The trip from Santa Fe to our next stop, Colorado Springs, was long but uneventful, at least weather-wise. We had hoped to spend several days at the US Air Force Academy campground in Colorado Springs. A friend of Suzanne’s, Mickey Gonzalez, had offered to take us mountain biking on her favorite trails, but our summer tour schedule allowed us only one night there, so we invited Mickey over for dinner at the coach. I remembered Mickey being fit, but as our conversation progressed, I found out that her biking experience and skills were way out of our league…
Mickey started motocross racing at age 18 in California when there were hardly any women in the sport. She got so good that she turned professional, and won many races and championships. Here she is “catching air” big time at a race in Glen Helen, CO.
In her late 40s she decided to settle down a bit and moved to mountain biking, a marginally more sedate sport than motocross racing… but lest you think she’s a couch potato, Mickey participated in a 24-hour race in Moab, Utah, considered by many to have the most challenging MTB trails in the world. The hot desert climate doesn’t make it any easier. You have to be a top-level athlete to participate and survive a race like that.
It turns out Mickey has passed on her love of motocross and mountain biking to her son, Landon, who started racing at an early age. He is now 17 and a senior at the US Air Force Academy High School.
Mickey has offered to take us on some of her favorite trails when we return to Colorado Springs. I think we may have to invest in body armor, full face shield helmets, and some serious classes in catching air and climbing near-vertical slopes before we take her up on that offer, and even then I will allow My Lovely Bride to try out some trails with Mickey first. (If she returns without any broken limbs, maybe I’ll go out on Day Two…)
We departed Colorado Springs and drove up and over Eisenhower Pass through the worst traffic jam I’ve been through in years; it took two hours to go 7 miles, due to a rockfall on I-70. I’m not sure if any vehicles were taken out by the rockfall, but it sure was a slow slog. Once over the pass, the traffic eased up and the scenery became more and more striking. The obligatory Runaway Truck Ramps filled with gravel on the 6-8% grades do give one pause, though; we stayed in low gear on the downhills, keeping our speed to 45 mph. The coach weighs 46,000 lbs. (unloaded); with all our gear aboard, it’s about the weight of 9 Cadillac Escalades. You really don’t want to build up a lot of momentum going down steep grades!
After setting up camp in Carbondale (6,181 ft.), My Lovely Bride wanted to go for a hike in one of our favorite areas: the Maroon Bells, just outside Aspen, Colorado. The mountains are named for their shapes (bell-like) and color at sunset (when not covered with snow). Being close to Aspen, you might guess that there are many aspen trees here, and you would be correct. Aspens are representative of new growth forests, which is appropriate since most of the pine trees were logged in the early 20th Century when silver was mined extensively in the area. In fact, the largest single pure silver nugget ever mined was found here in the Smuggler mine. It weighed over 2,000 lbs. and had to be cut into three pieces to remove it from the mine.
Our trail was listed in the guidebook as moderate. It started at Maroon Lake (9,200 ft.) and climbed up into the Maroon Bells – Snowmass Wilderness on a steep, very rocky trail over glacial moraines to Crater Lake (10,600 ft.).
My Lovely Bride gives me a hard time about carrying a fully loaded 25 lb. backpack on day hikes, when her pack weighs about 8 lbs. My rationale is that it’s for training. If you’re carrying a full pack on every day hike, it’s easier on the 2-3 day trips. Makes sense to me, but she just shakes her head. Women baffle me sometimes…
This photo of a hiking couple was taken by a retarded (oops, I meant “retired”) Air Force officer who was giving us Navy folks a hard time; but he did laugh when I mentioned that when we were at Kirtland AFB recently, I did notice that the working day for Air Force personnel appeared to be from 11:00 AM until 2:00 PM, with an hour for lunch and another hour for PT…
The Maroon Bells are said to be the most photographed mountains in America. Their twin pyramids look inviting for mountaineers, but are considered extremely dangerous. Over 50 climbers have lost their lives on the Bells, and a mountain rescue was ongoing the day we were hiking. The rock formations here are metamorphic sedimentary mudstone, which crumble easily and are extremely unstable. This striking photo at the bottom of the Bells shows an active rockslide area to the left and a likely avalanche area to the right, with some vegetation and trees starting to grow back. The upper slopes of the mountains are above treeline and are much more treacherous.
A day trip took us to the village of Redstone, pop. 92, which has several tourist shops and these neat beehive coke ovens, remnants of the early 20thCentury industry which made coke for fueling steel mills.
The Colorado Rockies have been receiving heavy rains for the past few weeks, and the mountainsides were more green than we had seen on previous visits. The Colorado River is running very high, with the popular Glenwood Canyon bike trail closed due to its being submerged in places. This photo shows the river looking quite angry; some of those standing waves are 4 feet high.
After receiving an email the other day from our good friends Connie England and John Henry, I had thought about bringing my fishing rod on our hike, but decided that I wouldn’t have time to do both. I was smugly satisfied when I saw that several local fishermen already at the two lakes were troutless. I guess I’ll just have to be a fishing voyeur in admiring John’s catch from Devil’s Lake in North Dakota, where he has a house and dock… maybe I’ll take My Good Friend Bob’s suggestion and trade in my rod for a hand grenade.
The day after our hike, Suzanne presented her Making the Connection talk in Carbondale, hosted at the Davi Nikent Center for Human Flourishing. Rita Marsh was our hostess for the second year, and as before, was most gracious and hospitable, even bringing flowers from her garden and snackies to the event. It was very well received, and we look forward to returning to Carbondale and Aspen next summer.
We stayed in Carbondale for four nights, during a heat wave that reached 93-95F in late afternoon, although nights were down into the high 40s. On our last night in town, I succumbed to taking MLB out on a date. She had displayed an interest in a particular restaurant, and since she hadn’t taken anything out of the freezer for dinner, and Rudy hadn’t brought home any prey (the chipmunks are pretty small here), I gave in. Town Restaurant is a classy place. Graham made us welcome, and we chatted about England, where he grew up. The food was excellent; our starters were a yummy salad with the best Bleu cheese I’ve ever had, and lamb meatballs with a spicy hummus. Suzanne had the flatiron steak with barbequed carrots and gruyere mashed potatoes, and I had grilled halibut in a pea coulis, served atop a parsnip and pea cake (it was delicious, much better than it sounds). A very nice Pinot Noir accompanied our meal, and I made points with My Lovely Bride by not suggesting going to Sonic for burgers and fries…
After dinner, we went for a hike with the puppies. Rudy and Gretchen have very short legs, and can’t go very far without stopping to sniff everything, so we loaded them in our backpacks for the hike along the Rio Grande Trail, which actually winds along the Roaring Fork River. We had previously ridden our bikes on this trail twice this trip, but this sunset hike was much more leisurely.
Our last day in Colorado started well, with an easy drive up and over Eisenhower Pass, 11,200 ft., all the way on I-70/76 to a small town in eastern Colorado (that shall remain nameless). One of our funniest campground experiences occurred here. I had called and asked about a campsite, spoke to the manager, and was given a site number. We arrived, checked in, went for a run, had dinner, and sat down to use our computers (to post this blog, in my case). I couldn’t get the campground Wi-Fi to work, so I called the office, and was told by a young girl that the owner had switched Internet providers last week, and hadn’t gotten the new one to work yet. I called back to the office later, spoke to the manager, and asked why he didn’t tell me Wi-Fi wasn’t working when I called. His answer: “You didn’t ask.” Well, I didn’t ask if the electricity worked, if water was turned on, if sewage was backed up in the campground, or if there were rabid wolves attacking residents… I replied, “Well, I guess caveat emptor is the rule here.” There was a silence, and I suspect my Latin reply wasn’t totally understood. He said he would try to get it to work, and later came by and apologized for coming across as a dork… or some other word starting with “d” and ending with “k”. I told him not to worry, and that I was using my cell phone as a hot spot, but appreciated his trying to get it back on line. We both had a good laugh about it.
Finally, I have to relate a story about My Lovely Bride. I was thinking about another long mountain hike, but Suzanne was looking a bit tired… due to the altitude, her presentation, and other hard workouts. It was obvious that she needed a break, so I said, “Sweetheart, every day doesn’t have to be a forced march.” She looked at me in stunned silence, and said, “Ty, what did you just say?” I repeated myself, and she calmly walked over and placed a pen and file card in front of me and said, “Write that down, please.” “What?” “You heard me; please write that down… and sign it.” I did as she asked, and I’m sure she will keep that note until the day I hike up to the Happy Hunting Grounds (it is posted on our refrigerator in the coach); and yes, she took it easy that day. I just hope she won’t make a habit of it…