Friday, October 14, 2011

Rattlesnakes, Mountain Lions, and Bears, oh crap.

For some reason I feel the need to toughen myself up. Now I know what you’re thinking “Jamie, we already consider you a man’s man now”. I thank you for your silent accolades. However, there is this spot deep inside of me that is either a primal need to become one with nature or a death wish. It’s hard to tell it’s so dark in there.

So I decided to ignore these warnings posted at the trailhead, and go against my better judgment that states you shouldn’t hike alone on such trials and forged ahead. I asked a local that has been here for some time “Those warnings are just to keep the tourist from wandering off the trails, right?” “No, not really, “ he replied in a matter-of-fact tone. “They’re out there. The rattlers like to sun themselves on the trails this time of year, and bears are getting hungry for winter. And you know how cougars get?” I nodded as if he was telling me about which nozzle on the vacuum to use when cleaning the couch cushions. “Best pay attention to them,” he added.

Rangers. What do they know? They’re just mall cops surrounded by trees.

So off I go. If you recall the last hike was a bit too strenuous. So I chose a new one called Hogback Ridge, which is slightly less elevated, and about the same length. I figured I could handle it. I’m as good a hiker as the next man. Providing the next man is Michael J. Fox. The only problem was I wasn’t on Hogback Trail. I took the wrong turn and found myself on an old miners trail. The Native Americans called it “Crapawa Meoka Hey” which translates to “I Just Soiled My Buckskins”. You see other hikers on the designated trails all the time regardless of the day. No one was on this one.

I went about a mile and a half down the trail and wondered when it would start to loop around the ridge. As it wound its way, turning down into ravines ever so often I realized how alone I really was. I figured I would give it another half mile or so and then head back. I hate not finishing a trail loop once I start it. I looked ahead and saw a rather large ravine, overgrown with brush and bramble. As I got closer I thought, “If this was a movie it would make a good place for an ambush.” As I entered the hollow a small chipmunk ran past. Out loud I murmured, in case it helped, “I guess it’s safe if you’re here, eh?” And then I heard it, only once, but clear, a low, deep, growl. It had to be only a few feet away. It had that staccato sound which you often hear in house cats. But this was deeper and I wasn’t in a house.

I looked deep into the brush but couldn’t see a thing. I raised my walking stick like I could actually do something with it and wished my dog Daisy was there. Not that she could defend me, but I would make my escape while she's being devoured. I slowly backed out, while always peering, straining to see through the branches. A few more steps. Did I really hear it? Yes, I know I did. Now about twenty yards away, I picked up two small rocks and tossed them into where I thought the sound came from. I waited. Nothing. I just know that thing wants to bite my head off. That’s where all the fatty goodness is stored. I picked up the pace, turning every once in a while, expecting to see something leaping after me, but nothing came. When I got back to the trailhead I thought I’d never do that again. At least not for a few weeks anyway.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Pass the M&Ms

This weekend I decided to take a hike around the number one rated trail in Boulder, Mount Sanitas. It was only a little over three miles and I often walk two so I didn’t think much of it. But the extra mile wasn’t the problem.

Halfway around I was reminded of the 1964 film “Robinson Crusoe on Mars”. It starred Paul Mantee with a brief appearance by Adam West as Colonel Dan McReady. He should have been named McAlready since he died in the first fifteen minutes. As you probably guessed it’s the story of an astronaut stranded alone in a hostile environment where he soon discovers his man Friday. Not a great career move for Friday going from slave to pack mule for an alien. In a white-centric society I guess they thought this progressive at the time. Paul Mantee may not be a big Hollywood name but he did appear in a number of television shows from “Dragnet” in 1959 to “Seinfeld” (he played a health inspector in The Pie).

Anyway, back to me. It wasn’t the strange landscape that reminded me of the film. Nor was it the fact I could have used my own Friday to help with carrying my pack and someone to talk to since I took the trip solo. It was something else in the film. To compensate for the thin Martian air Mantee’s character was given oxygen pills that he could take whenever he needed a little extra O. (They used M&Ms in the film) You see this hike wasn’t flat like my feet but went rather vertical like my stock portfolio in my dreams.

I can’t blame my huffing and puffing on the fact that I’m at 5,500 foot (or is it feet?) altitude anymore, because it has been over a year since I landed. It has to be the poor physical shape I’m in. I feel pretty healthy. That is until I come across one of these human dynamos out here. This one woman hiked past me, stop to answer her cell phone than ran passed me again repeating this scene two more times. I finally told her “Look, can you just go pass me and stay there? I feel bad enough as it is.” She mentioned something about her grandkids but with the blood rushing into my ears I couldn’t make out what she said.

I moved along the path as if underwater while everyone else went scampering and frolicking away. Dogs, kids, old people, they were all leaving me in the proverbial dust. In all fairness to me it does have an net elevation gain of 1,323 feet and is rated “moderately strenuous”, but that don’t mean Jack when you’re laying on a rock, crying as if in a scene from ‘Saving Private Ryan’.

I did make it to the top and now I had a different problem. As mentioned earlier I do indeed have flat feet and when going downhill my knees begin to feel as if locked in a vise after only a few hundred feet. I still had a mile and a half to go. Each step the vise got tighter and tighter. I grabbed a fallen branch to use as a walking stick since I decided to leave mine in the car for some unknown reason. I hobbled along looking like Gandalf the Grey. “YOU SHALL NOT HAVE MY GRANOLA BAR!” I yelled to myself.

There are a good number of people in great shape out here. Over 12% of commuters bike to work, the highest in the country. And with so many beautiful days people can take advantage of the weather.

So I have two choices. Either work myself harder to try and get into better shape or start hanging out with the guy on Pearl Street with the sign that reads: “Will work for pot”. I’m not making that up. That is a man with a mission. A goal. My only question is what kind of work does he do?

Latest plein air piece “Grove of cottonwoods”.