Opting Outside to Hike the Incline

Yesterday, I hiked the Manitou Incline as part of Opt Outside, and I’m grateful I did.

Most people reading this probably know about the Incline and Opt Outside, but just in case:

The Incline is a short and punchy hike in Manitou Springs that ascends 2,000 feet of elevation gain in less than a mile up railroad ties. I previously blogged about it in this post a few years ago.

Speaking of Opt Outside, REI launched it in 2015 to motivate people to get outside on Black Friday instead of fighting crowds indoors to buy stuff.

This day has really taken off, since at least 16 million people have posted to Instagram using #optoutside. Pretty crazy.

I have participated each of the years since it started, whether hiking, biking or climbing. Of course, I don’t need a campaign to motivate me to get outside, but I’ll take the excuse 🙂 And for me, the day has even deeper significance than celebrating the outdoors.

The day falls after Thanksgiving—a time when I’m already primed with gratitude.

Thankful to Opt Outside

When I head outside on Black Friday, I’m stoked to enjoy fresh air, nature and beautiful landscapes of open spaces or parks. But I’m not just grateful in an abstract sense. I’m thankful to God because he created these spaces and wild places, knowing that they would provide refreshment, relaxation and a much needed “reset.”

He knew that our modern society would force us indoors more and more that breathing all of the manufactured air and living a sedentary lifestyle would kill us slowly.

Case in point: much of my work these days involves writing, content creation and managing websites. After a long workday on the screen, (or sometimes in the middle of it) I don’t just want to get outside; I need to get outside and move.

And so I am grateful that God provided such outlets. Psalms 107:21 seems to sum it up: “Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind.”

My Incline adventure

So, with thankfulness in my heart, on Friday morning I showed up to the Incline about 7:30 a.m.

While hardly a wilderness experience, this short hike gives lot of bang for your buck, offering beautiful views while easily giving you as much cardio as a hard run. It usually takes less than 1:30 car to car, depending how you descend, which helps me return early enough so my wife and kids could enjoy the day, too.

Opting outside is a family necessity, too.

Pandemic changes on the Incline

This year’s hike on the Incline would be a little different, considering the pandemic. Because of Covid-19 guidelines, hiking the Incline now requires registering for a free permit in advance, so they can limit the number of people who hike it. In fact, I noticed probably as few as 1/10 of the normal crowds.

Another difference is that by city ordinance, hikers must wear a face mask in Manitou Springs, even outside.

I noticed that most people ascended maskless, which I later discovered is ok. But I still put mine on whenever I passed anyone, as a courtesy. However, I will say wearing the mask made it super difficult to breathe (surprise!) as the altitude already pushed me toward the redline anyway.

Keeping a fairly casual pace, I reached the top in a decent time. Though, considering I currently live in the Flatlands, it’s hard to feel very strong on this hike.

That wasn’t always the case. In the first couple years of our marriage, my wife and I lived in Colorado Springs and made the Incline a regular thing. Maybe someday we could be locals again?

Once I reached the top, I enjoyed views of the early morning Colorado crystalline blue over the valley. I love the Centennial State.

Descending with gratitude

No longer so hampered my need for oxygen, I pondered some more things I’m grateful for on the 3-mile descent of Barr Trail.

Rounding out this year’s list includes my family and extended family and also health—some of them weathered Covid-19). I’m also thankful for our friends, and that the non profit I started, Hope Has Arrived, continues to grow, which might be one of the few blessings of the pandemic.

I’m also grateful for how the people of Manitou Springs have adapted with rules that help keep people safe on the Incline, instead of just shutting it down. It’s great to see many cities and states that continue to preserve and protect public lands.

I look forward to opting outside again next year. And in the meantime, I still have another 364 days to get out there as well.

Salt Lake Reunion Tour

After a few hours of skinning, we stood on top of the ridge, eyeing the steep lines we hoped to ski. After checking conditions, we pulled skins and dropped in, one at a time, the backcountry powder feeling deeper and creamier than expected.

And thus kicked off my Salt Lake City Reunion Tour.

Our plane had only landed a few hours ago, sadly a day late due to a cancellation. Once on the ground in SLC, we threw our gear together, piled in a buddy’s truck and met at the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon, which accesses the heart of the Wasatch Mountain range. I’m quite familiar with these mountains, though this was the first time I’ve returned since moving away in 2012.

Wow, almost 7 years! Has it really been that long?

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_6620

I remember the first week I moved to Salt Lake, in early 2009. I knew there was good skiing—but I had no idea.

I drove my Subaru through the canyon on I-80 through swirling snow showers. The next day, even with my stuff still unpacked, I went skiing at Solitude, where a foot of fresh powder awaited me and few of my new coworkers. This proved the ultimate, “welcome to the neighborhood,” so to speak.

While as epic as the inbounds skiing was, what I really wanted was to venture into the backcountry. Previously, I logged a few days touring in Montana and Colorado, but nothing consistent. Now, a backcountry buffet awaited me a mere 30 minutes from where I lived.

Besides adjusting to a new job and new city, my concern was accessing the goods ASAP. I didn’t know many locals yet—especially backcountry skiiers—so I was little befuddled on where to start. Of course, finding a skilled partner with a similar risk tolerance and fitness level is important. You literally trust your life to them if things go sideways.

As silly as it may sound, I prayed that God would help provide me someone to ski with—and soon. 

Not long after, an old friend from Montana texted me. 

“I was thinking about coming to Salt Lake to do some touring in a few days,” wrote my friend Brandon whose wife worked for the airlines and could get standby tickets. “You want to meet up?”

That was easy: “Yes.”

Ironically, Brandon was one of the top competitive ski mountaineering racers in the country, and though he didn’t live in Salt Lake, he knew the area well.

The few days of touring which included a boot pack up a steep chute for 3,000 feet called the Y-Couloir were invigorating and challenging. Check out the throwback photo. What an epic few days!

1978_57938580571_2357_n

Back to my present day tour, we ventured in Day’s Fork, which is a few miles down canyon from Solitude Mountain Resort. All told, back in the day, I’ve probably done at least 10 tours from this trailhead.

After skiing the first lap, we decided to put our skins back on for more. Though our local friends had low expectations, considering it hadn’t snowed a lot in the past few days, we still easily found a great powder stash. This year, the Wasatch has been hammered by 450 inches of snow, with Alta Resort reporting 456 inches as of March 9. In fact, locals say this might be the best year in 10 years.

As we started ascending the wooded hillside, a few snow flurries quickly changed to penny-sized flakes and then graupel (which looks like white Dippin’ Dots). Soon we heard thunder, which convinced us to settle for a shorter lap. We still racked up about 3,000-3,500 vertical total and some great turns. Not bad for a travel snafu and a late start!

I will follow this post up with another from the SLC trip trip soon. More coming…

mountain-3411851_1920

My Sojourn Among the Saguaros

unadjustednonraw_thumb_6436

I could hear my footsteps in the dry, desert gravel as I passed several Saguaro cacti, some up to 20 feet tall, with spiny arms curving upward—like a southwestern salute. With zero wind and clear cerulean sky overhead, the temperatures hovered at a pleasant 65 degrees.

Not too shabby for middle of winter.

In early January, we escaped the cold and ventured to the Phoenix-area with family. Neither Elizabeth or I had explored Arizona much, except for a quick trip to the Grand Canyon when we were first married.

Doing my homework ahead of time, the rock climbing and hiking seemed the best soup de jour. The mountain biking intrigued me, but renting seemed overly complicated and cost prohibitive. So, we schlepped our hiking and climbing gear via bulging backpack on the plane as a “personal item,” no doubt stretching that definition to the limit.

Here’s a few adventure highlights from our trip.

The Crowds of Camelback

On our second day, we headed to Camelback Mountain, a popular hike in the middle of Scottsdale that seemed like Phoenix’s version of the Manitou Incline near Colorado Springs, or Mount Sanitas in Boulder (see my chart at the end of this article).

It’s probably a fair comparison, though more crowded and more urban than the Colorado counterparts. Indeed, the website warned, “Parking is a challenge, please plan accordingly.”

What an understatement. On a Thursday afternoon, scarcity forced us to park a mile away from Cholla Trailhead—practically in a different zip code. There is also another trailhead on the Echo side, but I heard getting a spot there is even worse.

Such is the plight of the urban outdoorsman.

unadjustednonraw_thumb_6423

On the approach and once on the trail, we dodged people like we were waiting in line for a funnel cake at the state fair—steady lines for at least the first third of the hike. It took about 40-45 minutes to ascend the 1.42 miles + bonus mile to the summit (which we shared with about 60 people) and about the same to get down.

Despite the crowds, Camelback proved enjoyable, both aerobically and scenically. If I lived locally, I would partake often. Though, I don’t think I could handle the hot months, considering the city averages 107 days above 100 degrees Fahrenheit! That sounds like living on Mars.

Climbing Iffy Rock

A few days later, we decided to sample the local rock climbing, ironically ending up on the other side of Camelback. This time, trying to find a parking spot at the Echo Trailhead proved impossible. So we caught a Lyft from an uncomfortably “happy” driver (420 perhaps?) at a grocery store a few miles away.

The rock climbing at Camelback is also popular, considering it is the closest to the city and features mostly sport. Though, I quickly found while these walls looked good from far away, they were concerning up close. The Mountain Project description of the area seemed fitting: “Sort of a desert conglomeration that has been described as ‘petrified mud.’”

Indeed, the 200-foot climb I had on my list included this sober warning “The holds are fairly stable but climb softly anyways.”

Um…so how is rock “fairly stable”? And how does one “climb softly”? That phrase threw me. I’m guessing the author probably meant to “pull down not out,” like the familiar climbing adage. But climbing “softly” almost seems to imply you reduce your body weight—which is impossible apart from levitation.

unadjustednonraw_thumb_648a

I decided to climb anyway, while vowing to be cautious. Yet, in rock climbing I’ve often found the fun factor directly varies proportionally to the rock quality. The less bomber, the less fun. The more bomber rock, the more fun. I’ve learned this truth the hard way—from crumbly Utah sandstone to chossy Colorado climbs.

I suppose the downside of currently living in a place with limited rock climbing, is when I visit places I’m often overly motivated—even if it pushes common sense a bit.

And, so I started ascending a route with a big water streak called, Donamatrix (I couldn’t find much about the name origin). After I had clipped into some shiny bolts, I felt a bit better. I was especially thankful we were wearing helmets.

The rock type was strange—kind of a combo between river rock and sharp rocks with some kind of concrete layer—the “petrified mud” I assumed. As I climbed about 30 feet off the deck, it was easy to fixate on the loose pieces and gaping holes where rocks used to be.

 

Fortunately, no rocks came off the first pitch, but I am thankful it was no harder than 5-8+. I think anything more difficult would have been zero fun. I’d rather be challenged by my ability to hang on to the holds, then the integrity of the holds themselves being the adventure.

The second pitch was a little more solid, and on top, we saw great views of the rest of Camelback and Scottsdale, especially with twilight approaching. Soon we rapped and we were happy to reach the ground in one piece, while not bringing any bowling balls or baseball-sized chunks on top of us.

unadjustednonraw_thumb_64ab

While I was thankful we did the route, I probably wouldn’t return to Camelback—unless hiking. While I’ve enjoyed climbing on softer rock in epic locations, like in Fisher Towers or Garden of the Gods, Camelback lacked such charm.

No disrespect to climbers who like this place, but for me, just because “it’s there,” doesn’t mean I’m that stoked to climb it again.

A Real Live Western

unadjustednonraw_thumb_643dOne of my favorite outings in the area, was hiking a 3.5-mile loop in Lost Dutchman State Park. We did this more as a family adventure, with our daughter and my mom along, too.

This park sits in the thick of the Superstition Mountains, which besides the extremely rad name, feature a collection of steep walls and mesas, with huge saguaros and other cacti as the foreground—very southwestern in feel.

These mountains look and feel rugged—they are known for sharp drop offs, deep canyons, extreme changes in weather, harsh winds and dangerous wildlife. Today, they comprise more than 242 square miles of wilderness. They were named by the Pima Indians, who passed on stories of strange sounds, mysterious disappearances and deaths related to the mountains.

 

Indeed, legend lives on today as there have been plenty of hikers who have disappeared in them throughout the years.

Before coming to Phoenix, I had read that the “Supes” contain some of the best rock climbing in the state, other than Sedona or Flagstaff area. I wish we would have had more time to explore such places as Queen Canyon. Next time.

Solid Rock, Solid Day

unadjustednonraw_thumb_646c

A little closer to our base camp, we climbed at an area called Tom’s Thumb, in the nearby McDowell Mountains. This time the rock would be supremely solid—desert granite. No more mud.

We set out to climb a wall called Hanging Gardens, which was surprisingly tall, with routes up to three pitches (350 feet), and almost all of them traditional, the kind where you have to place your own gear using cracks and trees, and other features. The route we had had sought to climb received four stars—the highest rating on mountain project.

The approach was a few miles uphill, which kind of squeezed our daylight window considering we didn’t start until around noon.

When we arrived at the wall, I was surprised to find out how wet the rock was. It had rained a few days ago, but after 24 hours of drying, I figured it would be good to go in such a dry place. But this wall was north facing (a key fact which Mountain Project failed to mention) and so it would have been slippery and cold.

So, we moved on to a sun-facing route on the Thumb, which I had hoped to climb after the Garden Wall.

The West Corner started on a grassy shelf of sorts. We linked the two pitches together, climbing fast. After ascending a corner with a few trees, and then a chimney, I bypassed a small roof, and stood on top. Looking to the north and east, I could see deep into the Superstition Mountains. This felt much more like wilderness, compared to our urban adventures.

 

Sitting on top of the Thumb in the sun, soaking in the last hour of vitamin D, I couldn’t help thinking of how it might be awhile before I adventure in temperatures like this again.

Sure enough, as I write this from my northern locale, it was a balmy -9 degrees Fahrenheit that “feels like -24.”

At this point, I must thank our sponsors—my parents. They invited us to join them on this trip and they watched our daughter on several of the days so we could get a few adventures in—which was a win for us, and also for our daughter who loves spending time with them.

Anyone with kids knows it’s nice just to be able to get out at all, as adventures are often a side benefit on such trips. So, with that in mind, we were pretty content with what we were able to do.

I also discovered I am enamored with cactuses—especially the saguaros. I read that the big ones with curving arms could be at least 100 years old—that it takes at least 25-50 years before they can even grow a curve. So, that means a lot of these old cacti were probably around when Wyatt Earp and other old West characters passed through the area.

At any rate, I’d like to return to Arizona for some more adventures—especially climbing in Sedona, or the Grand Canyon again. That’s more of a wish than something we have actual plans for at this point.

Oh, and here is my Comparison Chart of the three hikes I mentioned:

Mount Sanitas in Boulder, Colorado: 3.1 miles, 1,343 feet of elevation gain

The Incline in Manitou Springs, Colorado: 3.5 miles (descending Barr Trail), 2,000 feet + elevation gain

Camelback Mountain in Scottsdale, Arizona:

Echo Trailhead: 1.45 miles (2.9 miles out and back), 1,264 feet elevation gain

Cholla Trailhead: 1.5 miles (3 miles out and back), 1,200 feet

 

December Yurt Trip: A Return to the Backcountry

IMG_1037As I shuffled my skis uphill through more than a foot of fresh powder in the northern Colorado backcountry, I couldn’t help thinking, man, I have missed this! Soon we would enjoy the reward: descending the lines we ascended. Such is backcountry skiing—significant investment, significant reward.

In mid December, I ventured on an unexpected yurt trip in northern Colorado. After a great early season across the state, it was an easy trip to say yes to when I got the invite.

When I say yurt trip, I mean where one skis into a round felt-covered shelter in the wilderness, carrying gear and food in backpacks and sleds. This would be my third of such trips to this area, though this year we would technically be staying in a “hut”—the Nokhu Hut—more like small cabin. Plush with rustic charm, yurts and huts are typically heated by a wood burning stove, furnished with bunk beds, and a tiny kitchen.

For me, this trip was much needed. After a grueling fall of building a website (hopehasarrived.com), I was ready for a break. I became justifiably stoked about the prospect of backcountry skiing—especially since it had been a few years.

While I have skied a fair amount the past couple years, it was mostly in bounds and some skinning at the small ski area, near where I currently live, sans beacon. I had not ventured into the backcountry since early 2016, before my health trial began. I’m much better place now, but lack of mountain proximity and fitness have delayed this from happening. Until now.

So, that’s how I found myself skinning through the Never Summer Mountains with a sled filled with gear and food. The name comes from Arapaho Indian name, Ni-chebe-chii, which translates to Never No Summer, and when you venture through them in winter, it’s easy to appreciate why.

Indeed, Cameron Pass had well over 40 inches on the ground and even more higher up. More was coming, too—slanting streams of white flakes buffeted our faces as we ascended the trail. The approach to the hut was —only about 1.1 miles—though mostly uphill. After an hour or so, we reached the turn off.

When we reached the hut, not surprisingly the little shelter and woodshed were blanketed by a two-foot pillows on top and piles of white on the sides. We soon went inside and lit a well-deserved fire.

IMG_1073

After a short rest, we explored the area east of the cabin and found a small glade worthy of a few ski turns. It was a great warm up, but tomorrow we hoped we find something a little more substantial.

That night, it kept snowing and snowing.

Meanwhile, inside our hut, we underestimated the heating capacity of the wood-burning stove and especially the insulation. Unlike the yurts, keeping the fire going overnight was completely unnecessary. I sat in the top bunk sweating like a beach goer in southern Florida in August. After an hour of no sleep, I crept out of my bed, opened the door and sat there cooling in the wind and snow. I quickly learned I wasn’t the only one overheating. One by one, everybody else got up and did the same thing. Maybe we should change the name to Never Sleep Hut or Forever Sweaty?

The next day, we woke up to the Colorado bluebird special: more than a foot of fresh powder, zero wind and a clear sky overhead. We then noticed what we couldn’t see when it was snowing—the prominent spires overshadowing our hut called the Nokhu Crags, which means Eagle’s Nest and is a stunning feature to say the least.

IMG_9101

Soon we set off to explore the Lake Agnes area. With the fresh snow, the jaunt turned out to be calorie-zapping affair, as breaking trail often requires double the effort of just following someone else’s tracks.

When we reached the lake, the peaks surrounding the lake were majestic but foreboding. Though they promised a buffet of steep ski line delicacies, we were wise to look but not taste. Colorado boasts one of the most dangerous snowpacks in the U.S. and I anticipate the Never Summer snowpack was “considerable” danger based on my observations and recent snowfall. Generally in Colorado it is smart to stick to low angle terrain until the snowpack settles in the spring—even late spring. That’s essentially the message you will hear in any avalanche course you take in the Centennial State.

Iwj6AXEhRcyEhRw3kKfkhg

Unfortunately, we found it difficult to access the terrain we wanted from the lake, so we descended the way we came, and then another buddy and I ascended a different run of trees. Here we found the goods, the area most people referenced in the journals in the hut, though they never quite spelled out how to get to. The work was well worth the pay off. Not exactly your steep black diamond run—more like a green or easy blue—but with deep untouched snow. Maybe even two feet deep. Wow.

Later that night, we scarfed an epic meal of quinoa spinach and turkey—thanks Adam and Nate. We also played cards and enjoyed the typical high jinx and stories of good friends who know each other well. Indeed, this was the best part of the whole experience.

Besides the social part, I was just stoked to be in the backcountry again. Not only did this blog finally get some fresh content related to the original subject, but I felt a part of me come alive that has been dormant. I also had more strength and energy than I was expecting, especially coming from low altitude. As my health continues to improve, so does my energy. A month or so ago, upon a doctor’s advice I stopped taking a medication that affects aerobic output. For the first time in a few years, it felt like they took the governor off and I was back to normal, or at least close.

The last morning, I got up at 6 a.m. to ski one last lap. I couldn’t rouse any companions so it was just me and God and the mountains. On the low angle slope, the sun rose over the peaks and the silent snow. I wanted to sit there for a long time, but the cold and the reality of a plane to catch forced me to keep it brief. But I was thankful to God for such a great morning and the hope of more adventures soon.

Indeed, now that I have returned to the backcountry, I’m ready for more.

Soon. Very soon.

 

 

This is part of the low-angle glade we skiied. Much better than the photo looks!

IMG_8786

Five Years Strong in Utah’s Big Five

IMG_8194 To celebrate our five years of marriage, we felt it was time to do something big—not go to Africa big (though we hope to do that someday), but more than just the usual celebration. So, a week or so ago, we visited a couple of Utah’s Big Five national parks and a famous wilderness area for five days, sans kiddo (thanks Mom!).

This trip was a much-needed adventure binge, exploring new places together in 60-degree weather. Even more than the adventures, we wanted the trip to be about things that last. And it certainly was that. I continue to be amazed at just how much God cares about marriage—that he wants the way we love each other to reflect how Christ loves people.

Here’s a few highlights:

  1. Climbing sandstone on a sunny afternoon in Saint George. The rock type felt very similar to Red Rocks in Nevada, which is one of my favorite all time places to climb. The routes were so fun we couldn’t help shouting with delight with each sequence of moves
  2. Eating In-N-Out Burger two different times!
  3. Descending two very different canyoneering routes. One was a stunningly beautiful corridor of orange-hued heucos and chambers, while the second one was much more of a remote wilderness challenge that also included us getting our rope stuck on a rappel. It felt like an experiential learning activity at a marriage retreat, except with very real consequences. In the end, it proved a great experience we will remember!
  4. Exploring two national parks: Zion and Bryce Canyon. I had been to Zion briefly, but we saw much more of it. Bryce, with its hoodoo wonders, was awe inspiring. Wish we had more time here!
  5. Staying in a remote corner of the Escalante Wilderness and getting to hike a slot canyon there. The scariest part was driving the long 4WD road to get there, through lots of loose sand and big hills. Shhhh! Don’t tell the rental car company.

All in all, this was a very amazing trip. And, God willing, we hope to journey to Africa for our 10-year anniversary to see the real Big Five (again). Here’s to many more years together.

IMG_5270IMG_5262IMG_8199IMG_5254IMG_8222

 

[wpvideo FHcTsPeP]

IMG_5250

An Autumn Revisited

fall-1072821_1920 (1)

For the record, I do really like fall. A lot. Maybe a close second to summer. This autumn has been a great one for Elizabeth and I which is probably why I haven’t written in a while. Consider this a catch-up post!

Needles Trip

In late September/early October, we celebrated my birthday the way I’ve loved to in the past—by going climbing. This year we headed to the Needles in the Black Hills. The trip was quick, less than three days with travel, but we did manage to climb three spires, including Spire Two and Moonlight Rib. I think the Needles are my new favorite climbing area. As a bonus, on the way home we also hiked in Badlands National Park. What a great birthday getaway with my love.

IMG_7640.JPG

Naming it Remission

They included another story about me in the annual report for Avera, the center where I was treated at, called “Climbing the Spire of Hope,” which came out this fall. I loved the following line: “With his cancer in remission, the family is currently living life to the fullest.” You can see the full article here. While we have been calling my dramatic health reversal “remission” for quite some time—more than a half year now—it was nice to see the word in print, and have the status confirmed by one of my doctors.

New Ventures in Sioux Falls

My hometown has definitely changed a lot since I grew up here. Now a melting pot of cultures and ethnicities both national and international, the Sioux Falls area offers opportunities to help refugees living locally. Starting last spring, Elizabeth and I have made some new refugee friends and are enjoying getting to know them, attending their church and learning about their culture. We look forward to more ventures soon. And wow, the homemade bread from this people group melts in your mouth like freshly baked donuts.

IMG_1329

A Friend’s 40th Birthday 

At this stage in my life, a few friends have hit the BIG 4-0. I’m still a little shy of that number, but it encroaches on me like a bulbous NFL defensive lineman with bad breath. In late October, we (myself and 8 other dudes) celebrated my buddy Adam’s big day by rafting Westwater Canyon, an 18-mile stretch of class III and IV whitewater near the Colorado/Utah border.

With highs in the 60s and sunny, the trip was as pleasant as you can imagine. The best part, other than the stellar group of guys who attended, was how a big mistake made a good trip epic. Here’s the story.

I apparently remembered the name of our campsite incorrectly. So when we arrived there only to see a sign calling it something else, we decided to press on and run the rapids, rather than risk poaching a site not our own. I wondered if we had made a terrible mistake, but soon we saw the bright side of our predicament: we could run Westwater twice. Which is a big deal because the permits are not always easy to get.

So that’s exactly what we did. We ran all 18 miles both days—getting to see the canyon and rapids not once, but twice. This was my fifth and sixth trip down Westwater respectively, but I will never forget this trip!

Oh, and if you go, make sure you lock in your campsite with laser precision.

IMG_7993

Home Improvement Ventures

This fall we have tried to make headway on some house projects. We painted our bathroom and finished part of our bedroom. A buddy also helped me custom make an egress window cover (he actually did it all while I just watched). But the project I’m most proud of is revamping our fireplace. We yanked out the ugly insert and replaced it with a gas log, thanks to some assistance from a local expert to re-install a damper in our chimney. Viola! The magical ambience of a 1940s house that was hiding from our living room. Bring on the gray days…it will always be warm and cheery in the Lawrence house.

Next project: revamping the green house.

All in all, it’s been a great fall. So, make some more cider and maybe carve that leftover pumpkin. But don’t expect me to rake any more leaves. I’m done 🙂

 

IMG_4748

IMG_8226

IMG_8227

Wishing for an Endless Summer

auto-2583303_1920I always struggle with this time of year, when summer winds down and fall appears like an invited guest at your party. You’d love to ask him to leave, but instead endure to avoid a ruckus. But then, before you know it, he keeps showing up at other gatherings, horning in on your circle. Soon, like it or not, your social reality has changed and the intruder is here to stay!

Indeed, I’ve noticed that the temperature highs have noticeably dropped the past several days. But just a week or so ago, the temps were a scorching 95 degrees while I helped lead a rafting trip with Lifelines on the Upper Colorado River! Most of the rest of the days were in the 80s. Yet, I noticed the nightly lows kept creeping lower and lower.

When Elizabeth and I returned to our house in Sioux Falls this past weekend, several red maple leaves carpeted our lawn forebodingly. Elizabeth thought they were pretty, but to me this unwelcome reminder was as unsightly as dog turd piles left on the boulevard by negligent neighbors.

Bottom line is I wish I could make this summer last longer. If I had the time and means, maybe I’d even chase it around the globe like the old surfing movie Endless Summer, where they do just that.

IMG_7043I’m having a hard time letting summer 2017 go because it was so refreshing and restorative for Elizabeth and I. We returned to normal life by attending a summer mission in Crested Butte, re-engaging with Lifelines ministry along with seeing many of our friends in Colorado. We also enjoyed lots of outdoor adventure, for work and for play. I’ve been preoccupied with living and not writing, hence my absence from this blog.

The past several months certainly have been restful. When I was tempted to be anxious, God brought me a fitting verse: “Be at rest once more, oh my soul, for the Lord has been good to you (Psalm 116:7).”

The Psalm is about a king delivered from death, and while I’m not exactly royalty, there is a lot in the text that I resonate with. I understand what it is like to have life threatened and then to see the Lord return it so swiftly and powerfully. As verses 8 and 9 say:

“For you, O Lord, have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before the Lord in the land of the living.”

Even more than just a passing sentiment, the passage has served as a powerful reminder to be at rest. And so, I’ve tried to live that and let this summer be carefree. Though, a scan at the end of August certainly threatened my restful vibe. In the days leading up to it, we were suddenly on edge again. But true to what the Lord has been doing, the scan was again clear and our rest resumed. I will still have these scans every four months or so for the foreseeable future, but I’m hoping eventually even they will taper off. Indeed, my health continues to improve as my strength and energy return and grow. Going to Colorado was a good test, as lugging 100-pound rafts in 90-degree heat tests anyone’s stamina.

Another reason we were in Colorado was so I could take a recertification exam with the American Mountain Guide Association, allowing me to lead rock climbing trips again (more on this in a future post). We also got to see some friends from Salt Lake City over my birthday and take our daughter on her first camping adventure (this, too, deserves a post).

For now, we are grateful to be back in Sioux Falls, though I’m still wrestling with the season change.

I like fall, but it’s what’s around the corner that concerns me. Winter is always a tough transition, with all the short days and cold nights. Even though backcountry skiing is my favorite sport I still struggle. And let me tell you—the days seem much colder and grayer the farther one lives from the Rocky Mountains of Colorado!

Fortunately, I have an ace up my sleeve this year. When we were in Colorado Springs, I bought a downhill ski set up for my two-year-old daughter. They brought out the smallest set up they could find—the 60 cm skis come up to my knees and the boots are about as big as pint glasses. I am stoked, and so is my daughter. She immediately sat down on them and said, “Pippa wants to surf!” Close enough. We now live just 10 minutes from a ski area that is a perfect place for kids to learn! Should be a fun daddy-daughter adventure.

When it comes down to it, I guess there are things I’m looking forward to with the change of season. But this was a good summer—an epic one, in fact. And I think it’s only right to ponder and savor that before moving ahead. Here’s to summer 2017 🙂

IMG_7539

IMG_7408IMG_7557

IMG_7550

Here’s a little preview of things to come…

An Epic Doctor Visit

 

IMG_7011I wish all my doctor visits were this pleasant.

A few days ago, my buddy Dave and I rode Doctor Park, a classic mountain biking trail near Crested Butte, Colorado.

This summer I have ridden several trails in the area, but before leaving the Butte, I wanted to do something epic—a challenging adventure that would stick in my memory.

Originally we wanted to ride the 401, but by July there were still snowdrifts up to 20 feet high in sections. So we headed to the Doctor. With 20 miles total and a blue/black rating, the good Doc seemed to fit my “epic” expectations. MTB Project calls it the #16 trail in Colorado.

Oh, and I’ve searched and searched about the origins of the name, but all I’ve come up with is that the locals named it that because it’s so fun that “it cures whatever is ailing you.” This would soon make sense.

We started the ride with a frigid knee-deep stream crossing. At just after 9 a.m., the water felt invigorating as we waded downstream from a pair of fly fishermen. We bypassed most of the monotonous road climb, thanks to a shuttle from my lovely wife. So we started right in the thick of the uphill jeep trail.

IMG_1188

Then it was time to foot the bill, because no doctor visit is cheap. The next two miles were steady climbing, probably about 2,000 vertical feet total. Our sweat equity eventually rewarded us with nearly six miles of pristine downhill single track through the trees, with only about 50 vertical feet uphill from there on out. Yes!

The trail gets quite rocky and technical in sections at the beginning and end, but a cruiser three miles in the middle keeps it enjoyable. Flying through Aspen trees on the smooth single track, I felt joy—pure joy. I prayed several times, thanking God for the experience. I enjoy many outdoor sports, but on this day I was especially loving mountain biking.

What made the day that much more fun was riding with Dave, a good adventure buddy of mine who is always up for something. He’s as tough as a mountain goat and super outdoor-savvy. On past summers, we’ve always seemed to find a way to squeeze in a great climb, or some type of singletrack shenanigan.

IMG_7019

Our ride finished with several hairy sections. I think the writer from mtbhome.com nailed it: “exposure, switchbacks and off-camber rocks and cinder blocks that make it feel like you’ll fall off the world if you make a mistake.” We were not ashamed to walk around some of those sections. There is at least one where a boulder completely blocks a trail. Unless you have mastered the art of levitaton, it’s hard to call that spot rideable.

This ride was a great wrap up to a stellar summer. Being around good friends, and re-engaging with work that we are passionate about brought a huge lift to our souls—effects that we will feel for weeks to come. It was hard to pack up our truck and leave the area a few days later, but Elizabeth and I were so grateful for the experience. We may even be back to the Butte again next year. This was my third summer in CB.

And if we do return, you can be sure I will make a follow up appointment with the good Doctor soon—very soon.

 

[wpvideo bkUGz11w]

[wpvideo cQUzvZXE]

P.S. Here’s some more great footage of Doctor Park. Though, it’s not of Dave and I (probably pro riders). Some day maybe.

 

My Daddy Day Care Experiment

IMG_6853“Mama?” my daughter asked me as I began reading one her favorite books aloud. “Mama?”

I tried to change the subject. Only a few hours into Kid Duty, or as I like to call it, My Daddy Day Care Experiment, I was not about to meet this crux issue head on.

Fortunately, she dropped it as we kept reading story books.

Elizabeth was on a backpacking trip with college students in the West Elk Mountains for three days while my job was to watch Pippa—which would be the longest stretch I’ve ever done solo.

I was bummed not to go backpacking; this was the first Lifelines one I’ve ever missed in Crested Butte. Then again, we needed a female staff member on the trip, and we couldn’t find a babysitter anyway. So, Elizabeth went. And honestly, I wanted to spend the time with my daughter.

Recently she turned two years old. Over the past year or so, there were some times I have felt rather absent from her life—not by choice, but because of a grueling season of treatment where I was often sick or recovering from being sick. Even when I was there, I wasn’t always there, so to speak. She has grown increasingly mommy-centric the past several months, as most kids do, but I think in a way we both needed this time together.

More than just wanting time with her for myself, I also believe her having a close relationship with me is good for her in the long run. All kids need a strong bond with both mom and dad. I want Pippa to be confident and secure, to have a strong relationship with her dad, to know much I love her. I want her to face the world leaning into life, rather than tentatively away from it. Facing challenges with courage, rather than shrinking back.

IMG_6906

So, onward with the Daddy Day Care Experiment. I had to wonder, how would I keep her occupied for 72 hours? How will I keep her from the inevitable sorrow of missing mommy? I formed a rough plan, but knew flexibility would be key. I also vowed to keep my iPhone away in my pocket when she was awake, which I did for most of the time.

The first morning when Elizabeth took off, Pippa woke wailing because of a cold. Not a great start, but a little children’s Tylenol and we were off and running.

For some reason, Pippa is obsessed with “riding the school bus,” as she calls the free shuttle bus here in Crested Butte. She keeps shouting and shouting as soon as she sees it. So, later that morning, we walked onto one of the colorful buses, which are painted by local artists. Then we went to the library, and picked up a bunch of new books. Considering we read her about 10 stories a day, we always need new material.

IMG_6889

For lunch, I brought the big guns: Mac-a-doodle (Annie’s mac and cheese), her favorite meal. I kept some in reserve for later just in case.

The rest of the day went well, including naps and putting her down for bed. But for some reason I didn’t sleep well, maybe fighting off the same cold? The next morning was rough when I heard crying at a little after 6 a.m.

Of course, the days renewed my appreciation for all that Elizabeth does. How could it not? I’m familiar with the routine, as I try to help here and there each day. But it’s another thing to take on the entire responsibility. Way to go moms! Props. As hard as it can be, I can see that it is also extremely rewarding, as the logged time helps bring a deeper closeness.

The next day, we went to the Trailhead Children’s Museum, and then back to the routine: lunch, nap, etc. Later, we rode the bus into town (again) and ate at Teocali Tamale. Pippa had extra guacamole, as usual. One highlight of walking around town was her insatiable desire to find dogs to pet. “Pet the doggie! Pet the doggie!” The first dog we encountered seemed unfriendly, so we found a Golden Doodle, who was very sweet. Dogs and kids are the ultimate ice breaker. Soon we were hanging out with a family from Grand Junction who was dining outside at a table. I’m certain they were about to invite us to sit down, but I soon excused us.

The highlight of the Experiment came on the morning of day three: a chairlift ride up Mount Crested Butte! Pippa seemed quite content to be sitting in my lap as we whizzed up the mountain on a high-speed quad. All the colors of wildflowers like Lupine and Columbine burst forth like a kaleidoscope. And I kept pointing things out to Pippa. “See all these things? God is the King of Creation.”

IMG_6898

Pippa seemed to love the wind in her hair. She was rather quiet, not from fear, but more taking it all in. I can always tell how she is doing in these moments because I just ask her.

“Pippa happy?” I ask.
“Pippa happy” she replies, whispering.

When she is not happy, she usually lets you know. Or just says nothing at all.

Once we got down from the mountain, we went for one more school bus ride, this time riding the whole town circuit.

All in all, the experiment was a smashing success. I could see a closeness develop with Pippa that I have not yet had. I felt like we turned a corner. As I was reading her a third book, story time digressed into a bout of, “tickle the Pippa.” Which also led to more hugs. Ahhhhhhhh.

It seems I must look for another opportunity to run this experiment again.

IMG_6914

 

 

Living Elevated: A Return to a More Normal Summer

19441867_10155422332697065_8686136099945469282_o

This is already shaping up to be a very different summer.

For the past few weeks, my family and I, have been living and working in Crested Butte, Colorado, a small mountain town about four hours southwest of Denver. We are here for approximately a month and a half, though the weeks keep flying by.

Working with familiar Lifelines friends and new college student friends from around the country, our days and hours have been filled with community building, service opportunities and various outdoor adventures (some indoor ones, too).

This is my fifth summer of this kind, and I have always enjoyed the location—the quintessential mountain town is surrounded by Switzerland-style peaks, and is carpeted with wildflowers in the prime of summer. I have a lot of history with this place, from ski vacations with my family, to attending college here for a year—even a skimo race a few years ago.

In many ways, my life feels much more normal this summer, especially compared to 2016. As I gaze out my condo balcony at Redstone Peak, standing stately and silent with its jagged flanks and a snow-filled bowl, it’s hard to believe that any of the past year actually happened.

IMG_6641

A view from our condo for the summer.

I feel happy just being here again, but little things like adjusting to the altitude is always a rude awakening. I’ve often come into these summers in peak condition, but this year probably the opposite. The trails right outside our door come with the stiff penalty of lung and sweat equity, but I still can’t help playing in them. It doesn’t help that the preventive drugs I’m on restrict my aerobic capacity.

I was reading an article lately about just how long altitude acclimitization takes, and something stood out: for competitive athletes in places this high, it can take up to a full year of acclimatization to perform at peak level.  I get that it takes time to adjust to altitude, but a full year? That was surprising. I know from experience you can trick your body temporarily with hiking peaks but eventually the altitude wears you down.

The same article mentioned how cross country runners from Western State College in Gunnison (just 28 miles south of here), mandatorily redshirt first year runners to allow  time for this adjustment. And wisely so. My sister-in-law, who ran for WSC, can attest to just how hard it is to compete at this altitude.

IMG_6667

Which gets me thinking, after the hell of my last year, I can trick myself into coming here and acting “normal,” but as I enter back into life, it is going to take a lot more than one good summer—or even 5 weeks for that matter—for me to feel good again. And even if I do find that normal again, it will most likely be a new normal. There’s a bit of reality for me to swallow.

Yet this dose of truth doesn’t take away from the fact that I am loving being here. The sunshine, the mountains, familiar friends and work in a familiar place, and especially an ever-present God who is with me. The following Scripture has been especially meaningful: “Return to rest, oh my soul, for the Lord has been good to you (Psalm 116:7 NIV).”

Indeed, this has been true for me. I am looking forward to the next several weeks in Crested Butte with my family as we enjoy this beautifully elevated place.

IMG_6631

Summer is a great time for exploration. Case in point: our daughter’s first snow cone.

IMG_6660

Part two of our daughter’s trying new things.

IMG_6677

I’ve enjoyed several mountain bike outings, including this old CB classic, Snodgrass.

[wpvideo PYVE4qDi]