For the long holiday weekend we met up with friends in the resort town of Steamboat Springs, Colorado. While I had visited the ski town before, this marked my first warm weather visit, and more significantly, my first visit since I’ve been a non-resort town resident. My how perceptions can change.
On my previous visits I found Steamboat’s gentle rolling mountains flat in comparison to the stark majesty of my beloved Tetons. While the ski resort stats are not quite as drastic as my blanket statement (Steamboat clocks in at 3,668 vertical feet and Jackson at 4,139), there is no denying the the younger Tetons make a more dramatic rise out of the valley floor. Obviously the mountains haven’t changed much since my last visit, but I have.
At over five months pregnant, I found the rolling green hills to be comforting. Somehow they just seemed more approachable and the lush green valley had an overall welcoming appearance. But the hiking at the ski resort was nothing to sniffle at with more than enough vertical to get my heartrate up in a hurry. However, my real excitement was directed at the dedicated downhill bike trails zig-zagging the mountain. The beautiful banked turns and one-way traffic had me drooling for my bike and a chairlift up the mountain, but since it’s not a biking season for me I was content just to know the option exists for future visits.
Another HUGE plus? The hot springs. Not shocking given the name of the town, Steamboat boasts a number of natural and developed hot springs. Since I need to be wary of water over 100° (it can fry the babies brain cells), the developed pools with handy temperature guide fit the bill for me. More than just a solitary pool, the Old Town Hot Springs has a number of very warm “adult only” tubs with a larger more moderately heated pool, a 25-yard lap pool, two water slides and a complete workout facility indoors (with child care!). The copious flowering baskets and landscaping was absolutely breathtaking and the convenient downtown location can’t be beat.
Final assessment? Steamboat is a pretty nice place to visit and maybe even a nice place to live.
Diet-Breaker-Of-The-Day: Want a cupcake? No? You will now.
What would you be willing to give up to ski/bike/fish/hike/play five days a week and work two days a week? Your daily latte? Sure, that’s probably a no-brainer. But unless you drink really, really expensive lattes, that’s probably not enough to make up for the three (or five) missing workdays. What about your house? Your car? Would you share a $3,000 car with your spouse if it meant a significant lifestyle increase? Now we’re getting into the hard questions.
Like it or not, our default pattern for the American lifestyle is not to “give up” things. In fact, it might even be focused on getting more things. But at what cost? Do we have a choice? I say we do, and I would like to promote more of us exercising our choices (including myself).
The biggest investment most of us will make in our lifetime is a home, and our homes are getting bigger by the decade. Home theaters, once the bastion of the rich and famous, are now commonplace in middle-class American homes. Homes are bigger and families of five can easily spend weekends “together” in one home not interacting with one another, much less the larger community outside the front door (if a nearby community exists at all).
This phenomenon is sometimes known as the lack of the “third place”, a point where Americans in particular seem to lag. We have work (where we spend A LOT of time) and home, but community gathering places like cafes, pubs, bookshops, etc are on the decline as we spend more time in our spacious homes. One of my least spacious fixed homes (this does not include summers in cars/tents) was a cabin on Fish Creek in Wilson. It was probably all of 600 sq. feet and I had a neighbor on each side in a similar size abode. Because of the tight quarters and scenic location, we often had inpromtu gatherings based on the fact that we were all meeting in the yard, which was basically a share public (or “third”) place.
What if we all had smaller homes that encouraged us to get out in the community AND saved us a ton of cash with lower utilities and, of course, a lower total cost. There are a few companies peddling houses as small as 65 sq. feet to as large as 874 sq. feet (check out some tiny houses here). For less than the cost of a new car, you can get a complete house, which begs the question: what would you do without a mortgage or rent payment?
When people in Casper learn that I moved from Jackson, they often ask how I like it. How much I lie depends on who I’m talking to, but most of the time I give a vague yet honest, “It’s different. I miss all my recreation options but I’m finding things here that I like.” At this point, they usually (with good intentions) start telling me about Casper mountain. Here’s the thing about Casper mountain – there are trails (but not near the acreage that I’m accustomed to) but there are NO SIGNS. No mileage markers, no named loops, just parking areas and aggressive “NO TRESSPASSING” signs ringing the parameter. For a directionally challenged person such as myself, this presents a problem.
While we traditionally think of access to nature being limited by park fees or geographical location, but it can be as simple as poor roads leading to the area or a lack of signage directing folks around the various trails. When I point out to frequent Casper Mountain users that trails signs would increase the number of people who can enjoy the mountain, I typically hear something like “we don’t want them” or “go back to Teton county”. And to be fair, I don’t want to hike masses, either. But there is a line between an elitist attitude and depriving your fellow population of something as incredibly beneficial as nature.
Over and over we see studies that show humans are designed to move. Walking in the woods, whether it be with sneakers or snow shoes, lowers stress and helps maintain healthy body weight. And healthy people are generally happier, meaning the women serving you coffee may be a little friendlier and a few less folks may need public assistance (that would be your tax money) to help with the various disorders caused by obesity.
Obviously, the next step is to find a public meeting and figure out how to get these signs up. Is it too much to hope that there will be intelligent people present who won’t shout me back to Teton county?
Feed-your-body-recipe-to-try: Portobello Mushroom Strognnoff from Clean Eating
My poor lovable pup has two strikes against him in the weight-management category: 1) His background as a Mexican street dog means he eats whenever and wherever he can get food. 2) He is primarily a Labrador and thus has no portion control. This also means he Hoovers rather than chews.
But now, I’ve added a third: 3) I, his owner and primary playmate, work out in a gym more often than outside.
These three factors add up to one thing: Wendell is chunky.
I didn’t want to believe it. Sure, he seemed a little bigger but it wasn’t until a friend visited last week and commented that I really accepted his growing waistline. So with summer quickly fading, I’ve been neglecting my gym membership in favor hiking around the woods while my dog unknowingly gets his heart rate up with me. However, these woods are new to me and on Saturday our hike became an interesting introspection on regulation.
I parked at the top of Casper mountain at the Beartrap Meadow trail head, and the first thing that struck me is how odd it is to drive up the entire mountain. Nevertheless, I started out on the Nordic trails eager to spend some time in tall trees. But then I got sick of going in circles.
Don’t get me wrong- I love loop hikes. But the 26 miles of Nordic Trails present themselves in a variety of small loops, and I wanted to hike in one direction for at least an hour. Roughly picking my way though various trails, I found myself confronted with “PRIVATE PROPERTY” signs just under an hour into the hike. While Wendell merrily trotted past the signs, I recognized my gun-loving county for what it is and turned towards technology for an explanation. The Google satellite with my GPS location pinpointed showed that I had l hiked to the far end of the park had nowhere to go but back. Sigh. And which way was back, exactly? Luckily, the magical arrow on my phone pointed in the right direction and I started choosing random, unsigned single track trails that would hopefully lead me towards the car.
I know someone who is ‘building trails’ for biking on Casper mountain. I’m not sure if this is entirely legal (my guess is not), but the county doesn’t exactly swarm this park with enforcement agents. Add in a healthy red-neck population who will squeeze a 4-wheel-drive vehicle any place said vehicle can fit, and the trails in this park have more variations than a Mexican climbing route. While I enjoy being able to bring my dog with me (something not allowed in National Parks), I resented the lack of clear trails and complete lack of signage. In Jackson, the National Parks in my backyard offered hiking for eight hours plus in one direction without encountering a road (dirt or paved) and only a few well-signed junctions. I loved that I couldn’t get too lost inside my head before a stunning vista or bear would jolt me back to the now. Now, my ‘now’ has too many marks of civilization, which is what happens when a place doesn’t have the supreme protection status of “National Park”. But having a National Park in your backyard is the exception, not the rule. And I’m no longer an exception. With ‘wild’ places such as this, it’s no wonder that life spans are shortening and obesity is on the rise.
Sewing how-to of the day: Make your own Pin Tucked Duvet Cover
Last fall I left my beloved Tetons in the name of love and moved to Casper, Wyoming. Just five hours from the valley of Jackson Hole, Casper seems a world apart. Of course, Jackson is a world apart from any town that doesn’t wear the ubiquitous title of ‘ski town’. But the part of Jackson I miss most are my recreation options.
Let’s say I worked on the computer for the morning and early afternoon and wanted to get out with my dog for some quick exercise before the evening (or another job) began. From my home in Wilson (7 miles down the road from the town of Jackson), I could jump in the car and in 5 minutes be at the trailhead to hike old pass road to Crater Lake. The road hasn’t been used since the new highway went in over Teton Pass in the 70’s. Paved on the ascent, the hike is a great loop with a calf-burning up and meandering single-track down. The top of the trail has a small blue lake perfect for thirsty or swimming dogs (mine would be thirsty type only). And if I was really ambitious, I could even ride up to the trailhead safely on a sweet bike path. If I was in the mood for a longer hike, I could opt for picturesque Ski Lake (which I have blogged about before here). Or maybe I was after great single-track biking. Just a few miles higher reside a number of trails like Blacks Canyon, Jimmy’s Mom or the Ridge Trail.
If I was more into a pavement-pounding mood, I could run on Wilson bike path with striking Teton views and horses braying in the neighboring fields. And there was always a chance to see some Wilson flair, like the resident I spotted walking her goat on a rope. What, you don’t have a goat on a rope?
But maybe I didn’t want to get all sweaty but spend some outside time with a girlfriend catching up while our dogs ran themselves silly – then I would go (again, in less than 5 minutes) and walk on the Snake River dyke. And I haven’t even gotten to town.
Seven miles down the road in the town of Jackson another world is waiting and in it another blog, but suffice to say Cache Creek along has a weeks worth of single track. But enough about Jackson – what are my options in Casper?
In Casper, I can hike Rotary Park with Garden Falls and the 4.5 mile Bridle Trail. There are also a number of hiking and biking trails on top of the 8,130 tall Casper Mountain. None of the trails have posted signs for directions or mileage. I’ve heard there are a number of bike trails on Muddy Mountain, but by that point we’re into an hour drive from home and that’s tipping the scale towards more car time than recreating time, which is definitely not MountainKidd style. So what do I do? I’ve been hitting the gym.
Less than 10 minutes from my new Casper home is a great fitness studio called Prana Fitness. I’ve been enjoying classes like Bootcamp, Pylo-Kick, Kettlebells and Yoga Sculpt with some pleasant surprises. In just 45 minutes, I can get my heart-rate up in a major way and work on enough muscles that my reduced mountain-biking schedule doesn’t mean reduced strength. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that even though I’m not riding often, I can ride as hard as I did when I rode four+ days a week. And another advantage? At the gym, you can go HARD. There is no slowing down to listen for bear or moose or terrain evaluation to avoid avalanches. It’s just you and your body – and the guy running the class who missed an illustrious career as a drill Sargent. And while I will always miss my breathtaking Teton views, I suspect this adaptation is the key to lifelong fitness and the happiness that comes with it.
Interesting list of the day: Money Magazine’s 100 Best Places to Live.
A friend told me she heard that Banff was “even more beautiful than Jackson”, which immediately raised my hackles as I tend to take everything a bit too personally. How dare she suggest anywhere more beautiful than Jackson Hole, a place I pay a small fortune to call home! However, after a majestic week in Banff, Alberta, Canada, I have to admit that she may have heard something fairly accurate.
Although we started out in Calgary, a dazzling polite city where no one jaywalks (ever), our hearts were into the Banff portion of the trip and we spontaneously splurged for a 30-minute helicopter tour outside of Banff National Park. It was awful. And by awful, I mean amazing and worth every penny. I was granted the front seat next to the pilot and the exposure buff in me LOVED cresting a mountaintop ridge to see the world drop beneath the window at my feet.
Although most anything would seem anticlimactic after a helicopter ride, Banff didn’t disappoint. For those familiar with Jackson hikes, I describe it as this: hike 20 minutes up Death Canyon overlooking Phelps Lake, then place a complete town with everything from Gucci to McDonald’s.
Banff is completely nested in amazing mountain views with the spectacularly colored Bow River running though the middle. Although the main street, Banff avenue is as packed as Jackson’s Town Square in July, some of the nicer hotels just 10 minutes away offer solstice for those more interested in mountain scenery than accessible shopping. We stayed at the Rim Rock Resort Hotel and would absolutely choose it time and time again.
And what’s with Canadians being so nice? No wonder the European and Japanese crowds prefer Canada; these people have infinite patience and kindness. Banff is building up their single-track trails for mountain biking and when we half-destroyed a decent rental bike (bye-bye derailleur), they cheerfully responded that all repairs were included in the reasonable bike rental cost. However, my favorite part of Banff was the Canadian attitude towards National Park and the teahouse they allowed at the top of a spectacular hike.
At 5.5 kilometers each way (3.4 miles), the hike to The Plain of Six Glaciers climbs 370 m (1215 ft) to a maximum elevation of 2100 m (6890 ft). It takes about 1.5-2 hours each way for most folks and I would classify it as moderately strenuous. The trail head is gorgeous Lake Louise but the hike quickly climbs after leaving the lake area. Because of this, I expected the tourists to start dropping off like flies. However, the Japanese tourists in Banff are a bit hardier than the American tourists in Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks.
There were Japanese grandmas and little kids hoofing it up this hike. Amazing. And they were well rewarded. As the hike was a spur-of-the-moment decision, our uninformed and cynical American selves half expected the ‘teahouse’ at the top to be a dilapidated building with a marker explaining its historic significance. Not so. The teahouse was a legitimate if small restaurant with sandwiches, warm biscuits with jam and butter and, of course, tea. A placard told us that they helicopter in flour, sugar and such at the start of the summer and backpack in the rest. The waitresses and owner/operators live in small cabins around the tea house 5 days a week and hike down on their days off. I reasoned that if rewarded with such a teahouse at the top of Teton hikes, I might hike a little more often. With responsible stewardship on behalf of the vendor, what would be so bad about motivating hikers in Grand Teton and Yellowstone for a few select hikes? Opinions? Submit a comment below.
Super-cute-athletic-clothing-company of the day (men and women): Lululemon
By now, I should know better. It was an identical thought to the morning after one-too-many drinks, but this time, it dealt with a massive calorie intake minutes before a short but fairly grueling trail run.
With a few extra hours on my hands, I had decided to take my running up the road and around Taggart Lake in Grand Teton National Park. Suddenly very hungry, I had to make an unplanned stop for a little pre-run nourishment. While I was waiting for the deli to make the sandwich, I spied my favorite salt and vinegar kettle chips. Yum. Then those clever retail people put mini-Snickers for .25 cents at the register. I rationalized that I would eat the Snickers as a post-run treat. Yeah right.
Driving while eating doesn’t exactly equate to mindfulness, and before I knew it the chips and sandwich were gone. The Snickers was feeling awfully squishy so I was forced to eat that before it got any warmer and completely melted. It was the responsible thing to do. 15 minutes later I set out for a 4 mile trail run with a fair amount of up and down in 90 degree heat. While hindsight is always 20/20, I do feel I should have recognized that I wasn’t setting myself up for success.
I hadn’t drank enough water with my food and the bulbous mass in my stomach had decided the best way to deal with the dire circumstances was to condense into a small, compact hardened mass. It was an odd sensation. The mass figured that with its combined momentum, the side-to-side motion would make my stop running sooner than if it had been more evenly distributed. Different from running cramps, my stomach muscles were actually getting sore from holding the mass inside my body. I would slow to a walk on the steep, full-sun uphills to have the pain temporarily eased but fantasized about how much better I would feel if the mass decided to retaliate by making me throw up. My only concern is that I might traumatize some tourists into never, ever trail running. It would also attract bears to the trail, which is never a good thing. What to do?
I’m happy to report there is no new bear attraction on the trail to Taggart Lake. I kept running and cursed my lack of thought knowing that every run after this would be much, much easier.
HILARIOUS Ad of the Day: Old Spice “Smell Like a Man” (click to view)
Embarrassing Tidbit of the Day: I saw Eclipse, the newest movie in the Twilight series last night at midnight with a bunch of teenagers. And I liked it.
A week after the autumnal equinox, I also found myself in a transition. Repeating what is proving to be a pattern in my life, I coped with my emotions through physical activity.
I decided to hike in Death Canyon inside Grand Teton National Park. Though I felt some guilt at leaving the dog at home, I’d given him great 7.5 mile bike ride the day before. Besides, this was about me. I choose Death Canyon for several reasons:
1) An intermediate trail, there was likely to be a few less tourists than other trail heads on a beautiful Sunday,
2) The name seemed fitting,
3) A character by the name of Black George lives in the Grassy Lake Ranger Station and dispenses free root beer floats while he hits on you.
I borrowed my sister’s Jeep for the 1 mile of potholes that lead to the trail head. I was in no mood to be hiking along a dirt road while tourists kicked up dirt in their rented SUV’s. I was on a mission to get away from humanity as quickly as possible. I optimistically pulled into the parking area closest to the trail head to watch four people unload from an SUV with rental plates. They were parked like idiots. If they had moved 3 feet to either side, I would have been able to fit. Fighting the urge to roll down the window and ask them why the hell they parked like dumb asses, I reminded myself I was there to walk and drove back about a quarter of a mile to the next available dirt plod. Getting out of the car, I noticed a pretty stream that I had missed while driving over the bridge twice. Trying to change my mood, I silently thanked the dumb ass parking people for making me walk by the stream. The effort was half-hearted. My overwhelming feeling was that they were still dumb asses and I still resented them. I turned the corner to find a mule deer just 10 yards away, looking at me with mild interest. I quietly said, “hey buddy, you’re okay” as I continued down the road. Slowly continue along his grazing path, we half-circled each other and I finally let go of my resentment towards the dumb asses.
Still, I tore down the trail like a woman possessed. I had invited several people to accompany me, but everyone had plans. Now, in my solitude, I realized I was glad to be going my own pace and I had only invited others to avoid being alone with my thoughts. I set a brisk, unmaintainable pace with the goal of driving myself into exhaustion. Sleep, usually a sweet refuge in stressful times, had been elusive. I wanted tonight to be easier. I didn’t slow down for the steep uphills and adopted the style of passing I’d seen my mountaineering friends employ. When people approached heading the opposite direction, I resolutely started at the ground and didn’t move in inch, shoulder-ramming several ignorant tourists who assumed I would yield. With an “f-them” mentality for not learning the rules of the trail (the uphill hiker has the right-of-way), I pounded down the trail as if distance from the car would create emotional space as well.
Cursing my endurance, I started to relax four miles in. However, a glance up the steep canyon walls showed that I was almost at the top. With a “why quit now”, I resolved to go to the top. At the saddle, I enjoyed a homemade brownie I’d packed and enjoyed some well-earned exercise endorphins.
On return, I ambled over to the ranger station with a “hello hello!” only to be greeted by snoring. Though the screen door was propped wide open (much like the photo), I didn’t have the heart to wake him up. Making note of the the mice fatalities Black George was tirelessly tracking (98) and root beer floats consumed (534), I left the park with an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the powerful beauty and its calming power that lie just 30 minutes from my doorstep.
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Today’s adventure was a short day hike to Ski Lake. At 4.6 miles and 850 feet of elevation gain/loss, it’s not too strenuous (for more information, click here) but the payoff is fantastic.
Another plus for Ski Lake is that it’s only about 4 miles from my house and dog friendly, which links directly to the “perfect man” portion of this title. He eats whenever I want to. He goes wherever I want to. He’s an amazing listener and ever since the radio collar, never runs off. Naturally, this isn’t The Boyfriend. I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t wear a radio collar. He’s my dog.
There are many documented cases of pets helping their owners with everything from depression to longevity but the main reason I choose dog-friendly hikes (which, alas, do not include the nearby national parks) is because it makes me happy to see him happy. When I change my clothes in the middle of the day, he runs in the room to sniff the fabric. He know that certain socks and shorts mean certain adventure. Even if my motivation was less than stellar, his unadulterated enthusiasm motivates me to get outside a little faster and enjoy it a little more. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Bar of the Day: WEIL by Nature’s Path (yes, it’s associated with Andrew Weil M.D. Who says celebrity endorsements don’t work?). The Chia Razz flavor is delicious as long as you don’t mind a few seeds. And the ingredients are stellar: organic dates, organic raisins, organic cashews, organic apples, organic raspberries, chia seeds, organic flavor, organic lemon juice concentrate.
Wendell’s Bar of the Day: POWER BONES by Zuke’s. Beef formula with protein and carbohydrates. Plus they have a cute how-they-came-to-be story on the back every dog lover can appreciate.