Hiking Cub Lake

August 6, 2011 § Leave a comment

Yesterday was a treat on many fronts. I had the whole day free, I was accompanied by good friends visiting and we found a perfect trail in a gorgeous part of the Rocky Mountain National Park. My friend, Adair, and I went to grad school together and have shared a number of fantastic hikes when we travelled around India and Nepal together. It was like old times being out on a trail with her yesterday. Brad, her husband, as well as a very talented photographer, joined as well so I have some fun pics to share. They were recently posted in the foreign service in Athens Greece, so he spent a lot of time covering the riots. I shared his work during Philosophy Week when I was over there visiting them.

But now back to the hike.
Just about 45 minutes away from Boulder through Estes Park is the Rocky Mountain National Park and not far within is Moraine Park where I went horseback riding recently. When we were there we saw lots of trailheads and I knew I wanted to go back and investigate. Cub Lake is a pretty easy trail at 2.3 miles each way and is mostly flat with a steady incline towards the end. It’s at 8,000 feet, so not too hard on the lungs either. The best part is that it’s absolutely gorgeous. You start in the valley crossing a river and make your way past ponds and gorgeous wildflowers. Eventually you start winding your way up through a forest of aspens and ferns.
photo: Bradley Watson

After about an hour or so we reached Cub Lake which is just idyllic. I’d love to go back and spend a day there with a good book. Upon arriving we were greeted by some of the fattest chipmunks I’ve ever seen. This must be one place in the park where people have disregarded the sign about not feeding the wildlife. My friend ended up with one on her lap trying to decipher where the food was hidden in her iPhone.

When hiking you find yourself striking up conversations with those around you. We shared a rest stop with a family visiting from Boston. Every time someone asks me where I’m from and I say Boulder the reply is always the same: “You’re really lucky”. After the hikes I’ve been on this week, I wholeheartedly agree.

We also ran into a couple wearing “bear bells”. My friend asked if they had seen any bears. I casually asked the wife if she hiked by herself with the bells and she blew up at us. “NEVER! You should NEVER hike alone.” and then proceeded to lecture us further. I didn’t want to mention that while her bear bells might work on bears they also kind of turn her into a giant cat toy.  I personally would be a bit more afraid of the mountain lions around than the bears given their size.

photo: Bradley Watson
While we didn’t come across bears or mountain lions, we did see a moose when we got to the lake. She was just chillin’ in the lake eating lily pads. Brad got a great closeup of her. That was my first moose sighting. There were of course some not-so-bright tourists getting a little too close forgetting it’s a 900 lb animal.

We had to start heading back since the clouds were rolling in, but Brad was able to capture Cub Lake from a pretty fantastic vantage point.
photo: Bradley Watson

We learned a few things hiking yesterday:

1) Come up with a game plan beforehand that everyone knows. We could either have headed back the way we came or have taken a few other trails to get back. We got split up at the lake and one of us thought we were going to do the other trails while two of us planned to head back the way we came. Hard to coordinate with no cell service at that point. We all eventually made it back to the car.

2) Bring snacks. We had plenty of water but no snacks and started getting hungry.

3) NEVER! NEVER FOR THE LOVE OF GOD HIKE ALONE! (or alternatively turn yourself into a giant cat toy by wearing bells)


August 3, 2011 § 1 Comment

The Tenderfoot Loop is a great morning trail to do before the day gets going. It’s a lot less crowded than Sanitas or Chautauqua and you’re rewarded with stunning views a good bit of the way. It’s easy to access straight going west on Baseline up Flagstaff to Realization Point. There are a number of other trails nearby as well.
It’s an easy 2.5 mile loop that makes it’s way down into a valley popping with wildflowers this time of year. Niko, my friend’s dog, wanted his picture with them. :)
I’m always amazed how subtly and sometimes not so subtly the landscape in Colorado can change throughout the year. Now is one of the best times to get out for morning or evening hikes because everywhere there are bright, cheery yellow wildflowers to greet you.

I need to get a field guide so I can start learning more about what I’m seeing.


A beautiful morning hike in Chautauqua Park

August 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

A short drive from downtown Boulder to the Baseline Trailhead off of Baseline road where the Flatirons await ahead.
A beautiful morning looking out over Boulder. Pretty typical of what every morning looks like here.
My friends’ pup, Gilbert, leads the way onto the Bluebell-Baird trail, a nice easy morning loop to do before work. It’s well traveled and leads to lots of other interesting trails. Another good one to do if you’re solo.
Some sites have special meaning for others along the way. My friends fondly recall having their wedding photos taken here. They recently just celebrated their first anniversary & have been hiking this trail together since college.

You’re always rewarded when you get up and go on a hike in the morning. I still pinch myself to make sure I actually do live here.

Hiking Boulder

August 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

One of the things I haven’t taken advantage of yet living in Boulder is hiking. I plan to change that this week. We just went to Aspen for the weekend to celebrate our first anniversary and the gorgeous drive inspired me to explore the hiking trails around me.

I can sometimes be a creature of habit and the only trail I’ve really done so far is a trail called Sanitas which I can get to from my house. It’s probably the most well-traveled path in Boulder, so it’s also one I can do by myself when I don’t have anyone to bring along. I’ve actually considered getting a dog just to be able to do more trails on my own.

A lot of outdoor activities require special clothing or equipment to do but the great thing about hiking is you can just get out and see the magnificent scenery close by.

Neighborhood gathering

July 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

If you happen to live in NYC, finding a good game of chess is almost as easy as finding a Starbucks. The chess mecca is not only home to great street chess but also to institutions like the Marshall Club in Greenwich Village. You can play chess in the spot where Bobby Fischer won the “Game of the Century” at age 13. Other members have included Howard Stern and Stanley Kubrick. Kubrick went from chess street hustler to launching his film career through contacts he made playing chess there. He then went on to pay tribute to the game over the course of his iconic films.

If you live in Boulder, options are a bit more limited, but there are options nonetheless! This week I visited the Boulder Chess Club’s weekly play at the CU campus. The crew was more than welcoming to a newbie like me. It was a good learning experience watching the various skill levels as well as fun to listen to the dry-wit banter being tossed about almost mirroring the games themselves. Julian, an expert rated player/physics grad student, even evoked a little Jay-Z: “I got 99 problems but a bishop ain’t one.”

While I wasn’t at a point I could play a real game against someone yet, the people there were both eager to teach me and patient in answering my questions. That is one of the incredibly unique things about chess. It can bring people from all walks of life to a table to learn from each other.

Maybe we should set out some chessboards on Capitol Hill as Congress continues to flounder in reaching some sort of compromise. Who knows what might happen!


Breaking it down from the beginning

July 27, 2011 § Leave a comment

A lot of us just want to dive into things in life and believe we can hold our own by some God-given talent. When I was in college, I went skiing for the first time with some friends and they gave me a few pointers, pointed me down a blue slope (an icy, NC blue slope) and I was on my way. A very fast, scary and out-of-control way it was. The problem was that I had no familiarity with skiing, so the pointers did me no good. My friend’s boyfriend caught up and grabbed me right before I went through a fence and into a ravine. I didn’t put skis on again for a good 15 years.

Chess is not necessarily that life threatening (although there are numerous historical examples of chess games averting real-life battles) but without fully understanding what you’re getting into, you can easily find yourself completely out of control. Earlier in the year when I did Wintering Week I took a ski lesson for the first time and it was like night and day. I slowly became acclimated to what it feels like to maintain control on skis and only progressed when I was comfortable. With chess, instead of diving in with the same reckless manner as when I first tried to ski, I decided to start with a lesson and slowly, patiently break it down from the beginning.

There are quite a few resources for learning to play chess in Colorado. Yesterday I had my first lesson with Paul Szeligowski who teaches chess full time to people of all ages and skill levels. He just finished up with a Summer camp teaching K-12 and his teaching has led to numerous state champions. Now he’s stuck with me for an hour or so a week!

I really enjoyed my lesson yesterday. It helps to have someone who can start from the beginning (with the patience of a teacher) and help you progress at your speed. As any good teacher would do, I have been assigned homework! Paul talks about learning chess like learning a language. You have to learn words, construct sentences and practice speaking.

In chess “words & sentences” are tactics and to start out I am learning tactics from Back to Basics: Tactics by Dan Heisman. As defined by the book, tactics have two key definitions:

1 – “The science of piece safety”

2- “Forced maneuvers leading to the gain of material or checkmate.”

I think many people that just get in and play focus on offensive moves vs focusing equally on preventing tactics being used on them. Learning tactics can help prevent that weakness by learning to recognize when someone else is employing a tactic on you. I have a feeling it will be much like it was learning to work in a corporate work environment! You don’t just have yourself to contend with but what others do as well.

As with learning the vocabulary of a language, with chess it’s good to learn the vocabulary of the pieces in terms of how they move with the board. Paul suggests starting with the Pawn Game to understand first how pawns move on the board. The goal is to be first to reach the last rank (other side of the board). Once you are familiar with pawns you can start adding other pieces and getting a feel for how each piece moves on the board. I really like this approach because I find it hard to try to learn what each piece does all at once.

My next lesson is tomorrow, so I have some homework to get done.

Finally ready to learn

July 25, 2011 § 2 Comments

I bought this marble chess set 15 years ago when I was on a summer study program in Mexico. It was one of those spontaneous tourist purchases you find yourself lugging back and questioning afterward. I suppose I rationalized that everyone should own a chess set and I’d get around to learning one day. This set has seemed to follow me around over the years remaining un-played. I moved with it quite a few times and then conveniently left it in my old bedroom closet at my parents’ house.

A few months ago my Mom was cleaning out said closet and came upon a bunch of stuff that she thought she would return to its rightful owners. My sisters also had left wanted, yet momentarily unwanted, items stowed there. A box showed up at my door with my letter jacket from high school, the wayward chess set and a few other things I didn’t need but yet couldn’t seem to give away.

Chess has always been on a slow simmer in the back of my mind as a game I should play but I never actually wanted to start learning. I saw it as a slippery slope that would occupy a serious amount of mental energy…energy I was more interested in putting elsewhere. In many ways I felt like my job in advertising was like living chess, from the more obvious aspect of my job as a strategist to simply trying to create a sense of order from the chaotic environment that is advertising. The last thing I felt like doing with my time off was more thinking.

I think chess is a game you have to be ready to learn. Sure you can jump in and just have fun with it if you like, but if you want to play the way it is meant to be played, you need to be ready to spend time learning how to play. I think the re-emergence of my old chess set on my doorstep was another invitation and this time I’m ready to start learning.

I’ve already looked into a few resources to learn and have been reading a great book the past couple days, The Immortal Game: A History of Chess or How 32 Carved Pieces on a Board Illuminated Our Understanding of War, Science, and the Human Brain by David Shenk. This week I not only want to learn how to play but also understand why chess has managed to have such a widespread cultural impact through the centuries. Angry Birds can only dream of having this kind of track record.

To learn how to play I contacted a local teacher who hosts chess summer camps and teaches private lessons to pick up the basics of the game. The Boulder Chess Club also gets together every Wednesday evening to play, so I’ll be visiting them to see some games in action.

If anyone has any good resources, please send them my way!

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