Sunday, December 18, 2011

ATL

At a trial training program in Atlanta last week. Certainly not much time to see the city – the class is like a lot of things where the more you commit, the more you get out of the experience. So I decided I’d go for it and learn – and there was a lot for me to learn, certainly.

The first few days were warm/rainy/foggy. We never get weather like that in Denver, and I wasn’t working outside, so it was very nice to sit out on the hotel balcony and feel that humidity/listen to the rain.

The program had lawyers from at least 30 states (!), and I’ve never felt quite so Coloradan. You sit down with a lawyer from New Jersey and say, “Parking? Well I usually ride my bike to work.” And he looks at you, and there’s silence - and yes, there’s a cultural gap there.

What else about ATL? Not a lot. Like a lot of places, the food is generally better than Denver. Really it was a lot of time inside – I did manage to spend some quality time (?) on the treadmill. Yes, our Chile trip is in three weeks – and no, I’m in no kind of shape to climb a big volcano.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Drift Peak / Chile

Catherine got a great deal on a place at Copper Mountain for Thanksgiving, and plus it even came with two passes! Perfect - I've been a curmudgeon this year and haven't bought a pass (although I have some lame reasons); look, barely into the season a ski deal comes my way.

Of course "two passes" meant two parking passes - Catherine and Will-J headed off to the mountain while I faced two options: (a) watch the fam ski, take a few photos, take a nap, and maybe watch a little football, or (b) a 10-degree windy icy postholing slog-fest up Drift Peak. Drift peak it is!



Look, I even made it to the top:



Here's a view:



And another:



Here's a long ridge that took me about twice as long as it would have in better conditions:



Among other things I did not know when I headed up to Mayflower Gulch trailhead for a little hike, the ridge has a name: Villa Ridge. Also, some people consider Drift Peak a "real" mountain (300 ft. rise from saddle with Fletcher Peak), and some don't.

The plan had been to climb Drift, then Fletcher and Wheeler Peak, but there was no way on earth I was going to do all that today - definitely worth a return visit, and it would be even better to link these with a car shuttle to Blue Lakes. Another day.

So as I was slogging up there, slipping/bouncing off rocks, postholing, etc., and having no way of completing the trip I wanted to do, I thought, "Well, this is fine training." Training? Training for what? But you don't like training.

Well, in a few weeks Catherine and I are going to Chile. Catherine is the recipient of a National Geographic Waitt Grant, and we are going to the Arica and Parinacota Region, Lauca National Park, to continue her doctoral work on the giant cushion plant Azorella compacta.

It's exciting for us - Catherine hasn't been back to her field sites for over ten years, and I haven't been to South America. If conditions allow, I will climb up Parinacota volcano (20,800 ft.). It isn't the proper season, and I don't appear to be in very good shape, but we'll see.

The trip keeps sneaking up on us - we've just started planning on what we'll bring, and I'm still fiddling with the fancy camera I'll use to take photos, as well as my generally frustrating GPS. Part of this is our disbelief that we're really going on a research trip together. Some years ago (12!), Catherine was a young researcher at UCLA and I was working at the White Mountain Research Station. She was just off her work in Lauca, and I filled my off-days by climbing the Sierras. We thought wouldn't it be nice to spend our lives together, and along the way we'll do these big trips to high altitude places.

Over the years, we've done and seen many things - no regrets - but we've never done one of those big trips together. Until now.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Gamelan Tunas Mekar

We saw this group last week. It was great - when they first started playing, Will-J exploded laughing and then did a wild dance. I was surprised how "modern" it sounded - some of the pieces sounded like Steve Reich (at least to me).

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Mad dogs and Denver-ites (South Platte Trail-C-470- Trail-Clear Creek loop)

I was heading to the San Luis Valley fairly frequently there for a bit, and I'd always see that endless concrete sidewalk. Have to ride it - it's right there. But it's always too hot, too cold, too windy, too much work, e.

So today I rode it. It was the second road ride of the summer for me - the first was the Triple Bypass. I've come to terms with cycling - I'm not very good at it, it takes a long time, and often I find it boring. But it's still fun to get out here and there.

The ride was fine - an endless (relatively) smooth concrete sidewalk. I've ridden the Clear Creek path quite a bit, in particular when Will-J was hooked on the Golden Rec Center baby pool. I'd tow him out there in the bike trailer, we'd get coffee, he'd splash his heart out, and then he'd sleep most of the whole way home. Yes, Will-J, I'm still sorry that one time I thought it would be a good idea to ride all the way out to Commerce City and the confluence of Clear Creek and the South Plate - it's yucky and hot and too long, but you did get some ice cream out of the deal.

The route is surprisingly difficult to follow given that it is indeed an endless smooth concrete sidewalk. It's easy to get off onto the Bear Creek path, miss the turn onto the C-470 trail, miss the way through the Solterra development, etc. And due to FasTracks, there's a lot of this:



Oh, and I rode through "TAMARISK."



What's better than naming a high-end subdivision after a rapidly-spreading invasive plant that chokes out both native vegetation and all river access? No idea.

Yes that's my finger in the photo. More importantly, why are the photos insistently upside-down no matter how many times I re-save them? Also no idea. I'm apparently the only person in the world who doesn't find the i-phone intuitive.

But oh, the weather. We're right in the middle of the endless warm fall we get every year in Denver, but always surprises. Sunny and in the 70's, leaves falling, gentle breeze, etc. - and of course there were precious few folks riding the endless concrete sidewalk of fun. I've seen these same paths packed with riders on 90+ degree days. This may fit in with our general theory that Denver-ites see the outside as "closed" after Labor Day. Or maybe it has to do with the epic Tebow comeback this afternoon. Or maybe everyone's hunting. In any case, it certainly was a fine day make the loop.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Ruby-Horsethief Canyons - easy in October

There comes a time in many a backpacker's life when he looks down from a hot, dusty canyon rim at those people having fun floating down the river, and says, "That looks like more fun that what I'm doing." But of course rafting takes a lot of gear, effort, skill, time, etc. Unless you take a backpacking approach to rafting. Which can be really fun.

So we loaded up the "Sea Eagle" and headed to Ruby-Horsethief Canyons

Truly, canyon country at it's prettiest. Eighty degrees in the day, forty-five degrees at night, clear skies, low dust, and smooth sailing. And bald eagles flying around. I didn't take many photos because my only camera was my phone, and my phone spent most of the trip in a dry bag. Here we are in Mee Canyon:



Home or on the river, Will-J gets up early:



Sitting in a boat on a warm day watching the canyons go by at 4-5 mph is pretty great. The water was about 5,000 cfs, which is the accustomed level for family trips. We were still surprised how fast the current was - we could have done the whole trip in a day without much trouble.

It was crowded, but not too crowded - although the put-in was a zoo, we had a campsite to ourselves. And yes, the black rocks are the highlight - an interesting narrow maze of gniess/schist. Catherine has seen a lot of the big western rivers, and hadn't seen anything quite like it. Here's a guy who understands the geology of the area (and rafted it at five times the flow [one to 1 1/2 mph faster).

Oh, yeah - at the put-in we saw a group heading out to kayak Ruby-Horsethief at night under the full moon. I hadn't heard of kayaking at night, but there's a lot I haven't heard of.

We can't carry a lot of stuff, and certainly it's a tight fit with the three of us in the boat, but there's a lot less to clean and lug. More of this type of trip, please.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Trouble in the Highlands - Competing Meetings

As you know (?), I've been following the slow progress of new apartment buildings at 32nd and Lowell for some time. There were zoning investigations, news of impending destruction, field trips to see the foundation test wells, etc. And slowly but surely the apartments may someday come to pass.

But what's this? I came home from work to find an incendiary flyer on my door.



Nefarious activities afoot! Dark forces coming to the crossroads to built "HIGH RISES." High rises? No public input? More importantly - free wine and cheese! I'm there!

And so on Tuesday we went over to Highlands Church.

There were two people, one a self-described "property developer," and one self-described "used to work for the developers" explaining that they really didn't want the new "towers." They weren't taking questions - a guy in scrubs tried to ask about the square footage, and one of the two told him to be quiet.

Really, not much happened. The developer one wanted a traffic study. The wine and cheese were good.

But in the course of things, I found out that there was another meeting held at the same time, in a different place (Highlands Event Center on Julian) by the West Highland Neighborhood Association. A meeting our Councilwoman attended. But there wasn't much talk of the new buildings, and certainly no reference to dark forces. A competing meeting! I've been had! I forgot that one can't be too careful in the land of the ugly duplex.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Gibson Lake - Whale Peak

On Father's Day we were turned back on our trip to Gibson Lake, but after Catherine got her work done this weekend we cut loose to go up there, plus Whale Peak. It was one of those special late-summer Colorado days - t-shirt weather at 13,000 feet in late September? Sure - we've seen it before. Every year, in fact. We remember one particularly nice day hiking Mt. Huron with similar weather in late October (of course, a week later and it was zero degrees up there with snow).

Yet another fun hike in an area of the Divide we particularly enjoy - it's south of the Boulder/I-70/Guanella Pass crowds, but north of the equally crowded Sawatch Range - and closer.

Gibson Lake has a feel of being set-aside by the forces that be - it's a tiny little perfect lake in a cirque practically surrounded by high-traffic jeep roads (and the Colorado Trail only a few miles away). It's protected by the fairly rough road in and the hike. And someone is clearly putting a lot of effort into maintaining the trail. But the old road in was left to deteriorate, the jeep roads are just far enough away, and thus the little lake hangs high and quiet. We shared the lake with two guys up to fish - as well as a large herd of mountain goats:





Whale Peak is certainly nothing crazy - another in a line of climbs we've done in this area (Boreas Mountain, Red Mountain, Father Dyer, a bunch of 14-ers, etc.). It's also another one of those mountains in the middle of it all. There's Grays/Torreys; there's Pikes Peak; there's my recent hike to Ptarmigan Peak/Ute Peak; there are the Gores; etc. I took a bunch of photos of them, but nothing too exciting.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Zoning news - Highlands Changes

I wrote some time ago about the zoning changes in Denver. My conclusion at the time was: the existing old/bad zoning code led to one of America's great and diverse cities - therefore, let's trash it and replace it with something no one seems to understand.

Then this week I read in the North Denver News that indeed the church near my house is slated for demolition - and really there's nothing to stop the developers from putting in a bunch of apartments (besides someone trying to designate the church as a historic landmark) - which is also my understanding. However, the developer's plan would have been allowed under the old zoning as well - and could have been taller.

And so I suppose those test wells Will-J found are for a purpose after all.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Arizona Trail - Pine to Flagstaff (weather window hiking)

I got away for a few days over Labor Day to hike the Arizona Trail from Pine to Flagstaff. Photos are here. It was a fortuitous trip - I had an opportunity to break from work for a few days, and Arizona was experiencing record heat. Although along the Mogollon Rim it was in the mid-90's, rain was light/infrequent and lows were in the mid-60's. Now, a week later, Flagstaff is having heavy rain and lows in the 40's. A lot of the "trail" (really two-track) is red clay that turns into a terrible soup when wet - I've struggled/slipped/trudged along through this in the past as it clings inches-deep to my shoes. So it was a hot and dry, but peaceful and fortuitous, trip.

I'll lead with two "trail stories." Trail stories are like any other kind of tall tales - the teller finds them important/interesting/hilarious, while the recipient listens patiently and/or tries to avoid the situation altogether. This is even more so for backpacking because it's a slow and obscure activity - nobody makes a "Nobody Cares that You Long-Distance Backpack" sticker only because nobody would ever think anyone would have an ego about long-distance backpacking (or really even knows what it is).

So, with that edifying introduction, story one:

-I rode a comfortable and efficient van to Payson - with the incremental demise of Greyhound, these services are becoming the de-facto non-car infrastructure of rural America. One of the other passengers asked me, "Aren't you worried about bears?" I of course replied that I wasn't. After a few minutes in Payson, Dennis of Payson Taxi (no web site), took me the rest of the way to the Pine AZT trailhead, and I was on my way.

Four miles into the Highline Trail section of the AZT, I approached the first spring. I heard something moving around in the scrub oak, and figured another cow had gotten through a fence and into the spring. But it didn't really sound like a cow, and I instinctively started backing away, "hey-bear"-ing and banging my hiking poles together. Sure enough, seconds later a small black object (that sure looked like a bear cub) shot across the forest floor and up a tree. And immediately afterwards a (definite, unmistakable) mama black bear rushed out of the woods behind it.

She saw me, saw the racket I was making, saw that I wasn't cutting off her approach to the cub, and started backing up. She bumped into a stump, fell over, jumped up, spun around to see what knocked her down, got scared that she had taken her eyes off me, and then ran off into the woods.

So there's my AZT bear story.

Story two:

A few miles north of Highway 87, I was running out of sunlight and saw a fine campsite. In fact, there was a carved stone monument marking the spot:



Good luck - I was fortunate to find such a nice camp. At about midnight, a car drove up within maybe eight feet and two guys got out. I asked them what they were doing, and learned that this was their traditional Labor Day camp for decades - didn't I see the "Los Pinos" monument? His nephew carved that rock. The rest of the group was arriving the next day - they were there to start the setup.

For a few minutes we debated our relative rights to the site. We concluded it was toss-up. Certainly the iron-clad rule of personal-space-loving western American dispersed camping is first-in time, first-in-right. In other countries, you end up camping right on top of each other, but right or wrong (I'll say right), not here in the USA. But of course I should have known that this was a meaningful spot to someone, and that certainly such a meaningful spot might be occupied by the folks who find it meaningful over the Labor Day holiday.

In the end, we solved our differences like good westerners - we accommodated/ignored each other and waited for the problem to pass. The two guys unloaded their stuff and went to sleep. I got up before dawn, tried to be quiet, and headed on my way. Here's one of the guys sleeping in his car in the morning:



In sum, a surprising experience - I've slept out for over a thousand nights, and I've never had anyone suggest that they might kick me out of my campsite.

-There you go - two trail stories. Other notes on this section of the Arizona Trail:

-I wasn't looking forward to this section, and admittedly it wasn't my favorite backpack. There's far too much road-walking, and a fair amount of what I call "Arizona Death Cobble," and what horse folk call "Potato Rock." More on that later. However, it was a peaceful, if quite hot hike. It's the type of connector-type trail (long section connecting famous/scenic locations - in this case the Mogollon Rim country and the San Francisco Peaks) that inspired me to stop doing long trails nonstop a long time ago.

-The Highline Trail area is really a highlight. The Highline Trail is a National Recreation Trail (not to be confused with a National Scenic Trail, which is what the Arizona Trail is) (and also not to be confused (?) with the Highline National Recreation Trail in Idaho) that follows along below the Mogollon Rim for about fifty miles. It's a diverse area with bubbling creeks, diverse plant communities, and packed with wildlife (in addition to an excited mama bear). I saw deer, coyote, foxes, several herds of elk, deer, coyote, etc., along the way.

Yes, the trail has a lot of the aforesaid Death Cobble/Potato Rock, and at a few points the trail nearly disappears. I thought, "Hey - fifty miles, rugged trail, beautiful country - this would make a great 50 mile race!" Indeed, someone beat me to it (by about 25 years). Genius! I was hiking the route of the Zane Grey 50 race, a classic with fast times by the likes of Dave Mackey, Anton Krupicka, Karl Meltzer, and other outrageous runners.

Aside: I really love these old articles on early Zane Grey 50 finishers, in particular a young Kirk Apt making the course record in 1992.

And blackberries:



-From the Rim to Highway 87, there is a good stretch of trail and low grazing impact. It's a lot of nice tall grass, un-incised drainage banks, good campsites, etc. There are also two quite luxurious developed Forest Service campgrounds, complete with water. Here's an example well-groomed campsite:



But hey, I'm not paying $8 to camp (and plus I had miles to make) - I made it all the way to Los Pinos. Definitely worth it (?).

-In this stretch, I met an interesting guy who had volunteered with the AZT since the late-90's, and had helped build much of the trail in Pinal County. He had decided to section-hike the rest of the trail and was out and about for a few days. As such, he was the first AZT backpacker I've actually seen on-trail. More importantly, I was also the first backpacker he had seen on- trail (!).

Which raises the question, are there really that few people out there hiking the trail, or am I demonstrating why people don't understand statistics/Gambler's Fallacy? Again, I think it's the former, and of course leads back to my ax to grind re: Death Cobble/Potato Rock. And again, more on that later.

-North of Highway 87, there's some looong road walk and heavy, heavy cattle impact. Water sources are limited to a few stock tanks and, beautiful Ponderosa forest aside, it's some country to "get done." Here's your water source:



Delicious!

-I wandered down into Mormon Lake in the middle of a giant rodeo - I sat on a bench outside the Mormon Lake Lodge restaurant/"steak house" and a cowboy was literally hustled/pushed out the door like in an old Western. He dusted himself off and walked away. I'm sad that I missed the demo derby:



But that late-model Caddy didn't have a chance unless they pushed in the back end. I can say I've enjoyed every demo derby I've been to except for an indoor derby in Anaconda, Montana - the carbon monoxide was so bad I was sick for days afterwards.

-Like the “Los Pinos” site, I arrived at the Marshall Lake dispersed camping area at sundown. I plunked down near a middle-aged pop-up trailer with some toys sprinkled around in front. I figured small kids meant that at least they’d go to sleep relatively early. It turned out to be a friendly Phoenix family with good kids and a husband quite interested in getting back to doing more backpacking/traveling. They fed me hot dogs by the campfire while the husband asked me leading questions. Example:

“So, Will, does your WIFE worry about you when you’re out on the trail?”
“No, husband, she doesn’t – and most of the time I’m in cell range anyway.”
At this point, husband would look at wife, wife would look at husband, she would roll her eyes, and he would ask the next question.

-Okay, getting down to the Death Cobble/Potato Rock. Gambler’s Fallacy aside, it really seems there are very few people out there back/horse-packing the AZT. Why? Oh, lots of reasons, right? It’s the newest National Scenic Trail, not well known/famous/infamous, not known as “finished” as much as such a long trail could ever be complete, has a quite small weather window for thru-hiking or completing longish sections, there are very few folks who do this sort of thing, etc.

And I posit that there’s another reason – namely that, well, the trail...in many places…but certainly not all…and not for lack of incredible dedication of volunteers and thousands of hours of work…and really I’m not criticizing because there very well could be no trail at all………..well, the trail sort of sucks. It can be rocky. Really rocky. Rockier than anything I’ve ever seen, anywhere. Here’s a not-extreme/very typical Death Cobble section:



It looks fine, right? Just an old Jeep track being used as a trail. Certainly you aren’t going to get lost here – no way. And certainly this doesn’t need maintenance – it’s not overgrown and should be fine for years. But here’s a close-up:



It’s just rocks. Rocks that you kick around, teeter-totter over, slip on, and generally hate. Horse folks call this Potato Rock, and it can really hurt hooves, leaving them vulnerable to infection and other problems. There’s a lot of this trail along the AZT – miles and miles of it.

Other (long) sections of the trail look like this:



And this:



With both prone to turning into the aforementioned terrible soup when wet - in other words in the spring when folks would be trying for a thru-hike. This may sound persnickety, and perhaps it is, but this isn’t “trail” – it’s road. And the Happy Jack passage (the Arizona Trail Association calls segments/sections “passages”) is over twenty miles of road.

And again, I’m not (really) criticizing. Lots of the trail looks like this:



Also, I’m not out there working on the trail, and I’m committed to finishing the AZT (even though the remaining sections include a lot more road walking). But I think this is one reason why there aren’t more people out there.

-While the AZT trail quality may be lacking, trail marking is now good. The Association has installed literally hundreds of carsonite posts along the way like this:



At this point the trail is easy to follow. Whether the posts last is another matter – these things make tempting targets/souvenirs. Tree blazing may have been a better, but no longer a feasible/permissible, option.

-A good escape, and fun. As usual, when I’ll get back to do more trail I have no idea – certainly not until next year.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Williams Fork Mountains / Middle Fork loop

I had always wanted to hike this ridge, and read about a good loop in "Complete Guide to Colorado's Wilderness Areas," by Mark Pearson and John Fielder. I decided to tack on the climb from Silverthorne to Ptarmigan Peak as well, and make myself a full loop of the Ptarmigan Peak Wilderness Area.

Photos are here. Here's my favorite.

It was a little too long/rugged for the time I set aside (a day and a half). The ridge is quite beautiful, and I charged along through a quite pretty weather window. However, there's no trail up there and it takes awhile to move along. It's definitely not the place to be during a rainstorm (although there are some pretty little lakes/hunting camps on the east side of the range).

The ridge reminds me just a bit of hiking in the White Mountains of California - a big rolling landscape with a mighty jagged range to the West (in California, the Sierras; in Colorado, the Gores).

Aside: Awhile back, a friend said, "Back when I was younger, I just went up stairs like I was walking on a flat surface - I didn't get what was wrong with older people." Back when I worked in the Whites, I caught a ride to Barcroft Station with my bike, dropped off the bike, and then hiked from Barcroft to Boundary Peak and back in two days. When I got back I was so windblown I looked like a tomato. I jumped on my bike, rode down to Crooked Creek Station, had lunch, and then rode down a road that drops 1,000 feet a mile from 11,000 feet to 4,000 feet. I stopped a few times to fix blown tubes until I just stuffed the tire with grass and sage. Back at OVL, I crashed for the night and went back to work the next morning - I probably went for a run before getting started. Yup, it was good to be young.

End of aside.

I made it down to treeline just as night came on, and - hey, what's that steady droning noise? Why, a tremendous conveyor belt, obviously. Interestingly, the little tourist map in the Pearson/Fielder book directs prospective hikers right into the Henderson / Climax Mine folks' property. My first thought (obviously) was, "Hey, I could jump on the conveyor belt and get back to the trail fast!" However, that would have meant that you would read about me in next years' Darwin Awards. I was back at the trail soon enough after my industrial intermission.

The hike up the Middle Fork of the Williams Fork was pleasant but muggy, and I refrained from telling the elk hunters that all the elk were still up high. The trail back up to Ptarmigan Pass is fading fast, and you then essentially cut cross country back to the Ptarmigan Peak trail.

After a few trips, I'm realizing that the Pearson/Fielder book is just a (good) idea book - everything is positive and wonderful and it's just great to go out to the wilderness. It's up to you to find out that the trails may or may not be there, the route may lead into the largest moly mine in North America, etc.

Which is fine - I'm glad I went. It's an incredible spot, especially considering how close it is to Denver.

-

The trip was also a bit of a shakedown for my longer trip to the Arizona Trail this week. It's good to know that your little sunscreen bottle has mysteriously separated/liquefied, etc., before heading out for five days.

One new gear item is my replacement REI "Halo" sleeping bag. The old one was doing fine until it randomly developed a giant tear that dumped a bunch of down. Apparently this is common given the fabric used in the past. As I've written previously, I got a screamin' deal on this bag, so screamin' that REI didn't want to take it back. But after about an hour of them looking me in the eye to see if I was a bad hippie/serial gear exchanger, they gave me a new one.

And lo! The new one has substantially more down/loft than the old one. Was my old one a secret factory second/defect model? In any case I'm happy with the new one.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Austin: Good food, bad weather

As we were getting ready to go to Austin for the weekend, our friends invariably compared it to Denver: "It's like a grown-up Denver," "It's hipper than Denver," "It's sort of like Denver, but not as pretty," etc. All I really knew about the place was "worst" barbecue, SXSW, and Mellow Johnny's. Oh, and Slacker.

And that's not a good way to visit a place - you haven't even gotten there and you're comparing it to your home. When we went to Edmonton a summer or two ago, we didn't go there expecting Denver of the north, and we were pleasantly surprised by the interesting melange of European-city/oil town/tundra zone/white-nights fun. And yes, it's sort of like Denver of the north.

Luckily, we didn't have to even think about comparing Austin to Denver because our son ran around looking at everything and comparing it to home. He would splash in the Barton Springs Pool and say, "Oooh! This is colder than our pool in Denver, Colorado!" Then we'd go to eat and he'd say, "This place has better noodles than Denver, Colorado!" And so on.

But what he really didn't like about Austin, and what made Austin an inferior city, was the heat. It was hot - over 100 degrees each day - and he didn't like it one bit. He commented on the heat, frowned at the heat, and asked us if the heat would go away. He announced that he wanted to go back home a few times. And when we did get home, it was in the 90's, and he asked if we were still in Austin.

We've spent a fair amount of time in hot places - Thailand comes to mind - and I spent a few years running around the Mojave - but the Austin heat was just nasty. It's one thing to say, "Oh, and it was 105." I've been in Las Vegas when it's 105, and it can be a purifying, almost cathartic, heat. And I've been in the jungle when it's 105, and again it can be an interesting (okay, I'll just say "wet") experience. And I used to live in Davis, CA, where getting up to 105 just made people sleepy slow and would spawn pleasant downpours every week or so.

But in Austin we'd walk outside and immediately feel like something was wrong. Will-J kept trying to smell the air, frowning like it was old milk. It was muggy and the low gray clouds made everything look flat. And it would just linger - I went out to move the car at 11:00 PM, and it was still 87. Muggy gripping hot. Which made spending time in the pleasant Barton Springs Pool all the better. We couldn't figure out why all of Austin doesn't pack in there on Sunday.

Indeed, the food is better. Much better. Which given our Cow Town experience, isn't saying a lot. But still. When I go to other cities, I don't want to try the nicest place in town. According to people we talked to, the best place in Austin is Uchi. And I'm sure Uchi is awesome - in fact, I'd be pretty mad if it wasn't considering the prices. No, I want to see how the locals are eating and see what's going on (or at least that's what I tell myself because I can't afford Uchi). And so we wandered into a place called Madam Mam's, ordered a few Thai noodle staples, and they were fantastic. Awesome. Better than anything in Denver - even U.S. Thai. And Madam Mam's isn't the best Thai in Austin.

That was our weekend. We'd stop off for a snack someplace, and it would be really good. So Austin has it going on for food.

And you get used to the heat. At first, I was amazed to see people on road bikes and running in the heat, but by this morning I was ready to go for a jog. Will-J - not so much. He was happy to get on the plane and head to his sweet home native city a mile high. A good trip, even though I ended up having to work quite a bit over the weekend.

Etc.:

-Will-J has quietly grown into an intrepid traveler. I'm calling him the Travel Tank now. I pick him up from school, head to the airport, and he marches along with his backpack. Grab a burger, catch some news on the airport monitors, and he's ready to fly. This morning, we had a 6:30 AM flight. No problem - grab a scone, hop on the plane and time for a power nap:



-We showed up at the rental lot and they said, "It's slow - just take any car." So Will-J pointed out a sleek black Volkswagon CC, and off we went. It's the nicest rental I've ever had, and added quite a bit in terms of style-factor to our trip. Here's Will-J profiling in front of his ride:



(no that's not where we stayed) It's an interesting car - in my mind very VW in the same way as our old (unreliable) Jetta. It looks great, presents fine fit and finish, and has a trunk larger than many apartments. What's not to like? Plenty. The CC has an overwhelming plethora of controls, so much so that I never figured out what all the buttons and switches were for. It had an awful automatic transmission that lagged acceleration. It has no apparent market, i.e. a under-powered sports sedan with the handling of a Lincoln Town Car, but good looking and sort of expensive. But it had a cool touch-screen navigation thingie:



-We stayed right in the heart of the club district, and while Denver tries tries to be sort of like L.A., Austin tries tries to be sort of like Miami Beach. I don't know why - maybe it's the excessive heat.

-Barton Springs Pool is great:



But those in the know visit the free overflow area right outside the fence. It's clearly marked "no swimming," but that doesn't seem to bother anyone:



(that dog also doesn't seem to have a leash - did I mention I'm a lawyer?) Also, there's an endangered salamander that lives in the pool. I found this interesting: "Hey, everyone, there's an endangered animal in the pool, so please leave it alone the best you can." Meanwhile kids are reaching under rocks trying to find a pet salamander. I don't get how that works - critical habitat somewhere else? Not designated yet? Other?

-Mellow Johnny's is just okay. Besides all the cool historical bikes, it's just a Trek store with a coffee shop and a nice locker room/shower set up. I'd take Wheat Ridge Cyclery over Mellow Johnny's, actually.

-Speaking of Slacker, where do you go these days if you're a budding early-20's hipster? It seems like the field is increasingly occupied and/or gentrifying. Slacker was 1991, and certainly Austin circa that time looks like far more suitable hipster habitat than the slick "consultant"-land I observed this weekend. So if Austin/Boulder/Portland/etc. are out, what's in? My guess is that now that I'm middle-aged, I'll never know, and the young folks are happily riding their fixies off to whatever interesting place they've found to avoid people like me. My other guess is that the hipsters are colonizing ever smaller towns in search of a better (cheaper) life - as long as said towns have T-1 or faster internet, of course.

What's scary for an oldster like me is that at this point my memory of cool places is becoming sort of like Slacker, i.e. a time capsule memory of those places before they were taken over by nu-urban infill, "consultants," and of course the "ugly duplex." This really hit me a few years ago when I was walking through Missoula with a friend. We were walking along, and we just passed by a yoga studio. Not a hippie yoga studio, or "serious yoga," just a random fitness-yoga studio with people inside taking a class. Neither of us said anything about it. Then a week later, I realized, "I was walking down the street in Missoula, Montana, saw a yoga studio, and didn't think anything of it. What the hell happened to Montana?"

I can only imagine what has happened to some of the cities of my memory. When I was hanging around Portland, Maine, it was just starting to wake up from the demise of shipbuilding. When I lived in Davis, some of the old places were just starting to turn over. What now? Well, they're probably somewhat like Austin/Boulder/Portland/etc.

What I'm getting at is that in some places, I missed the odd-in-retrospect cheap-money nu-urbanism (Click on that and isn't that the beat from Jay-Z's "Empire State of Mind"? Indeed, it is.), and so when I go there, it's sort of like every other rebuilt mid-sized city downtown. In other places, I haven't been back since that transformation took place, and now they don't recognize the cities of my memories (Chicago is the big one). In other words, I missed the 2000's.

Really, it's only Denver where I'm watching the transformation take place in real time. And it's surprising. And it doesn't always seem like a good thing. I went for a few evening rides in the old west part of Five Points, new "Ballpark Neighborhood." It's amazing - when I moved here if you visited between Blake and Lawrence and Broadway and Downing, it was warehouses, meat packing, and some not-so-nice places to live. A few years later it's becoming some kind of 20-something paradise (?) of gyms, clubs, condos, scooter dealerships, etc. I'm not saying it's a bad thing (and in this case I'm not even sure it will stick), but if you came to visit Denver for the first time this weekend (see LoDo, for example), you'd definitely get a different perspective than if you visited in 1991.

All I can really say in terms of value judgment about this change is it does homogenize cities. I recognized downtown Austin as sort of like LoDo. People tend to get tired of homogenization, and so it may be a good thing to encourage/allow these areas to fly their own flag, so to speak. Or maybe I'm wrong and this is all good for business, progress, tax base, etc. - I don't have a specific prediction here, except that historically speaking, our world has trended towards suburbanization/exurbanization.

-Bats! Every summer night about a million bats fly out from under the Congress Ave. Bridge. The spectacle exceeded my expectations - it's really impressive. Will-J liked it too, but after the big waves of bats he got hot and wanted to go. Like I said, it was hot in Austin.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Why I carry a camera

Here's "Rubbish Solutions:"



I don't want a "rubbish" solution - I want a good solution! Get it - a "rubbish" solution.

Oh and then there's this:



I won't say this is an "ugly duplex," but that one really stands out.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Fake Real Community and Virtual Actual Community (I was a middle-aged yoga mat cleaner)

Some time ago, I headed back to Corporate Yoga as part of their yoga-trade program. It’s something about which I have (surprisingly) little to report. I got to evade the intensity of being a lawyer for a few hours a week, clean the studio, and in return accessed their generally fine yoga classes. And so much the better if I happened to overhear things like, “Yeah, that quote about ‘doors of perception’ is by Jim Morrison,” (which is true if you leave aside both William Blake and Aldous Huxley, relative lightweights in their fields), and “Yeah, I HAD to get hair extensions – my hair kept flopping around in class and now I can tie it back – how does it look?”

Unfortunately, my short time as a middle aged yoga mat cleaner came to an end when Corporate Yoga essentially blew up the program, which I suppose makes sense considering all the classes they were giving away. In the course of my termination, I exchanged views with management, during which I was repeatedly reminded about the Corporate Yoga “community.”

Community? Huh? Mainly we saw a lot of tuned-out and/or self-absorbed office workers over the years. We didn’t see a lot of people talking, and we certainly never met anyone we would now consider close friends. This is entirely consistent with the sales-oriented mission of Corporate Yoga, but inconsistent with actual community.

Which brings me back to long-distance backpacking, of course. For a few years in another lifetime I messed around for a few summers doing some really long hikes – in particular on the Pacific Crest Trail. During that time, I became sort of known in a limited sort of way among the other hikers, and later with ultramarathoners. Not like I was a record-setter or doing anything serious out there, but like I was a harmless guy doing the trails and occasionally writing about them.

At the time I was critical of what I saw as the false community of the long-distance backpackers. They seem friendly enough, but you never actually see them – they’re all online telling tales (or not online, not telling tales, and working and/or hiking a different trail than you). Little did I know that it’s actually a fairly vibrant community of like souls who like seeing large swaths of the country on foot and/or getting really dirty.

Case in point is my recent exchange with El Monstro/Fstpker/Adam Bradley, who recently absolutely destroyed the FKT on the Arizona Trail. I was particularly interested in his trek as he started right about when I ended my two week hike this spring, and became more interested when he appeared to be shadowed along the way by another hiker known only as “Starsky,” who may or may not also have been seeking the FKT.

I had a few questions for the man, in particular how he understood the “official” route of the AZT and alternates. He wrote back with surprising clarity, defining the scope of his efforts and justifying his decisions. Back when I was hiking, I was disturbed by the relative lack of style employed by a lot of thru-hikers, and turned to organized races as a means to explore my distance/speed limits (long story short, those limits are in fact quite limited). And here’s someone sorting through what style is effective and necessary to define those distance/speed limits and efforts without organized races. Great stuff.

And as a few other people weighed in on his efforts, I realized the extent of the (admittedly small) community of distance/thru-hikers, as well as some meaningful individual commitments/contributions to that community. It was impressive, and I see it as a real community, despite the fact that said community often exists largely online. Which was strikingly highlighted when I was faced with continued invocations of a face-to-face “community” – when said community is based largely on sales efforts and appearances. I’ll take the former over the latter any day.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Triple Bypass 2011: ups and downs

In 2005, I was done with running and had been doing more road biking. I entered the Triple Bypass ride with Catherine and my brother-in-law, and had a good time - I think it took me maybe nine hours, Catherine about ten, and brother-in-law stopped at Loveland. Later he told us that was the day he decided to get fitter, and has since transformed into a monster ultra-marathoner/Hardrock finisher.

I didn't keep up with road riding, opting instead for a training regimen consisting largely of working at a desk - sometimes it works. Time passes, I get creakier, and after commute-riding to Boulder occasionally last year, I really haven't ridden my new-ish road bike much.

Which turns out to be a bad idea because due to circumstances outside my control I ended up with a free entry to the Triple this year. And thus, at 5:30 in the morning I headed up towards Squaw Pass wondering how it would feel. The answer is okay, and actually pretty good, but I don't have a low enough gear so I strained my knee a touch.

Otherwise my thoughts on the Triple are generally the same as last time:

-The Triple is really quite beautiful, and Team Evergreen will sell out the ride until the end of time. Could they improve the ride? Absolutely. It makes no sense that a ride that takes most people all day has no hot food at the aid stations - or no food at all if they're slow. No fun along the route - like a band or something? And no free beer anymore? That's horrible. I still love their ugly ride jerseys, though. Every year they're ugly, but each year is ugly in it's own way. In the past few years it looks like they're trying a subdued orangish color scheme to no avail.

-There are a lot of good cyclists in Colorado. A lot. This time around, I was heading up Vail Pass about the time as the quick-ish recreational riders - they started at a more civilized time (an hour or two after me), and slowly churned past in their little team groups. It was a slow progression of very, very expensive bicycles ridden by (mostly) men with very large quads. How many hundreds of fine carbon fiber top-of-the-line bikes did I see? It's amazing, and somewhat guilt-inducing. Wouldn't all that money be better spent elsewhere? How much non-recyclable carbon fiber is going into all those bikes?

-I was equally impressed at all the creaky and sore strong riders with large quads lounging around at the top of Vail Pass next to their expensive carbon fiber bikes. It's a hard ride, period, and Vail Pass is the worst part. Really, I just don't like the part from the Summit-Co high school to the base of the pass. It's largely uphill and just a grind.

-I rode the Triple like I would run/walk an ultra - spending relatively little time at the aid stations and just trying to get over the passes. I did this in order to beat the rain, which I did, and rode it in about the same time as 2005. However, this isn't the style/form of the Triple, which is (at least for the large-quad men) to blast between aid stations, and then relax at the girlfriends'/spouses'/friends' cars for awhile, sipping recovery beverages and remarking on the epic pace. This makes a certain amount of sense, at least if the girlfriends/spouses/friends don't mind. It did get annoying, however, to get passed by the same guys over and over again. In the end I think the "Sweat Equity" guys from Crested Butte passed me five times.

-Cycling is just so much less impactive than running. It's amazing for me. If I ran a marathon yesterday, I'd hobble around for a week. Instead, I feel pretty much fine today (except for the sore knee, which is my own fault).

-Like last time, we formed little pace-lines from Vail Pass to the end. Big fun. Unlike last time, I actually took some pulls.

Will I ride it again? No - I really don't see that happening. But that's what I said last time, too - and in 2005 they even had free beer at the end.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Fourth in the Flat Tops: Stillwater Lake to Trappers Lake and "The Devil's Causeway"

Spent a few days in the Flat Tops. Photos are here.

Route was from Stillwater Lake on the east edge, up the road from the town of Yampa, then up to the Devil's Causeway, across the exciting causeway itself, and down to Trappers Lake on the Stillwater Trail. I hiked around Trappers, up towards Wall Lake before giving up in the snow, and then camped back up at a quite pleasant lake (I'm sure it has a name but I didn't have said name on the tourist map I used).

Returned the next day on the Stillwater Trail, navigating two fairly steep snowfields on the way down. Had a great stop at another lake (see above) before calling it a trip.

The theme of the trip was "snow." I ran into a horsepacker near Stillwater who called it a "shocking" amount of snow for the 4th. There was snow right down to the Stillwater Parking lot. You could make a good argument there's more snow up there than any year since 1983. Many Coloradans head to the Flat Tops for "easy" or introductory backpacking - the passes are a little lower, the climbs a little easier, navigation no problem, good trails, etc. - but the snow this year made it a suitable adventure, at least for me.

Despite the snow, it was a fun trip. It's a national-park quality area, set aside very early in the wilderness-preservation tradition, and is a large chunk of stunning/interesting area with lots of loop trails all over. So you get essentially a national park where you can wander around wherever you want and without sticking to a specific itinerary. I saw one group of backpackers in 2 1/2 days over the 4th weekend. Great stuff.

Of course I had to see Trappers Lake, arguably the first area of National Forest protected as wilderness, and indeed it's a beautiful spot - a large subalpine lake surrounded by striking snowy cliffs. Unfortunately, coming up on 100 years after being set aside, said spot is ravaged by spruce bark beetle, catastrophically burned, bordering a muddy parking lot, overrun with day users (many of whom are roughing up the banks with various watercraft), etc. Well, we can say it's a work in progress (?). As always, the crowd disappears just a few miles up the trail, especially so this year due to the snow.

Then back to Denver and wonderful 4th celebrations with friends and family, including Will-J's first fireworks.

I'd love to come back to the Flat Tops for a big week-long loop hike up and down a bunch of the valleys - add that to all the other trips in the hopper, I suppose.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Adventures in Cycling: Road to Nowhwere II

Just a day after investigating the new bike sidewalk (?) on Bannock, I saw this incredible event:



Yes, it's someone on a B-cycle that would be going the wrong way on the bike sidewalk, but is in fact out of the sidewalk altogether. It's things like this that make bike commuting interesting.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Adventures in Cycling: Road to Nowhere?

I was riding up 14th Ave., and the new bike lane in front of the former courthouse on Bannock caught my eye:



No, wait, the new bike lane:



Oh, that's pretty funny - but let me try again:



There it is! It looks pretty cool - of course it will lead to pedestrian/cyclist collisions (because it looks like a sidewalk) and there's a crazy suicide bike lane across the street that could have been avoided by making it a bi-directional lane:



But wait, where does it go? Currently it leads to Colfax, which may have well just have a skull and crossbones for cyclists, and up against traffic coming out of 14th St. So basically the only way to go is on the sidewalk east on Colfax:



Maybe this lane is part of a big cycling infrastructure project, but currently it's utility (but not its expense) is a mystery.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Father's Day - Gibson Lake Trail

We started driving towards Jefferson Lake, but decided on a backpack towards Gibson Lake. We really like backpacking. We parked where Road 120 splits at the campground and gets rough. I'd like to report that our Will-J hiked maybe four miles, and acquiesced to his Dad carrying him/postholing about half a mile through snow to our camp - and then happily turned in for a long sleep with no worries.

Photos here.

We're using (at least what I find) an interesting setup for taking Will-J hiking. Catherine takes it easy on her knees by carrying the bedding/clothes for Will-J (he just uses an adult zero-degree bag) in a larger GoLite pack (actually an old Jam 2). I use my lightweight backpack, don't bring very much for me, but stick our hand-me-down made-in-America bombproof-but-heavy four-person North Face mountaineering tent on top (it's the big tube in one of the photos). This really gives me some peace of mind while backpacking with a four-year-old. Maybe he gets tired, and wants to stop. Maybe conditions are poor. No problem - we have a tent suitable for the Himalaya where he can bed down into for the night. It gets quite warm in there with just our heat, and he sleeps well. Very good.





Part of the point of this blog (or really, the main point) is to remember what the hell I did a few years ago. As such, it also helps keep me honest about past conditions. Everyone this year is talking about what an extreme snow year it is, and certainly that seems confirmed by us not being able to hike much above 11,000 feet last weekend. But wait, on the last weekend of June, 2009, I hiked from Kenosha Pass over Georgia Pass (only a few miles from Gibson Lake) and then to Copper Mountain (hike 3 of my Colorado Trail section hike). And indeed I never actually touched snow on that hike. The verdict - this year indeed has much, much more snow than a relatively good snow year such as 2009.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Wallow Fire - Arizona's disappearing forests

Yes, I find the Wallow Fire upsetting. I spent two weeks on the Arizona Trail in April, and hiked through large burns. The worst were the incredibly striking Mazatzals. Clearly the area had basically been abandoned from a management perspective, had become seriously overgrown, and went up in a blaze in 2004 (Willow Fire). Here are some opinions. My view is these aren't cyclical/natural fires - the entire Mazatzal (and the entire Santa Catalina, etc.) range burned up in an inferno - in some areas, there's just nothing left. This is very different than a slow-moving ground fire or variation that clear out some young trees.

Which is happening now outside of Alpine. I hiked around the area a bit at the end of college. It's incredibly rugged country - and like most areas of Arizona I've hiked - it has a land-that-time/tourists-forgot feeling. It's out there - you don't do wolf reintroduction just anywhere. Few trails, and those that exist are overgrown. Few roads. Little management. And yes the forest was unnaturally dense for where it...

...was.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Rockies the day before Memorial Day

So we thought, what a nice day - let's go grab some Rockpile tickets for the afternoon game. Unfortunately that's what everyone else in Denver thought, too:



Yup, there's a few hundred people in line. Instead, we went to the Littleton museum. They had a little display where I could do water administration in District 6. And I got to tend the plow:



Good weather - good times.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Classic Camping: White Ranch

Sure, you know where White Ranch is - it's where you do your epic mountain biking and run those annoying bird watchers and joggers off the trail. Right off. I mean, now that you have a Niner, you definitely don't have time to mess around hopping on and off the bike to let people pass.

But it also has fine camping:



It's so fine, it's actually like camping used to be. It's free, you walk in, and there's an actual working water pump. And an actual non-smelly outhouse. JeffCo really goes over the top by stocking wood to burn. A friendly ranger came to visit us to see how we were doing. Did I mention it's free? Catherine just kept saying, "This is so easy. It's so fun. There's nothing hard about this."

Here's Will-J enjoying himself:



Here's the crew - notice only my family is mugging:



And this could be our Christmas card this year:



Fun. And there's a great view of the city lights. Did I mention it's fun? And a mile from the trailhead? Word is it gets pretty hot up there, but that's the only negative I know of so far.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Rain, Perspective, small races (Sean May Memorial Run), and THX-1138

It rained a lot in Denver this week - the flow in Cherry Creek (aka the Cherry Creek Memorial Denver Storm Drain) jumped by 70 times overnight. I took a few photos on the Friday morning commute.

Here's the confluence really moving:



Here's the creek up over the bike path:



Here it is thinking about coming up over a little bridge:



And here of course is the death-defying plasticized pedestrian bridge that gets infinitely slick with the most minimal moisture:



I've been trying to crash on this thing for years, but haven't managed to do it yet.

Of course none of this compares even in the slightest to the flooding going on in the south currently - which puts our wet Denver in perspective. By today, the rain had stopped, baseball was back on (even though you could get pretty much any seat in the house for $5 on a cold, humid Sunday), and Cherry Creek was back to its normal demure self.

So Cherry Creek crested at 700 cfs. How much could the walled channel along the bike path hold? I think it's huge, like 30,000 cfs. Someone else (more rational) said maybe 7-10,000.

Aside: During the ride a few other intrepid commuters took time out of their day to warn me that: "DON'T GO ANY FURTHER THERE'S FLOODING AHEAD!!!" It's wonderful universal human trait - we have the inborn desire to warn each other about the obvious. I remember once backpacking along in the glorious summer sun and encountering a trail sign festooned with notes of all sizes warning that the trail was CLOSED from TOO MUCH SNOW!!! Sure, but then August eventually comes.


-

I've written here about some of the races I've run. I left out a lot of small races I've entered over the years, and a lot of these were the most meaningful and fun - and certainly I've had some of my greatest "glories" (in perspective, of course). Like a random 8k (?) I ran at City Park years ago, where I suffered through a poor breakfast decision (a big baguette with lots of butter) to third place. There were maybe six of us in the last 3/4 mile, and suddenly this older guy came blasting up with the craziest running style I'd ever seen. He was practically falling forward, with his legs kicking out diagonally. It looked like he was trying to swim - but he was going incredibly fast. It completely threw us for a loop - a few guys laughed and fell off the pace, he sped past, and another guy followed me and we got in behind him to finish. No one took our pictures, we got a little medal, I threw up, and we went home to enjoy the day.

Or the little-known but longstanding Carbondale Mt. Sopris Runoff - 16 miles from Basalt to Carbondale up over the shoulder of Mt. Sopris (on a dirt road). This one is something like $10, and I think of all people Matt Carpenter has the record. I showed up to "race" my friend from Carbondale, who proceeded to absolutely destroy me. However, the paper ran my picture with his name under it. Then the next year they ran my picture again with the same error. There were some random comments that helped us both keep our perspective - I think someone say that he looked good with a full head of hair. Someone told me that he looked like he had gained weight in the photo. Such is life.

So this weekend, I ran the Sean May Memorial Run. Sean May was a Denver deputy district attorney who tragically and senselessly died far before his time. Access to Justice and others run a 5k and a 9 mile in his honor and as a fundraiser at Barr Lake.

I did the 9 mile, and of course I did what I've done at races since I was 10 - go out too fast, go into the hurt locker, and suffer until the finish. Which raises the question of why do I keep doing races. There were four of us at the front (with my coworker sensibly marking us). Two guys were obviously strong. One guy blew up, the strong two took off, and I suffered along by myself around Barr Lake keeping a little over a six-minute pace. Soon enough, I ran into the remnants of the 5k race, which hid the fact my steady coworker was coming up. He ran out of trail, though, and I got third. Third seems to be a pattern for me.

It was fun, and of course while I ran along I thought about how all our time here is limited/borrowed, and how might I best spend some of that said time.

-

Suitably inspired (?), we finally watched THX-1138, a movie about living life to the fullest. I was expecting dour/ponderous, like Logan's Run or Planet of the Apes, but it was really fun. There's a lot of (dark) humor there, that very much reminds me of the scientifically organized buffoonery of the Communist era. Some of that reminded me of "Lives of Others" - another movie about living under constant surveillance. The ending is supposed to be open-ended, but birds (accidentally?) fly across the setting sun, which for me made the result obvious. In any case, it was good.