Lost and found on Torreys and Grays peaks. Me.

My first hike of the season, which was several weeks ago for me this year, always conjures up memories of my first solo summer spent in Colorado 3 years ago, otherwise known as my 66 day experiment.  Because of unforeseen circumstances, I ended up with condo rental for 2 1/2 months in a town where I knew no one.  One of my first blog posts explains this in further detail, along with how I came to buy a place in that very town a short 2 months after my arrival;  something I had no intention of doing before I made the trip.  It truly was my summer of discovery and growth and one I remember fondly every time my boots hit the dirt, but it didn’t start out well.

After going through a difficult break up, I felt like my heart had been ripped from my chest, stomped on and mushed back into the cavity where it originally sat.  The easier feeling for me at that time was to go to anger, rather than sadness.  Anger has a fueling effect, sadness, not so much, and it was that anger that became my teacher that summer and hiking became the catalyst for me to learn, not about hiking and how to do it better, safer and stronger, but rather,  about who it was that those hiking boots were carrying.  I discovered myself.  It certainly wasn’t the easiest way for me to arrive at that discovery, but it was what it was and I look back now with tremendous gratitude for things did not go as I had planned or expected.

One of the biggest ah ha moments of that summer for me was when I climbed Torreys and Grays – 2 fourteeners (mountains whose summits are over 14,000 feet and who Colorado claims 52).   I had been advised to get to the trailhead  EARLY as it’s a very popular climb with limited parking.  When you tell a Virgo, who is a tad bit anxious about doing the whole thing solo in the first place, to get to the trail head early,  plans of a pre-dawn arrival are not out of the question.  One can never be too early or too safe, or too prepared, especially when facing a 14er alone, with no more information about it than an overheard conversation and photos and text from a guide book.  So,  at barely 5:00 a.m., I began my 30 minute car journey to the trailhead, the easiest part, or so I thought. All was going as planned and I was feeling excited with anticipation and a bit smug with what I had decided to tackle,  until the road got narrower and narrower with deeper and deeper pot-holes, looking more like a trail than a road and certainly not accessible without 4 wheel drive.  Oh and to add to the scene unfolding,  it was still dark, there were no other cars on the road and I had no cell phone service.  No longer did I have AAA for my back up plan.  I could hear my pulse.

In all the wandering through the state of Colorado that I did that summer, it was that moment, on that dark path of a road, alone, that comes to mind when I think about what really scared me and got my heart to race.  It is also that moment, when I decided not to turn around, that has influenced several decisions since when I’ve opted not to turn around, whether it be a hike or a life decision.

Once  I made it to the dark and very empty parking lot, my car being the ONLY car,  I sat for a few minutes and wondered how smart it was of me to continue.  Do I sit and wait for other people?  Do I scrap my plan and go back the way I came, Buick-sized potholes and all?  With a combination of pride and perhaps a wee bit of stupidity,  I decided that I had enough invested in the whole operation to stay with the plan.  I grabbed my pack and strapped on my headlamp because it still dark out and started down a trail that I had never been on before and knew very little about.  Right this moment, some three years later,  while I type this, I’m thinking…”Seriously?  You did THAT?’   It is the “THAT” that comes to mind at some point during every single hike I’ve done since and I’ve got to confess, I’m in search of the “THAT” as much as I seek out the views, crazy as that sounds.

I walked alone following the small beam of light from my head lamp until the sun came up.  I’m guessing 10 or 15 minutes, but really have no idea, but it seemed long and lonely and given that I had never hiked in the dark, scary.  I couldn’t help but continue to ask myself if this whole idea was really very smart, yet my legs kept walking forward.  Had I stopped, I’m guessing I would have turned around.  Eventually,  I reached a fork on the trail and couldn’t remember what I had been told… go up Grays first, or Torreys?

Early morning.

While I stood at that crossroads, and surveyed the incredible early morning scenery, I saw a small group of people in the far distance, making their way towards me.  This was my cue to sit down, rearrange the things in my pack, have a snack, take a photo, waste some time and then when they’d make their way to me,  I’d stand up, watch which fork they’d take and casually follow them like it was no big deal..

“I was just catching my breath, organizing my stuff, grabbing a photo and wow, what a coincidence that all of you just happened by!”

That’s what I had planned, but I was so excited to see life on that trail that I greeted them overly enthusiastically and asked which route they were taking, as I hadn’t yet decided.  They told me Torreys and did I want to hike up with them?  Well… sure…. !!  Honestly, they had no idea.  Their generosity had saved me.  We summitted the first peak about an hour later, ate our lunch (again, they had no idea what a gift they had become to me) then made our way across the saddle and up to the summit of the 2nd peak.  While seated and catching our breath, I got a text.  Now mind you, I’ve been hiking for a few hours, had climbed around 3,000 feet,  and now sat at an elevation of over 14, 000 feet (14,267 and 14,270 respectively), literally in a different world and with a very different mind set and I get a text???  It was my daughter, Emery, reminding me to buy coconut water before her visit the next day as it helped her to adjust to the altitude.  My new best friends asked if all was OK and when I told them, with a mixed tone of exasperation and are you kidding me?,  they all looked puzzled and said, “Well, if it helps her, you really should get it for her.”  By the way, they were her age, so this all seemed very normal to them, and so I began making a mental note of my to do list while enjoying my lunch at the top of a 14,000 foot mountain.  I had to laugh,  but was quick to reassure them that by all means, I’d follow through with her request.  I think they were worried about her.

Crossing the saddle
One down, one to go…

Seven hours from my dark, lonely start, I was back in my car, making my way through the 4WD potholes, which no longer seemed the size of Buicks, but VW’s at best.  Daylight and accomplishments made it all look a lot better and far less scary and who cares that I didn’t have cell phone service?  I felt a whole lot stronger than the person who had driven in a short 7 hours ago.  I think I just might have been a little bit taller also.

Once home, I put my head in  a bag of ruffle potato chips, with a 1/2 a tub of french onion dip and a 3 beer chaser because when you hike a 14er you get to eat anything that sound good and so I did.  I had set that precedent after my first 14er climb a few weeks ago, so was simply following protocol.  While immersed in my delightful dinner,  I couldn’t help but wonder just who that girl was who had pushed through so much that scared her yet kept on going when quitting would have been a whole lot easier.  She wasn’t someone I had seen in a very long time and I was hopeful I’d see her again.

That summer, without planning on it or anticipating it, became my summer to push my personal boundaries and enter into my fear zone so many times that it began to feel comfortable.    By the end of the summer,  I had logged over 135 miles in my boots and climbed 31,500 vertical feet, in search of my boundaries, which thankfully kept moving just out of my reach, which kept me moving.  It was as if my trusty old hiking boots had become my ruby red slippers and the heels had been clicked together, only this time, they took me out of Kansas and far away from my comfort zone and made me realize that just like the ruby red slippers, I had had the power with me all along.  I just didn’t know it.

Go figure.  I had to walk, climb and sweat my way up peak after peak after peak to finally become familiar with the person who was guiding those boots and time after time after exhausted time, I’d stop that summer during a hike,  not to grab a photo or a drink or a snack or even some oxygen, but rather, I’d stop and try to absorb the moment of where I was and how far I’d come and the odd circumstances that had brought me to that point.  Stopping to absorb on a hike or life for that matter, is never a bad idea.

So today and yesterday and the day before yesterday and every day I’ve hiked since that summer of MY coming of age, when I hesitate because I’m not sure I can do it or am I setting the bar too high? or for Pete’s sake why can’t I be content with walking around the neighborhood with a mountain backdrop?,  I try my best to bring back that girl who drove down a dark road to a dark parking lot to a trail head where she had to strap on a headlamp to see the trail that she knew nothing about and say, Really?  Seriously?  Snap out of it.  You’ve got this.  And that… that right there, is what has made every bit of this journey a priceless experience for me.

Several times this past month, I’ve thought about a return trip to the Torreys and Grays peaks but have slowly come to realize that for me to venture up those two beautiful peaks for a 2nd time, would be less about experiencing their majesty and more about trying to reconnect with the girl who climbed them 3 summers ago and recreate an experience, which I know is impossible.  I can’t recreate a first time experience the second time around, no matter how hard I try.  Not surprising, those notions of a “re-climb” seem to come when I’m feeling insecure and am struggling to find my strength.  For a split second, it feels like I just might be able to find it on the Torreys and Grays trail on an early morning, using my headlamp to guide me,  because it was there once,  as if I carelessly left it behind in a heap on the trail after stopping for a breath or a view and all I have to do is go retrieve it, stuff it securely into my pack and return home.  Logically, I know it’s with me, somewhere in there, whether those beat up boots that are trying to be ruby red slippers are on my feet or on a trail or not.  I just have to remember how to find it.  Again.

Thanks, guys.


My daughter, the farmer.

She loved goats then…


and she still loves them now!

My daughter is learning how to be a farmer.  That’s the same daughter who showed terrible disdain for my choice in Mother’s Day gifts many years ago, when I asked for a roto tiller for my garden.  She asked me why I couldn’t want stuff like the “other” moms wanted for Mother’s Day, you know, like perfume and make up.  I’m not sure if I actually had girlfriends who asked for make up for Mother’s Day, but I understood where she was coming from.  Clad in overalls, work boots and likely a bit of a muddy mess, I gave my body a once over scan with the available arm that wasn’t holding a pot or a shovel or anything that related to my garden and said, “Do I look like the kind of person who would ask for make up for a gift?”  At the same time, I totally understood her.  It was the part about “be like the other moms” that she was trying emphasize, because that is what feels far more comfortable when you’re a child, or maybe even forever.  It wasn’t the first time I had heard that, or the 2nd, and most times it was warranted as it usually followed a less than flattering situation that I had put myself in.  Wearing slippers to the grocery store comes to mind.  I could always justify it with a, “but it was a very quick, run in and run out trip, and I didn’t anticipate seeing anyone I knew, but I guess I should have realized that Emery saw me and when your mom wears slippers instead of shoes, well, it’s kind of embarrassing.  And then there’s that whole situation of if she wears slippers when I’m with her, what does she wear when I’m not with her?  Valid point and I’ll let it go at that.

Out of all 3 of my kids, it was Emery who spent the most time in my gardens with me growing up,  simply because of the fact that she was home all day with me and there was always something that needed to be tended to in the garden. After working tirelessly either with laying flagstone pathways or planting or trimming or weeding, usually with a start at sunrise to avoid the summer heat, it was Emery who always acted interested when I’d ask who wanted to come see what I had been working on all day?  Maybe she just felt sorry for me, all that work and all, without fully understanding that it never felt like work to me, but rather was more like a physical meditation with incredible results after a long day.  I truly believe that if push came to shove and she had to state her truth on gardening, she’d admit that she kind of liked it or at least she had developed an appreciation for the outcome after much hard work.  Before she was even in kindergarten, she knew the Latin names of most of my shrubs and several of the perennials.  I was so used to it, that I forgot that it really wasn’t normal when talking about the spirea bushes to have your 4 year-old ask which ones you were talking about.  The Vanhouttes or the Little Princesses (or Japonicas, to be exact)?  I taught her gardening in the same manner that I taught her how to find her way to the baggage claim in pursuit of her knowledge of travel:  I talked out loud and she followed me and before I knew it, she was the leader in finding the baggage claim and was calling plants by their Latin names (a good habit I had to learn when working at a garden center that I’ve never given up).

When she was in kindergarten, my flower garden became far more important to her because unbeknownst to me, my clever little 5 year-old was hatching a plan.  Her teacher, who she loved dearly, tutored kids in the summer a couple of times a week in subjects that they were having problems with.  When I look back on that now and think of how absurd it sounds to hire a tutor for your just out of kindergarten child,  I have to remember that I was trying to do all I could to insure my kid’s success in school, so if post kindergarten tutoring over the summer was in order, then that is what we’d do.  Besides, Emery had convinced me that she desperately needed her teacher’s help over the summer as she was really having a hard time with her school work.  Was it reading?  Do kids learn to read in kindergarten?  Math?  How hard is math in Kindergarten?  How quickly I’ve forgotten something that seemed so dire at the time.  And so my little schemer got her way and her sweet teacher came to our house twice a week for tutoring.  Emery insisted that the lessons take place in the garden and on the swing,  because according to her, it was the nicest view the there was.  She was right.

Pathway into the “garden of love”

Front part of the “garden of love” and the porch swing.

By the end of the summer, Emery made her announcement.  My garden, now referred to as the “garden of love” would be the site of her teacher’s wedding, either in the fall or the spring, whichever time would be the prettiest.  Her teacher wasn’t dating anyone at the time, or at least that I was aware of, and when I mentioned that to Emery, she didn’t seem overly concerned, but rather, asked where the best spot would be for her to stand when the newspaper came to take pictures of the wedding.  Under the arch, definitely under the rose covered arch.  Or maybe one of those pensive walking away shots on the flagstone path.  Good grief, she had sucked me right into the planning of the nuptials of a wedding where there was not yet a groom!  She knew who was going to be in the wedding, what she would wear (I think that was first on her agenda), what music would be played and very important details on the cake, which would be the only food for the wedding.  Still, no talk about a groom.  The only single guy that Emery knew was her Uncle Bill, who lived in Seattle,  and at one point she casually mentioned that he could probably be the groom.  Minor details.

The wedding plans faded as she moved into first grade and she once again became obsessed with her teacher,  who looked like Snow White, but who’s prince had already come.  So there would be no wedding in the garden,  although calling it the “garden of love” stuck, and if I still lived there today, I’m sure I’d still be calling it that.  Her take on that beautiful corner of the yard had me seeing it differently every time I spent time in it.  It really was a garden of love,  whether there was a wedding taking place there or not, the love was always there.

Even though it happened by default, and with a bit of reluctance, those seeds for a love of working the earth had been planted and were germinating for Emery just as they had for me when I was about the same age.  I spent a lot of time with my grandparents in the summer and would marvel at the size of my Papa’s garden and the fact that the bounty that he’d bring in every day and set on the kitchen counter, was only there because he had planted the seeds with his own bare hands and tended to them until they became plants that eventually made their way onto our dinner plates.  That, to me, was nothing short of a miracle.  A few years later, while still in grade school, I planted my own garden – a small weedy patch in a back corner of the yard where I planted a handful of watermelon seeds.  And what do you know,  it worked!   Just as it had worked in my Papa’s garden. Those oval,  black,  shiny seeds grew into watermelons that looked just like the ones on the front of the seed packet.  I still remember the hot afternoon that I had gone out to “tend” to my little patch of a garden when hidden behind vines and weeds I saw a fully grown and ripe watermelon, ready for the picking.  I sat down, right then and there, and broke it open, enjoying the fruits of my labor.   It wasn’t cold or sliced, but it was the best watermelon I had ever eaten and because it was mine and I had grown it myself,  I ate the whole thing, its juice running down my chin to my chest while I buried my face in the warm pink fruit, pausing only long enough to spit the seeds out.  To this day, watermelon is still one of my favorite foods and always comes up when playing that game of what would your last meal consist of, which oddly comes up more than you’d think. So I get it.  I get the gardening, the manipulating the earth, the being outside and getting dirty thing.  I think it was in my genes and I’m proud to claim my role in it becoming a part of my daughters genetic make up.

Like mother…..(my look for much of the ’80’s)

Like daughter…

This past winter, Emery and her husband, Miles, purchased acreage outside of Ft. Collins, CO and are learning how to be farmers, which is entailing a lot more than just planting.  They will also soon be goat owners, chicken owners and started keeping bees a few months ago.  My daughter has a bee keeping suit for Pete’s sake!  I marvel at that one.  They are currently in Taos, NM getting their certification for permaculture farming,  as well as a bit of hands on training with raising goats, which doesn’t surprise me one bit, the goat part, that is.  When Emery was young, she absolutely adored the goats at the petting farm and would pass by all other animals without even slowing down, with a beeline to the goats.  Living just down the street from the petting farm made going to visit the goats a  regular pastime for us.  She was so sweet with them and would talk to them like she was their mother – scolding,  praising, and trying to teach the aggressive ones some manners.  Fast forward 20 plus years and she’s found her goats again.  The same little girl who was deathly afraid of silver fish, those tiny little fellas who squirm around your house in search of where your most beloved wool sweaters were kept,  had no problem taking on a pen full of rambunctious goats, while her mom tended to keep a safe distance on the other side of the gate.  It pleases me to no end to think that now she’s going to have her hand at them again.

A few nights ago Emery texted me from Taos and told me that she got her spirit from me.  I read those words, paused,  then I read them again.  I didn’t want to stop reading them.  It’s impossible to fully understand the impact of seeing yourself in your kids until you have that “oh, wow… that’s me..”  moment, especially when it is something in your life that you covet and are proud of.  I couldn’t help but think that now, finally, she might understand who that woman was who asked for a roto tiller for Mother’s Day.  That woman just may have been onto something that she would only begin to understand once she started digging around in the dirt herself.  At that time though, Emery simply wasn’t ready for that mom who showed up at the store in her slippers, or in overalls when I should have been wearing something “nicer” or with a face full of poison ivy on back to school night; that mom who didn’t look or necessarily act, like the other moms.  I’ve got to think that as she digs deeper into this endeavor of farming, much of that will not only make sense to her, but she just might do the exact same thing, overalls and all.

To that daughter who wished makeup, not roto tillers for me, along with twirly dresses,  and manicured hands, yet at the same time, insisted on spending time in my “garden of love,” because it was the BEST view and there was something very special about it, now it’s my turn.  Now I get to be the one following you as we walk your land and you point out all of the many things you and Miles have planted and the many more things that Mother Nature planted before you.  Keep digging in that ground my beautiful daughter, and you’ll find treasures that you never imagined…the biggest one being yourself.