Postcard: Red Rocks at night

I’ll be pleasantly surprised if I ever come across a more majestic music venue than Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, Colorado. Every year I tell myself to be sure and see at least one concert there. It doesn’t always happen. Summers are short, and dates fill up fast with other obligations. But my two brothers and I made it happen this past Saturday for Reggae on the Rocks, the venerable, all-day festival that spits you out feeling like you ran 50 miles, instead of just watched reggae all afternoon and evening. Sunday morning was no different from any of the prior years I attended, nor was the confirmation that it had been worth it.

Photo by Devon O’Neil

Mountain Pasages: The Decline

What happens when your body starts to break down? When trail running is no longer an option? It’s time to simply accept the downhill run. By Alan Stark

For Oliver Sachs

Raging against the dying of the light, while somewhat gratifying, is nonetheless pounding sand and about as useful. In my case, the “dying light” is trail running, a life sport I can’t do anymore. The low-level knee pain afterward is not worth it. Losing sleep because of knee ache makes me grumpy, and too much ibuprofen has the potential to turn my liver into goo.

 The bike route from Breckenridge to Frisco starts in town at the gondola and winds along the Blue River. Over to the left heavy gray clouds pour over the peaks and down to the ski area. The sky is lighter toward Frisco. The bet I am making with myself is that I can outrun the storm. This is not the first time I have made this bet. I seem to not learn much from previous experience, as I often let my enthusiasm override observable facts.

Most of this route to Frisco is slightly downhill giving me the illusion that I might be the strongest person on a road bike today, when in fact, the physics associated with being twenty pounds overweight makes the carbon fiber bike go faster. I am one speed on a bike far superior to my skills…tubby speed.

signThe short-term answer is to see an orthopedic surgeon at the end of the month. He’s the same guy who stitched my quad to my patella. The operation was slick. He drilled holes laterally through the patella, laced sutures through the holes, and then stitched the sutures into the tendon and quad muscles. Then he tightened the sutures and pulled the disengaged quad ligament up against the proximal side of the patella that had been roughed up.

Not so slick was the way I busted the quad running downhill on mud and ice, slipped with the knee under me, and hyper-flexed it, causing a complete separation of the quad tendon from the bone. Ouch! I love it when I look at my medical record and see the phrase “nontraumatic tear of left quadriceps tendon.” I don’t know who wrote that. It may have been the surgeon who obviously has a well-formed sense of humor.

I’m moving past the Flight for Life hanger at the hospital and along the bike trail south of Frisco. It’s raining now and I turn into town for some shelter. One of their choppers went down just before the Fourth of July. I couldn’t stop thinking of the crew as I watched the parade in Breckenridge. Med-evac crews risk everything to save a life. We must always keep moving on but sometimes it is moving on with sadness.

The streets of Frisco are filled with flatlanders, many of whom make me, with my modest pot-belly, look skinny in comparison. The rain slow downs, I pull off a rain jacket and decide I can get to Copper Mountain and if the weather keeps going south, take a shot at Vail Pass for a forty-fvie mile out-and-back ride.

The route from Frisco goes slightly uphill along Ten Mile Creek and is filled with bikes. I like the folks on rental bikes who are indomitably going uphill grimacing at the triple whammy of uphill, rain, and altitude but pushing on with an occasional shout of encouragement to one another. I live hree part-time. Altitude, rain, and steeps are all part of the game. I try to be gracious and almost always say something encouraging as I pass, “looking strong or looking good.” Inane words, but I think they appreciate the thought.

This failure of a body part is most likely due to the earlier injury, but I know the knee problem is indicative of things to come as I get older. I am slowing down. My parts are clearly out of warranty and there are a number of failures looming. This isn’t ominous to me for a number of reasons: I have a good marriage and have finished an interesting career. I have been able to live a number of years doing exactly what I wanted to do in the backcountry and never really had any long-term injuries or parts failures. Add to this a genuine thankfulness to be alive given the early death of some friends and a number of backcountry incidents that could have gone badly.

Sure, just like you, I’ve had some minor injuries. There was a broken wrist when I came unglued from a tree as a kid, a cracked radius and ulna while skiing patches of snow between the sheet ice in Vermont, and a mashed scapula from doing airtime over the handle bar of a commuter bike in the Port of Seattle complex. The dumbest and long-term painful injury came when I was trail running with my dog with his leash looped around my chest. Mac ran around one side of a tree and I ran around the other. I crashed to the ground and broke two ribs. My PCP taped me up and said, “don’t laugh for eight weeks,” Thanks Doc, not helpful.

The sky is grey and angry looking. I’ve beat the storm this far, what the hell, I’ll keep going. The route up Vail Pass from the south is surprisingly easy gaining less than 1,000 feet over four miles. There are several slight pitches that get me out of the saddle and sucking wind but it is mostly a moderate uphill crank. The danger is the tourists who ride to the top of Vail Pass in a van. Then they ride their rental bikes the twelve miles down to Frisco, usually in control. They are not exactly experienced bike handlers. I smile a good deal, but I watch them carefully as they cruise downhill.

The downhill run is always amazing. I’m slower going uphill than I used to be but getting better at managing the speed on the downhill, daring myself to not use the brakes and let the bike just freewheel. I water up in Frisco, munch on some energy food, and head home on the slightly uphill ride back to Breckenridge.

FireweedI’m a Boomer and have lost friends to some bad luck, really asinine wars, sullied drugs, excessive alcohol, and now some god-awful diseases. In the middle of the night I can see their young faces, and remember good times and laughter and exactly where I was when I heard they were gone. There is no good reason that some of them are dead and I am still here.

Did she forget to check the belay point? Did he know it was his last patrol? Would a reasonable person put something down their throat without knowing its provenance? There was always alcohol, there will always be alcohol, often too much alcohol. I never listened when I was taught that the immune system can also kill slowly and exceedingly painfully.

When I was serious about trail running I did the Pikes Peak half-marathon. I started up the Manitou Incline with a guy who said he was seventy. I was in my mid-thirties. I never saw him again until I reached the top. He told me I’d get better with age. My goal was to be able to run Pikes Peak when I was seventy. That doesn’t look like it will happen. I’ll be happy to do Vail Pass on my bike. When the riding, and skiing end the way trail running apparently has ended there is ongoing reading, writing, and gardening. I plan to learn fly-fishing, maybe try golf, and get better at backgammon. I hope to end up sitting in the mountain sun enjoying the passage of time with an old friend or dog or both, for as long as life goes on, until I stop breathing.

Alan Stark is recovering from a career in book publishing and a now a volunteer backcountry ski patroller in the Roosevelt National Forest. He lives in Breckenridge and Boulder.

Postcard: Burro racing in Idaho Springs, CO

Burro racing might be the greatest sport the world has never heard of. I covered some races back when I worked for a newspaper (the sport’s epicenter is in Colorado), and always found the scene to be hilarious. Last month, I got involved firsthand in Idaho Springs, during the annual Tommyknocker Mining Days festival. A power-hungry donkey named Marsha and I ran five miles through the hills above Clear Creek, fighting for control the whole time, before finishing back in town and rewarding ourselves with carrots (her) and beer (me). There is nothing else like it. In this photo, taken shortly before the start, a handful of our foes readied themselves for the race to come.

Photo by Devon O’Neil

Land in the Sky: Another Dummy Idea

My friend Dennis dropped by this afternoon to help me clean up a mess. I had gotten myself into some more tree trouble. These dying hemlocks just never fall the right way when I cut them down, especially when they’re near a power line or the house. I wish they didn’t do that. I wish they weren’t all dying.

This particular hemlock, when I managed to get it to fall, got all hung up in some nearby ash trees, which are also dying. There was nothing I could do about it. The hemlock just stood there like a shady Antaeus. Dennis said he’d come over and take care of it. When he pulled up in his truck, the collie barked in greeting. He barked and he barked and he barked. He barked in joy.

Dennis knew better than to let me “help” clean up this mess. He knew what he was doing. So I handed over the chainsaw and he said: “Okay, where’s this tree?” I showed him and he went to work. Dennis is a guy who “smokes with two hands” but wields a chainsaw with just one. He had that hemlock down quicker than it took me to get it all hung up in the first place. No structures were damaged in the operation. The collie continued to bark with joy.

As Dennis climbed into his truck to go home, I said thanks and it was good to see him. He said: “Now come up with a better dummy idea the next time you want to see an old bastard.” I told him that would be easy. Dennis drove off as the collie barked goodbye. I looked around at all the dying hemlocks and ashes still standing—trees I grew up with—for my next dummy idea.

Postcard: Long Beach, California

What do you notice in this photo? A cool tree, sure. Lots of hands in the air. Pretty blue sky. The Pacific. Me? I see the lady on the left side/pink mat not following the leader. What does that say about me? More broadly, what does it say about us, if I can be representative of our species? I think it says we notice the people who don’t fall in line. If that’s true, would you rather be the one people notice because you weren’t doing the same thing as everyone else? Or would you rather reach for the sky when all the others are too? Tough choice, eh? So it went last Sunday at Yoga in the Park in Long Beach.

Photo by Devon O’Neil

In Focus: Greg Von Doersten and the Big Picture of Adventure Photography

If you call yourself a pro adventure photographer and you call Jackson, Wyoming, your home, you had better be damn good. Take a look at Greg Von Doersten’s work and we think you will understand just how he has used his talented eye to make a name for himself in the proving ground of big mountain culture—and built a career as a successful commercial photographer.

Every erstwhile shutterbug with a taste for fun wants to live the dream and become a pro photographer in a mountain town. And every pro photographer wants to build on their work and succeed in the world of commercial photography. It’s tough to bridge those two worlds and hang on to your soul, but Jackson, Wyoming-based Greg Von Doersten is figuring it out. Born in California, but wandering off for school in Montana and adventure in Wyoming, Von Doersten looks to tell stories in his images and some of his best work takes a view far above the action, making it even more dramatic and engaging. Adventure photography has taken him across the planet, shooting on the Congo with pro kayaker Steve Fisher, to Tibet, to Antarctica, and to some of the wildest spots on the planet with pro athletes like Jeremy Jones and Chris Davenport. He also continues to build a name in the commercial world, shooting for outdoor brands including Helly Hansen and Zeal, and beyond the outdoor industry.  “I’m an outdoor/action sports/adventure photographer who is diving into the commercial world of work recently,” he says. “That brings up a lot of new challenges. LA and NYC are a far cry from the mountains, but I enjoy the problem solving and creative challenges of the commercial world as I dive head first into a new market for my photography.” We love to see talented artists get the credit (and cash) they deserve for their hard work…  and just take a look at these images.

2012-06-23-River-Surfing_edited“Occasionally, I like to take to the air for a unique perspective to make mankind look insignificant in nature. Here, a river surfer carves up Lunch Counter Wave on the Snake River in Alpine, Wyoming.”

RCUT-1324“The unstoppable Steph Davis, rock climber extraordinaire (and more recently moving into the BASE and Wingsuit flying realms) on “Johnny Cat,” a 511d classic in Indian Creek, Utah.”

20091610_MC_Tibet_A_093“The Potala palace in Lhasa, Tibet, taken during the evening, when the day light fades to blue and the palace is like a beacon reaching out to all of the Buddhists around the world.”


“Covering Helly Hansen apparel and Mountain Madness mountaineering guides for a a commercial shoot of the new launch of the companies techincal mountaineering line on in the North Cascades.”


“Enjoying the views of Jeremy Jones’ ‘Deeper’ team as they make their way to a first descent in the Fairweather Range in Alaska. I’ve worked with Jeremy since he was in his early 20s and saw him develop from a competition slalom rider into one of the world’s leading big mountain snowboarders.”

Red-Junk_1“Actor Steve Zahn and a friend enjoy the views from a Vietnamese junk on Halong Bay, North Vietnam. This was a previsualized shot for a feature article in Men’s Journal where I knew I would need a harness and good crew to get me up to the center of the main mast where I could take in the beauty of the bay and the surrounding floating fishing villages which the area is known for.”


SKANT_20101201_0089“Stian Hagen skis into the ink blue waters of the Antarctica Peninsula on an expedition with American ski mountaineer, Chris Davemport and Stian’s wife Andrea Binning. The team skied a number of peaks, notching a couple first descents, and attempted the first ski descent of Shackleton Peak (without success). Chris created a documentary for Red Bull media and I landed a feature with Outside magazine which ran in the 2011 adventure issue.”


“In Kinshasa the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo with our security detail after the documenting the successful kayak descent of the Grand Inga Rapids with expedition leader, Steve Fisher and kayaking team members Ben Marr, Tyler Bradt and Rush Sturges. The Congo is the second largest river in the world but sets itself apart from the rest by having the largest rapids and hydraulics in the world.”

Postcard: The High Road

When people advise you to “take the high road,” most probably don’t realize their admonition serves two purposes. Yes, the moral high road is worthwhile every time. But so is the actual high road, in this case an old mining track on 13,684-foot Bald Mountain, just east of Breckenridge. My brother was in town and my chain broke a few minutes into our initial planned route, so we doubled back to Main Street, bought a new chain, and proceeded up Plan B: the high road.

Photo by Devon O’Neil