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…