A Slow, Late Fall Run

The danger in running the East Boulder Trail is the full sun exposure. In the cold air that welcomes winter, the full sun exposure is nature’s gift that supports running in shorts and a long-sleeved t-shirt.

The brown-on-brown fields were soft and gentle, when they weren’t pure mud from the melting snow. The neighborhood 5K turkey trot yesterday was fun. I’d been planning to go into Thanksgiving dinner with a calorie deficit. The post-run donuts and mimosas doomed that plan.

The lake is still far from frozen over.

Stopping to take photos of the coming winter helped me to run farther. I was enjoying myself so much, I didn’t notice I was four miles out, until I was four miles out. I thought it best to turn around after my discovery.

The snow typically offered the best traction. I would choose the snow over mud on some hills, specially where the deep ruts formed fairly technical tracks. Snow was always a better path over mud.

Some of the prairie dog fields looked like a dead part of the world. I have two words for those fat prairie dogs – over grazing.

Some trails were pure mud with few choices to navigate around. Other times I was forced to run over the slickest ice to avoid the mud.

Today’s conditions were amazing. Sometimes the snow-drip mud is too much. Today had the perfect mix of elements. I ran super slow but my form felt good. There’s an art to running slow.

November Runs

Depending on where the texture of the snow sits on the melting spectrum, sometimes it’s like running on a sandy beach. Exhausting. Glad I got out this weekend though, despite the temperatures. November is the month to get acclimated to the cold air.

It was shorts and sweatshirt running weather this weekend. I even started out wearing gloves the first mile on Saturday. The trail was lit by such a beautifully soft sun. I only ran four miles but it was my best run of the year.

Tech Debt

Musk borrowed $13B to buy Twitter for a total of $44B, but that’s not what tech debt is. Software developers use the term in various ways, referring to either features or bugs or unsupported software and systems. I think it’s a relevant term to understand in the debate on how Musk is killing Twitter.

I would argue the $13B in debt, while hemorrhaging advertisers, will be enough to kill Twitter. Ultimately. Musk has already publicly stated that bankruptcy is a possibility. But that just leads to all the half-way plausible stories of why he actually acquired the platform. It’s safe to say no one buys a media platform nowadays to make money. The irony there is that section 230 would say Twitter is not a media firm, it’s a technology firm. Right.

I’ve followed some of what Karen Swisher has been saying on Twitter. To the point above on whether Musk is trying to purposely destroy Twitter’s revenue model, she says to follow the money. The second largest investor with Musk is Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal and his Kingdom Holding Company. There’s likely a good story there.

Swisher also suggested though that the employee exodus is not that critical. That Twitter can simply run on autopilot for awhile. This is where I take issue. Maybe for a short while, but you have to appreciate the impact of tech dept. It’s the entropy in the software ecosystem. In terms of features, if you’re not releasing new features, you’re dying. Regarding bugs and system currency, doing nothing quickly leads to unsupportable code. At a certain point of running deprecated software, you can’t release new features. And fall behind just a little bit on applying SW patches leads to breaches.

It’s hard to imagine Twitter could die overnight with 400M users. Especially if Musk doesn’t care about revenue. And to be honest, I sort of buy into that line of thinking. It’s possible he’s so out of touch with humanity that he doesn’t realize how he is driving employees away. It’s more likely he’s purposely downsizing. He believes the platform will remain relevant enough for him to own a global megaphone. I don’t think it’s going to work out. He’s underestimated the uber entropy exacted by tech debt. And without sufficient staffing, twitter is going to drown in tech debt.

The Runner’s Field of Battle

I have a death plan. I bet you don’t have one of those. I’m not talking about a living will, although I sort of think death plan would be a more apt name for those documents. I’m referring to my grand exit strategy.

I know that dwelling on such thoughts is morbid. And I can lean melancholy at times, but I’m goal oriented. I had a really good six mile run today and I still feel the vigor from the trail. And yet, I couldn’t help thinking about how I intend to die over the course of those six miles. And I think that’s perfectly normal for a sixty-year-old. A cancer here, a heart surgery there, the passing of one’s parents; whether you measure it in years or miles, it starts to add up.

I’m going to die gloriously on the runner’s field of battle. During a marathon or perhaps a mountain trail run. Ideally, a well-planned race so that there will be paramedics standing by to collect my body. My heart will be beating at max, until it’s not. My eyes will be wide shut, staring at a mountain sunset. I’ll lay down to rest in an alpine meadow and know the race is over.

I’ll admit, I’ve been planning this for a while. I think about it every time I sign those waivers as a part of online race registrations. Every time I run with abandon down a steep mountain trail slope. Stumbling over a rock is one thing running uphill but tripping over a tree root on the downhill can be a death-defying tumble. I somersaulted into a ravine once while running down the amphitheater trail in Boulder, shirtless with my car key in my hand. Fortunately, a bed of poison oak broke my fall.

To be sure, this is a long-term plan. I’d like to enjoy a few more podium finishes before I go and at my current pace of conditioning, I’ll need to still be running and racing in my eighties to win my age bracket. But like I said, I’m a planner. I have three marathons on my calendar for 2023 – Austin in February, the Colorado Marathon in May and the Boulder Marathon next October. Any one of those could finish me off, but I feel like I have many more miles to go before I sleep.

Stealin’ from God

Karen and I spent a couple of days in Buena Vista, researching potential retirement ideas. I’m interested in someplace with trails. We took the interstate instead of Hwy 285 because it offered more options for lunch. We drove into October clouds at Loveland Pass and soon found ourselves in a whiteout of sleet. Winter comes early to the mountains.

*** Colorado Trail ***

I first drove to this trailhead on segment 12 of the Colorado Trail in 2011. It’s a few minutes west of Buena Vista on CR 365. You could scrape by with a low profile vehicle but there is already snow on the last mile so consider 4WD in October. I launched northbound from here to Harvard Lakes.

The first mile was steep but offered up some nice views, both of the Arkansas River Valley to the east and more mountains to the west. Unlike the drive in the previous afternoon, the skies were clear with bright sunshine. The cold air was a bit of a shock though at 25°. The trail was dusted with snow but my Hoka Speed Goats provided good traction.

One Mile

The snow deepened a bit at one mile, but the trail flattened out and I was able to start running. At this point I wondered if I should had brought along trekking poles.

Two Miles

Further into the darkness of the forest, around two miles, the snow deepened to four inches. The trail was still runnable but my ankles began to get cold and my feet became wet. Gaiters would have been brilliant but I wasn’t expecting snow.

I wasn’t thinking of my discomfort though. Rather, I was wishing I wasn’t experiencing this spectacular day and trail by myself. I lean toward introversion. There are times I like to be alone, times I need to be alone, but never when I’m experiencing something so wonderful. I like to share times like these. This trail was just so perfect, I wished Karen or my girls had been with me. I felt guilty being the absolute only hiker running this trail. I felt like I’d stepped into heaven and was stealing from God.

Creek Crossing

There were two creek crossings in the third mile. This log bridge was fun. The snow deepened even further as the third mile rose higher in elevation and the trail became tougher to spot. I lost the trail once but steered back on by watching for cut logs.

Harvard Lake

I was enjoying myself so much that I could have kept going for hours, but turned around at Harvard Lake per plan – right at three miles. And it did actually take me a full hour to reach my turn-around point. The snow governed my pace as much as the elevation gain. Just a section of the Sawatch Range, the Collegiate Peaks earn their name because they contain 5 fourteen thousand foot peaks named after universities – Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia and Oxford. The Colorado Trail, joined with the CDT, loops around both sides. The eastern loop is perfect for running. The western slope is less pedestrian, mostly above tree line.

*** Broken Boyfriend ***

Arkansas River

I ran the trails across the eastern side of the Arkansas River the next morning. These are almost urban trails for BV, similar to the trails that loop around Ouray, but more extensive and much more runnable. There are numerous loops. I crossed the northern bridge to start and climbed up the Northern Trail.

View of Mount Princeton

Everywhere, even on the climbs, the trails undulated with fun dips and graceful switchbacks. The Northern Trail connected with Broken Boyfriend which side-hilled south where I descended back down to the river on the Southern Trail. The Bridge-to-Bridge Trail brought me back to my start. There were other connectors and options to run further, but I had to check out of the hotel and return home. I had a great two days of running in the City of Trails – Buena Vista.

A New Start

Celebrating a new start at Tortugas

Life starts at sixty. Everyone knows that. Which is why I had heart surgery a week ago, quit my job, and plan to go trail running this week in the Collegiate Peaks. I’m focused on new beginnings.

My heart 2.0 has been operating fairly smoothly since the ablation. I track it throughout the day with the fourth frontier EKG chest strap that displays metrics to an app on my iPhone. I can track it for hours. It was recordings from this app that I was able to share with my primary care to begin diagnosing the problem. Cost about $500 but very cool tech. There’s an online dashboard for EKGs but below are before and after surgery EKG summaries from my app. Until today’s run, I’d yet to record A-Fib post surgery.

A-Fib 85% of the time on this run before ablation
A much nicer looking chart post surgery

After a week of taking it easy, I ran four miles today and recorded some A-fib for the first time – which is normal so it didn’t bother me. My pace was slower than normal though. Time to get back in shape. I’m registered for the Austin Marathon in February.

4 miler

Everything is of course new to Margot. This is her first halloween and we took her to Munson farms where we took Brit and Ellie for their first pumpkin patch experiences.

Munson Farms

Margot was hard to keep up with as she romped through the pumpkin patch

Karen finally caught up to her.

It was a bright, sunny October day.

Margot picked out a pumpkin her size and no doubt dreamt of witches and goblins last night.

Baby Margot Birthday

Kitty Cat

One of the first words baby Margot learned to speak was Kitty Cat. So, the Aristocat themed cake with the kitty Marie seemed appropriate.

Look at me

Eric was giving me a mile-by-mile summary of his advance from middle of the pack to finishing first place in the recent Run Rabbit Run 100 mile ultra when Margot reminded us who this party was for.

Hold me!

Eric and I were discussing how to run fast on a winding, single track trail in the pitch-black darkness of the forest at 2am when Margot took over the conversation.

Winter is coming

Margot modeled her new winter fashion coat and bear socks for all.

The Princess

And Margot reminded us that all little girls are princesses, not just on their first birthday, but every day.

The City of Flowers

Vista 18

You spend thirty-five years with someone and you probably have a few things in common. A few things you both like to do. Places you both like to go. You likely have different favorite children but for everything else, you think alike. For Karen and me, it’s Victoria BC. We love coming here. We celebrated our anniversary last night at a swanky restaurant perched atop a tall hotel overlooking the harbor.

Sheringham Lighthouse

Today, we drove up the West Coast Hwy to Port Renfrew. If you’ve ever been to Maui, think the road to Hana – curves, more curves, and yet more curves with a few single lane bridges mixed in for fun. Along the way, we stopped off at the Sheringham Lighthouse and China Beach.

China Beach

We like to stay at the Empress when we visit but finally bought a fractional hotel condo. We intend to work from here every September and perhaps other times of year to get a better feel for the place as we think about where we might like to retire.

Japanese Gardens

Of course, we always visit Butchart Gardens. Without the summer crowds, we were able to stroll and enjoy the gardens in a much more relaxed way than on previous trips. Wherever we end up, at forty-five, fifty-five, or sixty-five years of marriage, I picture it colored with flowers.

Butchart Gardens

Dog Park by the Sea

Sentier Transcanadien

Point zero on the Trans Canada Trail (AKA Sentier Transcanadien) starts in Victoria BC. Literally a couple of miles from my condo along the coast. I know because I was there today. Just past St. Ann’s Academy and through the middle of Beacon Hill Park. This initial 4.5 mile section is termed the Dallas Road Waterfront.

I didn’t have to cut through Beacon Hill Park, but with a maze of endless grass trails that pass fragrant flower gardens, why would I choose a route along an urban street? I ran up over the hump of Beacon Hill itself for the view it provided of the Straight of Juan de Fuca.

The Straight of Juan de Fuca

The Dallas Road Waterfront trail is asphalt, not as bad as cement, and it is an urban trail after all. What I found more amazing than the view was the dog park that ran alongside it for a good mile.

Dog Park by the Sea

This park for pampered pups didn’t end until it literally collided with the ocean. And that is point zero of the Trans Canada Trail.

The Lane of Pain

Tags

Friday morning, 100 miles earlier

According to tribal history, the Ute people have roamed the lands of the Routt National Forest since the beginning of time. They were the first peoples to inhabit Colorado and eons before they adopted the horse from the Spanish, they formed the first human Colorado mountain trails. This weekend, Eric and Anthony relied upon the Ute spirits to give them strength as they roamed the trails above Steamboat Springs for the Run Rabbit Run 100 mile ultra.

The start to the tenth annual Run Rabbit Run

Anthony brought Ellen along for the trip. They went to school together with Eric at Beloit College. Ellen ran on the women’s track and cross country teams while Anthony and Eric ran on the men’s teams. Anthony and Ellen married in 2019, just like Brit and Eric, as if they’d predicted the pandemic. Ellen is a nurse in Minneapolis, studying to be a nurse practitioner. Anthony is a biologist/ecologist, studying to be a mechanical engineer. They say you never stop learning.

Across the creek at Fish Creek Falls

Brit, Margot, Ellen and I crewed Eric and Anthony at the first aid station we could reach, Fish Creek Falls. It’s a three and a half mile drive outside of town. Eric came in a few minutes under pace feeling strong, not in the top ten, but after ninety minutes of running, within range. He didn’t ask for all the gels he’d planned to consume, which left us wondering if he was running too hard.

Anthony at Fisk Creek Falls

It’s funny Anthony looks to be running by himself above because he was with a large pack of other runners at this point twelve miles into the race. Like Eric, he was essentially on his planned pace. True to his analytical nature, Anthony would run the entire distance to plan. Eric was another story.

Siobhan and Tracy

The women were fun to watch run through aid stations or out on the trail because they shared such strong camaraderie and spirit. A couple of 40-49 year olds are pictured here crossing the bridge over Fish Creek – local trail runner Siobhan Pritchard from Steamboat and Tracey Larsen from Breckenridge.

Addy Rastall won the women tortoises race

Addy Rastall, also of Steamboat, paced neck and neck the entire 100 miles with Heidi Farfel from Carbondale. They would eventually finish first and second – top ten overall. I’ll finish the women theme with the pair below with Fish Creek Falls in the background. Their bib numbers aren’t visible so I couldn’t get their personal details.

The race timing provided online tracking at a dozen checkpoints, counting the finish. This allowed us (the crew) to meet up with our runners at the few aid stations where we were allowed to crew without having to hang out all day waiting, because we could estimate their arrival based on their pace. Eric hit the Dry Lake aid station about two hours under pace and in fourth place. We panicked upon this discovery but beat Eric to the Olympian Hall aid station a good fifteen minutes ahead of him. This was where I planned to join Eric as a pacer for the segment termed the Lane of Pain – a twelve mile segment with an 8% grade for the first three miles.

While waiting for Eric’s arrival, the wind kicked up and the rain fell hard. I looked for Eric under a tent like the boy in Cat in the Hat staring out the window thinking if the sun will not shine, it is too wet to play. I shall sit under this tent on this cold, cold, wet day. But Eric showed up still in fourth place and ready to run up that steep, muddy hill. I was more dead weight than a pacer and couldn’t keep up with Eric. Three miles later, I reached the summit about a minute behind him. He continued on for another three-plus mile loop while I waited for him at the aid station.

We knew I wasn’t fit for the full twelve miles and planned to rejoin Eric for the drop down the six mile descent back to the Olympian Hall aid station. The Lane of Pain route was a figure eight with the aid station at the intersection. The descent was twice as long as the ascent, but consequently much more shallow with generous switchbacks. Eric paused for maybe one minute at the aid station and launched back down the single track as the darkness of night replaced the light of day.

I couldn’t keep up with Eric on the way down the Lane of Pain anymore than I could going up. He left me in oxygen debt almost immediately. Just as well as my headlamp didn’t provide enough lumens for me to run too fast. I ran as fast as I could in the darkness but fell three times. Once by tripping over a tree root. I fell hard on that one. Then by slipping in the mud. Lastly, I rolled my ankle. Fortunately, the mechanics of my ankles allow me to run again right away. A blessing for trails. Eric reached the bottom in third place. With over half the course behind him, he was running fast and we were concerned he might blow up and DNF. A couple of hours later, Ellen and I crewed Eric as he completed the Lane of Pain.

Ellen crews her husband

We drove Matt, another of Eric’s running buddies, up to the Dry Lake aid station on Buffalo Pass to pace Eric for the final thirty-plus miles overnight. His original pace would have had him finish at 8am. With his competitive bid, we were now projecting a finish between 4am and 6am, assuming he finished at all.

Fortunately for the crew, Eric crossed the finish line at 6am – after twenty-two hours and twenty-three minutes in first place for the tortoises division. The only person to complete the course ahead of him was the first place finisher for the hares division which started four hours after the tortoises. Eric would have placed twelfth had he competed with the hares, something he’ll have to consider for his second 100 mile ultra.

In an event where it’s common to drop out, Anthony finished as well at the more gentlemanly hour of 12:30 in the afternoon. Both runners felt strong to the end as they completed their very first 100 mile ultras. They celebrated by purchasing leather belts in town to go with their customary award belt buckles.

Run Rabbit Run

I ran four and a half miles yesterday, my first exercise beyond walking in the last two weeks.  It felt so good.  The soreness in my legs this morning is a welcomed sign that I’m back on track to train for a marathon.  Maybe not an October marathon anymore, but one while I am still sixty.  I have until next April.

I met with my cardiologist Friday and she assured me my heart is healthy.  She scheduled more exams and visits with other specialists to determine what triggers my irregular heartbeat, but other than it forcing me to walk on some runs, my health isn’t in danger.  She cleared me to run again.  She’s a runner.  She gets me.

After a couple of melancholy weeks, I left her office almost manic.  I can imagine how the importance I assign to running might appear juvenile to others, but it’s my North Star.  It’s been a constant throughout my life.  My successes and failures running mirror other aspects of my life.  Having this almost inane abstraction to real life helps me cope.  I’m a runner.  There are worse habits.

My next big running event won’t really involve me running.  I’m going to serve as crew chief for my son-in-law as he runs the Run Rabbit Run 100 miler in Steamboat next month.  It’s an elite event with some of the world’s best ultra trail runners.  The photo above is of Addie Bracy, the female winner of last year’s event.  With a $75,000 overall purse, $15,000 will go to each of the men and women’s winners.  As crew chief, I’ll have unimpeded access to all of it.  Life is good.

Wild Horses

Summer is over. This weekend’s weather was meant for running. I sat on the couch this morning with the doors wide open so that my one dog who doesn’t like to go outdoors when the grass is wet from the overnight rain could enjoy the cool air.

I’ll meet with a cardiologist next Friday. She’ll review what I’ve already seen with my untrained eyes. The anomalous electro cardiogram readings. Video showing the valves of my heart push blood via a sonar-generated echo cardiogram. She’ll diagnose the likely cause, tell me my condition is mild and suggest treatment for what my ignorant readings have already led me to believe – I’ve enjoyed too much coffee in my lifetime. I cancelled my online auto-delivery of a coffee and chicory creole blend this morning. I’m struggling to find a decaf version.

Childhood living 
Is easy to do
The things you wanted 
I bought them for you

When I was young, healthy and strong, I imagined myself a race horse. It wasn’t a stretch of my imagination. I ran NCAA track and cross country. I lived in an athletic dorm overflowing with Texan football players. I thought of us all as race horses. Tirelessly trained and running for the entertainment of others. I didn’t feel cheapened by it though, I imagined my body was that of a powerful animal and I liked it.

I think of different things when I run and I sometimes still recall how I used to consider myself a race horse. I try to reimagine myself that way. The daydream is different now. I’m no longer on the track racing alongside other stallions. I picture myself as a wild horse galloping through an alpine meadow. I’m alone now, having left the younger horses to sprint and fight and mate. I’m looking for a place painted with wildflowers where I can lay down to watch the younger horses sprint and fight and mate.

Wild horses 
Couldn’t drag me away
Wild, wild horses 
Couldn’t drag me away

The Day Running Died

The last twenty-four hours have done their best to kill running as I know it. First, a local running hero for me, who regularly runs extreme, elite events around the world, who writes a top-rated running blog and is invited to those world class events all-expenses-paid because of her influence, who does everything I’ver ever wanted to do as a runner and for that is my hero, fell down while cleaning her dog and broke her arm and ribs and punctured her lung. Apparently she’d exceeded her limits washing her dog. Then, this morning, my doctor told me to stop running.

***Insert expletive here***

I mean, running is what I do.  I’m a runner.  I’ve been writing a runner’s blog for over ten years.  It has several hundred subscribers.  That’s what I use to promote my novels.  I was training for a marathon in October.  I’m still sort of processing.  I have to take a daily baby aspirin now.

***Insert a more creative expletive here, the first one was insufficient***

To be fair, I only have to stop running until I complete a more exhaustive cardiology exam and treatment, but that marathon is now out-of-reach. Hopefully I’ll be fit enough to run the half marathon since my sister is flying into town to run the half. I know this is actually good that I learned a thing or two about my health condition and it’s all temporal, but I went in there this morning expecting to be told to lose some weight. I was ready for that. Not this.

Boulder Marathon Training – Week One

Yesterday, I completed week one of yet another ten week plan to prep for the Boulder Marathon. I’ve been down this road before. Seems like just last year I trained for this marathon with only ten weeks of running. There’s more riding on this one though. This time around, I’ll be running a marathon at sixty years of age.

Like last year, I’m not starting completely out-of-shape. Last year I’d been running weekends. This year, I’ve gone a full month without running, but I squeezed in some good hiking in July. Those four days of backpacking with Rob in the Mount Zirkel Widlerness Area set me up directionally for marathon training. I’ve lost three pounds since that hike. So, I feel like I have a leg up on these ten weeks.

I setup a mileage plan. Not overly aggressive, I won’t strive for over seventy miles in a single week. And really, I doubt I’ll run more than fifty. The primary goal though starting out is consistency. I targeted thirty-five miles this first week, and next, but the bigger goal was to run every day. I hit thirty-four miles. Close enough. I ran all seven days and that’s the victory I’m taking out of week one.

One particular run, Tuesday I think, felt pretty good because the weather was a bit cooler. Several of the runs have seriously sucked. Saturday was one of those. It was also my longest run at seven miles, but I walked a bit in every one of those miles. Not sure why. Could have been heat and humidity. Maybe I didn’t recover fully from Friday’s late afternoon run. My heart kept racing to over 170 beats per minute and I just had to stop running.

I developed a pattern of running for two or three telephone poles and then walking one. I relabelled my run an interval workout. If you’re going to establish hard-to-reach goals for yourself, you need a few tricks like that. I don’t have a coach looking over my shoulder so I take some liberties. I’m trying not to get too psyched out about not being able to control my heart rate. It felt horrible though. At around 170 bpm, my legs forced themselves to walk. Then my heartbeat would immediately shoot up to about 180 and I’d feel dizzy and nauseous for 10 or 20 seconds. My heart rate maxed out at 185. That’s kind of scary when you’re sixty.

The weather will be cooler though in October for the marathon. And I expect I’ll be a few pounds lighter. It’ll be hard to maintain my consistency with some upcoming travel plans – Austin later this month and British Columbia in September. I’m mapping out my running routes now though. Nine more weeks to go.

I ended the day babysitting Margot. At ten months, she can stand and take a few steps. And she loves stuffing her cheeks with avocado.

Mount Sanitas

Sanitas is Latin for “health”. One of Boulder’s most popular urban trails, Sanitas is named for the Sanitarium that lies at its base. It was a quarry in the early twentieth century, owned by the University of Colorado. I’ve lived here over thirty years and today was the first time for me to hike it. Sort of like living in NYC and never visiting Ellis Island.

I started from the Hotel Boulderado, giving me a bit less than a mile walk along Mapleton Avenue to the trail head. Karen and I are spending the weekend downtown like tourists to celebrate our thirty-fifth anniversary. You can see the trail begins quite pedestrian. The top photo shows the length of the easy part running through Sanitas Valley. There’s a dirt, single track trail that mirrors it to the east along the Dakota Ridge.

Goat Trail

Goat Trail, pictured above, intersects part way up and leads down to a neighborhood. It looks like a good run. I hiked rather than ran because I’m not in good enough shape just now to run this grade. I could maybe run the bottom portion, but the grade doubles if not triples in steepness closer to the top. Near the very top, you have to scramble and use your hands in places.

There were runners, of course. This is Boulder. I’d need to lose twenty pounds to run the full, three-plus mile loop. I got in over five miles including the stretch along Mapleton Ave. in a little under two hours. There’s a ton of sun exposure. I recommend letting the western sun dip below the ridge in the late afternoon if you hike this in the summer. Hard to believe that a small city lies at the base of all this, just over my shoulder.

The Trail and Me

Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area

Sometimes, the trail conspires against me. It conspires with the rocks, the trees, and the water to take me out. To trip me up or even drown me. To let me know that perhaps I’m getting too old to be there.

The trail has always talked to me. I felt the presence of a wolf hiking alongside me eleven years ago on the 500 mile Colorado Trail. From that experience, I adopted my trail name, El Lobo. El Lobo was both a protective trail spirit and a guide leading me to wonderful experiences.

Hiking and backpacking has always been a tremendous experience that completely transfixes my mind to the trail. Hiking ten hour days, my eyes are focused on my footfalls while the alpine nature renews my soul. There’s an energy transfer in this ecosystem. Usually nature recharges my body. Sometimes the flow is reverse. It’s a give and take.

***

My experience in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area started off with my body sacrificing fragments of flesh and blood to the Wyoming Trail. My brain may have been foggy from one-too-many IPAs the night before. I awoke at 5:30 and hit the trail by 7am. I only had one cup of coffee which is a bit light for me. Within minutes, at my first creek crossing, I slipped on a rock and partially fell into the water, slamming my shin so hard into a rock that the instantly forming bruise looked like a compound fracture. I was fine though and continued onward.

Not long after, I was negotiating my way over a large tree that was blown down across the trail. I didn’t need to stand up on my feet, but I did. As I stepped off, I’d forgotten about my pack. The weight tipped me backwards and I fell blindly into some logs. A stick lodged into my calf that I only fully removed at the ER last weekend. The infection was obvious at that point. I was given seven days worth of antibiotics.

Most of my falls and scrapes were in the first two hours of hiking. I slipped in some fast-moving water later in the day, although honestly, the cold water felt good at that point. It must have looked dramatic as Rob reached out his hand to me and I grabbed it to be pulled from the dangerous torrent. Emotionally, it was just another reminder that I wasn’t physically fit enough to be out there. Good thing I don’t backpack alone.

Long story short, I found my trail legs. I was physically exhausted at the end each day and my feet were extremely sore starting out each new day, but that trek was in my wheelhouse. I did get down on myself initially out on the trail and I’m still wondering what I need to do to improve. There are physical things that went well and some that didn’t. My planks and squats paid off. My stamina throughout the entire day was weak. I can work with those things. What has me a bit psyched out is my poor balance on the trail. Some of that is strength, but some of it is age.

Researching how to stave off the loss of balance that comes with age is part of what I’ve enjoyed the last ten years as I’ve focused on fitness in my fifties. I like researching and experimenting workout-related routines. The answer is very likely to get out on the trail more. So, five days after my big backpacking trip, I hiked with Brittany and Margot in Eldorado Canyon.

Eldorado Canyon

Now that I’m in my sixties, I don’t doubt that I’ll need to moderate my hikes. I demonstrated I can still run a marathon last October, thirty-five pounds heavier and five years older than my previous marathon, if I just run slow enough. Four days on the trail might be one day too many. Certainly, bushwhacking through miles of blown-down trees is something to avoid on future hikes.

But I will return to the trail for epic adventures. I planned to hike the Maroon Bells Loop this summer but couldn’t pull it off. That will be next summer. That might be three days. The trail just gives back so much, I can’t imagine not being out there. One of my favorite experiences is drinking unfiltered water from the absolute headwaters of this nation’s rivers. Dipping my water bottle into the water running off a snowpack in the basin of a thirteen or fourteen thousand foot peak. It’s like being at the head of the line for the world’s water supply. Being out there is so special. We went two full days without seeing another soul. This is why I live in Colorado.

Mount Zirkel Wilderness

Rocky Mountain blue columbine

I try to get out for a big backpacking adventure every year or so. Big is probably an understatement, at least for this weekend’s hike through the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area near Steamboat Springs. This hike tested my limits. The alpine meadows full of flowers alone was worth the death-defying trek across massive boulder fields, under, over and around miles of blow-down, across rushing creeks and over high mountain passes.

Rosaceae

This yellow mountain rose looks very similar to the pink mountain rose I saw in Beaver Creek last weekend. There were thousands of them along the trail.

Arnica

I call this a Rocky Mountain daisy, but my plant app gives the highest confidence to a type of arnica. I think daisy’s might have more flower pedals. These were everywhere.

Silvery Lupine

I saw of lot of these lupine in Beaver Creek last weekend too. These were usually mixed in with the arnica on the trails near Steamboat.

Alpine Tundra

My goal this outing was to hike from the Seedhouse trailhead to the Wyoming border and back. Rather than out and back, we returned on a set of other trails that looped around Mount Zirkel. For my buddy Rob, this would complete his journey across the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) in Colorado. I’ve hiked much of it with him. Rob has also completed much of the CDT in Northern New Mexico. Wyoming might be next.

Trail Legs

Within the first two hours hiking these sixty miles around Mount Zirkel, I slipped off a rock into a creek, fell backwards off a log because I mis-judged the balance of my pack, and there was something else where I somehow avoided death that I just can’t recall right now. I spent the first couple of hours gaining my trail legs. Each fall damaged my shins to the point of not being certain I didn’t need medical attention. I still have part of a tree branch stuck under my skin on the left shin that you can’t see in this photo.

The Wyoming Trail at the Wyoming Border

The falls took their toll on my confidence. I wondered if I was too old at sixty to be attempting such physically challenging endeavors. In time, I gained my trail legs and I knew I belonged out there.

Alpine Meadow

The joy of hiking through miles of alpine meadows like above makes it worthwhile to reach these remote high country ecosystems. Normally hikers would avoid trampling on such delicate plants, but in many cases in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness, there was no trail.

Red Dirt Pass

The photo above is from our campsite after hiking across an eight mile stretch, mostly above tree line with no trail. I would not have had the skills to do this without Rob. We had to just work ourselves south toward this pass. I stared at this pass all night because I wasn’t confident my legs could endure the trek. You can’t see the boulder field in the middle of this basin, but traversing those rocks was challenging without any strength left in my legs. We worked our way up through the trees on the left, crossed some snow fields, and hiked up over the pass in between the two patches of snow on the top, far left of the photo. It took much of the morning, again with no trail. We saw no other hikers for the previous two days, until we crossed that pass.

Mount Zirkel

There were so many times during this sixty-mile, four-days of backpacking that I wasn’t sure I could complete the trip. Of course, halfway into the loop, I was as far in as I was out, and I knew how difficult the trail behind me was, so there was no turning around. My scariest moment was crossing a creek on a log raised a good ten feet over the water. Not an easy feat with a thirty-pound pack. Half way across, my legs started to shake. I have a condition, mostly in my hands and forearms, called an essential tremor. When I’m fatigued enough, the shaking hits my legs too. I knew I was going to fall into the fast-running water if I didn’t get off that log, so I started to run to the far end, about fifteen feet to the shore. It was a death-defying act for sure and I probably shouldn’t be here to tell the story, but it gets better. Sitting on the far side was the ranger, older than me by a good ten years, who’d recently built the log bridge. He said, “This one was high enough that it shouldn’t get washed away.”

Full Team Hike

Eric, Brit and Ellie all joined me for a hike today. That makes three two-hour hikes in three days. At altitude. Good training for next week’s sixty mile backpacking adventure along the Continental Divide Trail. Those will be ten hour days with a thirty-five pound pack, so probably not a great comparison, but good prep nonetheless.

Karen watched Margot so both Eric and Brit could hike together. She said Margot had a nice nap but woke up crabby. Karen earned her grandma stripes while we all enjoyed a post-hike lunch on a restaurant patio.

Although I was focused on hiking the last three days for the workout, being able to hike with my kids made it super special. I’ve always been happy that my girls are athletic and like the outdoors. They are more artsy and intellectual than I ever was, but they can hike a 14er any day of the week. They got those other attributes from their mother, but I’ll take some credit for the sporty contribution.

Brit ran a half marathon recently as part of working off her pregnancy weight. And Ellie and I made plans to start hiking weekends up near Golden. Those are my girls.

I struggled to keep up with Eric, he’s a competitive ultra runner, on the seventeen hundred feet of elevation up to Beaver Lake, while the girls took a slower pace – taking pictures. They’re sporty, but not that sporty.

Village to Village

Ellie woke up early enough to join me on the trail this morning. We chose the Village-to-Village Trail, a six mile jaunt from Beaver Creek to Bachelor Gulch. It began with the same climb as yesterday’s hike along the Beaver Lake Trail, then veered right after a mile or so and mostly side-hilled over to the Ritz Carlton.

The views were of aspen and wild flowers. We identified some of them.

The white flower above is Wild Strawberry, the parent plant of most cultivated strawberries.

We thought this looked like a rose when we came upon it, and sure enough, my PlantNet app identified it as Wood’s Rose.

Larkspur was also pervasive along the trail, along with alpine daisies.

Eric will join us this afternoon. Meanwhile, the girls are walking around Vail while I babysit Margot again.

Beaver Creek

My first hike of the holiday weekend was seven miles out and back to Beaver Lake. It was uphill the entire route out, but not steep until the final half mile.

Ellie should have hiked it with me but we stayed up late going to a concert the night before. John Fogerty played all his CCR classics and never stopped rockin’ from start to finish. He’s 77 but jumped around onstage more than Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen ever did in his prime.

So I hiked it solo after a donut for breakfast. Afterward, I found myself sitting all sweaty on the Beaver Creek Chop House patio, eating a beefy burger and quaffing down a Vail Brewing IPA. The Chop House was just off the trailhead. You have to love the convenience of resorts.

I met up with the girls after lunch. I strolled Margo around while they shopped for dresses.

The girls left me with Margot while they strolled around town some more. I hear her waking up from her nap, so time for me to go.

Summer is Here

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I dusted off my hydration pack this weekend. With 102° yesterday and 90° today, without hydration, running was an existential life choice. With a belly bigger than Dallas, I feel the choice was made for me. I had to get out there and acclimate myself. This summer’s not trending any cooler.

I have only one tank top to my name, a TrackSmith racing singlet gifted to me over Christmas by my brother-in-law. I chose wisely to wear it Saturday for the really hot one. I’ll need more if I hope to survive this summer.

I ran five each day, walking roughly two miles of them. I shamelessly count my walking as part of the run distance. I’m conditioning myself for a sixty-mile backpacking adventure next month at altitude. Should be cooler at twelve thousand feet where these fields of blooming bindweed and prairie dogs will be replaced by alpine buttercups and mountain goats. Ah, summer.

Birthdays

With our birthdays two days apart, Ellie and I typically share our celebrations. Something kept getting in the way every weekend and our party was delayed by four weeks. This weekend was sketchy as well with eight inches of snow in the forecast, but it was just a cold rain and didn’t stick to the roads. So, Ellie got her electric guitar and I finally got my Doc Martins.

If Ellie turned twenty, that means I must now be sixty. And Brit would be thirty. With the obvious cognitive decline I must experiencing at this advanced age, I appreciate the easy math to recall my girls’ ages. I know what you’re thinking, with my girls being born a full ten years apart, but same wife. We’ll celebrate thirty-five years together this summer.

I could point out the adversities I’ve encountered over my sixty-year span, but they’re drowned in a sea of blessings and I can only think of how good my life has been. Good friends. A growing family. I’m ready for the next sixty.

Oh, and Margot turned eight months.

Fall River Road

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We couldn’t start at the trailhead to the Aspenglen Deer Mountain Loop trail. The camping road was still closed for the season. So we parked about fifty yards down from the Fall River ranger booth in a wideout and walked down the campsite road until it came to the trail, just past the bridge over Fall River. That was today, on a windless morning.

Colorado is deep into spring break mode this weekend.  We figured the crowds at ski resorts would be bigger this year, so Karen booked us into a lodge on Fall River Road, one mile before the ranger booth. Estes Park is asleep compared to the ski resorts. We can hear the Fall River running outside our window. The sound is of peace and bliss.

I expect to hike the same trail tomorrow. We’ll steer right on the loop instead of the left we took today. And we’ll aim to hike further. Then, we will pause for lunch before ending the afternoon with pedicures. I’m a gentleman hiker.

A Tale of Two Gerasimov’s

Valery on the left and Vitaly on the right

I should be thankful that Putin’s special military operation in Ukraine is driving sales of my Full Spectrum Cyberwar novel.  Not that the sales are meaningful but they are better than zero.  I initially considered the war to be life imitating art, my book being the “art”.  I blogged about it partly because I found that interesting and, to be honest, partly to further drive sales with some self-promotion.  But now this actualization of my story is leading to character assassination.  Like something out of the Twilight Zone, the characters in my story are being killed in real life.

Allow me to provide more context.  Every novel contains an obligatory disclaimer about events and characters described within as not actually describing real events or persons.  Clearly, that is meaningless for the historical fiction genre.  And I can tell you that it’s just basically bullshit for all novels.  There’s nothing made up about key characters.

My General Alexander (Sasha) Volkov in Full Spectrum Cyberwar was patterned after the real-life General Valery Gerasimov, a major general in the Russian military.  His relevancy was that he published the Gerasimov Doctrine, an essay on hybrid warfare and essentially what my book was all about.

Gerasimov’s essay detailed asymmetrical actions that combine the use of special forces and information warfare that create “a permanently operating front through the entire territory of the enemy state.”  Russia’s interference in our 2016 elections was a component of such hybrid warfare, making it relevant for my story.

Long story, short, I freaked out a little when I read about General Vitaly Gerasimov being killed in the battle over Kharkiv.  Turns out that Vitaly and Valery are two different major generals, but I initially assumed the first name was a typo and had to perform some research to confirm that.

So maybe this is a non-issue, but a key character in my Cyber War I novel, Sam Sumner, was patterned after Sheldon Adelson, and he died a year ago.  Of course, he was 86 years old, but still.  Spooky. Also, Andrei in Full Spectrum Cyberwar is patterned after the Ukrainian hacker, Maksym Igor Popov – still living as far as I know. I intend to monitor the content in my ebook versions to make sure the characters’ storylines don’t disappear as they die in real life.

The Hero

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My little sister and I toughed out a difficult 2020 together. I know, most everyone did. Our year was heavy with the sadness of caring for our mother on hospice. Normally we are separated by a thousand miles. If there was a silver lining, it was that the work-from-home nature of my job meant I was able to be there with her and my brother in our mom’s house for the entire year.

We were all able to be there for each other, as family should be. I don’t recall exactly how I felt when it was over in January of last year, I recall being a bit emotional. Nancy dealt with it by training for a half marathon. I was more than happy to join her.

Other family members traveled from across the country to join us and together, we turned hard memories into a celebration. With Covid limiting mom’s service to a Zoom video call, the weekend took on special meaning.

I’m grateful to my sisters and nieces for joining us in Austin. They came because they understood how their presence would contribute to the mental health of all of us. And it did.

In a small sense, my family’s actions were heroic. This is a time, for all of us, when we need strong actions, big steps, meaningful contributions. And it occurs to me, at a time when the world needs a hero, that we have one.

“I need ammunition, not a ride.”

Forgive the politics, but my blog receives enough views from Russia and we all have to do what we can.