The lesson of ‘5 reasons why’: Finding your thing

Finding your thing can be as simple as finding places like this.

Finding your thing can be as simple as finding places like this.

I had a little fun over the last couple of weeks making three lists of “Five reasons why,” focusing on running, lifting and hiking. The last of those posts got some really great responses from dozens of readers on Facebook.

Looking back, it’s important to note that these three activities aren’t the only things I do that help me stay healthy and happy. They just happen to be the biggest.

I climb a little, though not nearly as much as I’d like. I’ve been known to ski some (poorly). I ride a bike almost daily, but nothing to serious — to and from work, or maybe an easy weekend cruise.

For others, it’s different. I’ve got plenty of friends who spend a bunch of time on the saddle, pedaling their way over long stretches of road or on gnarly dirt singletrack. They get just as much out of their bikes as I do on my runs.

Other friends enjoy water sports. They kayak local lakes and rivers, and that time on the river is the tonic of physical challenge and mental peace they need.

And even more buddies of mine climb. They find local crags, they travel to famous climbing hot spot, they clip on at a climbing gym — usually, it’s a combination of all three.

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I remember one friend of mine, a fella named Nathan, telling me that climbing changed him. He played sports and lifted like a fiend all the way through high school. But it’s when he moved west and discovered climbing that he found his place, so to speak. Climbing is where he’s made friends, where he’s conditioned his body, and where he’s discovered who he was as a man. It’s not that climbing in itself is a noble calling. But by facing the challenges of a big wall, a tricky problem or a burly mountain, he’s discovered strength of mind and body he didn’t know was there.

He found his thing, and his thing helped him grow to who he is now.

I’ll close this with another story, one I shared on Facebook the other night. It’s another deal where a guy found his thing, and in his words, it saved him.

The man in question is part of a running group I’m in. We got through doing a two-mile time trial, a workout we like to get in the week before a race. All of us have been getting faster and fitter under the guidance of a coach whose running experience goes back to his 20s as a collegiate athlete (he’s my age now, and can still hit 20 minutes or less in a 5K).

Anyway, I got to talking with this guy after the run. He told me that getting back into running saved him. I asked him, “How so?” And with that, he told me quite a story.

He said before joining the run group, he was 75 pounds overweight. He was working 16-hour days, and then heading straight from the office to the bars until closing time. The work stress, physical degradation and heavy drinking put him in a downward spiral that had him thinking he might be better off dead.

So he got help. He found a group of men who counseled and prayed with him. He stopped drinking and quit his job. And he took up running.

Months later, he’s centered. Fit. And getting pretty fast. Running gave him a healthy outlet, one that beat his body into shape and calmed a troubled mind.

He found his thing.

I’m sure this man, and Nathan, and any number of people I know could come up with their own list of “Five reasons why…” like I did.

The routines of our lives — work, home, and whatnot — can drain the life out of our days. Career, family, relationships and money can curse as much as they bless. It’s easy to get trapped into orbiting these things and lose who you are, who God intended you to be.

The point of the lists I made is to show how life, or God, or whatever it is that guides you, puts things in your path to help you along. We all deal with trouble. Everyone’s got problems. But what’s your outlet for all that angst? What tools do you have in your toolbox to handle it?

For me? I run. I lift. And I hike.

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What do you do? If you don’t know, I encourage you to step back, think hard and find your thing.

Did you miss those lists? Check out the reasons why I run, why I lift, and why I hike and let me know what you do.

Bob Doucette

Five reasons why I hike

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A walk in the woods. A trek in the hills. A gnarly ridge traverse that leads to an airy summit. Short or long, easy or hard — or even dangerous — the venerable hike is as old as humanity itself.

We’re one of those rare creatures that get around solely on two feet, and there is no more reliable form of transportation that putting one foot in front of the other. Whether it’s a familiar path on easy ground or something more adventurous, hiking can be just about anything.

I’ve been a hiker for awhile now. As a kid, I hiked to places where I liked to fish. I tromped through the woods to see what was there. And into adulthood, hiking has taken me to destinations I’d never have seen in a car, on a bike, or on TV. If you’ve got an explorer’s heart, you should be hiking.

For me, there are lots of reasons why I hike. Here are five of them…

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Because it’s good for my body. Hiking up and down hills and miles through woods is exercise. Yes, it’s not like doing sprints at the track or cranking out as many reps as you can at the gym. But a well-paced walk through natural terrain works your legs, back and core. Throw on a backpack and the “workout” becomes even more demanding. And if you’re doing it on steep inclines or higher elevations, it’ll beat you down nicely. A good day of hiking, repeated often, will get you in shape.

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Because it’s good for my mind. I spend enough time in a chair, at my desk, staring at a computer screen. And even more lounging around watching sports or the latest episode of “Game of Thrones.” Taking in all the messages, tweets, videos, memes and other bits of bytes on social media is akin to drinking through a digital fire hose. Our minds are under constant assault from work stress, manufactured images and artificial blatherscythe. A walk amongst the trees or over the hills for a few hours does wonders to clear my mind and allows me to really think about the world, or not think at all, if that’s what’s needed. Hiking is a good time to pray. Or just listen. The sights, sounds and smells of the woods are said to have tangible health benefits for your mind. I believe it.

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Because of the people I meet. Some of the coolest people I know I’ve met through hiking. These are folks who are easygoing, non-judgmental and curious about the world. Most of the time, they’re smart. Wise. Grounded. The connections you make with hikers are different than those you make at work, at church, or at the bar scene. Maybe it’s because we’re all looking for the same thing, I suppose. In any case, your hiking friends might end up being the best ones you have. And if not, they’ll still be some of the most interesting and enjoyable to be around.

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Because I can. Thank God I’m still mobile and can walk. Having that ability is akin to having the hottest sports car you can imagine. You wouldn’t own that car and never drive it, right? That’s how I feel about hiking. If I can get out there and hike a short loop or go backpacking for days, I’m going to do it. My health and mobility is a gift, and to not use it would be a waste. If your choice is to use it or lose it, is that really a choice at all?

Because of the awesome places I see. Like this:

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Or this:

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Or this:

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Or any number of incredible forests, burly mountains, scenic vistas or jaw-dropping sunrises. You can live your whole life in the ‘burbs and see the same thing every day, and not much will change, even with the seasons. Or you can lace up your boots, grab a pack and find a trail and see where it leads. We humans crave a little adventure. When you’re talking about hiking, the adventure is ahead of you, one step at a time.

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If you’re a hiker, what do you like about it? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Also, check out my previous posts, Five reasons why I run and Five reasons why I lift. These have been fun!

(And thanks to Noel Johnson and Brady Lee for some of the photos featured here.)

Bob Doucette

A flatlander’s guide to high country adventure

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As spring takes hold, a bunch of us from the flatlands are having dreams of alpine vistas and Rocky Mountain summits. But we often forget that there is a lot that goes into being ready for the challenges that come with altitude.

I live at less than 800 feet. So every time I think about heading west, I know there are things I need to do before marching to the top of a high peak.

So that’s what this is about. It’s not like I’m a pro or anything, but I’ve spent the last 13 years bagging peaks in the Colorado and New Mexico high country from late spring to early fall. I’ve learned a bit — mostly through trial and error, and from my mistakes. So that’s what I want to pass along to you.

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BEFORE THE TRIP

People who live at higher elevations have an advantage over the rest of us because they have more red blood cells — the agents that carry oxygen to the rest of the body — flowing through their bodies than us. And unless you plan on spending several weeks at altitude, your body won’t be able to match that red blood cell production in time to fit inside your vacation plans. You can acclimate some, but not that fast. So extra care has to be taken in terms of physical preparation. With that in mind…

Get yourself in shape. There are a lot of ways to do this, but I’d suggest a few basics. Plan and complete some big hikes, preferably in hilly areas. On some of these hikes, carry a backpack that will be the same size and weight as the one you plan to use in the mountains. Break in those boots if they’re new. Plan on hikes that will last as long (in number of hours) as you think it will take on your trip. I’d also recommend doing some regular cardio at least four times a week — running, cycling, swimming, stairmaster — yes to any or all of that. And sprinkle in some strength training. A rugged frame and a strong heart/set of lungs will go a long way toward helping you enjoy your alpine adventures rather than just suffer through them. Ideally, these are things you should be doing at least a few  months out from your planned trip. If you want more information on that, check out this post I wrote last year.

Test your gear. Wear and use the clothes, footwear and backpack you plan to use, and make sure the fit is good. Same goes with any tents, stoves, electronics or anything else you might use or depend on. Be familiar with how everything works, and adjust accordingly if something’s not right. Having a gear failure on the trail because of your unfamiliarity with it is a potential disaster that is entirely preventable.

Ask for advice. Got any friends who are knowledgeable about the high country? Hit ’em up. You can also find good information in online forums and through social media. People are willing to help. A question you have that goes unasked is a mystery you might not be able to afford when you’re in the backcountry.

Plan and study your routes. Again, there is a lot of information online about trails, forests, peaks, etc. Plenty of guide books, too. You don’t have to kill all spontaneity, but you should be familiar with the places you’re going, the distances you’ll travel, and the type of terrain, obstacles and hazards you’ll face. And let someone know where you are going and when you intend to return.

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WHEN YOU’RE THERE

Give yourself some time. I’ve done the thing where you drive in one day, and then a day later go hit a 14,000-foot peak. It can be done, but I don’t advise it. Rather, spend a few days at a lower elevation town or city and do some practice hikes on smaller hills. After a couple of days, head into the high country, and give yourself another day or so, embarking in acclimatization hikes. After a few days, your body will be more prepared for the task at hand.

Drink plenty of water. The Rockies are fairly dry, and because your respiration will be at an increased rate, you’ll dehydrate much faster — even in a city like Denver, at 5,280 feet — than you do at home. It’s subtle at first, and you won’t realize you’re drying out… until it’s too late. So it’s not a bad thing to be sipping water regularly throughout the day, even if you’re just chilling out. When you’re on the trail, your hydration needs will increase. A 4-8 hour day hike might mean you take 2-3 liters of water with you, and try to drink as much of that as you can. Otherwise, you’ll get nasty headaches, and possibly the beginnings of altitude sickness.

Pack right. Make sure you have enough food for your hike, and then a little more. Bring the right supplies and tools in your pack, with special detail on what you might need in an emergency. If you’re wondering what that looks like, check this link for the 10 essentials. Make sure your clothing is designed to handle a variety of weather conditions your might face.

Even if you’re from another mountain state, do not underestimate what elevation does to a hike or climb. Plenty of peak baggers and hikers hail from states with mountains that have serious elevation profiles, but aren’t as high as the Rockies. An example: I hiked Mount LeConte in Tennessee, which at various trailheads will give you 3,000 feet of elevation gain or more. Many of the peaks in Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming are similar in their base-to-summit profile. But I found the going much easier in the Appalachians than in the Rockies, even when approaching LeConte’s summit, solely because of how much thinner the air is in the Rockies. Remember that the trailheads at most peaks in the Rockies start at elevations higher the tops of any mountain on the East Coast, as well as most mountains in every western state except California (the Sierras pose their own challenges, as do some of the big ones in the Cascades). The level of exertion and complications from altitude will be much different than they are in the Smokies, the White Mountains, or just about anywhere else in the Lower 48.

Watch the weather. A bluebird day in the summer can turn into a nightmare of lighting, hail and wind in a hurry. Storms can form right over your head with little warning. Start your hikes early (pre-dawn is good, and even earlier if the route is long) and be heading down the mountain well before noon. Check forecasts closely, and don’t be surprised to see snowfall on the bookend weeks of the summer. Fall and spring hikes and climbs can be even more touch-and-go when it comes to snowstorms. Perfect conditions one day can give way to blizzards. On my early July attempt of Longs Peak last summer, snow high on the mountain fell the night before our ascent and turned route conditions into a mess of sloppy snow and ice, forcing us to abort the climb. Now imagine getting caught in the middle of that, while on exposed, steep terrain. Respect for high country weather changes is a must.

Respect the land and its permanent residents. Stay on the trail and don’t stomp all over delicate alpine tundra. If you bring a dog, keep it under control and don’t let it chase after wildlife. Camp 100 feet or more away from streams. If established fire pits are available, camp fires are fine — provided the conditions are not prone to forest fires and camp fires are allowed by park and/or forestry officials. Haul out your trash, and don’t burn it. Only use deadfall wood for fires, make sure all fires are completely extinguished before you leave a fire pit unattended. If you have any doubts at all about whether you are allowed (established wilderness areas do not permit camp fires) or should build a camp fire, skip it. Leave the trail and your campsite in as good or better condition than how you found it. And do not feed wildlife. Our food is not good for them, and feeding wild animals conditions them to see humans as a food source.

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So those are some ideas. Good advice can be found at this link. And most of all, enjoy your time in the high country.

Bob Doucette

A river, an election and a game-changer for Tulsa

The Arkansas River, just south of downtown Tulsa.

The Arkansas River, just south of downtown Tulsa.

Elections on Tuesday night may have been a game-changer for the city of Tulsa.

A number of things were on the ballot, but one issue in particular — more than $500 million for economic development — has the possibility of putting Tulsa on the national map of outdoor recreation.

The proposition, which earned more than 60 percent approval from voters, does a number of things. Two of those really stand out.

The first — two dams on the Arkansas River to “put water in the river,” or basically create a couple of small reservoirs that should provide consistent bodies of water.

The second — $7.6 million to acquire land for the expansion of the Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness Area.

Let’s start with the dams. As it stands, water flowing in the river through Tulsa is at the mercy of how much is released from the upstream Keystone Dam. Keystone provides flood control while creating a large lake for recreation and water supply. Keystone also has a hydroelectric power station. All of these purposes affect how much water is released downstream. Sometimes the river is full, sometimes it’s mostly sand bars. The latter is more common than not, and aside from fishing, there isn’t much you can do with a partially drained river.

Creating larger bodies of water on the river offers a number of possibilities. To see what that looks like, all you have to do is drive 90 minutes down the turnpike to Oklahoma City and observe what has happened there.

A smaller river — the North Canadian — flows by downtown Oklahoma City. OKC is drier than Tulsa, and in its natural state, the Canadian is more of a prairie trickle than anything else. But as part of a large sales tax package passed in the 1990s, a dam system was built that turned the dusty Canadian — dubbed the Oklahoma River — into an inviting stretch of calm, flat water within walking distance of Oklahoma City’s downtown entertainment district.

The Oklahoma River project created an entirely new outdoor recreation culture out of nothing. A couple of universities started rowing teams. A number of boathouses were built. Rowing, kayaking and other water sports began to flourish. An Olympic training center was established in what is now called the Boathouse District. Regional and national competitions happen in Oklahoma City. And very soon, an addition to the river project — a whitewater kayaking course — will open. The Boathouse District has turned into the next hot draw for Oklahoma City. Most importantly, it’s exposing people to a new form of outdoor recreation that should help future generations of Oklahomans lead active, healthier lives.

These are the types of things that happen in mountain communities or seaside cities, not in the middle of the Southern Plains. And yet there it is.

The potential for something similar — or even greater — happening in Tulsa is very real. The Arkansas River is considerably larger than the Canadian, and the prospect of a couple of large flatwater sections of the in town creates the possibility of all sorts of water sports taking off.

Outdoor recreation as a focus of Arkansas River development is the city’s best bet. We’ve seen what’s happened in Oklahoma City. Farther east, in Chattanooga, Tennessee, leaders there took advantage of their river and the surrounding hills and mountains to create a vibrant outdoor culture that has become a huge part of that city’s economy. Chattanooga has been so successful that it earned Outside Magazine’s top city in the U.S. in 2015, the second time it’s won that honor.

Oklahoma lacks the topography of the Smokies, but Tulsa is in a position to compete. The dams would be anchored by A Gathering Place for Tulsa — the huge, $350 million park now being constructed along the river — and Turkey Mountain, widely recognized as one of the best mountain biking  destinations in the country. All of it will be connected via an extensive River Parks trail system that already exists on both sides of the river. The southernmost dam will be close to the Oklahoma Aquarium, a substantial facility that is a good-sized draw in its own right.

The city would be wise to focus on outdoor recreation and resist the temptation to line the banks of a newly full river with box stores, apartment complexes and subdivisions. Those would be the easy things, but would lack the pull that the river could have as a quality of life asset focused on outdoor recreation. The opportunity is huge.

This vista was once destined to be a shopping center parking lot. It's now going to be protected, wild park land.

This vista was once destined to be a shopping center parking lot. It’s now going to be protected, wild park land.

A second, smaller portion of this project — the $7.6 million for Turkey Mountain — dovetails nicely with the river dam projects. It closes the circle on a drama that began in 2014 when outlet mall developer Simon Properties announced it would build a shopping center a Turkey Mountain’s western edge. The plan faced stiff community opposition, so much so that it moved on to another location.

The land in question was still in limbo, so two community benefactors — the George Kaiser Family Foundation and QuikTrip Corp. — plunked down the money to take the acreage in question off the market. Passage of Tuesday’s proposal will pay back those benefactors (their purchase was basically a loan) and fold that land into the River Parks system. There will be enough money left over for more improvements at Turkey Mountain, and perhaps (this is speculation on my part) the purchase of more, adjacent land.

This  is great news for outdoor enthusiasts in the Tulsa area. Turkey Mountain has long been a favorite place to go for mountain bikers, trail runners, hikers, equestrians and nature lovers. Its popularity has grown over the years and is increasingly a destination for families. Its expansion is a public commitment to maintaining and growing the value of urban green spaces, a forward-thinking concept that is at the root of why the mall plan was rejected and why, now, Turkey Mountain’s trail system has become a priority. (Future prospects for Chandler Park, with all the trail amenities of Turkey Mountain, plus rock climbing and bouldering areas, look good as well.)

Tulsa’s current economy shows that dependence on the energy industry can be risky. Economic diversification should be a priority going forward. By adopting an outdoor recreation strategy that involves the river, the dams, and Turkey Mountain, Tulsa can transform itself into a draw for visitors, and even a place where people and companies want to be.

Was Tuesday’s election really a game-changer? It depends how the river corridor is managed from this point forward. But if the city plays its cards right, maybe Outside Magazine looks at us for its top cities list.

Bob Doucette

My favorite mountain photos

Sunrise on the Longs Peak Trail, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

Sunrise on the Longs Peak Trail, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

Two short facts about me: I love the mountains, and I like to take pictures of them. I’m not a great photographer, but the cool thing about the mountains is their very nature can make a mediocre photographer look pretty good.

Another fact: I can get wordy. This post is going to be the opposite of that. It’s going to be all about the images of peaks that I love. So here we go…

Misty mountains

Peak 18 and Windom Peak, Colorado.

Peak 18 and Windom Peak, Colorado.

This was taken in a break in the weather during a soggy backpacking and peak bagging trip in southwestern Colorado. We spent hours in our tents waiting for the weather to improve. The occasional lulls in the rain gave us scenes like this.

Tundra in bloom

Looking down the trail on Cupid. Front Range, Colorado.

Looking down the trail on Cupid. Front Range, Colorado.

Last summer, the weather — again — conspired against me. But I found a brief window near Loveland Pass to do a solo hike of Cupid, a 13,000-foot peak along the Front Range. Gray skies, snow patches and loads of wildflowers made this sweet stretch of singletrack one of the more memorable images I have.

Don’t fence me in

Glass Mountain, Oklahoma.

Glass Mountain, Oklahoma.

While driving to Black Mesa, Oklahoma, I drove through a patch of short peaks and mesas in the northwestern part of the state that caught my eye. I love the lines in this one, from the high, wispy clouds in the sky to the fence line in the foreground. Added to that, the textures of the mountain itself. It’s not a big mountain, but it sure is pretty.

Holy moly

Holy Cross Ridge, near Minturn, Colorado.

Holy Cross Ridge, near Minturn, Colorado.

I took this photo from the summit of Mount of the Holy Cross. The camera is not a good one — from an iPhone 3 — but the profile of the ridge, the snow, and the way the sun was hitting it made it pretty striking.

Brooding over mountains

Huron Peak, Colorado.

Huron Peak, Colorado.

Another one from the iPhone 3. I snapped this one hiking down the mountain, and the timing was good — a storm was forming over the top of the peak. It’s always good to get below treeline before storms roll in, and it made for a cool image as well.

Mountain monarch

Longs Peak, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

Longs Peak, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

Longs Peak is one of the most photogenic mountains I’ve ever seen. It’s big, dramatic and wild. It will test you, but it will also reward you with vivid, dramatic scenery that look great in pictures. I might add that pictures do not do this mountain much justice.

Hiking into mystery

Summit ridge on Missouri Mountain, Colorado.

Summit ridge on Missouri Mountain, Colorado.

Another memorable solo outing. Dodgy weather almost made this one a no-go, but conditions held long enough to bag the summit. While on the ridge, swirling clouds made this part of the trail appear to vanish into the mists. It was surreal and amazing to hike this stretch of alpine singletrack.

Ancient reflections

Mount Mitchell, Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, Oklahoma.

Mount Mitchell, Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, Oklahoma.

I cut my teeth on Class 3 and 4 climbing on this one. This scene framed itself nicely. The light in the sky is a little flat, but I liked the way the mountain is reflected in the water, and how you can see all the grooves in this ancient granite crag. The Wichitas are hundreds of millions of years old, but still stand proudly over the western Oklahoma prairie.

Clothed in white

Northeastern San Juan Range, near Lake City, Colorado.

Northeastern San Juan Range, near Lake City, Colorado.

You can see four 13,000-foot peaks in this one, graced with late spring snow — Coxcomb, Redcliff, Precipice and Heisshorn. The suncupped snow in the foreground is actually the summit of Wetterhorn Peak, which contrasts nicely with the peaks in the middle of the frame and the skies far to the north. Breathtaking scenery atop my favorite mountain.

Adventure is out there

Overlooking the Angle of Shavano Coulior, Mount Shavano, Colorado.

Overlooking the Angel of Shavano Coulior, Mount Shavano, Colorado.

A shot of one of my adventure buddies, Johnny Hunter, on our first snow climb on Mount Shavano. The sweeping lines of the trail, the couloir and the saddle of the mountain, combined with the sky in the background, just screams “spirit of adventure” to me.

Moment before a triumph

Mount Shavano summit.

Mount Shavano summit.

Another one from Mount Shavano. This was taken less than a hundred feet from the summit. Johnny is paused here, looking up. To me, this captures the moment when you realize that victory is near — the hard work, physical strain, whipping winds — all of it is converging on a slice of time when you’re about to top out after a big day on the mountain. It’s a sweet feeling that keeps us coming back for more.

Watch your step

Summit of Uncompahgre Peak, near Lake City, Colorado.

Summit of Uncompahgre Peak, near Lake City, Colorado.

My official “sweaty palms” photo from the top of the San Juans’ highest mountain, Uncompahgre Peak. It’s a simple hike to the top with a small stretch of scrambling near the summit. But the north face cliffs are sheer. This shot is looking 700 feet straight down.

Seasons in flux

Looking east from the summit of Uncompahgre Peak.

Looking east from the summit of Uncompahgre Peak.

Rain and graupple falling to the east gave these peaks a frosty appearance over the Labor Day weekend of 2009. A very moody image that shows how the weather and mountains interact.

Striking figure

Wetterhorn Peak, Colorado.

Wetterhorn Peak, Colorado.

My favorite mountain, Wetterhorn, as seen from the summit of Matterhorn Peak. Wetterhorn offers so many dramatic profiles and is an incredible (and surprisingly accessible) mountain to climb. The spiny connecting ridge between the two mountains offers a little more visual spice that symbolizes the wildness of the San Juans.

So there you have it. You’ll notice that all of these are from two states. I’ve hiked and climbed mountains in New Mexico, Montana, Tennessee and even China, but it is coincidence that my favorite mountain pics come from the two states — Colorado and Oklahoma — where I’ve lived the longest.

I’d like to see your favorite mountain pics. So here’s what I’m proposing: Go to the Proactiveoutside Facebook page (please “like” it if you haven’t already!) and put your best mountain pic in the comments that accompany this post. Include a brief description of what mountain we’re looking at, where it is, and any other interesting information about the image. If I get enough, I’ll compile them and post them in a future blog of your best images. So let’s see em!

Bob Doucette

Four things that make a great trail race

The results (aftermath?) of a good trail race.

The results (aftermath?) of a good trail race.

I did a trail race last weekend, one of my favorites that’s right in town. It’s the Snake Run, a unique race where you run as many miles as you can for either three or six hours. Winners are based on who covers the most ground on a winding loop through some of the mellower single track on Turkey Mountain in Tulsa. Some people come out and really grind out a lot of miles (the gamesmanship with these folks is something to behold), while others grab a few loops, say hey to friends and have a mellower good time. All types are welcomed.

The passage of time sometimes makes it easy to forget why these smaller trail races are so great. I took some stock on that subject during this one. And after running for almost six hours, I had plenty of time to contemplate it. So here are some thoughts…

The race has to be interesting. People will come back to races that go through fantastic scenery, provide a great challenge or attract excellent competition. If you’re the type who wants — and finds — all three, you’ll probably mark that event on your calendar every year.

It has to be well-run. Problems with timing, course management, etc. are sure-fire ways to have people not return. If you have a race director who runs a tight ship, everyone is happy, the race gets a good reputation and more people come back year after year.

You have to have good aid stations. The best trail running aid stations are a sight to behold. Trail runners and ultra runners know what competitors want and need. You won’t see aid stations with only water, sports drinks and power gels. You’re going to see all kinds of salty, or sweet, and definitely tasty food choices to keep you powered through your run on a good trail race aid station. You might even see some beer or liquor, just to keep things interesting. At one aid station this weekend, a volunteer saw the salt lines on my tech shirt, snagged a salt tablet and made sure I downed it with some water. My friends, that’s how an aid station is done.

You’ve got to feel the love. This one is harder to nail down. But it starts at the top, from the RD to the volunteers, and to the runners themselves. Friendliness, encouragement, high-fives and good times when it’s over are what get people coming back for more. I’ve always got that at the Snake Run (runners, fast and slow, saying “good job!” or “nice going!” to each other as they passed by was frequent). On my last loop, me and a runner from Missouri chatted it up, and it made the pain subside for awhile. The trail running community is pretty awesome, and if you run the type of race that attracts these kind of folks, you’ll only build onto the sport.

There are worse ways to spend the day. (Jessica Wiley photo)

There are worse ways to spend the day. (Jessica Wiley photo)

So those are some of my ideas, and I can tell you that the Snake Run checks all the boxes for me. That’s why I’ve run it four years straight.

What makes a great trail race for you? Let’s hear it in the comments.

Bob Doucette

Seen on the ride: A two-wheeled cruise along the river

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When I was a kid, you could hardly get me off my bike. If the weather was good and I had somewhere to go, I was on that red Schwinn 10-speed as fast as my little legs would take me.

I did hill repeats on that thing. Pedaled to friends’ homes. It was my ride to my favorite fishing holes.

But I became a teenager, had friends with cars, and upon getting my driver’s license, pretty much abandoned the bike as a mode of transportation. Sure, I rode every now and then, including a couple of hilariously ridiculous attempts at mountain biking in my 20s. But for many years, if the journey wasn’t on foot or behind the wheel, it wasn’t happening.

A move last fall inspired me to start a bike commute to work. The rig of choice, a 20-year-old Trek mountain bike, is actually a fine piece of machinery. Reliable as all get-out. And cheap. Just $150 off a friend.

About the same time I was soliciting social media for bikes for sale, a co-worker offered to pawn off a $75 road bike. I didn’t need it, but at that price, what the heck? A bike built for pavement might be a nice alternative to all this running I do, right?

It’s an aluminum frame 10-speed — very light, definitely not fancy. It needs some work — I sound like a rattletrap when cruising by — but it’s rideable. As the weather has improved, I’ve taken her out for a spin a few times, mostly to do something different and squeeze the life out of every last bit of weekend daylight I can get.

I love being outside. I run a lot. I hike some. Hiking is awesome when you’re looking to do something outside and don’t want to kill yourself physically. You can, of course — hiking in the Rockies will flat wear you out, as will any kind of backpacking. But in my local woods, you can take your time and be very chill. The trouble is, you can’t cover much distance unless you want to spend a bunch of time out there. I’m good with that, but life happens and doesn’t always allow for a day-long trek.

Running will get you that mileage a lot faster. Even at my pedestrian pace, I can run for an hour or two and cover a lot of ground, see a bunch of things and generally have a great time doing it.

Funny thing about running, though. It’s hard. You sweat a lot and come back from any decent-sized run pretty spent, even beat-up. Want a good excuse to call it a day and go to bed by 8 p.m.? Pound out a 10-mile trail run with lots of vert. Or sign up for and run a marathon. Problem solved. But if you look to have some pluck later in the day and don’t want to sweat out every last bit of energy you have, choosing a run for every outdoor adventure may not be the best thing.

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The bike is another matter. On a bike, you can ride 10 or 20 miles and feel pretty good when you’re done. You can see a lot. You can see it while whizzing by and not feel like you’re going to die, and do it all in an hour or two while still being up for taking your gal/guy on a date or meeting up with friends for a brew or five. Yes, you can slaughter yourself on a bike if you so choose (see mountain biking), but you can also just cruise along, get your heart rate up a little, but not tax your heart and lungs to the point of self-destruction.

I’m digging the cruiser rides. A lot. We have bike trails in Tulsa that follow both banks of the Arkansas River, and they’re mostly flat and kinda pretty. That’s where I’ve been going lately.

On Saturday, I had a long agenda ahead of me. I hit the gym, then rewarded myself with a short but hilly trail run. I ran it pretty hard, but when it was done I felt I had something left in the tank. So I hurried home, grabbed the road bike and spirited off to the bike trails for an hour of riding as the sun dipped to the west.

Aside from my noisy/cranky gears, my rides are quiet. There is wind in my face and ears, but I’m not bothered by the labored breathing of running. I like the quiet while on the saddle of my bike.

And like I said, I saw a lot of stuff. There were a bunch of families out, and on the lonelier parts of the trail a few runners and other cyclists. But not so many to make things crowded.

I found a spot to stop and take a look across the river, admiring the colors of the skies reflecting off the river as the sun began to set.

No one was out there, and the river lazily made its way south. Canada geese announced their pending arrival, squawking and honking as they made their final approach to the stiller waters below. I drank that in, and once they’d settled down, I turned around to head back.

Recreational life along the river isn’t confined to runners and cyclists. People like to fish the river, too. I saw a couple of guys walking south as I rode north, a full stringer in hand. “Nice haul!” I shouted as I zipped by. I couldn’t quite hear their response, but it looked like they had a decent day.

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Cruising north, I rode past a couple of retention ponds near a big power plant. Industrial skylines are interesting to me, and when you add that to the yellows, oranges and reds of dusk reflecting from the ponds, it added up to a really cool visual. Gorgeous, really. Mountain lakes are far more beautiful, sure, but I’ll take what I can get and what I got was pretty good.

Nearing the end of the ride, I coasted past a more crowded part of the trail system, where there’s a restaurant and more green space for people to hang out, listen to music and play with their kids. There were some hippie-looking 20-somethings lounging in some hammocks, two dudes playing a guitar and a drum, and one guy twirling fire pots tied to chains. Seeing how the sun had just set, that fiery display stood out — an exclamatory sight on what had been a peaceful but sensory-rich little ride.

People spend a lot of money on vacations, heading off to tropical beaches, European hot spots or swanky ski resorts. I envy that. But then I think back to picking up that childhood pastime of hopping on my bike and zooming off to somewhere, and the freedom it brings. Nothing epic was achieved. No fancy vacation pics to put on Facebook for people to fawn over. But it was a good time.

A really good time.

Bob Doucette