Thursday, April 29, 2021

April snow

Beat and I recently returned from another fulfilling trip to the Utah desert, this time exploring the Needles district of Canyonlands National Park with my dad. Time away from home means catch-up work which means falling behind on my journaling. Between the two trips, Boulder was hit with storm after storm of beautiful April snow. Before I start on Needles, I realized I had all of these snowy photos I wanted to save. 

I returned from my Utah bike trip on April 12. That night, flurries from April's first storm began to waft through the air. After the scorching desert trip, this anti-fire-season weather was more than welcome. I'd ridden a heavily loaded mountain bike nearly 300 steep and sandy miles the week before. I had also crashed that bike and bruised a not-insignificant percentage of my lower body. My legs were as fried as my lips. Still, as I set out on a big errand day in town, I couldn't resist a jaunt to Green Mountain.  

According to BoulderCast, the Green Mountain area received about 2.5 inches of snow between April 12 and 14. It's a start!

The upper elevations of the Flatirons are always so lovely after a storm, with delicate frost lingering after the clouds lift. Snowstorms tend to ingite a zealous desire to climb a peak even though snowy trail conditions make for a mighty slog, and sometimes my legs are pre-cooked. 

A second April storm moved in overnight on April 15 to 16, dumping another 6.5 inches. Winter-weary locals will complain that it didn't stop snowing all week, but there was definitely some boring Colorado sunshine in there. My mountain zeal went into overdrive, and I talked Beat into a morning "wandel" to Bear Peak. (Wandeling is the Dutch word for "wandering on foot" that perfectly describes these laborious strolls through the snowy forest.) 

Bear Peak tends to collect the most interesting frost formations. 

This spring snow is lovely but heavy, more like wet cement or pancake batter than powder. My weary and bruised legs were at this point resigned, but my heart was happy. 

The morning of April 17 brought another light dusting. Beat spotted the local elk herd down in the lower field, so we set out for another wandel in our PJs. We tried to be stealth, but they spotted us and took off (elk don't seem care about people as long as we're in cars. But they don't like us around when we present as much smaller animals on two legs.) 

Beat ended up trekking home for his big camera and captured a few nice shots from a distance. 

April 18 brought the Ride to End ALZ, an Alzheimer's research benefit that I didn't really remember signing up for. A California friend recruited us to join his virtual ride team and Beat said yes. This exchange probably happened well before my Utah trip, but the desert apparently fried more than just my lips and legs. Shortly after we went for our elk-stalking hike, Beat reminded me to post something about the fundraiser on social media. At that point, I had raised $0 and the virtual group ride was less than 24 hours away. It seemed like I should offer some gesture of commitment on my part, so I pledged to ride 100 miles on my trainer if friends would help me raise $500. The response was amazing. Friends donated $1,470 to my ride, and our humble team of three raised $6,156 (John, our California friend who put a lot of time and heart into the effort, inspired the bulk of that.) Thank you to everyone who donated to this important research!

Beat and I had way too much fun with this ride. We set up two trainers together and started out bright and early with the 7:30 group ride on a rolling hill course in Zwift land. (Beat and I are not morning exercisers by any stretch, so yes, 7:30 is early.) We made an effort to keep our avatars together, although Beat was riding an old trainer that kept skewing his power meter, so he fell behind even as he rode harder. We finished the 90-minute group ride with 31 miles and continued riding. Beat stopped at 50 — the wonky trainer being the main reason, although 50 was more than he committed to in the first place. John rode a metric century, 62 miles. I kept spinning, listening to an audiobook — "Deep Survival" — and posting sweat-drenched selfies every 10 miles. I wrapped up the 100 miles in just over five hours. I rode hard to get there, spending much more time in zone 3 and zone 4 than I normally would on a five-hour ride. I like that about trainer riding — there are no real consequences to blowing up, so you never feel the need to save enough energy to get home. You just go for it. I was tired. 

I was grateful to raise nearly $1,500 for a good cause, but also a little regretful that I spent so much energy just one day before Beat and I went in for our second COVID vaccine. I had a somewhat harsh reaction to the first, with a day of headache and body aches, so I wanted to be better prepared for the second: Well-hydrated, well-nourished, and most importantly, well-rested. Oh well. At least it was easier to stay hydrated this time. Our first shot on March 29 found us sweating in our car as the temperature spiked to 80 degrees. Three weeks later, it was 39 degrees and snaining as we pulled up to stadium. I'm so grateful for these vaccination clinics, and the U.S. vaccination effort as a whole. The horrors currently gripping India show that this pandemic is still very much in charge. 

I was overjoyed to receive the vaccine. I'd do it again in a heartbeat, as often as it takes, to keep COVID at bay and away from Beat and from my community. I consider myself to be something of a long-hauler from a virus. In June 2015, while riding in the Tour Divide, I caught a simple cold that spiraled into bronchitis, pneumonia, and chronic issues that are likely linked: Asthma and autoimmune thyroid disease. Long-haul COVID seems to have markers of autoimmunity. Although I know much more research is needed, I can't fathom why anyone would take their chances with this virus if there were any other options. The vaccines show a lot of promise so far. But I had a rough night after Pfizer number two. My head was pounding. My leg muscles that I never really let recover hurt as much as they did after I crashed. I'm fairly certain I had a fever, because twice in the night I woke up drenched in sweat and had to change my clothes and pillow case. Fever dreams rattled through my brain, leaving me exhausted. I felt as though I'd run a marathon in my sleep.

The morning of April 20, we woke up to 10 inches of new snow and renewed optimism. It was only 9 degrees when I dragged my still-feverish self outside to stand on the balcony and watch morning light stretch across the hillsides. This is my favorite sort of morning: Crisp, cold, brilliant. Finally, the stifling fist of the pandemic was beginning to lose some of its grip. 

Tuesday's recovery went better than I'd expected. I'd endeavored to finish much of the week's work early, just in case I needed to sleep for 36 hours. But once my fever broke, I felt alert and confident enough to tell my dad that we would be joining him on his hiking trip in Canyonlands. Beat also got away with just a headache and fever, so we set out April 22 through another inch of new snow. This flock of turkeys aggressively blocked the road, with males puffing up and even charging the car as we inched forward. 

It was quite humorous. We joked about all of the obstacles we needed to overcome to make this trip — snow, vaccine recovery, Beat's long isolation that meant this was his first time leaving the state in more than a year. But we didn't anticipate the one thing we couldn't find a way around: turkeys. 

I'll skip ahead to the April 27-28 storm, which dumped a whole lot of rain on Boulder. Our home was just high enough for some of that rain to change over to three inches of snow. I read the communities along Peak to Peak Highway received more than a foot. I was finally going to the dentist for the first time in 18 months. (Ugh, I had one cavity.) But I also thought, "This could be my last chance to go for a real snowshoe in fresh powder. I need to get myself to the mountains."

The new snow dump meant avalanche danger spiked to orange (considerable.) So I headed for our go-to low-angle route were I was guaranteed to never be on or around any slope steeper than about 15 degrees — Niwot Ridge. The night before, rain unleased a large rockslide across Boulder Canyon. Luckily no one was hurt, but the canyon was blocked and would likely remain closed for days as crews worked to clear it. Since Boulder Canyon is the main route to these mountains, and this was an off-season weekday, there was absolutely no one around. Nederland was a weird ghost town — I have never seen those streets so empty, and I once rode through town in the middle of the night on the winter solstice (okay, the streets were empty then as well.) But I knew when I pulled into an empty and unplowed South Sourdough parking lot that I would be breaking my own trail. 

Snowshoeing through a foot of heavy spring powder is perhaps the most humbling activity I know. I mean, I enjoy slogging. I'm pretty good at it — turning my brain off and just marching for however long it takes. But this hike transported me right back to Iditarod 2020, when I was strained to my limit and felt like I was fighting gravity seven times greater than Earth's, like my feet were strapped to cinderblocks. I resolved to maintain a 30-minute-mile pace and it was hard. On top of that, clouds hovered low and snain pelted my face. The temperature was a clammy 33 degrees. Once I trudged above treeline, I could see absolutely nothing but an endless expanse of white. Polar explorers describe this as walking through the center of a ping-pong ball. The fog was so thick that it obscured my hand if I help it out in front of me. But at least it wasn't windy. 

I resolved to climb to a high point on the ridge, reasoning that I had worked hard so maybe the universe would reward me with views. I had no reason to believe the white nothingness would end, but magical thinking has propelled me through many a difficult moment. And sure enough, as I strained over the final mound of what would be my closest contact with the sky, the clouds began to break apart. 

The hike downhill wasn't that much easier, and by then I needed frequent rest breaks. Each time, I turned to look back at the swirling clouds, the deepening blue sky, and the curtains of mist dancing across the mountains. This mixture of fog and snow has such an etheral quality, difficult to describe but for one word: Magic. 

I can't get too excited about the April snow just yet. The winter of 2019-2020 was one of Boulder's snowiest on record, and we still had to contend with the Cal-Wood Fire amid a truly traumatic fire season for Colorado. Summer 2020 was so upsetting for me that I genunitely don't understand how anyone can be excited that it's about to be fire season again. Just the thought of summer brings back the anxiety, the fretting over smoke reports, the blackened skies, the feeling of choking on smoke-clogged air. But 2021 has given us reasons to hope. I know I need to keep hoping for better. 


  1. Just read your blog post as we woke up to 1.5 inches of new snow. Sorry, I can't get excited about late April snow but glad you can! Loved the animal shots, especially those Tom Turkeys! And loved the book Deep Survival. It made me wonder if I have what it takes to survive if something happened. Not sure and hope I don't have to find out. Can't wait to hear about your Needles district trip.

  2. Those pictures are amazing with the red hat the only spot of color.

  3. Perfectly captured! Love everything.


Feedback is always appreciated!