It’s been a hot minute since I’ve gotten any exercise – I started a primarily outdoors exercise routine and then there was a blizzard and then work picked up and since then I’ve been struggling to find a moment to breathe – so I promise myself that I’m going to do something this weekend, if only to appease my pitiful whiny muscles. Saturday, I don’t have anywhere to be at all(!), so I spend the day in an amalgamation of lounging in the sun/reading Carolyn Finney’s Black Faces, White Spaces1/doing household chores I’ve been neglecting. Once Sunday rolls around, though, I haul all of my gear out of the closet, strap on my not-quite-broken-in Altra hiking shoes, stuff most of everything into my pack, and head out to climb the first Flatiron in Boulder.
The Chautauqua Trailhead is busy for the relative gloom of the day; there’s no parking at the trailhead or in the park, though I find some a couple of blocks away. The beginning of spring in Colorado, always tempestuous, seems to be taking a particular toll on all us outdoorsy folk, and we’re looking for any excuse to stretch our legs. Everyone seems pretty ambitious at the bottom of the hill, me most of all – I’m the odd one out, strapped into a crazy-bright clearly-not-a-day-pack, hands just aching for the trekking poles I left at home. It’s training, right? I’ll make do without.
My goal on this short out and back is just to see how my feet handle the new Altras2, remember what my pack feels like on my back, challenge my muscles and lungs, see something mostly new. Chautauqua’s a good place to take out-of-towners who want to see the mountains, so I’ve done about a third of this route before; out-of-towners usually only make it about a third of the way up before, between the altitude and the exertion, they tap out. Still, I manage to get turned around before I even make it to that spot, the first/second Flatiron trail junction. I’m suspicious of the trail’s sudden downward direction, though, so I stop and figure it out before I go more than a hundred paces in the wrong direction.
I can hear people whispering about me – about me, about my pack, about how “fast” I’m going. I’m passing a number of people, sure, but I don’t let it go to my head – I know I’m going to be on struggle street before too long – and not long after I turn onto the first/second Flatiron trail, sure enough, folks start passing me. I still feel like I’m doing well, though – it’s been an age3 since I’ve donned my pack, I’m in basically brand new shoes, and most of the folks on the trail are unencumbered. It’s hard not to have a positive attitude, even while huffing and puffing.
My feet, unlike my erstwhile lungs, seem to be doing just fine under the circumstances – my left arch4 is pretty skeptical about this whole “zero drop” thing, but so far, so lack-of-excruciating-pain. So lack-of-any-pain, really. I’m a little worried I’m not following the sales associate’s orders to take it easy, get used to the shoes before I try anything ambitious, but a few hours probably won’t hurt. Probably.
One two three streches of talus later, I’m standing at the bottom of a slickrock “staircase”, little more than tiny hand and feetholds chiseled into what doesn’t quite qualify as a climb. I’m acutely aware of my full and oh-so-slightly-shifty pack, making sure each step is solid before continuing upwards. I’m rewarded at the top with pleasant conversation – the gentleman who speaks is sporting Altras, too, and sure enough he did the JMT a while back. So many hikers in the Front Range!
But this isn’t anywhere near the proper top, so on I go, crowds thinning, air thinning, more breaks to satisfy my lungs, who are finally remembering how to process this oxygen stuff under pressure.
Up up up, to where a mom and daughter are confused about where their husband/dad and son/brother went – I hunt for the trail for a second before shrugging my pack off, pulling out a pro bar to munch, and snapping a bunch of pictures.
It’s not until someone pokes their heads up over a rock that the rest of the trail is revealed – where I’d initially thought it was, but I’d missed the sharp wraparound turn it did. In a flash, I’ve got my pack again, and I’m slipping through the turn and – finally – praising the god of the flat lands for a break.
It’s not too long before it’s up again, but this is the final climb – up and over the ridge, mountains in the distance. It seems the trail just kind of peters out for good, and it’s left to me to decide whether or not I want to scramble up the rock face to get all the way-all the way to the top-top. But I have both a huge pack that isn’t conducive to such things and plans for later in the evening, so I just scramble around down low for pictures.
Then it’s turning around and heading down, down down, all that way all over again.
I get about a third of the way before my legs start trembling – it’s clearly been a while, and the Altras are apparently more stressful for my calves and thighs than for my arch5 – so it’s somewhat of a race to the bottom, punctuated by pauses for uphill hikers and excitement that introducing my toes to rocks and roots no longer necessarily means stubbing them6.
I get to the bottom like a wizard, arriving precisely when I mean to – the whole trip’s taken about 2.5 hours. All in all, I’m not particularly any worse for the wear – my arch’s held up just fine, my legs, while tremble-y, aren’t in pain, and my pack still feels natural on my back – and in fact, I’m aching for more. Soon I’ll have full days on the trail and full nights under the stars. Soon enough, that’ll happen. Soon.
Information on this Trailhead can be found here.
 I’m obsessed with Black Faces, White Spaces. I think it could probably be twice as long as it is and still be interesting. As it is, Carolyn Finney discusses a lot of themes I was fascinated with in my own Master’s thesis, including (collective) memory and forgetting, translocalism/transnationalism, exclusion/marginality/liminality, and nation-building. I’m thinking about trying to get in touch with her once I finish reading it to
fangirl out talk a little shop with her.
 Awww yisss… new shoes. I’ve got the Lone Peak 2.5 in Men’s, because my feet are, as my mother fondly calls them, “Fred Flintstone Feet” (wide and flat [and out of the stone age?]). The Women’s size was a little too cozy for my liking, particularly since feet swell.
 Six months, whatever.
 Whom I, annoyed fondly, call “Old Collapsey”
 Muscle fatigue rather than tendons being upset, I’LL TAKE IT
 Big toebox FTW!