Global Pandemic Pages: Happy Hour Hiking and the Bridge to Nowhere Trail


Stormy late April happy hour hike on the Bridge to Nowhere

Those who enjoy the outdoors as a stable form of recreation will recognize the term “go-to trail.” It’s the nearby trail, somewhere between easy and moderate, that you return to when time is tight, you need something familiar, or you are not in an adventuring mood. The go-to trail is as reliable as hometown friends, non-craft beer, and the restaurant down the street. You know what to expect, and it’s comforting.

Looking up Chair 5’s path

On the Bridge to Nowhere Trail, one passes three chairlifts, and skirts along the base of the ski area, moving in a southwesterly direction. The initial climb up what was formerly a green “Walk It Out” is short and steep. We have renamed in “Walk Up It.” Walk it Out is flanked by aspen groves on either side, providing colorful surroundings regardless of the season.

Aspen in April
Aspen in fall

Predictability is key to a go-to trail, and after a few dozen times you learn elevation gain is just under 500 ft. over two miles, out-and-back. You pass the lift house of Chair 5 where the trail narrows and slowly climbs to the edge of the ski area, appropriately signed to get you back to Chair 5.

Passing Chair 5 before work
Chair 5 during golden hour

Signs abound along this abandoned ski area. Some recognizable, some washed away by time and the elements.

Chair 5 marker
Sign o’ the seasons

Then, there are nature’s signs.

Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

Sometimes even your go-to trail holds surprises. Luckily, we ran into no one or no animal.

Junipers in spring

One delight of the Bridge to Nowhere trail is the super secret juniper garden. The homemade gin was delicious, thanks for asking.

Destination fall: Bridge to Nowhere
Destination winter: Bridge to Nowhere

Global Pandemic Pages: Magical Rock Garden


Wondering upwards

When living in the midst of the mountains and a pandemic, weekends become explore days. After six weeks of connecting to the world almost entirely by internet, my partner in crime and I have settled into a routine that appears to be working: Happy Hour Hiking after Zooming through work. We head out after 5PM not only so we can keep our day jobs, but also to avoid the unrelenting UV rays that burn and sap at 9,000 feet. Departures after 5PM still mean three hours of daylight–plenty of time for high altitude fun and necessary movement.

View of the mountains from across the valley

Weekends equal adventure time; we are weekend warriors incarnate. Most weekdays we venture out for two and a half to five miles and gain 500 feet in elevation. For this Saturday’s jaunt, which doubled as a celebration of finishing my first semester of library science school, we decided to go big: 7 miles and over 1500ft of climbing. This is an out-and-back trail a handful of miles from home. We were not going to go against Governor Polis’s safer-at-home policy. Alas, the Texas and New Mexico plates at the north trailhead meant not everyone was adhering to state policies. We had our bandanas with us, so we headed out at 2PM.

Conifers and grass tufts on the upper part of the trail. Hiking partner in blue.

The first couple of miles the trail is flanked by scrub oak with no canopy. The climb felt straight uphill. We have been averaging 22-32 minutes a hiking mile, and somehow today was no different even though it seemed steeper, relentless. After the first two miles, the flora changed to aspen and conifer and huge boulders that remind me of the glacier detritus of my New England childhood.

Lika-lichen?

Just as the trail seemed to flatten out, a side trail riddled with rocks appeared. My friend invited, “This looks pretty cool, Trace, and is probably worth checking out.” After navigating 50 steep feet of loose rock, we encountered a magical rock playground.

Boulders this way and that, striated, moss-strewn, lichen-covered. It was like a McDonald’s playground for adults with natural elements. We immediately began with what we had come for: senior photos.

Tree-leaning pose
Yearbook-ready

We snacked, marveled, frolicked, rested, breathed. The pandemic has really taught me to take one day at a time and be fully present. The magical mystery rock garden provided the perfect setting for that.

Perfect overlook into the neighboring county

We explored the outcropping and cave nearby, as pictured in the first photo of this post.

Cave resting

There’s something deliciously juvenile about being away all day, exploring, not watching the time, not glued to a screen, letting curiosity be our wayfinder. Destination: novelty and adventure.

Global Pandemic Pages: Snowboarding an Empty Mountain in Southern Colorado


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.

 

Walking on Wintry Surfaces


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

Why I Hate Gyms and Why I Joined One


Alas, not the inside of a gym

SheSpoke has been threatening, since the dawn of time, to join a gym. She was hitting her upper 30s, in both age and her hips. She was all set to go, had her appointment with the big box fitness center, then WHAM! a drunk driver slammed into her, injuring both body and car. Luckily, the car was totaled but the body was not.

Since then, SheSpoke has toyed around with the local recreation centers–but only for the swimming. Well, swimming is great if you’re recovering from an accident (which she was) or if you’re training for a triathlon. But adventurers like SheSpoke need a little more punch to their workouts, a little more excitement than smelling and drinking chlorine for an hour can deliver.

So she joined a gym over the weekend, at one of the big box, national chains. It was an incredible deal, and unlike those awful cell phone providers, did not require a long-term contract.

SheSpoke signed up Saturday and in the past 48 hours has:

  • Swam in the tiny but uncrowded lap pool: 45 minutes
  • Rowed with the iPod: 30 minutes
  • Attended first spin class: 60 minutes

Not bad for a gym newbie, although all gym rookies begin with an overabundance of enthusiasm. Everyone is a fitness guru in January. Even yo mamma.

SheSpoke has tried to join gyms in the past, one that is made up of all letters and one that is designed exclusively for women. The reason she only went once and never returned to these places is because of customer service. With the letter gym, SheSpoke was told she would have access to a personal trainer who would teach her how to use the equipment and about target heart rates and all that. When SheSpoke followed up on this, inquiring about freeweights versus the other kind, she was brushed off. SheSpoke never went back.

With the lady gym, SheSpoke went once to get oriented on the circuit training. As someone who has never lifted weights, SheSpoke was particularly interested in learning the nuances of how to use some of the equipment. The franchise owner, instead of teaching her how to use the equipment, was also simultaneously trying to sell a membership to a teenager. SheSpoke never went back.

More recently, SheSpoke took what she thought was advantage of a yoga studio’s local discount. When she arrived at the yoga studio, all the doors were locked. SheSpoke walked around, called the main number, and finally was let in through the back door. She was told that she was late for class–except there was no class. Then she was instructed to “go find Shelly” for a free yoga class. Unfortunately Shelly did not have a name tag on and was wearing the same $80 yoga pants as everyone else. SheSpoke wandered around the lobby for a bit when the woman who had scolded her for being late to a non-existent class found her again and asked her if she’d talked to Shelly yet. Since SheSpoke had no idea who Shelly was, the answer was no. Shelly was a nice lady but merely scribbled SheSpoke’s name down on a random envelope. SheSpoke never went back.

Heed this, gyms, fitness centers, and yoga studios: If you want to get people like SheSpoke–athletic, outdoorsy folks who are squeamish about joining gyms because of the cost and indoor-ness of it all–then treat any prospective customer as if he or she really matters. Here’s how to do this:

  • Listen thoughtfully as new customers ask dumb question after dumb question.
  • Assume we know nothing about how gyms or yoga studios work and what the equipment does.
  • When there’s a miscommunication about scheduling or price or anything, approach the situation with a listening ear. Remember: Dismissiveness begets dismissiveness.
  • Stay open-minded about the fact that the error may be on your part and that in order to get or keep a customer, you may have to bend or admit a mistake.
  • Do not misrepresent your services. The truth will out and then we’ll tell all our friends, and the blogosphere.

SheSpoke almost did not join the national gym chain this past Saturday because the manager on duty was reluctant to issue her the advertised free, seven-day pass. The manager did a whole bunch of eye-rolling, before*sigh* issuing one anyway.

The banner in SheSpoke’s mind read: Look lady, I don’t want to join this gym any more than you want to give me a seven-day pass, but I really need to get in shape and it’s too windy and cold out to frolick around. Give me the pass and let’s get this over with.

Funny. Once SheSpoke handed over her money, the gym manager was all smiles and greeted her superficially by her first name. SheSpoke will not forget the manager or her name.

Below are the top five reasons to hate gyms and fitness centers, in the same way SheSpoke has for years:

1. The expressions, “going to work out,” “going to the gym,” and “hot yoga.” Folks seem to pronounce rather than use these expressions. It’s annoying.

2. They’re crowded. Before and after work one has to wait for equipment. Some classes fill up, meaning you have to get to the gym an hour before class starts. With driving time included, that’s almost 2.5 hours spent going to exercise. Indoors no less.

3. They stink. Lots of sweaty people around, lots of different levels of hygiene.

4. They cost too much, and pretty much guilt you into working out.

5. They’re akin to a den of thieves. Stuff gets stolen out of the locker rooms and parking lots.

6. It’s a fashion show: chicks wear name-brand tank tops and makeup and dudes walk around in muscle tees.

To be fair, there are some upsides to gyms and fitness centers and yoga studios:

1. The fruit of your efforts are tangible: You can watch the inches melt away and the muscles, so overgrown with fat these past few years, re-emerge.

2. The variety of classes: spin, hot yoga, yoga flow, boot camp, weight lifting, Zumba. It’s all there.

3. It can be a social thing. Garner a workout partner and “head to the gym.” Just be sure to say rather than pronounce it.

4. Your can now justify the money you spent on your last iPod.

5. Strength, conditioning, flexibility, and six-pack abs.

Need I say more?

Amidst Injury, SheSpoke Plans Her Next Trip


A week ago I was in rough shape–restricting chest muscles made it difficult to breathe, the strained back muscles made it difficult to do anything but sleep, and the anxiety about my health and my livelihood occupied any minutes of the day not dulled by Vicodin.

A lot can change in week.

I’m not saying I’m out of the storm yet, but I am saying I can now sit and stand comfortably for limited periods of time. I can type (although prolonged typing causes the first three fingers on my right hand to go numb), and I can see, through a glass darkly, that I will live to see another mountain biking road trip.

The last time I got debilitatingly hurt, I was on crutches and Vicodin for weeks. I injured the soft tissue on the left side of my body, specifically my left hip. I was unable to walk: first at all, second, for short periods of time, and third, up the stairs.  But with intense physical therapy (3x week), biweekly visits to the chiropractor, and a few thousand dollars later, I was better.

In the fall of 2007, I was lying down on the chiropractor’s table, wincing and whining about my injury and being treated with electro-impulses. As my breath condensed onto the rest of my face, I began dreaming of my next trip. Since the desert is my happy place, I naturally went there. I saw my tent, a gleaming yellow sun, red canyons, dashes of green, and the Yeti (as I so affectionately refer to my mountain bike). I was there, alone, soaking up the morning desert sun, waxing the chain on my bike, and sipping desert lattes, fresh from my camping espresso maker. Then, with dreamlike grace, I braided my hair into pigtails, donned my helmet, clicked into my pedals, and rode toward red rock.

Where was I? West Texas.

Three months later I found myself in West Texas, looking for a place to ride. Although conditions were too windy to ride, I did manage to sneak in a couple of rides in Silver City, NM.

This past Friday was my first rehab/therapy visit since the accident two weeks ago. I am now in the sub-acute stage, which means that sharp, piercing pains are mostly yesterday’s story but dull aches and uncomfortability are just beneath the surface, especially if I try to do too much, i.e., wash dishes AND tidy the house it the same day.

As I lay on the chirpractor/Chinese massotherapist’s table, feeling pain and pleasure from the poking, prodding, and adjusting, I began to dream, just as I had before, of my next trip.

This time, I’m going to Austin. 

Austin, Nevada.

I’ve heard, through internet grapevine only, that some fabuloso trails exist in and around Austin, NV, which is smack dab in the middle of the state along the loneliest road in America, Highway 50. Austin, population, 340, is surrounded on 2.7 sides by the Toiyabe National Forest, and hot springs, one of the requisites for an epic mountain biking trip to be even epicker, is nearby. 

Great Basin National Park, about which I know nothing, is on the way to Austin. In fact, Great Basin is on the Nevada/Utah border.

I’m  planning the trip for the beginning of June. That means I’ll have to, by then:

1. Be 90% better physically

2. Be 50% better emotionally and psychologically. You don’t have to be in a good mood to enjoy vacation, duh!

3. Own a car that can drive the 20 hours or so it will take to get there and back. I’m looking at Subaru Impreza Wagons.

4. Have enough cash to go on the trip. I have no idea how I’m going to swing this considering I haven’t worked in two weeks and may not work full-time for some time.

5. Learn more about Austin, NV. 

SheSpoke