Fitness Motivation and Methods

A snowshoe track through Colorado snow.
I can snowshoe on the same trails that I run on.

Motivation is a tricky thing and fitness motivation specifically so. Society always exerts pressure, to have a certain shape or to be able to wear a certain thing, but some motivations are from within. When I am playing a sport, there is motivation to do well in said sport (and not get injured in the process). When I am experiencing health issues, there is motivation to make them end. Sometimes it’s as simple as wanting to just feel generally better.

I don’t have kids, just lots of projects and work and, until recently, a super long commute. That combined with the fact that my house is in a rural area means that I’ve had to get creative with my workout schedule. There is a county rec center with a gym, but it doesn’t have real gym hours (it doesn’t open until 8 AM…), so it’s not an option most of the time.

I’m fortunate to have an acre of land around my house, so I’ve taken to working out in my yard with some affordable and sometimes homemade equipment. I’ve setup mini obstacle courses, jumped rope, done shoulder presses with some bricks behind my shed (came with the property!) and made something called a “Champion Block” out of a cinder block (also came with the property!).

If you don’t want to watch the video in that link, just wrap a cinder block with duct tape. That’s a “Champion Block.” I mostly do front squats with it, by holding it to my chest. It weighs about 36#.

Water bottle, snack, jump rope, bricks, and a cinder block wrapped in duct tape
Some cheap or homemade fitness equipment. Just wrap a cinder block with duct tape!

There’s also forest service land behind my neighborhood where I can run, albeit very slowly at this point, given my erratic schedule and the fact that my home is at 9000 feet above sea level. It looks like Skyrim back there, but I’ve spotted no errant wolves or bandits, thus far.

A water bottle on a dirt road covered with pinecones.
A forest service road that I run on. There are trails off of it.

In the winter, I’ve snowshoed those same trails, with varying degrees of success as it’s a lot harder to see the trail when it’s covered in snow. There’s been at least one moment of trepidation in which I really didn’t know where I was, but I worked it out. If you do go out into a rural area, do take caution to know where you are.

Snowshoes being worn in a snowfall
That same road during a curiously snowy May

I’ve also managed to build a small home gym from fitness equipment that I acquired for free on the internet. I used a local Facebook group, but you could probably find stuff on Craigslist, Nextdoor, or other similar sites. Fitness equipment is often heavy and bulky and there’s a tendency for people to give up on using it and then give it away. I’ve managed a free Total Gym, elliptical, stationary bike, and even a tiny treadmill. 

A small home gym
Our tiny home gym, the elliptical is in a different room.

When I was doing my worst commute, I was driving 9 miles into town, catching a bus down the mountain, and then switching to another bus down there. It was 50 miles each way, 100 total per day. When my car died and I couldn’t make that 9 mile drive, I had to switch to my bike for a little while and learned the hard way that it takes me an hour to bike into town and 2 hours to bike home (there are longer uphill portions on the ride home).

I did this for the better part of a summer, and it sucked, but at least it was a good workout. I did eventually get the car fixed, because there’s no way this would work in the winter up here and also because I needed that time back.

A bike parked on the side of a road, a lake and mountains in the distance
Los Lagos Reservoir and the Continental Divide – my bike commute did have a stunning view.

So, what about you? Lots of people have a hard time getting to the gym due to work, commute, kids, or a simple lack of motivation. If your problem isn’t lack of motivation, then set something up at home, because anything is better than nothing. I’m no fitness expert, but I know two things.

  1. I feel better when I move
  2. We did not evolve to sit on our asses all day long.

So, go wrap a cinder block in duct tape or jump rope in your yard (yes, this is embarrassing – jump rope is hard – do it anyway) or grab a free stationary bike off of the internet (seriously, worth searching for) and just do something.  Maybe it’s possible for you to bike to work, maybe not. The point is to get creative with solutions to the problem.

Certain things about my workout are more specific to the mountains (no one in Florida is doing any snowshoeing anytime soon), but you can tailor things to your area. Rollerblading? Surfing? Anyone can run or at least walk, depending where your fitness level currently is. When I lived in the city, I would go to city parks and do HIIT workouts. Certain playground equipment can double as fitness equipment and anyone can do bodyweight exercises, virtually anywhere.

It’s easy to fall into an all-or-none proposition such as “I can’t work out enough, so I won’t work out at all”. I went from going to the gym 5-6 days a week, to struggling to get just 2 days in and psychologically it was really hard. I am coming back from being in the worst shape of my life, but… it could have been worse. I refused to give up and stop completely. I still ended up getting a YMCA membership even though I couldn’t really afford it, it wasn’t nearby, and I could only go a couple of times a week. I did the aforementioned home workouts and scrounged up that free equipment and wrapped a goddamn cinder block in duct tape and jumped fucking rope. I hate jump rope. Like, a lot. It sucks.

What is my point here?

  1. Examine your motivations
  2. Determine your goals based off of those motivations
  3. Honestly assess the excuses you are making to prevent you from hitting those goals
  4. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. Maybe your life truly doesn’t logistically allow you to do everything you want, but don’t let that be an excuse to do nothing.
  5. Get creative
  6. Wrap a cinder block in some goddamn duct tape

Yes, I’m kidding about #6. I mean, unless you want to do that. I do use mine.

What creative solutions have you come up with?

 

Obligatory legal note: I am not a health or fitness professional. Contact a doctor if you have actual health questions.

 

 

Tips for New Coloradans

Practical Advice for Noobs

So, you’re new to Colorado. Regardless of where you came from, there are likely to be some quirks to your new home that you could stand to be warned of. Since most people who move to Colorado arrive in the Denver metro area, I’m making the assumption that you are around there.

If you moved to somewhere else in the state, some of these things will still be applicable.

  1. Steam rooms are your new buddy. Colorado is dry. Get a gym membership and use the damn steam room. Make sure you join a gym that actually has a steam room. I personally prefer the YMCA as if you join one of them, you can visit all of the area YMCA branches via the Away Program. However, not all branches have steam, so see what your local one has before you decide. When I lived in Louisville, KY I could not have imagined doing this as that entire town is a steam room. Colorado is dry. Steam is your friend.
  2. Snow tires are a fun new expense that you’ll want to have at your disposal, especially if you plan on venturing into the mountains to sit in traffic on the way to a ski area. Actually, they are required as “Under a Traction Law, motorists will need to have either snow tires, tires with the mud/snow (M+S) designation, or a four-wheel/all-wheel drive vehicle — all tires must have a minimum one-eighth inch tread.”That’s not even completely correct as the law has just (and I mean just, as of this posting) changed to require that tread be 3/16 of an inch instead of 1/8 and those traction laws are now in effect for a full 9 months and not just during inclement weather. You really want an all wheel drive or 4 wheel drive vehicle, too. I live in the mountains. I mean that.
  3. Street Sweeping will be your nemesis if you live in the City and County of Denver and don’t have your own parking space. It happens once a month, April through November, though the day varies depending on your neighborhood (actually read the signs on your street). If you forget, it’s a $50 fine. That shit adds up and Denver is the town in which the boot was invented, so you don’t want to push it. You can sign up for alerts on the city website.
  4. Yes, Casa Bonita is real. Yes, the food is terrible. The cliff diving is legit, though. You pretty much have to go at least once.
  5. Accessorize with a water bottle. I carry one everywhere I go and I’m not the only one. Did I mention that Colorado is dry? Also, we’re solidly environmentally conscious and getting better. You can refill that shit. Carry a bottle. Refill it. Be a Coloradan.
  6. Consider RTD. I realize that this is not much of a recommendation. RTD is not great. Also, RTD could be worse. Like, they exist and can take you a fair amount of places. Sure, their schedules are often a fantasy and they like to drop routes without communicating that to their riders (i.e. scheduled buses get cancelled with no warning), but… you can take RTD to the mountains in certain instances and, if you have a flexible job that understands the limitations of public transport, you can save a lot on gas and do an environmentally friendly thing. Check to see if your job provides an Eco Pass benefit. That’s the best way to use RTD.
  7. License Plates. Colorado requires you have front license plates on your car. It’s the first state that I’ve lived in that does. If you are like me and your front plate holder is unusable due to rusted and unremovable screws, you will still get a ticket. Challenge that ticket (they make a lot of mistakes, it’s always worth trying – I got my plate ticket reduced) and then figure out another way to attach that plate. Colorado is very big brother. All of the toll roads are photo enforced, so you’ll end up getting a bill in the mail if you take them. This is probably why they are into having front plates.
  8. Need a Colorado ID? You can’t get it the same day. You will get it in the mail in 10-14 days. Every other state I’ve lived in, you get it the same day, but not in Colorado. It seems it’s a Real ID recommendation, so perhaps all states will be moving towards this, but if you come from a state that has not implemented the change, be aware: the DMV will punch a hole in your ID invalidating it and then give you a piece of paper as a temporary ID. Not everyone accepts this paper as valid ID (caution at bars), so you’ll have 10-14 days of ID issues. One great thing is that you can renew your ID online for up to 10 years (if it’s not a CDL ID), which is awesome. That means, if you lose your ID, you can just order a new one online. Huzzah for this.
  9. Unless your vehicle is 7 model years old or less, you’ll be required to get an emissions test to register your car. The type of test varies according to the age and type of vehicle and certain counties are exempt (holla, Gilpin!), but it does cost $25. Maybe this is more common than I realize, but coming from the Midwest and Appalachia, it was news to me.
  10. Sunblock is also your friend. Unless you are blessed with protective melanin, you’re going to want to stock up. I’m pretty sure my ancestors lived in caves, so my daily morning lotion contains SPF 15 and I use SPF 50 for days I’m actively spending time outdoors. The entire state is pretty damn high up (the elevation of Denver is officially 5280 feet above sea level, I live at 9000 feet up), so you will be exposed to more UV than you would at lower elevations. Make sunblock a habit and wear it year round.
  11. Colorado is a great place to vote. It’s easier than anywhere I’ve lived as ballots are mailed to you and you can just mail them back or drop them off. In an era where certain states have made voting way more difficult than it should be, Colorado is a breath of fresh air (just not literally).
  12. Natives. Sometimes natives are a bit petulant about people moving into their state. To be fair, there are a lot of us. Most people are fine and most of that petulance is exhibitied online and is easily ignored. Just be a good citizen and mostly you will be ok. Oh, and if you are a crappy driver and you know it, maybe work on that.

Colorado - Welcome to Denver

Destinations: Valle Nevado in Chile

Take a ski trip to Valle Nevado in Chile for gorgeous scenery and excellent skiing.

As the ski season comes to a close in the northern hemisphere, it’s just getting ready to begin for our neighbors to the south. The ski season at Valle Nevado typically runs from approximately June to October, depending on snowfall. Located in the Andes, east of Santiago, the resort is pretty accessible from the airport via one of the many transport services available. I got a great deal through Turistik, a company I would highly recommend over the much more expensive Ski Total.

The road to the resort is narrow and twisting and is limited to one-way traffic at certain times, so be prepared. You’ll also want to keep an eye out for livestock because they can access the road, so watch your speed lest you hit a stray cow or horse.

The road from Valle Nevado Ski Resort to Santiago Chile is long, windy, narrow, and stunning.
The road connecting Valle Nevado Ski Resort to Santiago is a Class VI drive.

Why Valle Nevado?

In my case, it’s easy – I won my trip. As in, I filled out a form on the internet, and the contest was actually real and not just data mining. Yeah, I was shocked, too. The prize did not include airfare, but it did include 6 days of hotel, breakfast & dinner, and lift tickets, all for two people. It was pretty sweet.

The prize was only for late season – I went in September – and the conditions were appropriately slick for late season skiing. However, I had a lot of the mountain to myself. There were days that I was pretty much the only person skiing the backside and all of the lifts back there were open. It was like having my own private mountain.

I do think I was lucky to have the coverage I did. Even though it was icy, the vast majority of the runs were open. One worker I talked to told me that the prior year there had been almost no snow left that late. If you plan a late season trip to Valle Nevado:

  1. Don’t count on powder
  2. Don’t even count on snow.

Just research conditions before you book anything.

The balconies of the Hotel Puerta del Sol have a stunning view of the Andes
View from the balconies of the Puerta del Sol looking out over the frontside of the ski runs in the Andes.

Where to stay?

There are three hotels of varying price range at the resort. The Hotel Valle Nevado is the most expensive, followed by the Puerta del Sol, and then the Tres Puntas. There are also condos (the Mirador del Inca being one), that our driver told us can sometimes be rented. A quick search on Airbnb brought up some possibilities, so I’d consider trying there and comparing prices to the hotels. My prize included lodging at the mid-range hotel – the Puerta del Sol. The view from the room was stellar, with a little patio overlooking the Andes, but the room was average. It was older and a bit small, with two little twin beds and not very many outlets. The hotel did provide a little set of outlet adaptors, but you’ll likely want to bring your own so that you have more than one.

In short, you might do better in an Airbnb. I wasn’t overly concerned, I was simply excited to get to ski, but it’s worth noting and likely worth a bit of research.

Two of the three hotels at Valle Nevado Ski Resort - Hotel Valle Nevado and Puerta del Sol
The Hotel Valle Nevado on the left and the Puerta del Sol in the back to the right.

The Tres Valles System

Valle Nevado is part of the Tres Valles system of Chilean ski resorts, which also include La Parva and El Colorado to the north and west. Both of those other resorts are visible from various parts of the mountain and are accessible by skis if you can afford the lift tickets to them. Actually, in the case of La Parva, it’s possible to accidentally ski down the mountain to it. In this case, you would be stuck buying a lift ticket to get back to Valle Nevado on skis. Caution is advised in this regard. I caught myself just time – take note that any unmarked lifts on your Valle Nevado map may not be Valle Nevado lifts at all.

The resort is situated in a high mountain bowl and is known for its excellent powder in peak season, but spring visitors to all resorts in the area should be prepared to ski ice and crud. The mountain groomers did an excellent job with what was available and only one of the six days I skied was icy enough that I quit the mountain early for the bar. However, spring conditions are spring conditions, and visitors should be prepared for them.

Visitors should also be prepared to get to watch an incredible array of ski racers train in the mornings. One of my favorite activities was to sit on the patio outside the gondola unloading area and admire the skills of the racers after I had myself completed my morning runs.

A view of El Colorado from Valle Nevado during a stunning pink sunset.
The sunsets at Valle Nevado are stunning

Off-Piste

Skiing aside, the resort has other offerings for non-skiers or skiers taking a break from the slopes. There’s a hot tub, outdoor fire place, and several shops, restaurants, and bars. It’s best to purchase a food package, as it’s particularly expensive to eat if you don’t. One can save a bit of money by filling up on soup and hot cocoa at the daily apres ski event before dinner. Also, there’s a little grocery a short walk from the Puerta del Sol and Tres Puntas which can be used for food to save you from having to eat at the expensive restaurants. If you do visit the restaurants, tipping is expected and will be added to your bill at the end of your stay if you don’t tip along the way. When we visited, there were three restaurant options – Chilean, French, and Italian. They were all excellent, but the Italian place offered a free glass of wine if you booked early.

We ate Italian all but two nights.

The treacherous class VI drive up the mountain is far enough from Santiago that transport will need to be arranged in advance and if you choose to not rent a car, it can be difficult to get to other areas. A shuttle is available from the hotel area to the base of the gondola and non-skiers are allowed to ride that gondola up to its end at mid mountain if they have a lift ticket. Some other shops are available at the gondola base, and food and drink are available mid mountain for skiers who do not pack snacks.

The hot tub at Valle Nevado as viewed from above.
The view down onto the hot tub makes it look a bit like human soup.

A Note on the Lifts

The majority of the lifts at Valle Nevado are surface lifts, which is to say they are mostly J-bars (Poma lifts) with at least one T-bar. There is a gondola and a high speed 6 pack up front as well as few others chairs, but every lift on the backside is a surface lift except one. That includes the Tres Puntas Poma which is like riding a bucking bronco. It throws you up into the air at the start, so be ready. It’s fun once you get used to it, but it handed me my only fall of the trip. Beware of Tres Puntas lift.

This is all fine, really. It just gets a little tiring, so it’s good to know. I’m told it can get pretty windy, so this is probably part of the reason for the abundance of surface lifts.

The Tres Puntas lift is mildly treacherous, so beware.
View from Tres Puntas Lift

The Verdict

If you can afford to ski Valle Nevado, do it. It’s a beautiful place with excellent skiing, even in late season. I will say that if you are into steeps or trees, this isn’t your mountain. The runs labeled as steep here really aren’t and everything is above tree line. There is some nice looking skiing out of bounds here so, if it’s a good snow year, consider the resort’s heli skiing services or a reputable backcountry guide service such as Powderquest. If you want powder, don’t come late season, though that goes without saying. The reason I enjoyed myself was:

  1. I got to ski. Anytime I get to ski, I’m a happy human.
  2. There were almost no lines. This is likely the best perk of skiing late season here.
  3. It was free, or nearly so (I bought snacks, plane tickets, transport via Turistik, and I tipped).
  4. I got to ski.
  5. The Andes are spectacularly beautiful.
  6. I love to travel.
  7. I got to ski.

If you want a cheaper way to ski in Chile, I’ve heard that it is more affordable to stay in Farrelones. This is a small mountain village from which El Colorado can be accessed. Since Valle Nevado is accessible via El Colorado, this is one way to ski that resort without staying there. Unfortunately, this option would require lift tickets for both El Colorado and Valle Nevado since, to the best of my knowledge, the resorts do not co-operate in an fashion in regards to lift tickets.

Regardless of all of this, Valle Nevado is worth your time if you can manage it. Not only because the skiing is excellent, but the staff are lovely and very forgiving of those with poor Spanish language skills, as personal experience attests.

So You Want to Learn to Ski?

A view of the Rocky Mountains from the top of a ski run at Eldora Mountain Resort in Colorado
The View from the top of La Belle Dame at Eldora in Colorado

As has been the case with so many others, I moved to Colorado in part for the skiing. I love it, it’s long been one of my favorite sports, but it’s expensive as Hell and not getting cheaper. I’m a PSIA certified ski instructor because I love the sport and enjoy teaching, but also because it’s how I get a ski pass. For most of my life, I’ve been unable to ski due to the expense, and I’m done with that.

In my opinion, the giant white elephant in the room of the ski industry is increasing lift ticket costs, especially for single day passes. Most of us can’t afford to front the cost of a multi-resort pass (e.g. Ikon or Epic) and many people who are new to the sport and aren’t sure if they like it yet are justifiably not yet willing to pay that much. Since the situation is not likely to change anytime soon, I’m not going to spend a lot of time on the topic. I will say that if you have a friend who has a multi-resort season pass, you might be able to buy a discounted “buddy ticket” if you ski with that person. Check out Liftopia, too. They don’t have discounts for every resort, but they might have what you want.

So, here you are. You want to try skiing, but it’s expensive, traffic to get to the ski area is terrible and the place is distant, and what’s up with the gear?

A view of the gondola at Keystone ski resort from the base.
Looking up at the Gondola from the base at Keystone – ski areas can get very crowded.

Where do I go?

Obviously, it depends very much on where you live and how much you are willing or able to spend. However, if you are new, also consider going to a place with a lot of beginner terrain. If you look up the terrain map on a resort’s website, you’ll find that the runs are organized by color – green for beginner, blue for intermediate, and black (and sometimes double or triple black) for advanced. These ratings do not necessarily transfer between resorts. In other words, a black diamond run in Indiana is not necessarily the same difficulty as a black diamond run in Colorado. At a minimum, the Colorado run is highly likely to be much longer, but also more difficult in other ways.

The author on skis with her friend Sukhinder at Canaan Valley Resort in West Virginia.
Skiing with my friend Sukhinder at Canaan Valley Resort in West Virginia – the first place I ever skied. Do as I say, not as I do – wear a helmet. Photo credit: Yad Deol

What do I wear?

Synthetics or wool, never cotton, and definitely not jeans. Snow pants over top of long underwear are best, along with a winter coat and a balaclava that fits under a helmet and/or a neck gaiter. If you don’t have a helmet, rent one. Most resorts offer that service. On top, you’ll want a synthetic base layer with a fleece over it. Also, you want only one pair of synthetic or wool socks and you don’t want them to be very thick. Ski boots fit tightly and bulky socks interfere. Bring gloves.

If it’s spring or if conditions are uncharacteristically warm, you’ll want to be able to shed layers. Either store your things in your vehicle (presuming you drove) or rent a locker. If it’s an especially cold day, consider keeping some chemical hand warmers in your pockets in case you need them. Also, if you are fair skinned, sunblock is essential. The sun will reflect off of the snow and you will burn badly.

A ski helmet and goggles with a water bottle and snack.
Wear a helmet and pack water and snacks.

What about gear?

Basic ski gear consists of ski boots, skis with bindings, poles, and a helmet with goggles. The fit of the ski boots is incredibly important. They should fit firmly, but without pain. Your toes should not be jammed against the front of the boot, and your heel should not move around. You definitely want to have someone help fit you properly.

The bindings will be adjusted by the rental tech to fit the sole length of your boots and will be tightened according to your ski ability. If you are a newer skier, they will be set to a lower DIN number than they would for an advanced skier. This is so the ski will release in the event of a fall to prevent injury.

The length of the ski is dictated by your height and ability, but generally they will come to around your chin when stood on end, particularly if you are a new skier. Adult skiers are often provided with poles, but don’t be surprised if your instructor takes them away if you take a lesson. Often new skiers focus too strongly on the poles instead of using their lower body to stop and turn. Children are often not provided poles when they are learning. In general, they are a distraction when you are new, but can be useful to help take your skis off and get up after a fall.

A helmet may not be required, but you absolutely should wear one. It’s a safely issue of course, but they keep you warm and you’ll look more professional. Goggles basically serve as sunglasses and/or a wind block. They are more essential than most people realize. You’ll probably have to buy a pair as most resorts don’t rent them. It’ll be more affordable to do this before you go to the mountain.

Take note that if you rent your gear off mountain, say from an independent rental shop, the tech shop that is at the ski area may not be able to adjust it for you. For that reason, it’s often better to rent from the ski area if you are going to rent. Additionally, I’ve personally found that lots of gear rented off mountain badly needs waxed. That’s not always true, but it has been often enough to notice.

A view of the Andes Mountains from the top of a ski run known as Shake at Valle Nevado in Chile.
Never underestimate the beauty of a bluebird day at a ski area. This is a view of the Andes from the top of Shake run at Valle Nevado in Chile.

So now what?

  1. Should I take a lesson? – In short, yes. I know it seems biased because I am an instructor, but I’ve seen so much struggle from people who try to teach themselves or who try to have a friend teach them. Friends mean well, but tend to forget how difficult it can be when you are new. Having a significant other try to teach you is a great way to end an relationship. I’m not going to say that it never works, but the odds are not in your favor. At least consider a lesson.
  2. How do I get there? – It’s the nature of skiing that resorts tend to be in remote areas, so most people drive. Obviously it depends where you are, but some resorts offer special parking or other benefits if you carpool. I recommend checking out the website of your intended destination. At least one mountain in Colorado is accessible via city bus (Eldora – full disclosure: I work there). Also, there are ski buses that will take you to some resorts off of I70. Services vary depending on where you are coming from (e.g. DIA vs. somewhere else in town), but it’s worth looking into. If you are going to Winter Park, the ski train may also be an option. This is all for Colorado. If you are in a different state, you’ll need to do some research on your own.
  3. What about food? – It’s expensive to eat and drink at a ski area. Period. As with amusement parks, you are a captive audience and are treated as such. Some are worse than others (I’m looking at you Vail Resorts), but they are pretty much all more expensive than is ok. Some places have microwaves available (at Eldora it’s in the West Wing) and some don’t. I like to pack a day pack with a camelback of water, food, and a couple of cans of beer for apres ski. If you do wear a pack, be very careful that it does not get caught on the lift when you ride.
Black Mountain Lodge at Arapahoe Basin ski area in Colorado.
Arapahoe Basin is a beautiful place.

Finally…

There are a few things that ski noobies tend to not know that are useful.

  1. How are moguls made? – Moguls are what happens naturally when snow falls and people ski on it. The runs that don’t have moguls are that way because they have been groomed. If a run has moguls, it’s because the run has not been groomed, allowing them to stay for the enjoyment of advanced skiers. Try not to ski or ride over the tops of them and this will flatten them out. Take a lesson!
  2. What’s powder and where do I find it? – Powder is a type of snow. Specifically, it’s fresh snow (preferably deep and light). It’s a lot of fun to ski and if you come up to the mountain on a powder day, you’ll likely find the traffic and lift lines to prove it. People are unlikely to share the location of their powder stashes with you unless they are a good friend (and even then, “No friends on a powder day” is a thing). You should know that the technique for skiing powder is different from the technique for skiing groomers (i.e. packed, flat snow), so if you’ve not done it, consider a well-timed powder day lesson.
  3. Learn the responsibility code. It’s pretty common sense, but not everyone knows it. Be safe and courteous and don’t be a jerk. Normal shit. Also, in Colorado it’s actually the law. Check it out.

 

Skiing is one of my favorite things to do in the world and I want everyone to love it, so prepare, plan ahead, and have a great time.

Destinations: Nederland, CO

The eclectic little town of Nederland is a great addition to your Colorado vacation.

 

The sunset over Barker Reservoir in Nederland lights the sky aflame
Sunset over Barker Reservoir

Tucked into the mountains above Boulder, at the edge of the Indian Peaks Wilderness and in the shadow of the Continental Divide, is the little town of Nederland. It’s an eclectic place, having evolved from mining town to hippie enclave to it’s modern state. In the 70’s, it was known for it’s vibrant music scene, enhanced by its location near the now defunct recording studio at Caribou Ranch. The town continues to evolve, but has maintained some of its unique character in the face of changing demographics.

Gateway to Adventure

The town is easily accessible from Boulder via Boulder Canyon. Although the distance is only about 16.7 miles, there is an elevation gain of 2900 feet (883.92 meters), so the temperature and weather differences are often significant. Dress and choose your vehicle accordingly. It’s actually possible to take the RTD city bus from Boulder to Ned, which is a great option if you aren’t sure about driving. The bus makes stops throughout the canyon, including at Boulder Falls. This short hike can be crowded, but is quick and pleasant. If you do choose to get off here, know the bus schedule ahead of time so you aren’t stuck there for a long period.

Once you do get to Nederland, you have several options depending on your adventure of choice and the time of year.

Keep Busing

If it’s winter and you love to ski, Eldora Mountain Resort is just west of Nederland and it is the only Colorado ski resort that is serviced by the city bus system. The buses have plenty of room for your ski gear and can save you the drive and parking-related headaches. Gear is available to rent and ski and snowboard lessons are offered.

Looking up a ski run named Windmill on a beautiful day at Eldora Mountain Resort.
Looking up Windmill run on a bluebird day at Eldora.

In the summer, the Nederland RTD Park & Ride lot is the pickup location for the Hessie Trailhead shuttle. You can drive or take the RTD city bus up and then catch the shuttle in for a hike. If you don’t take the shuttle, be aware that parking is limited and fills up early, so be prepared. There’s a reason the shuttle exists, so take advantage of it. The shuttle only services the Hessie Trailhead, so if it’s the Fourth of July Trailhead that interests you, you’ll have to drive to that. Leave early so you can get a parking space. The shuttle is seasonal, so check out the website to make sure it is running if you plan on using it.

Jasper Lake, a high alpine lake in the Indian Peaks Wilderness of Colorado, during a period of low water.
Jasper Lake during a time of low water.

Stay in Town

The little town of Nederland is worth exploring. The Barker Reservoir allows fishing (no swimming or boating, however!) and there is a little trail than runs along the northern bank that offers nice views of the town and reservoir.

Pedestrian Trail sign and view of Barker Reservoir in Nederland, Colorado
The start of the Pedestrian Trail near the eastern end of the reservoir.

If you need information or gear, stop by the Indian Peaks Ace Hardware store for maps and information or by The Mountain Man outdoor outfitter store, for an even bigger selection of equipment. Also in town are the Carousel of Happiness, the Mining Museum and several neat little shops such as Blue Owl Books and Boutique and Nature’s Own rock shop. If you are hungry or have a thirst, there’s the Pioneer Inn, a relic of the old Caribou Ranch days, as well as Crosscut Pizza, The Branding Iron, and The Very Nice Brewery, among others.

The event that the town is most well known for, Frozen Dead Guy Days, occurs annually in March. Winter is also a good time of the year to check out the local ice rink or rent some snowshoes from Wild Bear Mountain Ecology Center.

A Charles Bukowski quote on the wall inside the Very Nice Brewery in Nederland, CO.
The Very Nice Brewery

Head North

There are several great trails and wilderness areas north of town. Mud Lake and Caribou Ranch Open Space (closed April 1st to June 30th seasonally) are both pretty close, whereas Rainbow Lakes Trailhead and the Brainard Lakes Recreation Area both require a bit more of a drive. The Peak to Peak scenic highway that you take to get to these places is a treat in of itself and if you take it far enough, you’ll end up in Estes Park, the home of Rocky Mountain National Park.

A view of an old ranch building at Caribou Ranch Open Space in Boulder County Colorado.
Caribou Ranch Open Space

Head South

If you head south on the Peak-to-Peak Highway, you’ll pass by West Magnolia, a popular mountain biking area. If you don’t have a bike, you can rent one in town at Tin Shed. These trails can also be hiked.

Continuing on past West Magnolia, you’ll hit the town of Rollinsville wherein, if you take the Tolland Road to the west, you can reach the East Portal Trailhead. If you are headed here, you’ll pass Rollins Pass Road, a popular place for ATV riders and mountain bikers. Due to the collapse of the Needle’s Eye Tunnel, you can no longer drive over the continental divide at this point, so don’t plan on it. I am told that it is possible to port your bike around the collapse, but the bike ride up is strenuous. Do not try to drive this road without the appropriate skill and vehicle.

Hiking up from the East Portal Trailhead to S. Boulder Creek trail, you can reach several lovely high alpine lakes and the Continental Divide at Roger’s Pass. If you are fit and prepared, you can also access James Peak from this point.

A view of Heart Lake in the James Peak Wilderness with the Continental Divide in the distance.
Heart Lake and the Continental Divide

Stay Safe!

It’s important to plan ahead for your safety and others. Fire risk is high in these areas, so look up the current conditions and obey all fire bans. This frequently means that NO CAMPFIREs are allowed, so plan ahead with a legal camp stove if you are staying overnight. If you head south of Nederland to trails at the East Portal, you’ll be in Gilpin County, an area that has separate fire ban information from the trails in Boulder County.

Weather can change quickly and is usually much colder at altitude than down below. Wear proper footwear, carry a fleece, rain gear, snacks, and plenty of water. It’s best to understand how to use a map and compass, but at a minimum, stay on the trails. If you see bad weather rolling in, get below tree line. If you plan on camping overnight, permits are required for the Indian Peaks Wilderness. They can be purchased the day of your trip at Indian Peaks Ace Hardware store. Remember to keep your pets on leashes and obey Leave-No-Trace principles. Be aware that it’s always wise to treat your water before you drink it due to the high traffic these areas experience.

Finally, if you are visiting the Nederland area from a low altitude location, be aware of the symptoms of altitude sickness and act accordingly if needed. Be sure to consult a medical professional if you experience issues. Some people will experience sickness even if they are coming from somewhere relatively high like Denver, so keep that in mind.

The Continental Divide still has some snow, even in the summer.
A view of the Continental Divide from the trail.

Have fun!

This area is spectacular and I’ve only covered the basics of what is available. I feel like I could spend my entire life exploring Colorado and I still haven’t even explored all the trails near Nederland. The town itself and the surrounding natural resources are well worth your time. Stay safe, be respectful, and have fun.

A memorial for "Red the Cat Legend of First Street" in Nederland, Colorado.
The Memorial of Red the Cat in from of Town Hall in Nederland

Destinations: Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

“What do you despise? By this are you truly known.” -Frank Herbert, Dune

The Great Sand Dunes Park & Preserve
The Great Sand Dunes Park & Preserve

Colorado has sand dunes. If all that you know of the state is what you have seen in films and tourism materials, this fact may have eluded you. (Half of the state is also reminiscent of Kansas, but that tale is for another day).

If you drive south and a bit west from Denver, the land will become scrubby and drier, and if you happen in the right direction, you’ll suddenly be faced with an expanse of dunes vast enough to leave you looking for Shai Hulud. It’s stunning, really.

The dunes are not close to much of anything, so staying at one of the campgrounds is recommended. There are several, both inside the park itself and in the surrounding areas. Cost and amenities vary widely, but if you choose to stay at the Pinon Flats campground within the park, be aware that in the late season when you are no longer able to reserve a site online, you may still have to fight for one, or stay in your vehicle. We did this the first night and then got up early and snagged a site when someone left. Score one for early arrival.

On the flipside, if you arrive late, you may find the gate to the park unmanned and can then avoid the park fee. I don’t know if this is always the case, but it was for us. Score one for late arrival.

Pick your poison.

Some other potentially useful information:

  1. Plan ahead if you want to build a campfire, especially if you are going off-season. There is a little camp store at Pinon Flats that sells wood, but it closes for the season. If that happens, you will have to leave the park to buy firewood and then, if you managed to get in without paying the fee, you’ll have to pay it to get back in. Be prepared.
  2. Hiking on sand is a real bitch. Be psychologically prepared for an exhausting time. If you don’t want to deal with it, there are sand-free trails. Mosca Pass Trail is especially nice when the aspens are changing.
  3. If you do hike to Mosca Pass, you’ll see that the there is a dirt service road that continues on once the proper trail ends. Take it. When you come to another road, turn right and then quickly turn right again one a third road, Follow that road a short distance to get a lovely view of the Sangre de Christos. There is no view at the natural end of the trail. If you want better directions, ask a park ranger at the vistor’s center.
  4. Consider the possibility of mosquitoes. We went in a very dry year, so Medano Creek was completely dried up and there were none. I have it on report that when that is not the case, the mosquitoes are ungodly. Bring DEET.
  5. The dunes lie within the Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve and, as such, common national park rules such as dog leash laws apply.
  6. The wind on the dunes can really whip up and blow the sand around. If you are a photographer or if you are a wearer of contact lenses, be prepared to protect both your gear and your eyes.

Anakin hates sand. It gets everywhere.

Things I would do differently:

  1. I’d either go when I could reserve a site or get there early. Personally, I’d rather pay the park fee and not have to sleep in a car.
  2. I would take the time to hike to the top of the dunes. I suspect that view is stunning and I would have liked to have taken some photos.
  3. I’d spend more time there than just a weekend. It’s a bit of a drive and there’s a lot of exploring to do and I’d like to have the time to do so.
  4. Finally, I’d get a backcountry permit and head away from the crowds. The campground is nice if you want to be around people. However, if you prefer solitude, it’s a bit much. Do what you prefer.

Some people will no doubt take issue with my DEET recommendation. I once spent a month backpacking in Alaska during summer and I brought natural insect repellant. It had a pleasant scent and was useful to cover up the sort of increasingly awful body odor that one develops on a month long trip, but it had zero effectiveness against the mosquitoes. I’ll not leave the DEET behind again. That’s me. It just depends how much the mosquitoes bother you.

This is a gorgeous park with stunning vistas and excellent photographic opportunities if you work for them. If you are a Dune fan, it’s hard to not think of Paul and Jessica struggling across the dunes to escape the Harkonnen and Sardaukar. Doing so may well take your mind off of your own struggles and you may need that. Have fun!

On City Adventures

Why City Adventures?

A black and white image of the Chicago River
Taken in Nov. of 2011 on a trip to Chicago.

It is perhaps incongruous that I start this blog with a post about city adventure given where I live and what I generally prefer. The eastern slopes of the continental divide are my backyard and Rocky Mountain National park is my northern neighbor. I came to Colorado in large part to play in the Rockies, and yet here I write of cities.

The thing is that, despite my predilection for solitude and wild places, I do not reject cities. I do reject suburbs, but cities are full of their own sort of adventure. They are the places in which humans have carved most deeply into the wilds to make our own unique space. Like in nature, proper cities are walkable, which allows you to move about at a slower pace, which I would argue makes it easier to discover things than traveling about in a vehicle does. Tall buildings mimic mountains, giving you a similar feeling of smallness. Humans make up the majority if the wildlife.

The suburbs are designed for cars, but cities seem to be designed despite them and very old cities pre-date them. We could get into the weeds when we consider what defines a city, but when I define it, I mostly consider population density. Places that have built up, instead of out. New York City vs. Columbus, OH.

It’s also relevant to note that most of us live in or near cities and are trying to live the lives we dream in that context. It’s how I’ve spent most of my life and now, even though I live in a rural mountain area, I still spend much time in cities because that’s where the jobs and resources are.

The 16th Street Mall in Denver, Colorado on a snowy night. I used to drive horse drawn carriages here.
I spent a winter driving horse drawn carriages here.

How to adventure in the city

When living in cities, I amused myself by framing tedious daily tasks as quests – “The quest for clean dishes” (the worst) or “The quest to determine how long I can park on my street before the city decides my car is abandoned (answer: 72 hours in Denver). I dreamt of climbing mountains, but filled my days with roller derby and took a side job driving a horse drawn carriage in the city. When I was in Denver, I made it to the mountains some weekends. In Kentucky, I sometimes managed kayaking. West Virginia was easiest as I could rather easily teach skiing or work as a raft guide on weekends. Ohio was the worst as I was surrounded by corn and football instead of opportunities for adventure.

You have to either get creative in cities or be willing and able to pull the weekend warrior thing in your free time. I found it easy to get depressed and instead get lost in video games or books. One of the things I loved the most about the original Shenmue on Dreamcast was that playing it felt like getting to explore Japan. I couldn’t afford to go to Japan, but Shenmue allowed me to realistically pretend. If the car was having issues or I couldn’t afford gas, I could run around Norrath or Hyrule. Not a productive use of my time, but pure escapism.

If you prefer outdoor adventure, it’s becoming increasingly difficult manage living near those activities in an even remotely affordable way. I’ve slept in vehicles and tents for seasonal work. Some companies offer dorm style housing and some resort towns are taking steps to address the issue.  I suppose there’s a promise to that, but if you aren’t a seasonal worker or trying to be one, but rather just want more time on your hands to actually do your activity, then your solution likely lies elsewhere. One thing I would do differently and am backing into now, career-wise, is to learn a skill that allows remote work. It was not really an option when I was figuring things out, but it is now, and I crave that freedom. To me, success is freedom. Society will push a definition of success on us, but we can choose our own. Not having to be tied to a location or a set schedule is to me freedom at the most basic level and is what I seek.

So, you can choose your own adventure – pick a city activity, be a weekend warrior, work a seasonal job, or gain a remote skill, but if you crave adventure, just don’t give up. I love gaming, but don’t let Hyrule be a substitute for the real world of adventure that still exists all around us.

Tall buildings in downtown Denver, Colorado loom over you like man made mountains.
Buildings loom like mountains.

The Beginning

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It feels like an odd time to write this blog as I’m not traveling right now. I dream of it, read of it, make lists of places to visit and sites to see, and now write of it, but I’m broke. It’s been this way for 10 years – my salary goes up, but the cost of living also increases and boom – I’ve gone nowhere.

I am fortunate to live in a place where people vacation, hence the cost of living issues, so I can take “trips” in what is essentially my backyard. Early on, this will be a lot of my content. Also, I was lucky to get to travel a bit with my family when I was growing up, so some of my pieces will be retrospectives. I’ve always been a photographer, so I have lots of photo evidence of those times.

A lot of what I read and part of what I’m trying to write is science fiction and fantasy. I also game and take a weird sort of inspiration from those worlds, especially when trail running and backpacking. Colorado looks a lot like Skyrim and parts of Norrath, minus the overabundance of curiously aggressive wildlife. It’s probably good we don’t have owlbears here and it’s definitely good we don’t have orcs.

However, jokes aside, it’s easy to imagine that I’m running through Hyrule, Rohan, or Skyrim when I’m out on a trail run and that’s probably the thing that inspires me the most. There’s a good chance that my propensity for escapist fantasy is a big part of my lack success in real life, so I’ll be taking those frustrations out in this blog by writing about adventure, travel, and fitness from the perspective of a introverted, over-read, underachieving, sort of scientist, who is a part time ski instructor and former roller derby athlete that is attempting to be a film maker. Not sure how valuable that background is, but it might be at least a little unique.

Some ideas:

Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Gaming inspired travel

Trail Running inspiration (and running in general)

Reality vs. Escapism and finding a healthy balance between the two.

Avoiding a life of quiet desperation

Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Gaming inspired workout ideas (non running)

I’ll come up with more and I also welcome any suggestions. I’m going to start out with monthly posts and see how that goes.

Welcome to my wannabe travel blog written by a depressingly infrequent traveler with a weird background and a terrible commute.