bleak. It's not just me -- my friend Todd, also at the wedding, had done the same thing and reached the same depressing conclusion...and he grew up in Iowa!

He was interested in a 4-to-5 mile jaunt, and was worried about slowing me down, etc. No worries, running with a willing friend, especially one you don't get to see too often, is about as good as it gets. Even if the scenery was disappointing, we'd still have a chance to chat.

But you know what? Like always, the run was still quite enjoyable. Cars gave us sufficiently wide berth, eventually, but it was clear that running wasn't usual in these parts. And that's a shame, for once we made a turn along some country roads, we were surrounded by rustling, dry corn stalks, with the last bits of life in their leaves upturned towards a glorious morning sun.

Once we got back to the hotel, I took a quick romp through a section of woods next to the hotel, finding some game trails littered with yellow and brown leaves, a few deer hunting stands (thankfully I was wearing bright neon yellow), long wooded vines that hung from tall trees, and a creek; and I kicked up a couple deer on the other side. The scent of leaves at the end of Fall immediately brought back memories of trampling through the woods as a kid: should I lose my sight someday, bring me out to those woods in October and November and I should enjoy them still.

The next morning, after the wedding, I dragged myself out of bed with just over an hour and a half to spare for a run. I headed East towards Yorkville, again, but then South. I had a rough destination in mind: the lower Fox River.

When looking on the map, I had seen a bit of arboreal coverage along the river, including Maramech Woods nature preserve and Silver Spring State Park, so I guessed it would be more scenic. I also wondered, and later confirmed, about the river itself: the lower Fox river does indeed wind south from Wisconsin, down past Chicago, before hooking West near Yorkville.

As I approached the river valley, I enjoyed classic pastoral scenes of cows grazing lazily in the sun. A large buck crashed through some brush across the street, as the tree cover grew denser. The landscape transitioned from the clearing and plowing man had done -- the active and necessary destruction, the ambitious and honorable -- from the domesticated to the wild, mysterious woods which had been directed by other forces. Here, I found where I preferred to be: in the shadows of the woods, among the fallen leaves.

I only had a short amount of time before I need to head back, but I blasted down the leafy, rolling paths as quickly as I could, before taking a break to view the Fox River.

The Fox River runs around my birth town of Mukwonago, Wisconsin, which means I've seen it thousands of times. It also flows directly through Waukesha, Wisconsin, and near the Carroll campus -- the place where J and I ultimately had met the groom. And here it was again, flowing through these tiny towns in Illinois. This spurred on thoughts about life, impermanence, context, the transient nature of things, defining things by their actions (verbs) instead of mere existence (noun), etc. on a glorious Sunday morning.

But this experiential religion --a run on a gorgeous morning -- is the inferior and odd one. Would it be more comfortable to hear the old stories inside a building instead?
Who am I to say?

Illinois and Wisconsin weekend

Two weekends ago, had a quick but fabulous trip to the midwest to see our friends get married. We've been friends with the groom, Jason, for over a decade, after meeting him as a brother of one of J's random roommates in her one year at Carroll College in Wisconsin. It's amazing to think of how several lifelong friendships have developed from that one year,we had a great time at the wedding, with the groom, bride, and families being great hosts that threw a great party that went by altogether too quickly!

Some other blog-related (whatever that means) tidbits and observations:


  • Stopped at Revolution Brewing for lunch in downtown Chicago -- a little mid-upper high end in prices but also food and service. For lunch, a pizza and polenta fries, along with a brew, were just perfect.

  • Also stopped at the first Dunkin Donuts I saw. We have them down in the Springs, but otherwise don't have much access to it, especially fresh vanilla long johns (maple seems to be more popular West of the Mississippi, in my donut observation at least)

  • Since we passed another dozen or so DD's along the way, I probably didn't need to get as excited as I did about seeing the first one

  • Drove into the maelstrom of downtown Chicago traffic in the rental car, heading for Michigan Avenue. This requires alertness, agressive maneuvers, swerving around delivery trucks, and running through numerous yellowish-red lights (possibly with a courtesy honk). I find this kind of chaotic driving oddly soothing, because everyone actually seems to be focused on the task. I'm much more frustrated with hitting every stoplight on Colfax (for example) around here precisely because people are doing everything but driving

  • At H&M, downtown, I found pants that fit!

  • Took surface streets out West so as to see something different and avoid tolls. The system was annoying and weird decades ago when we drove through, and is even more antiquated and strange now. The last thing I want to do is go 60-to-0-to-60 to pay $0.80. And I don't want to think about bringing quarters or even singles as soon as I get to the airport, let alone think about how this will work with a rental car if I blew through and relied on the license plate instead.

  • Made a planned stop in Naperville: looked somewhat interesting on the map, which was seconded by a local trailrunner, Lance. Naperville Running Store is supposedly one of the country's best running stores. I visited, and it sure is a nice store, but then I realized how visiting cool running stores isn't entirely useful unless you need something, which I didn't. Which is why I like running: because I don't need to buy a lot of stuff. Still a cool store.

  • Trader Joe's! Splurged on a $4 malbec, and got some 'sushi' rolls for dinner, to bring back to the hotel.

  • Sandwich and Yorkville, Illinois
  • Kept driving into increasing nowhere-ness, until getting near the town of Sandwich, Illinois, where the reception was to be held (at a nice hotel/convention center, which is fun and convenient once you get into town).

  • Sandwich does not have any interesting sandwich shops or delicatessans, or large statues of sandwiches.

  • Jason's parents (Jerome and Marian) had a great pre-party Friday night, welcoming out of town guests, and I really enjoy when people do that. Even better, they had it down the road in Yorkville at Kendall Pub, which had a surprisingly cool ambiance and availability of microbrews, which Jerome was supporting and was served by a great staff).

    Good news: I enjoyed a large Dead Guy Ale, one of my all-time favourites, as well as a local brew from Metropolitan brewing, and a Warsteiner Oktoberfest. All were excellent.
    Bad news: For some reason, the combination of these, a bit of wine, and little-to-no sleep the night before, really hit me hard.


After this, I found out that this guy was a few hours North in the Wisconsin Dells -- and won the marathon! Holy cow!
Or should I say -- Spotted Cow -- since he had previously visited New Glarus brewery? That explains the victory!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Buying Pants

Seriously, where the hell do you guys buy pants that fit?
Specifically, in the USA in 2011, in a brick-and-mortar store where I can see/try them on first...but most importantly, where the length exceeds the waist? (This used to be common)

Sorry, I go through this tirade once a year or so.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Red Feather Lakes "Triple Bald" Loop

North Bald Mountain (10982')
Middle Bald Mountain (11002')
South Bald Mountain (11007')

Looking for something mellower, and with wind moving into the high country, it seemed like a good day to head to Red Feather Lakes.

No I-25, no I-70: just a mellow drive up north. (Or bike ride: it's just over 50 miles from my side of town, and made a nice out-and-back century a few summers ago).

Staring at maps west of town, on Deadman Road (note: this is CR86, not 162 as denoted on the Trails Illustrated map), I decided to check out an interesting loop combining North Lone Pine trail and Killpecker trail.. The trail loop itself can't be more than 12 miles or so, including a couple miles on the dirt road to join the two. But just off of these trails are some prominent peaks of the Laramie range, worth some off-trail exploring. The highest named peaks -- North Bald Mountain, Middle Bald Mountain, and South Bald Mountain -- poke just above treeline, giving great 360-degree views.

South (Left) and Middle (Right) Bald Mountain, seen from North Bald Mountain

North Lone Pine trail is a steady but pleasant climb in the trees. After running for about half an hour, the trail took a left and started descending slightly/flattening out. At this point, I suspected North Bald Mountain was above, to the right/West, but didn't have a direct view of it. Nonetheless, I began the bushwhack upward.

The lower part of the slope was more open and had less deadfall than other dreadful bushwhacks in Northern Colorado, but just as I was getting content with this fate, a bit more rocks, trees, and snow appeared, slowing things down a bit, but still quite manageable. Soon enough, daylight poked through the trees: except for a bit of rolling terrain, I was on the top of North Bald Mountain.

This afforded nice views of Middle and South Bald Mountain. Unfortunately, it's another descending, and then ascending, bushwhack over to Middle Bald Mountain. At least it's easier to find via dead reckoning, and although not easily runnable, it didn't take too long to get up there.

Middle Bald had more interesting rock formations and scrambling opportunities on top. I took in the views, and then slowly downclimbed on large, solid boulders, toward South Bald. In retrospect, it would have been easier and quicker to drop down the mellow backside to the Killpecker trail.

I headed toward South Bald, knowing that a few trails were down below in the thick of trees, but that the trail can be subtle in some of the thicker spots. I hit one of the trails (North Lone Pine, again), but inexplicably headed the wrong direction: I happened to hit it when it made a short bend, heading downhill, which at the time was the direction of my goal, before it headed very much North again.

I recognized my mistake after 10-15 minutes, turned around, and then re-questioned my initial decision about which way would really be the best. I wasted a good 30-40 minutes running back and forth a few times and double checking the map, but once I was on track, I found that my original intersection of the trail was within 3 minutes of my goal: an intersection with Elkhorn Baldy Rd.

Back on track, I headed up toward South Bald, taking what I think was the Swamp Creek cutoff. (Things get a bit questionable back there when offroad vehicles make their own trails). Nonetheless, it was easy and obvious to climb up to open areas and get clear views of South Bald.

South Bald is the highest of the named peaks, and is an enjoyable, quick climb. But I didn't spend too much time in the wind before retracing my steps back to the Elkhorn Baldy intersection.

Now it was time to check out the Killpecker trail. Although at similar elevations as North Lone Pine, these aspects held a few inches of consistent snow, which was enjoyable to run in.

I could even make out faint cross-country ski tracks! Somebody already got some skiing in. I've read about these trails in Snowshoe guides, and Killpecker is especially nice because the rocks aren't too large on the trail, and both trails are mostly protected from the wind. For some possible turns, the backside of Middle Bald, and possibly South Bald, are mellow-angle and north-facing. I'll definitely be back to check it out in winter!

I would recommend the loop as a run, as both trails are quite runnable and enjoyable. Bring a good map! Further exploration may include some of the lower "bald," rocky points sticking up in the area. Otherwise, Middle Bald is right off of Killpecker trail and easily accessible, and South Bald isn't too much more of an effort -- I'd recommend those for great views. North Bald might not be worth the effort.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Grand Canyon R2R2R

The Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim (R2R2R, or R^3) is a spectacular, classic trek on foot across one of the natural wonders of the world. It is a remarkable and challenging endeavor that can be done as a multi-day hike, but among runners, it is done as a one-day test of endurance. Depending on the route, it is between 42 and nearly 50 miles, and the fastest known time (FKT) is currently Dave Mackey's astounding 6:59. Hundreds of runners and hikers attempt the double-crossing each year, with late Spring (April) and early Fall (October) being especially popular to avoid both heat and snow.

While wanting to run at the best of our ability, it's also a celebration to be able to step back and become inspired by the Canyon itself. It is a privilege to be able to visit the Canyon itself, which is why it is rightly popular with both American and international tourists. Unfortunately, for most visitors, the Canyon is a simple drive along the Rim, barely worth leaving the car other than to visit the gift shops.

“Industrial tourism is a threat to the national parks. But the chief victims of the system are the motorized tourists. They are being robbed and robbing themselves. So long as they are unwilling to crawl out of their cars they will not discover the treasures of the national parks and will never escape the stress and turmoil of the urban-suburban complexes which they had hoped, presumably, to leave behind for a while.”
-- Edward Abbey, "Desert Solitaire"

And so, more important than the ability to run in a given footrace, a sturdy pair of legs, following the beat of a healthy heart, serves as a vehicle to free the mind and deliver the soul to the beautiful places of the Earth -- the places that have been crafted over millenia, the primitive and untamed places, places worthy of worship precisely because they are older than what man has ever known.

This is why we were inspired to descend from the surface, to discover a new world over a mile below.

But first, of course, was "The Love Muffin."
Alex had suggested a stop at The Love Muffin Cafe in Moab, nearly halfway through our drive, which serves up delicious breakfasts and quirky T-shirts in equal measure, as well as muffins: some, with bacon, but non-baconated muffin choices as well.

After this, it was onward toward Arizona. We were making decent time, but the clouds started to gather to the west. Past Kayenta, Arizona, we began climbing toward Marsh Pass, which wasn't much of a mountain pass by Colorado standards. However, this spot in Arizona was the first seasonal snowfall most of us had seen this year:

We were still a few hours from the Park, so we hoped that the weather would clear and we wouldn't have to deal with snow on the route. As predicted, the weather was drier as we headed West. Finally, we reached the Park near sunset, just in time to view what we would be exploring in the morning.
South Rim at Sunset:

After the sun dropped, so did the temperature, with nighttime lows of mid-20s predicted. We headed back to our campsite at Mather campground, and I put on most of the clothes I had brought with me, which meant I had 4 layers of shirts and 2 layers of pants on, in addition to a hat and a pair of gloves. This was sufficient, provided that I was close enough to our campfire. We enjoyed a delicious carbo-loading pot luck pasta, salad, and beer, before heading into our tents.

We had made a few group decisions on the route and logistics. Namely, we'd head down South Kaibab, and up Bright Angel, and we'd all head out together in the morning. This would add three miles to the total, and likely affect our chances of breaking the FKT for the canyon(!), but we'd see more of a variety of scenery, the Bright Angel canyon is more shaded from the sun, and the trail has more water taps (2) than South Kaibab (0). We decided to park cars near Bright Angel, then, and took a shuttle to South Kaibab, which does not allow parking.

And so we awoke, groggy and very cold, and headed out for the first bus at 5AM. Driving around a bit disoriented, we missed it. As it turned out, this was perfectly OK, as 5AM has a bit more hiker traffic and it meant less running in the dark for us.

But it was still very cold! I began with tights and 5 upper layers of clothes while waiting for the bus. Just before the bus came, I remembered to ditch a heavy fleece, but I still carried an unnecessary 2 warm layers of clothes and the tights, as ~15 minutes of running and the warmer temperatures in the canyon were easily sufficient. The extra layers of clothes took up half the space and a good amount of weight (especially being wet from sweat/water).

Also being overly cautious, I had capacity for over 100 ounces of water (though I didn't always carry this much), and I did bring a small multi-tool and lighter amongst more reasonable items, meaning that I was a rare runner that carried all ten essentials, although I clearly didn't need them. I otherwise had a fistful of gels, shot blocks, and a PB&J sandwich. Although I had some Gatorade, I should have brought electrolyte capsules.

We started together and wished each other well as we split off into small groups. Pete and I stayed together, at a very relaxed pace with stops for pictures and gear adjustments. We encountered numerous hikers on the trail, but most were sufficiently courteous and aware to let us through.

Pete surveying the South Rim at Sunrise:

In no time, it seemed, we were down at the river.

Bridge across the Colorado River:

We stopped at Phantom Ranch for a water fill, restroom break, and more gear adjustments. Again, I wished I hadn't brought so many clothes, as I had to dig them out of the way to get more food out, and I had unnecessarily brought an extra unused liter of water down the canyon, yet still refilled out of caution.

The temperature at the bottom of the still-shaded canyon was perfectly cool running weather.

A panoramic view of the Colorado River:

This suspension bridge also carries a pipe beneath it:

Now it was time for a rolling 7 mile section, with a rushing creek nearby echoing off the canyon walls. As we left Phantom Ranch, we saw few other hikers and runners and mostly had the place to ourselves.

Down in the Canyon:

At Cottonwood Campground, we filled water again, and prepared for the 7 mile trek up to the North Rim. By now, we had encountered a few other running groups, from the Bay area and from St. Louis, and chatted with them a bit. But I was also looking forward to the power-hike up the steeper stuff, and I headed up on the hike with Pete behind, knowing he'd catch up at my next break and on any of the flatter stuff.

Ribbon Falls:

Roaring Springs:

Views down below the North Rim, where the walls are steeper:

Once Pete and I were less than a couple miles from the top, we encountered the infamous scourge of the Canyon, worse than heat or snow or rains and flash floods...

The dreaded Mule Trains.

A mule train is a line of an unusual sort of fauna found nowhere else on earth. Each individual unit is 1/3rd horse, and 2/3rds ass. It is formed when a jack (male ass) mounts a mare (horse), before the resultant offspring is finally mounted by a lazy tourist. This process is repeated 6-8 times to form a train, and then another half dozen times to form a Really Big Inconvenience, resulting in raunchy piles of waste and deep puddles of fetid urine.

But: it's a tradition!

Pete and I gamely waited for each of 6 or so mule trains to pass, giving wide berth to unpredictable but thankfully well-trained and behaved animals. All mule guides were thankful and courteous, though some were encouraging of our activity and explained it to the tourons, while others warned us to "Be Careful." Most tourists were courteous as well, though only a very few were actually curious enough to ask us how and what we were doing; less, in fact, than the number that proudly exclaimed how much fun they were having, and a couple that were conquering their fear of heights and animals.

Good! We're in the middle of a 45 mile run, thankyouverymuch!

After the last train had passed, we got back into a rhythm of climbing, and soon worked our way from Summer back into Fall, as Pete put it, with red and yellow foliage, along with pine trees, replacing the desert flora below.

Finally, after about 4:45, we reached the top:

Pete and I on the North Rim, in front of the water taps:

This was cold enough to don more layers again, which we quickly shed within 10-15 minutes. And soon enough, we saw Alex! And then Cat! They were having a great day as well, and were looking good.

Pete had now pulled ahead, and as I told him several times earlier, he was welcome to do so, as I figured I'd descend more slowly. I did have sore legs and feet already and was tentative on the descent, reminding me once again that I need to train specifically on downhill running, as well as watching electrolyte balance to avoid quad cramps. I saw Pete a few more times on the switchbacks below, but otherwise we were now all running solo, spread out on the trail.

I enjoyed the renewed warmth and views, but was feeling tired, and not looking forward to the 7 mile stretch at the bottom of the canyon. I had a rough idea of "10 hours" as a goal time for the route, thinking we'd do South Kaibab in both directions. I wasn't sure how the BA route would affect it, but I figured I was slowing down more than I would have liked. But, I kept moving, and reached Phantom Ranch at 7.5 hours. As I filled up on water, I learned from another camper that the Milwaukee Brewers had won their game the night before: a bit of news from the surface.

As I was getting ready to leave Phantom Ranch, I saw a familiar face: my friend Tina, from San Diego! She recognized me as I saw her, and we caught up for a bit. She was leading a hiking group on a 2-day trek. It was amazing to see someone I knew, pretty much halfway between Colorado and California.

Did I mention the weather was near perfect? Cloud cover arrived late morning, preventing the canyon from baking in the heat. I was sweating lightly, but was otherwise very comfortable.

Now it was time for new scenery.
Returning up the Bright Angel Trail, which begins in soft sand:

There were some flat spots and even descents in the beginning, which I was tired of. When I'm too tired to run decently, my pace is way off of what I can run it fresh, whereas my tired power-hiking pace isn't that much (proportionally) slower than a fresh pace. Finally, the steady climbing started, and it was time to get into a zone of working uphill for a few hours.

I saw Shaun here, who had turned around earlier from cramping but was otherwise doing OK and looked better than any other hiker going up the trail.

The South Rim was interminably high above us, but it was fun to see how much climbing we were doing, and know that the trail led all the way up there. And no longer did we have the tranquility of the lower canyon: this was a parade of hikers. Some were enjoying the day, but other people didn't share that vision: A crossfit group was doing a North-to-South hike, and already looked exhausted, but couldn't believe we were going up to the top of that. I wasn't running, but it was fun to pass dozens upon dozens of hikers each mile. Some would stand and stop as soon as I passed (not expecting to get passed themselves), and one woman said I looked "too peppy!" I tried to encourage all of them that seemed receptive to it. This would not include the "Ipod" set, which were easily startled and apparently wanted to think about anything but the Grand Canyon.

As we got nearer to the top, switchback after switchback, I turned around occasionally to take in more of the view. Finally, I jettisoned the extra liter of water. I was very near 11 hours, and the last tunnel and top was near, so I started a jog to get to the top right at 11:00-something.

Finally, I was done! An obviously memorable day. I headed towards the bus to get to the car, and abandoned thoughts of an extra few miles of running to get to the car. I had a painful jog to the bus and then missed it by seconds -- my normally reliable power faded. I waited for the next bus with some international students from Harvard Business School, who excitedly asked me about the trip (they had hiked to Phantom Ranch and back). The bus arrived, and the bus driver was curt with tourists who wouldn't move back to make room, and with other gapers on the side of the road (blocking it) to take pictures of an elk, which probably describes most of her route most of the days. But she listened in on our conversation and asked about running, barefoot running, etc.



I returned to the campground and saw Pete. Within an hour or so, everyone else arrived, having had a safe and fun adventure of their own. Ron and Lisa had left us a nice treat of Grand Canyon beer! We took luxurious 8-minute showers at the campground -- I rarely stand around in the shower that long at home -- before getting pizza and beer at the Pizza Pub in the village, and then returning for a campfire. I had a great time hanging out with the whole group.

We drove home via Durango, where Alex, Ean, and I stopped at Nini's Taqueria, which was awesome. Fresh ingredients, fast but good prices, beer and wine available, blue corn tortillas, half a dozen salsas...the only thing that was missing was a green chile (though they didn't claim to be New Mexican...)
Hint: Instead of 3 tacos, order 2 plus a side of rice and beans: you'll get a variety of more food that way!

We enjoyed seeing yellow aspen among the fresh snow on Wolf Creek Pass, which had enough snow to open for skiing for the weekend. I enjoyed the rest of the drive with them, as we discussed my second-favourite topic (running), as well as my first (everything else, e.g. books, math, personal histories, etc.).

In all, it was a fantastic trip, not only with incredible natural scenery, but also spending time with wonderful people. I am eternally grateful for both.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Leadville Video

Saw this on GZ's Blog.

Brings back great memories, I think it beautifully captures a small part of that day for everyone that was there:

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Meadow Mountain Cafe in Allenspark

Mountain Meadow Cafe
"Downtown" Allenspark, CO

After finishing a fabulous hike on Meadow Mountain, we knew we had even more to look forward to: a delicious breakfast at the Meadow Mountain Cafe, right in town. The reviews online offered high praise, and we certainly agreed.

The cafe is in a cozy cabin, and only serves breakfast and lunch from 7-2:00pm (closed Thursdays). There is some outdoor seating, which is nice on a perfect day, but we still chose to nestle inside at a small wooden bar, between a sunny window and pot-bellied stove, which would be even more exquisite on an imperfect day of cold and snow.

There is essentially a waitstaff of two, so be prepared to wait, but the timelessness of the place makes it easy. My coffee cup was immediately filled and never empty of fresh coffee, with a signature hint of cinnamon. Now, looking around, many of the folks were much older and appeared local: the gentleman next to us certainly was, who gave us tips about foliage vantage points as well as how to score extra slices of homemade bread (the "butt" ends) to take home. The standard options of omelettes, french toast (made from home-made bread), and pancakes are available, and you can't go wrong with any of these. It's nice to be able to pair up an omelette (4-egg, by default) with giant banana or blueberry pancakes, which are deliciously more complicated than standard diner faire. All of the dessert options (cobbler, pie, and cinnamon rolls) would have been delicious, had we saved room.

We waited quietly in the corner with a view into the kitchen. The younger waitress, perhaps a daughter (this is how I am imagining them as characters, anyway), washed dishes and lightly sang some of the songs, mostly older country and rock, playing on the speakers. It was easy to feel nostalgia for a time that may or may not have existed. Then, without warning, a song which I didn't recognize, but ended up being "Good Luck Charm" by Elvis Presley.

Don't want a silver dollar
Rabbit's foot on a string
The happiness in your warm caress
No rabbit's foot can bring

I hadn't thought about it consciously earlier in the week, but my grandmother had died this same week, 7 years ago. With her being a big Elvis fan, this immediately came to mind before I could not think about it. That thought, and the smell of coffee and the diner itself, couldn't help but remind me of my grandfather also, for at every visit to Wisconsin before he died, I would meet him for breakfast somewhere. I'm happy to imagine that we had breakfast with them, in a way.


Wait, was this like a restaurant review or something, or what? Anyway, this is a magical little place.

Meadow Mountain Hike in Allenspark

Meadow Mountain (11632')
~7 miles RT, 2700 ft. gain from St. Vrain TH near Allenspark, CO

My bride and I decided to spend a fantastic fall morning with a more leisurely hike up Meadow Mountain near Allenspark. I had spotted Meadow Mountain and its higher neighbor, St. Vrain Mountain, during recent forays into Wild Basin. Since the area appeared to be near-peak in terms of foliage viewing, and the summit would provide fantastic panoramic views, it was nice to minimize driving on I-25 and avoid I-70 altogether. Finally, I would get to check out yet another trailhead and trail, having recently decided there's no reason not to visit every single trail in the park at least once.

Both St. Vrain Mountain and Meadow Mountain are less-popular hikes, but much of the hiking information I do find is in regard to snowshoeing. Undoubtedly, with ample snowfall, the great views and relatively safe approach on the mellow angles of these slopes make it a great choice for winter excursions. In fact, the St. Vrain TH is a turnoff near the end of Ski Hill Road in Allenspark, which is historically named for several ski areas which used to be in Allenspark. Now, the community is a very quaint outpost near RMNP, tucked off of the main Peak-to-Peak highway. It gets almost none of the attention of its famous neighbor to the North -- Estes Park -- yet has more than twice the charm, and is worth a visit any time of year.

The hike is a typical forested creekside trail with a steady climb to treeline. The aspen are immediately stunning near the trailhead, with some brilliant orange on display:

A hike in Fall continues in colourful splendor as the trail leaves the forest for open meadows of deep reds, and distant views of amber leaves below:

So far, the hike nicely met J's requirement of being "Over the River and Through the Woods," which means mostly on trail, without long slogs on talus, snowfields, scree piles, etc., as it approached the saddle and National Park Boundary (having crossed through IPW) at a saddle between Meadow Mtn., some unnamed points just above 11,400, and St. Vrain Mountain. We had planned on a decision between Meadow Mtn. and St. Vrain at this point. Prior to the hike, I was secretly hoping for the "higher-is-better" choice, but seeing the two options in front of us, I imagine words like "steep," "talus," and "krummholz" being thrown about as curse words should we have chosen St. Vrain. Truthfully, Meadow Mtn from the saddle was an appealingly short hike that was mostly tundra, with just enough talus to be fun but not annoying, and would give us better views to the North. Easy decision.

With extra time at the top, low wind, and sufficiently warm temperatures, we lounged around a bit with the summit to ourselves, nicely able to celebrate our 9th anniversary from earlier in the week:

The broad summit had no visible marker or summit log, but has an electric box with a solar panel and antenna, and otherwise sublime views in every direction. We were in no hurry to leave the summit, with only gentle clouds in the area.

In all, this was a spectacular fall hike, even better by enjoying it together, and I can imagine returning for a bluebird winter day. We hadn't left the trailhead until almost 8:30AM, yet had only seen 2 other people on the trail, and took plenty of time for foliage pictures. On the way down, we did see maybe half a dozen parties as the clouds began to roll in. I hesitate a bit, but this hike is a great suggestion for foliage viewing and acclimatization hiking for visitors. It is similar in difficulty and elevation to the much more popular Twin Sisters hike (also a free-parking TH that accesses RMNP), yet has better views and much less human traffic.

Go Orange

Although it's more rare, some of the aspen stands turn a brilliant, flaming orange. Among the otherwise stunning yellow aspen, and bright red sumac and underbrush against mountainous Colorado terrain (especially with the typical Autumn blue skies), I'll happily put Colorado foliage against the best of New England.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

College Competition

Random "Mini Husker":

Easier to talk smack when they can't talk back. Yet.