Here We Go! Rio Frio!
Like major arteries and veins in our bodies to keep our internal systems running properly, a river also provides life giving elements to everything in its drainage basin, essentially, its 'body.' Little drops of rain and soft falling flakes become the life blood of any River. The Rio Grande, (equals the River Big in Spanish and pronounced - Ree oh Gronn day) as rivers go, is fairly small in terms of width, depth, and water flow. However, it is long at 1,896 miles! And the Rio Grande is of huge importance when it comes to water supplies for Colorado, New Mexico, Texas and Mexico. Farmers and ranchers need its water, towns and people need its water, as does wildlife. And it needs to remain fairly clean to keep doing its good work of raising hay, potatoes and wheat, cattle and horses, and provide landing zones and food for thousands of migrating birds. And don't forget the fish and other animals that rely on water. So to celebrate the Rio Grande for its beauty and important contributions to life, why not celebrate the river and run on one its winter seasonal condition, frozen! The Rio Frio 5k is this Saturday, January 30th, 2016! Be there.
The town of Alamosa is split by the Rio Grande at an elevation of 7,544 feet. Because the town sits in a high valley between mountain ranges, cool night air flows off the mountains and pools like water (air is a fluid also and when cold, sinks to the valley bottom) in town and for parts of the winter creates temperature inversions and it can get cold, really cold. The river flows steadily all winter but by late December, it is generally flowing and gurgling under ice.
BREAKING NEWS - not my favorite thing to see come across the TV on a news channel, because often times, it is insignificant information in which I have no interest or a disaster about which I can do nothing. But here is the good BREAKING NEWS! The snow pack in the upper Rio Grande Basin, within the state of Colorado for 2016, is at 105% of normal! Called the SWE, the snow water equivalent, the San Luis Valley is lucky this year, because with all the crazy weather across the country this winter, normal is great! All the more reason to celebrate the river. And even with slightly warmer temperatures so far, the river is frozen!
This will be my second Rio Frio 5k and I look forward to the fun we all had last year. People and teams show up in costumes and are out for a good refreshing jaunt. It is a great time to celebrate the end of January also because the days are getting longer and spring, though many weeks away, at least is appearing on the horizon. The course surface was bizarre last year as several inches of slushy snow fell the night before and all runners had cold wet feet the minute we stepped onto the course. I wore my neoprene socks over ski socks which acted like a diver's wet suit and this combo of foot gear was the only thing that saved my toes! This year the conditions look to be more normal. A cold clear night will be followed by warming sun with temperatures probably in the 20s by race time, which in Colorado, is a pretty nice temperature for a run. (IF, we can trust the 5 day forecast on weather.com!) Wear sunglasses as the sun on the flat river ice, most likely covered by a light layer of snow, will create a blinding and damaging reflection. Don't feel like running? Plenty of walkers stroll the course and enjoy it the same. Safety is key. Orange cones mark thin ice or open water spots and the fire department is there to keep a close eye on all of us including occasional pets. Last year, due to the oxygen deprivation of running, I was on the wrong side of the cones when somebody began yelling to 'get to the other side of the cones!' I appreciated that warning as I was really not ready for a sudden cold plunge that day.
The race director, Jeff Owsley, will use his bull horn to start the race, and off we will go half running and half slipping our way for the Rio Frio 5k, 2016 version. Not too late to show up and run!
Wait! There's more! Being the sporting species we humans are, we sometimes use ill-fated expeditions from history and turn them into a contest of sorts. On Sunday, the second part of the Rio Frio event on the river ice will be the Fremont Haunt. In honor of the 4th Fremont Expedition of 1848-49, that was looking for a railroad route from St. Louis to San Francisco, they needed to find a route to build tracks through the Colorado mountains. As is their custom, the Colorado mountains every few years have long, cold, big winters, meaning deep deep snow. Such was that winter. Many mules and men died after trekking through nasty conditions and finally being stuck at a camping spot in the upper western regions of the Rio Grande Basin. The expedition finally decided to wave the white flag and abandon their attempt at route finding that year. The men began walking toward Taos in the New Mexico territory, one of the only known towns in the region at that time. The frozen Rio Grande became their road. Fortunately for the men, one brave expedition person, Alexis Godey, had forged ahead to Taos and was on his way back along the Rio Grande looking for them with survival supplies to keep the men alive so they could continue their trip and recuperate in Taos. Alexis found them this very same week in January of 1849 along the Rio on the stretch of river which is now Alamosa.
On Sunday, a crazy reenactment of that expedition, called the Fremont Haunt will feature teams of seven, four live team members will be transporting two of their 'dead' teammates down river from one starting line while their 7th team member will be racing up river, like Godey, with two animals of the teams' choice to meet his survivors. Unlike the symbolic use of bread and wine for communion, the ceremonial expeditionary rescue food will be packages of graham crackers. The group must scarf down the graham crackers. Upon the group finishing their expedition survival food, judges will mark their time. May the fastest team of frozen ice travel and chowers of graham crackers be declared the winner.
The official theme for this year is Star Wars, and according to Jeff the race director, there will be many serious costumes. A parade will precede the event. To find the fun, the times, and entry information on the web - riofrioice.com. alamosa.org and Wikipedia has a nice article on Fremont's ill-fated expedition - an interesting history lesson as well as a lesson on ill-advised winter travel.