Thursday, March 6, 2014

I'm Still Here



It's not that I haven't enjoyed the past three months of gentle walks and lesser hikes around Lovely Ouray and Sunny Ridgway. I can even tolerate the stationary bike when outdoor weather is disagreeable, as it now resides in front of Imax Windows that distract from situational realities, not the least of which is no matter how hard I peddle, I'm getting nowhere. 


The forbearance threshold among Johnson males has always been low; we are an impatient lot, eyes reaching for the horizon as if the "Now" is just another one of Life's inconveniences that must be endured until someone hands us our well deserved Pulitzer for Perseverance. It shouldn't come as a surprise when I'm tripped up by a pothole, yet I always am. 

Minding Doctor's orders and being a good boy is wearing thin lately. I feel like I'm missing out on things I count important—things that make me get out of bed in the morning, things that add challenge and purpose and make Life worth putting up with. Yesterday was such a beautiful day, the kind of unseasonably springlike day that drives one to play hooky from school or call into work "feeling a tad under the weather," which, technically speaking, would not be a lie. It would have been a good day for a long walk, but it was an even better day to break out of a routine that was beginning to feel more like a rut. 

"I want to go up 'Red.'"
Long pause.
"Do you think that's a good idea?"
"Probably not, but I don't care anymore. Let's grab our snowshoes and go have a look." 
A man can die of many things in many ways, but I can't think of a worse way to go than in a chair or at a desk…which has me second guessing at why in the hell I want to be a writer.

I strapped on my homemade hernia belt—a MacGyver-like contraption made out-of-necessity that works better than anything in stores—cinched it down a couple of extra notches and said, "Let's do it!" 

The road up to Red Mountain was in the process of melting off the previous night's snowfall…a little slushy in sunny spots, a little icy in shade. It has been plagued with rock fall this winter; the State Department of Transportation actually closed it down a few times and attempted to mitigate what could be a lethal problem. The worst section is now single lane with a temporary catch-fence that leans out over the road. It wouldn't stop a sizable boulder falling at terminal velocity, but it does makes you feel better. 

After a few years of less than average snowfall it was great to see genuinely deep snow again. The tiny parking area where county road 31 takes off hadn't been plowed for a while so I had to nose the Subaru in pretty hard in order to get completely off the highway. We'd worry about getting out when the time came. 

Bobbie suddenly pointed up to Red Mountain # 3 and said, "Look, someone's been up there." Sure enough there were several ski tracks tightly serpentining through an incredibly steep and narrow chute, then broadened into nothing short of gracefully curving works of art in Champion Basin. I told Bobbie that they must have taken a helicopter to the summit. About that time four guys skied out of the woods to our parking spot. It turned out that they were the one's responsible for the "artwork," and they had actually ski-climbed to the summit, starting at dawn. With backcountry skiers dying right and left lately from getting caught up in avalanches, I asked about the snow conditions up there and got a rather philosophical answer. "Well, were here."

We put our snowshoes on and followed their tracks back into the woods. The snow was deep on the road…deeper than I have ever witnessed. In spite of dressing lightly, within a mile we were both overheating and had to remove a layer. It was in the upper 20's with nary a breeze. But with sunlight ricocheting off virgin snow like live ammunition, it felt at least 65. I could, and should have, worn shorts and a t-shirt; it felt that warm. Of course my sea level winter phobic friends will not believe me. I wished they were there, I wished they could all experience the solar warmth, the crisp edged visibility that comes with pure air and high altitude, the euphoria of being surrounded by thirteen-thousand foot peaks and ridge lines etched against cobalt blue skies, of wandering untracked snow through ruins of yesterday's ghost town mining camps…and be warm as toast in a place that's commonly hostile, if not deadly. 

We pushed on, disbelieving the untracked snow and lack of people on such a glorious day. It was medicinal; I only wish it was curative. 

As for risking rupture…a bursted intestine…bleeding out internally?
I'm still here.

More next time...






















12 comments:

  1. Mark, gorgeous photos. When I attended the SIlverton Avalanche School, they told us more people were killed by bank avalanches than by big runoffs - yup, like that big bank in your photo. :))

    Any idea when the surgery will be? You make a pretty poor slacker, I guess, so let's hope sooner than later. My great-gpa died from a hernia, he's buried in Glenwood Springs, was a freight hauler with horses and wagon, but that was back when you couldn't usually get surgery. Any Johnsons from Kansas in your family? My grandmother was a Johnson (Emporia area).

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  2. Good for you. You know your limitations better than anyone. When you have to go its much better to go doing something you really enjoy. Take care.

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  3. After spending many years in Quebec with all its winter sports, one of the few things I miss is snow shoeing and cross country skiing now that we are snowbirds. The pics are just beautiful and I can almost smell the crisp, clean air.

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  4. Only BCB can make me think that a week end in the snow would be fun!! months??? negatory! thanks for trip Mark- Are sure trip was doctor approved??? just sayin---Walden creek rv steve

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  5. Gorgeous! I know I would feel the same way if I were in your situation. Thanks for sharing your outing with us! I hope to someday find myself in a place with fresh, untouched snow and the time to experience its pristine beauty!

    Metamorphosis Lisa

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  6. I totally understand what your saying. I would be out & about with my camera somewhere as well regardless of Doctor's orders or advice. To languish in a nursing home some day is the cruelest of fates.......

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  7. I used to do a lot of skiing when I was younger. (Yes, I know what you Colorado people say about Texans who ski.) ;-) I can remember those days you described perfectly....on the back bowls on the sunny side of the mountain with no wind, feeling that piercing sun defying the frozen drifts all around me. Ski jacket wrapped around my waist, while marveling at how all that snow could possibly stay frozen in that "solar warmth." Your description of "the crisp edged visibility that comes with pure air and high altitude, the euphoria..." takes me right back there. I haven't had the urge to ski again for many years, but that palpable description makes me wish for just one more run...

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  8. I definitely understand how heated you got. It doesn't take long to warm up when snowshoeing or cross country skiing. That reflecting snow is really warm.

    What a great winter hike! Everything is so pure. Thanks for sharing!

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  9. I disobeyed doctor's orders and didn't take my post-surgery medicine. I just didn't want to wait an hour afterward to eat breakfast. I'm struggling to get my doses in every day because you can't take it an hour before eating or two hours after eating. Difficult for a gal whose digestive woes cause her to eat small amounts every two hours! By the way, how are you getting such crisp snow shots? I got a new Canon 70D and my snowy shots all look grey. Help!

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    1. Got your tips, thanks much! I was considering that wide angle lens you mentioned, so funny that's what you suggest. Hopefully I'll have some sun in Munising tomorrow, I seem to have bad luck in snow even on sunny days, but maybe that was just my old camera and this one will perform much better.

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  10. These pictures are beautiful, these slopes were made for cross country skiing. Thank you for sharing!

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