Tuesday, June 9, 2015


Over the weekend, we went on a camping trip / reconnaissance mission for the Never Summer 100K that Rob is running in July.

The race starts and finishes near Gould, CO, in the State Forest State Park, which is a boring name for a place so magnificent.  The park is roughly in between the Medicine Bow Mountains and the Never Summer Mountains, and it's pretty much as the website proclaims: "The ultimate in rugged Colorado."

Driving there through the Poudre Canyon, you get to see the scrubby foothills become reddish-brown canyons and then green pines and tall mountains.

Cache la Poudre
The mighty Poudre (photo by @ragfield)

I don't know why people call dandelions weeds. They sure are pretty.

Nokhu Crags
Nokhu Crags (photo by @ragfield)
When we arrived at the park, we arranged to stay at a dispersed campsite, which is really the way to go.  Who wants to sleep in a regular campgrounds where you are basically having an outdoor slumber party with a bunch of strangers and also sharing a pit toilet with them?  We were in the landscape.  

Rob was eager to start scouting the course as soon as we got ourselves set up.

When heading out towards ominous clouds at 10,000ft elevation, make sure to wear purple compression socks, an orange shirt, and an Anton Krupicka vest with crampons lashed to the back.

Will and I explored the area surrounding the campsite.  The views of the mountains were outrageous.  Once he finally figured out how to use my binoculars, he didn't want to put them down.
His long eyelashes made it hard for him to see with the binoculars.

Will refused to eat any lunch because he is on a PBJ boycott and said he'd just wait for dinner, I guess in hopes that some better option would present itself.  Then he said he was tired and he wanted to climb up into the tent and have me read to him.


He was probably a little altitude sick (he gets this way anytime we go one step above 5280), so resting in the tent was probably a good idea.  In fact, I thought it was a great idea because I also was tired and altitude sick (hello 9000ft elevation), plus, we'd checked out some really interesting books at the library right before the trip.  Will has become obsessed with all things pertaining to outer space, and I am genuinely learning things from the books we've been reading.  (Little known fact: one of my favorite classes in college was Astronomy).

So we went inside the tent and began reading about the solar system.  I was midway through describing Saturn's moons when Will gasped, "Look, a moose!"

And there it was, just across the dirt road from us, not a moose, but a coyote.  Probably a coyote?  Maybe a coyote.  What was that thing?

Thank goodness for the binoculars.

At higher magnification, it looked kind of like a fox, but not like any fox I had seen.  It was all tan, for one, and much larger than I thought a fox should be.  It pranced around and sniffed in the grass, occasionally dropping to dig-- with freakish speed-- a hole where it would burrow its snout in search of something that never seemed to be there.
Canis latrans or Vulpes vulpes?
Will and I watched, transfixed.  I was amazed at how calm he was, considering that he is terrified of dogs, cats, bees, spiders, moths, gnats, dirt, and basically everything.  Finally, the animal trotted off into the trees at the edge of the clearing.  I realized how glad I was that we had been up on top of the car in the pop-up camper.  I've never seen a coyote before, although I've seen plenty of their scat on the trails where I run.  This was a good reminder that we were in moose/bear/coyote territory and we would need to be careful.

"What if the coyote comes back?" Will asked.

"I will yell at it," I told him, "and it will run away.  Coyotes do not like to be yelled at."

Although in truth, I didn't know.  I've heard people say that coyotes aren't much of a threat, especially if there is just one of them.  But maybe they just seem like less of a threat when you compare them to mountain lions, bears, and rattlesnakes.

I was glad that our first wildlife encounter had been a coyote.  Or probable coyote.  I was glad we had our food stored in a Yeti bear proof container inside the locked up car.  I wondered what else was out there and what Rob might have run into up on the rugged terrain.

Just then the tawny animal rushed through our campsite, right past the chairs we had set up, and into the pine trees and scrub which led to a stream far below.

Will and I looked at each other wide-eyed.  We decided to stay in the pop up tent for a while.  I was glad neither of us had to pee.

We continued reading about Saturn's moons until our eyes grew heavy and we both fell asleep in the late afternoon sun.

By the time we woke up, I figured that the strange animal was long gone, so we emerged from the camper.  Will was hungry, and he was keen for dinner.  Rob had given me a brief tutorial on how to use the camp stove, and I was fairly confident that I could do it on my own, but I didn't want to start cooking and have to admit that Rob hadn't made it home (yes, Will and I had already begun referring to our campsite as "home") in time for dinner.  He had taken his headlamp with him when he left around 3pm, possibly intending to run as far as 20 miles on rugged terrain, through snowfields, at 10,000 ft elevation.  I didn't want to think about when I would need to start worrying, when I would need to pack everything up, drive back to the park entrance, and form a search party.

Luckily, I didn't have to.  Rob's bright form appeared on the horizon just a few moments after Will and I had gotten out of the tent and begun playing I Spy with the binoculars again.  Rob looked pale and exhausted.  He had some blood on one of his legs but at least there were no protruding bones.

It was starting to get cold out, so Rob set up the camp shower, cleaned himself up, and put on some warm clothes. He looked like he was feeling better, and he was getting hungry.  I assembled our dinner items (pasta with marinara sauce for Rob and me, plain for Will) and began to cook.  I took a moment to appreciate how relieved I was that Rob had made it back and how nice it was to be cooking on the camp stove in the fresh mountain air at 9000 ft.

Camp stove
Cooking. (photo by @ragfield)

View from our campsite at the Golden Hour (~8:15pm)

Rob showed us the pictures he took during his run, including one that showed him "post-holing" in snow up above his knees.  The blood on his leg came from when the knee-deep snow gave way and he sank to his waist, scraping his leg on a hidden tree branch in the process.

It could have been worse I suppose.

We cleaned up our dinner dishes and got ready for bed.  Will was eager for all of us to get into the tent together and read to him and go to sleep.  Even though it was still light out, we did.

Golden hour at State Forest State Park
Camping (photo by @ragfield)

Sunset, pines. Will wanted me to take a picture of this.

I still have yet to get a good night's sleep in the camper.  This time it was because my back hurt and my feet were cold, although that happens most of the time in my regular bed anyway.  Before too long I had to pee, and I intended on waiting it out until morning, but when I looked at my watch and saw it was only 1:35am, I knew it would be a long night.  I finally decided to go for it-- after all, it wasn't raining, we were all alone at the campsite, and the ladder was on my side, so I wouldn't necessarily wake up Rob as I climbed down from the camper.

When I unzipped the tent flap, I was greeted with 10 billion stars and about half a moon lighting up the snow covered mountains to the north-east of us.  I didn't even need my headlamp.  It was beautiful and not as cold as I'd feared.  There didn't seem to be any wild animals lurking nearby, so after I was done peeing, I went back to the car and looked up at the endless expanse of stars for as long as I wanted.  This was the life.

When the sun came up, I left to go run on some of the dirt roads throughout the park.  I'd expected it would be cold up here in the mornings, but all I needed were shorts and short sleeves.

I headed down the mountain on a dirt road that reminded me of Towers (but not as steep) and realized I'd forgotten to bring my whistle with me-- a brochure at the visitor center had mentioned that if you encounter a bear, blowing a whistle might help scare it away.  I didn't want to go all the way back to the campsite for my whistle, so I decided I that I wouldn't worry about it.
Sunrise run.
I didn't see any bears, or any other wildlife, while I ran.  Just blue skies, white clouds, pine trees, and mountains.  It was harder to run at 9000ft than I'd thought it would be, especially when I turned and headed back up the hill.  But it was so beautiful, and my right leg, which has been bothering me for about a month, didn't hurt at all.  I was exhausted, but I pushed myself and made it 10 miles, at a pace even faster than I usually run at home.

Never Summer Mountains from Ruby Jewel Road.

There it is.
Rob and Will set up the camp shower for me-- it's this cube that warms up water you can spray on yourself with a hose.  Rob even has a little privacy tent you can step into and be completely enclosed.  This whole set up is the coolest contraption ever and is perfect for running/camping trips like this.  Even though I'd been warm while running, as soon as I stopped, the cold mountain air chilled me to the bone.  Showering myself off with luke-warm water and camp suds was some combination of brisk and exhilarating; either way, it was far better than the alternative of being freezing, dirty, and miserable until we got home.

We headed back to the visitor center in Gould, where Rob investigated some of the other trails he'd be running during the race, and Will begged me to buy him toys in the park gift shop.

I paged through guidebooks of Colorado mammals and became suspicious that this thing we'd seen yesterday was not a coyote after all.  Its tail was really much more bushy, like a fox's.  I felt kind of dumb for not being able to tell the difference between a coyote and a fox. It was like that time years ago when Rob and I were in Costa Rica and I saw a jaguar.  Or maybe an ocelot.  I didn't want this to be another thing like that, where I would always wonder.  So I showed my blurry picture to the two lady park rangers working at the visitor center, and they exclaimed with glee that it was a fox.

The foxes were bigger out here, the rangers explained to me, and at this time of year they still have their whiter winter coats that will redden up as the snow continues to melt and days grow warmer.   

I think it is probably more cool to have seen fox instead of a coyote anyway.  

When Rob got back from his run, it was time to go home.  I was sad to think about leaving this place.  It had been such a beautiful weekend.  I loved how remote it felt, how alone we had been camping in the woods.  I liked it so much better than the crowds at Rocky Mountain National Park, with its first-come, first-serve campgrounds that fill up before noon.  This is so much more my style.  I could go back to Gould every weekend.

Thanks for reading.


Anonymous said...

WOW!!!!! awesome pictures!! however. NEVER leave YOUR CAR TOP WITHOUT YOUR WHISTLE!!!!!! yikes! they won't be packing pistols but they will be BIG and on 4 legs!!! 😳You ARE your grampa george's grand daughter,,,and throw in a bit of GREAT granma minnie!!! glad the stars shone brightly! better than a HAIL storm!! get you some wooley sockies!! coyote, fox? moose !! bear ?? elk?? everything is bigger OUT WEST!!!! take care! miss you! luv and hugs, mama

Unknown said...

Loved your writing about the trip to Gould and the beautiful mountains and pines and everything in and around it!!! Amazing!!! love and hugs, auntie