I'm usually not one to brag...but Colorado looks good on me.
As you may know, I finished the Appalachian Trail last summer after spending 17 years piecing together sections from Georgia to Maine. Hiking has molded my life in a plethora of ways and serves as a great reset for me from school year to school year.
It was time for a new project.
The Colorado Trail (CT as you may see it referenced) meanders through the Rockies from the southwest side of Denver to Durango. Ranging from 5,500 feet to over 13,000....the approximately 485 mile trail features a variety of terrain, fauna, and no shortage of jaw-dropping views. As my buddy Jacob says...it is "easy on the eyes."
I couldn't agree more.
Waterton Canyon lies on the southwest edge of the Denver metro and is the eastern trailhead for the CT. Kickoff was at 7:30am on Saturday. I was so fortunate to join forces this year with my buddy Jacob! A fellow band director in a neighboring district to mine, Jacob is an experienced backpacker and has actually hiked a portion of our trip several times before. He's also a killer runner and a fellow vegetarian. I had no doubt we would pair up well together although we had not yet had the chance to hike together.
I was absolutely right.
Pace, routine, food/water stops, inappropriate jokes, bark-rattling burps, and shared appreciation for the outdoors abounded. It felt like we had been hiking together for years.
I was happy to get to start fresh together and look forward to picking up more sections of the CT as a team!
Getting ready to crank up! The weather on Saturday (and actually for the entire hike) was choice.
Headed up the canyon. The first 6 miles are along this dirt road. It was actually very pleasant to hike here. We were able to walk side-by-side, converse easily, and look around without having to watch feet. Quite a few folks were out (it was Saturday of course) running and cycling as well. I never felt overcrowded though. We all love the solitude the outdoors provides....but it is important to remember that areas that don't get used....sometimes get forgotten. That doesn't always end well for wilderness gems. So....sharing the outdoors with good stewards doesn't bother me too much...solitude is usually achievable regardless.
Canyon shadows. It was so pleasant to hike in the cool shade.
Exiting the canyon and merging onto single track trail. No sign of bear....although this is definitely a sign....of bear.
CT marker being reclaimed by a tree.
The trek out of the canyon was a gentle incline and eventually brought us up and out into some higher viewpoints.
The first night's camp was at the South Platte River. Being as hot as it was, we made short work of setting up camp, and made a beeline for the water.
I've mentioned the term 'lowgiene' in some of my hiking posts before. Gifted to me by my buddy and way-back climbing partner Gordon.....it is a term of endearment for those of us who enjoy the outdoors. It's just like hygiene...except....less.
The water was fantastic; lots of silt in the river from some previous (and scarce this year) rainfall the day before we started; and frigid!
I loved it.
We found this golden nugget of happiness down by the river! After a swim of its own...the single Hamm's was chilled down and ready to mingle.
Jacob taking the first lap.
I tagged in and took over for a bit. There is something magical about an unexpected cold beer in nature on a hot afternoon. Man was it good!
Speaking of hot afternoon....this is what a bag of chocolate-covered raisins looks like on such a day. As the sun and temps dipped, it conglomerated into a chocolatey raisin brick. Still got the job done.
Taking in the sights on day 2. I switched over to the long-sleeved shirt to dodge the sun as we knew the exposure would be high that day. I ended up sticking with this plan for the remainder and was beyond happy I did. It worked great, never made me hot, and allowed me the luxury of skipping the sunscreen bath. I'm not a big fan of putting more goop onto my already dirty self. Eww.
In the mid 90s, a massive wildfire moved through this area of the CT, leaving an open and barren area. It's unfortunate, but did allow for some tremendous views. We spent most of today hiking through the burn scar....hence the long sleeves and hat.
More views of the burn scar.
Heading into a little oasis of Aspens in the burn scar. There were many more to come throughout our hike!
Far in the distance you can see the North Fork Fire Station. This is a critical stop as there is very little water in segment 2. They offer a water spigot for hikers to refill and take donations as appropriate to keep the department up and running. We were happy to reach the station on this hot day and tank up.
Fire crews had their work cut out this summer....there were active wildfires throughout Colorado. Though we did see some distant smoke, we were fortunate to not have been affected. Thank you to the firefighters who have worked diligently to control the burns.
Some thundies building in the distance. These came into play later in the evening.....bringing some light hail at our campsite.
Camp at the end of day two. This was at Tramway Creek. It was a good water source! Not large enough for a swim this time, but flowing well, clear, and cold of course.
Just before starting dinner, the rain moved in. It kept up for about an hour and delivered a dose of light hail. Nothing to worry over, just an evening thunderstorm in the Rockies. We both relaxed and dozed in our tents before reemerging for dinner around 8:30pm after the rain stopped. A forced break isn't necessarily a bad thing!
Catching some early morning rays on day three. Jacob and I were on the trail most days before 7:00am. In fact, our latest start time was day one at Waterton Canyon. It's nice to be up early and knock out some mileage before the sun really starts making its presence known...around 10:30am or so.
Flowers for my mom. A large amount of my mom's photography consists of up-close shots of flowers. I don't have the same touch that she does, but I give it my best! Not sure what these were, but they were pretty.
Trail junction near Buffalo Creek. The signage on the CT is superb. I was impressed at the consistency of maintenance throughout our hike. It's interesting to note that there are far fewer blazes on the CT along the trail itself. However, even deep in the woods and far from roads, if there was an intersection to be marked, it had a sign....and the signs were actually legible! Kudos.
The tree in the center is likely a beetle-kill victim. Regardless, I love this shot because it 'feels' like Colorado to me....greens, browns, and blues.
Upon entering the Lost Creek Wilderness Area, hikers approach a kiosk and are asked to register before moving forward. This is pretty standard procedure, doesn't cost anything, helps deliver funding to the areas by being able to track actual usage, and also can serve as a safety line in the event a hiker was to go missing. While Jacob was filling out our info (one card per party)....I rummaged around in the box at the kiosk....and found a Schrute Buck. One photo with Dwight K. Schrute was all I needed to find the motivation to carry on! I graciously left it in the box for the next hiker to enjoy.
Tall Aspens agains a blue sky.
As a treat this year, I packed some kalamata olives! They were a nice salty treat to have at lunch and I upped the ante by eating them with a pocketknife. Safety third.
Hide-and-seek in the wilderness.
Photo model in the Lost Creek Wilderness. I smelled really good here.
Into the great wide open...
....under them skies of blue
Camp three was at the Brookside/McCurdy Trailhead Junction. We had this expansive valley to stare at all evening. "Easy on the eyes...."
A view upstream in the valley. The water was just perfect.
Splish-splash! It was fill-up time. Did some extensive splashing here as well. The water was so refreshing!
The million-dollar view from my tent. Big Agnes Fly Creek 2 UL. This sucker is bomber!! LoveLoveLoveLoveLove
Another out from around the trees. I was happy we made good time and were able to enjoy this area for several hours.
Notice the clouds building....?
I'm a sucker for treetops against blue sky. Gets me every time.
A view of the castles, the valley....and the changing skies.
Did I mention the skies were changing?!?
Lets get ready to rumble!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Despite the ferocious thunder, ominous skies, and gnarly wind...this storm actually ended up just skirting us. It rained pretty steadily for about an hour...maybe more, then let off. We talked to some other hikers the next day who got some pretty wicked hail, but overall it was mostly bark rather than bite. Sometimes you dodge one.
Thanks for starting out on the start of the journey! Check back soon for another post to continue the trip.....feel free to share the link, and spread the word.
Most importantly.....go outside.
The month of April is a bit of a gateway for those of us here in Oklahoma. The Arts Festival takes place in downtown Oklahoma City, which somehow guarantees much-needed rain showers every year (the state fair somehow has the same mysterious climatological effect in September), severe weather season kicks into gear, gluing residents to their news station of choice on many evenings, and if you're a teacher like myself...state testing takes place as the school year barrels it's way to a hectic close.
But....as we roll into April each year, most folks remember one date; April 19th, the infamous day in 1995 when a Ryder truck packed with explosives was parked in downtown OKC, left to sit for a short time, then violently exploded....decimating the Murrah Federal Building and tragically ending the lives of 168 innocent people....because some crybaby whack-job was upset and needed to make a statement.
We have a statement for you sir....it is two giant collective middle-fingers.
Since 2001, the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon has been held annually at the end of April, drawing thousands of runners, volunteers, and spectators. It's an event not to be missed. I was fortunate again this year to have the physical ability to run, and don't take that lightly. It was another half-marathon on the menu for me (I ran the full in 2014...after a strep diagnosis...and perhaps will again one day....hopefully with a clean bill of health).
Like all good runs, rides, and road-trips....the day started eeeaarrrlly.
After securing a parking space downtown for the Tacoma, I headed over to my church where the doors are open for runners to gather themselves and prepare for the race. St. Paul's has been a staple for me since moving to OKC in 2006. I'm thankful for our clergy and congregation. The church took heavy damage in 1995, as we are located only a couple of blocks north of the bombing site, now the location of the memorial.
Pre-race visit. The starting line is just to the west of the memorial.
Lining up in corral B just before the race. The race starts out going south. The official start line is where the bright light can be seen.
Looking back north at the start. The entire event draws roughly 24,000 runners. That's a lot of snot-rockets.
My buddy Daniel was also assigned to corral B. He's a speedy dude and we had talked before about meeting up a the start. I was looking down at my phone to send him a message when I felt a thump on my shoulder. We were standing side-by-side before either of us realized it! The guys in the background were excited to be a part of the photo.
Headed north towards the state capitol. Yes, we have an oil derrick directly in front of our capitol building...I won't get into that. But....it does make for a fun shot! I don't have many photos from the run itself....because I was busy....running.
Headed up Gorilla Hill. The street here is lined with gorilla-themed 'stuff'....folks dressed up....and LOTS of bananas! The street just past the crowd always looks like a banana truck turned over. I definitely had a banana....which sat nicely on top of the beer I had about mile 5! (Thanks John, Red Earth Brewers, and MENT Apparel!)
Kicking through the finish. I set a PR (personal record) for my half-marathon time (1:38:56), scraping four minutes off of last year's time, so I was a happy boy! I also felt like I had been beaten on with a broom handle.
The festive finish line! The vibes here...are good.
My buddy Jacob also ran the half and DESTROYED it. His time was stupid-fast. Dude....congrats!
Also got to catch up with my friend Jen at the finish! This girl runs....and runs, and runs. I was surprised she was standing still long enough to take a photo! Bonus...she's a fellow teacher (as is Jacob.....as is Daniel!) We must all need to be runners in case we have to flee the kiddos! Ha!
Another homie! Hunter (grey shirt) was coming into the finish on his first full marathon! Kudos my friend....hope you got some ice afterwards! Ouch! (He did excellent and....surprise....is also a teacher)
Now over to the kids marathon finish line! My dude Chandler completed his kids marathon downtown. The kids run 25 miles on their own throughout the spring, then complete the final 1.2 downtown. His time has improved all spring and he's really enjoying running. Congrats my friend...I'm impressed!
My sweet friend Kendra (and Chandler's proud momma!) has also taken to running and is digging it! She and her husband Adam have been SUPER supportive of Chandler's running habit! Kendra came through the kids marathon with Chandler and has been helping him log miles while picking up running herself. Way to go!!
How about we put some sunglasses on that kiddo!
This girl was dressed like a pineapple. I don't know her, but if she's cool enough for a pineapple suit, then I think she's a winner! (Thanks for the photo and the laughs!)
Post-run yee-haws were held at Twisted Spike Brewing which is just a block or so off the finish. How convenient! They also hooked up the finishers with a free pint glass.
The Taco Nation bus was also out front serving up the yums. I was a good boy and only ate one, instead of seven....like I wanted.
The weather was choice, the race was energetic, the friends were plentiful, the beer flowed, and the vibes....were good. Offering much love and respect to those lost, their family and friends, and those who risked it all during the rescue. We always run to remember.
As a belated birthday gift to myself, I pointed the truck west again. It never gets old.
The obligatory first stop at one of my favorite rest stops near Alanreed, TX. This is only accessible from the westbound side (the eastbound rest stop is neat too, but this one has the cool view!).
It also has a windmill inside.
Sunset over the Texas panhandle. The pastels were incredible.
Upon the suggestion of my good friend, Mr. Charles Bartrug, I opted to slip just west of Amarillo and cruise up the apparently infamous Tascosa Road. Though it was dark, Tascosa Road was a real treat! I could see some of the mesas in the twilight and enjoyed the winding adventure through the west Texas landscape. I also listened to 'Frenchy McCormick' by the artist Red Stegall to really set the mood. It was fantastic to hear the story of Tascosa, TX! I'd love to get back out here on my motorcycle and rip Tascosa Road in the daytime. Thanks for the beta Charlie!!
The next stop, where I'd stay before heading north into Colorado, was Raton, NM. I found an AirBnb at a true bed and breakfast. Nestled in an 1850s Victorian, Heart's Desire was a great opportunity to stay in a place that is a bit atypical for me.
The stairwell leading upstairs sounded exactly as one would expect it to...and was charmingly fitting.
I was directed to stay in the 'Patriotic Room.' It was definitely true to form. I think I said the Pledge of Allegiance a couple of times in my sleep. (Just kidding - I actually slept like an absolute rock...better than I have in weeks).
A very ornate claw-foot tub was in the shared bathroom. Notice the lack of a shower? Yea...I did too. The next morning involved an acrobatic feat of balance as I'm not really a bath person, especially in a shared...well....yea....I'm just not a bath person. To my credit, I got completely clean and sacrificed only the slightest amount of water to the floor. I wanted to let everyone know, but it seemed oddly inappropriate.
Breakfast is served. Barbara was an excellent host and made a mean waffle! Fresh fruit and orange juice were a nice touch.
Remember how I said I slept like a rock? As I sat down to breakfast, a nice couple from Amarillo, Andy and Rachel if my mind serves me, came downstairs....with their sweet baby boy in tow.
"Umm...there was a baby here last night?" I inquired shortly after the 'good morning' formalities. "I had absolutely no idea."
"Oh really, because he was fussy all night," Rachel offered apologetically and with genuine concern.
"Seriously...I never heard a peep. I was out cold," I assured her. "Like....out."
I think I needed the rest.
When I stayed in Raton back in November (only a few blocks away from Barbara's), there were deer on the sidewalk. This time in Raton....there were deer on the sidewalk.
Barbara's ferocious dog, Guinness. Terrifying.
The house was pink. It could have been no other color.
The obligatory photo at Raton Pass. I can't resist it!
Jamming north on I-25. If you put your ear up to the screen, you can hear Tom Petty blasting from the Tacoma's speakers. Go ahead and try it.
Instead of taking the obvious route towards Denver, I cut west towards Canon City. Just before the town proper is Highway 67 that leads north. It was a cute little line on the map...right up my alley. Game on.
After maybe five or six miles, the sign appeared that changes a drive into a drive....
I had unintentionally stumbled onto Phantom Canyon, and I had no idea the treat I was in for!
The first tunnel! One lane of course.
One of the countless views. The road ranged from slide-inducing smooth gravel to jaw-rattling washboard. I began to think that my tires were octagonal rather than circular. The Tacoma took a beating but held strong! However, everything in the truck, that wasn't bolted to the truck, ventured to a variety of new locations.
Tunnel number two.
The weather was fabulous! (more on that to come...hence the title) I'd say low 60s all day. I never put on a jacket and drove much of the road with the windows down.
Further along were stretches with leftover snow.
One of several plank bridges. I should have taken a photo from afar as this bridge was quite high above the canyon!
The drops along the side were steep and long.
Heading north...and heading up!
Just shy of 10,000 feet!
The view from Alta Vista. Back behind the sign in the previous photo was a very expansive ranch house, set far back from the road. This is their view. I was only slightly jealous.
Exiting the canyon brought me into the tiny mining town of Victor, CO and a return (for the time being) to asphalt.
Historic Downtown Victor.
Just west of Victor was Cripple Creek, CO, another 1800s mining town. Sadly it is now home to a number of casinos. It was still charming nonetheless!
Read the sign punk! ~ Mitch Hedberg
After cutting through Woodland Park, I continued north on Highway 67 through Deckers, CO, then found myself following the South Platte River for a time. There were a lot of fishermen along the route. The elegance of watching someone cast a fly rod in a frigid Colorado river was a gorgeous ballet not to be missed.
True to form, the highway conditions....changed. I was fine with that.
Ice shelves along the river. After following the river for a while longer, I began to get on larger roads, eventually making my towards Conifer....and then the west Denver suburb of Lakewood.
The first stop in Lakewood was at Breeze Ski Rentals to pick up this gem. I had big plans for Saturday.
I headed south through Lakewood to my cousin's house, for an evening filled with good food, great beer, and even better conversation. I'm very grateful for my family.
Throughout the evening on Friday, the temps continued to drop.
5:45am - Saturday - Lakewood, CO. Things were about to get real.
I jammed on I-70 west out of the Denver metro as the snow continued to fall. It was, as they say, a powder day.
Loveland Valley Ski Resort! I needed this in a bad bad way. A typical hour's drive was doubled due to the hunt for fresh powder. I was glad I left as early as I did! Thankfully I had plenty of time and still arrived before the lifts began running for the day.
Up we go. Look at that untouched powder! I had the pleasure of riding that pristine snow....all....day. It never let up.
Shaun White on the ski lift.
Just kidding. That's me. It isn't Shaun White.
I rode and rode and rode. Since I only had one day, I had to make the most of it....which meant spending as much time as I could on the slopes. I never went down to the base at all. After several hours of carving through the power, I finally ducked into a mid-mountain warming hut to eat some of the food I had stashed throughout my jacket.
This started the day as a sandwich. It still got the job done.
Stopped for a mid-mountain photo. The snow hung tightly to the trees despite the strong winds.
A bit blurry, but I included this shot because you can just see the cut of Interstate 70 above the empty chair behind me. Loveland sits right before the Eisenhower Tunnel and the slopes actually run atop the highway's path through the mountain.
The top of the Ptarmigan Lift. As the day faded, I stayed primarily on this lift. I didn't want to waste any time transitioning across the mountain, so I opted to just keep taking laps here to maximize my time on the solid downhills and less time traversing the nearly flat greens from one lift to another.
Getting ready to drop down for another run!
Loveland also sits right at the continental divide, which is the ridge above. Just after snapping this pic, I tucked my phone away and zipped downhill in the same direction as that skier. So awesome!
Back down at the base after a fun-filled day of riding! The crowd thinned throughout the day and made for an easy drive back into Denver.
Yes....that is ice. No, it isn't snot. One can only dream.
Also - that blue Buff around my face...frozen solid. I wasn't totally sure I was ever going to be able to remove it.
I actually gave the day two thumbs up, but one hand had to take the picture! It was epic.
Cruising back east on 70 near Idaho Springs. I made a quick stop to drop off my equipment and snag a burrito for the drive. After a day full of cold-hardened granola bars, water, and pre-chewed PB&J....it seemed only fitting.
Back in Lakewood! The metro area continued to get snow throughout the day as well. It sure was a sight. Another great evening with family! Everyone was whipped from our various activities, so heads hit pillows pretty early.
Sunrise over eastern Colorado. It was so cold, my windshield washer lines froze! I had to pull over a couple times to sacrifice some drinking water and glovebox napkins. Always remember, safety third.
Chasing a snowplow into western Kansas. The snow slowed traffic a bit, but I still ended up making pretty good time.
Passing a westbound KDOT plow. That's some nasty snow, but it was cool to see it being launched!
Fueling up the unit in McPherson, KS. I really love traveling in this truck. It took a beating this round, but got back up and kept fighting!
The dirty dog back in Oklahoma City!
A lot of driving for one day on the mountain? Yes. Was it worth it? Absolutely.
Time to go un-nasty the truck.