Let’s get on board with the fact that mountain goats are pee-lapping weirdos

Majestic. Wild. Weirdos.

To most people, seeing a mountain goat is to view something majestic, powerful and wild.

I know better. These creatures of the rock are just plain weird. And it was confirmed after news got out that a bunch of mountain goats were being airlifted out of Washington’s Olympic National Park because, for starters, there are too many of them. And also, their growing throng has as unnatural attraction to human urine.

You read that right. Some online headlines are proclaiming these horned lords of the crag are addicted to pee.

You might be thinking, “What in the name of Bear Grylls is going on here? Pee? Really?”

Really. As far as these guys are concerned, all you hikers making a pit stop on the trail for No. 1 may as well be playing the role of Heisenberg, dealing yellow-tinted meth in the A-B-Q.

This requires some explanation.

Like most animals, simple hydration with water is nice, but not enough to sustain proper bodily function. You need electrolytes. Salts, to keep it in layman’s terms. And urine contains, among other things, plenty of salts.

Humans have long known the worth of salt. During the days of antiquity, salt was more valuable than gold. It was mined extensively in North Africa, building the riches of civilizations there for generations. Today, we sprinkle the stuff on our food to add flavor and add electrolytes to our sports drinks to keep us performing on the field and the court.

We even put out salt blocks for our cattle during the winter so they get enough of the stuff to keep them happy.

But I guess what separates us from the animals (except for the aforementioned Grylls, or maybe Aron Ralston) is the fact that we don’t piss on our food or tip back goblets filled with the fruit of our bladders.

Then again, survival in the wild is something almost none of us can contemplate, at least not in the way the creatures of the wilderness do. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and when every waking moment is consumed by where you’ll get your nutrition, well, that sounds pretty desperate to me. The goats have found an answer to their salt problem.

And they aren’t alone. Marmots will gnaw the sweat-stained handles of your trekking poles just to get a nip of that salt your hands deposit on them during an arduous uphill hike. Pikas and mice will steal your gloves for the same reason. And deer have taken a liking to your pee just like the goats.

About nine years ago, I was camping in the Uncompahgre National Forest of Colorado, and while eating some grub with my campmates, I noticed a healthy doe rooting around the dirt not far from my tent. I was wondering what on earth was so interesting to that deer, and then it dawned on me: That’s where I was relieving myself in the middle of the night. Eww, I thought. But when you really need salt, you get it where you can.

You do you, Bambi.

Lounging weirdo.

But the deer wasn’t weird about it, at least not beyond the innate weirdness of lapping up the piss-soaked dirt a few yards from my tent. But mountain goats? They’re weird about it. Really, really weird about it.

Let me take you back a few years to another pristine slice of alpine heaven in Colorado’s southwestern corner. The place is called Chicago Basin, a remote but popular backpacking and peak-bagging destination tucked deep inside the Weminuche Wilderness of the San Juan Mountains. It’s an impossibly gorgeous basin flanked by jagged peaks and has to be one of the most scenic places I’ve ever been. The snows in the ‘Nuche are typically deep, and the summer monsoons tend to dump heavier and more frequently than elsewhere in the Rockies. The result is a lush mountain landscape that defies the semi-arid reputation of the Rockies.

The downside to this place is three-fold. First, you’re likely to get rained out of any climbs at some point during the summer. Second, the flies. Dear God, the flies. They are everywhere. And last, are the mountain goats. They are drawn to humans and can be quite pesky at camp.

They’ll follow you around, stalking you like fluffy, horned paparazzi. They’ll monitor your every move, and the males can be a little, er, assertive. It’s not that they’re curious. They’re just slavishly thirsty for your little yellow drink.

While at camp, one of my friends decided to do an experiment. Being the funny guy that he is, he thought it would be hilarious to take a leak on a bush just to see what happened. And so he did.

He spent a few seconds watering a lonely sapling bush with his golden bounty, and the goats couldn’t wait. They were practically tripping over themselves to get there, then proceeded to denude that shrub in a matter of a minute. I think all the leaves were gone before he had finished. It was the funniest and most bizarre thing I’ve seen in years, and I’ve seen a lot of weird shit in my days. But to paraphrase Will Smith from his “Men in Black” days, the Great Shrub Massacre of 2014 just about broke the needle on my weird-shit-o-meter.

I suppose the conservationist in me should say something profound or important about the pitfalls of frequent human contact with wild animals, maybe even with a tone of solemn concern. But I just can’t. Mountain goats are majestic, amazing creatures.  But they’re also really damn weird.

Seriously, dude. Get off the pee-pipe, ya weirdo.

Bob Doucette

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Summer of Nuun: Testing the Nuun Electrolytes hydration supplement

Sometimes I get lucky. A few months back, I found out I was a winner. A winner of stuff!

Race Advisors – a cool outfit that publishes reviews of races from all over – does a weekly giveaway to its social media followers, and my name turned up. What I got: A package of Nuun Electrolytes, made by a company that specializes in performance nutrition you need without all the sugar and other “extra” stuff that comes with so many other sports drinks and supplements.

I’ve heard of Nuun before. They’re all over the place on all things running. Part of the deal were four sleeves of tablets that I was free to use. At the time, summer was just getting ready to start, so this was a great time to do some experimenting.

WHAT IS IT?

Technically, each tablet of Nuun Electrolytes is designed to supplement 16 ounces of water with sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium. When you work out, you sweat a lot. And that means more than losing just water. Certain nutrients are also lost, minerals that are essential to proper body function, especially during exercise.

But how does it work? Think of this visual: Have you ever used Alka-Seltzer? It works just like that. You take a glass/bottle of water, snag a Nuun tablet, and drop it in. It dissolves in effervescent fashion, and in about a minute, presto! You have an electrolyte-infused drink to replenish your body. It’s got 10 calories a pop, and a remarkably short ingredients list.

My guess is you can use this in one of two ways: Prepare the drink beforehand and bring a bottle of it with you as you run (for longer runs) or use it as a recovery tool after a hard workout.

HOW DID IT DO?

Over the summer, my miles drop. It’s freakin’ hot in Tulsa, so there aren’t many long runs happening for me. But when I run, I work hard and sweat a lot. If I’m not hydrated perfectly, those wonderful dehydration headaches appear, and I’m lethargic as can be, even if I down a bunch of water when I’m done. So my test was simple: Would Nuun help me avoid both?

I burned through a few tubes of Nuun tablets over the course of three hot months of running. So this isn’t a “try it a couple of times and review it” sort of test. I know I’m only one guy, but I think the duration of usage should count for something.

I’m also what might be called a “high-demand” person when it comes to post-workout recovery. I sweat buckets, even in mild temps, so that means I’m losing a lot of water and electrolytes at every workout.

The taste takes a little getting used to. It’s not sugar-sweet like a lot of popular sports drinks. My advice: Let the tablets dissolve for a minute, then drink. It goes down pretty good then.

But I also think it did its job. Sixteen ounces of a Nuun-infused drink definitely helped curb those headaches. And yeah, I did notice that the post-workout sluggishness that usually happens after a super-heated 90-minute workout was noticeably blunted. So that’s a win-win.

A further test would include taking a water bottle with Nuun in it, but I didn’t go that far. However, I do have numerous long runs planned in the coming weeks, and maybe that will be a good time to test it further.

But the bottom line is Nuun advertises that it not only helps you hydrate, but replenishes valuable minerals the body needs to keep working and recover more quickly. So far, so good. It seems to have done the job for me.

Price: A sleeve of 10 tablets is $7.

Disclaimer: Nuun and Race Advisors furnished me with four sleeves of tablets at no cost to me, and with no obligation of review or promotion.

Bob Doucette

Places I like: South Colony Lakes

The northern Sangre de Cristo Mountains rise abruptly over the town of Westcliffe to the east, and their towering spires loom over Great Sand Dunes National Monument to the west. But what the tall peaks hide within their folds is one of the most stunning alpine scenes I’ve ever laid eyes on.

That’s a big claim, for sure. I’ve seen some fantastic places. But there is something about South Colony Lakes that stands out.

The lakes fill a tiered basin underneath the steep slopes of Crestone Needle, Crestone Peak and Broken Hand Peak on one side, and the gentler, cliff-banded flanks of Humboldt Peak on the other. To the south, Marble Mountain and other majestic spires rise. Many of these mountains have exposed, striated layers, giving a clue to the intense pressures of geologic uplift, wringing ancient and persistent violence to bend rock layers just so.

The lakes are pretty, to be sure, shining gems under the bright Colorado sky. But the star of the show is Crestone Needle, and it is best seen at dawn.

As the sun rises, the long shadow of Humboldt Peak makes a retreat. The low light of sunrise drench the eastern face of Crestone Needle, giving it a warm, orange hue that is one of the most spectacular mountain vistas I’ve come across. You understand the meaning of the word “alpenglow” when you catch Crestone Needle during the peak colors of sunrise.

And it’s a fleeting thing, gone in minutes. But the scenery still packs a wallop just about any time of day, as the Needle commands center stage above the lakes.

Bob Doucette

Colorado hiking: A solo hike to Chicago Lakes

Let’s go hike. (Jordan Doucette photo)

NOTE: This is a guest post from Jordan Doucette, an NBC Universal broadcast professional, hiker and two-time Spartan Race finisher. He’s also my nephew, and a man who has done five of Colorado’s 14ers with me. Find him on Instagram @jordandoucette and Twitter @JordanDoucette9.

Life sure has a funny way of humbling you. Ultimately, when I take a step back, I realize what an awesome day I had at Chicago Lakes Trail up near Mount Evans. But I learned a few interesting lessons along the way. Here’s a look at my day.

A change from the morning shift to the overnight shift at work scored me a much-needed four-day weekend. About three weeks ago, I found out that I’d be getting promoted. Much like my last promotion, this one came with a condition. I’d be moved, for the fourth time, back to the overnight shift. Mind you, this change is only temporary; I’ll be back in the sunlight in the land of the living in just a few short weeks. But this change doesn’t come without some struggles. Human bodies are not designed for the overnight lifestyle. So, I started to look for a hike. One last journey under the sun before I’m condemned to the graveyards. I needed something close to home, and something I could knock out in about 6 hours or less. Some internet sleuthing led me to Chicago Lakes Trail.

The trailhead is located just west of the Echo Lake Campground off Mount Evans road in Idaho Springs. Located near this campground are several trailheads. And so we begin the “lessons learned” portion of this blog. Lesson #1: Know where your trailhead is! Just east of Echo Lake Campground is a detailed look at the several trails located in that area. Unfortunately, the trail I started down lead east. A tracking app on my phone came in handy, as just over a quarter-mile in, I noticed I was going the wrong way. The signage for Chicago Lake Trailhead is located west, across CO-5, from the parking that’s available by the campground. I had parked at around 7:45 a.m., but didn’t find my trailhead until just before 8:30. Nonetheless, I found my way, and gleefully wandered down the trail. Let the fun begin.

The trail starts with a meander through some thick pines, followed by a fork in the road. To the west, a look at Echo Lake along “Echo Lake Trail”. To the south, the continued path towards Chicago Lake. I walked the couple-hundred feet to the fence surrounding Echo Lake, got my look, and headed back south on my trail. I must tell you, I was feeling particularly chipper on this beautiful August morning, despite the rush hour traffic on my way to the trail. I noticed an extra pep in my step as I made my way up the trail. In fact, that brings me to Lesson #2: Pace yourself! I would pay for my early-trail hustle on the hike back a few hours later. The first WOW moment of this trail comes about a mile in. A steep drop to the hiker’s right, I’d call it mild exposure given the amount of room to work with on the left, is completely overshadowed by…. This.

Alpine scenery opening up nicely. (Jordan Doucette photo)

Now, if you’ve ever hiked with me, you know I love big moments on the trail. Those moments when you recognize just how small you are in God’s massive creation. This was one of those moments for me. I noticed a lot of downhill terrain in the first mile or so. In fact, that’s when I started to realize I might have been pushing myself a bit too much in the early going. A flurry of “Private Property” signs and a wide road led me to my next WOW moment. About two miles in, enter Idaho Springs Reservoir. The water, while not perfectly clear, gleams in the sunlight. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. There’s something about water at elevation. There’s something pure about it. Not to mention, the Front Range provides one heck of a breathtaking backdrop.

Alpine lake goodness. And this was just the first taste. (Jordan Doucette photo)

The area just south of the reservoir features a couple of small cabins and, of course, The Labyrinth. An opportunity for hikers to clear their minds, and um, walk some more. I can’t lie, I found the Labyrinth incredibly charming, and a fun milestone on the way to the day’s final destination.

Reading the rules or something. (Jordan Doucette photo)

The Labyrinth. (Jordan Doucette photo)

About 2.5 miles in, I found a stop with waiver to sign as an acknowledgment of a few rules to be applied throughout the rest of the trail. Pretty simple stuff, dogs on 6-foot leashes, no groups bigger than 15, no fire, etc. It was at this point that the treachery began. About a mile straight of nothing but relatively steep, uphill climbs towards… the next steep, uphill climb. Still, the lust of seductive Chicago Lake drove me forward. Surrounded by trees, I looked forward, rushed towards an opening, and there she was. Chicago Lake. And yet again… WOW!

Yeah, this view does not suck. (Jordan Doucette photo)

Instantly, I was reenergized. A rocky journey downhill led me toward the base of the lake. Then, an interesting twist. A climb back uphill, towards a set of massive rocks overlooking the lake. At this point, I debated sitting atop one of the larger boulders, eating my lunch, and heading back towards the Jeep. But something told me to keep going. Just as I hit the top of yet another hill, a second, smaller lake came into view. I lifted my hands in the air, smiling and let out a brief, “Woo!” Both lakes have a unique green tint to them. Not like a, “These lakes are polluted,” kind of look. More like a glowing emerald glistening in the sun. Simply put, I was in awe. Backdrops of Mount Evans and Mount Goliath loom large. Finally, I could eat my lunch. The Bob Doucette special, a couple of tortillas with deli meat and cheese. I sat on a rock overlooking the larger lake. I stumbled into a couple that was visiting from Germany, one of about 15 or so couples I saw on the train that morning. They started at Summit Lake and make the journey down to Chicago Lakes. It was their first day in Colorado, and they were blown away.

A lake plus some high mountains equals one impressive alpine amphitheater. (Jordan Doucette photo)

The journey back left my knees trembling, as I continued to learn not to push myself too hard in the early going. The trip back to Echo Lake Campground is just as grueling as the trip to Chicago Lakes. The winding and hilly nature of the trail kept me challenged throughout. A second look at the Idaho Springs Reservoir made the 4-plus mile jaunt back well worth the time. Finally, I arrived back at the Jeep at around 1:45, making my total trip time just a little over 5 hours.

Final Verdict: HIT THIS TRAIL! The nine-mile path makes for a pretty long day, but the WOW moments make every step worth the suffer.

Jordan Doucette

Chris Lieberman made a race for us. Here’s a chance for us to give back.

Chris Lieberman and his hard-charging Route 66 Marathon crew. Chris ran a marathon in Dallas and decided Tulsa needed a similar race. A few years later, he made it happen, much to the benefit of tens of thousands of people. (Chris Lieberman Updates photo)

I remember my first interaction with a real-life marathon. I learned about it because its starting line was on the street right by my front door.

So on a cool November morning, I went to the top floor of my apartment building at watched as the race started. Music was pumping, crowds were cheering, and with each new flight of runners, a gun was fired to start them off on their 13.1- or 26.2-mile journey through the streets of Tulsa.

I remember thinking, “One day, I want to be down there.”

A couple of years later, I was. My playlist was churning out “Run to the Hills” by Iron Maiden as my group got started on an icy fall day. The memories of that race are vivid, and I’ve either run the half or full course at the Route 66 Marathon five years straight.

Me finishing up at the Route 66 Marathon’s half marathon last year.

The guy I have to thank for it is Chris Lieberman who, many years before, ran the Dallas Marathon and concluded that Tulsa needed its own 26.2-mile event.

“I was like, ‘Tulsa needs this.’ I thought, ‘This can’t be too hard to do,’” Chris said from his midtown Tulsa home.

Creating the Route 66 Marathon proved to be a challenge, but more than a decade later, the race has become an integral part of Tulsa running community as well as growing into a nationally known event – all things he felt Tulsa needed and deserved.

Filling a need in his hometown has been a pattern in Chris’s life. But now he faces a need of his own, something we can all take part in fulfilling.

In 2016, Chris suffered an injury that left him with a severe case of traumatic brain injury. More than two years later, he’s partially recovered from the worst of the injury. But there is still a long way to go.

“Right now, I can’t work,” he said matter-of-factly. “And I want to work.”

THE INJURY

The accident was something that could have happened to any of us. He was on an extension ladder in his company’s warehouse when the ladder slipped. He fell 10 feet, with the of impact absorbed by his skull. Brain swelling ensued, and physicians had to put him into a medically induced coma to help alleviate the trauma.

When Chris regained consciousness, he was unable to move. “Zero mobility,” as he put it. It would be some time before he could speak.

Since then, Chris has undergone more than a dozen surgeries and spent countless hours at different rehabilitation centers in Oklahoma, Texas, and elsewhere.

The good news is that he’s conversational now. He can walk with assistance. But he’s nowhere near where he wants to be, that is, back to running his company, walking without assistance or fear of falling, and maybe taking a few strides on the marathon course he created years ago. He wants to leave his wheelchair behind.

A NEW OPPORTUNITY

Current rehab facilities have taken Chris about as far as they can. Chris and his longtime partner, Kim Hann, learned of another place called REACT Nuero Rehab, a Dallas-based organization founded by Kendell Hall, who had worked herself out of near paralysis going back to a 2009 car accident that damaged her spine.

In speaking to Hall, both Chris and Kim felt they found the place that could help him make the next step toward full recovery.

“She knew all my questions, and it just seemed like the right place,” Chris said.

In a post on a Facebook page designed to keep people up to date on Chris’ recovery, it was summed up like this:

“Chris is now ready for intensive rehab, he took it upon himself to do some research and found REACT in Dallas. We believe this is exactly what he needs to walk unassisted again! They are well known for helping people in wheelchairs to be able to walk again. We toured the facility and met with the staff at REACT. They believe Chris will be able to leave their program having achieved his goals. That being said, we have been exploring options to get him to React in Dallas. With your support, Chris will attend for a minimum of 3 days a week and will have to commute back and forth between Dallas and Tulsa each week. This is going to be a HUGE undertaking for Kim to travel back and forth and find housing and she will also need your and support during this time!”

The challenge, however, is this: This type of rehab isn’t covered by insurance. So that means the cost is completely out-of-pocket, and as we all know, medical care isn’t cheap. For that reason, Chris, Kim and their family are asking for help.

WHAT WE OWE

I watched a video Chris put out, and in the back of my mind, I kept thinking that I was looking at a guy who had done so much for the Tulsa running community, and the city in general.

Before the Route 66 Marathon was created, we just didn’t do marathons in this city. Now, the race attracts about 15,000 runners for its marathon, half marathon, marathon relay and 5K events. In terms of gear sold, hotel rooms booked, meals eaten and other commerce associated with the race, that’s about a $10 million annual impact that was created from scratch.

The success of the race propelled Tulsa running to another level. Where there used to be no local marathons, now there are several. Running stores now have new customers for their gear, and new clients for training programs. Road and trail races leading up to Route 66 benefit from having more runners using their events as tune-ups for November’s big event. Trail and ultramarathon events benefit from people who use the marathon as a gateway to longer races. Thousands of people – maybe tens of thousands – realize fitness goals never dreamed of before, and personal achievements that build confidence for greater endeavors. Chris likes to call Route 66 “the people’s race,” meaning that he wanted it to be an event for everyone, regardless of speed, athleticism or competitiveness.

That hit home with me, because that’s who I am. I’m a midpack runner who used to never run. Years later, I’ve got a marathon under my belt and six half marathons, three 25Ks and a bunch of shorter races that never would have happened had I not set Route 66 as a target. And I’ve got a running habit that has introduced me to new friends, new experiences and a sustainable form of exercise that will benefit me for years to come.

All of this was made possible by a guy who refused to take a salary from his own event until just a few years ago. I’m grateful for that, and I know a lot of other people are, too.

WHAT WE CAN DO

Chris and Kim hope to raise $20,000 to get this new round of rehab started. It sounds like a lot of money, but I figured there is a way to break it down that makes this very doable.

Like I mentioned earlier, thousands of people have run Route 66. If a thousand of these folks donated $20, that goal is met. Basically, if enough is us forgo the cost of a decent large pizza just this once, we get them there.

Want to help? Here’s some information from Chris’ site that gives you a couple of tax-deductible ways you can literally help Chris get back on his feet for good:

You can donate to Chris’ therapy below. Your donations will go 100% directly to Chris’ recovery fund.

  1. You can click this link to donate online.
  2. You can mail a check to Chris’ REACT Therapy Account.

Make checks payable to REACT.

(In the memo, please write “Chris Lieberman’s Recovery Fund”)

REACT

15046 Beltway Drive

Addison, Texas 75001

Chris at the Route 66 Marathon start line. (Chris Lieberman Updates photo)

LET’S DO THIS

This week, I started my training for what will be my seventh half marathon, and my fifth with Route 66. I’ve got my eyes on some goals for this race.

Chris has some goals, too. To walk unassisted. To get back to working full-time in the hard-charging, energetic manner that has been his hallmark. And maybe starting yet another new endeavor, such as creating a foundation to help others like himself who have suffered similar injuries on the job, at home, or overseas in the military. The need is there (some 19,000 Oklahoma veterans have some form of TBI). And in the same way he saw that Tulsa needed a bigger race, he knows Oklahoma needs what he’s seeking now.

Bob Doucette

It’s not your imagination. Wildfire seasons are getting worse, and the West is getting drier

Wildfires this summer have stretched government resources to their limits. (Uriah Walker/U.S. Army photo)

One of the great talking points of late has been the severity, or even the existence, of climate change. There was a time, maybe just short of 30 years ago, when the scientific and political consensus were on the same track, agreeing that man-made carbon and methane emissions were changing the climate.

A lot of industry pushback, in the form of like-minded politicians and convincing-looking counternarratives, soon cropped up. Arguments of “job-killing regulations” and no small amount of doubt-sowing opinion pieces, studies and so forth muddied what was at one time a clearer picture. And to be frank, the far-off implications of what might happen didn’t move the meter much in terms of public opinion.

What people needed was evidence. Evidence they could see. And not just data, which for some reason, people just don’t trust as much as what they see with their own eyes. Bad things were coming, we were told. But for most, out of sight means out of mind.

The trouble with this line of thinking is that when you finally see the negative consequences that were predicted all along, it’s likely too late. And that’s what we’ve seen come to pass in the American West.

Two things come to mind, things that are not only measurable, but visible.

The first is the expanding wildfire season, and the growth of its severity.

The Union of Concerned Scientists recently published these facts on the subject:

Between 1980 and 1989, the American West averaged 140 wildfires of 1,000 acres or larger every year. Between 2000 and 2012, that number nearly doubled, to 250.

The wildfire season has grown in length. In the 1970s, the season lasted about five months. Now it’s up to seven months.

As western states heat up, snowpack is melting four weeks earlier than normal. Hotter, drier forests are becoming more vulnerable to more frequent and more destructive wildfires.

A satellite image of wildfires in California. (NASA image)

The journal Nature confirmed this with its own research, noting that this is a global problem:

“Climate strongly influences global wildfire activity, and recent wildfire surges may signal fire weather-induced pyrogeographic shifts. Here we use three daily global climate data sets and three fire danger indices to develop a simple annual metric of fire weather season length, and map spatio-temporal trends from 1979 to 2013. We show that fire weather seasons have lengthened across 29.6 million km2 (25.3%) of the Earth’s vegetated surface, resulting in an 18.7% increase in global mean fire weather season length. We also show a doubling (108.1% increase) of global burnable area affected by long fire weather seasons (>1.0 σ above the historical mean) and an increased global frequency of long fire weather seasons across 62.4 million km2 (53.4%) during the second half of the study period. If these fire weather changes are coupled with ignition sources and available fuel, they could markedly impact global ecosystems, societies, economies and climate.”

And from NASA, data show that as bad as things are looking in the western U.S., the problem is significantly worse in eastern Brazil, east Africa and western Mexico.

The statistics for 2018 obviously aren’t in yet, but if it seems like the entire West is on fire, you’re not too far off target. Drought in the U.S. Southwest created massive wildfires in Arizona, northern New Mexico and southwestern Colorado. Wildfires later erupted in Utah and Wyoming. Record-setting blazes are scorching California once again, and massive fires are currently burning in Montana and British Columbia. It’s one of the worst fire seasons I can remember, and my guess is by the time 2018 ends, it could be a record-setter.

Lengthening, more damaging wildfire seasons are one thing. But there’s more. The nature of the arid west is changing, too. It’s growing.

NPR recently reported this:

“The American West appears to be moving east. New research shows the line on the map that divides the North American continent into arid Western regions and humid Eastern regions is shifting, with profound implications for American agriculture.”

A meridian running through the plains of Canada and the U.S. and into Mexico is seen as the diving line between the drier West and the wetter East. Researchers, according to NPR, are discovering that line is moving east, increasing the size of the Rocky Mountain rain shadow and making the breadbasket of the U.S. that much smaller. Farmers are finding it more difficult to successfully irrigate their crops (and the depletion of the Ogallalah Aquifer will only make this harder), so they’re switching to ranching, which is less water-intensive.

The arid climate of the West is edging its way into the wetter, more humid East. And that will affect agriculture and livelihoods for people in the Great Plains.

Right now, it’s difficult to measure the impact of this shift, but you can imagine its potential significance. Production of food and biofuels lies with the success of agriculture in the Great Plains. If that becomes less tenable in places like the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, the shift will be felt not only by the farmers themselves, but consumers in the U.S. and abroad. The real question becomes one of figuring out how far east that dry/wet dividing line will go.

At one time, people might have wondered what climate change will look like. Well, now we know. It means longer, more intense fire seasons. It means less land for farming, and a fundamental change in the lifestyles of people making a living in the Great Plains.

In other words, some people asked for evidence. Now you can see it for yourself.

Bob Doucette

All that mountain fun comes with a cost

A conversation starter.

Dawn was just breaking as we approached treeline, revealing the towering peaks that surround South Colony Lakes. The uphill march at 12,000 feet is never easy for me, and even for the guys who are more used to this sort of thing, it’s work.

The payoff, of course, is the scenery. It gets more dramatic and memorable the higher you go. The effort it takes to climb a mountain, the skills that some of these peaks demand, and the conclusion of a successful ascent demands repeat performances. It’s easy to get hooked on this stuff.

But it comes with a cost.

I’ve hiked with Mike a couple of times. We were part of a big backpacking group that marched into Colorado’s Weminuche Wilderness a few years back. We bagged Mount Eolus and North Eolus on a brilliant August day, but more memorable than the mountain was the man. Bright, funny, irreverent and fun. We swore we’d get together again.

Years later, it was Mike, me and Bill, our eyes on summits surrounding South Colony Lakes in the northern Sangre de Cristo Mountains. In between the jokes and general banter about the peaks that were on our minds was a bit of honesty. Mike was feeling a little guilt.

It takes time to do these things. If you’re an occasional peak-bagger like myself, it’s not as severe. But for those trying to climb all of Colorado’s 14ers, or something more ambitious (the Centennials, the Bi-Centennials, and for the super-obsessed, maybe all of the Colorado 13ers), the pursuit of mountains consumes precious time. The drive time to get to trailheads is measured in hours. Approach hikes can be lengthy. If multiple peaks are sought in one outing, you could be out there for a few days. Each trip consumes weekends, vacations and other free time that might be filled with other things that involve other people.

When we see views like this, we often don’t see it with those closest to us.

The fact is a lot of us dive into these endeavors without our loved ones. Even if there is a shared passion here, there are times when schedules or goals are mismatched from time to time. Risk tolerances may differ. So do skill levels, fitness and a ton of other variables that will have one person heading into the hills while another stays home, left to watch the kids, feed the dogs or figure out what to do on consecutive nights when we’re out there getting our altitude fix.

These were the things Mike had on his mind. His wife Maggie enjoys the high country, too, but isn’t always up for yet another weekend of thin air, dirt, sweat and soreness. Not as often as he is, anyway.

And there is also the presence of objective risk in the mountains. I’ve been lucky that my family doesn’t give me too much grief about this stuff, but there was one instance when I’d planned to climb a more difficult mountain at the same time my eldest brother was in need of a bone marrow transplant. I heard loud and clear that I should hold off on any climbs until we knew if I was donor match. Translation: If you die on that mountain and could have saved your brother’s life, it would be a double tragedy.

I stayed home from that one. But I’m sure the worries from loved ones are still there with every trip. They’re just not voiced, or at least not as urgently.

Grand beauty, but with objective risks.

In the back of my mind, I know that I’ll probably be safe on the mountains I like to hike and climb. But I also know that nothing is guaranteed. A couple of weeks back, a man died on one of the easier 14er hikes out there, the east ridge of Quandary Peak. He died of a heart attack. Other fatalities have nothing to do with the climber. Rockfall happens at random, and can kill. Entire sections of a mountain have been known to slide off, carrying unlucky climbers with them. When these thing happen, people get hurt. Or die. Most injuries and deaths are caused by bad judgment (not reading the weather, stumbling into avalanche zones, or inexperience/overconfidence on difficult terrain), but sometimes bad things happen randomly when people are in the way. It’s way safer to not go, and spare our loved ones the worry or, when the worst happens, picking up the pieces when we suffer serious injury or death.

These are costs. Costs of time, angst, money and grief. All for an activity that has only selfish value. So why do we bother, given the steepness of the price?

A few years back, I wrote a piece titled “Five reasons why you should climb a mountain.” Looking back on it, I still agree with every word I wrote. But I would simplify it.

We do it because it makes us feel more alive. The mountain experience is visceral. The commitment to go there, the physical hardship, those objective risks — all of those combine to make your blood pump a little harder, altitude notwithstanding. Pushing yourself to do something you doubt you could do is a rush. The joke is that you hate yourself for getting into these adventures and the difficulties and pain they bring, but by the time you’re back at the trailhead, the gears in your mind are already turning, wondering what new mountain outing you can dream up. Get bit by this bug and you might just develop a feverish obsession.

By the end of the day, Mike, Bill and I got what we came for. We got to tick off a few more summits from whatever list we were pursuing, snagged some incredible summit photos and spent ourselves physically in ways that don’t happen anywhere else. We eventually made our way home, back to the people we care about and the everyday obligations of life. We’ll end up taking care of the routine business, spend time with others doing non-mountain stuff and do so in ways that don’t worry our families. But we ask for some patience. Sooner or later, we’ll be back in the mountains. It’s not something we have to do, but damn close to it.

Hate to break it to ya, but we’ll probably go back. A lot.

Bob Doucette