Sunday, October 18, 2020

The shrine calls but once a year

Looking down on the zoo and the Springs

A series of storms had raced across the Pikes Peak region all day. If I did this hike at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, I wondered if I would get poured upon. A rain poncho went into my hiking pack. 

Zoo staff lined up participants, who all picked a start time. I breezed through the zoo before I started the run. I had to see the newest acquisition. By this time, the new moose calf has a name – Akta – and has started to bulk up. He no longer looks like two pairs of spindly legs and a head devouring everything in sight, especially the bundles of branches around his enclosure.

Akta peeks through his fence

Then I started the Run to the Shrine, with no intention of actual running. Originally set for May, the zoo moved it back to late August, and switched from a Saturday morning to a Sunday afternoon, with the race starting a few hours before the zoo ended. There was no timing for participants, freeing people to go at their own pace.

Shrine from the road

The run feels good since it’s the only day of the year when the zoo opens the shrine road to pedestrians. Otherwise, it’s car-only. Just covering those first steps past the zoo’s public boundary felt like stepping into forbidden territory.

While the road rises another 1,000 feet above the zoo in two miles, all the mountain hiking from the summer prepared me better than I could hope. Treating the run as a hike enabled me to keep moving the whole way. A few rounds of sprinkles fell on the road but nothing heavy. Near the shrine, the road takes some of its steepest turns. Still, none of them proved too difficult, at last not at this elevation. 

To no one’s surprise, the actual shrine was closed due to the pandemic. I toured it in January and didn’t mind the omission. People posed outside the gates once they reached the top.

Shrine after the turnaround

The biggest reason I signed up for this race was the views from the road, and the sun complied for a short while. Coming down from the top, I ran. Well, gravity helped. It was a nice feeling, zipping past walkers and coming around the last corners back into the zoo. 

Just like that, four miles had gone by. The zoo had closed to regular visitors and was only open to run participants. I took a swing through the new African exhibit for one more look at the massive hippos and their pool. 

The pockets of sunlight were gone as another storm front moved over Cheyenne Mountain. At that, I moved fast for the car. The winds grew fierce. The rain started as I drove down the zoo road, the shrine standing sentinel above the Springs. 

The storm....
Shrine from the parking lot

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