Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Heating up

Summer has really started cranking, with temperatures climbing into the high 80s and 90s every day. Now that he works from home, Beat better understands the oppression of indoor temperatures in the 80s, and trying in vain to extract creative productivity from the haze. He went so far as to finally fix the house's ancient air conditioner, in this, our fifth summer in Colorado. But that didn't happen until this week. Last week was a full immersion in heat training. 

 I have a story to tell about Sunday, but it should stand alone. This post is a mashup of the week of July 6-11 — so much beauty, so much time in the sun. On Monday morning, I met up with my friend Wendy for the first time since February winter training.

 We had an interesting exchange about this outing, after I suggested an easygoing romp on a favorite trail route, the 16-mile High Lonesome Loop. She replied with suggestions for a much harder day in a remote corner of the Indian Peaks, with a long ridge traverse and lots of exposure — both to weather and class-three scrambling. I surprised myself by becoming apoplectic, firing back that I am not the right adventure partner for such an endeavor. We sent a few back-and-forth messages before I conceded that I had overreacted, and admitted this is a "thing" for me right now ... mountain-shame. I'll continue working through it, I promised. For now, maybe we can just go for this easy hike?

 These are some of the more popular trails in the region, with a small parking lot that tends to fill up by 6 a.m. on weekends. Since this was a Monday, I suggested a 7 a.m. start. We hit a jackpot of gorgeous weather and relative solitude without having to wake up too ridiculously early. It was fun to catch up with Wendy after all of these months. I almost forgot about the current times and nearly went in for an arm-hug during this selfie, when Wendy politely reminded me about social distancing.

We traced the ridge of the Continental Divide, where it is nearly always windy — but not on this day. I've read that monsoon season is late this year, contributing to exceptionally nice mountain weather. Although we've had days of afternoon storms, they've been more spring-like, not nearly as violent as the typical July maelstrom. On this day it was hot, hot, hot, until a few late morning clouds moved overhead, and then we had gentle rain to accompany the final miles.

 The wildflowers are popping right now. In five Colorado summers these are the best wildflower displays I've seen, both at home and above treeline. A winter of normal precipitation followed by a swift warmup may have contributed to the blooms.

 Devil's Thumb Pass had its usual cornice, with one only sees as a horizon line descending into nothingness when approaching from the west. If I hadn't been here before and understood that it's short and very navigable, I might have had a little anxiety cry. Even still, without microspikes, descending the cornice is a bit spicy. Wendy had microspikes, and proclaimed that it was "just the right amount of spice."

During the week, I had a couple of regular workouts that went really well. The nighttime cooldowns have been minimal — I've been waking up at 7 a.m. to 75 degrees — and no amount of morning grogginess is worth 10 or 15 degrees. So I've embraced the heat, grinding all-out efforts in the harsh afternoon sun. And I'll admit, it feels sort of amazing. There's a tip toward extremes that I tend to enjoy, be it cold or heat — for the endorphins and also the exhilaration of conquering something hard. On Tuesday at 85 degrees I ran one of my faster "Tuesday Bison" five-milers. On Thursday at 88 degrees I scored a third-fastest time on my favorite local climb, one I've completed dozens of times, the Homestead Trail.

Given my proclivity for extremes, one might think I'd enjoy a little more "spicy" in my endeavors. But I don't. Believe me, I'm trying. Willingness and ability to venture away from beaten paths opens up so many incredible places. This is Beat's joy. Since we're sticking close to home this summer, he's taken advantage of the opportunity to explore new routes from home. His latest discovery was a loop tracing the shoreline of Gross Reservoir and then climbing Twin Sister's Peak. The route sounded benign enough. I asked him how much bushwhacking — because my grass allergy will cause me so much grief if I venture off-trail in shorts.

"Hardly any," he replied.

He failed to mention the traverse of steep slopes along a loose and chundery social trail, or the scrambling along rocky outcroppings over water that was just deep enough to mask piles of boulders, but not so deep as to cushion a fall into them. It was slow and awkward travel, and I grew frustrated. When we first ventured beyond the established trail, I speculated that "this is going to be one of those eight-mile runs that takes three hours."

"No, not at all," Beat replied. Then mile two clocked in at 75 minutes.

As we began the steep grind up Twin Sisters, Beat suggested cutting out the summit, since this "run" was taking much longer than advertised.

"No way," I fired back. "If we're going to suffer through the shitty part, at least we should do the fun part."

I think Beat was a little hurt by my surliness, but, as I mentioned earlier, this is a "thing" for me right now. I'm struggling with proprioception again. It's hard to explain to folks who never feel "off-kilter" themselves, but I liken it to driving a car with one flat tire. There's an awkwardness I can't quite pinpoint. My body doesn't move in sync with my mind. It does the repetitive stuff, the pedaling and running, just fine. But specialized movements, such as balancing on boulders, set off alarms. And I've been making mistakes. I rolled my ankle badly when I was hiking with Wendy on Monday. It essentially turned all the way inward, and I'm amazed it didn't cause more damage — something I chalk up to what I believe to be already-damaged-beyond-repair ligaments — but for the next few days it felt sore and especially wobbly.

But, my bad ankle did get through the reservoir adventure without incident. And Beat and I enjoyed a fantastic evening summit on Twin Sisters. It had been 89 degrees when we set out at 4:30, but with the wind cranking at least 40 mph, the peak felt almost chilly. We soaked it in for as many minutes as we could brace ourselves against the gusts, knowing we were heading back to our 80-degree house.

For Friday and Saturday, I had a fun overnight planned with Erika and Betsy. Taking an idea from Strava, I proposed riding from the town of Eagle to Hagerman Pass, a 12,000-foot pass over the Continental Divide west of Leadville. The route was about 110 miles with 10,500 feet of climbing. Everyone thought this sounded imminently doable in our ~30-hour window, and Erika had ridden most of the roads before. She even suggested gravel bikes for the route, so Betsy brought her new Salsa Cutthroat. I stuck with good ol'Mootsy. The heat had already turned on high by the time we set out at 10 a.m., and we were all anxious to gain some altitude.

Betsy at our first summit, Crooked Creek Pass, 10,010 feet. In twenty miles we'd climbed 3,500 feet, and this wasn't even our big ascent for the day — the next pass clocked over 4,000 feet of gain. Erika felt ill and had some difficulty reaching Crooked Creek. She conceded that this probably wasn't her day. We offered to set up camp nearby, but she thought it might be better to head home and recover. Betsy was still game for the adventure, so she and I continued.

We descended amid the gorgeous peaks of Holy Cross Wilderness, down, down, down toward the aptly-named Fryingpan River.

Fryingpan was a true cooker of a valley. For the next ten miles the route climbed gently but persistently on a paved road, fully exposed to the afternoon sun. Since I usually exercise in the afternoons, I have weeks of heat acclimation built into my system and wasn't too bothered. But Betsy was suffering. She became nauseated and slowed considerably. I started to worry about her, because I had an incident with heat exhaustion a few weeks ago, and I know how quickly it can creep into the danger zone. We rolled past a campground that was about a half-mile off route, down near a reservoir. I suggested grabbing a site there. She could rest, and I'd go onto the pass and meet her in the evening. It was nearly 3 p.m., and I knew I'd really have to push to tag the summit and return by dark. We'd originally planned to wild camp along Hagerman, but I wasn't sure how far we'd have to climb before we found a flat spot with water, and Besty wasn't looking so good. She continued for another three miles before deciding to head back to the campground.

Alone, I made my blitz for Hagerman. The first seven miles were incredibly easy — smooth gravel, gentle grades. But at mile eight, I'd only gained 1,000 feet since hitting the dirt, with 2,000 to go in a mere six miles. I started to feel a little concerned about what was coming. The road hit the 10,000-foot mark, and became rougher, riddled with babyhead rocks and sand. I looked at my watch — ten miles in an hour and fifteen minutes. Four miles to go. How bad could it be?

There was a sharp left turn, and the road pitched skyward. Babyhead rocks became basketball-sized boulders. The roadbed was filled with them, where it wasn't carved with knee-high ruts. My watch registered impossible grades. 13 percent. 21 percent. 27 percent! As you might guess, I was walking. My legs strained against the dead weight of my gear-loaded bicycle. Sweat trickled down my neck and dried into salty streaks on my buff. The mountain air was hot and still, even at 11,000 feet.

Those final four miles felt as hard as all of the first fifty. Okay, so this isn't a completely accurate assessment, but they did take me an hour and a half to cover. The strain was worth it to arrive at this place in the golden light of 6 p.m., no one around for miles.

The view toward the Mosquito Range, with the road descending steeply toward Turquoise Lake.

I ventured toward some towers on a knoll to better view the scenery of Mount Massive wilderness and the Sawatch Range. The eastern face of the Continental Divide is often so much more dramatic than the western side.

I didn't dally long because I knew it would be nearly dusk by the time I descended 20 miles to camp. I bucked through the rowdy rocks and sand, stopping briefly to fill up my water bladder at a stream ... just in case. I returned to the campground around 8:30 p.m. to find it filled to the brim with people. I don't know why I'd be surprised that a Colorado campground was full on a Friday night, but I was. It's been a while since I've done much car camping. Back in my day, you just showed up at a site and set up your tent. But that's not how it works anymore. These spots were reserved weeks in advance, and were now overflowing with trailers, family-sized tents and tightly clustered groups of ten or more. Honestly, this crowded campground was about the last place I'd want to spend a night, especially in these current times. But I circled every loop of the large venue, covering another few miles in the fruitless search for my friend. Clearly, this campground was full when Betsy arrived, and she had to find something else. She didn't have an InReach and there was no cell reception anywhere along our route, so we had no way to communicate. I found it sad that on this bikepack trip that was supposed to be a gathering of friends, all three of us ended up separated. I felt guilty for my selfish venture toward Hagerman, and wished we'd just stuck together.

I used my InReach to fire off a few texts that I knew Betsy wouldn't receive. Then I let Beat know that — long story — but I was camping alone tonight. As dusk faded to twilight, then darkness, I fitted a headlamp beneath my helmet, turned back toward Hagerman, and climbed for six miles to a spot I noticed earlier. It was a perfect place to camp, in the forest at the edge of a meadow, near a mountain stream. I was bummed that Betsy didn't continue just a few miles farther. I wondered what she ended up doing. (As it turned out, she pedaled all the way up to a gorge just below Crooked Creek Pass, nearly 15 miles with a brutally steep climb, and paid the price with a bad night of muscle cramping and nausea.) I spent the rest of the night feeling bummed and guilty, but Betsy wasn't upset about it. We both appreciate each other's independence.

I tossed and turned and woke up late, descending Fryingpan before turning upward on the brutally steep Thomasville Road — which has a mile-long section of 14-percent grades — in full sun. Still, it felt nice to climb higher, so I tacked on another 1,000 feet to ascend over Hat Creek pass into East Brush Creek valley. Altogether, my little diversions added up to 132 miles with 12,500 feet of climbing in a 30-hour overnight. It was 98 degrees by the time I returned to Eagle, lips parched and body fully cooked. It had been a big week, with big miles and hard efforts in the heat. I hoped I hadn't overspent myself, because I knew Beat had a mountain adventure planned for Sunday. I hadn't asked a lot of questions about the hike, and hoped it wouldn't be too involved.

Narrator: "..."

But there was plenty still to discover tomorrow. 


  1. You are rocking the outdoors this summer in spite of that east slope heatwave. Hit 90 in Lovely Ouray last week!!!

    1. Thanks! I've started scheming so many things I'd like to do this summer ... Lost Creek Wilderness, Four Pass Loop, an ambitious overnight through Indian Creek Wilderness and Rocky Mountain National Park where I'd hike 40 miles each day just so I could camp in a sliver of unrestricted forest land near Grand Lake. Suddenly it feels like there are just a handful of weekends left. Colorado summers really are so short.

  2. No wonder you don't like summer. I wouldn't like those temps either. I am working on not leaving friends behind, once we left someone near the summit of Whitney and she was gone when we got back. It turned out fine but I felt terrible. I guess it depends on the friend. Oh and I know what happened Sunday. Waiting impatiently for that post.

    1. My main difficulties with summer have more to do with allergies and sun sensitivities than temperature itself ... although in my book it will usually* be more enjoyable to play outside at 0 degrees than 90 degrees. (Of course I qualify this statement with the caveat that I have appropriate clothing for the former and enough water for the later.)

      And yes, it can be difficult to adjust plans and paces to match with a group, especially because I'm used to going solo, and have too many years of goal-driven efforts built into my habits. I remind myself when I'm adventuring with friends, the point is adventuring with friends, not about miles or reaching a summit. Especially these days, when there are fewer opportunities to really spend time with friends.

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  4. 132 miles with 12.5k climbing in 30 hours?? Dang Jill...I've never attempted such a thing (yet)...that is impressive under any circumstances! I have always been in awe of what you can do offhand. "Oh...I think I'll go do an overnight-er tomorrow w/ well-over 100 miles and 12.5k of climbing...no big deal...I'll just carry 20 liters of water and 5 lbs of sour patch kids...I should be fine". Holy cats Jill! It's big...huge even (IMHO). My epic rides are much less epic than yours...mine are more ep...and more likely just e I'm afraid. Oh...and after our 3 weeks in Boulder (which I REALLY enjoyed...your weather was really awesome, and the Chatauqua (sp?) Park system of trails minutes from my hotel was really well used! Then we went to Florida for a bit over a week. You think 90-something in Boulder is HOT? How about mid 90's with nearly 100% humidity? And biting BUGS! Oh, and let's not forget teh nearly daily thunderstorm from hell, anytime between 10am and 9pm...try and plan something with that waiting for you! (and I mean this was some RAIN! Monsoon stuff, lightening strikes all over the place...crazy storms!) Man, I'm SO not a fan of FL in the summer, I can tell you THAT! Your weather was flat out AWESOME!

    1. "Oh...I think I'll go do an overnight-er tomorrow w/ well-over 100 miles and 12.5k of climbing...no big deal...I'll just carry 20 liters of water and 5 lbs of sour patch kids...I should be fine".
      That false quote is so close to true is totally hilarious!!!LOL...5 lbs of sour patch...:) :).

      Jeff C

    2. Haha. My snacking habits have changed some since 2009. I still overpack, though. Monsoon season is finally starting to trickle into Colorado. It's not Florida by far, but it does require more planning for mountain excursions.

  5. Came across this podcast with Ann Sussman with interesting neroscience and the built environment but see lots of cross over to the natural environment along with many coggnative insights of eye movement and anxiety. :) since most everyone suffers some level of trauma in life....we're all damaged. Lol


    We are creatures of narrative, thanks for sharing yours.

    Jeff C

  6. I'm curious, Jill. You've talked of possibly taking up yoga or some other similar form of exercise to improve your balance. Have you done that? If so, has it helped?

    1. Admittedly, no. I was doing so much better in the spring. I even felt like I might be turning a corner with rocky trail running, but that confidence/speed/not-hurting-myself has started to diminish again. I should probably try the yoga thing, but I'm having stronger suspicions that it's neurological. My paternal grandmother had Meniere's Disease, and weird balance stuff has plagued my father at times as well.

    2. Have Beat put up a slackline! That would be a nice couples thing you could do. And you could work on your relationship by trying hard not to laugh at each other!

  7. I have had short feelings of vertigo in the past and a day long bout of it 2 months ago. Could hardly stand. BPPV (Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo) is what it turned out to be. Did 2 of the home maneuvers and symptoms subsided and was back to normal the end of the next day. Now I do the Foster Movement at least once or twice a week as part of morning stretching. Was a scary time!

    Jeff C


Feedback is always appreciated!