Category Archives: outdoors

My Running History

I decided to take some time to talk about another outdoor activity of mine: running. I have been running for a couple decades now, mostly just as a form of exercise which doubles as a form of stress relief and triples as a means of getting our pet dog some outdoor time as well. Over the last 15 years I’ve also run quite a few races, never with the intent of being a highly competitive runner but just to do incrementally better. As I’ve aged, however, the incrementally better is starting to slide and I’m ok with that.

My first race was the Dana Point Turkey Trot 5K in 2008 (in Dana Point, CA right on the coast) which we did as a family. My first 5K time ever was about 26 minutes. Not bad for a first run amid a huge crowd (I quickly learned to position myself nearer the middle so I wouldn’t spend much of the race weaving in and out of less athletic runners.

Since we enjoyed it we then continued to do several more races over the next couple years in Orange County: one in Newport Beach, one in Laguna Beach (2009), the Dana Point Turkey Trot 10K in 2009, the Cinco de Mayo 5k in 2010, a mud run in Irvine Park (2010), and the Ladera Ranch 10K on Independence Day 2011. There are probably a few more that I can’t recall now.

Moving to Colorado in Dec 2011 meant running in the relatively thinner air at 6500 ft (or 5280 for Denver events). I started out with the 2012 Turkey Trot in Castle Rock turning in a time in the 23 minute range (which was fairly satisfactory at the time). In May of 2012 I improved to a 22 minute time for the first time on the 5K.

We did some fun family races over the summer like the Bubble Run and Color Run before I decided it was time for my first Half Marathon. The Denver Rock and Roll Half Marathon was scheduled for my birthday in 2013 and I saw it as an omen that this was a race I was to do.

I finished in a time of 2:07 (that’s 2 hours seven minutes), which was a time I was pretty happy with but I knew I could improve on in the future.

I did a number of family races and a couple 10Ks in 2014 and 2015 including one called the Rock Challenge that not only was 10K but included the ascent of Castle Rock, CO’s Castle Rock. The hike to the top of the rock is only about 1/2 mile, but running to the top in 90+ degree heat and then completing a full half marathon was quite the challenge. It was as hard as the half marathons.

In Sept 2015 I was ready for another half marathon and I decided on the Prairie Dog Half Marathon in Westminster, CO.

1288JeffM3039Castle RockCO11816/2671/1202:02:089:19

It was an improvement of 5 minutes over my 2013 half marathon. I was pretty happy overall and I was looking forward to running more in the coming months. But with winter approaching and a pending house move the next race wouldn’t happen for a while.

In 2016 we moved into a new house in May and much of the spring was devoted to packing and unpacking. That year there were only two races, but they were memorable ones. My son and I did the Warrior Dash in Larkspur, CO in August and had fun going through all the obstacles together.

In November we did another family Turkey Trot, this time in Highlands Ranch, CO on a snowy day. I pushed my youngest in a covered bicycle stroller along the course while my wife and I wore turkey hats.

In 2017 we did the Furry Scurry run with our then nearly one-year-old goldendoodle. We won first place and got a free dog wash.

In July I signed up for my first trail run: the XTerra race in my home town. I did great, probably my best overall, but followed a group down the wrong path long enough to affect my time. Still for a 10K trail run it was pretty good:

405Jeff42MM40-44Castle RockCO281:12:041:11:4711:35

By 2018, I was starting to feel the effects of aging really start to kick in (everything seems to change at age 40 physically). I was also working hard on home improvements throughout most of 2018 and didn’t have many free weekends. Finally in September I ran a 10K in Castle Pines, CO with the family (they ran a 5K) on a horrendously hot, humid day and on a hilly course I was just happy to finish without stopping considering the conditions.

In 2019, I ran four races in a matter of three months. The first was a St. Patrick’s Day Race on a chilly March morning. I finished in the 26 minute range, which was rather disappointing. I was wearing a big green hat but it was still startling to see the drop in time from having not run regularly over the winter.

Feeling a need for redemption I trained and ran much harder for a subsequent race a couple weeks later. I ended up with a personal best in a 5K for the Cookie Chase in April:

Time: 00:21:14 Speed: 14.13 km/h Rank: 24 Out of 1405

Now at age 44 running at that pace took a lot out of me even with it being a 5k. Often springtime allergens hit me especially hard with my highest levels of exertion and I was affected for hours afterward.

But we wanted more. The Steamboat Springs 5K/10K/Half Marathon was coming up and we decided to travel to Steamboat Springs as a family to take part. I ran the 10K instead of the Half Marathon and did relatively good:

44 Jeff M 43 0:53:15

But I was envious of the Half Marathon finishers. I really wanted to run a half marathon again so I decided that the upcoming Estes Park Half Marathon was the chance to do it.

I got up at 3 am, drove to Estes Park, and got to the starting line on a shuttle bus. The race got started and I got my best half marathon time yet:

 1:51. Overall position 56 Out of 423. Speed 7.02 miles/h Pace 08:33 min/miles

At that point I felt done for 2019 mentally and physically and looked forward to 2020 (not realizing there would be a pandemic that would shut everything down).

So of course 2020 meant no races. 2021 would have to make up for it. I signed up for 2 races.

First was the Prairie Dog Half 10K in Castle Rock, CO. Despite my age I think I kicked ass. I went off trail again and it ruined my time but I felt really good the whole way. And then on July 4 my son and I ran a 5K together in Castle Rock as well.

In 2022 we did only one race, returning to Denver to do the Cookie Chase in blazing heat near 100F. I finished in 25 minutes which was fine with me. I was proud of Evan and Shelley for finishing too in that ultra warm weather.

Next year I’ll get into it again. Just writing this has made me eager to shake off the rust and go for it.

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Rifle Falls State Park

If anyone were to ask me what the most impressive waterfall is in the state of Colorado I would give the edge to Rifle Falls. In a state that doesn’t receive a lot of rainfall, Rifle Falls is unique for its combination of height, breadth (actually multiple falls), the verdant environs of the surrounding area, and the caves near its base.

Rifle Falls State Park is located just outside of the town of Rifle, which is on the western slope not far from Glenwood Springs (a favorite town of ours with a lot to do in the surrounding areas).

The park has a number of short trails around the base of the falls. The falls mist the surrounding areas making it an oasis of greenery in an otherwise mostly arid region of Colorado. There are great vantage points on multiple sides of the falls.

The fun isn’t limited to the waterfalls. Trails lead off toward a series of shallow caves a short distance away that are a lot of fun for kids. We explored all of these with our dog too (she was only a puppy at the time).

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Santiago Peak Hike

It’s a rather slow time of year (for hiking at least) in Colorado, so I thought I’d talk a little about the Santiago Peak hike I did in Orange County, CA in 2011.

We used to live in Orange County (we were there from 2003 until the end of 2011) and by the time I decided to do the hike I already knew we would likely be leaving before long. And of course we did end up moving away.

Santiago Peak is the highest point in Orange County and loomed over our home for the six years we lived in the Portola Hills area. For most of that time I contemplated hiking it, but it was only when we were planning on leaving the area that I decided it was actually time to do it.

While the peak only rises to a modest 5,600 ft, the trail in 18 miles round trip (parking is a mile from the trailhead) and elevation gain is 4500 ft. So the hike is certainly not easy. Likewise the vast majority of residents of Orange County have no idea where the trailhead even is, as it is hidden off a canyon road (it is called the Holy Jim Trail). Also, wildfires have routinely affected the area of the trail in the years since I made this hike so much of the greenery may no longer be quite what you see in the photos.

The hike was on a hot Feb day (seems strange to say that now that I live in Colorado) and for the first several miles it was a rather unspectacular jaunt through canyons and hillsides of scrub. Eventually, however, the switch-backing trail began the full ascent of the peak and the views of the surrounding areas opened up.

While the summit is comprised of unsightly radio antennas, there is an impressive panorama of sites visible from the top. There was even a bit of snow on the shaded side of the summit. You can see Mt. San Jacinto (located near Palm Springs), Lake Elsinore to the east, and the Pacific Coast to the west in the photos below.

The entire hike took about 4 hours to complete at a fairly rapid pace. But for a memorable day hike in Orange County this is certainly a good choice.

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Thanksgiving at Crested Butte

We had an overall good time spending Thanksgiving weekend at Crested Butte, CO. This early in the season not all the runs were open but the man-made snow was better than expected (winter is starting late this year). Also a lot of the resort and the town as a whole wasn’t quite up and running as it would be in the middle of ski season.

We saw a surprising amount of wildlife too. Lots of bighorns, a red fox, and some stellar jays in the photos below.

Overall I don’t think we’d go back at Thanksgiving just because it’s not prime skiing time, but the slopes weren’t busy and it was easy to get the kids practice time. Daniel is just starting to learn the snowboard while Evan has a few lessons under his belt on the skis. We’ll be skiing again in the next couple months.

Survival Stories

I have a number of things on my mind today that I was considering as topics for a blog post, but decided to talk a bit about survival stories. In particular I’ll discuss three that are of interest to me, two factual and one fictional.

I’ve always enjoyed reading survival stories and watching movies based on those who have survived in difficult circumstances. Often when I’ve been in places of extreme climate and terrestrial conditions I hearken back to these stories and think about how the individuals involved survived despite the odds stacked against them. Every time the answer is really simple: smarts and determination.

To survive is not a test of courage, nor a test of strength, or stamina, or even luck, though all of these can make surviving in desperate conditions easier. It is a test of one’s ability to make an accurate assessment of one’s current state and the conditions one has been placed in, and deciding upon the best avenue to extricating one’s self from the calamitous situation.

Most of us assume we will never be put in a survival situation, but there is simply no guarantee that this will be true. One could live their entire life in the comfort of suburbia and work daily in the safety of an office building, but find themselves trapped in a blizzard on a remote stretch of road and faced with a life and death decision, or in any number of other frightening situations. Reading these stories provides us with an understanding of what went right, what went wrong, and what we can learn from the success and mistakes of others.

The first story I’ll discuss is that of Aron Ralston, whose story led to the movie 127 hours. Ralston of course was forced to cut off his own arm when trapped hopelessly in a slot canyon outside Canyonlands National Park. As everyone who has hiked in that area knows, the odds of being found and discovered there are pretty close to zero (although the canyon walls to echo and carry sounds farther than you might imagine).

Ralston has become somewhat of a hero for having the courage to amputate his own arm, but he also made a lot of mistakes before he ever set out, despite his canyoneering experience. Mistakes that we can learn from. He was arrogant and reckless. He assumed nothing could go wrong. He didn’t communicate where he was going or what he was doing.

You have to tell people where you are going. Cell phones make this a tad easier as they provide a reasonable indication of one’s location (always carry one and try to make sure it’s fully charged – better yet get some type of solar charger), but when you are going into the remote wilderness one of the only means of rescue is having a basic understanding of one’s location, something nobody had. While he still would have lost his arm, his ordeal would have been much shorter.

So what did he do right? Well, obviously he correctly assessed the situation and concluded that his survival meant parting with his arm. That is a terribly painful reality (literally), but being willing to make a strategic sacrifice is sometimes necessary. In some stories I’ve read over time, sick and dying members of a party have to be left behind to give the others a better chance. Staying together is not always the answer, though it more often is better and safer for everyone.

Another decision upon cutting away his arm was to drink from any available fresh-water sources. Could they have dangerous bacteria? Yup. Is the need to get any hydration, even from a dirty water source better than none in the moment? Yup. If you survive the hike out you can always get medical attention for the possible giardiasis and gangrenous wounds. But without water, it’s over quickly.

Another thing he did right is know exactly where he was and how to get back, as well as know that the location he was in was not likely to be stumbled upon by another canyoneer. If you can trust that the location you are in is probably trafficked by fellow hikers, drivers, etc at least once a day, staying put might be the better option than risking a journey back.

The next story I want to discuss is a favorite movie of mine from the 1990s called The Edge. It’s a story of a group of wealthy urbanites who take a vacation at a remote wilderness lodge (I assume it’s Alaska but the movie never directly says). After a bush plane crash, a few survivors must trek through the wilderness to safety.

There are a few interesting things about this movie that I enjoy. First, the hero of the story is the billionaire businessman (Anthony Hopkins) who despite being placed in a desperate situation is able to reason his way back to civilization. At the beginning of the movie he is quizzed by his fellow travelers on what would be depicted on the back of an oar, and being well-read he correctly responds that it is a rabbit smoking a pipe.

The allusion to events later in the movie is obvious in that Anthony Hopkin’s character is smart enough to reason his way through all the circumstances that they will encounter and is thus unafraid as they occur, which leads to their salvation. And of course among his party there are those that are also out to get him. But because of his intelligence, willingness to read and educate himself well beyond the confines of his required business knowledge, and determination to meet the challenges, he survives. His habit of reading and acquiring knowledge mattered when it counted most.

One of my favorite parts of the movie are the scenes leading up to the encounter with the bear which has already killed one of the members of the party (I’ll forgive this bit of fiction because grizzlies don’t really stalk and kill humans in this way). He makes Alec Baldwin’s character repeat the line “If one man can do it, any man can do it”. Essentially what they intend to do is use a sharpened spear to make the bear impale itself under its own weight. Native hunters used they method, he knows, but they only need to know that they can do it.

I’ve often reminded myself of that mantra many times when I am faced with a difficult challenge. No, everyone cannot run a 9.6 second 100 meters or multiply two numbers of ten digits accurately in seconds. But for most any task or project or endeavor we can rely on the knowledge that if one person was able to previously accomplish the same task, we can accomplish the same task as well. We just need to understand how they succeeded and why they succeeded.

Sometimes the biggest barrier to our success or survival is our own self-doubt. Once we set aside that invisible internal enemy, we can overcome the odds stacked against us logically and systematically.

Finally, the amazing story of Julianne Koepcke. Julianne Koepcke was a seventeen-year-old girl who miraculously survived a plane crash over the Peruvian rainforest in the 1970s. She fell from the plane without a parachute, but because she was strapped to her seat (which acted a bit like a helicopter to slow her descent), and fell into the canopy of the rainforest, she was slowed just enough to survive.

Once on the ground though she had a broken collarbone, lacerations, and was hopelessly alone in one of the most hostile ecosystems on earth. This situation should have been a death sentence despite surviving the fall. But she had one huge advantage over 99% of the rest of humanity: she had been raised in the rainforest by her scientist parents and was both knowledgeable and unafraid of the rainforest.

She knew about the snakes and understood the dangers they presented. She knew she could acquire water from leaves. She knew that she needed to treat a festering wound or it would lead to her arm being amputated or her own death (she found gasoline along the way and used to kill the maggots). She knew that a king vulture meant that carrion was nearby and assumed it was other plane crash victims. There she found candy that she was able to use to stave off starvation.

Eventually she found a couple Peruvians in the forest who were able to treat her wounds, give her food, and bring her back to civilization. Her story is amazing but again leads back to one common element about all stories of survival: that it is a matter of reasoning and calm decision-making that makes the difference between life and death.

This was a girl that was not placed in a position to trek through the rainforest to survival, but when fate led her to that situation, she was able to meet the challenge. I think it’s important that we always consider what might go wrong, and think about what we can do to prepare ourselves for any situation no matter how unlikely it may seem. Not all of us live in the rainforest, or at high altitude, or in a desert climate, but a little knowledge and experience goes a long way when we are faced by survival situations.

Hiking Rocky Mountain National Park

Hiking Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park is the largest national park in Colorado and one of the most visited in the country. Over the course of many years I’ve hiked dozens of trails in this park, from the short and family-friendly Emerald Lake, to the ultra-challenging Longs Peak trail. Read on…

Dinosaur NM and Steamboat Lake SP

We took a weekend camping trip to northwestern Colorado and a little bit of Utah. We made our first trip to Dinosaur National Monument and saw the Dinosaur Quarry and hiked the Fossil Discovery Trail in 97 degree heat. We also visited the Natural History Museum in Vernal, UT.

The following day we went to Steamboat Lake (a favorite place of ours in CO) to do some canoeing.
We camped at the KOA in Steamboat Springs which was ok, but more crowded and not as scenic as the Steamboat Lake campground. We camped there last year and loved it.

We saw a bald eagle, golden eagle and a beaver but couldn’t get photos because we were on the road and couldn’t pull over in time. The golden eagle was especially cool. I had never seen one and it was huge.

The Central Coast via Highway 1

The Central Coast via Highway 1

I lived three years on the Central Coast of California in the early 2000s and, along with subsequent visits as a family, we’ve gotten to know the area pretty well. The Central Coast is a laid-back sanctuary about halfway between the LA and Bay Area metro areas and a world apart from the traffic gridlock of those metropolises. Read on…

Wildlife of Alaska

Wildlife of Alaska

No state can compare with Alaska for wildlife. In this huge state where wilderness still reigns supreme, the challenge is more about traversing the wild interior than it is about finding nature. The other challenge is that while a plethora of wildlife might be visible, it is often at a GREAT distance. The more powerful the zoom lens, the better. View the gallery…