Zen On Dirt


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Conversations with Fear, Reason, and Self-doubt on Mt Massive

The turnaround to get back into the Scamp was quick. Scott showed up in Winter Park around noon, by 4pm, we were packed, Scott was napped, and we were on our way towards Leadville. We had an old campsite in mind that was within driving distance of our available daylight. Sure, we could have stayed in WP for the night, but I was so anxious to get moving, I would have none of it.

‘Don’t you think Scott will want to spend a night in a real bed?’ my mom had asked.

‘We have a bed. In the Scamp. And it’s comfortable.’

In my eyes, we really do live a life of luxury.

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The downside of our campsite outside of Leadville was that it was freezing cold. 39 in the Scamp when we woke up, so it was probably at least near freezing outside. It also didn’t help that I was excited to get out on an adventure and insisted on getting up before the sun hit our site.

You see, earlier this year, or actually a few years ago, my mind got locked on the idea of Nolan’s 14, a ~100-ish mile route that traverses 14 14’ers from Leadville to Salida. A lot of it off trail, a truly beautiful and rugged route. It’s been a sticky idea in my head for a while now, and I’d figured that this summer would be a good time to start scouting it, especially the off-trail, route finding sections.

‘If you just drop me off at the Fish Hatchery (the start),’ I told Scott, ‘I’ll just do the quick up-and-over Mt Massive (second highest peak in the state) and Mt Elbert (highest peak in the state) and then cruise back to camp.

Delusion is strong in my brain.

Scott ran with me for a few miles on the trail at the bottom, turning around when things got steep, and up I went.

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The ‘route’ leaves official trail somewhere just below treeline and I struck off battling bushes, wet grasses, and the demons in my head.

‘You’re off trail, in the mountains, no one really knows where you are,’ Fear said.

‘Scott knows your general area. You’re on a 14’er for heavens sake, this isn’t remote backcountry,’ Reason battled back.

‘These mountains sure are big. What if you trip and break a leg?’ Fear countered.

At this point of time, I should have just put music in to turn off the internal dialogue. It’s been a long time that I’ve played in big mountains, let alone by myself.

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The internal dialogue continued as I made my way towards the summit where I was joined by a dozen other people taking the traditional routes up.

I had a quick snack and started down, following the vague GPS track that I had. Now, had I done more than a quick glance over the trip report that I was using for studying, I would have known that the ‘route’ takes trail down to Halfmooon Creek. Easy-peasy. Instead, I found myself bumbling along a trail-less ridge, wondering where the hell the track was going.

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Eventually, when the track pointed down a steep and rocky gully, I waved the white flag. I give up, I’m taking the trail down.

‘You don’t have the skills for this, Ez, what were you thinking?’ Self-doubt chimed in.

That was about the time I tripped over a rock and grazed my knee on some quality granite, sending an impressive stream of blood down my leg.

There may or may not have been some tears involved.

 

‘You sort of suck at this,’ Self-doubt confirmed. ‘You should probably take up something you’re good at. And trail running is not it. Maybe try beer drinking?’

Luckily, I’ve been in this situation to know to at least look up and enjoy the view. And what a view it was!

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I made it, slowly, down to Halfmoon Creek where my initial plan was to start heading up Elbert. I looked up at the huge mountain in front of me. I looked down at my bloody knee.

‘Screw it,’ I said, as I pointed down the road. ‘I don’t want to run big mountains alone. This is way more fun with people along.’

For four miles of jogging down the road, I thought about how much more enjoyable mountain travel was with people. I thought about how when I was a bike racer, I only trained alone so that I could do exactly what I needed/wanted to do. I thought about the past where I’d set big and audacious goals and actually put in the work to reach them.

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Not my spirit animal

Am I getting soft and lazy? Or is it just that my priorities are changing? Maybe I’m no longer in this endurance sports thing for the physical experience, but for the human connections I can make. I’ve had plenty of character building experiences, I think I’m just at a point where I just want to frolic in the mountains with my friends.

That being said, if anyone wants to come down and scout some Nolan’s with me, I’ll be here for much of the summer.

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Boulder Days

We return to my story with me driving back from Winter Park to Boulder, where I’d left a sink of dirty dishes soaking (accidentally) nearly two weeks ago with my parents coming back from Norway that afternoon. I made it back to their house an hour before their flight landed, and man oh man, I can attest that leaving a pot with mac and cheese remains with a little bit of water soaking can turn into something magnificently smelly. I cleaned the pot, took out the trash, and opened all of the doors and windows. Go smell, go! Don’t turn me in!

I had a few more days in Boulder while Scott wrapped up his boys’ trip, so I figured I’d make the most of it.

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Jill, Elaine, and I had been tossing some ideas around for another long run. We’d come up with a somewhat dubious plan linking up a known running trail with some old trails that I used to mountain bike up near Rollins Pass. I wasn’t sure of a couple of turns, but I figured it would turn out okay.

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The beauty of traveling up there is that as long as you head eastward, you’re going to run into Peak to Peak Highway eventually, so it’s hard to get too too too lost…

I’d also like to point out that I think it’s awesome that Jill and Elaine are willing to go on these adventures with me.

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We started out at Hessie and took the long(er) but more scenic way up to King Lake and the Divide. The snow meltage from the week prior was significant and I was halfway tempted to take a dip in King Lake. But, there was already a couple there, and I figured that me stripping down and jumping in the alpine lake would ruin their romantic camp site. Next time…

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We took a left at the Divide and headed towards the trestles, remains from when the railroad went over the pass instead of thru the Moffatt Tunnel.

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Many good lunches have been had on the Trestles during Rollins Pass Booze Cruises of years past, and this lunch was no different. There may not have been Bama’s ghetto blaster or bikes this time around, but it was still a good place to eat a snack.

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Then down the ridge, where I had to question reality.  I used to ride my bike down this? Was I nuts? Am I still nuts?

Then on to the gas line where I scoured the woods for the Gwin Mountain Hut and the trail that would take us to Jenny Creek. I’ve never found the hut. And this time was no different. But, we found a cairn that took us to a faint trail that took us to a road, and after an endless amount of descending, I finally recognized where we were! Giddy-up!

Back to the base of Eldora, a little bit of pavement, then Bowel Movement right down to Eldora town. It was a fantastic 20 mile loop. I can do 20 miles with minimal ill-effects. How cool is that!?

The Long Ranger had gotten me stoked to go up Longs Peak the next day, but then he remembered that he had to work. We settled for a quick lap of Green instead.

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As far as admiring people who do amazing stuff that’s pretty outrageous and inspiring, Justin is pretty high on my list. I was telling my dad about him, ‘He rode his bike to all the 14’er in Colorado and climbed them self-supported in something like 31 days! He’s amazing!’ to which my dad said, ‘And you’re going running with him?’

I’m working on not being intimidated by people. This was a good start. I did manage to make an ass of myself trying to stand up on the summit boulder of Green, which for the record, is really exposed if a) you look down and b) you’re an absolute baby when it comes to heights.

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I did a few more runs in Boulder with the Sparkle dog. Leaving her breaks my heart every time. But there are things to do. People to see. Places to go. Scott was coming! We were headed out!

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And she’s got a great home with my parents being a spoiled rotten Boulder dog. I told her that summer camp was over and that it was time for her to go back to training and learning, and that I’d see her later and we’d go on some more adventures that involved creeks and lakes and mountains. IMG_4687

And while I was gone, my mom would do a great job of cuddling.


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Above Tree Line

Alpine season in Colorado is ridiculously short if you’re not into spring skiing. If I were to ever get back into skiing, it would be for the spring steeps. For the ability to get high into the peaks and to the tops of mountains. Alas, spring steeps season happens to be almost exactly the same as Moab mountain biking season, and you don’t have to get up early in the morning to go riding in Moab, while the alarm clocks for alpine ski starts are painful, to say the least.

But eventually, the snow does melt, and it’s time to get high. And if you go before monsoon season, you don’t even have to get up early.

First up was a human-powered jaunt up Byers Peak with Elliot and Scott. Elliot and I worked as bike couriers together back in the bad old days before both he and I escaped the Front Range and the hustle and bustle of city life. The human-powered Byers has been on his list of stuff to do in Fraser, and I’ll take any opportunity to climb the peak that towers over the Fraser Valley.

We met on trails somewhere halfway. In a moment of techno-grouchiness that morning, I decided to take my single speed, a bike I truly and dearly love. Well, at least I loved it until halfway up the steep part of the climb to the trailhead where I had to sit down on the side of the road because I was ready to puke and pass out. This single speeding business…

Luckily, I felt a lot better once we got on foot and started climbing.

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I love the no-nonsense aspect of Byers. Straight up the ridge. Forget switchbacks, for the most part, just go up. And up. And up.

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I love watching the little houses in Fraser get smaller and smaller and smaller.

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I love it up here.

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Down, as is generally the case, was a lot easier than up. I was back to loving the single speed once we got back to the bikes. Mostly because I didn’t feel like puking.

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We finished the trip up at Elevations Pizza, because all good adventuritas end at pizza.

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I love that they put a bikerack at the Wilderness Boundary. 

Scott was leaving for a Boys Bikepacking Trip in Durango a few days later. Even with a threatening weather forecast, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to use his drive as my own personal shuttle service. I dropped a car at the top of Berthoud Pass and drove with Scott to the Herman Gulch trailhead off if I-70 with the plan of running the CDT all the way back to Berthoud. I’d done most of the trail in bits and pieces, but never all in one go, and never the section connecting Jones Pass to Stanley Mountain.

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I had a few bailouts if the weather turned to shit. One of them being turning back around to where Scott had dropped me off and hitchhiking back. When the hail started coming down 20 minutes in, I seriously considered it. Was this a good idea?

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The sky turned blue soon after and I made haste to gain the divide proper, where I’d stay for the next many hours. When the skies were clear, I’d stop and take pictures.

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Then a storm would chase me to my next bailout point, causing me to hurry, then clear just as I got there, encouraging me to go on.

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Rinse and repeat. Storm about to hit. Bluebird at a bailout. Storm about to hit. Bluebird at bailout.

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Even the final traverse to the top of Russel Peak was threatened by major storms down in the valley. I had several conversations with myself:

Me: Run, Ez, run. You’re going to get soaked.

Me: But I’m too tired to run!

Me: Suit yourself. You’ve dodged storms all day, but if you don’t run, your luck is going to run out.

And so I ran, making short work of the switchbacks down to Berthoud Pass where the car was patiently waiting. As I hit the unlock button on my keys, the rain drops started to come down. I sat in the car watching the rain splatter and could stop giggling. Talk about timing!

Then it was time to go back to Boulder. My parents were coming back, and I knew that I’d accidentally left some dirty dishes in the sink, and I knew that if they showed up at home after their trans-Atlantic flight to find dirty dishes in the sink, it wouldn’t matter that I’d kept their doggies healthy and happy for nearly two weeks, I’d be in deep doo-doo.

Summer vacation in Winter Park was over. I’d like to think I made the most of it.


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Joys of Mountain Living

Escaping to Winter Park was exactly what the doctor ordered for me. The moment I got there and took the Sparkle dog out for a run, I felt instantly better. I don’t do cities well. I never did. I like my mountains, my canyons, my ability to walk out the front door of the Scamp or a tent or a bivy and pee next to a tree or cactus or rock without anyone caring. I think it was Ed Abbey who said that if you couldn’t walk out your front door and pee without causing a fuss, you were living around too many people.

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I can’t really walk out the front door of Winter Park and pee, but it’s pretty damn close.

Plus, from WP, you can drive 20 minutes to the top of Berthoud Pass and pretty much start hiking at treeline. I took Sparkles up to the top of Mount Flora. I’m pretty sure that this was her first time above treeline and she lost any and all ability to listen. Not that she’s got too much of that ability to start with…but sitting for the camera was entirely out of the question. She loved it.

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Then Scott showed up with the Scamp!

Our first order of business was to ride the long way to pizza in Fraser. I learned how to mountain bike on these trails, and they never disappoint. I also apparently still don’t know my way around on them, but that’s ok, it makes it new every time!

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I conned Scott into a mini bike/run adventure along the CDT. We’ve painted most of the CDT in the area with feet or tires, but hadn’t connected Roger Pass to Rollins Pass. We rode up to the turn off towards Rogers on Rollins Pass road, stashed the bikes in the trees, and proceeded towards Rogers Pass.

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I was half tempted to push for a summit of James Peak, but I know better. It’s bigger than it looks.

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There was no trail once we got on the CDT-proper, which made for slow going.

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I spent the time trying to remember ski lines from lives past.

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The flowers were off the hook. It seems like a lot of CO is getting skunked with flowers this year. Not the Winter Park area!

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Lots of LYFs (little yellow flowers) and Sky Pilots interspersed with Alpine Sunflowers. They make my heart happy.

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The silly-fun single track the whole way down from where the bikes were stashed made my heart happy too.

The next morning, I set the alarm for stupid-early o-clock to meet some rad women on the other side of the Divide for a little run. I’ve realized that while I have bike riding friends all over the west, I have very few running friends. I’m working hard to change this. Jill and Elaine made for awesome companions for the High Lonesome Loop.

Up from Hessie to King Lake.

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Up through the snow.

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Along the divide for a few miles and then slip and slide down the snowfield at Devil’s Thumb Pass.

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Return to car. High-five!

Interestingly enough, in my 20’s and early 30’s, I wanted to ride/ski/adventure mostly with boys. Now, I get really excited about girls’ trips. Maybe I’m just tired of fart jokes. We all grow up eventually, right?

The following morning, the weather looked dire. Somehow Scott convinced me that it was worth the gamble to drive up to Berthoud for a run instead of just leaving from the door. You win some, you lose some.

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This one was a win. Minimal rain, beautiful clouds. Sparkles was stoked.

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And the flowers? Off the hook.

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Winter Park life with the dogs makes me happy. Every morning and every evening, we’d go out and let them check their pee-mail. We saw a moose twice, lots of birds, lots of chipmunks. I love the outside time that dog walks force.

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Especially in beautiful places. With people and doggies that melt my heart.

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Curing a bad attitude

My mom once accused me of having a bad attitude about Boulder.

To my defense, there’s something to be said about everyone disliking the place where they grew up. We hold on to this nostalgic view of our childhood home, and then we leave for a little while, and when we come back, it’s different. So I feel like my so-called bad attitude about Boulder is somewhat justified. Or at least understood.

But really what it comes down to is that I’ve approached my dog-sitting stays in Boulder with a focus on getting a bunch of work done. So I hole myself up in my parents’ house and work a shit-ton. And really, working a lot can give me a bad attitude about any place.

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But, there are a lot of cool people in Boulder, and if you’re a runner, a lot of neat things to do. And in my mind, it’s the people that make a place. I just had to lose the idea that Boulder-time was working-time, and get out. So prior to getting on the plane in SLC, I sent out a few messages. ‘Hey! Let’s go running!’ or ‘Hey! Let’s go get a beer!’ or ‘Hey! Want to go ride bikes?’

Neven was the first to take me up, unfortunately, it came with a 6am meeting time so that she could get to work. We headed up to Royal Arch, to which I’d never been. Which is really sort of sad considering that I lived in Boulder for 15+ years.

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Sparkles came along and was mostly well behaved.

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While the wake-up was early, Neven was right about one thing. At 6am, the trails are empty. By the time we got back to the parking lot at 7:30, there were barely any spots left. Boulderites are motivated. But not as motivated as we were.

Jill was the next volunteer for the ‘Get Ez out of the house’ plan. She’s only lived in the Boulder area for two months and already knows the trails better than I do.

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I’m seriously not sure how I ended up a mountain biker growing up in Boulder rather than a trail runner. As far as access to trails go on foot, Boulder is pretty amazing. On wheels, it’s pretty dismal.

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We cruised up to the top of Green Mountain and headed down the other side. I’d always been a little intimidated by the Boulder mountains (hills? mini-mountains?) but felt a lot better after doing the 9-mile jaunt without much issue.

It’s funny how we build up these expectations in our heads. The last time I went up Green it was during college when it had snowed and cancelled the cycling team ride and we hiked up in the snow as a team. There was a super-competitive gal who ended up at the front of the line, and we hauled ass up the mountain, and I nearly died. So Green, in my head, was a huge-ass undertaking.

Expectations. We all know what I say about expectations.

I was feeling so good about Green that I took Sparkles up it the next day. Or maybe it was two days after. Either way, she’s a crazy little dog, and I figured that nine miles was going to be easy for her.

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We cruised up the hill, only getting a little bit lost, or at least unsure of where I actually was. At the summit, she happily scrambled up the summit boulder to let me take a picture of her. Getting back down…that was a problem. I ended up having to pick her up and carry her down. I’m glad she’s only 36 pounds. I promised her I wouldn’t tell anyone that she, just like her current dog-sitter, was afraid of heights.

We had an uneventful run back down the mountain and she slept soundly for the rest of the day.

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Great success!

I was starting to think that maybe this Boulder business wasn’t so bad after all. Until I met a friend up in North Boulder to pick up a bike that I’d lent her, and then had to wait 20 minutes to make a left hand turn back onto Broadway.

Too many people. Too many straight lines. It was time to go to the mountains. And for Boulder, well, four days was plenty. Even with a good attitude.