Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Hills Are Alive...

(With Bluegrass, Greenness, and Endless Trails)
Near Pagosa Springs, Colorado
After a perfect April in the desert, I spent a few weeks formulating my next move.  The city (Denver) and the snow/mud (Leadville) provided the contrast that pushed me south into uncharted territory (for me). 

I left Leadville in the middle of May with no exact plans, but thought that it would take awhile, possibly weeks, to make it to Pagosa Springs, Colorado, my next race destination.  As I drove through the Arkansas River Valley I considered spending time in Buena Vista and Salida.  Both are perfect spring time spots; low, dry and littered with singletrack.  I had run a race in each of these towns already this year and while both are great spots, my unrelenting pursuit of new terrain led me right past both of them.  Same with the San Luis Valley.  Beautiful, but no urge to stop.  Although I wanted to be on dry trails, I had had enough of dessertyness and yearned for the alpine environment I feel most comfortable in. 

I had no idea what to expect from Pagosa Springs, but was hoping it would be all I was looking for.  Jackpot!  It appeared to be all that and then some.  Alpine, green, drier at the moment, than say, Leadville and new for me.  As I descended the west side of Wolf Creek Pass, I pulled over and put on the Sound of Music soundtrack.  It seemed fitting.  I knew instantly I was in the right place. 

Pagosa Springs has got a lot going for it.  There is small, touristy downtown complete with hotspring resorts, an awesome disc golf course and a whitewater park.  The majority of residents are sprawled out in the surrounding countryside among rolling hills and lakes.  It has some very suburban elements to it, but its greenness at the moment overpowered my usual distaste for these parts.  After walking around and reading flyers and posters, I realized I had come at a great time.  Besides the race that brought me there (four weeks from when I arrived), there seemed to be a fun event every weekend. 
Van down by the Piedra River
The following four weeks turned out to be some of the best yet in my van-dwelling days.  There are many contributing factors to this (possibly for another post), but that month is really when everything I ever wanted out of living outside came to full fruition.  I spent four or five days at a time in the San Juan National Forest outside of town, picking parking spots based on trailhead/hotspring proximity.  After a few, initial stormy days, followed by a few muddy days, the weather and trail conditions were perfect for the rest of my stay.

Pagosa Folk n' Bluegrass
Following my initial decision to go to Pagosa Springs for the race, I was pleasantly surprised to learn there was a small bluegrass festival there the weekend before the race.  Yes, please.  I was able to volunteer and in exchange for five hours of putting up fencing around the stage, I received a free pass to the two-day festival. 
The Campground

The Pagosa Folk n’ Bluegrass Festival took place on Reservoir Hill which is directly adjacent to downtown Pagosa Springs.  Reservoir Hill is a wooded hill, usually serving as a community park complete with a network of trails and a disc golf course.  For the festival is serves as a music venue and campground.  It could not be more perfect for a small festival.  It is spacious and shady, isolated, yet within walking distance to the hotspring resorts and other town amenities.  The festival itself was small (the smallest I have ever been to), chill, and family-oriented.  I hadn’t seen most of the 12 or so bands before.   An overall pleasant weekend. 

I spent the following week close to town, sleeping among and running on the trails the race would be on the following week.  I gained free admission to the Turkey Track Trail Marathon after contacting the race directors and helping out the night before and morning of the race (passing out packets).  I’ve meant to do that in the past, but never got around to it.  It was really nice to be more involved and to meet people.  Then I ran the race.  It was supposed to be a marathon, but turned into an ultramarathon for most of us, as we missed a turn and ran a few extra miles.  Although that definitely threw me off, it could not detract from the overall niceness of the course and event itself.  This crew puts on a great event.

The next morning I woke up early and started heading west.  As soon as I turned off the forest service road onto the highway, I got a flat tire.  Despite my fear of jacking Mama up, I didn’t have phone service, so got all the stuff out and was about to go for it, when two guys pulled over and did it for me.  Overjoyed by their kindness and the quickness of resolving the situation (my coffee was still hot!), I continued down the road feeling extremely happy.  Less than five minutes later, I passed a hitch-hiker and decided I needed to return the kindness.  The hitch-hiker, Jimmy, was just trying to get from his house to a store a few miles down the road.  After two minutes of conversation, it was evident to both of us we had a connection.  He offered to buy me breakfast, which I accepted, then took him back to his house.  After taking advantage of his shower, I was getting ready to head out, when Jimmy asked if he could come with me.  I could think of no reason to refuse him, considering I am constantly trying to recruit people to join me, we clearly had a lot in common and he could split the expenses.  Within the hour we were headed to towards my next destination...Telluride.
Jimmy. Telluride. Waterfall.
It took us few days to get to Telluride.  We spent a whole day at the Ouray Hotsprings soaking, getting a massage, and playing Frisbee.  We arrived in Telluride the night before my scheduled volunteer shifts, which would once again gain me entrance into a pricy event.  I was able to talk our way into a sold-out campground and we set home for the week. 
View from Ouray Hotsprings
Does it get any better?
This was my third pilgrimage to the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, the last time being five years ago.  Words can’t begin to describe the festival or Telluride itself.  It is perfection.  All my favorite bands.  Green, alpine lushness...  Yeah, I won’t even try.  But, it was extra nice this year because my aunt, Ginny and some of her friends were there.  To say the least...a good time was had by all.
Telluride From the Gondola

So, where to go from here? That is the hardest part. I know…it’s a rough life. I’ve had the most amazing last five or six weeks and summer is just starting. I have no plans. There are lots more races and music festivals, but none I’ve committed to yet. I’m looking forward to getting into the high country. It still might be a few weeks. I want to get into the hills between Leadville, Aspen, and Crested Butte. Working might be a good idea. I guess. But, whatever I end up doing, you can be sure to find me high in hills.