[Editor’s Note: The following is the first installment of Joe Grant’s From My Doorstep column, which will highlight mountain running, living, and culture as found on his runs close to home.]
I wake to harrowing winds lashing relentlessly against the side of our cabin. The harsh dissonance of the side-paneling and aging roof interacting with the elements makes me wonder how long this centenarian dwelling will remain standing. I groggily make my way to the bathroom, noting that the inside of our front door windows have frosted over again. Despite the apparent coarseness of our living situation, winter up on the hill is actually quite cozy. I get dressed and stretch lightly, glancing periodically south out the back window at the first golden rays of light on the horizon. The wind, as it so often does with the rising sun, renounces its pre-dawn jangle and quiets down. I set off west up Gold Hill road inching forward in a tight, creaky shuffle. At close to 9,000 feet, the thin air and gentle uphill of the first mile and a half always has me breathing a touch harder than I would like. However, I am appreciative of the grade as it offers a tranquil invitation to ease into the run.
Antique farm machinery adorns the grounds of the Colorado Mountain Ranch, a youth summer and winter camp. Horses neigh and trot rhythmically in their enclosure. The ranch always provides several minutes of eclectic entertainment as I run by. My attention is soon absorbed by the Indian Peaks that gloriously occupy the distant view up ahead. They taunt me for a minute as I wish I was up there amongst the peaks, but as I settle into my stride, the brilliance of the visual is satisfying enough. The dusty, rolling, dirt road brings back memories of running in the Rift Valley of Kenya. There is a clean, simple aesthetic to moving swiftly, effortlessly, along a dirt track, feeling the vastness of one’s surroundings, alone. I let that thought accompany me, spiking my step with vivacity as I connect with the Switzerland Trail.
The once narrow-gauge railroad line, cut into the deep valley slope, winds its way down to the hamlet of Sunset. Sugarloaf Mountain, a typically unimpressive, bald, lump of choss, shines from this vantage point in its brightest light against the monochrome palette of the late January sky.
Once in the valley, a handful of rusty, old vehicle carcasses line the six unpaved miles down Fourmile Canyon drive. Quirky log cabins still stand strong after the devastating fire that engulfed the area a couple of years back. Signs of the old mining days are everywhere, with visible holes blasted into the earth’s flank and no trespassing signs barring access to closed sites. The abandoned mines contrasted with charred trees offer a morally perplexing sight. One side portrays the land pillaged by us – at the mercy of our industrial spirit, the other side shows the land’s retaliation – us at the mercy of the land. I believe these scars of destruction serve as reminders for us to live in a gentler, more nurturing way. The land also educates my style of running, calling for grace in my movements in an accompaniment of its undulations.
As I reach Salina and turn north, the grade kicks up significantly for the four last miles to home. As my breathing becomes labored and my muscles tense, I patiently work this difficult stretch, balancing my effort with the demands of the terrain. On a simple outing, from my doorstep, I am reminded of both how to run and how to live.