I’ve run the Coal Creek Trail many times and have often been annoyed by its easy grade. For Sunday’s recovery run though, I wanted to stay off the icy streets of town and the icy grade of the mountain, so it was an easy decision to run the Coal Creek Trail that lies just a little over a mile from my house. It was about 5 degrees outside and snowing with fast accumulation, and my legs were anything but fresh from the Quicker Quaker 5K race the previous day. I would run for 5 miles on a (mostly) flat surface, then turn around and head home.
Standing outside my house, I looked up the street and saw snow and grey. The tiny flakes that started falling 30 minutes prior were getting heavier and harder. Already the black plastic bags filled with leaves decomposing into leaf mulch in the garden were being covered by snow.
It was a little after 8:30 AM when I hit Main Street. Yes, Louisville, Colorado has a main street that is thusly named. This little town sprang up in the late 1870’s when coal became a serious commodity in Boulder County. A man named Louis Nawatny platted his land and named the entire town after himself. Coal was mined here from the time the first mine opened in Louisville in 1877 until the last mine was shut down in 1952. Entrances were scattered over the eight square miles of the town, and all of them are gone now, tucked under beautifully landscaped yards and paved roads.
I had the place to myself as I trotted down the sidewalk. My footprints marred the new-fallen snow, and I stopped to take a few pics along the way to the trailhead. It was hard to believe that I had the entire town to myself at 8:30 on a Sunday morning.
By the time I got to Community Park I could tell that this was going to be a LONG run. My legs were dead weights in the snow and cold temps, so I did what any runner trying to put in a good 10 miles does; I threw away all expectations and decided to just enjoy the run.
As luck would have it, I was running into the wind and show. Already the backs of my SmartWool gloves were caked with ice, and I brushed snow from the front of my jacket. My face was cold from being pelted with snow that melted and ran trickled into my eyes, and I worked with the palms of my gloves to wipe my eyes and nose from time to time.
The snow was starting to come down harder, and I passed Community Park to the Coal Creek Trail.
Immediately my pace slowed because of the packed snow from the last snowstorm. The trail meandered under the bridge and cars eased over road above my head. Little twists and turns in the path kept the icy stream on my right. All was still in the water.
The trail bisects private property for about 100 yards next to Dillon Road. Cars headed up the incline of the hill while I descended over a small footbridge and went underneath the road again. While inside the walkway I was out of the elements and was thankful for the pause in being pummeled by now, if only for a few seconds.
After coming out of the walkway the trail got steep and I plowed my way upwards. My breathing got heavy, I shortened my stride, put my head down and got to the top, where I slowed down and looked around. No panoramic views of the Longs Peak, no breath-taking images of the Front Range. Nope, nothing to see here, everything was encased in grey.
The trail wound down from the plateau and intersected the banks of Coal Creek once again. I looked ahead to the footbridge that bisects the creek and stopped to take this picture:
A moment later I paused again when at flash of movement out of the corner of my eye. A small family of Mallard ducks rested on the bank of the creek. There were two males, or drakes, on the shore. My careful footsteps off the path and into the snow near them startled one of the drakes, and he flapped his wings in a show of color. I was lucky to have my camera ready, and I snapped this beauty of a photo. It’s rare when I can really see the blue or purple undersides of the wings, and this fellow was happy to show his stuff!
Earlier in the morning when it was still dark out and I was contemplating running in the sub-freezing temps, I was surfing DailyMile.com. One of my Colorado friends, Jon, lives in Castle Rock about an hour south of here and was already back from his run. He said that when the wind and snow really kicked up he ran with his eyes closed for several paces, then opened them to make sure he wasn’t falling off the trail, and repeated the process. At this point the wind really picked up and I took a page out of Jon’s book and ran with my eyes closed. It was a relief to have my delicate orbs protected from the snow and cold, and my whole body relaxed. When I opened my eyes a few seconds later I was gratified to see that I was still running in a straight line; no danger of falling off the trail today!
I ran like this for a minute or so, just long enough to let my eyes relax and notice how much tension my body was carrying because of the cold. I was suddenly aware of the position of my shoulders around my ears, the over-thrust of my torso, the drag of my feet on the snowy ground. With eyes shut, I could feel the posture of running so much better than when I was focused on the world around me.
I would have kept playing my game had I not suddenly spotted a coyote coming out of the ravine. It crossed the trail a full 50 yards ahead of me and paused, then continued on its journey. I pulled out my camera and snapped a picture, not sure if I got him or if he had already melted away. Only after I examined the picture on my computer at home could I tell that he was already gone, that the click of the camera came just a moment too late.
I looked around for tracks on the snow and was startled to see how many there were. There were a ton of rabbit tracks and unmistakable signs of multiple coyotes, raccoon and fox. Tickled into a giggle, I tried to snap a few pics of the tracks, but realized quickly that the light was too monochromatic to allow any definition on the snow. So I turned the camera on the nearest target.
The Garmin said I was getting close to the next trailhead on Highway 287. I decided to make this my turn-around point, even though it hadn’t been a full five miles on the trail. I was tired, pooped, dead-legged and cold.
At the trailhead I took a picture of the map of the area; this is the length of the Coal Creek Trail. In 1991 Louisville and Lafayette joined forces to create this trail, and now it connects to the Rock Creek Trail in Superior as well as extending into Erie. There are still a few sections that aren’t complete but with any luck, when the economy turns around, it will be completed in a few years.
The snow was still falling hard on the return trip, but now the wind was at my back. It was a relief to be out of the brunt of it and I kept my eyes open the entire way home. I stopped to take a few more pictures of Mallard families playing in the frigid water, and of a particularly photogenic branch laying in the water being slowly buried by snow.
A few miles later I stopped at the top of the plateau to see if the clouds had moved yet. The mountains were still obscured from sight, so I took a picture of one snowy braid sticking out from under my hat.
The snow was still falling; about an inch of pure powder had accumulated in the past hour. The tread of my shoe disappeared into the powder with each step and always came up again with a spattering of snow on the toe of the shoe.
By the time I arrived at Community Park again it was close to 10 AM. Folks must have decided to get the day moving in spite of the weather and had arrived at the dog park with said dogs. Apparently the people weren’t too excited to run around motivating their canine friends because the dogs were lying on the ground next to the huddle of humans.
The wind was singing its own snow song now, and I heard it when I ran past this maple tree. Leaves clung to the branched with false hope that this was just a cold snap, and the rustling of leaves coupled with snow was like a symphony of winter. If ever I want to remember what WINTER sounds like, I’ll think of the rustle of leaves, heavy with snow, on a frigid morning in January.
At home, I didn’t stop to chat with the family, or stretch my aching muscles. I peeled off layer after layer and headed straight for the warm shower. My socks were soaked, though my feet had stayed warm. How does SmartWool DO that?
This outing changed my perspective on the Coal Creek Trail; I was amazed by awesome stuff I saw! The Coal Creek Trail system is truly a riparian habitat that has been preserved. Even with the recreational users on the trail, there is still enough space for ducks, rabbits, snakes, fox, raccoon, coyotes, birds of all different sizes and shapes, and even the occasional mountain lion or deer. So, I didn’t get to run on the mountain today… I still had a fabulous time AND I didn’t kill myself on the ice and rocks of the Foothills!