Thursday, September 9, 2010

Spontaneous Elbert

After graduating college,  myself and a few college friends made the move from small mountain Vermont to big mountain West. The idea was to ski a lot and work a live the dream. The reality of nine to five adulthood would be put on the shelf for a couple more years. It was procrastination at its finest.

I had always dreaded the thought of the vanilla, corporate lifestyle. It seemed so ordinary. I was young, invincible, and extraordinary. I wouldn't allow myself to get old.

Despite my best intentions, time marched on. The two years spent in the mountains whirled by like a breathtaking landscape viewed from a speeding car's window. The best things always seem to go by fast and setting the e-brake would just send you careening off the road.

I spent my last month in Breckenridge alone. My friends had already made the lonely trek back East and I was couped up in a small efficiency room at the hotel I worked at. It was a slow time of the year in a ski town--the summer vacationers had returned to their post-labor day realities and the snow had yet to fly. It felt like perpetually waking up after a party and realizing you're hungover and there's cleaning up to do.

I read a lot during this time and one of my books was Louis Dawson's Guide to Colorado's Fourteeners. It was a hiking and mountaineering guide to all of Colorado's fourteen thousand-foot peaks. I was reading about Mount Elbert, Colorado's highest peak, on an especially somber afternoon when I was hit with a jolt of inspiration and I had to go climb that One last hurrah. One final wail before succumbing to the eastern corporate pull.

I quickly grabbed what I needed and left behind a note that stated my plans "just in case I become bear food." Driving towards the trailhead, I felt hyper-aware of my surroundings. It was early fall and the sun shined with a crisp brightness only found in the high mountain air. The landscape was illuminated and I felt as if I were looking through polarized lenses.

I arrived at 2 o'clock and started down the path at a quick pace. Darting birds encouraged me to step faster. The smell of pine was intoxicating. As the sun dropped more in the sky and the light of the forest softened, I felt like I had stumbled into a John Muir dream. I wanted to stop and linger in that moment but it was getting late and I was running out of daylight. After pushing on for another hour, I was just about to call it when the trail suddenly led out beyond the veil of trees. It was as though a curtain had dropped before me--the great peak was visible on center stage. Mount Elbert.

It was the top of the Rocky Mountains and the Continental Divide. It was massive and majestic. I had made it to treeline and this is where I would set up camp (which consisted of a mat and sleeping bag, no tent).

The ecstasy of the view quickly gave way to a feeling of anxiousness. It was almost dark and I was alone, on the side of a mountain. I was scared but I felt alive, like I was really doing SOMETHING. I need those moments.

Quickly I began gathering wood for a fire and wound up running into something else. I found what looked like a six shooter cap gun from my childhood days. I pointed it at the ground and pulled the trigger. Boom! A bright orange burst shot out and smell the of gun powder lingered in the air. It was real and it was loaded.

The wild west! I cooked hot dogs and baked beans on an open fire that night, thinking about where the gun had come from. An outlaw on the run? Whatever its story, having it by my side gave me comfort.

After dinner, my belly was full and I was feeling high so I decided to make the quick hike up past treeline. It got dark and cold as I moved away from the fire. I scurried along until I was beyond the canopy of the trees. Here the sky was big, with countless stars; diamond reminders of the laughable mystery. The Cheshire Cat Moon was in on the joke as well, wryly smiling as I stood shivering in the cold, mountain night.

I returned to my fire and I tried to sleep. But it was colder and darker than I expected. And there were noises. My tongue in cheek note about becoming bear food didn't seem as cute now. Being an outlaw was scary business...maybe the corporate world wouldn't be so bad. I didn't sleep that night and the gun was always within reach. The sun's arrival was announced by the birds a few minutes before I felt it's comforting beams on my face. I was relieved and felt ridiculous for being scared of the mischievous night.

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