Cache la Poudre (Pooder) rafting

August 31, 2011 § Leave a comment

Swift or smooth, broad as the Hudson or narrow enough to scrape your gunwales, every river is a world of its own, unique in pattern and personality. Each mile on a river will take you further from home than a hundred miles on a road. 
– Bob Marshall

Living in Boulder, you see a lot of creeks and rivers. In June they are raging from all of the snow melt but by this time of year they’ve calmed down a bit and you even see quite a few people out tubing.

Yesterday my friend Holly and I went on our first Colorado rafting trip down the Cache la Poudre river through Rocky Mountain Adventures. La Poudre was named after French fur trappers who lived in the area and means “stash the (gun)powder”. It’s located northwest of Ft. Collins and we put in at about 5,600 ft. We did the lower half-day trip and it was one of the easier rafting trips I’ve been on, there were a few class 3 rapids.

As you can see we’re pretty dry going down this rapid. I’m even smiling for the camera 2nd back on the right. Our guide, Cass, kept us all in the raft, although some of us may have wanted to bail out overboard from time to time from his jokes. Sorry Cass. You were definitely entertaining. I highly recommend Rocky Mountain Adventures. I felt safe and had a great time out there.

 

Canning golden goodness

August 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

Peaches have to be the epitome of summer. I grew up in S.C. and peaches were one of those things you look forward to seeing spring up in all the roadside fruit stands. A little known fact is that even though Georgia claims itself as the peach state, S.C. produces twice as many peaches. Georgians like to say it’s quality not quantity but it sounds like some sore losing talking to me.

Moving to Colorado I thought I would have to give up delicious produce. Last summer I was pleasantly surprised when I noticed one of the trees in our backyard was actually a peach tree. What I was able to salvage from the deer turned into delicious peach cobbler and peach bellinis. This year sadly it decided to take a break. I did track down the amazing peaches above from the Munson Farms fruit stand to make up for it.

Canning peaches is surprisingly easy, even at higher altitude. You start by blanching them to peel off the skins. 1 minute in boiling water followed by immersing them in an ice bath and the skins come right off. I then quartered them. They are pretty slippery, so be careful.

As I was peeling and quartering them I brought a simple syrup to boil. It’s one part sugar to four parts water. This is a lighter syrup since I didn’t want to go sugar crazy. I ended up using 8 cups of water/ 2 cups of sugar for 6 quarts of peaches.

Next it was time to pack the jars and pour the simple syrup over them. I used quart jars and sterilized them before using in the dishwasher along with the lids. I immersed them in a boiling water bath and let them boil on medium for 35 minutes. I am at 5,000 ft altitude, so we have longer boiling times. I packed them to 1/2 of an inch with the syrup in the jar. Then I took a butter knife to make sure all the air bubbles were out by running it along the inside of the jar.

After the bath, I set them out to cool and heard the satisfactory pop to let me know they were sealed. That has to be one of the best sounds. You know you did it right. The pantry is starting to fill up with the reds and golds of summer!

Hand picked strawberry preserves

August 25, 2011 § 1 Comment

I had forgotten what strawberries should taste like until yesterday. It’s been so long since I’ve had a strawberry picked straight off the farm. Yesterday I went to Berry Patch Farms just outside of Denver. It’s a self-pick farm that not only had berries yesterday but also gorgeous flowers and pickling cucumbers you could pick. They also have amazing produce for sale inside the adorable barn.
 It’s a fun thing to do with kids and yesterday I was joined by my friend Kelly and her berry picking master of a son, Darwin. At only age 2, he was a real trooper since even at 10 a.m. it was already in the 80s out there picking in the fields.

I will go to great lengths for fresh picked strawberry preserves. It may not be as fancy as a lot of the artisanal stuff out there, but it has to be one of my favorites for its simplicity. It’s just hard to beat, especially when you have strawberries as delicious as the ones we picked yesterday.
I’m not going to lie, I could have totally used a nap after only an hour out there picking, but my work was not done. (brief aside: anyone who has issues with immigration and migrant labor should go spend an hour picking strawberries in the summer heat. I think you may have a better appreciation for the hard work those people do day in and day out.) Back to the jam…

I used a simple recipe out of The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook for “Children’s Strawberry Jam”. This recipe was similar to others I found online.  It was very easy to make only requiring 3 ingredients: delicious strawberries, sugar (I forgot how much goes into this stuff!) and fresh squeezed lemon juice. I halved this recipe since the pickings were a bit slim at this point at the farm. I couldn’t have done 2 hours out there.
It smells pretty amazing as it starts to cook & thicken. It’s one of those things when people hear you’re making preserves it’s easy to conjure up helpers.  My friend Mary came over later and helped me out cleaning strawberries and stirring the jam. It’s always more fun to do this kind of thing with friends.
After a little over an hour I ended up with 10 cute little jars of preserves.  Of course some went to the helpers and others who stopped by in the neighborhood. 🙂
I enjoyed my first taste this morning on a flaky, warm croissant. Amazing!

off the grid

August 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

Doing nothing is not easy to do. Going from being busy to doing nothing can feel as precarious as going full stop on a highway when everyone else is speeding along around you. It’s better to find some safe place to pull off.

For me, this week came down to learning how to be present in the moment, to taming my distractions. It’s amazing how much of our attention goes to things that have either already happened or have yet to happen. We don’t often just enjoy the moment we’re in. I tried a lot of tactics to slow down and be in the moment over the last week.

1) Chop! I’m not someone who can just sit and do absolutely nothing all day, so I found things that kept my hands busy but still had a “nothingness” to them. I spent a wonderful afternoon taking a slow drive out to a farm in the countryside, getting fresh vegetables and taking my time chopping them up in the front yard to make the delicious ratatouille from vegetarian week.
2) Breathing. Sometimes we forget to breathe. Every time I would feel myself speeding up again I would take 10 slow, deep breaths to regain control again.
3) “Soften my gaze”. My hardest problem is keeping my brain from bouncing from one thought to another. I think too much. In yoga, when you’re holding a difficult pose you’re told to “soften your gaze”, relax your face & thoughts. It’s a way of being aware of how you’re struggling and trying to calm it. When I start noticing I’m worrying or my thoughts are flitting all over, I stop and look at something around me, soften my gaze and just slowly push the thoughts away. Gazing at clouds can be very helpful.
4) Go camping. Sometimes you just have to go where you can’t be bothered. My husband and I spent a night off the grid at the Arapaho Bay campground near Lake Granby. No cell phone pings. No email alerts. No working or worrying. I didn’t even need 10 deep breaths; they came naturally with the fresh air.

We replaced the normal distractions with the sounds of the waves against the shore, the smell of the campfires and the vistas of the late afternoon sun illuminating the wildflowers. It becomes much easier to do nothing with the help of the great outdoors.

Camping also provides the ultimate “nothingness” experiment: the art of roasting a marshmallow. Your hope of mastering the art of doing nothing all comes down to a marshmallow. Do you torch your marshmallow into charred carbon or do you have the Zen-like patience to get it just right?
My husband is obviously still fighting his busyness.

On top of the world

August 12, 2011 § 3 Comments

It’s hard to describe the feeling you have standing on a mountain you just spent 3 1/2 hours hiking up. It is a strange combination of exhaustion and exhilaration. I couldn’t believe I just did it and also I couldn’t believe what I was looking at. It’s one of the most beautiful places in the world to stand. You can see for miles. Clouds are almost eye level.

Yesterday I hiked up Mt. Bierstadt with my friend Alicia. To put it in perspective at 14,060 ft high it is just about 400 ft shy of Mt. Whitney, the tallest peak in the continental US. For you East Coasters, it is more than twice as high as Mt. Mitchell (6,684). The trailhead itself starts at 11,669 ft which is about 400 ft higher than Mt. Hood in Oregon. So basically, while it’s one of the “easiest” Fourteeners to hike in Colorado, it’s no joke.

At a little over an hour away from Boulder, we were on the trail by 7. For those of you who don’t know me, it’s an equally significant feat that I was even able to wake up at 4:30 much less hike up a 14,000 ft mountain. The trail starts through a field of willows and even at 42 degrees it was a pretty gorgeous morning. There was still frost on the ground as the sun was barely peeking over the mountain.

Our hike got off to a pretty great start when we passed by one of a series of small lakes and there were moose hanging out on the left bank. Unfortunately my iPhone camera couldn’t capture them to share.
 After we made it through the willows and past the lakes the real hiking began. While the elevation hadn’t bothered me at first I soon found myself out of breath every 50-100 yards. We started the day at Boulder elevation of 5,430, so it’s a pretty significant increase in elevation. Besides finding it harder to breathe I also noticed my heart beating much faster and I surprisingly wasn’t hungry at all. I looked into the effects of altitude and found this interesting: The human body functions best at sea level. The percentage saturation of hemoglobin with oxygen determines the content of oxygen in our blood. After you reach around 7,000 ft above sea level the saturation of oxyhemoglobin begins to plummet. Where we were it was at about half its sea-level value. The body compensates by hyperventilation, increased heart beat and suppression of the digestive system. It’s good to know I’m not just out of shape.
We were still making good time though and even passed a few people along the way so I didn’t feel too bad about my frequent breaks. My rest stops allowed me to capture some great photos as well:

After huffing and puffing our way up for a couple hours, the lake and our car could be seen far below. We started getting into the rockier part of the mountain. We didn’t see any mountain goats or bighorn sheep but there were a bunch of these little guys living among the rocks to greet us. They were like part chipmunk, part rabbit.
At the top it got a little rockier and we had to climb on some of the smaller boulders to get to the top. I wasn’t sure what to expect here but it wasn’t hard at all. I actually preferred it to plodding along uphill. The view we were greeted with at the top was definitely worth all the effort.
While we were up there it actually snowed lightly on us a bit and it was probably in the low 30s in terms of temperature. We started at 42 degrees and supposedly the temperature goes down 3 degrees for every 1,000 feet. That would make it about 33-34. We were definitely a little chilly up there, so we stayed only for a little bit. Our hands were too cold to enjoy our snacks and I wasn’t hungry anyway.
On the way back down we had fun checking out the snow shelf (that’s my technical term) that was still clinging to the side of the mountain. I didn’t venture very far out on it. That’s Alicia standing down there testing it out.
There were a few times when I was a little nervous being that high up, but overall my fear of heights didn’t keep me from enjoying it up there. I remember my friend Malcolm telling me with climbing that you’re too busy doing things to notice and I felt that way hiking up there yesterday. I was focused on one foot in front of the other and which rock to put my feet on more than noticing I was getting higher than anything else around me.
On the way back down we could more leisurely appreciate the beauty around us. There were some pretty incredible wildflowers growing I have never seen before. These looked like they were from another planet.

And just when we were feeling pretty good about ourselves along comes a guy running up the hill in shorts with no shirt with his dog like it was nothing. Here he was having turned around apparently running back by us on the way down. I can’t see Alicia’s expression but I imagine it was disbelief combined with scorn. How dare he make what we just did look like a morning jog!
I suppose at the end of the day everyone must climb mountains at their own pace. I am more of a slow and steady wins the race kind of person. I felt pretty good when we got to the valley and I turned around and could tell myself I hiked to the top of the mountain I was looking at.
This depiction from 14ers.com shows the route we took:
While I could barely walk last night because my knees were hurting so badly, today I felt pretty good. I think I was ambitious thinking I could do two of these in one week, so Bierstadt will be my summit this week (and potentially this year).

I’ll take it! With a Fourteener under my belt I can now officially say I’m a Coloradan.

America The Beautiful

August 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

Over the past few weeks of political ridiculousness topped off with the S&P downgrade, one would not look at America and say “What an inspiring country”. I sure haven’t been feeling that way myself, but today I was reminded of just how inspiring this country I live in can still prove to be despite the people leading it.

Today I visited Pikes Peak just a few miles west of Colorado Springs. Pikes Peak is not the tallest 14er in Colorado, but it’s probably the most famous. It’s where, over a hundred years ago, Katherine Lee Bates, a teacher from Wellesley College stood and became inspired to write the poem, America The Beautiful. After returning from the summit, she remarked to friends that countries such as England had failed because, while they may have been “great”, they had not been “good” and that “unless we are willing to crown our greatness with goodness, and our bounty with brotherhood, our beloved America may go the same way.”

That sentiment may sound familiar: “and crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea”. Some of our politicians could benefit from visiting and pondering the same perspective I enjoyed today of our country and the potential for greatness it still has if we could just get our act together.

I would gladly pay the $34 roundtrip for all of our Congressmen to fill the train to the top. I’d even throw in a few oxygen tanks to aid dialogue in the thin air.

At times the Congressmen might feel like they can’t see where they’re heading, that they might run straight off the edge of the mountain into nothingness.But the tracks built long before will hold them and before they know it, they’ll be staring out at the same view I saw today of a beautiful country with limitless potential for not just greatness but goodness and brotherhood.

A different perspective

August 8, 2011 § 1 Comment

photo: Mt. Quandary (http://tlmathews.com/blog)

Some weeks I do lead me to other things I’d like to try. Last week I went on some beautiful hikes in the foothills and in the mountains, admiring the still snow-tipped peaks from afar. While they’re beautiful to look at from afar, you can’t help but wonder what everything must look like from up there. It would truly be seeing Colorado from a different perspective.

Mountains have always infatuated me from afar. In the Summer of 2000, I spent 2 1/2 months in India and Nepal traveling. I didn’t venture out on any serious mountain treks, but I did take a flight from Kathmandu to see Mt. Everest. It was monsoon season that time of year, so it was the only way to see the infamous peak other than climbing it.  I didn’t have any illusions I would ever be be climbing it much less making it back that way, so I wanted to at least get to see it with my own two eyes.

While our tallest peaks are half the size, known as “Fourteeners”, they still provide a dramatic backdrop to the plains and a formidable challenge. There are a total of 53 peaks above 14,000 feet in Colorado representing a wide range of difficulty.  The youngest person to climb all of them was Megan Emmons, in 1997 at age 7! My 6-year old nephew loves to declare that girls do boring stuff, so I’ll have to be sure to share this with him.

I don’t plan on climbing all of the Fourteeners this week, but I’m hoping to try a couple of the easiest ones. Mt. Bierstadt is only an hour away from Boulder and considered one of the best to try first. I’m also hoping to try Mt. Quandary with friends this coming weekend. To start off, I’m planning a visit to the most famous of the Colorado peaks, Pikes Peak, (by car) to take in the view. It’ll give me an idea of what I’m up against in terms of the height.

My one fear is that my intense fear of heights will paralyze me at various points along the way. I supposed I’ll keep Sir Edmund Hillary’s words of wisdom in the back of my head “It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.”

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