Through the dark forest we hike, headlamps bobbing in the inky blackness, my vision focused solely on the narrow slot of trail illuminated before me.
Every now and then we catch a glimpse of the night sky through the giant pines looming above, so when we reach a meadow we turn off our lights, let our eyes adjust to the darkness and then cast them upward. The moonless sky is dense with radiant celestial bodies—sparkling stars, gleaming planets and crystal-clear constellations—and through them all the Milky Way streaks like a frothy wave in a sea of ebony. We gaze at the heavens in wonder.
Lights back on, we continue hiking in the twilight, following the trail as it winds up the mountainside. An hour later the eastern horizon starts to glow orange, crimson and purple behind the sawteeth of distant mountains.
By the time the sun’s golden rays reach us, we are on the summit ridge of Mount Sopris, almost 13,000 feet high and far above the Roaring Fork Valley from where we came.
From the lofty summit we cast our eyes far and wide: east to the peaks of the Gore and Sawatch Ranges, north to the Flat Tops, west to the mesa country and, to the south and close by, the Elk Mountains. This is my personal geography, the mountains, valleys and canyons in which I roam.
As I watch the line between light and darkness creeping down the mountainsides in this golden hour of the morning, I see in my mind the trails written into this landscape like scribbles, through the valleys yawning below, the forests, meadows and up the surrounding peaks. These trails are the lifeblood of my personal geography, connecting me to nature and to the wild and beautiful places I am so fortunate to explore. Every season brings a different experience on my trails and I immerse myself fully whether on foot or bike.
Coming down from the summit, the late summer air is thick and heavy. I feel the fingertips of fall are wrapped around the dog days of summer. Soon autumn will be here and I look forward to it, such an exquisite time of year.
There is no better way to spend the day than on a trail winding through an aspen forest, dappled sunlight shimmering through the golden quakies with the crunch of leaves under foot or wheel.
Come late fall there is a subtle urgency of impending winter. We ride our favorite trails over and over again…one last time, we say, one last time.
By November the air is cold, the sky is full of ragged clouds, gray like raw wool, and snow has fallen on the rotting leaves and barren hillsides. It is winter up high, fresh snow plastered on the twin summits of Mount Sopris. We ride through the sagebrush, its pungent smell rising in the chilly evening air, as the sounds of bugling elk carry across the mountainsides.
And then one night the winds howl through the forest, a death rattle in the trees, and I cannot sleep. I know the first valley snows are on their way and my trails will soon be covered and gone for the winter. In the morning I run up high, as far as I can, breaking trail with fresh snow squeaking underfoot. The mountains prepare to sleep and I say goodbye to my trails until spring.