Toward the end of last September, Jocelyn and I were still relatively new to Boulder and wanted to explore. The aspen leaves were in season and we were in search for some golden foliage. With this in mind we ventured up Boulder Canyon to Nederland and the Peak to Peak Highway and then headed north. We were also vaguely looking for some dirt on which to run, so we pulled onto the Gold Hill Road and meandered down it until it intersected with the Switzerland Trail where we got out and enjoyed a leisurely hour autumnal jaunt through the trees and cool air at 8500′. Frustratingly, that was the absolute maximum my knee could handle at the time.
For the trip home, however, we continued east on the road, stumbled onto the tiny, idyllic near-ghost town of Gold Hill and then continued home via Sunshine Canyon. Even after it turned to asphalt half-way down the descent I vowed to come back and run this road once my knee was healthy. Well, today I finally decided that my knee was capable of taking on the 10 mile, 3000′ descent that a return trip from Gold Hill requires.
Today was another magnificent +60F spring day in Boulder, but the forecast was for more snow tomorrow, so I was eager to get out and spend as much of the day as possible running the hills. Additionally, most of the Boulder Mountain Parks peak trails are still either annoyingly slushy with unstable footing or under a foot or more of snow. So, today seemed like one of the last few logical days of the snow season to go pound a road for several hours. Of course, I wasn’t going to let Green Mt. go unnoticed, either, so on my way up to Mapleton Avenue and the mouth of Sunshine Canyon I stashed a pair of Microspikes in a hedge in order to assist me in my end-of-run climb.
The climb up Sunshine Canyon Drive is one of those mostly reasonable mountain ascents. From the corner of 4th St. and Mapleton it is 10 miles and 3000′ of climbing to Gold Hill. I had come across a recorded time of 1h38min by Galen Burrell on Bill Wright‘s old Boulder Trail Running Records site. According to his site, this time was for the 10 miles from 4th St to the 10 mile marker in Gold Hill. I had no idea how stout this time was but do know that Galen was/is a very strong runner, so used it as a benchmark for how long the run should take.
Even with the first ~6 miles being asphalt, this is a pleasant run. Traffic this morning was moderate to light, and the gradient is occassionally broken by short sections of flat and even slightly downhill running. Running up a sustained, constant hill like this is something that is significantly different from the steep, technical, switchbacked, stair-stepped climbs I’ve become accustomed to on Green Mt. this winter. On the road you can maintain a legitimate running stride the entire time, but the featureless surface gives one a sense of ascending very slowly. As a result, the mind tends to wander and dissociate a bit from the attendant effort.
Being a weekday, it was hard for me to not think about how fortunate I am to be living a life where I can duck out the door and go running in the mountains for nearly five hours on a Monday morning. Granted, I’m in the middle of CU’s Spring Break, but it was only natural to have the collective topics of work, careers, values, and priorities marinating in my mind.
I was once sitting outside of a coffeehouse at a sidewalk table when a man walked by with a tattoo on the back of his head–like where there is usually hair. One of the folks I was sitting with made a comment (to me, not the man) about how that sort of thing pretty much precludes one from becoming a “contributing member of society”. Okay. In this particular case, that may have been true, and tattoos on one’s scalp may be a little…something (full disclosure: I have no tattoos)…but, whether or not my companion was right wasn’t what interested me about the statement.
Instead, then–and this morning–I was more fixated on the entire concept of being a “contributing member of society” (CMOS). I’m not sure what this means. I’m pretty sure I know what my coffee companion meant: securing a job where tattoos are taboo (i.e. typically one with a substantial salary and plenty of “upward mobility”), and using the acquired money to generally follow what are by and large the rules of modern life. I think we all know what those are. Don’t think that I’m denigrating the concept of making money. I’m not. Earning a living is completely necessary. But, I’m still not sure what I think constitutes “contributing” and whether or not contributing in the sense my companion was insinuating is even a value worth harboring.
For instance, grinding my way up Sunshine Canyon Drive, engaging in this singularly selfish activity, I found it difficult to convince myself that I was contributing anything to anyone, yet I was profoundly satisfied, present, and, for lack of a better word, happy. Was that bad? Was I being irresponsible? Am I being irresponsible? Being irresponsible seems inherently undesirable. Don’t get me wrong, I think I completely understand the common values of family, community, love, being kind to one’s fellow man while expecting nothing in return, etc. The value of those concepts–given the proper motivations–seems virtually unassailable in my mind. The issue I’ve been grappling with, rather, is whether there are other equally noble, valuable modes of being a CMOS that, metaphorically speaking, have no concern with whether or not one has a large, visible tattoo.
The way I usually come at questions like those is by considering the more alternative ways of contributing to society, which by definition usually involves something non-corporate and maybe even non-governmental, which also means that the way we’ve come to assign value to things–monetary compensation–is also typically lacking. I’m talking here of the creative activities in life: music, art, writing, etc. Depending on the day, I consider working the land (farming, in a particularly conscious manner) a very creative (maybe the creative) mode of contribution.
Lately, I’ve also been thinking about the act of running as a creative process, perhaps a very particular type of performance art that, if occassionally shared with others through racing and other collaborative efforts qualifies it as a contributory activity of some value. That is, of value to a society, the kind of value that isn’t typically assigned a dollar amount. But, I’m certainly not sure. My hunch is that there is a precarious balance somewhere in between the two end-members of, A) resource-sucking leach on society, and B) capitalist greed-monger, that affords one both satisfaction and virtue.
The incredible views of the foothills and looming Indian Peaks eventually distracted my mind, though, and before I knew it I was at the top of the climb and cruising down the 1/2 mile descent into Gold Hill. I’d reached the corner of Sunshine Canyon Drive and Gold Run Road (turns into Fourmile Canyon lower down) at the entrance to Gold Hill in 1:23:50 from 4th Street down in Boulder. Curious about Galen’s time, I continued up Main St. Gold Hill with my eyes peeled for the 10 mile marker, but ran all the way to Colorado Mountain Ranch on the far edge of town before giving up on spotting it. The snow on the side of the road must’ve been too deep. Based on the 9 mile marker, I would guess that it’s ~0.4 mile/3min past the Gold Run Rd intersection. My effort today was easy/casual and I could easily see myself going 30 seconds/mile faster with some focus and motivation, so I’m gonna go ahead and surmise that Galen wasn’t exactly pressing that day.
The 10 miles back down to town passed in a quick 66 minutes, and with the pop of a Blueberry-Pomegranate Roctane I started the final climb of the day up 6th Street to the Gregory Canyon trailhead and my 86th summit of Green Mt. Green was hard today. By time I’d reached the trailhead my body was already begging for another GU, even though I’d had one only 20 minutes earlier. The trail through Gregory Canyon was predictably clear (astonishing considering the amount of snow on it just 48 hours earlier), but the Ranger trail was in the unsavory state of not-quite-slush, not-quite-solid-snow that transformed the stride and cadence of my already pounded and bonking legs into a fairly pathetic baby-step shuffle. Certainly good rehearsal for an arduous late-race climb.
Forty-five minutes after the summit I was back at my apartment and scrounging in the kitchen for food. It was already early afternoon and all I’d accomplished today was to make myself very, very tired. But, for the moment at least, that seemed to be enough.