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Travel: Mountain Towns

For those of us fueled by that almost-unquenchable love of the great outdoors but who paradoxically spend most of our lives locked in the city or the suburbs, mountain towns become more than just vacation destinations. These places—with their rarified, high-elevation air; neck-craning alpine views; and easy access to trails for hiking, biking, climbing and fishing and damn near every other outdoor sport you’re itching to try—become our refuge, the places we escape to in our heads when the dogged days of mid-week reality starts to smother us. When weekend warrior outings aren’t feeding the urge to really get outside.

But mountain towns also give us sea-level residents one other very important thing: an excuse. An excuse to plan trips, to train, to try things, and to escape to the mountains. But also the excuse we all sometimes need when we’re trying new stuff (or trying stuff we’ve done many times) and we can’t exactly make it all work.

See, unless you’re some über-athlete superhero, us mortal adventurers have a glorious 48- to 72-hour window when our lungs and legs and arms haven’t acclimated to the higher elevation. When we find ourselves gasping for air at a point in a hike, ride, or run when we’re typically hitting our stride back on our local trail.

At first, frustration and confusion floods our senses as we gasp for breath.

“I’m not that out of shape. I mean, I skipped a few days leading up to this trip. But…come…on.…”

At that point we should all try to remember the unavoidable realities of traveling to  mountain towns. Remember the time difference between your home and this outdoor paradise. Remember the lost sleep to make that pre-dawn flight and the two connecting flights (because reaching most mountain towns always seem to require at least one connection). And, after you arrive, the lost sleep due to being at a higher elevation. (Some hotels, like The Peaks Resort stock oxygen bottles in the rooms, mini-versions of those used on 8,000 meter peaks. They cost about $20 and help combat the effects of altitude). Remember that, at elevation, how you performed at home and how you’re performing in those hallowed mountains won’t be the same until you’ve acclimatized.

So when you hit that inevitable wall, try to shrug, look at your local guide, try to catch your breath, and blame the altitude. At least until that excuse no longer applies.

Oh, and one other slight advantage (or disadvantage, depending on your viewpoint): the high altitude also makes you a cheap date; alcohol impacts your system more quickly at elevation than at sea level. Maybe the intoxicating mountain air will be enough.

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