Monday, September 14, 2020

A breath of fresh snow

We were so lucky last Tuesday. While family in Utah endured an "inland hurricane" with 100 mph winds, friends in San Francisco walked beneath pumpkin-orange skies, and friends in Oregon couldn't even venture outside for groceries as their air quality index spiked to off-the-charts 700s, we were hit by a September snowstorm. It was Boulder's earliest first snow on record. The storm was a boon for our neighborhood — between 8 and 10 inches of heavy snow wafted through the smoke-clogged air and fell on the thirsty ground. I walked outside on a 28-degree morning and took a deep, gratifying breath. After weeks of smoke and heat and altitude, it felt like the first time I could breathe properly this summer. And it was still summer. A summer snowstorm. The most beautiful anomaly. 

I took a progression of landscape photos from our balcony to illustrate the wild swings in the weather this week — starting with the record heat and apocalyptic air on Monday: 

12:57 p.m. Monday, September 7. 88 degrees and smoky.

8:41 a.m. Tuesday, September 8. 26 degrees with 8-10" of new snow. 

4:26 p.m. Wednesday, September 9. 38 degrees with spots of sunshine that really highlight the green leaves on the cottonwood trees below.

6:47 p.m. Wednesday, September 9. 34 degrees and clearing.

8:33 a.m. Thursday, September 10. 31 degrees and foggy with snow flurries.

6:45 a.m. Friday, September 11. 34 degrees and breezy. 

6:40 p.m. Friday, September 11. 57 degrees and calm after a windy day filled with lenticular clouds. So nice.

8:02 a.m. Sunday, September 13. 68 degrees and clear. It hit 81 later in the day. 

Summer is back. But that snowfall sure was a nice respite. This week, I mostly played catch-up after our many long mountain adventures. So the adventures weren't as grand, but I have a few more photos I wanted to post.

The fuschia sun sinking into a thick shroud of smoke on Monday night. Our local wildfire, the Cameron Peak Fire, had an explosive weekend and more than tripled in size in just two days. Tuesday's snow was possibly the only saving grace between us and an Oregon-level tragedy that had the potential to threaten larger communities such as Estes Park. Still, a whopping 14 inches of snow only dampened the fire, which has destroyed 54 structures and torched 102,000 acres. It's still only 4 percent contained. But at least the spread slowed for a week, and firefighters were able to work in some of the more remote sections.

Beat and I enjoyed a few short, sweet and snowy outings on our local trails. 

On Sunday, we joined our friend Betsy for a 45-mile ride from Rollinsville to the Divide at Rollins Pass. Betsy and I hoped to go bikepacking near Buena Vista on Friday-Saturday, but the snowstorm threw a wrench in those plans. I was fine with this, actually, as I'm experiencing a bit of a late-summer lull and more inclined to sit by a wood stove and relax rather than hustle toward another adventure. By Sunday the weather was summer-like again, so Betsy rallied to load up her bike and camp at Jenny Lake. Beat and I were lightly loaded for the day trip. 

Even after several days of normal late-summer temperatures, patches of snow still clung to the hillsides. Rollins is a lovely ride, even if the road is a minefield of babyheads. I even took my fat bike this time, complete with its 4.8" tires and Lauf fork, thinking I could just steamroll over the rocks. But my leg is still sore from falls on Hague and Mummy mountains, and my winter wrist injury has been acting up as well. So I was inclined to baby my tender bruises and annoyed that the Rollins rocks were still doling out their usual beating. 

We hiked the bikes over Needle Eye Tunnel and rounded the steep north slope guarded by unnervingly rickety Turn-of-the-Century trestles. 

Deep snow drifts already blocked the rest of the road. Along this wet-feet slog, we encountered several other cyclists who said they were part of a race called The Rollins Ramble. Their route took them 75 miles up and over the pass to Winter Park, then back. I looked up the results and they only list those from 2019 — 15 starters and only three finishers, with the winner making the trip in just under eight hours. Beat teased me about whether I would have entered this race if I knew about it, and I replied with a flat out, "No, I don't like racing bikes anymore." But then he reminded me that I relented to both the Winter and Summer Bear races in Steamboat Springs in 2019, and had a great time at both. And then I remembered that I also finished reasonably well at those races. Whereas I'm a terrible trail runner by Colorado standards, and would probably have to battle cutoffs at the local 50K (Golden Gate Dirty Thirty), I could definitely finish a Rollins Ramble. I swore off "regular" bike racing back in 2013, after I crashed out of the 25 Hours of Frog Hollow. But it would be fun to challenge something like that again, and maybe I should rethink my "bikes are only for fun and maybe the occasional grueling Iditarod expedition or White Mountains 100 or Tour Divide" policy. I do miss racing. I wonder if they even hold 24-hour races anymore?

This was a nice afternoon to pedal a relaxed pace to the pass, enjoy a leisurely snack at the top, and head back. We'd rambled slowly enough that the shadows were growing long, and Beat and I realized we'd have to hustle somewhat to make it back by dark. We left Betsy at Jenny Lake and bounced our way downhill.

Yes, this week was a much-needed breath of fresh air. It's highly likely we have more smoke in our near future, and I wake up every morning feeling a sense of dread that the flames will find us, too. (This summer dread has mostly replaced my spring dread surrounding COVID-fallout, which will surely soon be usurped by autumn election dread, so I recognize that this is a personality quirk I need to continue to address with a therapist.) 

Still, for a few days it was winter, and all felt peaceful and right.


  1. Love the daily photos out your window. Your weather is so crazy! I'm not quite ready for winter yet but if we had smoke, I'm sure I would be.

  2. Check out the 24 Hours of Great Glen. It was set to return (to the base of Mt Washington, NH) but has been postponed until August 2021, hoping it still happens. Was looking forward to a solo singlespeed 24hr mtb race/adventure... might be enticing enough to bring you down from elevation?

  3. We finally got the smoke. We were pretty spoiled all summer though. You do get some interesting weather! I'm not ready for snow yet though!


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