Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas 2011:Three Elves Search for Santa in Colorado

Other than rolling down the narrow gauge tracks on fat tires chasing the Polar Express that runs out of Durango, where else would one want to be on Christmas Eve? This year, I decided it was going to be at N 38.054156, W 107.898071 (aka the San Juan Hut System's North Pole Hut).

So, myself and two friends decided to spend Christmas far removed from civilization. Searching for Santa of course (with a GPS and a few maps).

We set out early Friday morning over Molas and Red Mountain Pass to pick up keys for both Last Dollar and North Pole huts.The SJHS office is located in Ridgway, so our route was definitely the long way around. This gave us a good excuse to stop and have hot chocolate and bagels in heaven (aka Ouray, CO):

After getting the keys and a basic route description, we were warned of the eight points of avalanche danger on the Alder Creek trail from Last Dollar Hut (our first night) to the most remote hut on the circuit, North Pole (our second night). No one except the hut owners had been in this season and we were warned of the need for route-finding and alternate slide crossings.

The drive from Ridgway to Last Dollar road near Telluride through the Dallas Divide is always a stunning sight, whether it is the mountains or the frozen trees. Friday morning held true:

The trailhead for the trek into Last Dollar Hut starts off of Last Dollar Road. It is a 3 mile road climb to the top of the pass and then about 1/3 mile slog up onto a ridgeline where the hut sits amongst the trees.

View from the start into Last Dollar

Looking out the door of Last Dollar Hut..makes hanging laundry fun, no?
Last Dollar Hut sitting on the ridgeline back in the trees
We arrived around 2pm on Friday, built a fire, imbibed upon some Christmas cheer, cooked some great food and studied the 9 mile route to the North Pole planned for morning. 

With no winter gpx file available after all, we were armed with topo maps, route descriptions and the hope of an old ski track to help us navigate. Worst-case scenario, if we were unable to find the route, the plan was to crash in Last Dollar again--not a bad place, as you can see from the views:

Wood was abundant at the hut and the stove kept us toasty warm inside:

The next morning, we began the traverse to NP hut. I think all of us were a little nervous about the slide crossings and snow conditions at first, but after a mile or two in, my worries were gone. None of the mentioned danger points had enough snow to even notice. We kept a good pace and made it in 5:45 with roughly 1900' of climbing.

The terrain undulated for most of the route which made trail breaking easier. The one big climb out of Leopard Creek inflicted a small bout of the sustained ass kicking I crave, but within a mile, we were back at cruising pace and descended into a gorgeous meadow filled with snow and the hut less than 1/2 mile away. Hayden Peak and North Pole peak towered above, giving us that gauge of how truly far away from anything we were.

We marveled at our surroundings for a moment. The sense of childlike Christmas magic found us all. The simplicity of the time in the hut is what brought true meaning to each of us I think. Warmth. Soft light. A card game. The dogs. A hot cup of cider. A sky full of brilliant, bright stars. The crunch of the snow beneath our feet and the sizzle as it melts for drinking water. Reading a good book by the light of my headlamp. The smell of our little Christmas tree. Nowhere to go and no obligations except chopping some wood and making oatmeal in the morning.

Here is the photo log of the trek into NP hut beginning about mile 3 where the Alder Creek trail finally opens up for some views:

The only "detour" we had to take is in this section of the trail that went through a bit of a dicey area
But we found a deep, but safe crossing about 75 yards below in the trees (both pics actually taken on the return trek back to Last Dollar). What a way to spend Christmas Day!

An old trapper's cabin in a meadow we crossed

The Alder Creek Slide. The trail crosses what is usually a gorge full of snow
Led by an energetic Vizsla, (Buck) we crossed easily
And climbed out the other side
Then came upon three different Aspen-lined clearings

And arrived at the North Pole where Christmas awaited (led all the way by our trusty scout, Buck)

Both dogs assumed the positions in which they would remain most of the day and night...

And I made it my mission to provide a tree for our humble abode

Which was decorated with all available "ornaments"

We hung our stockings out for Santa and woke the next morning to one of the best gifts I have ever received on Christmas:

The return trip took us back to Durango through Rico to check out a hot spring by the Delores River. The temperature was a little cooler than we had hoped, but it will be a good one to hit up in the summer after a long ride.

Total mileage: 21.3 miles
Total mileage for our scout, Buck: most likely 42.6 miles..haha!
Total climbing: 3850'
Time into NP: 5:45
Time back to LD: 4:45

Total midday snoozing by a warm stove (in hours): around 1.5

Perhaps my favorite question to answer over the past couple days is "How was your Christmas?" I smile, my mind goes back to the four days I just spent in the Colorado backcountry and I tell a condensed version using my normal epic descriptions. I then return the question and usually get "ugh, I am so glad its over!" or "Eh, it was ok." or "I spent too much."

I am so thankful that I cannot relate whatsoever to those replies.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Return

Durango is a good place to sit and watch the plethora of roadies bundled up early in the morning, the Polar Express Narrow Gauge, the snowflakes that fall in the streetlight outside my attic window and of course the changing light on the surrounding mountains. 

Sit and watch. 

I did just that again last night. This time from a weight bench inside the rec center. The world of weightlifting, dance classes and treadmills whirled around me and I found myself staring at the basketball court below as I finished my last set of curls. My biceps were screaming, the center was closing in an hour and I just sat, perfectly motionless, and studied  the white net hanging underneath the rim. I noticed every ripple of motion as if it were the only thing occurring in the universe.

I began to think about the sound of the ball swishing through the net and the way my right wrist used to hang in the air for a second or two afterwards on the follow through. I remembered the days of Larry Steele Basketball Camps, all-star tournaments, league games, wins, losses, buses, uniforms, coaches, running lines, sweating, crying, bleeding, hurting, free throws, crowds and gyms. 

I shut my playlist off and walked down to the front desk and asked for a women's ball. I felt the texture and the seams. I dribbled a couple times, thought I was cool and got all tricky with the between the legs, behind the back crossover. I stopped hard, pulled up from about 15 feet and launched it. BRICK!!!!

I sheepishly looked around and chased my rebound, snickering at my silly self. I hadn't touched a basketball in at least two years and the date of my last pick up game escapes my memory. All my college games are kind of a blur of practicing, traveling, knee ultrasounds and a screaming coach. 

I shot around for about 45 minutes, regaining the art of the perfect follow through that procured the symphonic "swish" sound for which I lived and worked my guts out to obtain for the first 20 years of my life. As I moved across the court shooting layups, jumpers, free throws and a few threes, my body fell into a natural rhythm that required no effort, no thinking, no forcing. The movements were natural and my feet were light and quick. I didn't stop until the attendant told me the center was closing in 15 minutes. Time stood still when the ball was in my hands. The exact same way it does when I am on my bike in the mountains...

A neglected part of my soul returned last night. 

All because I took the time to sit and watch....

Sunday, December 18, 2011


Saturday morning I woke up with the itch to ride. Really nothing different from any morning, but the Sand Canyon trail was especially on my mind. I knew it wasn't going to be anything long or particularly strenuous, so after a good spin workout at Durango Rec Center, my roommate and I loaded the bikes and headed to Cortez. Notorious for writing down and then forgetting to bring directions to the trailhead, I tried to navigate from memory. Turn right on Cty Rd G and go 12 miles.  County Rd G looks like this:

The scenery doesn't change much for several miles before and PAST the Canyon of the Ancients, which is where the Sand Canyon Trail begins. I actually was dead on except we forgot to check the odometer after the turnoff and went a bit too far. We finally stopped to ask directions from the first sign of human life we saw.The old Indian man that gave us directions sounded (I kid you not) exactly like this:

Farmer Fran

(Ok, minus the southern accent)

We somehow were able to decipher that we had passed the TH a few miles back. Once we got parked and going on the bikes, the trail turned out to be perfectly dry and fast. It was only about 6.5 miles one way to Sand Canyon and 1300' of elevation gain, but the views were pretty spectacular and I stopped to take more pictures than I probably needed to:

The first half mile was slickrock

Only five other bikers out to play on a beautiful 50 degree day in Dec

Just like a bluebird day in June
Ancient ruins were abundant throughout the ride
Deep canyons and snowy peaks

Little bit o' chunky, techy stuff to keep us honest

About 1.5 miles from the Sand Canyon TH is the junction for the East Rock Creek trail. A little over 5 miles in all, this trail is by far the best of the two. Some short, challenging hills, lots of fun technical stuff and about 2 miles of fast downhill looped us back to the parking lot as the sun was beginning to sink in the sky. No pictures except this one about 0.5 miles from the end because the trail was just too good to stop at all for a picture.

Back at the car, the light hung low in the sky:

We stopped for some dinner in Cortez on the way back to Durango and on the wall hung this sign:

What more can I say?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

My Holiday Gift Ideas

Quick! Tell me what you got/gave for Christmas in 2005.

Yeah, me neither….

Hell, I don’t even know what the hottest things to BUY and GET for Christmas are this year. The lists, the millions of product reviews by anybody and everybody, the “must-haves” for 2012: Non des Mus asinum. Truthfully, when I think about all the sheeple out shopping (consuming) this is what comes to my mind:

Don’t get me wrong, I am a weak human. Yes, my head turns at the newest, cool, shiny thing to put on my bike. Advertising is powerful and we live in a world of constant inundation. It cleverly creates a need within that can only be satisfied by the purchase. And the method of creating the need is ever-evolving, constantly seeping into every aspect of daily life. Superficiality abounds. Ugh!

My eyes glaze over in boredom and pity when someone can recite the spec sheet and price list for a certain product but cannot tell me what drives/motivates them. Responses like, “Uhhh, well, I don’t know if I have ever thought about it” bring my heart a lot of sadness. And when someone goes on and on about how much he or she has to do/buy/clean:

Again, Non des Mus asinum.  But in reality--what a lifeless, muted and empty existence.

Superficial, surface gab is definitely a part of almost every conversation initially. Of course we do not sit around all day over tea discussing deep issues and solving the world’s problems. I love to joke around and have fun just like anyone. However, when anything beyond the latest/coolest/greatest is approached—the vast majority is unable to maintain the conversation. So many are LOST. Or they distract themselves with their phone. Intelligent, accomplished, educated people make up a big percentage of the aforementioned.

Come on, world. Open your fucking eyes. You will never, ever be content with things. You will always feel you need more. More. More. You will never win the game because the game is designed to take your money by creating a constant need to have the newest thing out there. And your obsession with things dampers what we need the most—human connection. Material possessions and what we will do to have the best of them is rotting our souls.

The scariest of this is seen in those that value their lifeless crap over people, relationships, connection. Crap breaks and wears out and becomes obsolete with each new calendar year, yet some keep on striving to buy it—at the cost of their own happiness. They become hardened, distracted, lonely and generally miserable inside, but very good at keeping up the outward appearance. They want a deep level of connection with a person rather than an item. In their hearts, they want to do, go and experience, but will have a very convincing excuse why it is not the right time.

From a blog I read a few weeks ago on the subject (not my words and I am still searching for the credit):

Things are never a priority. Never.
Your scratched car will not cry out at you, begging you for shelter, food, comfort, love, freedom, truth. Your torn designer clothing will not drop down on its knees and whimper at dreams unlived, hopes disappearing beyond the fading horizon. Your home will never wrap your small and broken body in its warm and tender embrace, soothing your raw emotions, wiping away your salty teardrops from your face.

Damn. Stop and think about that for a moment. Really. Do it. Don't just blissfully ignore it or dismiss it as overly dramatic. The words are powerful and bold.

Not muted and meant to be read and forgotten like a Tweet.

Alright (big exhale). Now that my Thursday afternoon rant is complete, I hereby submit my own Christmas Gift Idea List:

1. Your time.Take the person to a concert, hang out doing nothing, a camping trip, a bike ride to all the coffee shops nearby, make them dinner/lunch, etc.

2. Your thoughtful and kind words of encouragement (do you know how many people need this?)

3. Your genuine interest in what they are doing/dream about doing. Ask them.

4. Human touch. (Why are hugs/embraces so scary now?)

5. Something unique that shows you care enough to find out what that something is.

Shall I continue? No, it would be repetitive. The point is people over things. No matter what.

So....How about we all use the credit card a bit less and the heart a bit more this Christmas?

Try it. Then we all might remember this one a little more.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Dream List

Dreams. I believe in the beauty of them. I fiercely chase them. 

Durango just went from a dream to a reality. A year of reducing put all of my material possessions into this 5x5 storage unit.

Yeah, really!

My new crib right in the middle of town lends to minimal driving. The energy in Durango is contagious and  I can be completely off the radar and on a rugged, remote trail (not a managed open space area) in under 15 minutes. The slower, more relaxed pace fits my goal of minimizing the unnecessary. My blog will flourish with writing instead of “reporting” which I feel like it has become lately.

I am really starting to reflect on one helluva year that just came and went. In January, I started a fire inside to do something remarkable with my bike. I learned so much, I laughed, I cried, I bled, I lost teeth, I lost skin, I ruined drive trains, I duct taped tires when there were no more boots, I went through six chains, and I set out on the CTR with 40 bucks in my pocket and a plan to hitchhike back to Denver from Durango. I put notes all over my house the night before that said “DURANGO OR BUST.” I ran on soley faith, desire to improve and caffeine somedays.

But I did it. I did something remarkable with my bike. What I did was far beyond race results and achievements.

I lived. Really lived. Not the chaotic, constant stream of distractions and commitments some call a life.


I truly lived to be happy rather than work, produce and consume.I lived for the first time without regrets. I lived as close to the poverty line as I ever have. I stopped hanging out with negative people who bore the shit out of me with talk of the newest and greatest.

Yeah. I was free and I was on a bike, smashing conventionality in the face with every mile.

In short, 2011 was the year that I boldly dared to live my dreams. I had no idea what I was doing by the standards of some and many in my own family do not understand me or even show interest in what I am doing. It hurts inside, but is soothed by the people who had the guts to tell me that by reading my blog, knowing me, talking to me, I inspired them to do _________. Those emails, calls and conversations were incredible! I saw so many people I knew get on a bike, start running, start going to the gym, climb 14ers, etc.

So, what is coming from my heart that will be a part of my life for 2012 and beyond? Hmmm, some call this a bucket list, but I choose to call it my dream list.

Dreams have to have a plan. Plans have dates. Plans can and will change, but most of all they provide a structure and direction for people like me who want to do everything under the sun.

Looking within, this is what is going to happen in my life before my 40th birthday: (Which is a long ways off).


Dream: 3-day snowbikepacking trip in my new backyard (San Juans)
When: Christmas 2011

Dream (goal maybe a more fitting term): 3 Facebook logins per week. All less than 30 minutes. Anything more seems like a borderline addiction. Time is too valuable. I am not sure how this overuse habit has crept up on me, but I am staring it straight in the face and it is ending midnight December 31.


Dream: Break the CTR female record
When: July 31, 2012

Dream: Complete AZT 750
When: April 2012

Dream: Complete all Colorado 14ers (12 left!!)
When: Before December 2012

Dream: Be completely debt free
When: March 2012

Dream: Podium at 24Hour Worlds (IN CANMORE!!)
When: September 2012


Dream: Top 5 Finish in La Ruta
When: 2013 race

Dream: Arrowhead 135 Finish
When: Jan 2013

Dream: Obtain a packraft system for the fatbike
When: Before Dec 2013

Dream: Earn enough through my published writing to cover housing expenses
When: By Dec 2013


Dream: Denali Summit
When: May 2014

Dream: Fatbike packraft trip (Alaska? South America?)
When: By December 2014

Dream: Thru-bike the CDT
When: Summer 2015

Before my 40th Birthday

Dream: Live and bike through Europe for a minimum of 8 months

Dream: Iron Man Top ten finish

Dream: Complete Masters in Biochemistry (Because big mountains, bikes and protein structure and function are the most fascinating things in the world to me)

Dream: Own a horse again and team rope with my dad

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

My Enemies

1. Apathetic acceptance of a muted life lived at half-steam.
2. Bondage to material things.
3. Wasting my life by staying constantly connected and updated.
4. Cacti in my tires!

2012: A Prelude

Dear Jill, 

You have some work to do this winter. Eliminate the unimportant things that distract you. Focus in. Plan. Be brave. Grow. Learn. Embrace simplicity. Narrow and define your goals.

And remember:

Nothing will be given to you.
Focus is harnessed from within by eliminating distraction.
Pour your heart and soul into what YOU want and never let it go.
In this moment, release your hold on what does not serve you.
Create opportunities from disappointment.

And finally:
Illegitimi non carborundum.

Let's do some truly epic shit in 2012.

Best regards, 

Carl (aka my bike for the non blog followers out there)