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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Altitude and Attitude

Aurora Reservoir Trail, Arapahoe County, Colorado

Copyright © 2017
by Ralph F. Couey

It's been about four months since we quit Northern Virginia for Colorado, embarking on the latest chapter of our life.  The first month here was rough for me.  I was trying to get used to the idea that I had no job to go to while mourning the end of my career.  I finally decided that I could no longer sit around feeling sorry for myself and turning my back firmly on the past, began to look resolutely towards the future.

There were a few things that I embraced towards that change in perspective.  One was my grandchildren.  They are fascinating little people, and a joy to be around.  Having pulled myself out of my funk, I really began to enjoy being with them.  Another thing was the completion of my first novel, Tales of Barely, Missouri, (available on Amazon Kindle for $2.99).  This was, as I noted in my last post, a real turning point for me.  I had proven to myself that there was something I could accomplish outside of my former life.  The early reviews are very good, and I hope that those who decide to spend the money find as much enjoyment reading the book as I had in the writing thereof.

The third thing was a continuation of the activity I had been doing back east, walking and hiking.  

Here in suburban Denver, every community it seems has a plethora of trails for walking/running/biking, most multiple miles in length. Some, like the Smoky Hill and the Piney Creek harken back to the time when this area was all open prairie, and those trails were the immigrant highways by which thousands traveled westward.  My only beef was the term "trails," which as an experienced hiker I took to mean dirt paths.  Alas, practicality has prevailed and these "trails" are actually concrete sidewalks. For dirt trails, one has to go westward into the foothills of the Rockies.

One of the things I learned very quickly was the significant difference in the oxygen content of the atmosphere here in the Mile High City versus the coastal Appalachians of Virginia.  There, I hiked roughly 200 miles of the Appalachian Trail through Virginia.  The highest ridge I had to climb topped out at about 3,500 feet.  Just walking on a sidewalk along Colfax Avenue here in Denver puts you about 2,000 feet higher up.  


There is a process called acclimatization where exposure to the lower air pressure forces the human body to manufacture more red blood cells in order to transport the needed oxygen to where it needs to go.  This is a period of time that can take anywhere from a few months to a year, depending on the particular human.  Back east, a 7-mile jaunt on a constantly ascending and descending dirt trail was hard work on the legs, but not so much the lungs.  Here in Colorado, a mild three mile stroll on a sidewalk produced in me sound effects not unlike a steam locomotive.  My first attempt at a real hike was in February when my wife and I went over to Green Mountain on the west edge of Denver.  It doesn't look like much at first, but as soon as one begins to hike uphill, the lack of air pressure really makes itself felt.  That day, we were only able to go 4.6 miles before throwing in the towel.  

I coined a parody of the John Denver hit "Rocky Mountain High" to describe my struggles during this time:

And the Colorado Rocky Mountain high,
 I wish there was some air up in that sky,
If I don't get some oxygen I'm-a-thinkin' I'm a-gonna diiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiie!
Rocky Mountain High (high on hypoxia)
Rocky Mountain High (high on hypoxia)

In the time since, I've been out walking almost every day, gradually increasing the distances from three miles up to now, averaging just over 10 miles each time.  I've gone back to Green Mountain, and also North Table Mountain, and hiked those places, distancing 8 to 10 miles each time.  It's not a so-called "fourteener" (one of the Rocky Mountains topping out at over 14,000 feet), but it is a start. 

Even though most of the local trails...er...paths...are suburban in nature, most communities have endeavored to preserve green space around those trails, so walkers would have something better to look at than back yards, decks, and patios.  One stretch of the Piney Creek Trail winds through a place called Red-Tailed Hawk Park.  The name was a bit of a mystery until the first time I walked through.

Prairie Dog.  A four-star meal for a raptor.

The park has its usual retinue of a playground and a ballfield, but throughout the middle is a large prairie dog town.  These are irresistibly cute critters who will sit on the edge of their holes and chitter at passing humans.  Most people feel a compelling urge to try to pet these elusive little guys, until one remembers that the last few outbreaks of bubonic plague in Colorado were linked to the fleas living in that tawny-colored fur.  In addition, not only are they a favorite dinner for hawks, rattlesnakes also find them tasty, so while cute, they are best admired from afar.

It is very dry along the front range, so there are small lakes, called reservoirs, scattered throughout the metro area.  Almost all of them have trails that encircle the water, which is also home to a variety of wildlife.


Everyone seems interested in the human, except the guy in charge.

The Highline Canal Trail winds its way through 71 miles and four counties of Denver suburbs, providing a somewhat more scenic path.  As it passes through a couple of rough neighborhoods, vigilance is required, but despite that, it is a nice way to pass a sunny day.  The canal, started in 1883 was an irrigation system designed to bring water to some 50,000 acres of cultivable land.  Carefully planned to follow a steady downhill track, the canal successfully brought water from the Platte River to areas which otherwise would have remained dry.  


I have enjoyed exploring the area on these trails.  When you walk, you have time to see things you'd never notice from a car or bus. You meet other walkers and runners, all of whom are friendly, and you get to spend some much-needed time with your mind in quiet contemplation.

Now that my lungs are almost ready, I plan to tackle some of the "real" trails going up into the mountains.  I have no doubt they will be difficult, but my experience has taught me that it is the difficult things we do that are the most meaningful.
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