Sunday, June 24, 2018

All downhill from here

I'm one of those weirdos who looks forward to the summer solstice because it marks the beginning of the descent toward my favorite season. The week before last was a difficult one for me, with poor air quality and asthma symptoms as a reminder that I'll likely never be entirely free of respiratory distress. I also had a flare-up of other symptoms that I've come to view as indicative of a thyroid slump (although notably mild this time around.) Amid the 90-degree temperatures and smoky air, I started to feel bummed out. My "summer S.A.D." Not a big deal, but it does seep into the enjoyment and productivity of everything I do. 

Last weekend brought a strong storm system, and a significant if temporary bout of relief. It was startling, when I set out for a run on Sunday, to realize how much stronger I felt compared to my sputtering efforts during the week prior. The air was clear. I could breathe! I loped down Bear Canyon and up Bear Peak in steady rain, became drenched as I splashed through the trail-turned-stream, enjoyed quiet solitude along Boulder's most popular trails on a Sunday afternoon, and felt warm and comfortable despite soaked clothing. Ideal! My breathing and mood continued to improve during the first half of the week, with cooler temperatures, fog, and afternoon showers. Yes, I live in opposite land as a former California resident now residing in the "300 days of sunshine" state, craving rain. With still-sharp memories of the sun-worshipping I did in Juneau, I conclude that I simply want what I can't have.

Summer does have its positive aspects. Near the top of the list is relatively easy access to the high country, which becomes an impenetrable fortress of avalanche terrain / death-slide steepness / 70-mph winds during the winter months. Mountain season is brief, and further punctured by monsoons and their accompanying lightning and hail. Like nearly every other outdoorsy person in Colorado, I always approach the end of summer with guilt that I didn't do nearly enough. I still haven't climbed Longs Peak, backpacked the Colorado Trail, run any of the 30-mile mountain loops on my radar, bikepacked to Breckenridge, pushed my mental limitations with a Class 3 ridge traverse, and on and on. I feel exhausted just thinking about all of it. The quiet, moody seasons can't come soon enough.
 Unsurprisingly, I operate best along the middle ground between "do all of the things" and "hide in the cellar with a glass of ice water." This weekend I was able to get out for two familiar favorites. On Friday, Wendy and I embarked on the High Lonesome Loop, a 16-mile ring of goodness through lush forests, around icy lakes and along high alpine meadows spanning the Continental Divide.

 We agreed upon an 8 a.m. start (I think in Wendy's ideal outing we would start at 6 a.m., and mine at 10, so compromise.) From Eldora we walked directly into a bank of ominous clouds and a temperature of 43 degrees. Less than a mile into our hike, the sky opened up with thunder, lightning, and frigid rain. I reasoned that we were well protected in the forest for the next five miles, and since the weather forecast called for a mere 10 percent chance of *afternoon* thunderstorms, surely it would clear up by the time we hit tree line. To bolster confidence in my own prediction, I stubbornly refused to add any layers as we climbed into wind and rain. After a couple of miles of seeing nobody, we encountered one of Beat's co-workers, who was descending. He too hoped to complete the High Lonesome Loop in the same direction, but was deterred by thunder and sleet just a few hundred feet higher. He'd taken a half day off work and gotten an early start to take advantage of a rare opportunity, and was visibly upset by the fact he'd been thwarted by weather. "Screw morning thunderstorms," he said grumpily.

 Our late-ish start and mellow pace paid off, as we arrived at the Divide just before 11 a.m. to clearing skies, along with a biting wind. I finally put on the light jacket I'd brought with me. Wendy looked like she was dressed for the White Mountains 100 all over again, bundled in a thick fleece, shell and gloves. This made me wonder if maybe my thyroid actually is acting up. Surely I should feel more chilled than this, when it's 40 degrees and I'm soaked with rain and sweat amid a 30mph wind? Well, best not to overanalyze it.

 Wendy celebrating on the big, scary cornice that we needed to downclimb (which turned out to be not that big or scary.)

 Temperatures warmed throughout the day, but the moody weather persisted, to the point where I brought my jacket to our late lunch at the pizzeria in Nederland, in case of patio seating and downpour. It was a great day.
 On Saturday I woke up with sore muscles — a reminder of my diminished "running" endurance following a low-mileage spring — and a plan to join Beat on a 20-mile loop around Rogers and Rollins Pass.

 Beat is training for his big summer races, and doesn't want to dawdle with me too much, so we agreed that he'd run to James Peak on his own for the first leg, and I'd turn around after meeting him on the descent. I did push the first six miles as hard as I could in a vain attempt to keep up. Usually it takes me three hours and change to hike from East Portal to the peak, and at 2:18 I was a mere half mile (and about 400 vertical feet) from the top when I met Beat coming down. Still, I could have done that in 15 minutes. It would have been a good PR! Next time.

 Descending James Peak.

 Between Rogers Pass and Rollins Pass is a five-mile traverse along the Divide. There's a route marked by CDT posts and an occasional faint trail, but for the most part it's a tundra walk.

 In several crossings I have yet to see more than a single other group of hikers along this traverse, and the views are stunning. Here Beat is looking toward our neighborhood.

 View of Arapahoe Peak.

 That looks like a cold place down there. My kind of place. Although skies were kind, the wind was still bitingly cold on Saturday. Where I had been underprepared on Friday, I was overprepared for this outing, and had to wear my thick shell to block the wind. It was a bit of a sauna in there.

 It will probably surprise no one when I admit that I am not so good at tundra walking — balancing atop loose boulders and grass clumps usually results in mishaps. I rolled my left ankle four or five times along the traverse — never badly, but as we neared the pass, my ankle was increasingly sore and I was annoyed. Why can't I dance along the mountains like those high-profile Boulder runners I admire? Or like Beat, for that matter? I suppose I could stop complaining about clumsiness, and instead work harder to combat it. But it's difficult not to be a skeptic. If I never get better at something while actively practicing that exact thing, for years, why would I believe that standing on a balance board is going to change anything?

 It was nice to reach Rollins Pass Road and jog for a while ... although I was again reminded that while I am not great at negotiating loose rubble and babyheads with a bike, I'm still more naturally suited to rolling over uneven terrain than running. It's difficult to explain this to my non-cyclist friends — that I need a bike to help correct my poor balance.

Here is one of our favorite not-so-secret spots in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, Forest Lakes. It's a lovely spot, and I keep telling myself we need to return here with a tent. Perhaps this will be the summer I make good on that one promise, at least.

Yes, solstice came and went, and summer is here. As another promise to myself, I will try to make this blog post the last I openly complain about heat or bad air, or guilt about not cramming in more "epic" mountain adventures (admittedly fueled by social media), and embrace the goodness of summer. There is a lot of it, I know. 


  1. I'm with you on the air in June. Over here on the other side of the divide (Grand Lake and Winter Park) I've had to turn around on a couple of runs due to inability to breathe (asthma). I'm blaming the yellow clouds of pollen that fly out of the pine trees, but maybe it is something coincident with them. Smoke and heat don't help either. Today was.... lovely, cool and rainy. July is coming!

    1. I rode into one of those green clouds near Jamestown a couple of weeks ago, and felt congested and wheezy for the rest of the evening, so I have no doubt I have some susceptibility to pine pollen. The bouts of cool rain in the afternoons are a lovely part of July, as long as I'm not somewhere high and exposed to lightning.

  2. Ahhh'll complain again later about the same's human nature...I think we all do it (at least, I do, all the wife can attest to that). I'm currently up here in your old neck of the woods (Mountain View area, specifically Sunnyvale) for work...didn't even bring a bike as we were SUPPOSED to be so busy that I'd have zero chance to ride. And of course that plan I'm sitting here in my hotel room on a Tues afternoon, don't have to be back to work till 6pm TOMORROW. Dang it...should have listened to my inner voice and brought a bike anyway. Don't even have shoes I can hike in (traveled very light this trip). I'd sure love to be riding Skyline Rd and all it's ups and downs right now and tomorrow (Monte Bello Rd, Stevens Creek to Black Mt, La Honda, Page Mill, Kings Mt Rd, Tunitas Creek, Old La Honda, Pedescaro, Alpine Rd, and Big Basin Redwoods to name just a FEW). Love the riding up here, both road and MTB. And this trip I got a big zilch of saddle time. And to add salt to the wound, my BRAND NEW gravel bike is sitting at home calling to me, making it hurt that much more. Ahh well...misery loves company. That's why we complain. Hope you have more good days than bad, and keep your poor ankles un-twisted! Rolling ankles SUCKS! Happy Summer! (and get back on 2 wheels rather than 2 feet!)

    1. Ah, I too would love to have an opportunity to ride winding roads through the redwoods right now. Next time Beat needs to be in Mountain View for work, I'm going to try to snag an opportunity to tag along.

  3. Well...riding a rental bike of any kind wearing blue jeans and a T shirt (with no helmet) and steel toed work shoes (or sandals, take you pick) wouldn't really be optimal I suspect. Along w/ NOT bringing a bike I didn't bring ANY bike stuff...wasn't expecting any time that wasn't involved in sleeping, eating or working (we are doing 12hr shifts, back and forth from days to nights to days to nights). Thus a rental is pretty much out.


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