In Like A Lion: March Workout at Red Rocks

The famous venue, minus a famous rock band


The famous concert venue, which attracts so many music pilgrims, is also known as a killer, free gym to those of us who can’t stand the idea of working out inside. I’ve belonged to exactly two gyms in my life (the Y and Curves), and after a promise or two of showing me the weight equipment and not following through, I dumped them both.

I do not do elliptical machines. I do not ride stationary bikes. I do not get up before the crack of crack just to beat the crowds.

Instead, I pray for snow in Denver so I can cross-country ski out my front door. Then I pray for no moisture so Green Mountain dries up so I can ride my mountain bike there in the middle of January and not screw up the trail with deep tire tracks in the mud. I pray that last week’s snowstorm has left residual snow crystals at Matthew Winters so I can haul out my trail runners and get a good workout in.

In fact, the only time I like to work out inside is during the winter, in a pool. Otherwise it feels so…artificial.

So I leapt out of bed this morning around 7:30, resolved to hit Red Rocks for some stair running, interval training, and planter-climbing (more on that last one later).

New benches/seating is going in. Fabu!

Red Rocks is packed on the weekend, with some kind of fitness club and hundreds of people. It’s too crowded for my taste, so I prefer, like most things, to hit the Rocks midweek.

Concertgoers will be glad to hear that Denver’s tax dollars are going toward re-benching the stands. A few workout stragglers were there, as I arrived precisely at 9AM, 12 minutes after leaving my front door.

I ran to the stairs, down the stairs, and across the bottom five rows of stairs. Then, I beelined for the tree planters, where I do the only climbing I ever do: grab the top of the planter, plant a foot here and there in the flagstone, engage the core, and climb up the planter. I usually climb six or seven planters, steal a drink of water, then run back down the stairs and do it again.

Yoda says: "Climb up the planters you will."

Best 45 minute workout ever. Really.

Patagonia’s Winter Clearance Sale

People, one of my favorite companies in the whole world is putting its discontinued fall and winter stock on sale. This Friday through Monday, Patagonia, founded by visionary Yvon Chounard, is clearing out its stores at the heavy discount of 50%.

I’ve written about Patagonia before, but I just had to write about it again as the Denver Examiner.

P.S. I tried mountain biking yesterday but it was too muddy. I’ll try again this Saturday. Green Mountain again.

The First Twenty Minutes…

of anything sucks.  Yesterday, to ring in the New Year, I went mountain biking at the only dry trail in Colorado’s Front Range: Green Mountain.  Green Mountain is great because it’s totally exposed, gets plenty of southern sun, has some great singletrack, and has some vomit-inducing climbs.

I started my ride from the western parking lot on Rooney Road, just over the pedestrian bridge that spans C-470 in Morrison.  I like starting here because you can start your ride with aforementioned vomit-inducing climb up the jeep road, which takes anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes.  I made it a tenth of a mile from the top before the cilia on my longs cried, “Uncle!”

But after I caught my breath and swallowed the urge to vomit, I had a great ride.  The wind was coming in from the northwest, so I ducked for cover on the east.  I opted for the trails less traveled, avoiding hikers and dogwalkers as much as I could.  I’m not a hater, it’s just that momentum is key for winter riding.  If I stop I have one more excuse not to start again.

The ride itself–I floated over rocks, cornered switchbacks, and climbed again when the occasion called for it.  I rode for ninety minutes but expended most of my energy in the first twenty.

In other grueling twenty minutes:

Running–I strongly dislike running (earlier I said I wasn’t a hater), but I know it has its benefits.  To get through the first twenty minutes of a run (which is almost all of it), I turn on some hip-hop–Missy Elliot, Nelly, Backstreet Boys–clutch my bottle of water, and as Michael would say, Just Do It.

Writing–writing itself is not that hard.  It’s getting to the writing that’s hard for me.  After an hour or so on the timesuck Facebook, I remind myself that I’ve got a deadline.  I never have trouble starting once MS Word is there and the cursor is blinking patiently.  It’s actually opening MS Word that’s difficult.  And I always forgive myself when the first few paragraphs of whatever I’m writing suck.  Takes twenty minutes, I remind myself, to get in the groove.

Hiking–just as bad as running.  Usually done sans iPod, hiking, especially in Colorado, means steep uphill.  I just try to breathe streadily, not talk, and dream about the views from the top or the after-hike benefits, like wonderful, sleep-inducing exhaustion.

Yoga–I don’t do as much yoga as I should, and I sure hate the first twenty minutes of it.  I’m incredibly inflexible and am reminded of such when I’m doing even simple moves like the swan dive.  In the first twenty minutes I’m trying to breathe properly, trying to focus on getting much-needed oxygen to my deprived lungs, and trying not to pass out. For me, yoga is trying.  Still, at hour’s end, I feel like eating a great big salad and settling down for a long winter’s nap.

The first twenty minutes–thank God it only lasts twenty minutes.

Island in the Sky Gives Up Some Serious Scenery

I woke up early on Black Friday. Not to hit the malls but to carve out my camping spot in Canyonlands. Canyonlands and Arches have become increasingly popular with dirt bikers, climbers, hikers, ATVers, mountain bikers and day trippers. Hence lodging, even outdoor lodging, can be hard to come by.

Knowing this, I beelined for the Willow Flat campground in the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands. I had never been this far north in Canyonlands, and it was a pleasant surprise. Hithertofore I had spent my Canyonlands time in the Needles District. While the former is known for its canyons, the latter is known for its druid-like rock formations. It was time to get up close and personal with the canyons.

I had bought a regional Canyonlands/Arches pass for $25 on Thanksgiving. These passes are good for a year and can be used not only in the Moab area but also at Hovenweep National Monument (a dark horse favorite) and Natural Bridges National Monument.

Up close and personal I did get.

Island in the Sky is a mere 32 miles from Moab. The road in is flanked by buttes, giving you a sense you are driving somewhere protected. I lost radio and cell reception as I approached the Visitor Center. The sign going in tells you–no water, food, gas, or wood is available. That’s not exactly true. I bought four gallons of water at the Visitor Center for six bucks.

The Willow Flat campground is the only car camping in the park. The rest of the sites are backcountry, which my weak back will not allow me to do (well, not yet anyway), and require a permit. I set up camp (about a quarter full) and strolled down to the Green River Overlook, a mere .2 miles down the way:

A hazy Green River Overlook
A hazy Green River Overlook

The rain had dissipated but moisture was omnipresent, and well, ominous. The druids were indeed closing in on me. After setting up camp I had a few hours of daylight left. Although a ride was still out of the question, I wanted to hike and explore. I drove back to the Visitor Center and asked for some advice.

On the way to the Visitor Center I passed the Shafer Trail, which is the start of the White Rim Trail when ridden clockwise. The Shafer Trail, I later found out, had been closed because a car had slid into the side of the canyon. Good thing that car slid into the canyon side. Take a look:

Shafer Trail
Shafer Trail

Yup. But wait, there’s more:

A road, Canyonlands-style
A road, Canyonlands-style

The road snakes down and eventually skirts the White Rim, seen toward the top of this picture:

Road to White Rim
Road to White Rim

Besides the Shafer Trail, I also visited a few points along the road back to my new home at Willow Flat. I pulled off at one area and even though I’ve got severe anxiety about heights, I hugged the butte wall and made my way out to the edge:

Vertigo View
Vertigo View

Here’s the view from Vertigo Point, as I aptly named it. Notice the heavy clouds over to the east, hovering over Arches and the Manti La Sal mountains:

Looking east from Island in the Sky
Looking east from Island in the Sky

A safer alternative was Mesa Arch, filled with daytrippers. Here’s the arch up close:

Wispy clouds over Mesa Arch
Wispy clouds over Mesa Arch

Canyon shadows and the Back of Beyond section of Canyonlands can be seen through the arch’s frame. Pretty impressive.

Looking through Mesa Arch
Looking through Mesa Arch

One more look through Mesa Arch. Check out the needles to the left.

Needles and canyons through Mesa Arch
Needles and canyons through Mesa Arch

My last stop of the day was Upheaval Dome. Meteorite possibility. Or maybe aliens?

Upheaval Dome
Upheaval Dome

The jaded SheSpoke thinks it looks like strip mining. The hike to the first overlook is short, well-marked (notice the cairns toward the upper-left corner), and family-friendly:

Stairway to Heaven?
Stairway to Heaven?
Stairway to Heaven?  Definitely.
Stairway to Heaven? Definitely.

I made it back to the Green River Overlook (and my home for the next two days) in time for sunset.

Sunset at Green River Overlook
Sunset at Green River Overlook

The overlook was a like a Nikon convention: tripods, bundled-up photographers, and oohs and ahhs. It was pretty special. One more look:

The Green River Overlook overlooks the White Rim and the faroff Needles District
The Green River Overlook overlooks the White Rim and the faroff Needles District

SheSpoke Wants to Know

SmartWool Riding Socks

I’ve written a short blurb for on SmartWool’s motivation to keep me riding this winter:

Frolicking in the Rain–Thanksgiving at Arches 2008

The drive from Denver to Moab was fraught with inclement and impending inclement weather.  Still, I forged through the 300 miles, over mountain passes and toward freezing rain and snow.  Moab and its surrounding splendor awaited.

But I do not set up camp in the rain.  It’s one of my cardinal rules.  And it was pouring in Moab and had been for hours.  So I hunkered down at the Motel 6, watched the mini-marathon of The Closer on TBS.  (Hey, I’m a girl.)

Thanksgiving Day arrived and, fully regaled in rain gear, I traded Macy’s parade on Park Avenue for Arches’ Park Avenue.

Park Avenue Trail, flooded but still trailable
Park Avenue Trail, flooded but still trailable
Flooding along Park Avenue
Flooding along Park Avenue

I met a handful of folks along Park Avenue that day, perhaps lured in by the promise of what lay at the end of red rock road–not gold but scenery, the kind found in Peter Jackson films:

What lies beyond the mist?
What lies beyond the mist?
Here a butte, there a butte, everywhere a butte-butte...
Here a butte, there a butte, everywhere a butte-butte...

Thanksgiving in Utah, Take II


In 48 hours I’ll be somewhere in southern Utah.  I’m bringing my bike, my trail runners, every piece of camping equipment I own, and a brashness that only a thirty-eight year old single female can possess.

I say somewhere in Utah because my original plan was to settle in the northernmost section of the Canyonlands, Island in the Sky, and do some short day hikes and bikes around that area, mainly: Dead Horse State Park, Arches, and anything off road 313 that appealed to me.

But as the forecast calls for 50% chance of rain and snow starting on Thanksgiving Day, I’m rethinking my plans.  You see, four years ago this week I embarked on the ballsiest trip I’ve ever taken: a twelve-day, two thousand mile jaunt across southern Utah–almost all of it.  I packed every piece of sporting equipment I owned (except for the rollerblades) and set out, stopping in Brian Head to snowboard, St. George to mountain bike, Zion and Bryce to hike, Kanab to rest, Kodachrome Basin State Park to mountain bike again, Escalante and Boulder to gape, and Moab to recoup before heading home and stopping off at Glenwood Hot Springs for a soak on the way home.

Sound exciting?  Twas. Except for the freezing rain.  I would wake up every morning, check the weather and look for somewhere, anywhere, that called for blue skies.  Alas, the entirety of southern Utah was cloaked in moisture that week; I could not escape it.

So, as I tend to do, I just dealt with it.  Four years later, I’m not sure I can just deal with it.  I don’t mind the rain.  I don’t mind the cold.  I love camping.  But camping in the cold rain, alone?  I’m not sure I can do that.  What a difference four years make.

I will keep you posted.


Discovering Trail Running

Used to be, years ago, I only mountain biked. I looked at people who didn’t mountain bike funny, like from-another-planet funny. Mountain biking was the greatest thing ever, my look said, what is wrong with you? Don’t you get it? Fundamentalist Christians have that same look when they learn you haven’t accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour.

For almost ten years I did nothing but mountain bike. Sure, I snowboarded every now and again and even dug out the cross-country skis a couple of times a year. I even hiked three fourteen-foot mountains one Colorado summer a few years back.

But it was all about the mountain biking. It was a long-term commitment and those other sports were merely flings.

Then the anemia hit. All of the sudden I was passing out any time I ascended over ten thousand feet. I bid goodbye to the high altitude ride and tried to ignore the knot in my stomach that was basically telling me I wasn’t invincible. I blamed the passing out and wavy lines and floaters on my being out of shape, unwilling to admit I had a more serious problem. I crippled my way through an entire season of snowboarding and mountain biking this way. It was scary, especially when I was out alone.

Then the sciatica hit. I couldn’t stand up for the pain. I could barely walk into the chiropractor’s office that day, but I’m glad I did. That man changed my life. Doctors and physician assistants had been ignoring my complaints of passing out. When I got sick for six weeks back in 2005, my chiropractor ran full bloodwork on me, something those “regular” doctors couldn’t be bothered with.

With the sciatica, mountain biking was out. My mother and I spent four glorious days in Crested Butte but I didn’t bring the Yeti because I couldn’t ride. Being in Crested Butte and not mountain biking is like taking crack away from an addict.

But I began trail running. For my birthday my mother bought me these supafly trail runners because you need different shoes for running than you need for trail running. They’re Montrails and they’re badass–just pick up any buyer’s guide for hiking and it’ll agree with me.

Now, when I say trail running I mean hiking up the trail and running down. In my mind it’s not exactly cheating because I warm up on the uphill and then jog on the downhill. My Montrails are a thinner, longer version of my New Balance running shoes. Toe room is key for trail running because on steep descents your feet are moving forward in the shoe. I love my trail runners; we’ve been together for three years and I never take them out on pavement, just as the shoesaleslady at Paradox Footwear instructed me. (Great shoe store, by the way. Check it out next time you’re lucky enough to be in Crested Butte.)

Here’s the irony: I’m now trail running more than I’m mountain biking, by about two to one. Three years ago, before the anemia and sciatica, I would have mocked myself.

It seems ludicrous, but I might be maturing.

Hovenweep National Monument

Hidden between Colorado and Utah, this often-overlooked jewel of the National Parks System is a must-see. Last fall I headed out there with a dear friend and we enjoyed hand-crafted brews at the Main Street Brewery, wine tasting a Guy Drew Vineyards, and a violent but exciting thunderstorm. The ominous clouds belie that magic of the place.

This National Monument carries a mere $3 entrance fee and charges only $10 night to camp. From Cortez, drive south on 160 and take a right onto road G just south of town. Look for signage to Hovenweep. On the way out or back, check out the Canyon of the Ancients (no fee, a short hiking or biking trail), Guy Drew Vineyards (forget what you’ve heard about Colorado wine, this stuff is excellent), or Mesa Verde just east of town. The best mountain biking in the area is east of town along 160, which I wrote about last summer. Still smarting from my biking injury, we opted for a hiking instead of a biking trip.

Hovenweep means, “deserted valley” in the Ute language. Don’t let the barren landscape fool you: This place is hauntingly beautiful.

Deserted city

Click here for more info on Hovenweep.