Monday, December 31, 2012

Holiday Trail Running

A slight calf strain and more persistent achilles injury has kept my holiday running down. It has been a frustrating few weeks and I've taken to walks with the dogs before gradually easing myself back into some slow jogging. I had hoped to clock about 200 miles in December but I'll now be lucky to reach 75.

Since my last run around Wonderland I've managed to get out 7 times, although nothing was particularly strenuous until a trip to Sourdough yesterday with Otto and around Marshall Mesa with Livvy today. Today was the 16th consecutive day below zero, so it has been a cold snap and the snow on December 24th (8 inches at home) was very welcome.

Rabbit Mountain December 22nd

This is always a nice, short trip fairly close to home. I took both Livvy and Otto for a pre-holiday walk before the snow came.

The Indian Peaks with Meeker and Longs Peak on the right

Livvy and Otto on the west loop of the Eagle Trail
Annual Borzoi Walk, Denver, CO December 23rd

We heard of this event by pure chance. Although Borzoi are a very rare breed, there are a few owners in the area, and each year they meet in Denver for a short walk through town. With Otto and Harvey being a bit unpredictable with other dogs we decided to take Livvy and Lilah. This usually isn't my kind of event, but it turned out to be quite good. We also met Livvy's brother - he turned out to be much bigger than her, although I'd bet on her running endurance every time over any other dog.
Lilah and Olivia in Denver
Livvy in the foreground with her brother at the top

Boulder Valley Ranch, December 25th

It was good to get out of the house on Christmas Day, but with the temperature in single digits it was very cold. BVR is a great place from which to view the foothills and although the snow was quite deep in places the trails were fairly well trodden.

Livvy at Boulder Valley Ranch

Lilah in a rare off-leash moment

Otto, off trail to avoid a bunch of aggressive dogs

Green Mountain, December 29th

I've run Green Mountain so many times I've lost count. However, the route via the Amphitheater to Saddle Rock and then the Ranger trail is my favorite.

Early morning sun on the Flatirons

At the top of the Saddle Rock trail

Livvy on the summit of Green Mountain

I love my Kahtoola microspikes

Sourdough Loop, December 30th

I took Otto on this higher level trail system. I knew the snow would be deep above 9,000 feet but thought that cross-country skiers and snow shoe walkers would have packed it down a little. It was a beautiful day with some great views of the high mountains to the west. The first two miles of this route were along the snow-packed road that leads to Beaver reservoir and we started to climb as we headed south from the Beaver Creek trailhead below.

Otto at Beaver Creek

We reached the ridge at 9,200 feet and the trail was great. But then, at the point where the ski trail bisects the route our onward trail was not broken at all and Otto and I began short-striding through 2-3 feet deep snow until we reached the Beaver Bog trailhead.

Just after the point where the broken trail ended - a half mile of deep snow to Beaver Bog

For the next 1.5 miles we climbed steadily passed the junction with the Wapiti Ski Trail and I decided to take the trail spur directly to the South St Vrain trail. This was really hard going. The trail was not broken and we encountered some deep snow. Otto had a hard time jumping through the drifts but he had a lot of fun. I kept having to pick clumps of ice from his paws.

The views west to the mountains were spectacular

In the deep snow just before the South St Vrain trail junction

At the junction with the South St Vrain trail
After the long, slow section of deep snow we made rapid progress back to the car.

Marshall Mesa, December 31st

I risked a slightly longer run on this last outing in 2012. Hard packed snow on this lower level trail would mean less strain on my calf and achilles. I set off with Livvy at a brisk pace. I was wearing my spikes and these worked well when the trail became icy.

Initial section of the Marshall Mesa
Light flurries of snow were falling from the heavy cloud cover although the sun penetrated through in places. It was a comfortable temperature in the shelter of the lower trail, but I got very cold as I headed to the Foothills Vista trailhead.
At the top of the Marshall Mesa at the intersection with Community Ditch
Descending Dowdy Draw with Eldorado Canyon ahead
It's even cold for a dog. Livvy with iced hair around her muzzle.  It was 20F
Brooding weather in the late afternoon. I was very cold at this point and pushing hard back to the car
Happy New Year to everyone.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

An unfortunate misnomer

Context is everything. There was nothing particularly wonderful about running around Wonderland this morning. The dark cloud of shame hanging over the nation was paralleled by increasing cloud cover and fog rolling in from the plains and it quickly enveloped this otherwise pleasant suburb of north Boulder. I was smacked hard with double injuries following my 10 mile run around Hall Ranch yesterday and decided I would take a brisk walk today with Otto and Olivia and try and stretch out the stiffness.
Otto and Olivia heading towards Hogback Ridge from the North Foothills trailhead

Rising early on Sunday - as I do every morning - I needed my "fix" of world and domestic news (in that order). Unfortunately, all news was the same today with domestic networks and international media all focusing on the horrible events in Connecticut. There was nothing new to report from yesterday, just more of the same, but the shift in articles questioning the lax gun controls ("controls"? - there aren't any!) in the US was at least a bright spot. Let's hope Obama seizes the moment.
Tracking south towards Wonderland and fog rolling in from the east

But I was quickly distracted by the jaw-dropping inanity of the faithful and the credulous, seeking to explain the unexplainable in theological terms. First, we had the incomparable Mike Huckabee speaking on Fox news (where else?) telling the world that this atrocious act was the result of a policy of keeping God out of the classroom. It seems that Huckabee, who in one moment explains that the Founding Fathers were Christians (which is certainly stretching the truth), isn't aware that those same Founding Fathers wrote a pesky constitution protecting the State (through its schools) from supporting or advocating religion. If God is being kept out of the classroom it's because either He, or those who claim to speak for Him, can't behave according to the law.
On the Old Kiln loop

Of course, this gives rise to the more obvious point not dealt with by Huckabee. If children were compelled to pray to his Christian God in classrooms, would this have afforded them protection in the face of an attack of this kind? This seems to be Huckabee's contention. Personally, I'm not convinced. I mean, if Pope John Paul II was shot and almost killed in an assassination attempt, was God asleep on watch or was he distracted by something else? If God can't look after his spokesperson on earth, what chance a small group of completely innocent children and their teachers at a school in Connecticut? Or maybe Huckabee thinks that if all children are compelled to pray to his God in schools this will somehow create a more moral and law-abiding nation? But if this were the case he would need to explain why only 0.2% of the US prison population is atheist, whereas this Pew survey of prison Chaplains (hardly known for their independence in religious matters) estimates Christians, Catholics and other Protestant groups to be in excess of 70%. Still, what are mere data points in the face of such unshakeable beliefs?
An icy Wonderland Lake. We would strike up the hillside to the right of the houses

We then have Brian Fischer, of that nasty organization "American Family Association", telling us that "God is a gentleman and doesn't go where he is not wanted". All of this, I am sure, is of enormous comfort to those who are dealing with this tragedy and might never recover.
Near the top of the hillside and the fog begins to thicken over Boulder

The problem of evil is religion's achilles heel. If the God of religion (and I'll not get into the different competing Gods who all have mutually incompatible versions of the truth) is all seeing , knowing and loving, it does raise the question why He is so unable to act to prevent these cases? After all, if God is all knowing he could have done something to prevent this yet chose not to. Whether the disasters have natural causes, such as a Tsunami, or are man made, such as Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora, or Connecticut, they all happened under His watchful and protective embrace. Never have I been smothered by such ineffectual protection. It must surely be crossing the minds of victims' families that as some of them pray for their children's safe passage to heaven, what does it mean to believe in a God that permitted this to happen in the first place? And I really don't think that "God works in mysterious ways" is quite sufficient an explanation. Most people of above average intelligence know this to be the case yet find comfort in perpetuating the pretense. Like parents clinging to the last vestiges of the Santa Claus myth in the face of awkward questions from the children, they find it difficult to break rank. Social pressure is so strong. Let's hope that, as they reflect on the enormity of what has just taken place they get nudged a little closer to rationality.
Wonderland Lake

Fog quickly covers the hillside
You would think that rather than expose their stupidity to the world, Messrs. Huckabee and Fischer would show some restraint. But it is clear that the 8 year long embarrassment of a President who exemplified low intelligence and a high degree of certainty is but a superficial speck of neural circuitry in cavernous, echoing skulls usually occupied by a fully functioning brain. Shame on those media outlets giving these idiots airtime.
From clear skies to dense fog in about 30 minutes

Friday, December 14, 2012

Where not to live

If the news reports today are anything to go by it is not a very good idea to live in random cities in America. Now I know that isn't very helpful advice, but at some point someone is going to have to decide that mass shootings aren't "random" (except for geography) and that they really are a pattern. As Jay Carney, the White House spokesman said earlier regarding raising the issue of gun control, "I think that day will come, but today's not that day, especially as we are awaiting more information about the situation," Well, if today isn't the day, when is it? When the Aurora shootings occurred in July the President also said that wasn't the time to debate gun control. Well, we haven't had that debate in the four months since, so when is the time?

But I digress, because it wasn't the issue of which city in the US to live that I wanted to write about today. No. I've made my peace with Boulder and, mass shootings or not, I'm here to stay. I did come across this nasty little article. Well, it's not the article that is nasty...just the content it is describing. And it is clearer to me now than it has ever been that there are some countries where it is simply unwise for me to visit.

I've written before about the problem of being an atheist in America and how I am part of the least trusted segment of society...even worse in public perception than being a rapist. It makes me proud. This report has just been published, and it is definitely worth reading. While the report mentions America, its main purpose is to highlight the abuse and persecution of atheists and non-believers around the world. It provides a list of shameful examples of countries who legislate against non-belief and it is an outrage. It should come as no surprise that the states where atheists can be put to death or imprisoned for their beliefs are all muslim countries.

Saudi Arabia
The Maldives

Is religious belief so fragile and tenuous that it requires those who reject it to be put to death or incarcerated? But the benefit of the report is in how it demonstrates how so many countries attempt to shackle unbelievers. From countries like Italy, where you can be imprisoned for blasphemy. Even in the US it lists those states where an atheist is prohibited from holding office or any elected position. 

It also casts light on the attempts of many Islamic states to impose blasphemy laws through the UN and bind every country in genuflection towards Islam. This is thought crime and it has no victim.

I have to admit that the list of countries that would execute or imprison me for my non-belief isn't exactly full of my "100 places to visit before I die" itinerary. But they represent to final drop off the slippery slope that starts with legislation to make criticism of religious belief a crime. Ideas, however distasteful, can never be a crime. Only actions are criminal.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Sourdough - Niwot - Brainard

I've fallen flat on my face plenty times when running to be not too surprised when it happens again. This was my initial reaction yesterday when clicking along the Sourdough trail skipping over the thick icy sections. All is sweetness and light then - bam - I am full stretch across the ice and rocks wondering how it happened while marveling that nothing serious seemed to have occurred - or had it? I took a few seconds to mentally check the extremities and make sure I felt OK then stood up. A quick glance at the usual body parts and I was off running again in no time. Livvy, as always, patiently waited, keen to keep going. That was it.
Early section on the Sourdough trail before my fall

It's not as though this pattern hasn't been consistent. This is pretty much what I have done every time I have fallen over. Admittedly, the extent of nausea has been more varied (sometimes nearly causing me to pass out in short term pain), but I've always been running again within a minute or two of the event. So I wasn't too concerned yesterday. In fact, I seemed to pick up the pace a little afterwards and Livvy dropped in behind me as evidence for that. And maybe I just put it out of mind, because I had always put it out of my mind. Descending from Niwot ridge to Brainard Lake it didn't register there was a slightly different problem to usual when I began to feel a tightening in my right groin muscle. When I hit the final two mile section - the one that should have been the fastest (slightly downhill with a very strong wind at my back) - I couldn't work out why I was clocking miles 2 minutes slower than I should have been. But more about this later.
Long, uphill section on Niwot ridge trail below the tree line

It was so cold yesterday - the air temperature was around 28F when I set off (a good 15 degress colder at altitude) - because of wind chill. Slipping my barefeet into my running shoes at Red Rocks trailhead at Brainard told me all I needed to know about what was to come. There were only three cars in the lot and a really bad sign was that none of the occupants had got out. Whether they were collaborating or not, their collective inaction spoke volumes about the conditions. The must have enjoyed the spectacle of me doing a one-legged dance as I hopped around trying to put my shoes on. Thick cloud covered the mountains at around 12,000 feet and a steady stream of snow and ice particles were being carried by the wind. These were peppering my face as I struggled to gear up and I knew this would make for tough conditions crossing the col high on Niwot ridge. Still, as I reasoned, most of my run would be in sheltered terrain and through woodland - it was only the three or four miles of high terrain that would be hard going.
Towards North and South Arapaho Peaks in the cloud. Taken from near the col at 11,400 feet

The four and a half miles south along the Sourdough trail - both before and after my fall - is pleasant enough running and the dense woodland did protect me from the worst of the wind. Horrible sections of packed ice slowed us down a lot, but we emerged onto the track that led up into the mountains and the Niwot ecological preserve and research center. I've been up here a few times, always in bad weather. Some sections of this trail are long and straight and the trees thin out considerably as elevation is gained. The wind was unbelievable. Granted, I wasn't plucked in the air and deposited 20 yards away, as happened on Arapaho Pass last week, but it felt just as brutal.
Punishing and exposed high traverse before the descent to Long Lake

Another three and a half miles and the trail swings to the north for the final ascent to the high point at around 11,400 feet. I thought this section would have been the worst but it was actually OK. I was afforded some protection by a higher ridge to my left and I only got a serious buffeting rather than a constant battering. And when I reached the trail junction (where Niwot ridge goes west towards Niwot Mountain and Navajo Peak) and turned east, the wind was at my back for the most exposed section...until I reached the col of course when I would turn back towards the north west and run into the face of the storm.

I recall at the time thinking that I was spending too much time for the conditions above 11,000 feet - 4 miles and about an hour of time. The going was difficult because the wind had sculpted huge drifts and ridges of snow that stretched like fingers across the landscape and obscured the trail. This isn't a very popular trail in the heat of summer (I have never met anyone on it...ever) and it made navigation tricky. Sometimes I would cross these snow patches easily by skating across the top of the hard-crusted snow, but some of the sections were soft and I would sink up to my thighs. Poor Livvy disappeared a couple of times under the surface. My whole lower jaw was frozen and my mouth and nose were encrusted with ice. I was conscious the whole time of how much exposure I was experiencing and this pushed me to keep moving as quickly as I could.

We eventually reached the tree line at the top of the descent to Long Lake. The Lake wasn't visible. Unfortunately, there was a lot of snow in the woodland on this north-facing slope and it became impossible to follow the trail. We lost the trail after about half a mile and began to pick our way down the quickest and easiest route. It wasn't too bad, but Livvy picked up a cut on her right foreleg from a sharp rock - she didn't seem to notice and it didn't affect her running, but it was disconcerting seeing small blobs of blood on the pristine snow. It was slow going.
Long Lake from the clearing. Mount Audubon obscured by cloud behind

We came to a clearing and saw Long Lake about 500 feet below. The last section was very rocky and I was really pleased to be able to run again once I reached the Jean Lunning trail. We were a little off route on the descent - too far west by about a half mile. But I found it difficult to keep a decent pace. This brings me back to the twinges in my groin muscle. I know enough about these things to realize that they nearly always result from overcompensating for another problem. But I couldn't feel any other painful areas - not a huge surprise as I was so cold.
View from the Brainard outlet

Here's what the view should look like
We crossed the footbridge at the Long Lake outlet and reached the Long Lake parking lot - completely closed in winter of course. Not a soul in sight. We tracked along the access road to the north of Brainard Lake and then reached the newly constructed Pawnee Campground and the final two and a half miles back to the car. It became obvious along this final stretch that my left knee had a problem and this was causing the strain in my right groin. It was a slow jog and it should have been a much faster run back to the car.

Later that night, fully thawed out, I had a searing pain on my left patella. It seems that when I fell over I must have cracked it on a rock. Despite all my falls on mountain trails...and there have been plenty...this was the first that had resulted in direct injury. I really hope I am not out of action very long.