To my friends who I made worried with my 'radio silence', I'm sorry! We made a last minute decision to go visit the mountains near Aspen. Because both humans in our family had tooth infections last week, we delayed our decision to flee the Front Range until we both felt better. Two people with intense toothaches sharing a small camping van seemed like a recipe for disaster. Fortunately, we both felt better, suddenly, on Friday, when our antibiotics finally did their job.
Before we departed, I loosened up my back with a short ride. Below, K glided through an aspen trail. Our world seemed gilded with gold.On our drive to Aspen, we traversed Independence Pass, over 12,000' high. The barren beauty reminded me of the arctic tundra. Due to the snow covering, I had an instant of wondering if we would freeze in our van even though I knew that we'd camp at a lower elevation. I shouldn't have worried - we were snug and cozy.We had a gorgeous weekend of warm sun and breath-taking views of endless aspen groves.My husband ran a trail half-marathon on Saturday morning, and I took the dogs for a hike during the race. We parked our camping van next to a trailhead, and R watched my husband don his running gear. R launched into a frenzy of caterwauling, howling, trilling, and barking that would put a Sibe to shame, and then my husband departed without him. Yes, I had to try to control the crazed running dog who had been deserted by his erstwhile running partner.
I walked over the trailhead and was dismayed beyond words to read the sign saying that dogs had to be leashed on the trail. I've written before about how the puppy-like R has trouble with leash walking when he's excited - and on that day, he was completely maniacal after watching my husband leave. During our leash walks on unfamiliar trails, he normally barks shrilling, almost popping my eardrums, while simultaneously play-attacking K. So, when I saw the sign, I prepared myself for the worst.
To my complete and utter surprise, R behaved almost beautifully during our hike. As soon as he started his raucous barking within a few steps of the trailhead, I instituted a rule that I would walk forward *only* when he was silent. I pretended that I was a silence-activated robot that hiked when R was quiet and screeched to a halt when he barked. After about 10 repeats of my abrupt stops, R no longer barked. He hiked like the well-trained dog that he is, and he didn't even play attack K. Moreover, he remembered that he's supposed to sit next to the trail to let other hikers pass - and did so flawlessly. Wow - I think the boy is growing up!
We had a sweet and relaxing hike on trails lined by scrub oak with red leaves. The Scrub Oak acorns play a key role in helping black bears gain weight for the winter. I saw only a few acorns and began worrying about the bear food supply but a local hiker assured me that the crop had flourished. The acorns had already been snarfed by ravenous animals.The steep hike gave us almost perpetual breath-taking views of the nearby mountains. Some aspen groves sported yellow leaves but none as brilliant as our local aspens. I later learned that the wet summer caused a fungus to attack a lot of the aspen groves, not killing the trees, but blunting the yellow color and causing the leaves to drop early.Even the dogs, including the model-citizen R, soaked up the views.A photographer with much fancier equipment than mine started snapping photos of my canine duo at a viewpoint. Then, he asked if I could pose the dogs for him. I was astonished - I know that *I* think that my dogs are gorgeous but a complete stranger seemed to agree. He said he'd email me the photos but they're not here yet. His photos were posed near the same spot as this one and were much better.In the afternoon, after my happy but exhausted husband returned, I decided to ride the same trails as he'd just raced on and meet him down in east Aspen. Ironically, he boldly informed me that it would be impossible to get lost, even for me, because the trail was so well marked. After confidently riding away from the van, I climbed straight up the Snowmass ski slopes, like my husband had said to do. But, the race officials had already taken down their trail markers, and, very soon, it was obvious that I wasn't on course. The hikers who I questioned had never heard of the trail that I sought.
At about this point, I was starting to have flashbacks to my long and lost day in the San Juan Mountains on our last vacation. I pulled out a map and my GPS, and decided not to move until I had a good plan. No more aimless wandering through the aspen forests.Fortunately, a pack of five mountain bikers appeared climbing up a slope. I quickly jammed my navigational gear into my pack and sprinted to catch them. I asked about the trail, and yet again, I was amazed by the kindness of strangers. This group of locals was planning to ride the same route as me and invited me to join them. Woo hoo! I didn't even have to think about navigation again that day, and I had the company of five fun mountain bikers. Here's a photo of two of them among the aspens.We rode a sweet, but somewhat technical and rocky, singletrack trail that connects Snowmass Ski Area to Aspen. Near an infamous 'rock garden' that I've heard has caused many bikers to crash, a funny sign stood. Actually, I don't think that my Dad would think that the vision of me riding past that sign was humorous - but he rarely reads this blog (I think).Our group easily cleared the ocean of rocks protruding out of the dirt, emerging into an open area where towering aspens met us.At the end of the day, I spun easily up to our van, having had a happy ride with a group of kind strangers through amazing scenery.My appreciation for the kindness of strangers was even more bolstered last evening when I received an uplifting email from the family whose lost dogs we helped find. They found someone else's lost dog just 4 days after being reunited with their dogs, and they worked hard to help return him to his human. For me, this summer feels like a long chain of kind acts, starting with that generous family who helped me when I was lost in the San Juans. It's almost like a relay race where each kind person passes the baton of kindness to the next person in need.