Chalk up a win in the seizing opportunity category. On the recommendation of my friend Reed, ambassador extraordinaire to Steamboat Springs, Colorado, I and my new friend Sterling decided to brave the pre-dawn hours and volunteer for the Steamboat Springs Hot Air Balloon Rodeo. We weren't totally sure what that entailed, but we were promised a possible opportunity to go up in a balloon and lots of fun in the fray of balloon deployment on the ground if the ride didn't pan out.
Apparently the first few hours of the day are the best for ballooning, since the efficiency of the balloon is best when the temperature differential is greatest between inside and outside of the balloon. Thus, the ballooners thrust into the sky almost as soon as it begins to get light out, before the sun has a chance to warm the air. After a false start trying to match up with a balloon host whose friends showed up at the last minute, Sterling and I joined up with Gerry and Tom from Albuquerque, who quickly put us to work unfurling the balloon and getting everything lined up for inflation. I was given the task of manning the top rope and trying to keep the balloon steady as it first rises from lying flat on the ground. If it goes up too quickly, it can continue past the vertical position and swing back and forth, which is apparently considered poor form.
As soon as the balloon was inflated, Gerry asked if one of us wanted to get in the balloon. A quick back and forth between Sterling and me ("You go!", "No, you go!") decided that I would have the honor of taking a ride, and I jumped inside the basket. With just a few bursts of propane overhead (I may have lost a few hairs on the top of my head), the balloon rose above the ground and we were on our way. Since it was a rodeo, there were a couple of challenges to maneuver for the crowd, the first of which being a quick dip in the lake next to the launch area. Gerry deftly maneuvered the basket to skim us across the surface of the lake, as we jumped up onto the side of the basket to keep our feet from getting (very) wet.
Next he applied more flame to take us up, soaring to about 1200 feet above ground (7800 feet above sea level). The perfect calm as we ascended was unlike any other sort of flying I've experienced, and the 360 degree views were unparalleled. As we drifted toward town, we caught spectacular views of the entire valley. Gerry noted how the air currents were taking other balloons in order to attempt to navigate back to the starting point. We were instructed to look out for power lines and other obstacles as we descended to a first potential landing site, but the site proved too congested and we ascended again, drifting up within arms reach of some trees and within shouting distance of a few surprised onlookers gazing up at us from their patio just below us.
The abortive landing proved fortunate, as we then ascended above the first air current into a column moving in the opposite direction. A few minutes later, we were above the launch site again and planned our descent to take us back to our origin. Gerry expertly maneuvered us back to the landing site, and we rejoined Sterling, Tom, and our other crew members to a champagne toast and breakfast burritos. It being only 9 in the morning, Sterling and I remarked how much we had done so early in the day and plotted a lazy afternoon by the pool.
My friend Sterling and I planned to hike Hahn's Peak, a short distance outside Steamboat Springs. After an autocorrect mishap delightfully transformed "Hahn's Peak" into "Hans Peak", our goal became affectionately personified into a happy-go-lucky German. Silly accents and outbursts would be the theme of the day, as breakfast at the Hans (properly Hahn's) Peak Roadhouse brought up the only association I have with the word "roadhouse", this scene from Family Guy.
"Hallo I am Hans. Sank you for climbing me today! (Roadhouse.)"
Teutonic triflings aside, the Roadhouse breakfast burrito was pretty good and quite substantial, providing the necessary fuel for a quick jaunt up the 1432 feet of elevation gain to the 10839 foot peak, where we were rewarded with panoramic views of the surrounding area and little to no lightning. Oh yes, we did hear some rumblings of nearby thunderstorms as we neared the top. We kept a close eye on them as we tentatively scurried up the last scree slopes, ready to turn back quickly if the storms decided to visit our new friend Hans. Luckily they remained at bay and we summitted without incident. After returning to the car, we treated ourselves to some ice cream at the Clark Store, then did a little exploring of the nearby forest roads, which brought us through terrain with some great variety of ecosystems, a charming aspen forest being the highlight. It was a great day with the best of company and a pretty good example of why I'm out here on this journey in the first place (mountains! trees! fresh air!).
Steamboat Springs is generally a wonderful, welcoming place with a great community of warm inviting people. Some of the locals, however, are not as well behaved.
The story begins two nights ago. I awoke in the wee hours of the morning to a strange sound, and as I peered out of my tent into the darkness, I caught a glimpse of a porcupine directly under me, doing what I assumed was licking water out of my shower apparatus. Porky shoved off not long after I started shining a flashlight in his face, so I didn't think much of it until I investigated in the morning and found my beloved shower mat, guardian of clean feet in dusty environments, chewed up around the edges. The nerve! Apparently porcupines enjoy dining on twigs and bark, and the formerly-pristine cuts of reclaimed redwood in the shower mat must have been a tempting snack.
Somewhat dismayed that the aesthetics of my mat were tarnished, I hoised the mat a little higher up this time and more out of the way, over the shower apparatus that I hoped would deter further access to the mat. Unfortunately, the porcupine was more tenacious than I, and I awoke again around 2:30 this morning to find not only the familiar porcupine, but its child beside it, teaming up to attack both my mat and the tubes of the shower apparatus. They were a bit more persistent this time as well, continuing their assault until I climbed out of my tent to chase them off with a water spray bottle. I stowed the mat more safely out of the way of hungry ground-beast, and went back to sleep with a bit less material to protect my
delicate burly woodsman toes from the forest floor.