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Saturday, November 20, 2021

Embracing The Suck

Notice Lovely Ouray in the above photo, nestled at the base of our soaring, snowcapped San Juan Mountains. Bobbie and I departed early, before sunrise spilled into La Crevice, for a loop hike that proved a lot more challenging than we thought it would.

You can see Bobbie the middle foreground of the above photo. She's leaning into the final pull up Old Horse Thief Trail, where it intersects the Ridge to the Bridge of Heaven. There, at the apex of our climb, we agreed that, after nearly 3,000 feet of elevation gain, the good news was, It's all downhill from here. And the bad news was, It's all downhill from here.

We weren't sure we could pull off (what we thought would be) a ten mile hike with 3,000 feet of elevation gain...and loss. But if there's one thing we've learned in both our work lives and outdoor lives, it's that the road to success is often paved with bricks of disappointment and failure. Ask anyone who placed fourth in the Olympic Games. 

"We can always turn around if were not feeling it" I promised, attempting to persuade Bobbie that this was a good idea. 

Ok, maybe it's time to cut back on caffeine. Or maybe beer. Or sugar. You know, all the things that, when combined, fuels a false sense of confidence. But caffeine is what it takes to get me "up" these days. In the post-haze two-cup high, I feel 25 years younger. This, while I'm sitting in a recliner, next to a warm fire, and after popping 3 extra strength Tylenol. The sugar part is a backpack pouch crammed full of Shot Blocs and Cliff Bars. And the beer? A little something to help me fall asleep, usually during the 5 o'clock news.  

Whatever the cause for my naive proclivity to invite challenges beyond my age-bracket grasp...adrenalin based notions that delusional halfwits conjure up to prove they still "got it" and/or to self-medicate bouts of boredom, is beside the point. Crazy is as crazy does. I know it when we see it in others, yet fail to recognize it when looking at the stranger in the mirror every morning.  But how—beyond cocktails of caffeine, beer, sugar and pain killers—does an old man fuel his mojo to act on irrepressible urges to wander mountainous playgrounds in search of random "gauntlets"?  

I guess it's my way of letting off the steam and stress of a politically divided world gone whacko, and viral pandemics that attack in successive waves and mutate faster than epidemiologists can tweak vaccines. Then there's my pet peeve, corporate pharmaceutical greed. Top it off with the onset of climate change—devastating hurricanes, floods and drought that we were told (by some) not to worry because it was way off in the future. Right. 

So whether it's hiking, biking, exploring or just rambling, it's the "unknown" I crave/need to offset the madness. Two of the many valued things my daddy taught his halfwit son is that, You'll never know if you don't try, and have the guts to try or suffer the regrets. Dad modeled his mottos and set indelible examples for his children, living what he preached... always humble in success and graceful in failure.   

So try we did, Bobbie and I. Maybe it's not a big deal to anyone else, but it's who we are and what we do that makes life worthwhile. It's what we've always done, and, hopefully, will continue to do until we draw our last breath. We figure the only way to achieve that dream is to never stop hiking. Recall your high school physics class: An object in motion tends to stay in motion, and an object at rest tends to stay at rest.

In the previous post Bobbie and I trudged up Old Horse Thief Trail toward the Ridge to the Bridge of Heaven. For reasons I can't recall, our legs were exceptionally tired. We fell short of making it to the "Ridge Bridge." But it was such a splendid day, a day so warm and winsome that we dared not waste it indoors. 

While laboring up Old Horse Thief's switchbacks on that hike, it occurred to me that a potential loop hike could be made by continuing over the "Ridge Bridge" and descend its north side to Dexter Creek. From there we could connect a few county backroads and make it all the way back home. Bobbie wasn't quite as excited with the idea as I was, but, in the end, went along with my usual overconfidence.

Looking up...

Our attempt fell on a gorgeous day. The beauty was enough to flutter eyelids, gazing skyward at a ragtag collection of monolithic spires against Bluebird skies. To us, mountains are like magnets. They smite our hearts and senses of curiosity in such a way that we can't resist climbing upward, if nothing else, just to see what view awaits or what lies around the next corner. When my time comes, I can't think of a better place to be.

Looking down...

Our legs were suffering through a bout of elevation-fatigue when we arrived at the base of The Spires. Our forest trail suddenly turned to a rubble of loose scree from rocks that calve from the towering monoliths. 

It took both hiking poles to stay navigate the poor footing, but we soon topped out to a phenomenal view of Lovely Ouray. Gosh, it seemed so far away; hard to believe we had climbed all that elevation. I wandered out onto a narrow rock jetty on shaky legs in order to get a photo. The Ridge to the Bridge lay just above and beyond the spires, a 15 minute climb on a much friendlier trail.

Bobbie and I paused on the ridge, took in the view and soaked up the sun's warmth. Our legs requested a break, so we sat down and discussed whether or not to continue The Plan. The ridge is the highest point on this hike, as well as a midway point...effort wise, anyway. Reversing course on the saddle would shorten both miles and time back down to home. Sticking with the loop plan, however, could have us pushing darkness. Either way, though, it's all downhill from the ridge. 

In the end it was a suffer-fest, one of those mind-over-matter things that in the moment seems stupid, but in retrospect, glorious. We struggled to aching feet on shaky legs. They vehemently protested the decision to try and finish what we started. 

Gaining the Ridge to the Bridge of Heaven

Winding down to Dexter Creek through a dormant aspen grove...leafless and stark, kinda like winter.

Eventually, the trail met up with a long Jeep road...that turned into a longer County Road, that turned into a short stint on Highway 550, where we were able to cross a bridge that landed us on Oak Street... deep in the shadows of late afternoon.

Passing by Lake Lenore on a County Road. We guess a little over three miles to home from there. By the way, we find the cadence and repetition of road walking far tougher on legs than trail hiking!

Hamstrings tightened like bowstrings, threatening to cramp. Legs cried, "We warned you." With but a mile to go, our feet decided they had had enough and joined forces with protesting legs. Finally we reached our steep driveway. It was the ultimate coup de grâce, as we struggled and stumbled our way up to the front door. Once inside we quickly shed heavy packs and corset-like boots, only to face a final flight of stairs. Good thing there was a handrail.  

Our hike turned out to be 11.5 miles with 3,000 feet of elevation gain/loss. We knew coming down would be harder and more painful than the climb up. Our legs confirmed it...especially the knees. That part of the hike truly "sucked."  

As a couple of Geezers, we are alway proud of accomplishing a long, difficult loop. But pride, as it should be, is a fleeting and temporary phenomenon. The "Endorphin high" soon fades and we are forced to seek out new challenges or re-dos of old favorites. As a repentant Lance Armstrong said, Pain is temporary. But quitting lasts for ever. We keep going, mostly out of fear that if we stop at our age, we may never get going again. 

The miracle isn't so much that we did a big hike, as it is we had the courage to try and the stubbornness to see it through.

It shouldn't be long before it's time to switch to snowshoes. 
Hope to see you then...
Peace Out,
Mark and Bobbie, still embracing The Suck

PS: Be sure to check out Bobbie's Youtube channel, Getting High With Two Old Broads, on Monday for her video rendition of this hike!!


  1. Embrace that suck for awhile longer! A wonderful achievement :) Speaking of pharmaceutical greed, did you read about Part B premiums going up almost $22 p/mth because of Biogen's new wonder drug for us geezers?

    1. What will big pharma do when they bankrupt their "cash cow?"

  2. Welcome back, I was just about to check the Obits. Now don't get worked up but that was a pretty good sit out, next time just put some old videos on as I imagine we missed a lot of em back in the 90's. I see the streets are still looking black, that's not good but maybe you will have the heaviest snow load of the century come December., I certainly hope so, otherwise there's going to be some thirsty folks in Las Vegas & LA before long.
    We have been having some lit showers just hope the winter stays good and wet here.
    Stay Warm, get out there and bag your bird for the big day, Ive heard from friends there is a large group of turkeys roaming town :)
    D & A

    1. Had some early snow here but it's melting fast. Too warm for late November!

  3. Mark, google "type 2 fun" - this is the epitome of it ;) just did 11 miles yesterday though a bit less elevation. My 34 year old calves are sore!

  4. Totally agree, I see people my age stop moving and it isn't pretty. Hope my body holds out for another few decades.


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