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.