Atop Pike’s Peak

On our visit to Colorado we drove up to the top of Pike’s Peak. The summit is 14,115 feet high — pretty rarefied air for a flatlander from the Midwest — and offers a commanding view of the surrounding mountains and countryside far below.

There was construction at the summit and preparations for a road race were underway, so visitors couldn’t drive up to the top by themselves. Instead, you had to stop at the 13-mile marker or the 16-mile marker and take a shuttle to the summit. We stopped at the 13-mile marker, just below the tree line. That allowed us to avoid the white-knuckle part of the drive and entrust our safety to somebody who (presumably, at least) was used to navigating the guardrail-free hairpin turns that take you to the peak.

The summit is stunning. Photos can’t really capture the vast, panoramic views. It was very windy at the top, so you didn’t want to get too close to the edge and flirt with a potential mishap. It was noticeably colder, too, with snow on the ground in spots. It didn’t take long before the thinner air and high altitude started to have a physical impact on the members of our group, manifested in budding headaches and a feeling of malaise.

Twenty to thirty minutes is plenty of time to check out the top, and we were all glad to board the shuttle and head back down the mountain. On the way down we saw some antelope and the curious rodents that inhabit the area. When we got back down to the 13-mile marker, safe and sound, we celebrated with some big gulps of oxygen-rich air.

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Mountain Time

I’m out west for work, enjoying some fresh mountain air — and trying to adjust to the time change and the change in elevation.

On the time change, there’s not much you can do except try to sleep as late as your brain permits and not get too upset if you are wide awake at 3:30 a.m. You can do something about the elevation, however, and that’s drink lots of water. I ignored that advice on an early trip to the Mountain Zone and paid dearly for my stupidity with some temple-crushing headaches. This trip, I’m taking no chances and guzzling water like I’m about to trek across the Sahara Desert.

It’s nice to see a mountain every once in a while, by the way, and a time change and constant hydration is a small price to pay for the privilege.

Heading Cross-Country

Tonight I began my overnight cross-country trip that will take me from Boise, Idaho to Salt Lake City, then to Boston, and finally to NYC.  Any experienced traveler will react to this wishful itinerary with the thought:  “Yeah, good luck with that!”  But sometimes you just have to try.

Boise was cloudless the whole time I was there, even when I boarded the plane, above — which I’ve got to say isn’t bad.  When I landed in Salt Lake City a few hours later I was horrified to see a few clouds in the sky, but the mountains that ring the airport, shown below, made up for it.

Now it’s time to fuel up on some great airport food, try to stay awake until my next flight boards, and then survive the red-eye. 

Yeah . . . good luck with that!

The Mountains In Summer

When the hot summer months hit — and they’ve definitely hit much of America, which is broiling under a hot sun and a stifling heat wave — our thoughts naturally turn to summer vacation.  For most Americans, that means a trip to a beach, or a lake, or some other water-bound destination where swimming will be a big part of the vacation activities.

It didn’t use to be that way.  Long ago, summer vacations were designed to get away from the heat, rather than seek it out.  For many Americans, that meant going up into the mountains to enjoy the cool air and breathe deep the scent of pine.

Somewhere along the way, however, trips to the mountains were eclipsed by the lure of the sand and the scent of suntan lotion.  That’s too bad.  Speaking as someone who has just returned from a trip to the mountains in Whistler, British Columbia, I would recommend a mountain vacation to anyone.

Our trip to Whistler was beautiful and refreshing.  The temperature during the day was in the 60s, and at night in the high 40s and low 50s.  A morning walk was a brisk experience and chance to gulp down cool, fresh air.  You could sleep at night with the windows open, and walk around during the day without becoming drenched in the sticky, cocoa butter-infused sweat of the beach.

With the emphasis on skin cancer and the aging effects of constant tanning, perhaps the summer trip to the mountains will make a comeback.  The only downside I can see is the shock to the system when you land back home, walk outside, and gasp at your first encounter with the 90-degree wall of heat.