Day 10 of mountain hide-awaying, and we’ve taken to light scheduled walks after the workday. The sun at 9,000 – 10,000 feet can be relentless, and we’re of Northern European stock. I love me some vitamin D, but I dislike harmful UV rays.

Spring comes to the forest

Off we sauntered in and around our favorite empty ski hill and federal lands. Nearest town: population couple hundred. Social distancing no problemo.

Not exactly spring skiing

March and April are mercurial months, weather-wise. Our snowiest months can also be our meltiest months.

Huffing up a green run

We’re learning, living at 9,000 ft., that less is more. Ski runs, even green ones, are not gently sloped. We’re also learning how to read melting snow, crusting snow, and crested snow and where one sinks to their knees unexpectedly. Hard to believe three days ago I snowboarded down an adjacent run.

Light, happy hour flakes

The bluebird sky gave way to light snow gave way to golden hour.

The colors of late in the day, late March
The top of Chair 4

We walked in and out of snowpack, wind, weather, and flurries on our way to Chair 4 and other ski runs. Hoping to explore more, we were stopped by deep snow.

It’s like Christmas on April Fool’s Eve

Hiking an empty snow-patched mountain is one of the best ways I know to compartmentalize and forget, for a needed 90 minutes, that we are living against a backdrop of a global pandemic. The likes of which very few living humans have experienced before. Spanish Flu survivors being the exception.

Happy Hour Smiles

Every day the mountains remind us how lucky and privileged we are to be hunkering down in a beautiful place. It’s a tricky balance between cabin fever, high altitude, creaky floors, low oxygen levels, stunning landscapes and no chance ever of pizza delivery. Still we smile.

Until next time…


It’s been just over a week since a friend of mine and I headed to the hills to hunker down right before the global pandemic was about to change our daily lives. For(alongtime)ever. After a couple days of high winds, teener temps, and cabin fever, I struck out to snowshoe up and snowboard down the abandoned ski area next to my place.

Chillin’ at the turnaround point

After last weekend’s debacle of Denver Front Range skiers crowding into SUVs then crowding closed ski areas or nearby mountain passes (with no avalanche mitigation), I was glad to be alone. Mine is a wee little hill, but it provides the necessary social distancing I have preferred most of my adult life.

Spotty coverage

It snowed a few inches the night before. Conditions were variable.

Country and western

This was not the maiden voyage of snowshoe up, snowboard down. I’d done it once before. All I needed were good fitting snowboard boots and a backpack with sunscreen, water, helmet and goggles, and bungee cords for the transition from country to western. Shoutout to High Society in Aspen. After two decades of snowboarding, this one is my favorite.

Late season obstacles exist

A winter’s worth of snow crunched beneath my snowshoes, but two to three inches of freshies had fallen the night before.

Bluebird Day
Happy

By early afternoon it had warmed up to the high ’20s. I traded in my hat hair for a helmet.

Nature’s bench

My goal was the top of Chair 4, but a dry log beckoned me and a patch of dry grass persuaded me. Triathletes call this transition; I call it a rest stop.

Soaking in the surroundings
Don the helmet, kids

Alone on an easy blue run, still wearing a helmet. Call me paranoid. Or cautious. Late season obstacles existed, and I didn’t know where or what they were. Too many head injuries to risk. I hear ERs might be crowded right now.

Good to go

After adjusting some bungee cords and catching my breath, I enjoyed my 74 seconds of freedom on the run formerly known as Francisco’s Revenge. Then a quick hike home and back to the casa.

View from my sunny balcony
Snow things

Total jaunt time: 75 minutes. Total downhill time: 74 seconds. Total bliss. I’ll take it.

 


Connections to other places

No one told the sky to shelter-in-place. Early spring temperatures in Southern Colorado for our medical errand to town (not COVID related). The sky was a clear blue one.

Banner yet wave

The sandstone courthouse wasn’t exactly open for business, but still stately.

Big project in a small town

The wheels of the economy turn via construction projects.

Bowling alley closed

A cartoon character dreams of strikes

Snow melts

A closed ski area has patchy, crusty snow

Rooms for rent

Ski lift chairs layin about
Ski lift swing

Happy at the turnaround point. 10k feet

Trying to make the most out of a global pandemic. On Friday my friend and I high-tailed it out of Denver to higher pastures in the San Isabel National Forest.

Afternoon blue sky

View of West Spanish Peak from the trail.

Late March snow

We had snowshoes but opted for Yak Trax with spikes and poles instead.

Aspen backdrop
Lovely tribute to Mr. Johnson

(more…)


Blue serenity surrounds Moorea, Tahiti
Swimming with a sting ray brings a sense of serenity and terror Christmas 2019

Staying at a five-star resort in exotic lands means you’ve got a concierge, there and ready, to plan trips for you without all the pesky language and custom barriers that come with solo traveling. After my one-night stay at the Moorea Intercontinental Resort and Spa, I booked a three-hour snorkeling tour in the lagoon just north of the resort. There were fish and rays and sharks, oh my! with sunlight-drenched water and a color I can only refer to as exotic blue.

Exotic blue fish and a few friends
Striped tropical guy

And then sometimes it’s just you and the water. Black-tip reef shark spotted but not captured. I thought it best to put the camera away and pay attention to my surroundings.

Lazy lagooning at the beach near my house after a day of snorkeling

Treading water in Moorea, Tahiti December 2019

The quiet stillness of late afternoon, soft billowing clouds, the lapping hug of the South Pacific, dogs barking from afar, seabird caws, children’s laughter, lush green forest, and the smell of brine. Christmas in Tahiti.

Positive psychology, the brainchild of the brilliant Martin Seligman, asks the field of psychology to study those things that make us happy instead of why we’re not. Savoring, or remembering good memories, gives us the opportunity to practice happiness. We have all savored our favorite dish, a great book, and cherished memories. As snowy February wraps up and graduate school gets more intense and the layers of life pile on, I thought it would be a good idea to savor some moments from my solo jaunt to Tahiti.

Sunset at my own private beach December 2019

Twenty years ago, reading Melville’s sensual Typee had me running to the bookstore to buy a map of Tahiti so I could dream and wonder and envision. Maugham’s The Moon and Sixpence, the story of a flawed dreamer who fled to Tahiti, sealed it. I would go. Some day.

Reading nook on my front porch Christmas Day 2019

I spent hours on Christmas Day reading Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon Tiki, his account of how he and five of his adventurous friends sailed from Peru to Tahiti with no modern navigational tools to support his theory that the Polynesians had settled East to West. His tale included riveting stories about the crab they befriended, the sharks they avoided, the playful dolphins, and the terrible storms they endured while wearing fast ropes. The climax includes their getting stranded on a reef and the primitive ship that endured thousands of nautical miles being torn asunder. The isles of Tahiti and its atoll brethren are surrounded by reefs, which means Moorea, where I was staying, was an island, surrounded by a lagoon, flanked on all sides by reefs.

Fresh pineapple papaya juice at the Moorea Tropical Gardens overlooking Opunohu Bay

My new Franco-German friend and I started out early one morning to explore the calm, reef-filled waters on the southwest part of the island of Moorea. We crossed the channel, in some small way fearing for our lives, but soon entered a seascape with coral clustered into boulders.

Reefy coral goodness

During those two hours of kayaking, I savored easy paddling, the mid-morning calm, the windless scape, the companionship of a new friend and kindred spirit, the bright colors of living coral, the flitting fish, and the sense of freedom that being on vacation and having no itinerary can bring.

Kayaking out to the reef December 2019
Feeling deliciously exhausted after an afternoon swim

 


Pine Valley Ranch February 2020

It’s been a wintry one in Denver so far, which bodes well for us wintry types. In my last post, I celebrated the unexpected snow day for the educator. In this post, I’m going to share a few words and images of snow hiking in Pine Valley Ranch, one of many of Jefferson County’s Open Space Parks, the jewels of the Front Range.

Pine Valley Ranch sits about an hour south and west of Denver along the 285 corridor. It is adjacent to the Buffalo Creek trails, which are very popular with mountain bikers in warmer climes. Back when I was a serious mountain biker, I would pilgrim to these trails for my birthday ride.

Pine Lake at Pine Valley Ranch. Look closely to see hockey players creating a rink.
Winter designations

There were only a handful of cars in the parking lot when we arrived around noon after filling up on provisions at the local gas stations. My hiking partner and I had brought our snowshoes, but the couple leaving said the trail was tamped down well enough to just wear spikes, or in my case, Yak Tracks. The trail starts out easy enough, with a short beautiful walk around the park’s lake, where we passed ice fishers and hockey players, all in their designated spots. We decided to add a little strenuousness to the trail, opting to head into the Buffalo Creek trails, which I knew would provide us with some elevation.

We headed along the south end of the lake to the Buck Gulch trail

Buck Gulch, part of the National Forest Service and Buffalo Creek trails, wends it way through fire-ravaged forest from the Hi Meadow fire 20 years ago.

Fire ravaged snowy landscape

The hike up Buck Gulch was a burner for both the thighs and lungs, as well as a visual delight of rock outcroppings, black sticks for trees, fallen logs, hearty pines–all against an indigo backdrop.

Dead sticks among the living
Winter palette

Our original plan was Buck Gulch–Skipper Trail–Strawberry Field trail. I have mountain biked this route dozens of times, but the 600 ft. in elevation gain in the first two miles of Buck Gulch meant it was slow-going. Plus, we were trudging along on metal coils, not rolling along on tires. Ninety minutes in, I realized I had left my poles at the last pit stop, and we took stock in our options: original, intended route with only 5 hours of daylight left or measure our wins and turn around?

Point of return, head back the way we came

Smarter heads prevailed, as we determined that snow hiking 4 miles in 3 hours in quiet, serene National Forest was as good as it was going to get. We turned around.

Just snow and trees
The drive home along Platte River Road: Boulders in the South Platte