The feeling of being cooped up during the quarantine has been rough, although I wouldn’t say devastating. But that’s because I live in a house in Colorado where hikes and biking have been an option throughout, backyard with a slackline and patio with couches outside. Earlier in the spring it was drinks by the firepit, some backyard camping when the night time temperatures still dipped into the 30s.
Ok, so it hasn’t been rough.
But still, there has been a lack of adventure, and as the weeks have dragged into months, and we’re already pushing three of them at home, it has felt a bit like groundhog day.
You learn a lot about who you live with in a situation like this. As it turns out, I’m the only one who isn’t totally content to within the confines of our house and yard. The kids are fine. My wife is ecstatic.
I’m not good.
We’re at that time of year in Colorado when if you’re going to do something outside, it better be early. As the hot days collide with cool nights and valley and elevated temperatures diverge, afternoon thunderstorms become as regular as clockwork. Sharp, swift, and violent, they blow through like a freight train with mid-day calm erupting into fifty mile an hour winds, thunder rumbling and lightning flashing, thick raindrops quickly soaking the lush landscape.
It’s beautiful outside, lush and green on the hillsides where it has been brown all fall and winter, dry air, no mosquitos – perfect for outdoor activities. It’s just that you better be ready to turn around at noon and down from any mountaintop by 2, or you could be stuck in something nasty.
I’ve seen videos of hikers getting lifted right off of the ground and thrown into scree fields, and lightning strikes are common.
So, I knew all of this when I headed out for a ride the other day at about two in the afternoon. Dark clouds where gathering over the foothills just a few blocks to the west of my house as I loaded up my water bottles, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and a couple of bars. A light rainjacket is always stuffed in my bag. I know enough that this little windproof layer comes in handy.
So I set off for a thirty mile ride I’ve been doing lately, heading north, parallelling the mountains instead of riding straight up into them, avoiding a first gear grinder straight up the hills. This ride spreads out my elevation gains over the length of the ride, shorter climbs up followed by swooping downhills through the green valleys, groundhogs scattering and crying their shrill birdcall as I fly by.
After about ten miles, I’m just grinding out gravel roads north of town, nestled in the rolling pastures and farmland, mooing at cows and waving at the other riders who more often than not don’t wave back. Riding is serious business here. Apparently.
I’m looking over the rolling green fields to the mountains to my left as the low rumble of thunder begins. The hills are alive, breathing smoke as cold rain begins to hit the baked earth, looking like travel photos from South East Asia in their temporary tropical state of green.
I knew this was going to happen, so I smile and laugh a little. Leaving the house knowing that you are going to get crushed in a squall, but needing to be out in the elements, even if it is within the confines of a bike ride from the house.
‘I’m pretty sure Mark Jenkins got rained on when he road his bike across Russia,’ I think to myself. I’ve been reading a lot of travel writing during the lockdown, my imagination on adventures in wild places all over the globe despite my physical inability to go anywhere.
I pedal up to the top of a hill to take a picture when the rain hits me, first in drops then in a wall. The wind comes out of nowhere, blasting the dirt and dust into a sandstorm as the horses turn their backs to it.
In my mind, as I left the house, I just pedaled through this inevitable band of energy, but in this spot, right where I had stopped to take the picture, was the perfect shelter. So I took it.
Right where I had stopped a ditch had been dug for a pipe to run under the road, nothing huge, the pipe about 12” in diameter, and the ditch just a couple of feet in the ground, but wide as it approached the pipe.
The grass had grown tall all around the area in the late spring rain and a shrub of some sort, thick and blown over, blasted the same way from the daily winds and crumbled down by heavy late spring snows, formed a dome right over the depression in the ground.
I couldn’t help it. Looking first for any slithering residents (rattlesnakes being common), I crawled right in and marveled at the perfection of the wind protection. I had pulled on my raincoat, so had that slight but important layer on and pulled out a sandwich to eat.
If this band of weather was like the ones that had blasted through the area each day this week, than it would be intense but short, so I layed back and got comfortable, a freight train of wind absolutely howling just above my head.
I was grinning like an idiot as I layed in this ditch, insanely the happiest moment since I’ve been locked down, the end of the ski season probably the last time I felt so immersed in the outdoors.
As expected, it only took about twenty minutes to blast through, I had almost fallen asleep for a nap in the dirty simple luxury of my shelter. With just a few scattered rain drops falling but the wind calm, the clouds marched on to the east allowing the sun to return.
In that strange after storm ozone that colors the air, greens were even greener, contrasts sharper. Horses had returned to their grazing and came over to the fence as I rode up, curious that we were all out in this strange sudden weather together.
I stopped to let one sniff my hand and stroked it’s head. Laughing at my good fortune and ready for the ride home with my mission accomplished.