Finding my edges on I-70… in snow, ice and fear…

Several years ago, while driving to Eureka Springs, Arkansas to celebrate my parents 50th anniversary, my brother-in-law, John, told me I was a good driver.  Who, me??  He could have told me that my hair looked nice or that my shoes were cool, both which would have likely been forgotten by now, but hearing “you’re a good driver”.. well, those words have stuck with me longer than any shoe compliment would have.  I’ve remembered it because it was something I had never heard before, possibly because it may not be true, but he simply caught me on a really good driving day.

The words that I usually hear sound more like this:

“You drive like an old lady, or… Mom!  Pay attention!  or… Do you really have to sit that close to the steering wheel???”  (which I think all three of my kids have asked me at some point).  Yes.  I need to sit this close.  It makes me feel safe.

Those were sentences that came with a history.  “You’re a good driver” was standing on its own that day, and with that newly found pride,  I tried my damnedest to prove him right the rest of the trip.

So, John may think I’m a good driver, but driving was never something I enjoyed nor did I feel like I was very good at it.  Those feelings may have been birthed on the day during driver’s ed when I was taught how to parallel park.  Obviously, the self esteem of an insecure 15 year-old were hardly considered when I was asked to demonstrate those newly acquired skills directly in front of the TG&Y store on a busy Saturday.  It’s not easy to parallel park with one eye scanning the crowds for the popular kids while the other worked solo on the parking task at hand.  And yes, that’s my excuse as to why I ended up with two wheels up on the sidewalk, while the remaining two were on the street. In the short amount of time that it took for me to trade places with my instructor,  have him get all wheels street side and trade back again, my self-esteem retreated straight back to the awkward 7th grade girl, who longed to be a cool girl who knew how to drive.

When in later years (my 20’s),  I’d dream with my girlfriends about what we’d do if we won the lottery, I was the only one who said I’d hire a driver. I didn’t even care what car said driver would be driving… just so it wasn’t me.

So back to my hating to drive but I’m so good at it…

The “but you are so good at it” got tested last Sunday, when two sisters (Robin and I) were taking the third sister (Susan) to the Denver airport from Frisco.  We had both bad weather and Sunday traffic,  so planned ahead and gave ourselves a large time cushion, which was smart as the weather began deteriorating rapidly once we got into Denver.  After a nice lunch and a stroll into a shop or two, Susan offered to get to the airport a few hours early with hopes that we’d be able to stay ahead of the bad weather on our return trip to Frisco.  I  tend to have a “I’ll deal with it when I have to” attitude and wasn’t really nervous until the 3rd or 4th flashing road sign that warned of ice and closed roads, which had me wondering if my cavalier attitude of “Oh no worries… I know how to drive in the mountains on ice and snow… you know, in my roots, born here,  and all that…,” needed to be re-examined a bit.   15 minutes west of the airport, Robin and I learned that I-70 was closed at Georgetown to the Eisenhower Tunnel, which incidentally had also been closed due to the weather.  The part of me that craves adventure, felt her pulse go up a bit at the thought of unplanned hotel stays and or sleeping in the car adventures that would make for a much more exciting blog post.  The other part of me, the one who had been pretty quiet with questioning confidence, began to worry about the whole driving situation.

And so the true test of my driving began.  With white knuckles clutching onto a steering wheel for dear life, Robin and I made our way through snow and ice and I-70 closing then eventual re-opening after we sat on the highway for a good 45 minutes and waited.  From that point on, we inched along with little visibility,  windshield wipers that were constantly icing up, and speeds that barely registered on the speedometer.  I was very thankful to have Robin in the right seat, reminding me to breathe, relax and go as slow as I needed to.  I was fine until I saw a 4WD vehicle turned upside with a couple of people trying to remove someone through the back window.  I made one of those of long, deep, profanity laden sighs followed by a “I can’t do this…” That’s when Robin told me to stop looking.

I couldn’t help but think back to shortly after high school when I was driving in the winter and slid on an entrance ramp to the highway.  I was driving a VW beetle, not great in the snow or ice, but I think the incident was more about the fearful me and less about the car.   I doubt my “slide” was more than a few inches, but it was significant enough to scare me to the point that right there in the middle of the entrance ramp I turned my car off, pulled up the emergency brake and walked up the ramp to a nearby gas station where I called my Dad and told him I needed help.  Twenty minutes later, without judgement, scolding, belittling or hesitation, he got in my car, backed it up off the entrance ramp and onto the dry street,  then got back in his car and was on his way. Saved.  Again.  Dad did a lot of that for me during my early driving days.

Although I’ve gotten a lot braver over the years, simply out of necessity, the combination of ice, snow and mountain roads had me returning to some of those feelings.  Whether in my teens in a poorly equipped car on an entrance ramp or in my 50’s in a 4 wheel drive vehicle on snow in the mountains, there is a point that it’s all the same.  Fear is fear and the feeling skips over any logic while it sends you back in history.

Four hours later, we made it to Frisco,  with hands cramped from a death grip on the steering wheel and shoulders that had inched their way up to the tops of my ears, where they remained until mid-way into my 2nd glass of wine.

We made it home, safe and sound, without a slide or a swerve and I felt both relieved and proud of my accomplishments to the point that I  began to think that John Clarke just may have been right.  Maybe I am a good driver…

I rode on that sense of accomplishment high for almost 48 hours, until I realized that a good driver may have paid more attention to the tire pressure light on the dashboard that lit up shortly before we even left for the airport.  Robin did a check and ended up putting some air in one of the tires while we were still in Frisco.  The light eventually went off and I just assumed all was OK.  Later, during our harried drive back to Frisco, the light went on again.  I have experienced this before and it ended up being an altitude issue (when in doubt, blame that crazy altitude…), and given all the rest that I had to deal with, I convinced myself that the tires and their pressure were just fine and that once we were down in Denver the following day on our journey back to Kansas, the light would more than likely go out.  It didn’t.  I learned the following morning at the Toyota dealership,  that I had been driving with three nails in my tire as I went to the airport in less than favorable conditions, returned to Frisco, then made the trip home to Kansas the following day… at least 800 miles.

No doubt we had a guardian angel riding along side us who thankfully, wasn’t scared off by the mountains or the weather…

Meanwhile, with every 677 mile trip I make from KS to CO and back, I’m continually trying to earn John’s assessment of my driving abilities.

Inching along I-70, east of Georgetown, where we sat and waited for I-70 to re-open.

 

Always a silver lining… photo opportunities.. icicles on bicycles

 

I didn’t take the photos, by the way…

 

About as good as it got…

 

Feathering nests and transition

I woke up a few nights ago in a mild state of orientation panic.  I had no idea where I was and none of my KS or CO cues seemed to be helping me.  My middle of the night reminders – the porch light from the building across the street from me in CO or the small light on my security system panel in my bedroom in KS,  are my grounding devices for the bouts of confusion I find myself in while still in a half-asleep state.  Last night I starred at the little green light on the security system panel and had no idea what it was.  This is not my first time experiencing this kind of confusion.  It happened almost nightly after returning home from one of my extended trips to Perú.  More than once I woke up with a heavy sweater on over my nightgown with no memory of putting it on.  Under a down comforter with the heat on, (it was winter after all), a heavy sweater was hardly necessary and I woke up hot and sweating through everything but the mysteriously added outer layer.  But it felt good, because it was familiar and what I had been accustomed to while living in the Peruvian heat and humidity.  I obviously wasn’t ready to leave Perú entirely and that was my makeshift way of keeping a little bit of me there.  I doubt I would have ever thought of such a simple way to ease into the transition had I been awake.

I know this night-time confusion will wane as I become more accustomed to living in two places, but for now it still feels a bit like a state line straddle to me with one leg in KS and the other stretching itself into Colorado.  I’ve learned the physicality of the east/west movement and am now working on the emotional leg of the journey.

Colorado
Kansas
The journey

 I’m a true blue, die hard nester,  and whether it’s my KS home, my CO home, a hotel room, a tent or my car,  if I’m going to be there more than 45 minutes, I will personalize, organize and feather the nest to within an inch of it’s homey life.  The end result is secondary to the process, which for me is where all of the gratification lies.  In simple terms, that means that lining up spices, organizing junk drawers and stacking sweaters are sporting events for me that make my heart beat a little bit faster.  It’s also the place I tend to go to for comfort and will find myself knee deep in clothes before I realize that what I’m doing is less about wardrobe organizing and more about working through a problem. I’m sure it makes little sense if you’ve not experienced this odd behavior, but if you have, no doubt you are shaking your head yes in solidarity with me.

The one person who understands this side of me more than anyone else I know is my sister, Susan, who has witnessed me nesting from Nepal, to Bhutan to Chile and Argentina and a scattering of places in between, because she’s been right there with me as we folded and stacked, arranged and rearranged in hotel rooms, cabins and several times in a tent.   Dogs pee their way around an area to mark their territory but we choose to mark our new territories with neat stacks of hiking pants,  jackets and shirts with boots and shoes lining up at the door in anticipation and the lotions and potions finding their place next to sinks or tucked away neatly in the corner of the tent.  Again, it’s less about the end result and more about the process for me as neat stacks soon become piles, then heaps after a couple of good digs, leaving you with a far bigger mess than you would have had had you simply left everything in the suitcase and pawed your way through it every morning for the goods.  But that’s OK, because that is normal for me and what I’ve become accustomed to.  I’m only speaking for myself here as Susan’s stacks remain stacks throughout, which is a goal I strive for but rarely achieve.

This same nesting sister rented a cottage in the Adirondacks for several summers while she was living in Montreal and I was fortunate to get to spend enough time there that it truly felt like home to me.  One rainy day, we had opted out of hiking and decided instead to entertain ourselves with what we could find in the house to do or read or make, which for me consisted of diving into a dog eared  Sears catalog from the early 1970’s.  If you were around during that era and saw pale polyester leisure suits in person, or better yet owned one (I’m speaking to the men here regarding ownership…), then no doubt thumbing through those pages would have had you just as captivated as it did me.  If I would have had a marker on hand, I would have enjoyed taking liberties with the photographs as someone who had gotten their hands on the catalog before me had, but instead, I enjoyed their handiwork, with some mental editing as I flipped through the pages.  Oh Sears, if you had any idea of how much you’ve entertained my sisters and me over the years with countless pretend shopping trips where money was no object and boyfriend selections made from page after page of clean cut models who loved hanging out together in suits.  Of course the stealth searches through the underwear section, both creepy and exciting at the same time, can’t be overlooked.  This is what happens when boredom sets in and you’re not card players.

While absorbed in polyester and bad haircuts, Susan started talking about a Christmas several years ago and did I remember when the mouse ran across the living room, right in front of where she was sitting, and about scared Mom half to death?  This she asked me while she starred up at the wall of a house that she had only started renting the previous summer.  Even more surprising, was I knew exactly what she was talking about and said yes, and added to it that Mom jumped from the couch and ran straight into the kitchen, almost tripping over the rug in the dining room in the process. There was no hesitation whatsoever with my answer.  Of course we weren’t there at Christmas and Mom wasn’t scared by a mouse because she wasn’t there either, the mouse, however, I’m not so sure about.  Rather, it was the feeling we had when we were there.  It was home….like we had been there forever and with flawless ease, we inserted ourselves right into the history of the little house in Keene Valley, NY,  because it felt like we owned a piece of it and its story,  even if only in our imagination.

The cottage in Keene Valley, NY where our memories started before we arrived…

That is my definition of emotional nesting and sometimes, I think I’m too good at it.  I’ve done this at my house in KS.  It’s a home that has logged over 80 years of life and love in its walls, where every room is no doubt steeped in decades of stories.  Although I didn’t lay eyes on the house until 5 years ago, I have no problem inserting myself right into the made up stories of its history.  Colorado will no doubt be next as I begin to envision my 2 year-old self myself playing in the mountain dirt in places that are a county away from where I actually lived.  Emotional nesting.  Connecting.  Finding my sense of ownership.

I attach deeply to the places where I perch and will send a tap root down to insure permanence before I’ve hung a picture or decided which cabinet the plates will go in if it feels right to me.   It doesn’t surprise me one bit when I wake up with confusion as to where I am.  This process for me has become a huge lesson in transition.   It’s the train that carries me towards the unknown and while I may not even know there’s a journey underway, one day I realize I’ve arrived, and I’m home and I feel safe and happy and like I belong.   I’ve also learned that the most important nest that I feather isn’t in KS or CO, but rather is wherever I am because it is what I carry with me inside that makes any place my home, whether it’s a house, or a tent or my seat on the bus.   I guess that makes me a turtle at heart.  I’ll take it.

Skiing naked…

For those of you who already scrolled down in search of the photos, sorry, there are no illustrations and no, I did not chose that title to snag readers… well, not entirely.  I do wear pants when I ski and a jacket and all the stuff that goes underneath,  but emotionally,  while standing in hesitation at the top of a steep ski run, I’m as naked as it gets.  The combination of fear, doubt and insecurity has more than once pulled me into an emotional heap that has me totally understanding what’s going on in the heads of those few people I’ve seen walking down the mountain with their skis in tow.  Believe me, I’ve looked down at my skis while contemplating their removal with a hesitation long enough that people passing me on the mountain may have thought I was praying, and I suppose I kind of was.  Naked.  Without clothes.  Vulnerable.  It’s me up to bat in the 4th grade and hearing “easy out” from one of the boys in the infield.  Same girl.  Same emotions, only this time I do have the benefit of experience, maturity and confidence on my team,  suited up and ready to leap off the bench when I need them,  as well as the wisdom to know what’s coming into play here.

It’s those moments of hesitation that quickly become full out fear that make the pride soar when the skis do eventually point down and go.  Those moments remind me why I continue to ski.

Last year I froze on a steep narrow section of a run at Keystone.  Froze.  Couldn’t move.  Didn’t want to move.  The person who I was skiing with and receiving instruction from, told me I had to move as I was in the blind spot for the skiers and boarders who were flying down the mountain behind me.

But I can’t….

And that’s when he told me that there was nothing wrong with taking off my skis and walking down until it felt comfortable.

Absolutely not.  That was the beginning of the nudge I needed….

To that he added the advice of thinking of some of the scariest experiences I’ve encountered in life and obviously survived.  THEN point ’em down and GO!

I thought about the first time I flew an airplane by myself… not just take-offs and landings, but my first solo cross country flight (don’t be impressed by the “cross country” in that sentence… it was only across Highway 50 from the Johnson County Airport to the small airport in Warrensburg, then back again, but still…).  I thought about the fishing camp I worked at in Alaska and being stuck in the bath house with a brown bear outside, likely weighing in at over 1,000 pounds, scratching himself on the tar paper covering.  I thought about the first speech I had to give in college and having to set my notes down because my hands were shaking so much that the moving paper in my hands became the subject matter that had my audience captivated. Yes, that was just as scary as any big bear or being up in the air in a small plane by myself.

Enough already.   I pointed ’em down and skied.  And I didn’t die.

The next time I did that run, several days later, I couldn’t even find the spot that had scared me so much.

Life experiences pile on top of each other, changing where that point sits of being afraid and being brave, but it’s always there, and that kind of vulnerability, that facing life humbly in all of your nakedness and conquering, is where the growth is.  Funny though while finding myself in the jaws of heart-racing fear,  knowing that I’ll be stronger, wiser, bigger, better once on the other side, staying right where I am and skipping the growth, sounds just fine at the time.  Not being able to move can feel like a very safe place to be as there’s little danger in standing still, right?  Peace in the pause, or something like that.  Inertia and I have have palled around a lot together.

I skied my last run of the season yesterday on a sparsely populated mountain with wind,  blowing snow and a layer of confidence that was far too thin to be able to save me had I needed it to. Why did that happen when just a few days ago, I was invincible?  My instructor, Tiger, told me the other day that skiing is 80% mental, which I suppose would have to mean that you’re only operating 20% on a physical level (likely not the way the math works on this as 20% physical hardly seems like it could take you down the mountain… in any form), but his 80% mental words have proven themselves right as rain (or snow?) countless times for me.  I didn’t have enough of a positive swing on my mental 80% yesterday to get me down the mountain with grace, dignity and clothes on.  Nope, skiing when that 80% head talk is saying “you can’t do it…easy out,” puts me high on the vulnerability scale,  exposing my naked self to the mountain, other skiers and more importantly to myself.  I recognize that girl all too well and teeter between wanting to scoop her up and tell her it’s OK, to wanting to shake her by her shoulders so hard that her teeth rattle out of sheer frustration.

I don’t think it’s always a negative thing to end on a bad run.  It gives me the motivation to get back out there and get it right the next time, even if that next time is a season away.  I know that may be backwards thinking for some, but after skiing naked, you really do look forward to being able to put on some layers of confidence and flex some muscle at those taunting voices in your head that remind you that yes, you rarely hit the ball in softball, but is that 4th grade boy who humiliated you while you struck out, once again, on the mountain contemplating difficult runs while standing on a snow-covered mountains in skis?  Yea… that’s what I thought…

 

No, this is not a steep run… but isn’t it pretty?

 

Just point ’em down and go!
And she did….

 

 

 

A road trip to Spring and listening to the mountains…

 

Views, views, views!

 

I love winter, really, I do, and anyone who knows me at all knows that.  I do NOT complain about snow, ice and wind chills that are in the single digits and below, but once the temps go over 85, combined with the predictable  KS humidity,  all complaining bets are off.  My sister says that summer officially starts when I start complaining.  I suppose that’s true, although I can’t say that I’m very proud of it.

And I still love winter, even after having spent the better part of it in real winter territory… the mountains of Colorado, and I’ve not complained yet… yet….

Today I drove into Denver to go to REI to exchange my snowshoes.  Although I’ve used them multiple times, I’m not happy with them (a simple design flaw that results in a flapping strap, which becomes very annoying after a few hours…) .  I know that REI stands behind their product, so was hopeful to make a quick exchange and tie it in with a little field trip “to the city.”    I do enjoy my trips to Denver as a destination rather than a pass through on my way to the airport to fetch or deliver,  or on my way out of town (or into town, depending how you look at it).  It’s a pretty drive and still feels a bit adventurous to me as I really don’t know my way around, short of a few of my favorite spots.  Thank you google maps.  You’ve made trips on unfamiliar highways to places I’m not sure how to get to a whole lot easier.

I left Frisco late morning in jeans, a long-sleeved shirt, a fleece vest, down jacket, snow boots and a knit hat – clothing that was totally appropriate for the weather… here…

By the time I got to Denver, the temperature was 72.  Again, donned in down, fleece, a hat and snow boots, I did what I could to be comfortable and shed the outer layers,  but was still left in jeans, a long sleeved shirt and snow boots.  I didn’t feel out of place until I got in the store, then my boots just seemed big and clunky next to sandals and tennis shoes.  I kind of felt like I had come down from the hills…  Oh wait… I had…

The store matched the weather and had made the big switch from winter gear to summer gear and the snowshoe corner was now filled with bike gear, which meant that a simple exchange of my snowshoes was not going to happen, unless I wanted to totally switch sports and go with biking instead.  The salesman helping me was very apologetic but I assured him that it really wasn’t a big deal and I should have thought ahead and dealt with the issue a few month ago while it was still winter at REI.  While he was explaining the winter to summer shift that the store makes, I was staring down at my pile of snowshoes heaped onto the counter (did I mention that it was two pair of snowshoes?  My guests can’t opt out of going with me simply because they don’t have the equipment… I’ve got ’em covered..)  I then realized that a small rubber band would fix the problem. Maybe that’s what I should have done in the first place before hauling 75 miles to the store where I bought the snowshoes – look at them for 20 seconds,  then use the hair tie that would most likely be on my wrist and fix the problem.  Oh well.  Since I was already in the store, and already in the women’s section (hey, how’d that happen?), I quickly perused the new spring/summer inventory and found a red rain jacket that seemed to want to go home with me.  Spring was in the air, with rain in the forecast,  or at least in Denver.  I drove almost to Evergreen before I had to put the windows up, and even had the air conditioning on for a bit until I realized that part of the heat issue was that my seat heaters were on.  I don’t think they’ve been off since October.  Once past Evergreen, I was back in business with high 30’s,  and heat and hat quickly followed.

On a whim, I pulled off at the Bakerville exit, which is where the trail head is for Torrey and Gray mountains, my 2nd and 3rd fourteeners that I climbed back to back last summer.  I only drove as far as the trail head sign because the road was not plowed and I had a pretty good view from where I parked on the side of the road, with the trail head sign in the foreground and the two mighty peaks behind it.  It was the perfect pondering place to recall that very early morning last August, when with much anticipation and fear, I drove up that road in the dark for 2 miles of about as rough of terrain as I had ever driven on.  I was more afraid that morning than I had been during my entire CO stay last summer.   I was afraid I’d get stuck and even worse, because I had no cell phone signal.  But what really scared me more than anything was what was ahead…several miles up two different mountains, both measuring in at over 14,000 feet and crossing the saddle that connected them.   I needed to sit in that spot, feel how afraid I was and remember that I kept on going.

 

Torrey and Gray’s snow-capped peaks in the background. I know now why I needed to stop and look…

 

 

A few memories from last summer… first peak…
2nd peak…

 

and the view from the top…

I’m learning to listen… to everything… to the nudges that life gives you to slow down and pay attention because it’s trying to tell you something… something that you need and most likely don’t even know it.    I needed to see those mighty peaks today and remember that strength followed fear that day in August and if it did it then, I’m guessing it could do it again.  And more importantly, I needed to stop and listen to what the mountains  had to tell me…

“You did it.”

And that’s why a 3 1/2 hour round trip drive to Denver for a 15 minute run in and out of REI that did not result in different snowshoes but rather a rain jacket that I probably didn’t need, was totally worth it, but I didn’t realize that until I made the Bakersville exit detour and I wasn’t sure why I took the exit at all until I sat in front of the two mountains.  I’m glad I felt the nudge.

By the time I got back to Frisco, it was winter again – real life CO winter with wind, snow and temps in the low 30’s.  It is almost April and  6 to 8 inches of snow is in the forecast for tonite and more snow tomorrow.  I’ve not looked ahead, but think the snow trend is supposed to continue for the next several days.  Again, I love winter, but…

I heard that Spring doesn’t really arrive until June(ish) and that it’s more commonly known as mud season around here, rather than spring, which then rolls into summer.  So is that when the forsythias bloom and the tulips come up?  Through the mud?  Not that I’m doing the math, but I skied in mid-November and from November to June is 8 months.  Oh yea… that’s the other thing I heard.  Winter here is 8 months.  OK, I suppose I am doing the math.

Still…I love winter and I still love Frisco, but oh my would I like to see a forsythia dancing in the spring breeze about now.  My little jaunt through crowds of spring-clad folks at REI made me really miss the excitement of those first warm spring days that have you wanting to clean out the garage, dig in the dirt and put on clothes that aren’t fleece lined or down filled.

I’m headed home, home to KS, in a few days, unless the snow storm keeps me here, and if it does, then I’ll throw ideas of forsythias and tulips out the window and will slip back into down and fleece and winter and will go skiing.

 

 

Springtime in Frisco, CO

 

So how’d I get here anyway??

Seriously, how DID I get here?  Sometime I’ll get up in the middle of the night to get a drink or go to the bathroom and in that hazy place between awake and asleep, I will ask myself that very question.  One day I’m tucked away in Leawood, KS, living my life,  planning new adventures, wondering what’s next for me,  and the next day I’m looking at the beautiful snow-covered Buffalo Mountain through a wall of windows then down to the 5th Avenue Grill across the street, wondering if carry out would be a good idea because the roads are snowy and slick and my cupboards are bare.  I wake up to vistas I never could have imagined, but here they are, presenting themselves in their full glory right through my bedroom windows.  People are now asking me which restaurants are the best, where’s the best place to snowshoe and what bus do I get on to go to Copper Mountain??  And the strange thing is, I know the answers.

I’ve been here 5 minutes.  I’ve been here all my life.  And they both feel right.

So, I could route this story clear back to my birth, a coasting downhill drive to St. Anthony’s hospital in Denver from Evergreen, my young Dad at the wheel, my anxious 9-months pregnant Mom in the passenger seat, hoping for a gas station and green lights, but I digress.  Still, I do believe that my birth and early years in the mountains of CO have played a role in all of this.

Last spring, during a ski trip to CO with the man I was dating,  I made the decision to rent a place in Frisco for a month the following summer, because I like Frisco, but even more than I like Frisco, I like an adventure.   It’s small.  It’s charming, it’s beautiful, and I knew I’d have no problem feeling right at home.  Initially, the plan was to rent a place with said boyfriend, but I decided I needed my own place, my own space, my own story.  Truly a decision whose merit I’d come to appreciate months later.

Fast forward to the months later when said boyfriend decided he just wanted to be friends, code for “I’ve found someone else, but would like to leave the door open a crack, just in case.”  This was told to me two days before my Frisco adventure month, which over the course of the past few months,  had changed to my Frisco  2 1/2 month adventure.  Once I gathered up the strength to make the initial commitment, adding to it by a month and a half was easy and even easier through email, which hardly made it seem real.  But real it was,  and with courage, fear and a full car, I headed west on I-70, ready, I thought, for what was ahead.

Initially,  my time in CO felt energizing – a new town, new scenery, new discoveries, a very big adventure, but the stars in my eyes soon faded after a few days of mornings rolling into afternoons, while I was still trying to map out my day and then it would rain and all bets would be off.  Tomorrow…. tomorrow I will do more than just put on the hiking boots. I will take them for a walk.  I was anxious and ready to dig into this new life, but what I really needed was time – time to survey the emotional damage, stop the bleeding and let the healing begin from the scars of a relationship gone wrong with previously mentioned guy.  My sister, Robin, told me to look for a book store.  Book stores are always a good place to go – to hang out, to meet people, to buy books, to read.  And so the next day I walked down Main Street and lo and behold, just blocks from my condo was a charming bookstore and tea bar.

I promptly introduced myself to the woman behind the counter, (Karen), who just happened to be the owner, and was determined to not leave the store until I had some semblance of a relationship with her, albeit maybe not a let’s grab dinner relationship, just yet, but someone who I could exchange pleasantries with when I saw her.  It was an easier task than I had anticipated and we connected very naturally  (I’m sure she’d agree with this assessment…) with a lot of common ground between us,  the “only” two single women in our age group in town, for starters.  At one point she asked me if I lived here or if not, was I looking for a place in Frisco because she was getting ready to sell her place.  Not wanting to commit, to even a conversation about real estate at that point, I told her no,  I was just renting. 

Actually, I had looked at a few places for sale in town, mostly out of curiosity, and was sorely disappointed with the spaces but even more so, their price tags.  I had pretty much settled back into the mindset that I was here for the summer, that’s all, and would enjoy my time here for what it was… an extended vacation.  This all changed several days later when my daughter in law, Brooke, was in town, and Karen asked me once again if I wanted to see her condo and with some nudging from Brooke, I caved and said yes.   I had made a point of bringing Brooke into the bookstore with the pretense of showing her it’s charm and all over good vibe, but in reality, I wanted to introduce her to the only person I knew in town.  I think my family worried about me out here all alone and perhaps seeing that I knew one person in town, hence was “connected” (I’m not counting the waiter at my favorite breakfast place), she could be my messenger of hope to the other children, insuring them that Mom’s OK, after all she has met a friend.  Karen, said she was planning on putting the condo on the market the following week, not to add pressure, but having a look now would be timely.  The door was unlocked so we walked the short block over from the bookstore to have a look.

Now before I take you inside the condo with Brooke, I’ve got to back up and mention that two days prior (or a day before Brooke’s arrival), while taking inventory of my emotional wounds on my back deck, I saw a double rainbow.  I had only seen one double rainbow before in my life,  ironically only a few miles from where I stood that night.  The last time was on a family vacation several years ago at the gas station in Dillon, CO.  The  double rainbow last summer looked a whole lot different to me though, in part because it felt like it was only for me, appearing exactly when I needed it then quickly disappearing into the sky as quickly as it had arrived.  It was my glimmer of hope and I knew right then and there that I may be emotionally wounded and even bleeding, but I was going to be OK.   I had found my soft spot to land, for now, and it was a softly colored arc in the eastern sky of Colorado.   Double rainbow, double luck and the next day was when Brooke and I would go into the bookstore for a book, an introduction and unexpectedly, the purchase of a mountain home.

After walking up the 19 interior steps inside Karen’s condo, Brooke and I reached the landing, and looked at each other with wide-eyed surprise.  She then said to me, “You live here, Laur!”  And without hesitation, I responded, “I know!”  When you know it’s right, it’s right and 10 minutes later we were back in the bookstore with me wanting to lay my claim on the condo before anyone else could.

Fast forward a few days to a meeting I had with an attorney to look over the contract, which was drawn up literally days after I saw the property,  a process far easier than I had ever anticipated.  The attorney did have one question for me though…

“What did you put down for earnest money?  I don’t see anything in the contract.”

“Oh, there isn’t any, I answered.  We sealed the deal with a toast and a hug instead.”

“Hummm, OK, well… it is Summit County!”

And that’s how I bought a house in Summit County, CO – with trust, confidence and two glasses of wine raised in a toast followed by a hug. 

I never had an inkling of hesitancy or lack of trust during the whole transaction.  The fact that Karen was  moving a short two blocks away gave me tremendous security in the whole process as I knew she was right around the corner if I had any questions or problems.  The whole process flowed with such ease that I had to keep reminding myself of the enormity of what I had just done.

Due to greater distractions, I didn’t buy the book I had gone into the bookstore for that day, but I did pick up the local hiking guide book instead,  and used it so much over the next few months that its pages needed the help of two rubber bands to keep it all in one pile.  That dog-earred pile now has a very prominent place on my bookshelf.  It represents far more than just a hiking guide to me now.  It became the guide to the mountains that eventually led me right back to myself.

I’m still overwhelmed, not necessarily by my decision, but that fate or my intention or perhaps a bit of divine intervention has landed me in such an amazing place.  I’m continually awed by the constantly changing beauty of this place and don’t think I’ve ever grabbed my camera, (correction… phone) more to catch a photo, because I swear, the scenery completely changes with the changing light.  Just yesterday, I was balancing precariously on the edge of my bathtub to catch a photo out of the window directly above it of Peak One with the snow sparkling through a veil of sunshine.  I felt an urgency because it may never look like that again and it was beautiful.

My daughter-in-law, Brooke, said it so eloquently in one of her blog posts…

“Doing what you think will make you happy shouldn’t be hard, but the hardest part might be figuring out what that is and that once you realize where that happiness resides, there’s no running from it.”

She nailed it and because she was right there with me when I stumbled onto this and saw the ease at which I danced into this next phase of my life, her words are backed with history.

“There’s no running from it…..”

I think all of the hiking I did last summer (33 hikes taking me across 132 miles and over 31,500 vertical feet) was as much about getting comfortable, one footstep at a time, with a new direction, even a new life, as it was about the views snagged from the top after a long climb.

“There’s no running from it….”

No, there wasn’t.  I hiked right into it, one mountain at a time, until I was strong enough to be able to see the prize, which ironically, wasn’t the view outside, but the one that I discovered inside…
of myself.  

A window to far more than Peak One…

 

Snow days…

 

I got up 3 times last night to check on the snow.  I wanted to make sure it was still coming down… kind of like insuring that the party was still going on.   I’m a little girl when it comes to snow and still feel the rush of excitement at morning’s light to see the ground blanketed in a fresh layer of white powder.  There’s a sense of familiar and nostalgia that is coming into play with this for me, first and foremost is the possibility of a snow day that a few inches of snow might bring.  Here in Summit County, CO, snow days are virtually unheard of, namely because the plows pretty much have the roads cleaned up by first light and well, it is CO and snow is supposed to happen on a regular basis, unlike Kansas, where it still feels like a bit of a surprise.

When I was in school, a pre-dawn telephone call at our house meant we got to roll over in our beds and sleep in knowing that the day ahead was ours and ours alone.  It meant leaving on our PJ’s until lunch time and eating grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup in front of the TV while watching “As the World Turns” with Mom, then piling on layers of clothes and playing in the snow until our yard’s snow was all used up, our mittens were wet and our boots sloshed on the inside with snow.  Once 3:30 rolled around, the magic of a snow day was over and time returned to normal, regardless of the projects we were in the middle of because 3:30 was the end of our school day and at 3:31, we were on real time, once again.  Even with a 3:30 end, snow days were longer than any other day because they were 100% bonus and were ours to spend as we wanted, unlike Saturdays, or even weekdays, that came with the dreaded list of chores or have to’s, such as going to school.   Because my parents subscribed to the philosophy that  if it was too snowy to go to school, it was too snowy to go out (as in outside via a car), we were “stuck” at home all day, which really was a good thing as our creativity was put into play out of boredom. Empty shoe boxes were refashioned into hip homes for Barbie and her girlfriend, Midge, four pieces of furniture in the bedroom I shared with my older sister were arranged and rearranged in an effort to make a small room seem big and magazine pictures were glued onto poster board (or whatever we could find) and tacked onto the wall.  I once made a collage of only eyes, which I thought would be straight up cool.  It wasn’t.  Neither was the one with lips that followed.  Ahhh, snow day crafts.  You worked with what you had, which was always an ingredient short, it seemed.

My Dad was the high school guidance counselor and unlike today, when the school closings scroll across the bottom of the TV before you even go to bed, the phone call from the school superintendent came early in the morning.  I don’t know if that meant that Dad then had a list of people to call in a phone tree fashion, or how it was that the superintendent called him and not someone else, but that’s how it worked and honestly, I didn’t really care.  All I knew was that getting to go back to sleep for another few hours was a gift like no other and could only be appreciated during that brief roll over in a warm bed moment. There have been mornings in my life that I swear I’d empty my bank account to have that option….  a feeling like no other.

When we had a snow day, Dad had one too, which made the day even more special.  His snow day routine always started with making homemade bread, a scent that still makes me feel warm and squishy inside, and takes me right back to the deliciousness of sleeping in while life continued on around us… bread getting made, for one.

There was no early morning phone call from the school superintendent, or the smell of freshly baked bread to wake up to this morning, but I did experience the thrill of throwing open the curtains upon wakening and getting to bask in the beauty outside of my bedroom window of 6 inches of snow blanketing the ground this morning.  Pure joy.


 

Snowshoeing, Lilypad Lake, and the man who lost his dog

Lilypad Lake is a pretty place, in the winter, not summer, because the lodge pole pine beetle kill is not as obvious, which makes it a much better snowshoeing destination than a summer hiking destination.  Theresa, Marianne and I had a beautiful, blue sky day for our snowshoeing, with sunshine and no wind.  Just about as perfect as it gets.  

As pretty as the scenery was, my memory of the day is of a lost dog. When we got to the trail head, a man was standing by his car while his two dogs played in the snow.  One was a golden, the other a beautiful black and white border collie mix.  About a mile into our hike, we passed the dog owner, but he was short one dog.  He said the border collie had wandered off and now he was out looking for him.  He told us his name (Ringo) and we told him we’d keep an eye out for him.  On our way back, we passed the dog owner once again, still searching for his dog.  Back at our cars, some 3 hours later, the owner had returned to the parking lot, waiting, searching, calling for Ringo.  The anguish on his face was heartbreaking.

 
I’m haunted by this.  He told us that the dog was only 3 years old but always returned and he felt like he needed to wait by his car “just in case…”
 
I wonder how late he waited and if the dog ever returned.  I couldn’t help but think of Marley, our yellow lab that we had to put down several years ago.  How would I be able to leave without him?  We saw very few people on the trail and no significant animal tracks so I’ve really got to wonder what happened to the dog.  My heart goes out to his owner.

 

Standing on Lilypad Lake!

Views, views, views!

A walking meditation…

 

Lunch!!

Theresa and me.

 

 

Arapahoe Basin with Theresa, Marianne and a whole lot of snow….

Last weekend I finally got to ski Arapahoe Basin, or A-Basin as it’s more commonly referred to here, with my friend Theresa LaLong and her sister Marianne.  First of all, I would have been content with just the drive there.  It was beautiful – the iconic snow mountain drive where each curve brings on another vista.  It also was a bit scary as I wasn’t real steady with the road conditions and was trying to keep up with Theresa (we both drove, I followed her), who is used to the mountain driving.  I don’t love driving on mountain roads when I’m on the “cliff side” and tend to hug the center line, but traffic was very light so dipping into the other lane as my fear rose didn’t seem to be an issue.

A-Basin has that old ski mountain feel to it, probably because it is.  It was developed in the 1940’s by Max and Edna Dercum, who are honored with several framed photographs in the day lodge.  Unlike any of the other mountains I’ve skied in Summit and Eagle County, CO, A-Basin does not have any overnight accommodations available to it’s skiers, so it is truly a ski mountain and not a resort.  It didn’t feel “commercial” and I liked that.  Very much.  It felt old school, family oriented, charming and void of the glamour that seems to go with skiing.   It also has the highest inbound ski terrain in North America, measuring in at 13,050 vertical feet.  Because of the altitude and the mostly north/northeast face, it’s open longer than most of the resorts in CO, often staying open into July.  My ski instructor, Tiger, told me the other day that there have been years that the mountain was skied all months but one… August.  How cool is that?  Skiing in July?

The snow came down hard most of the afternoon and given that I was still nursing a minor knee injury from the week before, I didn’t push myself.  Visibility was limited but oh so beautiful, at least what I could see was…. Theresa kept telling me that the views were amazing from the top of the lift, but the mountains in the snow were barely visible that day.  Given it’s location at just below the Loveland Pass, with views of the Continental Divide,  neither visible through the near white-out conditions, I simply had to trust her on that one.

Theresa met up with one of her friends who she lived with when she first came to Summit County in the 70’s.  I’m fascinated with the stories and the adventure in her spirit to be able to move to this part of the country, knowing only a handful of people.  She told me that shortly after her arrival, and once comfortable with the ski culture, she bought a one piece ski outfit, white with calico trim, as she felt she had graduated from the scotch guarded jeans.  I know she told me a lot of other stuff, but the “white with calico trim” was all I heard.  Sorry Theresa, but this was just too good to not share.  I only wish I had a photo…. 

It was a fun day and with all the stories and Theresa reconnecting with her friend, who works at A-Basin, it truly did feel like we had stepped back in time for the day… back far enough that a white one-piece ski outfit, trimmed in calico, would have fit right in.  OK, maybe not totally, but easier at A-Basin than some of the other CO ski resorts. Besides the jaw-dropping beauty, the snow and a day spent in good company, the “trimmed in calico” remains one of my favorite memories from our day at A-Basin.

It felt like these cars should have been station wagons from the 50’s, with wooden skis and wool jackets piled up in the back…

There are mountains somewhere back there…
Coffee with a view…

 

All the way to Dillon for the produce and the view…

I love my little town of Frisco.  However, I don’t love my grocery store selection, which is 3, if you choose to include the 7-11 or the Loaf ‘N Jug, which would be quite a stretch.  The biggest, and I suppose best option is Safeway,  a close drive, but not very walkable, especially this time of year when the sidewalks are buried by the huge snow piles.  It’s a decent place to buy the basics, if you don’t consider produce to be a basic.  It’s your place for canned goods, almond milk and homemade soup, well, homemade by Mr. Safeway, but very tasty.  The produce is a continual disappointment, bananas and dried fruit probably being the safest bets.  Bins of expired lettuces, dismal looking apples and berries that are just plain sad have me bypassing that part of the store all together.

My second choice would be the Alpine Market at the other end of Main Street, an easy walk from my house.  I went Sunday looking for an avocado and found the tiny produce section (literally I could have displayed all items on my dining room table) to be lacking an avocado section, or even a lone avocado.  The store is small and has great potential as they do seem to focus on organics and locally made and or grown items, but I’ve never found anything I’ve needed there, short of face wash or ginger chews, which I can no long buy as I have no self control and a box translates into a single serving for me.  And then there’s the problem with the anxious cashier, who is so happy to see a customer that regardless of what I need and what they don’t have, I always buy SOMETHING, simply because I feel too guilty if I don’t.  Besides, it does give her something to do. So, my visit recently for the avocado that they didn’t have,  had me buying a bottle of apple cider vinegar instead.  It was the only thing I could find that I thought I might need, simply because everything I’ve read lately is touting it as the next new/old miracle product that does everything and then some.  It was a much better option then trying to sneak out empty handed, with hopes that the cashier wouldn’t notice.  Thankfully, she didn’t ask me if I found everything I was looking for, which seems to be the standards these days in grocery stores.  I suppose she’s learned that it’s probably better to not ask.  She knows the answer.

While paying, I noticed a tip jar next to the register, with  a sign on it that said “Feeling Tipsy??” Seriously?  Tipping the cashier at the grocery store?  Well, that just irritated me.  Again, a store filled with potential, a mini Whole Foods if you will, but they’re missing the point and I’ve all but crossed them off my list.

The last choice of course would be gas station food and well, short of late night junk and a tank full of gas, I can hardly count it, but can’t say there haven’t been times I’ve been grateful to shop under the neon lights for what felt like packaged love at the time.  Whole Foods is coming to town in June…whoopee!!!, but, in the meantime, if I want good produce, Killer Dave’s bread and fancy cheese that costs too much, I have to drive to the City Market in Dillon.  I make it sound like it’s a hike away, and it does kind of seem like that because I have to get on I-70 to get there, but it’s 10 minutes at best.  But here’s the real reason why I love to go to City Market in Dillon… it’s my drive home.  I always take the scenic loop exit rather than the  main Frisco exit and will park and enjoy the amazing view just on the other side of the highway.  It’s usually just me or me and a few semi-trucks that have come to grab some rest.  I don’t usually stay longer than a song or two on the radio then am on my way.  There’s something very satisfying about taking that few minutes simply for my soul.

My time in CO has taught me, or more accurately, is teaching me, the importance of living in the moment.  There are so many opportunities here to simply stop and look and no one thinks any less of you or even questions you while they make their way around you on the sidewalk because you’ve stopped to look up at the mountains in the background.  It’s simply what people do here and I love that.

These beautiful mountains still bring tears to my eyes every time I see them for the first time on my drives out from KS, and on occasion on my way home from the City Market in Dillon.  The other day I realized that maybe I should share that with Mom and Dad because of the many times I more than likely cried during my early years living in Evergreen.   Maybe it wasn’t because I was cranky or Robin didn’t want to play with me, or simply because I was 1 or  2,  but maybe, just maybe,  it was  me being overwhelmed by the beauty and the strength of the mountains around me.  OK, probably not, but what a nice thought.  That little mountain girl’s spirit, after all, is what I truly believe brought me back out here; a return to where I began.

And with bags of groceries in the back seat and rock and roll on the radio, here I sit and look and that’s enough.

 

Hablando español, finding my confidence then quickly losing it on Copper Mountain…

I had a pleasant surprise this morning while waiting for the Copper Mountain bus to go skiing.  A man who I had noticed earlier taking the iconic down Main Street/mountain photo with his phone, approached me and said “buenos dias,” followed quickly by a “good morning.”  I responded with a “buenos dias,” which brought on a nice conversation about the beautiful sunny day, the mountains, the blue sky and the fact that they don’t have snow in D.F., Mexico (Mexico City).  His wife then came over and he asked me if he could take MY photo.  I thought perhaps I had misunderstood the Spanish and offered to take HIS photo with his wife.  No, he assured me, he wanted my photo to show people back home, because it would be something they maybe had never seen before.  Then I realized it wasn’t just the snowy mountains he wanted in the photo, but rather an accessorized skier, from helmeted/goggled head to booted feet holding skis and poles. I was happy to oblige and as he and his wife were walking away, I called them back to get THEIR photo.
                                                       

While on my ride to Copper, I realized what it was that had felt so odd to me while conversing in Spanish with this man.  I was speaking Spanish in a coat and mittens.  My Spanish has always flowed from sandaled or bare feet, and never while wearing a coat.  This was a first.  How limited my experiences had been!  I miss speaking Spanish.  I miss the wonderful feeling of throwing words together that you THINK are right, while trusting instinct on conjugations, then receiving a positive nod from the person you just rattled off to along with an answer because they understood you!  Every sentence seems to get better at that point.  I also had to wonder what in the world brought them all the way from Mexico City to this little town of Frisco, CO.   Just looking at their photo makes me smile for some reason. 

My quick Spanish conversation before headed off to ski, gave me the boost in my confidence that would later be tested.  Over and over and over again.  I spent the next six hours in a private ski lesson, which had me rethinking almost everything I was doing to the point that I questioned even turning at all, parallel or not.   Tiger, my teacher, and yes, that’s his real name and he’s not in his 20’s, or 30’s or even 40’s, is a very smart man who uses a lot of physics analogies to explain to me what my skis and I are supposed to be doing, so instead of shouting commands that I’d understand like “lean forward, push your right foot down to go left, use your edges, you are amazing…”  I heard things like “centripedal force, edge angles, calculations of side cuts,  mass to the inside of your turning radius and pulling g’s… have you ever been in a small plane???”
OK, now we’re talking.  I said had I not only been in a small airplane, but I used to fly them!  Bad choice to give that information to Tiger.  From then on, all future explanations were made as if we were both sitting in the cockpit of an airplane, Tiger, clearly sitting left seat.  Although he wasn’t a pilot, he had logged enough left seat time in small planes with friends that he clearly knew what he was talking about and his comparisons to skiing did make sense… for a while… and then they didn’t.  At one point, towards the end of our 6 hour lesson, while in the lift line, he started in on the flying an airplane to skiing comparisons and asked me if I understood.  Now for those who know me, you know when my patience is gone and I’m tired, things go south quickly.  I paused a few seconds then said, “Yes, Tiger, I do understand that, but I’m not in an airplane.  I’m on skis and I’m tired.  Did I mention what a good instructor he is?  He smiled, shook his head yes and we got on the lift and headed up the mountain for a nothin’ but a fun run.  And it was.  It’s always good to end the day on a fun run that even if it was only in your head, you knew you looked good and were carving out those turns like a pro.

Tiger, the ski instructor
 

Laurie, the student
 

 

Views for days…
 
                                                                           

Skiing can be frustrating, but it’s views like this that keep you going up for just one more run…