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Heil Valley

Heil Valley Ranch has some fun trails. It's got a short option, some medium-length options and a few trails that just go and go and go until I suppose they hit Canada. We have hiked there twice now. The first time we just wanted to get out and try a new area. We took the short trail. It was very dynamic for such a short distance. There were wooded sections and open spaces. It actually had some good elevation changes too, but it was short.

The next time hit Heil Valley we had a route in mind that would take us a little farther up the road. What we had in mind and what we actually hiked didn't line up. We pushed a little harder than we had planned to, but it was worth it. By this time, for those of you who read the Bear PeaK post, we were in much better shape. We each hit the gym at least four times a week for long, well-rounded workouts, complete with cardio routines. We noticed the hikes getting easier after no time. We felt Heil Valley, but it was in no way debilitating like what Bear Peak had done to us.

We have been amazed at how much the landscape can change from hike to hike in Colorado. Some hikes feel as we would expect them to. Others remind us of Carolina, Idaho and even Arizona. This stretch of Heil Valley really felt like Arizona in places. There was a mix of wooded area, open space and rocky sections.

The wildlife was decent on this one. We weren't even out during dawn or dusk and we felt like we had a pretty good day. We saw turkey tracks, but no turkey. Twice, we walked through the same group of deer with a couple bucks and for the first time, we spotted Abert's Squirrels, which we had never seen before. We saw four, the first three pitch black and the fourth (pictured) a dark brown. After the hike, I looked them up and found out they live in the Rocky Mountains, parts of Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico and as far south as North-Central Mexico. They shed their tasseled ears in the summer.

This hike covered 7.6 miles and took us uphill 822 feet on one trail with 206 added by another trail for a net of 1028 feet of elevation gain. The other two pictures show the distance between where we started and the furthest point we reached and a view off the backside of the mountain.

NOTE: These are cell phone pictures.

Heil Valley

Bear Peak

There we were, in Colorado with the Rocky Mountains at our feet, or maybe knees. They're pretty big. Rocky Mountain National Park was on our shortlist, but we wanted to start simple and just get out and hike. We had routinely done three-to-five-mile hikes in North Carolina without any issue. Ashley did her research, the same as she'd always done before, and picked out a trail that looked like fun. I'm going to foreshadow a bit here and tell you after this little hike, we added a few research criteria which simply were not relevant in Carolina nor Texas.

This seven-mile hike to a place called Bear Peak would occupy our Saturday. What we really knew about Bear Peak: nothing. What we thought we knew about Bear Peak: enough. Thank God we chose to begin in the direction that made the build-up to the summit long, windy and slow. There were two distinct options we came to realize. There was some elevation to consider, but we were handling it all right. All the beautiful scenery was a welcome distraction and even though the events that surrounded the rapid move had kept us from the gym for a while, we were still managing physically. This is additionally impressive because we were still adjusting to the altitude and let me tell you, it is a real adjustment. It comes and goes and hits at the strangest times, but it's noticeable and takes its toll.

I am well aware of my inability to judge distance traveled and I try not to ask too often because I am frequenlty disappointed with the answer. When my body starts to get fatigued, I look to hear something along the lines of, "mile and a half to go," as opposed to, "we've gone about a mile and a half of seven." We hits pockets of mud where the sun had worked to melt the snow. We came across solid dirt and we actually had to navigate stretches still covered with packed, but deep snow. The sun controls everything in Boulder. Where the sun shines, the ground is dry. Areas that remain shaded might as well be annexed to the North Pole.

As we approached the peak, the trail began to level off and we got some incredible views off the backside of the mountain. It was there where we decided we'd break for lunch. I say lunch, but really they were just snacks. Ashley had packed some water, jerky and wasabi almonds -- more than enough for a three-to-five-mile hike. For about 30 minutes leading up to our break, Ashley had been apologizing for getting us in over our heads, which by that point, we knew for sure we were. It wasn't nearly enough to stop us, it just meant we didn't have control and if we had pegged the distance wrong and failed to mind the change in elevation and the blizzard which had rolled through not long before we hit the trail, we knew there was a good chance there would be other surprised in store.

Hiking in Texas and Carolina is flat. I don't want to hear anything about hills, and don't anyone dare say mountain, because the worst it gets is probably Boone, N.C., and although they do have some skiing options, those geographical features are mounds, hills at their most devious. We had never thought to look closely at the change in elevation and the weather either was hot or not hot. We were keeping careful mental notes and have since refined our hiking checklist, but there was nothing we could do at that point on that mountain. There are no exits. There is only go nowhere, go forward or turn around. We knew, based on our location that distancewise, we were closer to completing the loop by pushing ahead, a direction we wanted to move anyway as neither of us had a good feeling about letting the damn thing beat us. Come hell or high water, and they came close, we weren't going back. What were didn't realize, is that timewise, we were exactly at the halfway mark.

We had hiked a considerable distance and gained a great deal of elevation, but having done it so slowly, we weren't certain exactly how high were nor how much higher we had to go. We were pretty sure there was to be some sort of peak. The name of the hike was Bear Peak. We didn't feel we had reached anything peaklike and that worried us. As we rounded the next bend, we saw it -- peak. Bear Peak. Neither of us wanted to say what we were thinking out loud. That might make it come true. There is no way, no way we are going climb that. Surely the trail doesn't actually take us all the way up there. Peak can mean close, right? General peaky area? Can see the peak from the top? These were my thoughts. As we pushed ahead, exhausted, but nourished and hydrated, we failed to find the Circumvent the Peak option. it was looking more and more like the path we had chosen was going to drag our mentally-drained, physically-beaten and emotionally-spent asses up that sunbaked slab of jagged, red rock and it was going to laugh the entire time.

We progressed about 2 minutes and 25 feet at a time. Left, then right, then left, then right as we weaved our way, slowly, dare I say steadily up the cliff. We made many, many stops to "take photos." I can't tell you how many times my quads scream out, "Take a photo! This is gorgeous, photo time! Take several, hundreds of photos from right here and start now!" It felt like forever. Each step was one-to-two feet up. The climb was steep. Our legs were visibly shaking and we were breathing aggressively or not at all. More than one group caught and overtook us on that climb. One pair in particular offered us a much-needed laugh. A man and a woman, similar to us in age and if I didn't know better, I'd label him military, caught us. They made general trail pleasantries as they passed and the man looked at me, grimaced and asked, "There's a way down the other side right?" I responded, "There better be or I'm jumping off." Everybody laughed and we used our moment of joviality to claw up another 20 or so feet. The mountain wiped our smiles quickly and they didn't return until we reached the top.

We. Reached. The. Top.

We took a few photos up there. We broke out the snacks again. We chatted briefly with some of the other hikers up there. The trail was surprisingly busy. We eventually decided we'd better start heading back toward the truck and looked for a good opening to merge into traffic and mosey on down the mountain. Our mosey turned to slip-and-slide in no time at all. Right at the top of the mountain was a stretch of snow-covered ice upon which person after person slid from top to bottom. There were few if any dry behinds at the bottom of that stretch. I was wearing a brand new pair of hiking shoes with adequate grip we'd bought the day before, but Ashley was wearing her Nike running shoes which were bald even for running shoes. I hopped from side to side of the trail, spotting and landing on the most flat and dry patches I could find and made that work for me most of the way. We were both clotheslining every tree we could reach to slow our decent, but Ashley, she stuck with the hineyslide and improved upon it with each slide. I was impressed when we realized she could actually steer with her hands on either side. She used them as rudders and sort of bobsledded her way down from tree-to-tree, 10 or 15 feet at a time, never failing to slam into a tree somewhere near the bottom. I laughed hysterically. She smirked completely unamused. Once or twice I did catch her laughing, but it had to suck and at one point she did actually cut herself.

This was getting later in the day now, one-thirty, maybe two o'clock. We passed people climbing up, each with his or her own brand of indecisiveness waving as a white flag for all to see. We don't know what happened to them, but if any of them made it to the top, and a few groups we really worried about, there was no way there would be back down before dark no matter which path they chose. In an effort to maintain awareness and mental stability, we chatted as much as possible on the way down. What horrors would befall some of the groups we passed was a popular topic.

We finally found the beginning of the loop which wrapped us the long way up the Devil's Mountain and though we were encouraged to reach that point, we knew it meant we still had about an hour left. The loop didn't actually begin until we had already hiked in quite a bit.

Thank God this part was downhill. It really did make a difference. Uphill was hard on the muscles. Downhill turned out to be hard on the knees, but my body was willing to make the change. We had a mix of up and down from where the loop began and ended to where we had parked the truck. It never really got easier, but we were absolutely going to make it because if we were going to have quit, it would have come about five hours before then. We had joked about the wildlife on the way up. "Watch for cougars and rattlesnakes," we told each other. Mainly I told Ashley and she told me I had nothing to worry about despite the posted signs, but by hour five of six, if we had encountered any kind of animal bent on causing us harm, we would have stood zero chance of defending ourselves.

Even though we had no life left and could barely function, we didn't made it all the way home. Driving, which because of the muscle fatigue was more of me using my hand to push the appropriate hip downward and focus my efforts to keep my legs straightish, hurt my legs and we were so hungry and thirsty we decided to stop at Texas Roadhouse. We each ordered our usuals with the exception of my drink. As I had done many times before in Texas, I ordered the 20-something-ounce boot full of beer -- Blue Moon. The waiter brought it to our table and in two drinks it was gone. He returned to bring us more bread a minute or two later, looked at the beer and made for me a face I'll never forget as long as I live. I wasn't about to explain my day to him and he didn't feel brave enough to ask, but we understood each other. Ashley just laughed.

Bear Peak, for anyone interested in making that hike/climb, takes about six hours, covers 8.5 miles and rises nearly 3,000 feet in elevation from 6,100 feet to the peak at 8,459 feet. We have since acquired hiking spikes, the best available, and never set out on a hike of more than about two miles without a backpack full of, well, just full. Who knows what we'll need, but if we need it, we'll have it.

NOTE: These are cell phone pictures.

Bear Peak
Bear Peak
Bear Peak

Colorado or Bust

Destiny emailed.

Ok, it wasn't quite that dramatic, but as we approached the end of our second year in our five-year plan for Carolina, Ashley got an e-mail from a former associate. It seemed an opening had become available in Boulder, Colo., a place we'd had our eyes on for the better part of a decade, but had been without the means to feasibly complete a move there for one reason or another. Boulder, and its surrounding cities, was a place we knew we could call home for a very long time and because of this, we took the opening seriously. Ashley, blessed with an unmatched ability to research anything to its atomic level in a short period of time went to work vetting the institute, the university, the city, the state, the laws, the weather, indigenous animals, pro sports tickets prices, proximity to hiking trails and mountain resorts, tax policies, pending legislation and anything and everything else one could possibly imagine. Just to be safe, she didn't skip a beat and expanded her research to include moving options and associated costs, hotels prices in cities where we'd likely be if we split the trip into two days as well as those in cities where we'd be if we opted for a three-day drive. She explored our options for leaving the house we were renting and looked a details as they pertained to our jobs. In a matter of hours, she can put together a very realistic, thorough and accurate picture of the feasibility of any action, event or proposal. I've come to put full trust in her research and it's taken us to some amazing places in our seven and a half years of marriage. I guess that's what helps her stand out in her field. She's simply a natural.

I digress. Having come to terms with reality and determined this opportunity might for the first time be borderline feasible if, and only if many, many specific coin-flips went our way, any one of which would have sunk the endeavor. More than once, it looked like once again, we might not be able to get it done, but Good Lord-willing, it worked out, once again. I say once again because we found our way to Texas then again to North Carolina by leaping similar hurdles and conquering some similar circumstances. At this point, we were at least used to it and could better cope with the associated stresses.

Long story less long, we finalized as much as we could, packed up and hit the road early in the morning. We had a rough time getting through North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia (first photo). People drive very, very differently in that part of the country and apparently we never really shook off our Austin habits. The world of driving righted itself somewhere around St. Louis and stayed pretty solid through Kansas and into Colorado. We smiled as large as we could at the end of the second of two 12-hour days when we hit the 75mph interstate in Colorado. As much as anything, that was our sign we were home.

We tried to make the best of the drive. It's not every day we pass through that many states. Obviously we couldn't stop and explore. We were on a schedule and in order to make the whole move work, we had to stick to it, but even if we would have been able to make some time, we had Ladybird in the backseat of Ashley's BMW. We felt the days were long enough for her as is. But we tried to grab an occasional snapshot here and there and treated ourselves to the usual, fun road trip snacks and music. It was the first time we'd attempted such a move in separate vehicles and that made it more challenging and robbed us of our road trip feel, but we made it work. The undisputed highlight of the trip for both of us was when we stopped in Topeka for some BBQ. We were hoping it would be Kansas City style since we'd already sampled first-hand those of Texas, Tennessee and North Carolina. While we found Carolina's BBQ underwhelming and awarded Texas king of them all, we both liked what Topeka had and said we'd eat it again no problem.

We passed through Charleston, pictured second, and I got a shot of its capitol building. The next photo is us passing through Louisville, a place about which we've heard good things and said we'd like to visit one day. After that came the Gateway to the West -- the St. Louis Arch. I know we just passed through and didn't get to pick the parts of town through which the interstate passed, but from what I could see from the road, I was not impressed with St. Louis. The home of the World Series-winning Kansas City Royals is next. I could actually see Arrowhead Stadium as well, but even the cell phone shots of it weren't good enough to post. The final shot is of the capitol of Kansas and just one block from the BBQ joint we hit, HHB BBQ.

Rolling past Denver International Airport, a place through which we'd both passed many times, in our own vehicles was eerie, but felt great. We hopped on the toll road and eventually reached Longmont, our destination. The final photo is Hwy 119 which connects Longmont to Boulder and is known as the Diagonal Highway. This photo, as well as any, shows the final stage of our journey. It wrapped up a seven-year swing from Coeur d'Alene (I can still spell it from memory), through Boise, to Texas, to North Carolina and eventually halfway back across the country to Colorado. It's crazy to think about what we've done, but the memories persevere and I wouldn't trade them for anything in the world. All said and done, we love Colorado and wasted no time getting out and experiencing it. Our first hike was Bear Peak, but that's a story for another day.

NOTE: These are cell phone pictures.

Carolina
Charleston
Louisville
St. Louis
Kansas City Royals
Topeka
Highway 119

Fort Macon

We moved to North Carolina in late December, arriving just a couple days before Christmas. Not long after we left winter behind for the first time, we wanted to visit the beach, somewhere, somehow. We made our way to Emerald Isle. I know I've posted about the beach and this trip before so I won't rehash old descriptions, but I will add our visit to Fort Macon. We chose to drive all the way to the point of the island and it was then we learned Fort Macon was out there. We love to explore and often wander through museums for fun. We considered this a bonus and it turned out to be free. We couldn't pass up the opportunity.

Construction on Fort Macon began in 1826 and the fort remained in military service through World War II, though the military had to lease the land for use. Fort Macon and the surrounding area became a state park in 1924 and returned to status as a state park after the war.

The fort is made of brick and stone and has several separate rooms. The museum uses different rooms to highlight different eras of the fort's use. It was fun to see how the same general arrangement was adapted over the years and re-envisioned for new purposes. The giant oven in particular was a favorite for both Ashley and I.

Another obvious plus, and the reason we ventured out that way in the first place was the beach on which Fort Macon was planted. The day couldn't have been better. The sun was out, but it wasn't too hot. The humidity, especially for the coast, was tolerable and there was a nice breeze. I snagged a few shells, we stuck around and watched the boats come in and out of the inlet, watched people fish and walk their dogs up and down the beach and best of all, we sampled the two bricks of fudge we bought after we left the seafood restaurant where we'd had lunch. On the way back, we stopped at a hotel bar and had a couple mai tais on a pier which stretched over the Atlantic water. It was a great day and one of the most memorable we'd had during our time in Carolina.

NOTE: These are cell phone pictures.

Fort Macon
Fort Macon
Fort Macon
Fort Macon

Cameron Indoor

My wife worked at Duke while we were in North Carolina. We are Duke fans, especially when it comes to basketball, but we had never been inside Cameron Indoor Stadium. We had seen it from the outside and walked past it several times on the way to Duke football games, but we wanted to see inside. Ashley told me she had a chance to get tickets to a women's game for a reasonable price and asked if I wanted to go. I said sure. We knew even though it wasn't the men, it would be a great opportunity not only to see the inside of Cameron Indoor, but to get the feel of watching a game there.

No.1-ranked South Carolina was in town and it promised to be a tough game. Duke had a shot and had held its own well throughout the contest, but a last-second shot gave the Gamecocks the lead and ultimately the win.

We left disappointed Duke had lost, but happy we were able to experience a basketball game in one of college basketball's great venues. Just like our visit to Bristol Motor Speedway, just being inside Cameron Indoor was fun. It truly had a high school gym feel. There was a lot of old wood. The concession stands were clearly dated, or preserved, I don't know which and the size of the stadium itself was so small. It never really felt crowded because only so many tickets were available, but it was genuinely tiny. I'm glad we got to see a game in there, see the miniature crow's nest where the media and TV camera lived and sit behind the famous Cameron Crazies hard at work doing their thing.

NOTE: This is a cell phone picture.

Cameron Indoor Stadium

Bristol Birthday

I love sports. I love seeing sporting events in person and while I had become accustomed to seeing football and baseball and your mainstream team sports in person, one sport of which I am a fan and had not yet been able to experience in person was NASCAR. For my 30th birthday, Ashley bought us tickets to the Food City 500 at my favorite track which was at that time, right up the road. Bristol Motor Speedway, the Last Great Colosseum, seats double (160,000) that of AT&T Stadium in Arlington Texas (80,000), which is touted for its size and capacity. Being there and seeing the venue alone seemed worth the short trip. I guess it's good I liked the venue so much because we had more than enough time to explore thanks to a rain delay that pushed the afternoon race to a great race under the lights later than evening.

One of my favorite parts of attending a NASCAR race is the beverage policy. Fans are provided specifications for a cooler and a backpack and are allowed, within reason of course, pretty much anything that will fit. So Ashley brought a appropriate backpack and we grabbed a cooler that fit the specs and headed to the store to fill them. We had, if I recall correctly, around a dozen cans of beer, a variety of snacks and a couple large waters we figured we'd be needing by night's end, one of us at least.

After the long delay and the race which eventually carried through the advertised length, we didn't bring much of our stash home, but we had a great time going through it. From the top of the bowl behind our seats, we could see the Bristol drag strip and a field of RV's and campers. People mark these races on their calendars and will travel from far and wide to experience them. Bristol is a favorite for many fans and drivers and it did not disappoint. Because the entire track is visible from any seat in the house and the stadium resembles that of many football stadiums, Bristol is recommended as the first race for a new NASCAR fan. I wasn't new, but I could see that would be a great option, as opposed to some of the longer tracks where the cars are really only watchable for a stretch at a time and there is a possibility they could crash and a person seated in the wrong section might miss it.

There were a few crashes, something for which Bristol is famous, in our race, as well as several lead changes and daring passes. I never could get my scanner to work. I suspect it was because I was using an aviation antenna and not the recommended stub the rentals had, but I could still catch a blurb here and there. That was fun, but racing and placing and crashing aside, I could not get over the noise, the smells and the feeling of being there. When the 43-car field takes the green and screams around the track for the first lap, what had been mainly stagnant air turned to a significant wind. Cars will average around 80mph on the track, but redline at well beyond 100mph in the straightaways. The noise is another experience altogether. Forty-three cars pushing more than 700 horsepower without any concern nor consideration for noise generates an unmistakable and ear-blasting sound. Some form of ear protection is absolutely necessary, although in short spurts, it's tolerable with nothing. More impressive, however, is the way the sound shifts from next-to-nothing to way too loud. Accompanying the sound is a tangible rumble which I could feel in my chest and the smell of fuel and tires ties everything together.

With regard to the experience of the cars on the track, Bristol is so small the cars never leave or drive by. They basically just stay there, right in front of the fans so the noise and feeling and smell is constant and one has to pay attention to the leaders on the track because they catch the field pretty quickly and before you know it, all the cars are running as one pack and there is no real space on the track. It's incredible to see and we stayed to the very end to watch Matt Kenseth pick up one of his five, 2015 wins. My wife and I played fantasy NASCAR that year and from a 93-person group, I took first that week with my Stewart-Haas-heavy picks. It was the only week I won all year.

I caught a little of the victory burnout through the openings as we speedwalked back to our truck, which was a healthy walk as parking was limited and we were shuttled in. We were in a hurry because the announcer told all the fans not to stay and to "leave immediately" as a huge thunderstorm was on the way and would be over us with lightning and the works in 30 minutes -- about the time we figured it would take us to reach our truck. We made it in time, but not long after, the promised storm nailed us and as we plodded along and across the Virginia border, it stayed with us, drilling the truck with such a hard, heavy rain we could barely see. All this after a long day-turned-night and more non-water liquid than water. We had broken the trip to the track into two days, spending the night barhopping and exploring Boone on the way, but we were set on returning all the way to Pittsboro in one trip. We did, but it took what felt like forever, even with us alternating the driving duties somewhere around the time we re-entered North Carolina, which was also right about where we finally lost the storm.

We made it home, eventually and both of us headed for work in the morning, but we were absolutely gone mentally -- zombies; We never should have attempted that, but welcome to us. Sleep be damned for a day of fun and nothing was going to prevent us from sticking out our first NASCAR race. If I had it to do over again, I wouldn't change a thing.

NOTE: This is a cell phone picture.

Bristol Motor Speedway
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