Riding up Rollins

I Really Don’t Know Clouds

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now,

from up and down, and still somehow

it’s cloud illusions I recall.

I really don’t know clouds at all.

–Joni Mitchell

I first listened to Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” when I was a teenager, and found it terrible. I had never imagined that a person could think about clouds so darn much.

Ascending McClure into an uncertain future
Ascending McClure into an uncertain future

Felkerino’s and my recent tour in Colorado has changed my sentiments toward clouds and the song.

When a person rides a bike up and down mountains in Colorado, it behooves him or her to give some serious thought to clouds.

Many a morning we woke up to sparkling sunny mornings and clear skies. As we rode our way through the morning the clouds would drift into the blue, as if they were having a pleasant meetup over coffee.

Clouds roll in en route to Ridgway
Clouds roll in en route to Ridgway

Sometimes a cloud gathering would not end peacefully. The sun would recede and the clouds grouped up, their fluffy whiteness turning to stern grays.

Stern clouds and stiff crosswinds outside of Ridgway
Stern clouds and stiff crosswinds outside Ridgway

Having grown up in Iowa and even now in Washington, D.C., I can smell rain when it’s on the way. I can look at the sky, observe how the clouds curl, and know that rain will fall.

In Colorado it wasn’t so easy for me to read clouds. At times the clouds would roll in around us, but they would hover over a neighboring peak, emitting the occasional grumble. On more than one day, we skirted the periphery of bad weather with our fingers crossed that the peak could keep the storm at bay.

Wolf Creek descent. It's sunny on the other side.
Wolf Creek descent. It’s sunny on the other side and this mountain seems to be holding off the big rains.

Is it possible for a mountain to hold back the clouds? I convinced myself that it was, despite having little understanding about weather patterns and clouds in the Rockies. To me, those peaks were as strong as Samson, holding off bad weather.

Clouds gather on the Slumgullian climb.
Clouds gather on the Slumgullian climb.

Until this summer’s tour, I had little appreciation for clouds. They were large masses that disrupted or blocked the sun’s rays and dropped the occasional rain shower. Cumulus, nimbus, and cirrus, so what. Sometimes they struck me as pretty and rarely I would look at one long enough for it to resemble an object or animal.

Going up Molas Pass
Going up Molas Pass

Touring in Colorado changed that. I developed a wary relationship with the clouds. Climbing so high in sparsely populated areas I watched their movements for hours on end. I saw how their personalities could change as the day went on and I respected their power and unpredictability.

To climb or shelter, that is the question. Heading to Gunnison
To climb or shelter, that is the question. Heading to Gunnison
We climbed and the clouds cleared. Time to descend Nine-Mile Hill to Gunnison.
We climbed and the clouds cleared. Time to descend Nine-Mile Hill to Gunnison.

It fascinated me to watch them shift from fluffy and white to masses of thundering coal. While disconcerting to view as we hovered around tree line trying to decide if we should stop to put on rain jackets, it reminded me of the ways the city insulates me from the full brunt of the elements. The elements are still there, of course, but harder to discern amid the city lights and buildings.

We climbed Ute Pass and dodged this weather behind us.
We climbed Ute Pass and dodged this weather behind us.
Ute Pass summit. It's pretty (and dry!) up here
Ute Pass summit. It’s pretty (and dry!) up here

This year, one of my colleagues who is a HUGE Joni Mitchell fan, informed me that the song “Both Sides Now” is really not about clouds. Rather, the clouds are a metaphor for life and love. At the time, I had said that the whole cloud thing had not worked for me.

A cloud awaits us on  Rollins Pass
A cloud awaits us on Rollins Pass

As we climbed away from yet another nasty looking landscape of gray and damp, I realized this trip had brought about a change of mind. I told Felkerino that I agreed with Joni Mitchell’s song. I really do not know clouds. I need more bike touring in the mountains and time outside the city to understand them.

6 thoughts on “I Really Don’t Know Clouds”

  1. Interesting how similarly you and Joni Mitchell describe your changing perceptions of clouds:
    You: “It fascinated me to watch them shift from fluffy and white to masses of thundering coal . . . They were large masses that disrupted or blocked the sun’s rays and dropped the occasional rain shower.”
    Joni Mitchell: “Rows and flows of angel hair and ice cream castles in the
    air . . . But now they only block the sun, they rain and snow on everyone.”
    I wonder whether if you revisit the rest of the song you will also relate to her changing perceptions of life and love.

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  2. “This year, one of my colleagues who is a HUGE Joni Mitchell fan, informed me that the song “Clouds” is really not about clouds. Rather, the clouds are a metaphor for life and love.”

    Please say you knew this already. ;)

    Like

  3. I love this post. It reminds me why Colorado is such a good place to call home. Life is ever-changing, and those clouds you experienced rolling in as you rode through the mountains – well, they happen a lot in the summer. And, just as you experienced, sometimes they sure do give us a walloping, but other times, they appear intense and end up letting us continue on in peace. Truly, the clouds (and the weather they can bring) are a great metaphor for life.

    Like

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